The Projections Business

added 2/19/2008 by Scott Barzilla

Before the whole mess of this off-season, it was popular to praise Bud Selig for moving the game of baseball to its most profitable period. Now that the Mitchell report has come out, many of us have thought he is doing good to keep from messing himself. The great game of baseball is in great shape, but it has nothing to do with anything Selig has done.

When pitchers and catchers reported on Valentine's Day, baseball fans were treated to their own kind of holiday. Unfortunately, that holiday was ruined for fans of players mentioned in the Mitchell Report. Instead of talking baseball we were treated to another round of apologies. Naturally, those comments were followed by the normal allegations, implications, and haberdashery that comes with moral quagmires like peformance enhancing drug use.

These distractions have unfortunately hidden what has turned out to be an exciting off-season. The American League East appears to be the only division where the top two finishers are definite. The rest of the divisions offer lots of drama and uncertainty at this point. Baseball fans are fond of saying, "hopes springs eternal," but that sentiment was hollow for many fans throughout the 1990s and early 2000s.

The NFL seemingly had cornered the market on parity, but baseball has quietly put together an impressive period of competitive balance. The media loves to focus on the Yankees and their dominance over the AL East, but only one team has won multiple titles during this decade. The Yankees aren't that team. With that competitive balance comes benefits people couldn't possibly fathom.

One of those benefits is the addition of the projections industry. NFL fans are used to this sort of thing. You have all kinds of pre-season publications that would mainly predict how teams would finish that year. Baseball had those, but only diehard fans would buy them. Did you really need a magazine to tell you that the Braves were going to win the NL East in the 1990s or that the Yankees would win the AL East throughout most of the 2000s?

Baseball has always been a game of numbers and you always have had your fantasy players out there. Now, traditional sabermetric publications are producing projection works. More fans in more cities are excited about their team's chances to win. It used to take a few beers for that to happen for most fans. Just ten years ago, only a few cities could reasonably hope for a playoff appearance. Now, only a few cities can count themselves out.

1560's David Nuno asked me where I would rank the Astros off-season. He thought it was top twelve material while others think the Astros have done horribly. Normally, this would be simple. You would look at the team's pitching and go from there. Despite a patchwork rotation, the Astros still have a puncher's chance. Welcome to modern baseball. Suddenly, if you have two starters with a sub 4.00 ERA you start getting compared to the 1970 Orioles.

The end result is that picking the World Series champion is becoming as difficult as picking the NFL champ. That's how it should be. People love excellence, but they love drama a lot more. People wax poetic about the 1969 Mets a lot more often then they talk about the 1927 Yankees. People revere those Yankees, but they love the Mets. So, buy "The Hardball Times," "Baseball Prospectus," or even "The Bill James Handbook" if you wish. You can even make your own prediction. Just don't count on it necessarily coming true. As they say, that's why they play the games.