Lowered Expectations

I was perusing some of the darker corners of the Natsmosphere the other
evening and I came across a discussion about the blind optimism and
unrealistic expectations for 2013. I don’t know if they meant specifically from
Nats fans, from the Nats manager, or from national publications which have
picked the Nationals to win the World Series. That much was unclear, but a
couple of interesting points for their doubt were brought up. The first main
concern a lot of people have is that the Nats pitching staff was lucky last
season and destined to have an injury this season. The Washington Post’s Adam
Kilgore was on MLB radio last night and mentioned that the Nats were lucky to
have gotten 150 innings from their top five starters. My first thought was to
wonder if they were really the only ones so lucky and if so what other teams
were just as lucky.  

Because I wrote about the Reds yesterday
and the 3 1/3 innings they gave to Todd Redmond I didn’t need to look them up,
but the Giants were just as healthy having Cain, Bumgarner, Lincecum,
Vogelsong, and Zito all pitch over 180 innings and giving only 6 innings to
Eric Hacker and 4 2/3 to Yusmeiro Petit. Those two teams ended up being
healthier and using fewer pitchers than the Nationals because they had no
shutdown or Wang experiment as part of their rotations. There were also at
least three other teams that had five pitchers who did pitch over 150 innings
as parts of their final rotations, but for the Tigers and Sanchez, the Dodgers
and Blanton, and the Angels and Greinke most of those 150 innings were done for
another team. There are also the Phillies that could have done it but shipped
Blanton out of town and shuttled Kendrick between the rotation and the bullpen.
Most teams that had four starters over 150 innings but not a fifth did so
because their fifth starter wasn’t good, not because anyone got injured.

Look at a team like the Rays who had
Price, Shields, Moore, and Helickson all over 170 innings, but only gave 136
1/3 innings to Alex Cobb who started the year with 41 1/3 innings pitched in
AAA and was shut down much as Strasburg was due to an innings limit. After that
the waters get a little muddied and teams like the Mariners end up being
brought in. The average team last season used over 10 different starters, but
the reason was more often under performance or a rotating fifth spot than it
was injury. The Yankees got over 170 innings from their top four of Sabathia,
Hughes, Nova, and Kuroda but had a revolving door at the fifth spot between the
recently dragged out of retirement Pettitte, the non-prospect prospect David
Phelps, and the over the hill Freddie Garcia. The Nationals are going to have
rain delays and are going to need spot starters, but predicting Strasburg,
Gonzalez, Zimmermann, Detwiler, and Haren to pitch under 150 innings in 2013
because they pitched over that amount in 2012 borders on outlandish. It is far
more likely that the Nats end up needing a different fifth starter because it
turns out that Haren’s poor 2012 was due to decline more than the back injury
and he is not performing up to expectations. The vast majority of contending
teams in 2012 were just as “lucky” as the Nationals when it came to
starting pitchers health. 

The second reason given as to why to
doubt the Nationals was that most predictions about the 2012 season where off
by at least 10 games. I myself predicted the Nats to win 86 games, but that was
based on the information I was provided at the time. History told me to expect
about 1.5 WAR from Desmond, 2.5 from LaRoche, and around 3.0 WAR from Gio
Gonzalez. I also accounted nothing for Harper as none of us had much of a clue
of what to expect from him and most people expected that he would struggle at
19 much as Mike Trout had the previous season. Take away Harper and return
Desmond, LaRoche, and Gonzalez to their career averages and you end up taking
13 wins away from the Nationals which puts them right at 85 or one win less
than I predicted.

From that some might say it proves that
expectations should be lowered because those players will backslide to their
previous career norms, but their previous career norms are not their current
career norms. Ian Desmond’s 2012 raised his overall career slugging up to .424
and his extra power in 2012 was mainly due in a change in approach that had him
hitting the ball were it was pitched more than trying to take everything the
other way. But even a .424 SLG would have ranked sixth among short stops in
2012 right below Jimmy Rollins and ahead of Asdrubal Cabrera. So even if
Desmond backslides all the way to his career averages he is still a good hitter
for a short stop and will be more around a 2.5-3.5 fWAR player than the 1.5 one
he was previously.

Gio Gonzalez and Adam LaRoche both have much longer track records and have
built up more of a career average, but LaRoche was only .005 points better in
OBP and .028 better in SLG in 2012 than his career averages. Gio Gonzalez has
the least amount to backslide and if he returns to being a 3.0 WAR pitcher
instead of a 5.0 WAR pitcher it won’t affect the Nats standing much. The Nats
are covered from these regressions due to the additions of Denard Span and
Rafael Soriano and more expected playing time for Harper, Strasburg, Werth,
Ramos, Suzuki, and Storen. The expected regressions and the expected
improvements all balance out. Then you look at the fact that the Nationals 2012
expected win total was 96 and their actual win total was 98 proving they were
not a fluke and the only thing that is left to do is to agree with the rosy
expectations even if it isn’t in your nature.  

Artificially lowering expectations on the 2013
Nats is as bad as looking at the 2009 roster and starting to dream on what
could be for Elijah Dukes and Lastings Milledge. No one was going to pick the
Nationals to win that season much as no one is going to pick the Astros to this
season. Nats fans should revel in the fact that experts are picking their
team to win it all because it wasn’t too long ago that experts were picking the
Nationals to not win at all. Being the pre-season favorite means nothing. The
Nats may have a slightly better chance to win the World Series than the Reds,
Braves, Angels, Tigers, Giants, and Blue Jays but it isn’t that much better and
as any baseball fan knows strange things happen in the playoffs. Those playoff
games don’t pit the Nationals vs. the Cubs where the Nats would have 80-90%
odds of winning a five or seven game series. It will be the Nationals vs. the
Reds or the Braves or the Cardinals and if the odds are even at 60% then the
Nats are heavy favorites. Those series are coin flips and whoever gets four heads
wins the World Series. Being predicted as the
favorites guarantees nothing and lowering expectations won’t protect
from disappointment.   




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One comment

  1. This line of thinking which grossly missunderstand how statistics work is so prevelant around sports its almost useless to argue with it, for instance I was discussing Justin Verlander with a co-worker who insisted he was a high risk for injury because of his heavy usage. I argued that his lack of injuries over so much use shows he is certainly NOT an injury risk (if he was gonig to get hurt from overuse he’d have been hurt already!).I heard a good analogy a while back that if you flip a coint it’s 50/50 what will come up and and "streak" or major deviation is just noise, however if you flip a coin 99 times and it’s always head, don’t bet on tails, because obviously there is something else affecting the outcome. Thus lack of injuries isn’t proof of pending injuries, but in fact strong evidence that injuries are unlikely.


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