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The Rays and the AL East: 2010 Projected Standings

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Now that Andy Hellicksonstine has so successfully taken us through the Rays' WAR projections for 2010, I thought it'd be the logical next step to look at how all the projection systems rate the Rays as an overall team. We've looked at these during the course of the post-season as projections have become available, but now that the season is upon us, we can look at all the projections together and get a better overall view. 

Win Total

AL East Finish

CHONE

88

3

CAIRO

89

3

Fans

92

3

PECOTA

97

2

For more information on the differences between projection systems, visit here.

All right, now before anyone freaks out, there are a couple key things to keep in mind when looking at projected standings (or actually, any sort of projections).

First of all, projections shouldn't really be called "projections" per se.  Yes, we can look at them as estimates of how a player will perform this season, but a much more accurate way to describe them is as a measure of a team or player's true talent level.  In the words of Sean Smith, the inventor of the CHONE projection system:

"I don't have many real surprises though, because all I'm doing is looking at a player's multi-year track record, adjusting for league/park/age, and assuming he'll proceed to age like the majority of players in history have done. Some players will put up seasons in 2010 that will be much better than they've ever done before, and do so past the age of 30. I can pretty much guarantee that CHONE will not tell you who those players are. Projection may not even be the best word for what I'm doing. I'm estimating a player's current talent level."

We all know that there is a lot of random variation and chance that happens in baseball.  Some ground balls squeak through for hits, while some line drives get caught.  Fly balls that would have been home runs in one park become outs in another.  A fielder gets a bad break on a ball and it goes for a double.  Pitchers walk three batters in a row but get out of the inning without letting up a run.  Lots of crazy, ridiculous stuff happens over the course of a season, which is part of what makes baseball such an amazing sport to follow.

With all that random variation, though, how can we tell how good players and teams actually were last season? We know what the results were because we saw them, but how do we measure the talent?  That's a key distinction and it's the question that projection systems answer.  If we get rid of all the other stuff, what is a player's true talent?

Of course, in this upcoming season there's going to be a whole lot more of luck and random variation.  Players will get injured, players will bust, players will boom.  Like Sean Smith said, projections are all but worthless for predicting those sort of seasons.  Instead, the projections are giving us a player's 50th percentile numbers - the point where if we simulated the 2010 season 100 times, the player would perform better than those numbers in 50 seasons and worse than those numbers in 50 seasons.  It's what we believe a player should perform in a neutral luck environment, based on our current knowledge and research.

And so, when you see the Rays projected for 89 wins or 92 wins, realize that the win total is not a definitive answer.  It's not saying that the Rays are definitely going to win 92 games and no more.  Instead, it's saying that it's likely that the Rays will win 92 games, but through random luck and variation alone, this same team could win anywhere from 75 games to 105.  Don't believe me?  Look at the range of win totals possible for the St. Louis Cardinals, another team projected to win around 90 games:

Win Total

Probability

<=65

0.00%

66-70

0.00%

71-75

1.00%

76-80

5.40%

81-85

16.50%

86-90

29.60%

91-95

28.00%

96-100

14.40%

101-105

4.40%

>=106

0.60%

While it's most likely the Cardinals will win around 90 games, it's still possible (although highly unlikely) for them to finish with a record below .500.  Crazy, huh?  This is a great thing, though, because it gives the Rays hope.  While it may seem disappointing that we're projected for a third place finish, we're so close in all those projections to the Yankees and Red Sox, anything can happen!  Our front-office has got us a team that can compete with the Yankees and Red Sox, so now we're just going to have to see where the luck falls this season. And thankfully, luck is one thing the Yankees and Red Sox can't buy.