Great Expectations

With Opening Day upon us, everyone is making their predictions for how this season will unfold. And why not? It’s harmless fun.

But here are a few things I’ve learned over the years about pre-Opening Day prognostications:

  1. They tend to be based way too much on the previous season. I’m amazed every year by how many people who are supposed to be “experts” about Major League Baseball seem to come up with their predictions apparently by doing nothing more than looking at a team’s record the previous year.
  2. There’s a lot of “groupspeak” going on. Once a couple of these “experts” render an opinion about a team, that’s the end of the discussion. Everyone else falls in line with that “conventional wisdom.”
  3. The pre-Opening Day conventional wisdom turns out to be wrong as often as it’s right… and sometimes it’s very wrong.

Don’t believe me? Take a glance at the picks by the ESPN staff (all 45 of them), FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, the Yahoo Sports trio of writers, and just to make sure the computer projections are represented, take a look at a composite of several such projections (James, PECOTA, etc.). That’s  an even 50 prognostications you can go back to look at.

Or, if you trust my math skills, I’ll save you the trouble of looking:

  • 37 of the 50 picked the Red Sox to win the World Series (the computers didn’t pick a WS champion, but they did project the Sawx to have the best record in baseball). In case you’ve forgotten, Boston collapsed and didn’t make the playoffs. Oops.
  • None… zero… picked the Cardinals to win the World Series… or even be in the World Series. Only ESPN’s Doug Glanville, Peter Pascarelli, Bobby Valentine, Dave Winfield, Joe McDonald and Mark Mulder foresaw the Cards to make the post-season. That’s six out of 50 who believed that the eventual NL champion would even play post-season ball.
  • But what about their AL Central predictions… and specifically, what did they think the Twins would do? Twelve out of the 50 predicted the Twins would win the Division. Then again, why shouldn’t they? They won the AL Central the previous season, right? So who DID the experts like to claim this Division? Well, for 33 of the 50, that would have been the White Sox. The Tigers, who eventually pretty much lapped the field in the AL Central, were the choice of just five prognostications. Give the computers credit, though, they were the consensus pick of the machines (though the same machines did predict that the Twins would win about 84 games).

All of that considered, why shouldn’t we retain some optimism for our Twins?

Last year’s Opening Day roster was good enough that nearly every media “expert” believed they should at least compete in the AL Central Division. What’s changed? While many don’t believe the rotation is any better, I think that’s just a matter of people having short memories of recent failures. I expect the rotation to be stronger. I also expect the bullpen to be better (there are decent arms on this staff AND a couple of guys in Rochester capable of coming up to help, when necessary).

Newcomer Ryan Doumit adds versatility (Photo: Jim Crikket)

The bench depth is considerably better. The starting line-up is better, just considering how much healthier Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau are, compared to a year ago. Josh Willingham and Ryan Doumit are at least the equals of Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel offensively. Is there reason to question whether young players like Chris Parmelee, Trevor Plouffe and Luke Hughes can perform at Major League levels over the course of a full season? Of course. Then again, they’re bound to be better than Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Drew Butera and Jason Repko.

So, the question I keep asking myself is this: If last April’s roster was expected to win enough games to contend within the AL Central Division, why shouldn’t the expectations for this roster be similar? To my mind, there’s no reason they shouldn’t have similar expectations, last year’s record aside.

It’s fine to keep expectations in check. There remain concerns with the health of key players like Morneau and Scott Baker. Denard Span still speaks of occasional lingering concussion issues. But from top to bottom, I like the looks of this roster much more than I expected to.

The Tigers are still the smart-money choice to win the AL Central Division and, outside of the White Sox, perhaps, the rest of the division could be better than last year, as well. But I fully expect the Twins to be contending at mid-season. If that turns out to be the case, we’ll find out whether ownership is willing to step up and make a deal or two, even if it means nudging the payroll a bit closer to last year’s level.

No team has ever made the playoffs a year after losing 99 games. Then again, few 99-game losers had as many health issues contribute to their lousy season as the Twins had a year ago, nor have others likely had two former MVPs (both still 30 years old or younger) returning from injury the following season.

Am I expecting greatness out of this Twins team? No, of course not. I’m not expecting more than I expected going in to last season. Then again, I’m not expecting a lot less, either.

My point is… there is reason for hope. And hope is really all that fans of any team have this time of year, because no matter how good the experts say your favorite team is, there are no guarantees. Just ask Red Sox fans.

- JC

 

Comments are closed.