Now that we’ve completed our journey through the positional power rankings for the upcoming season, I wanted to give an overview of each team’s forecasts for each spot, and then their overall forecast. Keep in mind that simply summing the linear weights contribution of each individual player is a very crude way to project a team’s performance, since it leaves out things that a good projection system should forecast, such as strength of schedule and the non-linear interactions that effect run scoring. However, for being a crude back-of-the-envelope calculation, it also works pretty well, so as long as you take these in the spirit they’re intended and not as the gospel truth, this kind of exercise can give you a lot of information about where teams stand heading into the coming season.
So, here’s the total results for each team’s forecast WAR from the Positional Power Rankings, and the conversion from that into projected wins.
(That table is sortable, by the way, so you can go position by position if you’d like to see the spreads at each spot on the field.)
By this measure, the Tigers are the best team in baseball, with a substantial gap over everyone else. While last year’s Detroit team was built around a few great players hoping to compensate for a lot of weaknesses in the supporting cast, this year’s version includes a lot of upgrades at those complementary spots, and that depth pushes Detroit to the top of the pack. I’ve been hailing the Nationals as the best team in baseball due to the fact that their roster really doesn’t have any glaring flaws, but Detroit is similarly sound across the board. Given the weakness of the rest of the AL Central, the Tigers are almost certainly the team with the best odds of playing in October, and as long as they can keep their big guns healthy, they have a very good shot at returning to the World Series.
From there, things go mostly as you might expect. The Angels and Rangers are similarly good teams and should fight for the AL West. The Braves look like the Nationals stiffest competition in the NL East, and the gap there might be smaller than I’ve thought previously. The AL East and NL West are a jumble of teams with similar abilities. The Astros are the worst team in baseball, with the Marlins and Twins not far behind.
But there are some surprises in the mix too. The Blue Jays don’t grade out as a top tier team, even after their aggressive off-season of upgrades. I think the forecast is underselling R.A. Dickey here, and they have a decent chance to beat the 85 win forecast, but they are betting big on some high variance players coming off career years. Their season might very well come down to whether Dickey and Melky Cabrera can retain a good chunk of their breakout 2013 performances. These forecasts are down on both, but there’s certainly upside with both players beyond what is projected here.
And yes, even with the park adjustments, this system is still pretty bullish on Colorado. The bullpen is very good, the rotation doesn’t project as a disaster, and better health from a couple of game’s best players should keep the offense afloat, even if it’s not good enough to keep them in contention. While the Rockies were genuinely awful last year, we may be overreacting to the most recent performance and not acknowledging that there is some real talent on that team. Probably not enough to contend, but enough to finish near .500 as long as Troy Tulowitzki stays on the field for most of the season.
On the not-as-positive side of things, these forecasts are wholly unimpressed by the Indians, and instead of seeing them as upstarts who could give the Tigers a run for their money, this system has Cleveland finishing fourth in the AL Central, closer to the Twins than to .500. Almost all of the negativity comes from the pitching projections, however, and those are the ones with the most variance, especially if Cleveland’s offense provides reasons for optimism and the front office makes some in-season adjustments to the pitching staff. I wouldn’t write off Cleveland just yet, but it’s probably worth toning down the enthusiasm their off-season created just a bit, as there are still some real issues with that roster.
Scheduling and in-season roster moves will widen the spread of actual wins versus what you see here, but I think these numbers also back up the idea that there is a lot of parity in Major League Baseball right now, and picking the winners at the start of the season isn’t nearly as easy as it used to be. Detroit looks like a safe bet at the top of their division, but nearly every other race could be construed as a real toss-up, at least according to these numbers. I’d make a few adjustments here or there in my own personal picks, but overall, I think this system worked out pretty well, and gives us a pretty good overview of the strengths and weaknesses of each team heading into the season.
Now, we’ll just have to see what big surprises lay in store once the games actually start to matter.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.