Mea culpa: 2015 in review

The Kansas City Royals won the World Series in 2015, but lost 72 games en route, 67 in the regular season, five in the postseason. Miguel Cabrera won another batting title but made 284 outs, 286 if you count sacrifice flies, 305 if you count the double plays he grounded into.

Even the best fail at baseball, which is good for prognosticators, especially this one, who probably does so more than most.

Before we get too far into 2016, I reviewed my predictions for 2015. It’s partly a subjective endeavor, but it seems like it was a playoff year forecasting, in a Houston Astros wild-card way, more right than wrong though sometimes unsure how I arrived there. The Astros, naturally, have a better future.

Here’s a look back at 2015, what I got right and what I got wrong.

The weak part of the order first. 

What was wrong

  • “The Nats winning the NL East in 2015 is as sure a thing as there is in baseball in March: if it was politics, it would be Reagan vs. Mondale, Nixon vs. McGovern, FDR vs. Landon.” Unfortnately for those of us who think McGovern would have made a better president, it’s too late for a recount.
  • “The Rangers don’t even look like the best team in Texas anymore, and in a difficult division like the AL West, that means a last-place team again.” How many different ways can one sentence be wrong? Three, in this one. The Rangers were the best team in Texas, the AL West wasn’t difficult (88 games won it), and the Rangers were first, not last. 
  • “Dayan Vicideo should be in the batters’ box facing left-handed pitching.” The White Sox weren’t right about much in 2015, but maybe they were about Vicideo. They released Vicideo, who was signed and released by the Blue Jays, signed and released by the Athletics and signed again by the White Sox. His playing field for 2015 wasn’t a diamond but a circle.
  • “The Angels are stuck with (Josh) Hamilton for three more years.” They weren’t stuck with him for three more months. Given how little they got in return for Hamilton by trade, maybe they should have kept him. Or not signed him in the first place.     
  • “Of course, the Astros could improve by 19 games again this year and still finish third in the AL West.” The Astros improved by 16 games and finished second. If they had improved by three more games, they would have won the division.
  • “There’s a sense the Pirates are ready to surpass the Cardinals in the NL Central. Here’s the but: they already have, except in the standings.” The Pirates won 98 games, or still not as many as the Cardinals. Hard to feel bad about this one.
  • “(The Brewers) replaced Mark Reynolds with Adam Lind, which seems like a good idea, and it only cost them Marco Estrada, which seems like a better idea.” Marco Estrada might have been a willing punch line when he led the majors in home runs allowed in 2014 (29), but he pitched 30 more innings in 2015, allowed five less homers and  1.23 less runs per nine innings and is $26 million richer today. And Adam Lind is a Mariner.
  • “(The Royals winning the AL Central is) less of a sure thing than a Greg Holland save, though.” The Royals were as sure a thing as any team in baseball, winning the AL Central by 12 games. Holland in the ninth was less certain, blowing five saves, struggling to a 3.83 ERA and undergoing elbow surgery before the Royals’ World Series triumph. 
  • “The Twins aren’t ready to move up much yet.” The Twins moved up from last place to second and improved by 13 games. Even if it was mostly because everyone else in the AL Central moved down.
  • “The Mets will be the second-best team — unless the Marlins are — in the NL East this year, which is a little like being the doorman at the Trump Towers. You might be close to luxury, but you won’t get to partake of it.” The Mets were first in the NL East and won their fifth pennant. They played in the World Series, and in MLB it doesn’t get much more luxurious than that.

What was right

  • “If there’s a favorite to have MLB’s highest ERA … it’s Kyle Kendrick in Coors.” Like starting every at-bat with a 3-0 count. Kendrick was held to 142 innings, enough to accumulate a 6.32 ERA.
  • “The Giants have failed to make the playoffs after each of their previous two World Series, and they may not this year.” It doesn’t take much courage to pick against the Giants in an odd year.
  • “The Padres start the season with three infielders with career on-base percentages of less than .300, which begs the question of who will be on base, besides Derek Norris, when the outfielders hit all their home runs. Solo home runs don’t win championships.” Bases full or empty, the Padres didn’t hit many homers. Their 148 ranked 19th in MLB — good for fourth place in the NL West and 12 games closer to last than first.
  • “The Angels won’t be as good in 2015.” They weren’t, by 13 games. The 2014 Angels won 98 games, most in MLB; the 2015 Angels were 11th in wins and sixth in the AL, just  enough to miss the playoffs. Given how they were swept out with their 98 wins in ’14, maybe it’s just as well.
  • “(The A’s) won’t lose in the playoffs this year for a good reason: they won’t get there.” The A’s dropped 20 games and 192 runs of differential, from 88-74 to 68-94 and +157 to -35. What did they expect? That’s what happns when you trade the AL MVP (Josh Donaldson). The last MVP to be traded between seasons was Willie Hernandez in 1984, from the Phillies to Detroit. Vladmir Guerrero (2004), Barry Bonds (1993), Terry Pendleton (1991), Kirk Gibson (1988) and Andre Dawson (1987) all switched teams as free agents and were MVPs  in their first seasons with their new ones. 
  • “The Mariners have spent $300 million the past two offseasons on free agents (Nelson) Cruz and Robinson Cano; $275 million on extensions for Kyle Seager and Felix Hernandez. Allowing that investment to be protected by the 2014 (Fernando) Rodney is giving the gate receipts to Bernie Madoff. Like ninth-inning leads, you may not see them again.” Rodney was 1-6 with three blown saves in 2014 but that must have seemed like Mariano Rivera compared to Rodney in 2015: six blown saves in 21 attempts and a 5.68 ERA. The Mariners dumped him on the Cubs, who switched his role and his results. 
  • “The question isn’t why did the Brewers collapse (in 2014, but what took so long. They were sixth in offense, 10th in pitching and outscored by seven runs for the season. If there was a replacement level team, it would be the Brewers. They’re good enough to dream, flawed enough to discourage.” The Brewers didn’t wait so long to collapse in 2015, losing their first four and 13 of their first 15. They fired the manager and retired the GM. Brewers fans aren’t so lucky. They’re stuck rooting for a bad team.
  • “(The Reds will) defer a decision on Johnny Cueto, who has been the NL’s best regular-season pitcher when healthy not named Clayton Kershaw over the last four years. But $25 million per over the next seven doesn’t seem like the Reds’ style.” It isn’t, nor was the not-quite $22 million per over the next six for which Cueto signed. The Reds deferred a decision until the trading deadline and deferred on the field all season, losing 98 games. They’ve kept right on deferring into the offseason, trading Aroldis Chapman and Todd Frazier. They’d be the worst team in baseball if the Braves hadn’t thought of it first.
  • “There are fissures of age, injury and expensive contracts all across the Tigers’ empire, and they’re beginning to show. When the fall comes, as it did for the Phillies, it’s going to be sudden, like descending a staircase and missing a step. There’s a whoa coming when the realization hits.” The Tigers were 23-14 and still in first place in May, 61-73 when they cratered in September, 21 games out of first. Cabrera got hurt, David Price was traded and GM Dave Dombrowski was fired. Unfortunately, Alfredo Simon (5.05 ERA) and Shane Greene (6.88), Dombrowski’s two big offseason acquisitions, didn’t go with him. The Tigers’ last-place finish was their first since their 43-119 2003, which is where Dombrowski came in.
  • “The AL Central has a leadership vacuum, but there are better candidates to fill it, no matter how much money the White Sox spent.”  The next team Jeff Samardzija repairs will be his first. Unless we’re counting Notre Dame football.
  • “(Jason) Heyward may not have seemed like a leadoff hitter to (Freddie) Freeman, but he was better at it than anyone the Braves are likely to replace him with this year.” It was loyal of Freeman to be a company man, but Braves’ leadoff batters had a .327 on-base percentage, and that’s with 61 games of Nick Markakis at .379; Heyward’s was 32 points better (and his slugging percentage 76 points greater). Still waiting for Freeman’s evaluation of the Andrelton Simmons trade.
  • “The Marlins spent $400 million this offseason to keep their young outfielders, traded young pitching for veterans Dan Haren and Mat Latos and infielders Martin Prado and Dee Gordon, and then proclaimed themselves a contender in a ravaged NL East. We’ll see how many Marlins fans, whose skepticism has been earned and evidenced by an NL-worst 1.7 million attendees last year, believe it. They shouldn’t.” They didn’t; the Marlins were up a couple of hundred fans per game, but still last in attendance in the NL.   Given the team’s 71-91 record, and Giancarlo Stanton’s lengthy injury, who can blame them?
  • “The Phillies haven’t lost 90 games since 2000, but they will this year and they may not stop there. The 2015 Phillies might lose 100 …. The team with the most losses in major-league history will pad their lead this year.” The Phillies, first to 10,000 losses, are well on their way to 11k. They lost 99 in 2015, more than any other team,  and needed a sweep of the already-celebrating Mets in the final week and a win over the Marlins on the final day to avoid 100. Jonathan Papelbon choking Bryce Harper and then coming out to pitch the ninth on the penultimate Sunday didn’t hurt.
  • “It’s possible to envision a scenario in which the Yankees succeed in 2015, win a bad division and go beyond. But it means good health and the Yankees aren’t likely to have it, no matter how ardently they toast it.” Mark Teixeira hit 31 homers in 111 games and the Yankees were still in first place on Aug. 17, when he played his 109th. By the time he played his final two games the next week, the Yankees were second. Teixeira hit 39, 33 and 39 homers in 156, 158 and 156 games in his first three Yankee seasons (2009-11); in his last four he’s hit 80 homers and averaged just more than 91 games.
  • “(The Rays’ injured pitchers will) probably heal, but the offense they return to probably won’t.” It didn’t. The Rays were 25th in runs scored in MLB and 14th in the AL. It would have been worse had not backup catchers Curt Casali and J.P. Arencibia combined for 16 homers in 172 at-bats, or just 201 fewer than it took prized offseason acquisition Steven Souza to hit as many.
  • “The Red Sox are going to play a lot of 7-6 games and if bullpens win close games, they may not win enough, which is what happens when you plan to close with Edward Mujica (until Koji Uehara is healthy).” Koji started the season hurt and finished it hurt and, in between pitched  just 40 innings. That wasn’t enough to prevent the Red Sox’s bullpen from finishing with a 4.24 ERA, 26th in MLB. Mujica contributed a 4.61 ERA into May and then was traded to Oakland. It wasn’t the Red Sox’s only problem but it was their biggest. Well, except for Pablo Sandoval.
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