Before Opening Day, 32 staff writers and contributors from across our family of blogs made predictions about which teams would make the 2019 playoffs. I compiled the results, which can be found here. On March 19, 15 clubs had playoffs odds of 20% or better by our numbers; the Angels came close at 19.5%. When half the teams in the majors are seen as pre-season also-rans, it’s easy to fret that the next few months will be fairly ho-hum; that with so many divisions seemingly sewn up, the season might fail to deliver its share of thrills. Despite a few bold predictions (two brave souls forecast the Dodgers to miss the postseason entirely), many of our writers showed an unsurprising deference to the preseason projections. But just because the answers seemed obvious doesn’t mean we got everything right. As I’ve said in the past, affecting an air of clairvoyance is a rite of spring; realizing we’re a bunch of goofs is fall business. So before the playoffs begin this evening, let’s spend a moment reckoning with the fact that we’re bad at predicting things, or at least imperfect at it.
First though, we’ll pause to acknowledge those who got things the most right. No one predicted the postseason field in its entirety, but Eric Longenhagen, Paul Sporer, Eli Ben-Porat, and the Brothers Birchwood each anticipated eight of the final 10 teams. Eric, Paul, and the Birchwood Brothers got the American League field right but for Oakland; all three thought the Red Sox were destined for October baseball. And Eli was the closest in the National League; he correctly pegged the three division winners, and Washington as a Wild Card, though he thought the Nationals would be facing the Phillies in Philly.
Seven writers predicted the AL Division winners correctly. Eli was the only writer to correctly pick both Wild Card teams, though he had their positions flipped. We exhibited what turned out to be an appropriate amount of skepticism toward Boston’s chances of repeating as AL East Champs, but we had what turned out to be a misplaced faith in Mookie and Co. to pull out a Wild Card spot. And despite what we all saw as an underwhelming offseason, a full 25 of us thought Cleveland would find their way to a Central title by simply not being Detroit, Kansas City, or Chicago. A full 25 of us were wrong. We did quite poorly by both the Twins and the A’s, though we liked the Rays very much.
But the team that really jammed us up was the Braves. Just eight writers predicted that they would make the postseason at all, and only two (Eli and David Laurila) thought it would come in the form of an NL East championship. Meanwhile, 24 of us thought the Bryce Harper-led Phillies would clean up. Whoops.
It’s nice to be right, but it’s also nice to be delighted. The National league led to fewer correct predictions; only one of us managed to get all the division winners right. St. Louis needed until the season’s final day to clinch; the Brewers came roaring back. I thought Cleveland would have an easy time of it, but I was quite happy to be wrong. Dominating teams are a treat to watch, but it’s the possibility that a lot of teams could dominate that keeps us coming back. I hope next year is harder to pin down. Think of the fun we’ll have along the way.
Meg is the managing editor of FanGraphs and the co-host of Effectively Wild. Prior to joining FanGraphs, her work appeared at Baseball Prospectus, Lookout Landing, and Just A Bit Outside.
There were 4 writers who only guessed two of the AL playoff teams?
That’s hilariously bad. 2 teams were literally a given before the season started. That means, those four people went 0fer on actual predictions. Woof!
show us your scorecard pal
I guessed Astros, Yankees, Red Sox, Indians, and Athletics…
Its below expected but not hugely so. The chalk prediction would’ve been Houston, Boston, Cleveland, NY, and then one of either As, Rays, Angels, or Twins. Could’ve very easily guessed the Angels and gotten only two right despite choosing all the “given answers”
They’re all actual predictions, there’s no such thing as a given. The Astros may have been the closest thing to a given but there are still scenarios where they miss the playoffs.
The next closest thing to a given was Cleveland based on their division and they failed to make the postseason due to an unwillingness to spend on high-end talent and quality depth, while crossing their fingers for good health all around.
Maybe you meant NYY, but NY still had to contend with the AL Eest, significant questions around their rotation, as well as injury history all over the roster – Paxton, Tanaka, Severino, Stanton, Sanchez, Gregorius, and Judge all have some level of health questions marks. Fortunately for NYY they had built sufficient depth that managed to blow expectations out of the water to carry them.
Some may have even said BOS was a given, even with regression baked in, based on their previous season. Obviously an aging, fragile pitching staff and 2 payers coming off career years doesn’t scream repeat but there’s still an argument.
I think getting 2 of the 5 says more about writer personality than something worth categorization as hilariously bad. Would Red Sox, Rays, Indians, Astros, Angels have been that ridiculous? The only real stretch there is the Angels or . That’s 4 teams you can feel pretty good about going into the season and a wild card selection against expectations.
These subjective predictions can look really good or really bad which is kind of the whole point. It’s basically saying, I see the mathematical projections, but I bet team x hits their 90% while team y hits their 30% for z reasons.
That’s fair, and I’m being a little harsh.. but the Angels are mediocre until they prove their not. Anyone predicting them to be not is doing so based on wishful thinking. Red Sox, Rays, Twins, and Indians were all surprises. To me, the Athletics were not a surprise.. if you assumed Astros winning the west, Indians winning the Central and Yankees and Red Sox making the playoffs, you were left with picking one of Athletics, Rays, and I guess Angels. Both Rays and Angels would have been off the radar picks.
I think it’s disingenuous to say Cleveland didn’t win the division because they refuse to spend money. While I do think they should have, the more reasonable explanation is that their starting rotation was decimated by injuries, Jose Ramirez played like dog poop for the majority of the season, and Lindor/Santana disappeared in September.
In addition to that the Twins greatly outperformed their projections.
That total culmination can more or less account for the 8 game difference in the standings.
To paraphrase General Pickett, the Twins had a lot to do with the Indians not winning the division.
It is fairer to say that Cleveland didn’t get a wild card slot because ownership gave the FO a mandate to cut payroll early in the year.
I would also argue that the fact that we should continue to be hard on Cleveland’s ownership (not the FO, which did an admirable job with what they had), partly because of the reasons you mention. Let’s say:
-Only one of Santana/Lindor disappeared in Sept
-They got 100 more innings out of Kluber/Clevinger
-Carrasco gets a garden-variety injury that knocks him out for half the year instead of leukemia
-Ramirez pulled out of his slump 6 weeks earlier than he did (so, cut most of the problems in half).
In that hypothetical world, those non-moves look even worse.
FWIW Cleveland won 91 games in 2018, and even gassed out won 93 in 2019. (They didn’t exactly collapse.)
Their plan was to hold auditions until the trade deadline and then fill out the outfield. Which they did. Their august, post-trade, OF was adequate, if not fantastic. And they did catch the Twinkies.
In the end it came down to two injuries too many; their minor league depth wasn’t up to replacing (reborn) Ramirez and Kipnis, and five pitchers.
And the Twins didn’t fold. Kudos there.
Few expected a race but we got one until the last week…
For Cleveland that’s above par.
I didn’t say Cleveland didn’t win the division because they were unwilling to spend, I said they failed to make the postseason altogether because of it.
Cleveland didn’t win the division because the Twins had a heck of a year. However, just by bringing back Brantley in and of itself probably gets Cleveland a wild card spot considering the year he had and the average to downright bad options the team ran out in LF and RF on a nightly basis.
And if the team had spent more on quality depth pieces they would have been better positioned to weather injuries and under performance.
NYY had similar if not worse injury luck and managed to win the east with contributions from quality depth pieces like DJM, Urshela, Encarnacion (via mid-season trade), Tauchman, etc. Some of whom cost actually money.
I get Cleveland is a smaller market, but when you’re in a position to win now and you prefer to save $2M rather than pay Neil Walker types, it’s a tough sell to fans, especially once the stars are gone. I.e. See Pittsburgh.
What about trading Bauer? Also in addition to the past offseason’s decisions I think there are a lot of prior decisions, including drafting, that also affect this year.
Of their 1st round picks from recent history, only Lindor has been a regular contributor to the team. Also, signing Edwin in 2016 cost them a 2017 first round pick, and trading for Miller cost them Frazier, who would have helped them this year.