Spring Training begins this month, and soon we’ll have actual fake baseball to discuss to take us up until opening day. Barring a season ending injury occurring sometime between now and April 1, the Detroit Tigers will open the season as heavy favorites in the American League Central Division. But even heavy favorites sometimes lose.
We saw this — or very nearly saw this — last season when the Tigers were supposed to win by a double-digit number of games and have the division all but wrapped up in early September. Instead they trailed the Chicago White Sox for much of the year and only passed them for good in the season’s final days. That’s baseball. We can predict everything, but in the end we can predict nothing very well.
That’s not to say that predictions and projections are useless, it’s just that, for a variety of reasons, they contain wide error bars so that a projection of 90 wins isn’t so much saying exactly 90 wins at it’s saying some sort of probability distribution centered around 90 wins. If you played the same season over and over and over, you’d probably end up with an average of 90 wins, but sometimes you’d see 95 or 100 or even just 80.
Last week I linked to the projected standings as predicted by the CAIRO Projections. The Tigers appear to be fairly heavy favorites in the AL Central and, percentage-wise, were given the second highest probability of any MLB team to win the division. But do you know what that percentage was? 44.9%. No team in baseball, according to CAIRO, even has a 50% chance to win the division. Sometimes teams play above themselves, some times teams play below themselves, sometimes teams have lots of injuries, sometimes teams get a surprise performance from a breakout player, and sometimes the ball just bounces one way or the other. The Tigers look like big, big favorites in the division — having nearly twice the chance of winning it than the Kansas City Royals — but “the field” still looks like a better bet.
That’s part of the beauty of baseball; anything can happen over the course of a 162 game season. The best teams usually win, but that’s not always the case. Baseball is baseball because it’s so tough to predict, but that’s also why it’s so fun to watch.