Archive for the ‘PECOTA’ Category

Just Another Reminder that Strasburg and Wieters Aren’t Hall of Famers Yet

May 19, 2009

So here I was flipping through Baseball Prospectus 2005 in preparation for a quick piece on the quickly-devolving tragedy that is the career of Rickie Weeks, and I noticed something:

  1. Andy Marte.
  2. Delmon Young.
  3. Felix Hernandez.
  4. Dallas McPherson.
  5. Casey Kotchman.

That’s right. Those are the first five names that appeared on BP’s “Top 50 Prospects” list, about 51 months ago.

Now, let me say up front that I have nothing but respect for the fine people at BP (as you know if you’ve read, well, anything I’ve written here) and for this article’s author, Rany Jazayerli (as you know if you’ve checked out the blogroll to the right).

And the point of this isn’t that they got it wrong. Baseball America’s list had Mauer as the top prospect (who was no longer eligible by BP’s standards–he was the “Top Prospect Emeritus,” and I’d say that was a pretty decent call), but otherwise had a very similar look to it; minors uber-expert John Sickels was still doing the ESPN thing back then, and frankly, his top 5 hitter list is looking even worse than BP’s. In short, I don’t think BP did any better or worse than they should have in 2005 (incidentally, I can’t find my Baseball Prospecti 2004 or 2006 right now; anybody want to share the Top 5 from those years? Edit: found it! Check the comments.). But the fact remains that even by top-prospect-list standards, this one is looking really, really bad. Let’s review:

  1. Andy Marte (BA #9, Sickels #1): Rany’s writeup on Marte seems almost defensive — yeah, we really picked this guy, hear us out! — and now that’s looking a little silly. He’s currently back to knocking the cover off the ball in the minors (.343/.380/.614 through 22 games in Triple-A), but he’ll have to keep it up for quite a while before the big club in Cleveland forgets his .211/.265/.337, 56 OPS+ showing in a full season’s worth of big league PA. He might play again, might even start, but if he’s a star, it’ll be the biggest turnaround this side of Josh Hamilton.
  2. Delmon Young (BA #3, Sickels #4): Rany says “Marte and Young were the only two players seriously considered for our top spot.” They were right in line with everybody else on Delmon; BA went on to rank him #1 in 2006 and #3 in ’07. I have no further comment at this time.
  3. Felix Hernandez (BA #2, Sickels #1 among pitchers): Damn good, and it’s almost impossible to believe/remember he’s still only 23. They got one right, though it remains to be seen whether he’s really the top pitcher in the list (see more candidates below).
  4. Dallas McPherson (BA #12, Sickels #9): already nearly 25 when Rany was writing, the “most polished power bat of any player in the minor leagues” has a .298 career OBP and somehow lost the Marlins’ starting 3B job to Emilio Benifacio, so now I guess he’s in the Giants’ system. He did have a lot of power — 18 HR in 399 MLB PA — but the “polish” seemed to be lacking.
  5. Casey Kotchman (BA #6, Sickels #7): Here was your professional-hitter-and-gold-glove-first-baseman du jour, your Mark Grace or John Olerud for the 21st century. He did have a pretty solid and Grace-like first full season at age 24 in 2007 — .296/.372/.467, only 11 HR but 37 doubles — but then slipped in 2008 and was dealt to the Braves halfway through in the Mark Teixeira deal. Still only 26 and currently hitting .296/.362/.448, he might be a solid regular for several years now…but if so, he’ll likely be Overbay or Casey, not Grace or Olerud. Defense looks as good as advertised, however.

Other unnotables include Joel Guzman, #7 (62 big-league PA) and Eric Duncan, #13 (0 big-league PA). But should we get to the good players now? Wait ’til you see who’s bringing up the rear…

14. Scott Kazmir: posted a 116 ERA+ right there in 2005, at age 21, and didn’t look back. Well, not until ’09.

20. Chad Billingsley:
took off in 2006 at age 21. This kid might be the most underrated superstar in the game right now.

21. Ian Kinsler:
then a shortstop, Rany noted that he “projects as a slugging second baseman” without a ton of defense, so +2 for Rany. There was some thought then that his big 2004 in the minors was a fluke, just as there was some thought that his big 2008 in the majors was a fluke. Signs point to “no.”

24. Hanley Ramirez:
And in retrospect, there’s your true #1. Rany’s full of praise for him; his low ranking seems to stem from a very off 2003 and being blocked at shortstop by Edgar Renteria in Boston. BA ranked him #10.

26. Curtis Granderson:
“was not blessed with outstanding tools.”

38. Ryan Howard:
“almost guaranteed to find himself in another uniform before he gets an opportunity–maybe even before you read this.” Thome was blocking him in Philly at the time. They kept the right big guy.

39. Cole Hamels:
downgraded for injury risk.

44. Brian McCann:
just a good catch by them, really. McCann never once had a single-season minor league OPS as high as his big-league career OPS of .859. Oddly, BA also ranked him at exactly #44.

and, last and apparently least…

49(tie). Dustin Pedroia:
heh. Tied with someone named Mitch Einertson (who has yet to make it past Double-A) for the very last spot, in what was labeled a fierce “competition for our coveted slot of Mr. Irrelevant.” Little dudes in baseball: wildly underrated right up until the exact moment that they become wildly overrated.

Rany’s writeup seems resigned to the fact that Pedroia will never make the bigs, but notes that “PECOTA (admittedly thrown off by the small sample size) projects Pedroia to have more value over the next five years than any other prospect in baseball.”

BA’s list was a top 100 (as is BP’s, nowadays), and yet Lil’ Pedey goes unranked. Score one for PECOTA!

Re-Projecting Greinke

May 9, 2009

Sad-but-true fact (unless you’re an Angels fan): Zack Greinke will probably give up a run or two tonight. I’m sorry, but that’s just the way it is, odds and averages and such. Odds are, it’s not his fourth shutout in his first seven starts. But it’d be awesome if it was.

So I figured we might project him the rest of the way while the best pitcher in baseball‘s real-life stats still look like this:
6 GS, 6 W, 0 L, 0.40 ERA, 45.0 IP, 0.84 WHIP, 54 K

In Baseball Prospectus 2009, PECOTA figured his final like to look like this:
30 GS, 12 W, 10 L, 3.96 ERA, 192 1/3 IP, 1.29 WHIP, 164 K

(If that seems pessimistic to you, know that almost all other projection systems saw more or less the same thing.)

I’m not going to assume he only has 24 starts left. If he pitches tonight and every five days from here on out, he’ll end up with 33 starts. So if he performs at exactly his PECOTA-projected rates (including IP/start, wins/start, etc.) from here on out, his final line ends up looking like this:

33 GS, 17 W, 9 L, 218 IP, 3.22 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 202 K

Looks a little disappointing considering where he is right now, but consider:

1. With those numbers, he’d have tied for sixth in wins, fifth in innings, fifth in ERA, ninth in WHIP and fourth in strikeouts in 2008.

2. I think that, given how dominant Greinke has been in his first six starts, there’s approximately a 100% chance that he’s a better pitcher than the guy PECOTA expected him to be — he’ll regress from here, of course, but not to a nearly 4.00 ERA. If he’s, just say, a 3.30 pitcher the rest of the way, his amazing start to the season leaves his final ERA at 2.72.

And it’s very possible that the Royals are better than anybody thought, too, so 17-9 might be too pessimistic as well.

The other day, I laughed out loud when I saw that whoever writes the fantasy news copy for cbssports.com said (at least it’s still there as I type this) that Greinke “has probably already locked up the Cy Young,” and was apparently serious. But now that I look at it, with the head start he’s given himself, even when he comes down to earth it looks like he’ll be awfully hard to beat.

Re-Projecting Youkilis

May 5, 2009

Content is going to (continue to) be a little light over here for the next couple days. Real work beckons.

Here’s a fun little exercise. Everybody knows it’s early…but it’s not that early. Lots of guys are doing a lot better, or a lot worse, than anybody expected. What if we were (well, specifically in this case, PECOTA was) right about those guys all along…starting now? That is, from today forward, the hitter performs exactly as we expected. What does that end up looking like?

We’re going to start with the guy they used to call the Greek God of Walks.

Kevin Youkilis’ entry in Baseball Prospectus 2009 lauds Youk’s sudden transformation “from an above-average, patient hitter into a legitimate power threat,” but then hints pretty forcefully that it’s all a mirage. The book notes that a number of his homers just barely cleared the wall, and that he put up an awfully high .347 BABIP that we can expect to come back down. Faced with his impressive .312/.390/.569, 29 HR, 91 R, 116 RBI from 2008, PECOTA saw this line from him in ’09, which must’ve been awfully disappointing to The Nation:

AVG OBP SLG HR R RBI
.275 .366 .475 21 81 84

To date, though (through Sunday, actually), Youkilis has put up this line, leading the league in average, OBP and SLG and in the top ten in just about everything else:

.407 .519 .714 6 23 20

If we start with that line and then give him another 491 PA/441 AB (PECOTA’s projected PA minus the ones he’s already had) at exactly the rates that PECOTA projected for him above, then (so, he hits .275/.366/.475 the rest of the way), we get this final combined line:

.296 .393 .518 24 89 89

The runs and RBI still look a little low, and honestly, it’s hard to see anybody hitting in the middle of that Red Sox lineup and not ending up with 100 of both. Otherwise, though, that line is a pretty gigantic jump from what PECOTA had him pegged at. If PECOTA was exactly right about his true talent and he performs exactly to that talent the rest of the way, his hot start nonetheless lets him coast to near-superstar-level numbers. On the other hand, if, as is at least equally likely, PECOTA was wrong and 2008 was a lot closer to his true talent, this start could propel him to a runaway MVP season. Amazing what one little month can do.

Crushing DreaExpectation Management, Part IV: The San Diego Padres

April 21, 2009

With a rainout on Monday night, your 2009 San Diego Padres, expected by many to be the worst team in baseball, continue to sit at 9-4, the third-best record in the league, just a game behind the Dodgers for the division lead.

What they’re saying: Nothing terribly interesting; everybody’s waiting for the carriage to turn back into a pumpkin. Newsday’s Ken Davidoff basically says that that was fun while it lasted, but we can expect it to pretty much be over now. The Sicilian guy from Princess Bride is apparently writing for CBS Sports now, and he basically cobbles a bunch of Padres’ players’ quotes together and concludes: “who knows?”

I’ll stop the linking there, because there’s really nothing here. Everybody knows, or thinks they know, that this team isn’t going far.

Reasons for hope: More than I would’ve guessed.

  • They’ve got some nice young players in Kevin Kouzmanoff and Chase Headley, though they’re both really third basemen, so that’s not great. And neither has started hitting yet, which is a good sign, since they will eventually.
  • Jody Gerut has established that he really can still play, and he’s one of those too-rare great comeback stories that is also a very good player.
  • Brian Giles won’t finish the year hitting .151.
  • Jake Peavy and the pitching Chris Young will probably end up much better than they’ve started (though the interesting question in what team Peavy will be ending up with).
  • Paul DePodesta is a very smart guy. He and the Padres’ front office have been excellent at putting together strong bullpens from other teams’ garbage, and they may well have done the same again.

Why it won’t happen:

  • Kevin Towers may also be a very smart guy, but he’s not a very smart baseball guy, and he’s ahead of DePo on the front office depth chart. I haven’t watched nearly enough Padres games to get a feel for Bud Black as manager, but I only seem to hear bad things.
  • Giles’, Kouzmanoff’s and Headley’s rebounds won’t come even close to balancing the significant dropoffs from catcher Nick Hundley, 1B Adrian Gonzalez (who is awfully good, but not 186 OPS+ good — that’s Pujols territory), 2B David Eckstein, and SS Luis Rodriguez, who have likely all already seen their best days of 2009. Even Gerut is likely to fall off some from his torrid start. Throw in that they’re getting some unrealistically strong performance from bench guys Scott Hairston and Henry Blanco, and this is a team that’s scoring runs well beyond its means.
  • The pitching staff as a whole has a 3.83 ERA (10th in the majors) and 4.42 FIP (12th). So they’re getting pretty lucky to have an ERA so much lower than their FIP (which essentially says that the team ERA “should” be 4.42). They’re in the best pitchers’ park in baseball, and they’ve played 7 of their 13 games at home; in any year in which the Padres have a good pitching staff backed up by a good defense, they’ll end up with the fourth or fifth best raw ERA in the league. It’s far too early to evaluate their performance so far (three of their six road games were played in Philly, one of the best hitters’ parks around, so the overall adjusted ERA+ still puts them at 6% above league average), but the fact is that with Peavy + Young + three guys you’ve never heard of, this just isn’t a great, or even a good, pitching staff, and with shaky defensive players at most every position, they won’t be getting a lot of help. Guys like Kevin Correia and Walter Silva, if they stay healthy and in the rotation all year, are going to wind up with some lopsided W/L records in the wrong direction.

What PECOTA is saying: Color PECOTA unimpressed. It likes the Padres to go about 75-87, which is pretty close to where it had them pegged when the season started. That would put them in a tie for third, with a 7.46% chance of making the postseason.

My take: That’s about right. This isn’t a 100-loss team, the way the 2008 squad very nearly was, but it’s not a first or second-place team either. There are a lot of other deeply flawed teams in this division, though — basically everyone but the Dodgers (PECOTA still likes the D-Backs to win 87 and challenge for the wildcard, but we’re starting to see that there are some real concerns with that team). Based on that, I’ll bump the Padres up a couple wins to 77-85. This team is improving, but it’s still a couple years, a MannyBManny defection or retirement, and a DePo miracle or two from becoming a factor in the West.

Crushing DreaExpectation Management, Part III: The Florida Marlins

April 19, 2009

Let’s get right into it. The Marlins stand at 10-1 this fine Sunday morning, and they come by it honestly–they’re hitting well enough to get by and pitching like a staff full of Johan Santanas (with a team ERA+ of 153, that actually beats Santana’s career 145). Most figured them for third or fourth, and Baseball Prospectus thought they’d lose 90 and finish behind the Nationals. What the hell?

What they’re saying: Come on, no one talks about the Marlins. My law school friend Jeff, the only Marlins fan I know (or even know of), puts up a new, increasingly excited facebook status with every win. That’s all I got.

Okay, seriously:

  • The Herald’s Linda Robertson says that the Marlins’ winning is a good sign, which is why they pay her the big bucks.
  • Josh of Jorge Says No! opines that the Fish, alone among your surprising-starters, are for real.
  • USA Today’s Mel Antonen spotlights the Fish and Jays as “low-payroll, high-expectations” teams, and seems to conclude that the former are the most likely to keep it going.

So there are some expectations here. I think there were some expectations among some people coming into the season, actually, given that they won 84 games last year. But nobody expected a .909 start, and now nobody has any clue what to expect.

Reasons for Hope: Well,

  • Nobody knew what to expect from these starters. The oldest among them (Ricky Nolasco) is 26, and with just 388 big-league innings, he’s got at least 100 innings on each of the other four. Part of the Marlins’ projected struggles came from rather gloomy projections for each of the five starting pitchers, and each of them could significantly beat those projections. With the possible exception of Anibal Sanchez (who can hold his own), all are hard throwers who rack up strikeouts, which is exactly what they need with this defense–which is, um, not great. If this pitching staff is even half as good as they’ve looked so far (aside from Nolasco, who has struggled but will rebound), they’re in much better shape than most people thought.
  • They have one of the four best players in the Major Leagues, and you could make a good case that he’s the best. Hanley Ramirez looked like a terrible defensive shortstop in his breakout 2007, but measured out as more or less average in 2008, and has been downright good in the way-too-early going in 2009. If Hanley can hit and run like Hanley does and play a good shortstop, that’s about the best weapon a team could have. And he hasn’t really started hitting yet this year.
  • About three years ago, Jeremy Hermida was expected to be a superstar by now. He stumbled a little in ’06, had a very nice year in ’07, took a huge step back in ’08, and now seems to have been more or less forgotten (though playing for the Marlins has that effect). He’s still just 25, and one thing I’ve noticed is that if everybody thought you had that kind of talent once, you probably did, and might start showing it at any time (there are, of course, a few exceptions–I’m looking at you, Delmon). Hermida is doing a fine job in the early going, and I expect him to significantly outperform most of his projections. Also, Cameron Maybin was a top prospect even more recently, and he can’t be as bad as he’s played through the first eleven.

Why it won’t happen:

  • Emilio Benifacio. He of the .679 OPS and 76 OPS+ in about half a season’s worth of career PA and an underwhelming .285/.341/.362 minor league line. Not a good player. Guys like this don’t suddenly become good players. His flukish, scorching hot start will probably keep him in the lineup much longer than he deserves, and he’ll be seriously costing the Marlins runs starting…now.
  • That BABIP thing again. They’re batting .354 on balls they put in play, which is about 25 points above the usual major-league leading team BABIP. The culprits, not surprisingly, are the guys who are playing miles over their heads–Bonifacio at a ridiculous .500, catcher John Baker at .444, and Dan Uggla (a good hitter, but not a .314 hitter) at .429. Those bloops and dribblers will stop finding the holes quite so often, a few line drives will be scorched right at somebody, and those BABIPs will slip back toward .300. And then they’ll stop scoring runs.
  • On the other hand, maybe Maybin just isn’t as good as we all thought (or just isn’t ready yet). After the guys I just mentioned, he has the highest BABIP at an unsustainable .389. But he’s struck out in 43% of his plate appearances, so he’s still hitting a dreadful .219/.286/.250. If he’s terrible and Hermida doesn’t have a big breakout year, this team will have a hard time scoring runs once its luck starts to even out.
  • Speaking of luck due to even out, they’re hitting like Albert Pujols (.340/.438/.530) with runners in scoring position. That won’t last, either.
  • Their pitching staff may be great, but it’s not going to be this great. Four of the starters and the team’s closer all have ERAs under 2 (Nolasco is the odd man out, struggling at over 6).

So basically, aside from Maybin and Nolasco, everything that coul;d possibly have gone right for them so far, has, and any of it could (and probably will) start going wrong again.

What PECOTA Says: the forecasting system liked the Marlins to lose 90 at the start of this year, and their updated Playoff Odds Report, surprisingly, hasn’t changed much. They’re ending up an average of 73-89, and missing the playoffs 93.41% of the time.

My take: That seems extreme. The team has already won 10 of its first 11 (of course, the odds were last put together when they were 9-1, but I doubt one more win changes things much at this point), and would have to play just a little better than .400 the rest of the way to make it to 89 losses. I don’t see that happening. The forecasts are based on pitching projections that I think are suspect–I expect all five of the starters to outperform what PECOTA sees for them. That said, they’re going to have a really tough time keeping up with the Mets and Phillies in this one. I see them going 78-84, five or six games ahead of the Nationals for last, with a chance to get a little lucky and break .500 (but still fall 10+ games behind New York and Philly).

Crushing DreaExpectation Management, Part II: The Seattle Mariners

April 17, 2009

Full disclosure: I love the Twins more than is probably healthy, but to the exact extent that it’s possible to love two teams in the same league, I love the M’s. And I love their weird-ass fans, who I think I’ll probably have to write a whole thing about someday. But today is not that day.

As I type this on Thursday night, the Mariners, who ended ’08 all alone at the bottom of the AL with 101 losses, are 7-2, all alone at the top of the AL, and three games clear of all the other teams in the sorry-looking West.

What they’re saying: Yesterday, I noted that people didn’t seem all that excited about the Orioles’ hot start. Those Mariner fans? Not so much. My sense is that when this season started, nobody in the Northwest actually noticed. But nine games later and they’ve won a bunch of them? Well now!

  • Rob Neyer notes in passing while on a trip to Seattle that “the good citizens are wondering if the Mariners will ever lose again (seriously: people here are talking about 2001 and they’re not kidding).”
  • The Olympian’s Gail Wood would like you to avoid making the mistake of thinking that these are last year’s Mariners. She extols their leadership, their pulling together, and their stringing together of hits, and is very excited indeed.
  • The Seattle Times’ Larry Stone encourages everybody to get giddy for the hot start and home opener, but then basically says it ain’t gonna happen.
  • The P-I’s (hey, didn’t they fold?) Gerry Spratt notes that Wednesday night’s Mariners game out-ratingsed American Idol, Lost and Law and Order in Seattle.

So basically, the fan base is now freaking the geek out. Good idea? …Well, yes it is. As Stone says above, why not go nuts? It’s the home-opening series. It’s baseball in the best modern stadium in the game. Go for it, people. Yet, onward:

Reasons for hope: Well, they’re not going to win 116 games. Only two teams ever have, and there will be another, but it won’t be this bunch. They’re also not going to win 100. But there are reasons to think they might be playing games that mean something in September:

  • Ichiro! hasn’t been around for this. The leadoff hitter and face of the franchise just made his season debut yesterday. He’s 35 and not likely to be the truly great player he was in ’01 and ’04 and ’07. But he’s awfully good. He’s maybe the only player you can count on to get on base at a good clip without really drawing walks, and he’s an excellent fielder and baserunner. Ichiro means that Junior doesn’t have to drag himself around the outfield, and that Endy Chavez doesn’t have to lead off (I have to assume he’ll be dropped to 9th once the effects of his season-opening hot streak disappear). These are good things.
  • That outfield defense is unbelievable. With Chavez, Ichiro! and Franklin Gutierrez, the M’s are starting top-flight center fielders in every outfield spot. It really is a treat to watch these guys run around, especially in the vast emptiness that serves as Safeco’s outfield. They also have the best defensive third baseman in the league in Adrian Beltre, and though the rest of the infield (the lumbering Branyan/Sweeney combo, the enigmatic Jose Lopez and the sure-handed, awesome-named, lead-footed Yuni Betancourt) is a singles-hitter’s dream, the Mariners have put together a mostly-flyball staff, which plays to the strengths of both their defense and their spacious park.
  • Eric Bedard is healthy. Under old management, the Mariners made a foreseeably terrible trade with the O’s to nab Bedard, and it got worse when Bedard proved hurt, unhappy and ineffective. Through his first two starts, though, Bedard has thrown 13 innings, struck out 15 batters and walked just 1 with a 2.08 ERA and a crazy 1.53 FIP, looking much more like the Bedard they thought they were getting (3.88 K/BB ratio, 3.19 FIP in 2007) than the one they did get in ’08 (1.95 K/BB, 4.32 FIP). If he stays healthy, along with Felix Hernandez, 40% of their games will be started by one of the ten or so best pitchers in baseball.
  • Adrian Beltre is in a contract year. There is evidence that players do perform better when their continued employment or a big raise is on the line, and the last time Adrian was in that position, he had one of the best years a third baseman has ever had. He’s put himself in a bit of a hole on the trip back to that level, but you never know.

Why it won’t happen: Well, it might. But concerns:

  • The other 60% of the rotation is awful. Carlos Silva, probably the most overpaid active player in baseball (thanks again to the prior administration), is an extreme ground-ball pitcher (at least when he’s not completely lost, which happens), and he’s not as bad as his ERA is going to look, but as long as it’s Betancourt, Lopez and Sweeney/Branyan trying to track down the ground balls he induces, he’s going to keep looking about that bad. They’ve been trying to dump Jarrod Washburn since the end of ’08, and there are good reasons for doing so, and for the same good reasons, it hasn’t worked.
  • There’s no real offense here. Chavez and Betancourt look pretty awesome right now, but they’re not. Of the nine starting position players, only Beltre, Lopez and maybe Ichiro figure to be above-average hitters for their position, and they won’t be by much. When this team wins, they’ll have pitching, defense, and a bit of good luck to thank. Lots of close games.
  • They’ve been lucky so far, though not in the same way as the Orioles; they’ve got a very solid run differential and reasonable BABIP. But they’ve scored about an average number of runs, and have had to hit .362 with runners in scoring position to do it. When that number comes down to earth, they could have some problems.

What PECOTA is saying: Before Thursday night’s game against the Angels (which looks like a loss as I near the end of this), Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA-Adjusted Playoff Odds Report had the M’s finishing 79-83 on average (good for a virtual tie for second in their craptastic division), and with a 28% chance of making the postseason. That is huge for a team that lost 101 last year.

My take: I was one of the crazy few who actually thought the Mariners would win about 80 games before the season started, and obviously I like what I’ve seen so far. The brilliant Dave Cameron at the brilliant USS Mariner blog would say that I need to adjust that figure upward for the fact that they’re now 7-3: that record + my original expectation of .494 play over the next 152 = 83-79. And I have no doubt that that’s mathematically accurate, but I’m not going to do it. I think BP’s projection is basically dead-on; this is a near-.500 team that, if it gets a little lucky and the A’s and Angels get a little unlucky, has a pretty decent shot at making a run at the postseason. That’s not 2001, but it’s a pretty solid six-month turnaround for the new bosses.

Crushing DreaExpectation Management, Part I: The Baltimore Orioles

April 16, 2009

Thing three is the first of a four-part series (assuming teams 3 and 4 are still relevant to this exercise two and three days from now) discussing teams that have gotten off to surprisingly hot starts in this first week and a half or so.

The first victim is the Baltimore Orioles. Before I get into it, I just want to point out that the American League East standings as of Wednesday morning looked exactly the opposite of how I think most people expect(ed?) them to look at the end of the season: Orioles, Blue Jays, Rays, Yankees, Sox (I had a totally unnecessary table in here, but it was coming up with about a mile of space ahead of it for some reason).

You gotta love April.

What they’re saying: Actually, I can’t find anybody who’s all that excited about the Orioles yet, despite their 6-2, first-place start (as I sit down to write this on Wednesday night, they’re hopelessly behind the Rangers, so they’ll fall to half a game behind the Jays once the latter finish off the Twins, but still, 6-3! The Orioles!). On Tuesday, someone asked the Yahoo universe whether the O’s were contenders…but the answer was pretty uniformly “no.” Earlier this week, the CBS Sports rankings guy rated them 15th and generally seemed skeptical, but at least he called them “interesting.” The common sentiment among Marylanders seems to be “they look like contenders…for now.” Or, perhaps more commonly: “the Ravens’ season starts in only five months!”

This lack of optimism could be because the team has had eleven straight losing seasons, or maybe because they started 6-1 just last season, about which at least one young O’s and “fundamentals” fan got very excited. They then lost six of their next eight, though they didn’t hit the wrong side of .500 for good until July 12, which is easy to forget when they follow that up with one of the worst second halves of recent memory.

So, no real buzz about these guys yet. But is there any chance that this is anything more than a bad team having a good week?

Well, no (Sorry, Cal). But let’s look at why.

Why they might keep it going: Well, the best prospect in baseball is waiting in the wings, and should be here soon, and placeholder Gregg Zaun is hitting .136/.269/.273. George Sherrill isn’t a real Major League relief ace, but he’s also unlikely to end with a six-plus ERA. Adam Jones and Nick Markakis are immensely talented young players who might really have taken huge steps forward from last year to this one.

Why they won’t: A few reasons.

  • They’ve played .750 (now essentially .667) ball while being outscored. Before even counting the thumping tonight, the O’s had scored 50 and given up 50. Consider: they’re playing the best they can possibly be expected to play, and they should still really only be playing .500 ball. As I type this, the Rangers are up 17-4, so that becomes -13. Run differential and Pythagorean records really don’t mean anything at this point, but I do think that when a surprisingly “hot” team has actually been outscored, that’s sign one that things aren’t all they seem.
  • Coming into Wednesday night, Jones and Brian Roberts both have BABIPs of over .500, which is just silly. Generally, if you put the ball in play and it doesn’t go over the fence, you have a little better than a 30% chance of getting a hit; the theory on it all is still kind of in flux, but anything much over .300 is usually considered to be luck, and a good sign that you’re in for a bit of a hard fall when your luck evens out. The whole team is BABIPing .334, which is lucky but not insane, but still–when two of your big bats are finding the holes better than 50% of the time, you just can’t help but win a few ballgames you probably shouldn’t expect to.
  • Okay, seriously–I watched the last inning of the O’s 7-5 win at Texas on Wednesday night, and with two runners on in the bottom of the ninth, Sherrill gave up two towering fly balls that missed clearing the fence by a combined total of about five feet. That’s just not the kind of thing that yells out “sustainable pattern of success.” I know that I said he’s not a 6-ERA pitcher, but so far, according to FIP, he’s pitched like a 5.35 one. And Guthrie has pitched like a 4.50 one, twice his actual ERA. This is really, when you look at it on paper, one of the most unimpressive pitching staffs in the Majors, and nothing from these first nine games really changes that.

What PECOTA is saying: Baseball Prospectus does this crazy thing every day where they take the teams’ current records, simulate the rest of the season a whole bunch of times (a million, actually) based on the performances projected by their PECOTA system, and then post the standings and each team’s odds of reaching the playoffs (sorry if that link is subscription-only). Before the end of the games tonight, with the O’s at 6-2, BP had them going about 77-85, which means .464 ball the rest of the way, and with an 8% chance of reaching the Great October Crapshoot.

I think both of those numbers are high. There’s just too much of this that’s unsustainable (didn’t even touch on Melvin Mora or some of the non-Sherrill relievers), and PECOTA has been getting a lot of bad baseball-nerdy press for seriously man-crushing on Wieters, which has to affect those simulations. I think they end up about where they did last year–we’ll call it 71-91, a two-win improvement–but with steady mediocrity, none of the surprising-respectability-followed-by-soul-crushing-collapse stuff from ’08.

I’ll be sure to revisit that prediction after Roberts hits .390, Guthrie wins the ERA title, and they win the Series.