It's easy to forget how sure we were of things six months ago. But looking back can change our perspective a bit...
Remember how Seattle was going to contend in the AL West? How the Orioles were finally going to surge out the basement of the AL East? And how the Twins were going to be in a dogfight with the White Sox and Tigers - and that maybe none of them would end with a winning record?
Yesterday, the Twins won their 85th game while still having nineteen games left to play. I vaguely remember something about PECOTA, Baseball Prospectus' player projection system, saying that the the Twins would top out around 80 wins. But I'd forgotten that the White Sox and Tigers were also supposed to have about that many wins, too. And wasn't Cleveland also supposed to be in the mix, maybe a couple of games back?
Unfortunately, I can't go back and evaluate that because I can't find those projections anywhere (If anyone still has a link to those projections, I'd love to see it.) However, I did do a story a little over six months ago on Vegas Over/Unders, so let's take a look at those and see how Vegas did, and how many wins each team has won so far.
Angels - Vegas 84.5, Actual 70
Rangers - Vegas 84.5, Actual 80
Mariners - Vegas 83.5, Actual 55
A's - Vegas 79.5, Actual 71
Vegas was right that the Rangers were legitimate, and even ended up underestimating them a bit. And Vegas just about nailed the A's. Nice job, degenerate gamblers. But there are two teams that really surprised, and not in a good way.
Like everyone else, the Mariners massively disappointed the over/under. As negative as I've been about them (starting back in January), even I said that I thought the Vegas estimate of 83.5 wins seemed about right. It wasn't close, and neither was PECOTA, which means we somehow all missed the boat. Either we're all very stupid, or just about everything went wrong for that team this year and we should give them a little bit of a break.
Or, of course, they are massively incompetent. Like, so incompetent their CEO would send out a letter blasting the local media to all his employees. Nah. That would just be crazy.
The other big miss was the supposed division leader, the Angels, who likely will fall quite a bit short of that number. Last March, I wrote:
By the way, if you're a big Baseball Prospectus PECOTA guy, here's your chance to put your money where your mouth is. PECOTA states that the Angels should win about 76 games this year, or 8.5 games less than Vegas. It's the biggest spread between PECOTA and Vegas in the American League. Bet the "under" and double your money.
And for the record, I wouldn't touch that "under" bet with a 10 ft pole. The Angels won 97 games last year, and now we think they're going to win just 84? And PECOTA thinks they'll lose an extra 21 games this year?
I hope the BP faithful took my advice and ignored my mocking tone, because you would have doubled your money. PECOTA might very well end up closer than Vegas to the Angels final number. Are we really not talking about the fact that the Angels are going to lose almost 20 games more this year than last year? That seems like something worth diving into.
Red Sox - Vegas 94.5, Actual 79
Yankees - Vegas 94.5, Actual 87
Rays - Vegas 89.5, Actual 86
Orioles - 73.5, Actual 55
Blue Jays - 71.5, Actual 73
Vegas is going to end up being close on the Yankees. Both Vegas and PECOTA picked the Red Sox to win that division, but given the injuries that team went through, it isn't shocking if they end up a half dozen game below their projection. Those half dozen wins are going to the Rays instead, and it's not shocking that they would have been underestimated by Vegas. It's not like they're going to draw the fan money that the Yankees and Red Sox will.
The Orioles look like the Mariners - just everything went wrong. I'd be shocked if anyone thought they would be this bad. They used it as an opportunity to bring in Buck Showalter, who is going to look like a genius next year when they undoubtedly do better.
This year's Blue Jays team is better than last year's Blue Jays team, and I didn't see that coming, but maybe I should have. Last year's Blue Jays team outscored their opponents by 27 runs, but managed only 75 wins and 87 losses. This year's has outscored opponents by 20 runs, and has a 73-70 record. The surprise is that this team didn't slip much after losing Roy Halladay and Alex Rios. This would seem to also be worth studying a bit. After all, they're one of only two American League teams that have already passed their "over."
Twins - Vegas 83.5, Actual 85
White Sox - Vegas 82.5, Actual 79
Tigers - Vegas 80.5, Actual 72
Indians - Vegas 74.5, Actual 58
Royals - Vegas 71.5, Actual 58
And the other one is your Minnesota Twins, but let's get back to them in a second.
Give credit to Vegas on Detroit, who is going to be very close to that number. Misfiring on the Indians and Royals suggests a gambling axiom I might want to try out: pick the consensus worst team in the division and bet the under. Odds are, with an unbalanced schedule, they'll be pretty bad.
The White Sox surprised everyone, including themselves, with their surge over the last few months. I wonder if we'll give them enough credit for it, or if we'll decide it was fluky. I'm leaning towards the latter. In fact, I kind of feel even they think it was fluky. Do you really pick up Manny Ramirez's $4M contract otherwise? Isn't that a classic "short window of opportunity" move?
But let's get back to the Twins. PECOTA had them below .500. Vegas had them eking out a division crown, but only by outlasting a bunch of other mediocre teams. It had them finishing below the Red Sox, Angels, and Rangers and tied with (blink. blink.) the Mariners. They will overachieve to the tune of 10 to 15 runs over expectations, both over the money guys and the stat geeks.
Oh, and they did it with their leading MVP candidate missing the entire second half of the season with a concussion. So it's not like they lucked out with injuries.
I don't agree with a lot of the arguments I hear claiming Ron Gardenhire should be this year's AL Manager of the Year. I don't think this is his best year. I also don't think he should get it because he's finiahed second so many times. And I certainly haven't agreed with him on all aspects of his logic or style.
But manager of the year is usually awarded to the team that overachieves the most. And if we look at what we really thought back in March, whether via stats or wise guy intuition, that team is the Twins. They are going to win their division. They are going to do so because of an awesome second half. And they not only are blowing expectations away, but are outdistancing another surprisingly good divisional rival.
If we look at the overall results, and we're honest about what we thought six months ago, it seems pretty clear: Ron Gardenhire deserves this year's AL Manager of the Year.