The Most-Changed Teams Since Opening Day

Projections. Do you not like reading that word? Don’t worry about it. I don’t particularly like writing that word, and I know full well that it can be a major turn-off. It doesn’t help that there’s not a great alternative way to express the same idea. When you’re talking about projections, you typically have to say “projections” somewhere. It’s inelegant, but it is what it is.

Some people don’t like projections because projections aren’t always right. Perfectly legitimate, even if it holds the model to an impossible standard. That being said, overall, the better projections are better than human guesswork. I’ve never seen convincing evidence that people are better at seeing the baseball future than projections are, and so the projections live on, referred to constantly. This has all been a long way of getting to the point that, hey, I’m about to build a post around our team projections. I want to compare projections today to the projections we had the morning of the first day of the season.

It’s not that hard to do, using the information readily available on our Playoff Odds page. You could do it yourself! But you don’t have to. Because, look below. When we start getting games under our collective belt, fans and readers ask us which of our ideas have changed. We all have our own individual ideas about players and teams, but changes in the projections tend to be closely linked. So let’s quickly examine changes at either end of the spectrum.

I’ve prepared two plots. For this first one, you’re seeing current end-of-season projected wins, minus end-of-season projected wins from opening day.

This plot contains good news for the Diamondbacks, Rockies, Yankees, Brewers, and so on. But the biggest news of all is right there at the far side — we’ve got the Giants, dipping from 88.5 projected wins to 80.1. That shift has taken place in less than four weeks, and to put that in context, at the start of the year, the Giants ranked seventh in baseball in projected wins. Now they rank 16th, about even with the Marlins. The Giants were supposed to finish 11 games better than Arizona and Colorado. Now they’re projected to finish a few games behind. It’s not the biggest shift imaginable in such a short span of time, but this is huge, nevertheless. Giants fans presumably sense it. Don’t get stuck falling for the gambler’s fallacy, either — an early slump isn’t automatically offset by a later hot streak. All those losses are already in the books, and there’s no easily undoing the damage.

That plot helps to answer one question. However, a huge factor in there is how teams have already started. Let’s strip away the direct effect of actual wins and actual losses. In this plot, I’ve included the changes in projected rest-of-season winning percentage. This is a closer reflection of changes in true talent, as it’s important to remember that the projections we have on FanGraphs are responsive to new information in the form of new stats.

Of course, this order is much like the order in the previous plot. The Brewers, by this measure, look like the most-improved team around, having boosted their projected winning percentage by 19 points. It hasn’t had much of an effect on the Brewers’ shot at the playoffs, since no one really believes the Brewers have a shot at the playoffs, but I’d say this qualifies as a surge. And a massive component, naturally, has been Eric Thames‘ hot start, which has bumped his wOBA projection by 16 points. Manny Pina has boosted his own wOBA projection by 14 points, and you’ve probably never even heard of him before. I don’t need to break everybody down; overall, the Brewers look better. You can argue, with them and with any team, that nothing much has actually changed since opening day. Perhaps Eric Thames has been this good all along. But our expectations for him have most certainly climbed, as we’ve gained new data. That’s what this reflects.

The Yankees look good here, thanks to a handful of hot starts. Aaron Judge has bumped his wOBA projection nine points. Aaron Hicks has bumped his 11 points! The Diamondbacks also look legitimately improved, building on the potential people pointed out all March long. But why ignore the elephant in the room any longer? The Giants, again. Their projected rest-of-season winning percentage is down 29 points, a function of two obvious things: some bad starts, and the Madison Bumgarner injury. The Giants’ downward shift is more than twice as bad as the next-worst, which belongs to the Angels, and that probably has a lot to do with the Garrett Richards injury. As for the Blue Jays, when I look at the 20 hitters who have seen the biggest drops in projected wOBA, they’ve got three names in there, including Steve Pearce, Jose Bautista, and Devon Travis. Pearce has the biggest change of all, at -17 points. Some of the negative trends are going to reverse, but one should feel a little worse about the Jays now as compared to a month ago. That’s an obvious point, but it’s still a point worth remembering. It’s not *all* just about the early wins and losses.

It’s the Giants who’re in the most trouble. Where they used to be projected to win almost as much as the Astros, they’re now projected to win out like the…Blue Jays, which is awfully convenient. And if you’re a Mariners fan worried about losing both Mitch Haniger and Felix Hernandez, I guess the good news is that the projection hasn’t actually gotten much worse. But these projections are based on manually-estimated playing times, and maybe those injuries are worse than presently assumed. Look, there’s nothing truly good there. Just stuff that could be less bad.

I guess the major takeaway is that it’s been less than a month, and the NL West looks almost upside-down. Thank goodness for the Padres, preserving some element of familiarity.

Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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Haniger probably balances himself out – less play time due to injury, but his hot start has to improve his projections.