Read Zone’s 2016 Sports/Politics Predictions in Review

Three headlines I saw this week reminded me of articles that I wrote for the Read Zone in the last month with some pretty unpopular predictions. So come with me on a walk down memory lane as I revisit some articles that were ahead of their time.

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1. The Mets and Nationals are Nearly Evenly Matched

On January 25, 2016, I published an article entitled, “With Cespedes, the Mets Hold a Slight Edge in the National League East.” In it, I broke down the team’s rosters, discussed their depth, and agreed with Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections that the Mets project to be only about two or three games better this year. It received a good amount of flak in Mets circles.

So when Fangraphs put out an article today calling the Mets one-game favorites, and giving them only only 10% better odds than the Nationals to win the National League East, I felt obliged to point it out. Fangraphs compared the position players, starting rotations, and bullpens, in the exact same manner as I did. Seriously, it’s weird:

  • Read Zone: Offensively, the Mets have a much, much deeper team than Washington does. The Mets lack the upside of Harper and Rendon, but have a much higher floor. Cespedes is projected for 4.4 WAR, although last year he posted 6.7. David Wright and Travis d’Arnaud are projected for 5.2 WAR combined, although on a per-at-bat basis d’Arnaud could reach 4.5 WAR on his own in a full season.
  • Fangraphs: The Mets project to be better than the Nationals in seven of nine spots. Anthony Rendon leads David Wright at third base, but the huge difference is Bryce Harper’s lead over Curtis Granderson in right. Granderson is a solid player, but Harper is probably one of the five best players in the game.
  • Read Zone: I believe the Mets have a superior offense, superior depth, and a strong enough starting rotation to keep pace with the elite Bryce Harper, Max Scherzer, and lock-down bullpen of the Nationals.
  • Fangraphs: Clearly, the story is that the Nationals have a lot of their eggs in the Bryce Harper and Max Scherzer basket. It’s a wonderful basket filled with flowing hair and multi-colored eyes, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t susceptible to injuries just like the less talented baskets. Without Harper or Scherzer, the Nationals would be in serious trouble.

It should be an interesting year for the National League East. You can read the Fangraphs piece by clicking here.

2. Marco Rubio Fails to Compete in the Republican Primary

Months ago, the conventional wisdom was that Marco Rubio would be able to cobble together enough support in the Republican Primary race to topple Donald Trump. This optimism was centered around the idea that Rubio would emerge as the winner of the “Establishment Lane” and that the Establishment would help drive their favored candidate to victory, as they have done so many times before. In October, a leading GOP summarized the strategy as follows, saying “I think we [Rubio] are the campaign who can consolidate the winning largest lane in the party,” adding that Donald Trump was a “false zombie front-runner. He’s dead politically.”

On February 2, 2016, I published an article entitled “Marco Rubio’s Third Place ‘Win’ and the Questionable Value of Being the Establishment Candidate.” In the article, I argued that even though Rubio was likely to win the “Establishment Lane”, that the Republican Establishment was weaker than ever:

Iowa is a state with a strong independent streak and a history of voting for anti-establishment type candidates, but those awful polling numbers for Bush & Co. cannot bode well for Rubio. The establishment fell flat on it’s face last night, even by Iowa standards. Even in 2008 and 2012, when the winners of the Iowa Caucuses eventually fizzled out, the establishment didn’t do quite as poorly as it did last night.

Eventually, it became clear that this was the case — the body politic was so frustrated and so strongly rejecting the status quo that winning the Establishment Lane meant nothing.

On March 2nd, Alexandra Petri of the Washington Post published the following opinion piece:

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On March 15th, FiveThirtyEight joined the party:

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Marco Rubio did temporarily have complete control over the Establishment Lane (even if Kasich outlasted him in the race), but his disappointing finish in South Carolina showed voters that the Lane had no power. Even with Bush and Kasich polling under 8% each, Rubio ended up with only 22.5%, compared to 54.8% for the anti-establishment Trump and Cruz. Any other year, Rubio’s strategy might have worked, but in 2016, it was doomed to fail the moment Trump gave a voice to the anger that was simmering under the surface.

3. Donald Trump Cannot Expand His Base

Speaking of Donald Trump, I wrote a long article last month explaining why I did not think that Donald Trump would win the Republican nomination. The key, at the time, was that “just about trumeveryone who is willing to support Donald Trump already does.” His base of support was (and is) strong and deep, but narrow.

This was true and verifiable in a variety of ways: Trump did poorly in Ranked Choice Voting, Trump was not picking up support as other candidates left the race, and as you can see from the graphic on the right, a majority of Republicans viewed him unfavorably.

Nonetheless, I admitted that the clock was working against his potential alternative, who “will need to start collecting votes soon, before a Trump nomination becomes so inevitable that it begins to crack through the ideological and demographic barriers listed above.” And, indeed, Trump’s poll numbers have risen slightly, from 37% in early March to 41% today:

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Since I published that article, we’ve seen #NeverTrump, a terrifying “loyalty pledge,” violence at rallies, and historic low favorability ratings for Mr. Trump. He stands no chance to win the general election but, as I mentioned in my original article, the field of Republican candidates did not narrow soon enough to stop him. Trump won’t expand that base, but it was enough to propel him ahead of his bumbling adversaries.