2013 Standings: Projections vs. Reality

Brian Kersey

How did the projected standings for 2013 stack up against the actual results?

In the year-end report, our piece on the 2013 projected standings was one of the ten most read pieces on the site for the year. I figured it might be interesting to revisit those and see how those predictions matched up against reality. First off, here are the projections from the three systems - BP, CAIRO and Vegas - along with the average wins, the actual number of victories for each team, and how far off the average projection was [we're not concerned about direction there]. And yes: they're sortable. :)

Team BP CAIRO Vegas Average Actual Diff
Pirates 79 78 79 78.7 94 15.3
White Sox 77 77 80.5 78.2 63 15.2
Red Sox 86 82 79.5 82.5 97 14.5
Blue Jays 85 90 86.5 87.2 74 13.2
Indians 80 81 77.5 79.5 92 12.5
Angels 90 91 89.5 90.2 78 12.2
Cardinals 84 86 85.5 85.2 97 11.8
Athletics 83 87 83 84.3 96 11.7
Braves 82 88 86 85.3 96 10.7
Giants 85 88 86 86.3 76 10.3
Orioles 74 76 76.5 75.5 85 9.5
Astros 63 58 59.5 60.2 51 9.2
Phillies 80 82 81.5 81.2 73 8.2
Cubs 77 73 72 74 66 8.0
Royals 76 80 79 78.3 86 7.7
Rays 86 88 85 86.3 92 5.7
Mariners 79 73 76.5 76.2 71 5.2
Brewers 79 78 79.5 78.8 74 4.8
Nationals 88 92 90 90 86 4.0
Yankees 92 87 86.5 88.5 85 3.5
Marlins 66 66 64.5 65.5 62 3.5
Rangers 87 89 87 87.7 91 3.3
Tigers 92 87 90 89.7 93 3.3
Diamondbacks 84 84 81.5 83.2 81 2.2
Rockies 72 72 71.5 71.8 74 2.2
Mets 80 73 74 75.7 74 1.7
Padres 76 80 74.5 76.8 76 0.8
Reds 92 91 89.5 90.8 90 0.8
Dodgers 93 89 89.5 90.5 91 0.5
Twins 66 66 64.5 65.5 66 0.5

I think, overall, I was quite impressed with how accurate many of the average projections were. More than one-third, eleven out of the thirty, ended up less than four games away from the actual number of victories posted. However, at the other end of the spectrum, there were a full third that were ten or more games out: I think part of the problem is that projections tend to be conservative, and cluster a lot closer to the mean than reality. For example, no team was expected even to reach 91 wins: no few than ten actually did.

In broader terms, the projections were pretty good at pinpointing winners and losers. Fourteen terms were projected to be below .500: only four (Orioles, Royals, Pirates and Indians) confounded expectations with winning seasons. The same number, four of sixteen (Phillies, Giants, Blue Jays and Angels), ended up below .500, when they were expected to win - and the Phillies were only one-sixth of a game above the line to begin with. All told, almost three-quarters (22 of 30) finished on the side expected. If you were flipping coins to decide, you'd be right that often or better only 0.8% of the time, so the projections are doing much better than chance.

Next, I've divided up the list into those severely wrong (more than 10 games out), those that were close to accurate (within four games or fewer), and those somewhere in the middle. Let's take a look and see if we can see what happened, though we are hampered somewhat by the Vegas not predicting runs scored or allowed totals, and the BP projections are no longer available, so we're going purely on CAIRO for RS and RA predictions.

Under-estimated severely
  • Pirates 15.3
  • Red Sox 14.5
  • Indians 12.5
  • Cardinals 11.8
  • Athletics 11.7
  • Braves 10.7

Despite the presence of MVP Andrew McCutchen, it was the Pirates' pitching and defense that was responsible for the over-achievement here. The run differential was expected to be -21, but was actually +57, with the staff allowing a mere 577 runs, 114 less than expected. But that pales in comparison to how much better the Red Sox were than expected. CAIRO had them conceding almost 800 runs: they ended up 142 runs better at 656. However, a chunk of this is probably accounted for by the steadily declining run environment. CAIRO projected an average of 743 runs per team in the American League: the actual figure was only 702, the lowest rate in over 20 years.

Under-estimated somewhat
  • Orioles 9.5
  • Royals 7.7
  • Rays 5.7
Close to accurate
  • Rangers 3.3
  • Tigers 3.3
  • Rockies 2.2
  • Dodgers 0.5
  • Twins 0.5
  • Padres -0.8
  • Reds -0.8
  • Mets -1.7
  • Diamondbacks -2.2
  • Yankees -3.5
  • Marlins -3.5
  • Nationals -4.0

Here, we find everyone in the National League West except for San Francisco, with the systems doing a good collective job and getting everyone else within a margin of plus or minus 2.2 games. I was quire surprised they were most accurate for Los Angeles: I guess the dire start and the unstoppable surge basically canceled each other out, resulting in them ending almost exactly as expected. For us, the difference was due to a little from column A, a little from column B. CAIRO had us at 705-684, but the Diamondbacks scored 20 runs less and allowed eleven more than that, though marginally outperformed their Pythagorean to finish at exactly .500.

Over-estimated somewhat
  • Brewers -4.8
  • Mariners -5.2
  • Cubs -8.0
  • Phillies -8.2
  • Astros -9.2
Over-estimated severely
  • Giants -10.3
  • Angels -12.2
  • Blue Jays -13.2
  • White Sox -15.2

I think we all know why the Giants are in this pile: starting pitching that imploded. Management there appears to have doubled-down, outside the addition of Tim Hudson, in the belief that 2013's failure was the aberration, and not 2012's World Series win. But that was nothing compared to the collapse of the White Sox's offense, who became the first American League team in a decade, outside of Seattle, to score less than 600 runs, as the South Siders stumbled to their lowest win percentage since 1970. Not quite the potentially contending team Masahiro Tanaka is looking for, it would appear...

We're still a little way off being able to repeat the exercise for 2014, and considering the amount of free-agent pitching still to pinball its way into a resting place, that's probably for the best. CAIRO does have an early iteration up, which currently sees us at 85-77, third in the NL West and two games back of the Giants for the second wild-card spot, but with a 41% chance of making the post-season. I'm not dissatisfied with that, but as the above shows, the gap between projections and the reality they represent, can be more a yawning chasm than a crevice.

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