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The start of the NFL season reminds me that there is no shortage of prognosticators in professional sports.  Each and every fledgling sports season requires analysis and number crunching so that the winners can be foretold definitively.  Most predictions are based on cold, hard data.  Some are based on the eye test or the smell test.  Sometimes a player adds that secret formula known as the X-Factor.  And sometimes you just have to trust your gut.

This week, I am taking a look at the cold, hard data type of predictions.  The City of Las Vegas stays in business due to analysis of cold, hard data… and also because people bet on sports.  A lot.

In terms of baseball predictors, you have your three “BIGGIES.”  There is Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA system, there is Steamer, and then there is FanGraphs and their ZiPS system.  Each of these calculates outcomes based on hundreds, if not thousands, of algorithms.  Numbers are crunched and then crunched again.  And then the data is spit out and analyzed and projections are made.

For example, in 2015, the Chicago Cubs were picked by PECOTA to win 82 games and finish second in the division.  They won 97 games, finished third, and then stunned the Pirates and Cardinals in the playoffs before running out of gas against the Mets.

In 2016, they were picked to win 92 games and the NL Central.  They won 103 games on their way to winning their first title in 108 years.

In 2017, 95 wins was the guess but 92 was the answer.  The division champ was picked correctly, however.

And in 2018, we were told to expect 89 wins and the NL Central crown.  As of today they stand at 83 up and 57 down.  We are only allowed to win 6 more games in 2018, apparently.  They do say we are 99.8% likely to make the post-season as I write this.

According to PECOTA’s Spring prediction, our 2018 success will be due mainly to the signing of Yu Darvish and tremendous offensive efforts from Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, and Addison Russell.  Thank God that turned out to be accurate, right?  No accounting for Baez to have an MVP-type season, nor big bounce-back seasons for Ben Zobrist and Jason Heyward.  No accounting for Kyle Schwarber once again mashing, and no prediction of Jon Lester’s stellar first half.

So what is the lesson here?  What is the takeaway?

For starters, even the experts get it wrong.  A lot.  No one knows for sure, and if they say they do they are generally full of it.  Print it.  Book it.  You heard it here first.  Any variation on these themes is 100% distilled bullshit.

Second, the human factor cannot be predicted.  Ben Zobrist and Jason Heyward are walking proof.  Javier Baez is in the national spotlight right now, and no one saw that coming.  The architects of this team consider that human factor strongly.  They place a high value on team chemistry.  Team “fit” is a priority.  Sometimes they swing and miss.  More often, they make solid contact.  And sometimes they have hit it out of the park.  The Murphy and Hamels trades will likely be seen in that light, but I’m just making a prediction here.  Let’s wait until after the season ends for that type of analysis.

Hopefully, we can discuss it over a cigar and some champagne…


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