The Read Zone 2014 Baseball Predictions Season in Review

By: Brian Mangan

Nobody likes a guy that toots his own horn too much.  But sometimes, a little horn tooting is justified — hell, it’s necessary.  I mean, what else are horns for?

I write mostly around the Mets here — much to my co-founder’s chagrin — but lately most of my Mets-related content has been going to MetsBlog.com.  It’s a neat opportunity for me to be writing for MetsBlog, the largest team sports-blog out there, but there is less opportunity to have fun on a site which caters to such a broad audience.  Because of this, I’m back to The Read Zone to take a look at 2014 to see how some of my predictions panned out.

There will always be hits and misses and too-early-to-tell’s when it comes to predictions, but 2014 was an overwhelmingly good year for The Read Zone.  We nailed our prediction on Curtis Granderson as one of the only dissenting voices out there against the signing, we nailed our slash line projections for Juan Lagares and Travis D’Arnaud, and we knew that the Mets would be significantly better than the 73.5 wins projected by Las Vegas.  We had one fairly-public miss, but we definitely hit for average and power.

December 6, 2013 – The Granderson Signing Isn’t Jason Bay, But It Ain’t Good Either

This was our most widely read sports post ever, with over ten thousand views.  Suffice to say, most of the Mets fans that read it were not pleased with me.  We made the following overall prediction about Granderson:

> I think he’ll be liked as a Met, even if he struggles. First year: .240/.330/.440, 22 HR, 180K, 2.5 WAR

Granderson finished 2014 with a batting line even worse than was predicted, batting 227/.326/.388, 20 HR with 140K and 1.0 WAR.  Nonetheless, I can definitely count this as a win as I was perhaps the most pessimistic writer to take on the Granderson signing at length.  ZiPS creator Dan Symborski confidently took the over on 2.4 WAR because ZiPS didn’t understand the nature of Granderson’s injury.  Eno Sarris said “he’s projected to be an above-average player for two or three years. Why don’t people like it more?”.  John Sickels expected a “moderate rebound.”  The team at MetsBlog called it a signing that “had to be made,” touting his defense and his 30 home run power.  You get it.

When I forecasted Granderson would struggle, well, I got more than my fair share of criticism.  Seriously, read the comments, they are amazing, calling the prediction “pathetic,” that I am an “idiot of a man,” that I should “be fired” from writing my own blog, and so forth.

The good news?  I expect better things from Granderson in 2015.  But we’ll get there when the time comes.

March 24, 2014 -They Might Not Win 90, But Mets’ Dreams Of A Winning Season Are Real

Written shortly after Sandy Alderson’s “90 win” comment became public, I predicted that the Mets would in 84 games this season.  I was wrong — but I actually beat the vaunted Las Vegas line, which had the Mets finishing with 73.5 wins (they finished with 79 wins).  Fangraphs predicted the Mets would be the 7th worst team.  Odds makers had the Mets dead last in the National League for World Series odds.  We wrote:

> Obviously, anything can happen in 2014, but I expect that for the Mets will beat the 74-win projections that they have been saddled with .. These Mets might lack for superstars, and sure miss Matt Harvey, but the roster is brimming with young talent that is ready to take a step forward … I, like most, expect that 2015 will be the first season that the Mets contend, but dreams of a winning season, even a season approaching 90 wins, are not that unrealistic.

Even though my prediction was slightly off target, the premise was correct – the Mets were better than people realized.  The Mets even had a chance at a .500 season up until the second to last game, and posted a positive run differential for the year.  Here are some specific predictions from the article underpinning the reasons for optimism:

> First Base and Shortstop Cannot Be Worse, but Could Improve

Right and right.  Lucas Duda emerged, and the combination of Ruben Tejada and Wilmer Flores outpaced the 2013 production from shortstop.

> The Pitching Has Depth, and Will Exceed Expectations

Pretty much spot on.  I predicted Bartolo Colon would poste a 3.96 ERA, and he finished at 4.09.  I missed but not too badly on Wheeler, as I predicted a 3.90 FIP compared to his actual 3.55 FIP.  The best one?  I predicted that Jon Niese would replicate his 2012 season where he posted a 3.40 ERA, and this season his ERA was exactly 3.40.

> There are four more arms in the Mets organization that are both special and ready. Mejia, Montero, Syndergaard, and Familia.

Two made the show and were huge successes in Mejia and Familia.  Also, people don’t realize it, but Rafael Montero righted the ship and finished with a 4.06 ERA and 8.53 K/9.  He’s ready.  And Syndergaard we will see next year.

I also would like to give myself for props for mentioning Jacob DeGrom, Vic Black, and Carlos Torres who were all incredible this season.  I said that Travis D’Arnaud would exceed his Fangraphs/Steamer preseason projection (which he did), and that Wilmer Flores would emerge at the major league level.  On the flip side, Dillon Gee and Chris Young disappointed.

April 6, 2014 – Is It Time to Worry About Travis D’Arnaud? Yes. (Plus A Bonus Lesson In Using Statistics)

This article was responding to an article on Amazin Avenue which told people not to worry about D’Arnaud’s early season struggles.  The author was correct, in the sense that D’Arnaud would establish himself as a major league hitter.  But relative to the expectations he had been saddled with?

> If you think he can be a 2-3 WAR catcher who isn’t useless at the dish and plays good defense, you will probably not be disappointed.  If you thought he was capable of hitting 25 home runs with a .380 OBP, you’ll likely be disappointed.

He posted 1.6 WAR.  And as for the specific prediction itself?

> Before the season, Steamer projected D’Arnaud to hit .242/.305/.400 with good defense — that sounds about right.

He ended up at .242/.302/.416.  Yeah, wow.  Horn tooting.

April 11, 2014 – Juan Lagares Will Hit Enough to Stick, So What Can Mets Fans Expect?

In early April, we took a look at Juan Lagares who, in contrast to D’Arnaud, started the season off with an extremely hot bat.  Again, I counseled people that Juan would level out and provide production closer to what we expected at the outset of the season.

> Nonetheless, I find those projections ( of .253/.292/.362) to be pessimistic for Lagares, [as] his single worst slash line overall at any of the Mets advanced minor league levels is the .304/.347/.419, 766 OPS he posted at Binghamton.

True, Brian.  So true.

> I expect that, in addition to his Gold Glove caliber defense, Lagares will be an adequate hitter as well.  He most certainly will come down off his present .303/.351/.515 (and 8.1% walk rate) high, but I do not expect that he will crater as much as projected by the forecasts or by fans who think he is a glove-only player.

> Read Zone Projection: .267/.312/.412, 5.5% bb, 20.5%k.

Lagares finished at .281/.321/.382,  4.4%bb, 19.2 k%.

May 8, 2014 – Mets Lack of Talent, Not “Hitting Approach”, The Culprit Behind Weak Offense

In May, we told Mets fans that changing hitting coaches wouldn’t do anything.  I actually had no idea how startlingly accurate that statement was.

> Maybe guys like Hudgens should be fired too, but only so much blame can be put on something like “philosophy” when you simply don’t have the players.

Yeah.  As it turns out, the Mets performance under Hudgens and Johnson were almost literally identical.  The Mets batted .237 and scored 3.9 runs per game under Hudgens, and batted .238 and scored 3.8 runs per game under Johnson.

May 21, 2014 – The Mets’ Chris Young Is Turning It Around

This is the big flop from this season, but I hold stubbornly to the idea that the process was right, and the outcome turned out bad because of luck and small sample size.  In either event, my boosting for Chris Young was an important part of my 2014.  I never thought that Chris Young was going to be great — but I did believe that he could be a 2 WAR player in right field and that he would provide more than Eric Young Jr. or Matt Den Dekker would.

Young ended up posting 0.9 WAR this year according to Baseball-Reference, which may surprise you.  However, defensive metrics liked Young as a corner outfielder and his time with the Yankees, where he hit.282 with 3 home runs over 23 games (876 OPS) buoyed his numbers.

I think that if Young played the entire season on the Mets in a corner outfield slot without getting jerked around, he could have posted an OPS of around 700.  If you were to take his full season statistics from May 1 through the end of the year and prorate them, his line would have been .224/.303/.381 (683 OPS) with 15 HR.  Not earth shattering production, but is that much different than what the Mets are paying Curtis Granderson to do?

July 3, 2014 – Hey, Debbie Downers: Lucas Duda Has Been Good

I was the first to point out Duda’s excellent season, doing so on July 3rd, when he was still lower-middle of the pack among first basemen (15th in HR, 15th in RBI, etc.).

> These raw values may be middle of the pack, but they are much more impressive considering a) Duda plays in an extreme pitchers’ park, b) bats in a subpar lineup and c) has about 80-100 less plate appearances than the guys who play every day.

Well, wouldn’t you know it?  Lucas Duda continued to run with the every day first base job and crushed it for the rest of the season.

> Ike Davis was traded on April 18, and from May 1 to the present Duda has batted .246/.342/.469 for an OPS of 810. Yes, we are judging Duda after a particularly hot month (his OPS was 956 in June) but the proof is in the pudding here.

Duda finished the year 10th among first basemen in WAR, 4th in HR, and 7th in RBI.

July 10, 2014 – Sandy Alderson is Right, the Mets Are a .500 Team: Run Differential Explained

This was another article for which I got a lot of flak, although I have found during my time writing that people who disagree with you are likeliest to voice their opinions, while people who agree nod silently.  Essentially, this article explained run differential and confidently predicted that the Mets were a team whose true-talent level was that of a .500 team or better.  I wrote:

> The Mets will probably play like a .500 team from here on out … but this, of course, is no consolation to a team that is presently 42-49. Going .500 from here on out would only result in a record of 78-84.

As everyone is now well aware, the Mets went 37-34 from the date of that prediction, proving it to be quite accurate.  They also finished 26-29 in one run games, a record which explained essentially the entire gap between their record (79-83) and their pythagorean record (82-80).  Also at that time, the Mets were on pace to score 635 runs and allow 630 on the year – they ended up scoring 629 and allowing 618.

For what it’s worth, a full 86% of respondents to the poll agreed that the run differential accurately portrayed the team as true-talent .500 or better, while the second most popular response was “Shut up, nerd!” at 8%.  Only 5% or respondents disagreed.

Series – The Ruben Tejada Experiment is Over, It is Time to Free Wilmer

July 21, 2014 – Part I 

July 24, 2014 – Part II 

July 30, 2014 – Part III 

This series argued that the Wilmer Flores’s time had come and that he could no longer be blocked by Ruben Tejada. Although much of this prediction is still somewhat TBD, given that the jury is still out on Wilmer’s bat and glove, there are few parts of it which can be evaluated today.

However, I’ve included it as it was a substantial part of my Mets advocacy this year.  #FreeWilmer

July 28, 2014 – Mejia and Familia and the Rest Have Been Even Better Than You May Realize

This was an early look at how dominant Mejia and Familia had been since settling into their respective bullpen end-roles.

> They’re not just lights-out (and fun to watch) but if they continue on this run of domination, Mejia and Familia may end up being the Mets’ most dominant end game in over a decade.

Mejia faded somewhat, but Familia kept up the great work through the end of the year.  Both pitchers posted positive WAR figures, with Mejia piling up a nice 9.42 K/9 and with Familia posting an impressive 2.21 ERA/3.07 FIP.

August 4, 2014 – It’s Time To Believe That Jacob deGrom May Be This Good

This one is much less impressive given deGrom’s finish to his season, but I was on the bandwagon early enough for me to feel good about it.  We called deGrom legit, noting his excellent peripherals stats and other indicators:

> DeGrom’s 2.97 FIP ranks 10th in the National League among starters with 90 innings pitched or more (between Hamels, Bumgarner, Wacha, and T. Ross) … DeGrom’s swinging strike rate … is a fantastic 11.5%, which also ranks 10th in the National League. His first pitch strike % is good (although not elite) at 61.7%, and he has five pitches classified by PITCHf/x which grade out as positive this year so far — the fastball, two seamer, cutter, slider and changeup. Finally, you may be surprised to learn (as I was) that DeGrom has the 9th fastest average fastball in the National League.

As it turns out, I was not optimistic enough about him.

> Altogether, he’s probably closer to the 3.37 ERA pitcher that xFIP thinks he is than the 2.77 ERA pitcher he’s been so far. Nonetheless, you’ve got a pitcher who throws hard, throws strikes, gets swings-and-misses, and has performed admirably so far this season. Even if he takes a few steps back after this hot streak, deGrom has shown enough this year already where it’s no longer crazy to say that this guy should be in our plans next year.

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Overall, a very good year for the Read Zone in terms of it’s Mets predictions.  Over the years, I have accumulated a record with dozens of predictions and forecasts – some right, some wrong, and many in between.  But looking at 2014 alone, I consider myself to have been very successful.

Before we finish up, two bonus articles that I am proud of.  One about the Yankees, and one about the 2013 Mets that took an extra year to come to fruition.

January 22, 2014 – Number Crunching the Yankees’ Signing of Masahiro Tanaka: The Yankees Got Taken For a Ride

Boy did my Yankee fan friends hate me for this article.  Although I acknowledged that Tanaka was a special talent and that you could “justify the risk” given the success of Kuroda and Darvish, the posting fee and the “opt-out” made it a loser of a deal for the Yankees.  Here is how I explained it:

> Essentially, the Yankees just signed Tanaka to a four year, $108 million deal with a unilateral player option for 3 more years at $67 million.  Granted, the Yankees have locked up Tanaka’s “prime” by having the four guaranteed years be his age 25 through 28 seasons. However, the Yankees are paying $26 million per year for those four years, making it the second richest pitcher contract of all time, by average annual value.

Because of the opt-out, “it’s a deal with limited upside and $108 million downside.”  I argued that, if the Yankees felt like spending over $150 million, that they should have retained Cano instead, citing Cano’s consistency, the likelihood of pitcher injuries, and not even mentioning the fact that Cano might have taken a slight hometown discount to stay.

> Cano averaged around 6.5 (fangraphs) WAR per season as a Yankee. Here’s the complete list of pitchers who posted 6.5 (fangraphs) WAR last season: Clayton Kershaw. End of list. (Scherzer 6.4, Sanchez 6.2, Wainwright 6.2 … Darvish 5.0). The Yankees had better hope that Tanaka is Clayton Kershaw.

Tanaka was fantastic when healthy, but got hurt, and is not out of the woods with his injury worries yet (and might never be).  Instead, Tanaka posted 3.2 WAR over 136 brilliant innings, while Cano posted 5.3 WAR and batted .314/.365/.454 in 157 games.  In Cano’s absence, the Yankees struggled to score, finishing 20th in MLB in runs scored (third-to-last in the American League) despite playing their home games in hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium.  Yankee second basemen combined to provide -0.1 WAR and bat .227, even including Martin Prado’s flukey 7 HR in 137 at bats, while Cano finished with the AL’s sixth highest batting average.

If you’re the Yankees, and if you’re going to make the big bet, why do it on a pitcher?  And why do it at the same value as Cano?  And why allow an opt-out which allows the pitcher to walk away if he turns out to be as good as you think he will be?

March 11, 2013 – New York Mets Reason for Optimism: thy name is Cowgill

Here’s the one that hurts the most, Collin Cowgill.

In March 2013, there was not too much to look forward to as a Mets fan.  Although Matt Harvey had burst onto the scene in 2012, there was no saying how good he would be in 2013, and the rest of the roster looked sparse.  So we looked for reasons to be optimistic, even small areas, that could surprise.  And we found one in Cowgill.

> Cowgill is young, athletic, can run the bases, can play defense, and he can hit enough to stick in the big leagues. He provides value in enough areas that he will, at worst, be useful, and on top of that I believe he has the opportunity to exceed expectations at the plate.

> Although he struggled last year between Oakland and their Triple A affiliate, it was truly the first time that Cowgill had struggled at the plate. Even so, Cowgill posted a .654 OPS and played good defense, nudging his contribution into the positive.

We compared Cowgill to players like Gregor Blanco and Angel Pagan, unheralded but who were athletic enough that they could do several things well and help a team.

> In sum, all of this is enough for Cowgill to take the reins in center field and run with them . . . I think Sandy Alderson did a great job scooping up a player when his value is at its nadir. I believe that as the season wears on, Mets fans will all be asking for #moreCowgill.

The Cowgill experiment did not last long in Flushing, as he got a mere 63 plate appearances scattered over a month before being jettisoned.  This year, however, Cowgill has hung on with the Angels and has provided plenty of value, finishing the year with 2.1 WAR.

Cowgill doesn’t tear the cover off the ball, with a .250/.330/.354 batting line that is good for a 103 wRC, but he walks enough and hits enough to be around average with the bat.  It is in his full contributions around the diamond that Cowgill becomes an above average player, as he posted a positive baserunning score and a +4.7 UZR in LF and a +4.5 UZR in RF.  For his career, Cowgill is a +12.6 UZR/150 outfielder.

So why do I dwell so much on Cowgill?  It is certainly not because he is the type of player that wins you a World Series.  Rather, it is because he is the type of player that helps you get there — and who does so essentially for free.  Cowgill earned $506,000 this year and put up 2.1 WAR.  He is 28 years old.  Yet, in order to attempt to acquire a productive outfielder after letting Cowgill go, Sandy Alderson signed Curtis Granderson to a 4 year, $60 million deal.

Granderson earned $15 million this season to post 1.0 WAR.  He was paid thirty times more than Collin Cowgill who, by the way, is only entering his first year of arbitration next season and is a team controlled asset through 2018.  All the Mets got for Cowgill was a minor leaguer named Kyle Johnson, who at age 24 just batted .259 in Double-A.  There is every chance that 2014 was Cowgill’s career year and that he will never put up 2 WAR again.  But at the very least, you have to love Cowgill because he is an all-around contributor making the minimum salary.  Instead, the Mets let Cowgill essentially walk away for free, and gave $60 million to Granderson and $8 million to Chris Young.

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I apologize for the length of this piece, as when I started it, I didn’t realize exactly how busy 2014 was for me on the blog.  A lot of predictions require a lot of time to recap.

Overall, like I said, I am very proud of how my predictions turned out this year.  I look forward to doing the same this offseason and throughout the year next year.  Although I will continue to be featured at MetsBlog, most of my off-the-wall predictions and rants, as well as more thorough sabermetric stuff, will likely be here.

Stay tuned, please subscribe, and please follow me on twitter at @brianpmangan.  You may even end up ahead of the curve if you do.

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Brian Mangan is an attorney that lives in New York City.