There was a little buzz in the blogosphere recently when Derek Zumsteg at USS Mariner ran the ZiPS 2008 projections through the Diamond Mind simulator, and ended up with the A's winning the division more than any other team. Obviously, something was screwy there, right? Yes, ZiPS doesn't really try very hard to accurately predict playing time, and Diamond Mind has a mind of its own with regards to playing time, as well, so that outcome alone is nothing for A's fans to excited about.
BP's PECOTA, on the other hand, does try to predict playing time, and they just came out with their projected standings. They have the A's in second place, with a 78-84 record, eleven games behind the Angels. That's closer to what I had mentally been preparing myself for, a year without hope. But I thought I'd try a little thought experiment to see if I could come up with a reasonable scenario, based on the PECOTA numbers, that gives the A's a division title.
So I'm going to make some reasonable adjustments to PECOTA's assumptions. By reasonable, I mean, I'm not going to turn Bobby Crosby into Alex Rodriguez. The adjustments have to have some logic to it.
Here's what we need to accomplish: find a reasonable scenario whereby the A's can make up the gap in the projected run differentials between the A's and Angels. Here's what we're starting with:
Team runs: score-allowed
Angels: 810-728 = +82
Athletics: 732-758 = -26
Run differential to make up: 108.0 runs (based on VORP)
First, we'll knock some runs off the Angels' totals. PECOTA projects Vladimir Guerrero to be healthy for the whole year. Vlad has had plenty of health issues in the past, with his back and hammies. We'll say he has one of those injuries, and loses 200 plate appearances, which are gobbled up by Reggie Willits.
Kelvim Escobar and Jered Weaver are also projected to be mostly healthy, but Escobar will start the year on the DL, and Weaver had the kind of arm problems last year that can easily recur. We'll knock 50 IP from each, and give them to Joe Saunders and Ervin Santana. Here's where the Jon Garland trade helps, as the dropoff here isn't very big.
Now to the A's. PECOTA thinks Jack Cust was a bit of a fluke last year, and projects a huge drop in batting average and slugging percentage. We're going to assume it wasn't a fluke, and give him the same rate stats as last year.
PECOTA thinks Eric Chavez' career is on a steep decline. We know, however, that Chavez has been playing hurt for two years, and just had three surgeries to correct the problems that have plagued him. Let's assume that the surgeries work, not so much that he gets back to his peak levels, but at least so much that he returns to the level of the slightly-hurt Eric Chavez of 2006.
PECOTA gives half the CF playing time to Emil Brown, who is projected to have a negative VORP. In reality, Chris Denorfia is probably going to be the starting CF, and Brown will platoon, and mostly play against LHP. We'll take 200 PAs away from Brown and give them to Denorfia.
PECOTA doesn't know what to do with Justin Duchscherer, who is converting to a starter from a reliever, and gives him 130 IP. It also assumes that Rich Harden will get hurt again, and gives him 100 IP. Let's assume they stay healthy, and give them an extra 50 IP each, and take them away from the rookies like Dan Meyer, who like Emil Brown was projected with a negative VORP.
OK, so where are we now with our reasonable adjustments?
Total Reasonable Adjustments: 64.0 runs
Remaining Angel Advantage 44.0 runs
So we knocked about six or seven games off that eleven game lead. The A's are still trailing the Angels by four games. You can make up four games on pure luck. And a minor miracle or two could happen: Bobby Crosby could stay healthy and break out, Ryan Sweeney could hit his 90th percentile projections, Chad Gaudin could pitch the whole season like he did in the first half of '07 before he got hurt, Dana Eveland could run up numbers in the majors like he did in the minors.
So there you have it, a little balloon of hope to lift you through spring training, before reality comes along to stick a pin in it. Have fun, kids!