With the MLB Playoffs now officially underway, it’s a good time to look back at the year that was: the 162 game stint that has determined where we are and who we’re rooting for today. There are at least two resources that fans can avail themselves of in order to see how their team is going to shake out — the collected thoughts of the baseball intelligentsia, and the financially motivated listings of the betting capital of the United States: Las Vegas. These are the two institutions that regularly and routinely keep tabs on how teams are expected to do, beyond fans, who are secretly if not openly expecting division titles and World Series championships.
Keeping track of how the pundits and the sports books actually do throughout the year can be tricky, since neither group (the gamblers or the prognosticators) are particularly happy to keep their old expectations up and in plain sight, but thanks to Michael Lopez, an assistant professor of statistics at Skidmore and the guy behind Statsbylopez.com, we can see how each team was expected to do at the outset of the season compared to how the year actually went.
This, obviously, is awesome. There were some teams — like the Dodgers and the Twins — who were sussed pretty correctly by the two groups before the first pitch was thrown, but there were many more who played differently than they were ‘supposed to.’ Some franchises performed better, while some didn’t measure up, but most teams proved that predictions are foggy things. Here are the seven MLB teams that eschewed expectations the most.
7. Miami Marlins
Even though we’ll probably still slip up and call them the Florida Marlins for another decade or five, the Miami team dashed expectations when they posted a 77 win season this year — well above what Vegas and the Statheads predicted. The Statheads, by the way, are Lopez’s amalgamation of Baseball Prospectus, FanGraphs, LiteSabers, Prediction Machine, Trading Bases, and others. All great websites and all well worth googling. The Statheads were actually nicer to the Marlins than the sports books, since they (accurately) predicted that Miami would break 70 wins. Vegas was not so friendly.
6. Los Angeles Angels
The second most pleasant surprise of 2014, the Los Angeles Angels — home of Mike Trout, who is to baseball analytics what Babe Ruth is to baseball mythology — exceeded the expectations of Vegas and the advanced stats army by coming up just short of 100 wins (they finished with 98 all in all). The oddsmakers were nicer to the team than the stats guys, but neither of them predicted that the team would top 80, let alone 90 wins.
5. Baltimore Orioles
The happiest story of the season goes to the Baltimore Orioles, who won an astonishing 96 games over the 2014 regular season to take first place in the AL East, well surpassing the more modest expectations set for them by everyone else. Those ‘in the know’ had them pegged for fewer than 80 wins, and while Vegas had them just on the other side of that number, they weren’t sure the Orioles would be able to crack 85 wins, let alone 90.
4. Colorado Rockies
From the happy to the tragic. On pace to win roughly 50 percent of the games that they played last year, according to the Stats people as well as the gambling types, the Rockies failed to even crack 70, going for 66 victories and second-to-last place in the NL West. Who wound up taking that last, most unsuccessful spot? Well, we’ll get to them in a minute.
3. Boston Red Sox
From World Series champions to basement feeders once again, the 2014 Boston Red Sox might not have been marred by beer and chicken in the club house, but they were a nice throwback to a different kind of Boston Red Sox, once mostly dormant over the last decade. The kind of Boston Red Sox team that would offer you glimmers of hope before sliding back into an inevitable quagmire of mediocrity and failure. They wound up winning 71 games and finishing at the bottom of the AL East, well below where anyone thought they would.
2. Texas Rangers
It seems laughable now, but all parties involved thought that the Rangers were going to finish their 2014 season with right around 85 wins. How on earth did the Texas franchise turn in such a disaster instead? Well, it’s because the Rangers weren’t very good. When your silver lining is coming out on top of the most improbable series of the year, sweeping a team that still goes on to make the playoffs and causing everyone to scratch their heads in confusion, you’re going to have a bad time.
1. Arizona Diamondbacks
While it’s hard to be disappointed in retrospect when a team that isn’t very good winds up not being very good, the Diamondbacks were predicted by Vegas to go for about 80 wins this season. Obviously, that didn’t happen. But wait, you ask, couldn’t this just be a situation where gambling houses posit an optimistic line in order to get people to take the bet? Perhaps, but then you realize that the baseball thinkers wound up estimating that Arizona would win about the same number of games, and it all gets very confusing because, you know, the team was not good — in fact, they were the worst team in baseball, finishing with a record of 63-99.
Which team was supposed to be the worst? The Houston Astros. You can read about them, the methodology behind the statistics, and an interesting blast of knowledge from Lopez himself by clicking here. Ultimately, if your takeaway is that predicting the successes and failures of sports teams prior to the beginning of the season is really difficult, then you’re probably on the right track.