It’s time to complain about statistical projections again

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Today FanGraphs came out with their early projections for the 2016 season. As is almost always the case with anyone’s statistical projections, there is a lot stuff that doesn’t seem to hew close to human expectations and/or observable reality. Stuff like the World Champion Royals slated to win 79 games or the 78-win Red Sox to be the second best team in the game. Could those things happen? Sure! Anything can happen in baseball. But they’re not necessarily the safest bets. And they’re gonna anger a lot of people, especially Royals fans.

They seem to anger baseball writers a lot too. Each year as soon as the projections come out from FanGraphs or whoever, there is a goodly bit of snark from the ink-stained wretches. “Ha! They have the Royals stinking and the Nationals winning! Silly computers!” says the baseball writer. Never a word, however, for the scores of living breathing “baseball experts” who predicted exactly the same thing last year. Projections are mocked. Predictions — which almost every writer either does on his or her own accord or is elbowed into doing by their editor — are forgotten.

Which isn’t to say I have a lot of use for projections or that I am somehow defending them as superior. I don’t pay too much attention to them and couldn’t begin to do any of my own. I do know enough about them, however, to know that they are not meant to be guesses as to what will actually happen. Rather, they are attempts to approximate what is most likely to happen given variables one can reasonably ascertain and figure. They’re a baseline, really, of what might happen before the totally unexpected and unprojectionable crap that happens every year comes into play. All things being equal, Shlabotnik is going to decline this year because he’s older, Oppenheimer is going to improve a bit because he’s no longer a rookie and if we do this to all 25 guys on the roster, we might be able to make some assumptions.

I think maybe the folks who do projections could be clearer about that when they release them. That all things aren’t equal, ever, and that they are just assumptions built on assumptions, subject to the unfolding of actual events. I know they build that into the numbers too, in the form of error rates and whatnot, but maybe the people who produce the articles presenting the projections could do a better job of clearly stating it in human terms as well. Doing so may seem unnecessary for the projectors — I get an image of a research scientist being told to talk to the popular press about his research, which is always kind of awkward — but it might help with popular adoption of projections by those who currently prefer to mock them. Or, at the very least, would make them think twice about mocking given that it’d be more clear then than it is now that they are, in fact, attacking a straw man.

It’s a humility thing, really. A humility which, to their credit, the writerly class has tended toward in recent years when it comes to their predictions. In their heart of hearts I still think that baseball writers consider themselves experts and think that their predictions are better-informed than that of most people, but they no longer act that way publicly when it comes time for predictions. They preface all predictions with self-effacing humor and verbiage in which they 100% acknowledge that they’re going to look foolish in seven months (and if they’re right, they brag anyway), and I think that makes talking about baseball easier. In my own practice I’ve done that for several years now, and I no longer get nearly as much angry “YOU HATE MY TEAM!” responses as I get “man, that’s a reach, but I guess we’ll see!” responses. The former stops conversation. The latter encourages it.

Anyway, the projectors won’t stop projecting. The predictors won’t stop predicting. Neither of them will stop being wrong a lot of the time because sports are random and unexpected things happen. I would just hope that, at some point, we’d stop mocking folks who do projections and stop claiming that anyone has the market cornered on this stuff.

Rutschman has five hits in opener, Orioles outlast Red Sox 10-9

Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

BOSTON – The last time Adley Rutschman recalls feeling this level of emotion on a baseball field was playing in front of intimate, 5,000-seat crowds in college at Oregon State.

He trumped that experience at Fenway Park on Thursday in his first career opening day start.

“This blows that out of the water,” Rutschman said.

Rutschman became the first catcher in major league history with five hits in an opener, and the Baltimore Orioles survived a wild ninth inning to beat the Boston Red Sox 10-9.

“To have that close game in the ninth inning and the crowd get so loud. You kind of sit there and say, ‘This is pretty cool,’” said Rutschman, the top overall pick in the 2019 draft.

Rutschman – who debuted for the Orioles last May and quickly became indispensable to the young, resurgent club – homered in his first at-bat and finished 5-for-5 with a career-best four RBIs and a walk on a chilly day at Fenway Park, with a temperature of 38 degrees at first pitch.

Ramon Urias hit a two-run homer for Baltimore, which finished with 15 hits, nine walks and five stolen bases.

Kyle Gibson (1-0) allowed four runs and six hits over five-plus innings to earn his first opening-day victory since his 2021 All-Star season with Texas. Gibson gave up an RBI groundout in the first inning before retiring nine straight Red Sox hitters.

The Orioles nearly gave the game away in the ninth.

With Baltimore leading 10-7, closer Félix Bautista walked pinch-hitter Raimel Tapia. Alex Verdugo followed with a single and advanced to second on an error by center fielder Cedric Mullins.

Rafael Devers struck out. Justin Turner then reached on an infield single to third when Urias’ throw was wide, scoring Tapia. Masataka Yoshida grounded to shortstop Jorge Mateo, who stepped on second for the force but threw wildly to first, allowing Verdugo to score.

Bautista struck out Adam Duvall on three pitches to end it and earn the save.

The Orioles scored four runs in the fourth and three in the fifth to take an 8-2 lead. Baltimore led 10-4 before Bryan Baker allowed three runs in the eighth to give the Red Sox some hope.

The eighth could have been even better for the Red Sox had Devers, who led off the inning, not become the first player in major league history to strike out on a pitch clock violation. Devers was looking down and kicking debris off his cleats when umpire Lance Barksdale signaled a violation that resulted in strike three.

“There’s no excuse,” said Alex Cora, who dropped to 0-5 in opening-day games as Boston’s manager. “They know the rules.”

Boston offseason addition and two-time Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber (0-1) struggled in his Fenway debut, surrendering five runs on six hits and four walks in 3 1/3 innings.

“Less than ideal,” Kluber said. “Didn’t turn out the way I would have hoped for.”


Red Sox: Christian Arroyo stayed in the game after taking an inadvertent cleat to the side of his head in the second inning. Arroyo was applying a tag to Rutschman at second base as he attempted to stretch out a single. Rutschman’s leg flipped over as he slid awkwardly. … LHP James Paxton was placed on the 15-day inured list (retroactive to March 27) with a strained right hamstring.


Rutschman, one of six Baltimore players making his first opening-day appearance, became the youngest Oriole to homer in his first opening-day at-bat since Cal Ripken Jr. in 1984.


The Orioles took advantage of MLB’s bigger bases – going from 15- to 18-inch squares – that are being used for the first time this season. Baltimore hadn’t stolen five bases in a game since last June 24 against the White Sox. Mullins and Jorge Mateo swiped two bags apiece, and Adam Frazier got a huge jump on his steal against reliever Ryan Brasier. There was nothing Boston catcher Reese McGuire could do to stop them and on the majority of Baltimore’s steals, he didn’t bother to throw.


Right-hander Kaleb Ort and Tapia earned Boston’s final two roster spots to open the season. Tapia got the nod over Jarren Duran, who was sent down to Triple-A Worcester. Ort pitched a scoreless sixth with one strikeout Thursday.


Orioles: RHP Dean Kremer will make is sixth career start against Boston when the three-game series resumes on Saturday. In 11 road starts last season, he went 5-3 with a 3.63 ERA.

Red Sox: LHP Chris Sale, who has pitched in only 11 games over the past three years due to injuries, is set to begin his seventh season in Boston.