Goin’ All the Way 2017

Trust the Tigers to sow confusion. After all, they are cats, and you can count on a cat confuse matters given even a microscopic sliver of a chance. Detroit beat the White Sox 6-3, and that three-run difference is enough to bump the Red Sox out of the Wild Card game.

Here, for easy reference, are our playoff teams. I’ve included their current Won/Loss records for your amusement.
National League

Team

Won/Loss

Run Diff.

Mets

4-3

25-25 (0)

Cardinals

2-5

25-39 (-14)

Dodgers

4-4

42-25 (17)

Rockies

5-3 31-35 (-4)
Nationals 4-3

40-43 (-3)

 
American League

Team

Won/Loss

Run Diff.

Rays

5-3

34-34 (0)

Twins

5-1

30-13 (17)

Astros

4-4 21-30 (-9)
Indians 3-3

28-35 (-7)

Tigers

4-2

25-28 (-3)

As Eric pointed out on Facebook, one game is a very small sample size. I agree, but that’s what makes this exercise amusing. That said, if I were to use the results of Opening Week instead of Opening Day, our playoff teams would change just a bit.

National League: Phillies (+9), Reds (+14), Dodgers (+17), Diamondbacks (+16), Cubs (+9)

American League: Yankees (+7), Twins (+17), Angels (+6), White Sox (+5), Red Sox (+2)

That’s not any more appealing. Yes, it gets the Cubs into the playoffs, but it also lets the Yankees and Red Sox in. Worse, it still doesn’t help the Mariners, Orioles, or Giants. Feh.

So I’ll stick with the original, one game, predictions and see how the playoffs will run.

The first thing I see is that we’re going to have some really close games. The Cardinals will get slaughtered while the Twins and Dodgers are slaughtering, but all the other games are going to be tight, defensive battles as the teams struggle to score.

That ought to make Commissioner Manfred happy. After all, low-scoring games are typically short. Unless they run to extra innings. But in the playoffs, extra innings draw viewers. So, again, a win.

The bottom line is that the Twins are going all the way to the World Series. They’ll breeze through the AL, probably in something close to the minimum number of games, and there will be much rejoicing in Minnesota–it’s been a quarter of a century since the Twins were in the World Series.

Meanwhile, the NL playoffs are going to play out as a mirror of the AL with the Dodgers playing the part of the Twins. It’s been even longer since the Dodgers played for the championship–granted, only three years, but it still counts–so the cheers in LA will be even louder.

Based strictly on run differential, the World Series won’t ever end. Clearly, that’s a low-probability outcome. The Dodgers have those additional three years of futility on their side. But I think it’s a mistake to overlook the teams’ won/loss records. Despite a +17 run differentials, the Dodgers are 4-4. They’re clearly scoring their runs in bunches. The Twins have turned that same +17 into a 5-1 record–obviously scoring just enough to win comfortably.

So after a tight, high scoring, seven game World Series, the Twins are going to be the champions. You heard it here first.

And the Mariners will just have to wait until next year. Again.

Happy New Year (2017)

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.”

Of course Solomon was a baseball fan.

I compare you, my love,
  to a well-turned 6-4-3 double play.
Your cheeks bulge with chewing tobacco,
  your neck with ire over a missed tag.

Something like that, anyway.

The point is that we’ve once again arrived at the beginning of the baseball season, and that means it’s time for predictions.

Over at her blog, Jackie has called on a panel of experts to help her select this year’s playoff teams and eventual World Series winner. I’m pleased and honored that she asked me to be a member of the panel.

But such predictions, made before the season even begins, are a matter of guesswork. And so, once again, I’m turning to SCIENCE! to make my own.

For the past two seasons, I’ve used a formula based primarily on margin of victory in the first games of the season. In 2015, I achieved 40% accuracy in picking the playoff teams; last year I upped that to 70%. I’ve made further tweaks to my methodology this year, and I’m aiming for 90% or better.

Until now, I’ve been vexed by having to deal with pre-Opening Day games giving some teams a longer track record than others, while other teams have had their first games rained out. That’s definitely hurt my accuracy.

Fortunately, this year all of the teams that played Sunday had Monday off, so nobody’s played their second game yet. Unfortunately, Monday’s Tigers/White Sox game was rained out. So we’ll use the results of today’s game instead. Assuming, of course, that it doesn’t get rained out too.

So, enough background. What are the predictions?

Let’s start with the National League this year:

  • East – The New York Mets are the clear leaders, thanks to their six run victory over Atlanta.
  • Central – The St. Louis Cardinals are the only NL Central team to win, and that was only by one run. Clearly, it’s going to be a slow year in this division.
  • West – The LA Dodgers are going to build on their 14-3 shellacking of San Diego and run away with the NL West.
  • Wild Cards – This prediction system loves the Colorado Rockies. For the second year in a row, it thinks they’ll grab a wild card, while the other slot goes to the Washington Nationals.

As for the American League, it looks like this:

  • East – Who would have thought it would be the Tampa Bay Rays taking the division? But a convincing 7-3 victory over the Yankees can’t be dismissed.
  • Central – The Minnesota Twins‘ 7-1 victory over Kansas City puts them in the driver’s seat. But with no games played by Detroit and Chicago, we could have a quick change of predicted victors here.
  • West – Many of the conventional predictions have the Houston Astros winning the West, and some have even penciled them in for the World Series. Thanks to their 3-0 clobbering of Seattle, my system also has them taking their division.
  • Wild Cards – The Cleveland Indians will take the first slot on the strength of their 8-5 win against Texas. Both Boston and Oakland had two-run victories; as in the past, we’ll use their preseason records as the tiebreaker. That means it’ll be the Boston Red Sox on the strength of an 18-14 record. Unless, of course, Detroit or Chicago rearrange matters to their liking.

Interesting, wouldn’t you say? The Cubs won’t get a chance to defend their title, the Giants won’t win the World Series* either, the Orioles will be on the outside looking in, and the Mariners will extend their “missed the playoffs” streak to 16 seasons.

* Not that anyone expected them to: the last time the Giants won a World Series in an odd year was 1933.

Forget that “aiming for 90%” thing. This year I’m in the peculiar position of hoping my system implodes spectacularly.

But I’ll go with the predictions as they stand, subject to correction once the White Sox and Tigers actually play a game.

Who’ll be the World Series winner? It’s too early to tell. Last year I took a week’s games as my baseline and that worked well, so I’ll do the same this time. Thursday, I’ll have something of interest for the hereticsnon-baseball fans, and my playoff predictions will go up next Tuesday.

Almost There

We’re almost there. The MLB preseason is just about over. Opening Day is Monday, though as usual, we’ve got Scheduled For TV games on Sunday–three of ’em this year.

As we all know, the beginning of the season means two things: cats are making predictions and this year’s baseball video games hit the shelves.

Let’s start with the bad news.

Check out this commercial for MLB The Show 17.

Assuming you haven’t fled, screaming in horror, let’s talk about what’s wrong with this.

For starters, did you notice that every single person in the commercial is “this guy” and “he”? I’m not sure whether Sony thinks that women don’t play video games or that there aren’t female baseball fans, but either way it’s a damned offensive assumption.

Then there’s the celebration of Manfred’s Kool-Aid. “Quick three inning games”? Are you kidding me?

And speaking of that guy–four jobs and twelve kids? Come on! As Groucho Marx once didn’t say, “I love my cigar, too, but I take it out of my mouth once in a while!” Maybe if the dude hadn’t dropped $300 on a PS4 and $60 on the game, he could afford to quit one of those jobs.

I don’t play video games–not even baseball games–but I’m tempted to buy a PS4 just so I can boycott MLB The Show 17. The only thing stopping me is that Sony makes the console too.

Moving on.

Of course we’ve begun indoctrinating Rufus into the household traditions. He’s seen some baseball on TV (about ten seconds worth of highlights), so we figured he was qualified to make predictions for the 2017 season.

On the other hand, he is new to the concept, so we decided to start him off with something straightforward: predicting the final standings for the American League West. We’ll keep working with him during the season, and if his predictions pan out, we’ll give him a shot at the playoffs.

He used a treat-based methodology to make his selections.

The final prediction:

  1. Texas Rangers
  2. Houston Astros
  3. Seattle Mariners
  4. Oakland Athletics
  5. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

It’s not the order I’d have liked to see, but it’s not completely unreasonable, based on the preseason predictions. For comparison, FiveThirtyEight has Houston, Seattle, Texas, LA, and Oakland.

Rufus definitely enjoyed making his picks.

He was, however, rather less enthusiastic about the obligatory Wearing of the Cap that followed.

Checking In

Yes, I watched the AAA All-Star Game yesterday. Did you?

It was pleasantly like going to a minor league game between two teams whose success I had no vested interest in. I was able to root for whoever was behind, and when the International League came back from a two run deficit to win, I was delighted. Of course, I would have been just as happy if the Pacific Coast League had mounted a ninth inning rally to take the game back.

Moving on.

As I promised, here’s the mid-season report on my predictions for the playoffs.

I had to make some ex-cathedra predictions about the teams whose first games were postponed due to weather. So far, those predictions are holding up well:

  • The Red Sox are doing better than I expected, at eleven games over .500, but they’re still trailing the Orioles by a couple of games. No AL East pennant for them.
  • The Indians are the surprise of the season so far. I thought they’d be lucky to make .500; they’re currently twelve games over, with the second-best record in the AL.
  • The Astros are seven games over .500, nicely in line with last year’s record, but they’re five and a half out in the division and two out in the Wild Card.
  • And, joy of joys, the Yankees are 44-44, seven and a half out of the AL East lead and five and a half out of the Wild Card.

As for the rest of the predictions, my method doesn’t seem to be doing very well.

Texas is currently leading the entire AL, so they’re well-positioned to take the West as predicted. After that, however, my predictions are in serious trouble. The White Sox and Kansas City are currently tied for third in the Central, and their Wild Card hopes are fading badly. Toronto, who I picked for the AL East title are third, albeit only a couple of percentage points behind Boston. And the Orioles, my second Wild Card pick, are leading the division. Ouch.

On the NL side of the ledger, the SenatorsNationals and Cubs are leading their divisions, as predicted. I called the Dodgers and Giants to finish first and second in the West; currently they’re second and first. Colorado, however, predicted to take the second Wild Card, are at 40-48, seven games out of the Wild Card race.

Add it all up, and–if the season were over right now–I’m three for ten in my predictions. If we just look at the playoff teams regardless of position, I’m doing quite a bit better, six for ten. If that hold up, I’ll have met my goal of getting over .500.

Stay tuned to see how well the numbers hold up through the second half. And who knows, maybe the Blue Jays, Rockies, White Sox, and Royals will get their acts in gear and bump my score up even further.

Goin’ All the Way

Last week I promised my MLB playoff predictions. Never let it be said that I don’t live up to my promises.

Remember, we’re testing the theory that run differential on the first day of the season is a good predictor of teams’ ability to make the playoffs.

Here, for easy reference, are our playoff teams. I’ve included their current Won/Loss records for your amusement.

Team

Won/Loss

Run Differential
Toronto

3-4

29-30 (-1)
Texas

4-4

32-35 (-3)
Chicago

5-2

28-19 (9)
Kansas City

4-2

21-19 (2)
Baltimore

6-0

31-17 (14)
Team

Won/Loss

Run Differential
Washington

4-1

21-16 (5)
Chicago

6-1

47-18 (29)
Los Angeles

4-3

42-26 (16)
San Francisco

5-2

43-25 (18)
Colorado

3-3

35-51 (-16)

The first thing we notice is that Colorado is lucky to have scraped together a .500 record. If they’re going to make the playoffs, even as the second Wild Card, they need to beef up their defense.

OK, playoffs.

The Orioles are obviously the class team of the AL this year. They’ll demolish the Royals in the Wild Card game, crush the White Sox in the Division Series, and mutilate the Blue Jays (who squeaked past the Rangers) in the League Championship.

The NL playoffs are going to be even less competitive. The Giants will shred the Rockies in the Wild Card, then be flattened by the Cubs in the Division Series. So much for the “Even Year Dynasty”. The Dodgers won’t have any trouble bouncing the Nationals out of the playoffs, but they won’t get anywhere against the Cubs in the League Championship.

That gives us a Cubs/Orioles World Series.

On the face of it, the Orioles should coast through the series, riding their record-breaking 162-0 regular season performance, but that pesky run differential tells a different story. The Cubs may only have gone 138-24, but their run-scoring and run-prevention, nearly twice as good as the Os’, will make the difference.

The Cubs’ curse will be broken, only one year later than the Back to the Future movies predicted. Congratulations, Chicago.

Now, how about a World Series win for Seattle next year?

Happy New Year (2016)

And here we are at the beginning of the season again. All the signs are there: reminders that “everyone is 0-0,” worried perusals of the weather report for such tropical climates as Milwaukee and Cleveland, my semi-annual haircut…

As usual, the proverbial anyone and everyone are making their predictions for the season. Jackie, who is not just anyone or everyone, has hers up. Not to take anything away from her panel of experts, but I entertain some doubts about their conclusions.

So I’m going to pretend to be anyone and everyone myself, offering my own prediction. Last year, my Sooper-Scientific Algorithm, based largely on margin of victory had a forty percent success rate calling the playoff teams. That’s actually pretty good. This year, I’ve applied a few tweaks to the methodology. My goal is to get over .500. (What can I say? It’s a rebuilding year.)

MLB has thrown a bit of a monkey wrench into the works, however. In years past, we’ve been given the spectacle of a game the night before Opening Day. It didn’t affect my process last year, since the two teams involved, the Cardinals and Cubs, took an off day, so all teams had one played one game when I ran the numbers. This year, we got three games on Sunday, and only four of the teams took yesterday off; as a result, the Rays and Blue Jays have two games under their belts. Fortunately, Toronto won both games, so we’ll simply use their combined numbers for the two games and treat it as one 10-6 victory.

Also, note that two games were postponed. The Giants/Brewers game went on as scheduled, despite a raging blizzard–hooray for domed stadiums–but the Astros/Yankees and Red Sox/Indians games were scrubbed because of “inclement weather” and “cold and wet” respectively*. I’m not going to lose any sleep over that, however. I’m going to assert ex cathedra that the Red Sox aren’t going to go cellar to ceiling, the Indians will be lucky to crack .500 again (sorry, Cleveland fans), and the Astros might reproduce last year’s 86-76 record, but it won’t be enough to make the playoffs. The Yankees? Trust me, the Baseball Gods won’t be tasteless enough to let them make the playoffs two years in a row.

* This isn’t the first time the weather in Cleveland has caused problems at the beginning of the season. Ask any Seattle fan about the winter of ’07 when the Mariners/Indians Opening Day game was snowed out. The same thing also happened in 1996 when the Yankees were in town to open the season. Unlike other commentators, I’m not suggesting that all Opening Day games should be scheduled for warmer climates. I think it would make more sense for the entire city of Cleveland to look into relocating–team, fans, Progressive Field, and all–to someplace warmer.

Moving on.

In the AL East, Toronto is the clear division winner, thanks to that 10-6 rout of Tampa Bay. The West is obviously going to Texas, as they’re the only team in the division that managed to win a game. Kansas City and Chicago both won 4-3; to break the tie, I looked at their preseason records*. On that basis, the White Sox take the Central on the strength of their 17-13 preseason, far better than the defending champion Royals’ 14-21 mark. We’ll give KC the first wild card; the second, Jackie will be happy to hear, goes to Baltimore thanks to their 3-2 victory over the Twins.

Moving to the NL, Washington grabs their division by virtue of winning their game, a feat no other NL East team could manage. In the Central, Chicago will be returning to the playoffs. And the West is clearly the toughest division in baseball, with three teams racking up convincing victories. LA will win the division, as shown by their 15-0 trouncing of the Padres. San Francisco’s 12-3 pounding of the Brewers gives them the first Wild Card, and Colorado takes the second by virtue of their 10-5 win over the Diamondbacks.

* As we know, preseason results are a poor predictor of regular season success, but this is a case where poor data is better than no data.

Of course, this is all well and good, but making the playoffs is only the beginning. What everyone really wants to know is who’s going to win the World Series? We’ve got the chance for an all-Chicago World Series this year. Is it going to happen? Can the Giants continue their pattern of winning it all in even-numbered years?

Much as I’d love to answer those questions, I can’t. Not yet.

In the immortal words of every sportscaster who’s covered a baseball game, the season is a marathon, not a sprint. I need a longer baseline than one game to properly assess teams’ ability to handle the additional month of baseball once they make the playoffs.

Tune in again next Tuesday for my fearless World Series predictions.

Not So Great

Well, so much for that experiment. I’ve run out of good news. So, back to the usual ration of doom and gloom I serve on days starting with a “T”.

We’ve got less than two weeks left in the MLB season–barring the possibility of a tie-breaking game being needed, the last regular season games will be played on October 4–so let’s check in on how the playoff picture is shaping up, with particular emphasis on the predictions I made at the beginning of the year.

In that post, I laughed at Cubs fans for basing their hopes of a World Series victory on the Back to the Future movies. Winning the Series would, of course, require that they make the playoffs. As of today, they’re at 88-62, sitting in the second Wild Card slot, and holding a 9 1/2 game lead over the Giants and Nationals. So there’s still hope. Tenuous, perhaps, but present. Let us not forget that both World Series teams last year were wild cards.

My predictions for the American League were for Boston, Kansas City, and Seattle to win their divisions, with Toronto and Baltimore taking the Wild Card slots.

Um…

Boston is currently 72-77 and cannot win their division. Ditto for the Mariners at 73-77. Both have faint hopes of squeaking into the playoffs via the second Wild Card, but they both have elimination numbers of six*. Note, by the way, that I ignored the numbers to take Seattle over Oakland for the West title. Oakland is the only team in the AL to have guaranteed themselves a losing record this year and the only team mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. Kansas City, on the other hand, is at 87-62 with an eleven game lead over the Twins. With thirteen games remaining, it would take a historically unprecedented collapse for them to fail to win the division.

* The elimination number is the number of losses by the team in question and wins by the team they’re chasing that will mathematically eliminate them from contention. So in this case, both the Red Sox and Mariners will be eliminated by a combination of six losses and/or Houston wins.

Meanwhile, the Blue Jays are at 86-64, leading the East by 3 1/2 games. They could still wind up in the Wild Card as I predicted, or even fail to make the playoffs, but they’ve got decent odds of winning the division. The news isn’t as good for Baltimore. They’re barely ahead of Boston and Seattle in the Wild Card race with an elimination number of seven.

So the odds right now say that one of my five predictions is likely to be correct; two if we just go by the predicted teams making the playoffs.

Over in the National League, my numbers aren’t much better. The predictions were for New York, Cincinnati, and Colorado to win their divisions, and St. Louis and Pittsburgh to take the Wild Card slots.

The Mets are leading the East by 6 1/2, so there’s that. However, the Reds (63-86) and Rockies (63-87) have already been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs.

There’s better news for Cardinals and Pirates fans: St. Louis is leading the Central by four games over the Pirates, who currently hold a two game lead over those smug Cubs in the Wild Card.

Nobody else has much of a shot at the Wild Card. Only San Francisco and Washington have any chance at all, and they both have elimination numbers of four.

So here too, only one of my predictions seems likely to materialize. If the Cubs put on a late run and take the division away from St. Louis, then I’d most likely have three of five right.

By the most likely outcomes, I’ve scored a 20% rate with my predictions. That’s not too great, but that Cubs rally would up it to 40%. Sounds better. (Just predicting the playoff teams, I did rather better. Right now the odds say I hit 50%. That’s not bad*.)

* If I’ve done the math correctly, you’ve got one chance in three of being correct for each team you pick at random making the playoffs (30 teams and 10 playoff slots). So the chances of making a correct pick five times are 1/3 x 1/3 x 1/3 x 1/3 x 1/3. That’s one chance in 243. Hey, anyone out there more knowledgeable about stats than I am who can tell me how badly I’ve screwed up the calculation by not allowing for the fact that the teams are split into two leagues?

There are, by the way, other ways to slice and dice these numbers. Consider that there’s one chance in five of picking division winners at random. I did that twice at odds of one in twenty-five. Not too shabby.

So what have we learned here? First, picking playoff teams is hard. But I think we knew that already. Second, I don’t really understand statistics. But we knew that too, as witness the fact that I buy lottery tickets. Third, and more to the point, it suggests that margin of victory in the first game of the season is a decent predictor for the playoffs. Who cares if it’s a sample of one?

Finally!

Professional baseball has officially started. All the clues are there:

  • I had my semi-annual haircut. That’s no joke, it’s an absolute necessity if I’m going to wear my Mariners’ cap on Opening Day. See that picture of me over at the right side of the blog? That was taken shortly after a haircut. Copy/paste the beard to the top of my head three or four times and you’ll have a pretty good indication of how I look just before I get sheared.
  • The cats have had their official Opening Day treat (hny). It’s not the greatest stuff in the world–the first ingredient is “fish”. I hadn’t realized that there was an official generic fish. Or maybe it’s an ISO standard fish? But I digress. A little junk food once a year isn’t going to hurt them, and they all–yes, even Sachiko, who’s declared her allegience to the Giants–enjoyed their Mariner’s Catch.
  • The pre-Opening Day made-for-TV broadcast game has been played. As we’ve seen, MLB likes to have a game or two before the official start of the season. In recent years, those games have been in exotic locations, part of MLB’s missionary program to spread the True Faith around the globe. We’ve seen games in Japan and Australia, and this year the Cardinals and Cubs faced off in, uh, Chicago. There are plenty of baseball fans–including Cubs fans–who’ll tell you that professional-caliber baseball hasn’t been played in Chicago since World War II, but still, Chicago is a bit of a come-down from Tokyo and Sydney.

Cubs fans are riding high this year, because the Cubs World Series victory has been predicted by no less an authority than the Back To the Future movie franchise. Of course, those same movies predicted that the Series would change from a best of seven format to a best of nine format, a modification new commissioner Rob Manfred has yet to announce. Still. It seems almost churlish to point out that the Cubs’ quest for glory started inauspiciously with Sunday’s 3-0 loss.

As I write this, the season is 0.671% over; every team has played one game. Prediction from small numbers can be tricky, but what the heck, I’ll give it a shot. With the help of the cats, last year I successfully semi-predicted the Angels would win the AL West. That was before any AL games had been played; this year I don’t have the cats’ assistance, but I do have actual, in-season data to work with. I’ve put together a secret formula based in part on team records to date and margin of victory. So, here for your pleasure are the 2015 playoff teams.

In the American League, the division winners will be Boston, Kansas City (10-1 over the White Sox counts for a lot), and Seattle (low margin of victory is misleading, given the Ms’ habit of underscoring when Felix pitches). The wild cards will go to Toronto and Baltimore*.

* Why the Orioles over the As? Shouldn’t that 8-0 pounding of Texas be significant? Uh-uh. The As are going to find out what the Mariners have learned over the past decade: you can’t ride one dominant pitcher to the playoffs. And did you really think I’d predict anything good for Oakland?

The National League will be ably represented by the division-winning Mets, Reds*, and Rockies, with the Cardinals and Phillies (desperation will beat out the Dodger’s complacency) snagging the wild card slots.

* You could make a case for the Cardinals shutout of the Cubs, but I find the Reds’ three-run victory over the Pirates marginally more impressive; I think Pittsburgh is a stronger team than the Cubs. Sorry, Cubbies. Reliance on ’80s movies–and sequels at that–isn’t going to score runs.

Remember, you heard it here first. Get your bets down now, before Las Vegas changes the odds!

If You Insist

Somebody asked me why I didn’t do a “thank you” post this year.

“I didn’t do one last year, either,” I replied.

“Then it’s really overdue. And it beats writing about sauerkraut.”

I couldn’t argue with logic like that, so here’s the 2013 thank you post. Look for the 2014 post somewhere around 2018.

Let’s start with the obvious, just to get it out of the way. I’m thankful for people who suggest blog topics. I’m especially thankful for the ones who don’t suggest that I let them write a “guest post” that would be an advertisement for whatever piece of cheap junk they’re selling at an inflated price. (Oh, look: there are three of those suggestions in the comment spam today!)

I’m always thankful for Maggie. She deserves a medal for putting up with me and this career that’s chosen me. With a little luck, the career will produce enough money for me to buy her that medal. I suppose that means I need to be thankful for her patience.

I’m thankful for all of you who come by and read what I’ve written. Even those of you whose interest begins and ends with leftover sauerkraut (still the single most popular post on the blog, with more than eleven times as many page views as the next most popular*).

* For the curious, Number Two is Crimes Against Humanity, this past July’s semi-review of Weird Al’s latest album. It does make me wonder why I keep writing about baseball and cats, when you all obviously consider my strengths to lie elsewhere. But I digress.

How about baseball management that listens to my complaints? I’m thankful to them. A week after I complained that the Mariners hadn’t done anything to improve the team, they picked up arguably the best right-handed free agent bat available. (Allow me to extend apologies to Jackie and the rest of the Orioles’ fans who were hoping their team would re-sign Nelson Cruz. Jackie, since blogging clearly works, may I suggest an impassioned plea for your guys to use some of the money they offered Cruz to lock down Markakis?)

And, speaking of baseball, I’m incredibly grateful for those of you who read the baseball posts and don’t laugh hysterically when my predictions go massively wrong. Cases in point: In recent weeks, I’ve predicted that the Ms wouldn’t sign Nelson Cruz, that the Giants would re-sign the Panda, and that the As were one of the only three teams that wouldn’t be looking for a new third baseman this winter.

And finally, I’m thankful* for Caltrans and the Bay Bridge for providing me with a source of blog posts that will never run out. Even over the Thanksgiving holiday, they were busy giving me more material.

* I’m so thankful I almost sent them a check, but then I realized that the interest they earn on the funds sitting in my FasTrak account dwarfs anything I could squeeze out of my bank account (see the earlier comment about medals and delayed gratification).

Their latest offering? Why, they’re discussing the possibility of saving millions of dollars by not tearing down all of the old bridge! That’s right: the one that they determined was seismically unsound. The one that had to be removed in order to eliminate the risk it would pose to the new bridge in a major quake. The one they promised to remove in their agreements with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Coast Guard, and the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission.

Of course, those promises were made before the bridge ran billions over budget. A chance to save a few million dollars is almost irresistible, especially if it can be done in the name of “Art” and “the betterment of the bay”. The BCDC is especially dubious about the proposal, but claims to be willing to discuss terms–including “building bridges out to walkways”. Uh, guys, do you really want to trust these folks to build more bridges?

I expect the Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s negotiations with the BCDC to be a source of high comedy for months to come. Stay tuned!

Predictions

Bleah!

Yes, it’s a cat post and a baseball post. Take that, haters!

Happy New Year once again!

Winter is officially over. Whether you’re a Reform believer who considers the season to have begun on 3/22 in Australia, a Conservative believer looking to San Diego Sunday night, or an Orthodox believer honoring Pittsburgh yesterday afternoon*, you can agree that the first game of the season has been played. Even if your team lost, all is right with the world for this one day: baseball is back.

* Or Cincinnati, for the truly Orthodox.

OK, I know there are a few Ultra-Orthodox believers who consider the concept of official games in March to be heresy. I presume that both of you will be glued to your TVs this afternoon for your Opening Day.

Naturally, the media are filled with predictions. For what it’s worth, the Dodgers are the early favorites in Vegas to win the World Series (11/2 odds; it’s amazing what winning a couple of religiously dubious games will do for your reputation). By contrast, Vegas has the Astros at 250/1 odds and almost* everyone else has them down for a dead last finish.

* See below.

There’s a long-standing tradition of calling on pets to pick the winners–and many of the professional predictions read as though they had been picked by a pet. Last season’s best feline prognostication came from Baseball Prospectus. To make everything crystal clear: I’m using “best” to mean “most entertaining”, not “most accurate.” Note that none of the selected teams made the playoffs.

But it’s a tradition, and I, being a traditionalist, figured I should do my part. I chose to avoid the usual approach of having the cats choose all of the divisional winners, the winners at each stage of the playoffs, and the World Series winner. Not only does that help make this post slightly less of a cliché, but it also made the project practical. By the time I herded five cats through a process that long and complicated, we would already know the World Series winner, and be looking ahead to 2015.

I settled for just asking the crew to pick the winner of the AL West. To give a basis for judging each cat’s reliability and interest in baseball, I also asked them to recall who won the division last year. Maggie graciously lent a hand (two hands, and at least one hip, actually) to the task of feline management. Thanks, Maggie!

It's Texas, damn it!We kept it simple. One piece of paper with the logos* of the five teams in the division. One treat for each logo. We told them to eat the treat that was next to last year’s division winner. After they scarfed the first treat down, we replaced it, and asked them to eat the treat of the team they thought would win the division this year.

* We used the teams’ logos rather than their names because we’re pretty sure that only Kokoro is literate. (Yes, ‘Nuki and Rhubarb are fond of reading the newspaper, but they’re traditional feline butt-readers; we were quite sure that they would not be sitting on the treats.)

The Results

2013

  1. Oakland – The As won the division last year by 5 1/2 games. None of our panel correctly identified them as the winners.
  2. Texas – The Rangers finished the season second in the division. Yuki recalled them as having won. Yuki is the cat who has been most interested in watching baseball on TV, so it’s not too surprising that he came closest to getting it right.
  3. Anaheim (Don’t get me started on that whole “Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim thing. Sheesh!) – The Angels finished the season 18 games behind the As. Watanuki remembered them as the winners. My assumption is that since ‘Nuki is the most avid birdwatcher in our crew, he was irresistably drawn to the Angels wings and feathers.
  4. Seattle – 25 games back. Rhubarb identified them as the winners. In his defense, he did see or hear portions of most of their games last year. Maybe the name just stuck in his head.
  5. Houston – The Astros were the only team to lose more than 100 games last year and finished 45 games out of the division race. Kokoro and Kaja both pointed to them as the division winners. Ladies, I don’t know what to say. (Kaja at least has the excuse of having been isolated in Maggie’s office for most of the season, so she can legitimately claim to have been out of touch. That doesn’t explain Kokoro’s pick. Maybe she was confused by the Astros’ peculiar ability to beat the Mariners (9 of 19, including four of six in April and four straight in September).

Our panel went 0 for 5 in picking last year’s division winner, right in line with the standard set by the Baseball Prospectus team!

Maybe I should have asked Grey Tabby to participate. She may not see much baseball, but at least she understands competition.

Moving on. What about the panel’s predictions for this year?

2014

  • Mariners?  Pblthhhhhhht!
    Yuki picked the Rangers. As the panelist who came closest to retroactively picking last year’s winner, his prediction for this year bears a certain amount of authority. I wouldn’t venture to guess whether he’s made a rational assessment of the odds, or just likes Texas.
  • I'm not going to wear the damn cap.
    Kaja also picked the Rangers. Interesting that the two major antagonists on the panel reached the same conclusion. Maybe there’s something to this Texas bandwagon.
  • Texas?  Don't talk to me about Texas.
    Or maybe not. ‘Nuki disdains Texas. He was born in California, and by gum, he’s going to pick California teams. For this year’s division winner, he’s chosen Oakland.
  • I'll get you for this.  Just you wait...
    Kokoro has joined ‘Nuki, also picking Oakland. Did she copy off his answer sheet? Did she belatedly realize that the As have won the division the past two years and decide they’re poised for a third victory? Or does Ms. Koko-poof just have a sneaking fondness for the As’ center fielder, Coco Crisp? She’s not telling.
  • Oh, God!  Why did I pick Houston?!
    So far we’ve got a tie with two votes for the Rangers and two for the As. Rhubarb is the tiebreaker. His choice is… (dramatic pause) The Houston Astros! Um, what? Was that supposed to be a vote for the Rangers? I could see how he could have gotten confused: Arlington and Houston are only about 250 miles apart. Or maybe Mr. Rhubarb has a fondness for the underdogcat. After all, he did retroactively pick the Mariners for 2013. Come to think of it, given his namesake, it’s highly appropriate for him to pick the loveable losers to go all the way.

There you have it. According to a fully qualified team of feline experts*, the 2014 AL West Division champions will be the Rangers. Or the As. Or the Astros. Given the demonstrated accuracy of felines in picking sports winners, my recommendation is to put your money on the Mariners or Angels.

* Translation: They are unquestionably expert at being cats.

Services are again being held at convenient temples across the country. Time to make your plans to sneak out of work and soothe your soul at least once this season.

Just one word of advice: no matter how much they enjoy watching games on TV, don’t take your cats to the ballpark. They’ll complain when you refuse to buy them a hotdog, try to run onto the field to chase ground balls, embarrass you by cheering for the wrong team, and fall asleep in the second inning, leaving you to defend them against foul balls and suicidal seagulls.