Baseball games aren't played on paper or inside those newer, fancier computer projection systems that are in vogue today. However, with another month and a half to go until Opening Day, projections are all fans have to go on right now.
The Las Vegas sports books are beginning to release their over/under win totals for each Major League Baseball team in 2013. The first Vegas sports book to release its projected totals set the defending champion San Francisco Giants over/under total at 86 wins, four games behind the rival Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Vegas over/under figures isn't the only projection system down on the defending champs. Baseball Prospectus is currently projecting the Giants to finish at 85-77, eight games behind the free-spending Dodgers.
The Baseball Prospectus projected standings, which rely upon the Player Empirical Comparison and Optimization Test Algorithm (PECOTA) created by current New York Times writer Nate Silver, set off some derisive ribbing on Twitter:
numbers and probability terrorizing Hammerin' Hank Schulman again, huh?— Jay Jaffe (@jay_jaffe) February 15, 2013
On the other end of the spectrum, the CAIRO projection system available at the Replacement Level Yankees Weblog has the Giants winning 89 games and edging out the Dodgers by one game to win the NL West.
All three projections have the Giants winning between 85 and 89 games, which is where they were when they missed out on the playoffs in 2009 (88-74) and 2011 (86-76). When the Giants won the World Series two years ago, they won 92 regular-season games; last year, on their way to another championship, they won 94.
Will the Giants hold off the Dodgers and the rest of the NL West to get back into the postseason and make a run at a third championship in four seasons? Or will the Dodgers and their $213 million payroll be too much to overcome?
Who will win the NL West?
The projections by Vegas and other systems fall in line with the industry-wide view of the Giants. Jayson Stark of ESPN wrote a column previewing each division using Dan Szymborski's projection system. The Dodgers project to finish ahead of the Giants and be the only 90-win team in the division. Stark wrote this about the lack of love for the Giants within the industry:
And then there were the Giants, who attract surprisingly little love for a team that has won two of the past three World Series. While one exec praised their "combination of talent and team," two others adamantly refused to even include them on a list of teams that could win the World Series.
"They're not going to win two in a row," said one NL executive. "Those days are over."
Manager Bruce Bochy thinks that his club isn't getting enough respect. He told Alex Pavlovic of the San Jose Mercury News, "I heard the word ‘lucky’ a lot. I mean, they won 94 games last year.”
The defending World Series champions aren't even projected to win their division by most of the prognostications available. In some ways, that makes sense. While the Giants won 94 games last year, they outscored their opponents by just 69 runs—which is more suggestive of an 88-win team.
The Dodgers added free-agent pitchers Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu this offseason after trading for Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Brandon League last year. They've increased their payroll by more than $100 million since Opening Day of last season, when the team was still owned by Frank McCourt.
Yet, as Giants first baseman Brandon Belt said, the Dodgers can't buy chemistry.
The Dodgers can't buy chemistry, and the projection systems can't measure it because it's an intangible and therefore unquantifiable. On paper, the Dodgers appear to be the more talented team. They also appeared to be the more talented team last year after acquiring Ramirez, Gonzalez, Beckett and League, yet it was the Giants who prevailed in the end.
They'll have to actually play the games to see if history will repeat itself this year.