We’ve had the 2016 Steamer Projections up on the site for a while now, but until this morning, the only way to look at the aggregate team projections was to look at a team’s total projected WAR and eyeball how that might translate to wins and losses. WAR is a good enough proxy to get you in the right neighborhood, but because of differences between the leagues and the fact that wins aren’t perfectly linear, ideally, you want to run the raw numbers through a run estimator and then use BaseRuns to convert those runs scored and allowed numbers into an expected win total. Well, as of today, we’ve updated our Projected Standings page to do exactly that, taking the individual Steamer projections and the playing time projections from our depth charts to produce estimated win-loss records for every team in baseball.
Probably to no one’s surprise, the Cubs currently stand atop the projections with a 95-67 forecasted record. The Cubs were excellent a year ago, built around a core of exciting young players, and then added Jason Heyward, Ben Zobrist, and John Lackey in free agency. Yes, they’re projected to win two fewer games than a year ago, but that’s simply a function of the fact that projections are attempting to project context-neutral performance, not accounting for wins that can be added (or lost) due to clutch performance; taking away the effects of sequencing naturally results in a smaller spread from top to bottom.
So, instead of looking at the projections relative to a team’s 2015 win-loss record, here are the current Steamer projections — these can and will change as more free agents sign, trades are made, and the depth charts become more clear as we get closer to the season — compared to each team’s own BaseRuns expected record from a year ago.
The difference that immediately stands out the most is the Red Sox, who played like a mediocre team last year but are again projected as the AL’s best team on paper, according to these forecasts. Of course, our projections liked the Red Sox a lot last year, and that didn’t work out so well, so I’d imagine there will be a decent amount of skepticism related to that forecast, given how the team has actually performed the last two years. Adding David Price and Craig Kimbrel definitely helps, and the system expects Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval to go from a combined -4 WAR to to +4 WAR — an upgrade roughly equivalent to replacing a AAA scrub with Mike Trout at one position — so it’s hard not to see this team as likely to be a bit better, though I’d take the under on the idea that they’re the second best team in baseball at the moment. It’s clear, though, that once again, Steamer really likes the Red Sox roster.
The other big jump also belongs to the team named after footwear, but this one is probably a little more likely to be accepted; the White Sox make a jump into the middle-tier of teams thanks to replacing scrubs with Todd Frazier and Brett Lawrie, plus adding a competent catcher in Alex Avila, along with adding in some positive regression from Melky Cabrera. The team is still lacking a big league shortstop and a couple of back-end starting pitchers, but the Frazier move in particular was a huge improvement, and the White Sox hopes of contending last year might come to fruition this year if they catch some breaks.
On the other end of the scale, the Blue Jays and Astros are expected to take the biggest steps backward, though in both cases it’s more about inevitable regression to the mean than anything about the team’s off-season decisions. The Blue Jays just got so many great performances from guys who can’t be reasonably expected to have the same season again — Kevin Pillar and his +4.3 WAR, for example — that there was basically nowhere to go but down. The Astros fall a bit less and are still projected as the best team in the AL West, but Steamer doesn’t expect the team to get the same kind of production from part-timers like Jake Marisnick or Marwin Gonzalez again, and it will be difficult for Dallas Keuchel to repeat his Cy Young performance from 2015.
By and large, though, we don’t see a ton of huge swings. Here’s a plot of every team’s expected record (according to BaseRuns) from last year versus their projected record (also according to BaseRuns) for 2016.
The Red Sox stand out on that graph as well, but most teams are in the same general vicinity of where their context-neutral performances from a year ago pegged them. And that big giant clump in the middle is why every team in the American League believes they can contend this year; the AL is full of okay-but-not-great rosters, and no one is ready to write-off 2016 when everyone is starting from mostly the same place.
Of course, these projections aren’t gospel. Once all the ZIPS forecasts are done, we’ll fold those numbers into our depth chart projections, which will change some things, and there are plenty of other good projection systems out there as well, many coming to different conclusions. So don’t go put the mortgage on these numbers, especially given how big a roll context plays in determining a team’s final record. But in terms of setting up a decent baseline for the upcoming season, it’s nice to have win-loss numbers to give us an idea of the various gaps between teams.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.