Your Projections Will Be Wrong (But Make Them Anyway)

Since we at Talking Chop have now started projecting the 2011 performance of the Braves' rotation, I thought it would be enlightening to look back at the starting pitcher projections that the TC community made last year.

I encourage all of you to go to that link and review the comments quickly, especially if you are one of the people who made a projection. It's a bit scarring to see just how comically wrong some of us were--including me. Sure, I pegged Derek Lowe's final ERA exactly and came very close to predicting both Lowe's and Tim Hudson's final W-L records; I also came pretty close to nailing the strikeout totals for Tommy Hanson and Hudson... but boy, did I miss on a few other projections.

For instance, I had Hanson's W-L mark at 18-10, Kawakami's at 12-10, and Jurrjens' at 15-9; that's 45-29 combined. They actually went 18-27. Sure, wins and losses are a crapshoot. In fact, the only person who even came close to the top 5 starters' actual combined W-L record (51-48) was PWHjort, who used a random number generator to guess a combined 54-52. I was nearly as bad at projecting ERA, though, which should be a relatively straightforward task: I had JJ's era at 3.30 and KK's at 3.80 (they ended up at 4.64 and 4.85, respectively).

And here's the really crazy thing: by the standards of the TC populace, my projections were fairly conservative.

Now, some of you may be expecting me, after all of that, to bemoan the pointlessness of projections and the rose-tinted optimism of home-team fans. I won't do that, though. Projections will inevitably be wrong, but they aren't pointless--even when they're incredibly misguided. Similarly, fervent optimism can be useful, as long as the person wielding it is aware that he or she isn't fully objective.

Projections, first of all, are a fun exercise; fun has real value. Secondly, they get us thinking in a concrete way about what we expect for the future. For some of us, making these projections will lead to more in-depth thinking about these or other players, which can in turn lead to all sorts of interesting discoveries.

The most valuable part of projections comes not from projection itself, but from retrospection. By looking back at last year's projections, we can identify certain trends, and then attempt to explain why these trends exist. For instance, everyone vastly overestimated the Braves' initial rotation... but you know what? They were still one of the better rotations in the league for much of the year, and were good enough to get us to the playoffs. In other words, even when things don't go according to plan, they can still work out just as well if the people in charge know what they are doing. That should be comforting to all of us when the Braves hit their first rough patch of 2011 (which is inevitable).

Something else to keep in mind is when to bring out the rose-tinted glasses and when to leave them in the drawer. Every season brings with it overachievers and breakout stars (last year these included Hudson, Omar Infante, Jonny Venters, and Martin Prado) as well as underachievers and catastrophic failures (Jurrjens, Kawakami, Nate McLouth, Melky Cabrera). I think it would behoove all of us to pick a few breakout/rebound candidates each year; for these guys, don't be afraid to let your homerism hold sway. Sometimes, home team fans actually do see something in a player that impartial fans don't. Familiarity can lead to bias, but it can also lead to insight. The trick, of course, is to figure out which is which--but we'll never solve that problem if we don't try.

The flip side of this coin is that it would be a good idea for all of us to pick a few downside candidates as well. You will probably be wrong, but it's a good idea to at least think about what might make players have down years. It won't make you a bad fan or a hater (at least, as long as you have some reason why you pick a player other than "I hate the way he wears his hat" or something like that). Something--many things, really--will go wrong in 2011, even if the Braves win the World Series. Just think of a low projection as the obstacle that you think the Braves will overcome on the way to a glorious end.

What do you guys think?

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