Mea culpa 2017: What I got right … and wrong


Donald Trump said last month, before signing a single piece of major legislation, that he’d done more in 10 months than the 44 presidents who preceded him. And then on Wednesday he said, “We have signed more legislation than anybody. We broke the record of Harry Truman.”

That would be news to Truman, and apparently presidential scholars, too. According to govtrackinsider.com, “President Trump has signed the fewest bills into law by this point in any president’s first year at least as far back as President Eisenhower.”

British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli said: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics,” and it’s as true in baseball as it is in politics. At least Disraeli only had to deal with Gladstone and not sabermetricians.

I’m not sure how the president assessed his first year in office, but I’d like to be graded for 2017 on his scale and claim the record for accurate predictions, regardless of who’s keeping score.

By the president’s standard, the 72-90 Braves had a pretty good year, too, although there’s a little more work to be done before general manager Alex Anthopoulos Makes Atlanta Great Again (John Coppolella did a pretty good job of making them nefarious again).

I’ve had years where it seemed the number 406 was my forecasting percentage and not the title of the blog. This year was better than that, but in the end it was an Arizona Diamondbacks kind of 2017, surprisingly good but eventually done in by the Dodgers. The D-backs played them and got swept in the playoffs; I picked them to beat the Astros.

Alternative picks don’t count.

Here’s a look back at what I got right and what I got wrong over 2017.

Right

  • The Reds will be better before 2024, but not much if at all this year, and they’re hanging on to a chance to lose fewer than 90 games by the ligament in Anthony DeSclafini’s elbow, which, coincidentally, was reported to be pretty sore on Monday. The Reds lost 94 games. They lost DeSclafini for the season, but had some encouraging debuts from young pitchers. We can accelerate the calendar because of that. They’ll be better before 2024, maybe as soon as 2023.
  • The (Pirates’) bullpen is iffy, but the trade for Felipe Rivero, a 25-year-old lefty with a 95-mph fastball and multiple years of team control more secure than Rivero’s of said fastball, looks better with Mark Melancon a free-agent signee in San Francisco. It’s the kind of Pirate exchange … that looks better with patience. It looks even better now that Rivero can control his fastball. He walked 20 in 75.1 innings and fanned 88, which led to a 1.67 ERA and .475 OPS against. Rivero took the closer’s job from Tony Watson and Juan Nicasio, who who are no longer Pirates. Rivero is one only because Nationals boss Mike Rizzo traded him for Melancon to get a closer for 2016. Not surprisingly with deals like that, the Nats needed another closer for 2017.
  • Last year’s Tigers won 86 games and improved by 12 games over 2015, but they’ll be hard-pressed to maintain those gains. Their run differential (+29) and record in one-run games (26-17) bespoke a team closer to the mean. The Tigers were below the mean in 2017, which was mean to them. No one won fewer than the 64 games the Tigers did — the Giants matched them — and the Tigers resembled an estate sale by late summer, selling off their most valuable possessions.
  • It’s only the recency of their World Series triumph that would make anyone think the Royals are a threat to the Indians in the AL Central; as constructed they seem a lot closer to a losing record than a playoff berth. They weren’t and they did. The Royals had a losing record at 80-82 and, with a -89 run differential, were lucky it wasn’t worse. They were five games away from the playoffs, 22 games away from the Indians, and with free agents Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain ready to depart, seemingly that many years away from contending again.
  • There’s some talent on the Marlins — Christian Yelich hit .298 and 21 homers at age 25, Giancarlo Stanton has hit 208 homers and is still only 27, catcher J.T. Realmuto hit .303 at age 25, and reliever Kyle Barraclough led all NL pitchers with 14 strikeouts per nine innings (he also led all relievers in walks with 44 in 72.2 innings). But they’re not good enough to compete in the NL East, or perhaps any other division. They didn’t. They won 77 games, finished 20 games out of first, sold the team and the new owners scrapped it. There’s still some talent on the Marlins, but with Stanton, Dee Gordon and Marcel Ozuna traded, there’s a lot less.
  • The Phillies were a 100-loss team in 2016 that lost 91, which could have been the work of manager Pete Mackanin or it could have been dumb luck. The Phillies were 28-23 in one-run games and 10-34 in five-run-or-more games, so maybe it was a little of both. Nah, it was dumb luck. The 2017 Phillies were 21-36 in one-run games and lost 96; the front office was so impressed with Mackanin’s work they made him a special assistant to the general manager and got a new manager. Assisting in what, they didn’t say, but I’ll presume it’s not one-run games.
  • Given that, some recession might be in order for 2017, which would mean a fifth straight season of 89 losses or more for a fan base that has no more patience than (Ruben) Amaro had faith in analytics. Phillies fans have to wonder how many years does it take to rebuild and how many years can they be expected to patiently wait for the rebuild to be finished? More. And more. More Phillies. More waiting.
  • The (Braves’) patchwork of Bartolo Colon, Jaime Garcia and R.J. Dickey to the rotation is unlikely to hold. It didn’t. Colon had an 8.14 ERA in 13 starts and was traded to the Twins. Jaime Garcia had a 4.30 ERA and was traded to the Twins. Somehow, with the Braves’ rejects, the Twins made the playoffs, though they had to get rid of Garcia to do it.
  • The (Red) Sox have finished first or last the previous five seasons, a trend that could continue this year. It did, although barely. The Red Sox won the AL East by two games over the Yankees, clinching on the penultimate day of the season. The trend is unlikely to continue next season.

Partly right

  • Brewers fans are used to not going to the playoffs, and 2017 will be another season the team doesn’t. The more important question is whether it looks more like one that eventually might. They didn’t but they did. The Brewers came a lot closer to the playoffs than I thought they would or that graph implies. They missed by a single game in 2017, and it certainly looks like they’ll have that kind of chance again in 2018.

Wrong

  • Teams win at free agency when they identify the bargains, and for all his faults, Chris Carter might be one at $3 million. Three million dollars for a power-hitting platoon DH/first baseman/corner outfielder is not the worst deal transacted in New York this week, even if it comes with defective parts. He wasn’t, and the defects won out. Carter hit eight homers, but batted .201, struck out 76 times in 184 at-bats and put up a .653 OPS. The Yankees could have put that $3 million to better use if they had spent it trying to repair Derek Jeter’s image. The Yankees released Carter in July, he signed with Oakland and is a free agent again. Nobody’s rushing to sign him.
  • The bad news is (the Twins) may not be much better at either this year, not if they stubbornly insist Miguel Sano is a third baseman or Jorge Polanco the everyday shortstop, though coming off a 103-loss season is the time to find out. There won’t be any penalties for misplaced personnel this year. Sano and Polanco manned the left side of the Twins infield until Sano was hurt, and the Twins made the playoffs. As a third baseman, Sano was a pretty good hitter, but his -0.7 defensive WAR didn’t hurt as much as his 27 homers and .859 OPS helped. Polanco was a plus 0.6 defender, and after a .596 OPS in the first half, he slashed 293/359/511 in the second. Both are 24 and might be in place for a while. 
  • Health — particularly new closer Wade Davis’ — is about all that’s keeping the Cubs from another 100-win season or close to it. No it wasn’t. Davis only pitched 58.2 innings, but that wasn’t all that kept the Cubs from 100 wins. They won the NL Central with just 92 wins, and needed a 19-9 September to get that many. The Cubs were at .500 after 80 games and had about as much chance at winning 100 games as they did at beating the Dodgers. Wait till last year.
  • There’s also Joe Kelly, who’s been tried in almost every conceivable role on the (Red Sox’s) staff, and failed at all of them. What’s one more? Kelly had a 4.50 ERA in his first three seasons in Boston, starting 41 games and pitching in 55. As a set-up reliever in 2017, Kelly had a 2.79 ERA and .573 OPS against. Israeli politician Abba Eban once said, “Men and nations behave wisely when they have exhausted all other resources,” and that’s the approach the Red Sox took with Kelly. They finally found something he could do after they first tried everything he couldn’t.
  • With (Edwin) Encarnacion and Michael Saunders gone, the Blue Jays may not hit 200 homers this year, which they’ve topped the last two, and their offense will decline further, but will their win total? Perhaps not. Wrong, right and yes. The Blue Jays hit 222 homers, 32 more than 2016, but the they plummeted in runs scored in MLB from ninth (759) in 2016 to 26th in 2017 (693). Their win total followed, dropping from 89 in 2016 to 76 in 2017 and out of the playoffs. Like the Royals, it might be a while before they return.
  • New York doesn’t go for long rebuilds which gives the Yankees a year or two of grace. The Yankees of 2017 seem short on pitching but long on potential, although youth often has a way of disappointing since it’s natural to overrate strengths and minimize flaws. The Yankees didn’t need a grace period. They contended in 2017 and came within a game of making the World Series. They were long on potential, much of it realized, and their pitching wasn’t a problem — they were fifth in MLB in team ERA.
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