Reviewing In-Season Predictions: Stop Us Before We Prognosticate Again

Continuing to shrive, we this week take a gimlet-eyed look at our in-season predictions. We omit any further references to our several in-season comments promoting our tragically mistaken vision of the Advent of the Five-Inning Pitcher, in penance for which we have already donned hairshirts.

Very Bad Predictions

–June 1: Mark Reynolds has “lost his power” and “will soon become a headache” to his owners. What we said at the time would still sound kind of plausible, if what subsequently occurred hadn’t occurred. At the beginning of June, despite playing in Coors and having generally good stats, Reynolds had unprecedentedly few home runs and was getting by on a bunch of seeing-eye opposite-field ground balls that had produced a ridiculous BABIP of .411. Almost immediately thereafter, though, he started (a) pulling the ball and (b) hitting fly balls, many of which (c) went for home runs.

–July 27: Unduly encouraged by two good starts, albeit against the Phillies and Mets, we suggested you acquire Jose Urena. His record thereafter: 3 Wins, 5 Losses, 5.77 ERA, 1.37 WHIP. He couldn’t even get the Phillies and Mets out. After a two-year flirtation, we’re through with this guy, which probably means he will win 20 next season.

Bad Predictions

–August 3: Contemplating the various deals made at the trade deadline, we identified four pitchers who might conceivably stumble into their teams’ starting rotations and do a deep-rostered Fantasy owner some good. Brian Johnson and Michael Kelly haven’t made it to the majors; Adam Warren and Juan Nicasio haven’t started a game since then, and Nicasio hasn’t even been especially good in relief, though Warren’s been okay.

–July 6: Shane Greene might be worth picking up. Actually, this wasn’t so much a prediction as part of a meditation on the Tigers’ problems with their starting rotation, which at the time seemed refractory. Indeed, we suggested that you not pick up Greene if the Tigers plugged him in to the rotation. But we thought that Greene might finally have discovered how to get left-handed hitters out, at least in setup-length stints. Greene never did find his way back into the rotation. However: his record in relief since July 6th: 28 IP, 5.79 ERA. Except, you know what: Greene has discovered how to get left-handers out. His second-half slash line against them is .255/.315/.460. Not wonderful, but not horrible. We also note that Greene has, apparently, been very unlucky this season. His ERA in relief is nearly two runs higher than his FIP, which is the biggest gap for anyone who’s pitched at least 40 relief innings this year.

–April 13: We suggested that Matt Wisler had been unjustly orphaned in most Fantasy leagues, and that he might be worth picking up. We saw reason for optimism in his performance as a rookie in 2015 and in this year’s spring training. Moreover, we noted, “he doesn’t get hit especially hard.” Wisler’s record this season: 7 Wins, 12 Losses, 4.93 ERA, 1.32 WHIP. Hard-hit ball percentage: 37.6, third-highest in MLB of anyone with more than 100 innings pitched.

Good Predictions

–June 29th: We opined that Bryan Shaw had been having a better season than appeared, and that the quality of his performance would thenceforth be congruent with his stats. We were right (32 IP, 1.69 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 30 Ks). But, unfortunately, so what? It wasn’t that much of a stretch. A big part of Shaw’s allure at the time was the fact that he was next in line for saves should anything untoward befall Cody Allen, but the Indians’ acquisition of Andrew Miller ended that dream, even had Allen not been (save for one ERA-poisoning outing) lights-out during the second half.

–June 29th: We recommended that you sell high on Steven Wright, whom we expected to “regress significantly,” ultimately producing full-season stats similar to those of R.A. Dickey in his non-Cy Young years. At the time, Wright was leading the AL in ERA and Quality Starts. His numbers since then: 5.53 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, 3 QS in 9 appearances. His overall stats: not a bad match for Dickey’s 2011. This doesn’t count as a Very Good Prediction because (1) Wright’s decline was apparently due in part to shoulder bursitis, which you don’t expect from a knuckleballer, and (2) despite the unprepossessing stats, he managed 7 wins in those 9 starts, thanks to getting about 7 ½ runs per game from his hitters.

–July 20th: We said, and like to think that we had the stats to back it up, that Danny Salazar, theretofore a top-15 starter, “will plummet to earth,” whereas Carlos Rodon, then on the DL after an apparently weak first half, would improve radically. Salazar thereafter: 26 IP, 25 ER, 52 Baserunners. Rodon thereafter: 59 IP, 3.96 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 56 Ks, 6 Wins and 7 QS in 10 starts. This one looked a lot better last week, before Rodon had two atrocious starts.

Very Good Prediction

–May 11: Travis Jankowski. This one we’re proud of, though of course if you make enough predictions, you’re bound to nail a few of them. On the day this appeared, Jankowski had started only two of the Padres 33 games. He had stolen two bases and been caught twice. We nonetheless predicted that, “sooner rather than later,” Jankowski would win or be given a starting job, and would start stealing bases in great profusion. And so it proved. His record since then: 74 games started, 28 SB, 8 CS, and, as we envisioned, low BA, decent OBP, no power, and a good enough glove to keep him in the lineup most of the time.

Accounting completed. As usual, we didn’t do appreciably worse than anyone else with hitters, relief pitchers, and mid- to high-priced starting pitchers, but we were pathetic with cheap starting pitchers. So we now swear: never again will we promote the chances of some marginal fifth starter on a manifestly last-place team. Never again will we….Sorry. We can’t help it. It’s a sickness, you know? Matt Wisler, it turns out, sort of did what we expected him to do this season. He raised his strikeout rate and lowered his walk rate. Most importantly, as we’d hoped, he figured out how to retire left-handed hitters (.233/.325/.370 slash line against them in the second half). We also thought that he’d have some decent outfield gloves behind him. But Ender Inciarte spent five weeks on the sidelines, Mallex Smith started fewer than 50 games, and the previously not-bad Nick Markakis, was, says Fangraphs, a subpar right fielder, while the never-good Matt Kemp was even worse. We yearn to see what happens when Wisler has Smith and Inciarte both playing behind him for a full season. Wisler’s HH% is troublesome, but we’re undeterred as long as the price is right. We’ve already made our first prediction for the 2017 season, so here’s our second: Wisler will be worth more than the dollar you’ll pay for him as your sixth starting pitcher.

The Birchwood Brothers are two guys with the improbable surname of Smirlock. Michael, the younger brother, brings his skills as a former Professor of Economics to bear on baseball statistics. Dan, the older brother, brings his skills as a former college English professor and recently-retired lawyer to bear on his brother's delphic mutterings. They seek to delight and instruct. They tweet when the spirit moves them @birchwoodbroth2.

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