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The Camps are Open!


The camps are open and the Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues are underway! And so now we’ve got action on the diamond to occupy our time and attention (not to take away from the news that negotiations have also begun on the next Collective Bargaining Agreement but that promises to be virtually drama-free).
Right now some of my friends are heading to Arizona or Florida to see their favorite teams. For once Mother Nature seems to be accommodating, especially in Florida where spotty and sometimes inclement weather the past few springs has been replaced with sunshine and subtropical zephyrs. I am envious!

If you’re a watcher of MLB Network (and if you’re interested enough in the game to be reading this you probably are), we are now being treated to “30 Clubs in 30 Days” with exhaustive evaluations of where each team was last year, got to over the off-season, and looks to be going into Opening Day. It’s a lot of information to process and yes even I am more interested in some teams more than others.

I am hoping that fans in towns such as Pittsburgh and Kansas City have something to cheer about this season. By “something to cheer about” I don’t mean that they’re going to contend or make the post-season, and fans of those teams don’t expect such, in truth. They are hoping for “respectability “, “competitiveness”, .500 baseball, which in many cities is disparaged, disdained and even abhorred, but I can tell you, when you’ve grown accustomed to seasons with 90, 95, 100 or more losses, where Memorial Day is not just for remembering our fallen heroes but burying our hopes , the prospect of break-even baseball is refreshing and revivifying. I wish the Pirates and Royals good fortune in 2011.

Another feature of MLB Network and “30 Clubs” is the unveiling of the Baseball Prospectus predictions on where teams will finish in the upcoming season. The published BP 2011 is just out (I got mine last week in Chattanooga, TN where I was on my way to my niece’s wedding and it was lovely, thank you although waaaaaay too much driving!) and I can’t wait to dig into it. BP has some of the brightest minds in baseball analytics and one thing I’m going to do this year is check out some previous editions against results. BP employs a forecasting method called PECOTA (Player Empirical Comparison and Optimization Test Algorithm) and there are two things to keep in mind when evaluating a predictive system: as they say in the financial world, past performance is no guarantee of future results, and in baseball, you never know.

That said, PECOTA does produce some intriguing correlations, especially for hitters (where correlations over .67 are not unknown), less so for pitchers but still better than most methods (typically around .40¬-.45…pitchers are just tough to figure!). Keep in mind that a correlation of 1.0 would mean a perfectly accurate prediction.

Next time I’ll share some PECOTA predictions for top players, expected breakthrough rookies, etc.
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