Predicting things is hard. Predicting baseball is even harder than predicting things. Predicting baseball is even harder because there is so much chance involved. Injuries, luck on the field, luck in player acquisitions, hot streaks, cold streaks, streaky streaks. It all makes predicting future baseball a bear.
You might think that would mean the people who make the predictions would understand the large role luck plays given that it must be on their plate every year. They'd understand and even embrace the element of chance involved. Instead, predictions end up being some sort of 1950s-era science experiment on repeating the past. The last two seasons the Red Sox have been bad or, maybe more appropriately, worse than we initially thought they would be. So what's the result? Predictably, the results were predictable.
The Red Sox -- likely your Red Sox if you're reading these words -- are, as the kids say, not getting any love. Or maybe that's not what the kids say. Maybe that's what people who aren't getting loved say. In any case, the Red Sox are projected, predicted, estimated, and guessed to finish the 2013 season at or well towards the bottom of the American League East division by roughly a billion people who's job it is to know, or guess at these things.
For fun, easy, and sadistic reference later in the season, here's a few of the projections I found and what they said about the Red Sox.
Predictor: Jon Paul Morosi, Fox Sports
Prediction: Second to last ahead of the Yankees
Quote: I’m more confident in the Red Sox than the Yankees, because of what Jon Lester (3-0, 0.75 ERA) and Clay Buchholz (2-0, 0.96 ERA) have accomplished in spring training. If they have returned to their old selves — and that appears to be the case — then the Red Sox can win enough low-scoring games to remain competitive.
Predictor: Craig Calcaterra, NBC's Hardball Talk
Prediction: Last place
Quote: I do worry about David Ortiz. If he isn't there in the middle of that lineup everything falls apart. They won't score the runs to compete. A better year in Boston but they're not there yet.
Predictor: Ken Rosenthal, Fox Sports
Prediction: Second to last
Quote: Big problem if David Ortiz doesn’t get healthy quickly, but could surprise if rotation’s spring performance was for real.
Predictor: Jonathan Bernhardt, Sports on Earth
Prediction: Second to last
Quote: If they pitch like it's 2010 all over again -- and about ten other things break right -- then Boston's got an outside shot at a Wild Card. The chances of that happening are, well, fairly slim.
Predictor: Seven Sports Illustrated Analysts
Prediction: Not picked to make the playoffs by any of seven analysts
Quote: The Red Sox have too far to go to reach 90 wins.
So that's enough, right? We get the gist. Nobody on a national level thinks the Red Sox are going to be any good. But when perusing these sort of columns, remember a few things. First, most analysts, like most people, remember what they've seen most recently. Sure, the teams that won last year are often among the best teams the following year as well, but let me pick on Sports Illustrated for a second. Last year the Nationals posted the best record in baseball, but there are real questions as to how good they'll be this season. Not to say they won't be good, but they're not likely to be as good. At the same time the Braves are coming up fast in the rear-view mirror. Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA system sees the Braves winning three fewer games than Washington. That's pretty close, but how many SI writers picked the Braves to win the NL East? You'd have to think at least one or two, but no. None did.
The same is true for the way they projected the Red Sox. Last year they were terrible. Add a bit of talent and, eh, they're probably still not very good. Except that's not how teams work, that's not how player work, that's not how anything works.
Photo credit: USA TODAY Sports
But even if it were, (second) none of this is destiny. Sometimes there is a tendency to feel slighted because some analyst didn't see the potential in our favorite team. That used to bother me. "How can you think the Red Sox don't have a good shot at the playoffs?" But now I know it doesn't mean anything. That's not to say it isn't fun or even informative, just that it doesn't alter what will happen on the field. Had the '04 Red Sox been projected to finish last by every writer from Sports Illustrated and their mother they would still have won the World Series. Just like the '04 crowd, the 2013 Sox will get their chance to prove the experts weren't experts on them. By the end of the year nobody will remember the predictions anyway (yet another reason you'd think one of 'em would take a frigging chance already but whatever).
Personally, I'm not sure where the Red Sox will finish. They really could finish almost anywhere and I wouldn't be shocked. I think last place would surprise me but anything beyond that is easy to see depending on how things work out for the competition. What I do know is it should be a fun season. I don't like the Jackie Bradley move (though there is time to redeem it), but I won't deny it's fun watching Bradley play (not that that should impact the decision one way or the other). I think the starting pitching is going to go from a huge weakness to a strength and I think the group of players will be much more fun and easier to get behind. Also Dustin Pedroia is guaranteed to do something silly at some point.
There will be young guys, there will be old, and the rest of the division is more evenly split than anytime in the past decade. Despite what the analysts think, the Red Sox have the talent to take advantage of that. Starting Monday we'll get to watch them try. I can't wait.