In many ways, that’s the beauty of baseball. No matter what method of prediction you like the most, be it WAR or your gut, baseball always finds a way to show you how little you actually know.
Last week I wrote a column about the payroll not being reflective of the team itself, in other words they’re all young and affordable players. I received hundreds of comments that were all over the map, positive to negative, which is completely normal. One in particular really got me, not the part where I was called an idiot, but in particular the WAR number that was quoted (before the roster is set) and the feeling that it was FACT. WAR is a great metric; I like it myself quite a bit but its also not a lock. Players out-perform and under-perform their numbers all the time. Much like shifting your second basemen to the left side of the infield because a player pulls grounders to the left 90% of the time, 10% he won’t. Stats are what has happened, not what will.
Guts aren’t much better to be honest. I watch tape of Quinn Priester and from my gut I can tell you he is the real deal. He has all the pitches and he is as close to a sure-fire prospect as I’ve seen since Cole. Am I right? I hope so, I bet you hope so, but there is so much that must happen between now and then. He has to stay healthy, he has to learn how to control a running game, pace his stuff, change his speeds, control his breaking pitches for strikes. I believe he can, but I don’t have that precious WAR number to go off of, so I must be dead wrong, huh?
I’ve heard countless times that the Pirates bullpen was going to be an unmitigated disaster this season. Maybe, but it won’t be because it’s the same bullpen they used last season. They lost a top end closer, but the larger issue last season was never being able to get to him in the first place. Kela spent much of the season on the IL as did Nick Burdi. Edgar Santana was an absolute fireballer in 2018 and spent last season recovering from TJ surgery. Michael Feliz struggled early and got it together for a very strong second half, same for Richard Rodriguez. Clay Holmes has elite stuff and could really benefit from new coaches. Do the numbers hold up my philosophy? Nope. But I’ll hit on some of these thoughts. Some people will hit on their thoughts based on raw stats and that’s fine.
The beauty of this game is the unpredictability of outcome. If you would have told me Chico Lind would hit a homerun for the Pirates in the playoffs back in 1990, I think I’d have laughed right in your face, and I didn’t need advanced stats to find it hilarious. The Marlins probably didn’t expect the World Series they bought to be largely won by Craig Counsel. The Cardinals had no clue their hero would be David Freese.
Just last year, I was not happy the Pirates brought back Francisco Liriano, and according to social media I was not alone. Man, did he turn out to be a nice piece. I laughed when the Pirates signed Melky Cabrerra, he was washed up and they didn’t need him, the outfield was set with Dickerson, Marte and Polanco plus they had this Chisenhall guy who had some potential if he could stay healthy. We all know how that turned out, the best outfielder on the roster, Bryan Reynolds, wasn’t even a thought.
Much of what transpired last season is now lumped together into on big ball of pain, but there were bright spots and many of those will bring reasons for optimism into this season. Some who performed well, will backslide. That’s baseball, nobody knows why Steve Blass suddenly couldn’t throw balls over the plate any longer. Nobody can pinpoint what caused Pat Mears to lose the ability to toss from second to first. I can’t tell you how Pedro Alvarez lost the ability to throw a ball across the diamond. Nobody can explain why Jack Wilson had one season where he hit .300 and shocked us all. How did Nate McLouth hit all those home runs?
Stats and gut feel are both wonderful and useful, they certainly help us talk about players and prediction the outcome is half the fun. But baseball always finds its way to show us things we never expected.
So, no matter what you expect this season, the only thing you can really count on is being shocked.
Follow Gary on Twitter: @garymo2007