Unless you're a big fan of my writing, you may not know that at this time last year, I wrote for a different SB Nation site: the dearly departed RotoHardball. RotoHardball was a fantasy baseball site, where I wrote a column I inherited about runs and runs batted in.
I know what you're thinking. "Ugh! RBI!" Whatever. Fantasy baseball, man.
At any rate, some of my last posts for the site were prediction posts. For each major-league team, I made educated guesses as to which player would lead his team in runs and RBI. Well, since this is a site focused on objective analysis and stats, I figured now might be a nice time to go back and see how those predictions turned out.
I'd like to note that predicting runs and RBI are especially interesting to me, considering they are context-based statistics. No one scores a run by themselves (unless they hit a home run, or maybe single and then steal ALL THE BASES), and no one drives in a run by themselves (unless they hit a home run). Compared to something like a HR total, I feel like there's a little more uncertainty in trying to predict these lineup-based statistics.
Anyways, as a result of this exercise, perhaps I can go back and see what happened, and see if there's anything that I can learn from the predictions I made, or how I could improve in the future. Then, if the readership demands it, I can go ahead and make similar predictions for the 2013 season here at Beyond the Box Score, and we can see if I get any better at this.
So here we go. Today we'll start with the American League, I'll follow up with an NL post shortly after.
Los Angeles Angels Actual RBI Leader: Albert Pujols (105)
Los Angeles Angels Predicted R Leader: Albert Pujols
Los Angeles Angels Actual R Leader: Mike Trout (129)
Okay, not too bad here. If you predicted that Mike Trout would be far-and-away the best player in baseball for 2012, you'd be a Nate Silver-esque witch. Especially given that he didn't actually look like he'd be starting the season with the big club. Trout gave Albert plenty of RBI opportunities and, actually, Pujols was No. 2 in runs scored on the Angels with 85, despite a season of modest decline. I was half-right here.
Oakland Athletics Actual RBI Leader: Josh Reddick (85)
Oakland Athletics Predicted R Leader: Jemile Weeks
Oakland Athletics Actual R Leader: Josh Reddick (85)
Hey! I called Josh Reddick for Oakland RBI king! Not too shabby! My reasoning behind Reddick getting the most RBI was that he had the right combination of skills and major-league experience to actually stick around in the Oakland outfield, compared to other middle-of-the-order players who might be platooned or drift between the majors and minors. Weeks, meanwhile, was god-awful, and wound up placing fifth on his team in runs scored. Half-right again!
Toronto Blue Jays Actual RBI Leader: Edwin Encarnacion (110)
Toronto Blue Jays Predicted R Leader: Jose Bautista
Toronto Blue Jays Actual R Leader: Edwin Encarnacion (93)
While this may have looked pretty smart before the season, Joey Bats suffered a serious injury, and only played in 92 games last season. In (and before) his absence, Edwin Encarnacion transformed into the hitting machine that he always had the potential to be. Good on him, not so good for me.
Cleveland Indians Predicted R Leader: Carlos Santana
Cleveland Indians Actual R Leader: Shin-Soo Choo (88)
Eep. Kind of got these two reversed, didn't I? My pre-season prediction was that Choo would hit further down in the lineup, in either the No. 3 or No. 5 slot, and that would up his RBI and lower his R. Not so much. Santana played and hit well, but not quite as well as I predicted. Kipnis continues to defy my expectations. Bad job here, Bryan.
Seattle Mariners Actual RBI Leader: Kyle Seager (86)
Seattle Mariners Predicted R Leader: Dustin Ackley
Seattle Mariners Actual R Leader: Dustin Ackley (84)
I actually originally picked Justin Smoak, but then changed that prediction, as it had occurred prior to the Mariners adding Jesus Montero in the Michael Pineda trade. No matter, as Kyle Seager emerged as a vibrant part of the not-so-vibrant Mariners offense. I think I did nicely in choosing Ackley, as Ichiro might have been the more likely choice pre-season. Granted, no one figured he'd be traded, but here we are. Half-credit again!
Baltimore Orioles Actual RBI Leader: Chris Davis (85)
Baltimore Orioles Predicted R Leader: Nick Markakis
Baltimore Orioles Actual R Leader: Adam Jones (103)
There's a lot of things that maybe we shouldn't have expected about the 2012 Orioles. I didn't have faith that Jones's OBP would stay high enough for him to score a triple-digit figure worth of runs. Also, Markakis didn't play a full season. As for RBI, well, Jones was close, only three away from Davis. But Davis resurrected his career in Baltimore, and hit well enough at a prime position to lead his team.
Texas Rangers Actual RBI Leader: Josh Hamilton (128)
Texas Rangers Predicted R Leader: Ian Kinsler
Texas Rangers Actual R Leader: Ian Kinsler (105)
The reason I picked Beltre ahead of Hamilton to produce RBI was a simple one: injury. I made the educated guess that Hamilton would miss more time due to injury than the steadfast third baseman. And while I was right on that count, Josh still racked up all the RBI. My bet on Ian Kinsler was both safer, and correct. My associated statement that Kinsler was the best fantasy 2B for 2012 -- not so much.
Tampa Bay Rays Actual RBI Leader: B.J. Upton (78)
Tampa Bay Rays Predicted R Leader: Desmond Jennings
Tampa Bay Rays Actual R Leader: Ben Zobrist (88)
Longoria and Jennings both missed time due to injury in 2012, with Longoria actually spending the lion's share of the season on the bench. That certainly took him out of the running for the team RBI title. Jennings, on the other hand, had more than 100 fewer plate appearances than Ben Zobrist, but only finished three runs behind him on the team leaderboard. Excellent showing, but I still lose here.
Boston Red Sox Actual RBI Leader: Adrian Gonzalez (86)
Boston Red Sox Predicted R Leader: Jacoby Ellsbury
Boston Red Sox Actual R Leader: Dustin Pedroia (81)
Whew. The Red Sox fell apart in 2012, but Adrian Gonzalez was still sharp enough with his bat to lead the team in RBI. A trade to the Dodgers couldn't even stop him from leading the team. Meanwhile, Jacoby Ellsbury's half-season of play didn't propel him to the top of the team in runs scored, so Dustin Pedroia took the top spot, almost by default.
Kansas City Royals Actual RBI Leader: Billy Butler (107)
Kansas City Royals Predicted R Leader: Alex Gordon
Kansas City Royals Actual R Leader: Alex Gordon (93)
It's no secret that Eric Hosmer was a disappointment in 2012, sporting a woeful .291 wOBA. No matter where you hit in the lineup, you're not driving in a hundred guys with that weakness. But Country Breakfast did quite well, and topped 100 RBI for the first time in his career. Alex Gordon also had quite the season, not quite as impressive as his breakout 2011, but good enough to lead his team in runs scored, walk rate, virtually every form of WAR, and winning smiles (sorry Jeff Francoeur!).
Detroit Tigers Actual RBI Leader: Miguel Cabrera (139)
Detroit Tigers Predicted R Leader: Miguel Cabrera
Detroit Tigers Actual R Leader: Miguel Cabrera (109)
After the Tigers added Prince Fielder on his massive, eight-year contract during the offseason, I changed my prediction from Cabrera to Fielder. Cabrera, as you might have heard, didn't just lead the Tigers in RBI, but he led the universe. Oops. I was right about Cabrera, even though Austin Jackson gave him a run for his money.
Minnesota Twins Actual RBI Leader: Josh Willingham (110)
Minnesota Twins Predicted R Leader: Ben Revere
Minnesota Twins Actual R Leader: Josh Willingham (85)
Another half-right prediction here! Josh Willingham dropped several bombs on the AL Central over the course of last season, and it was enough for him to lead the team in just about every offensive category. It's possible the fleet Revere, who now will patrol center field for the Phillies, could have scored more runs if he'd played 150-160 games. But it was not to be in 2012.
Chicago White Sox Actual RBI Leader: Adam Dunn (96)
Chicago White Sox Predicted R Leader: Alexei Ramirez
Chicago White Sox Actual R Leader: Alex Rios (93)
As usual, Paul Konerko was the best hitter for the White Sox again in 2012 -- well, with the exception of Diamond Dan Johnson, who posted a 252 wRC+ in all of about 31 plate appearances. Konerko posted .371 wOBA, good for a 131 wRC+, so, naturally, he was fifth on the team in both R and RBI. Sometimes, these stats just don't make any sense. Meanwhile, the less said about Alexei Ramirez's disastrous 2012, the better.
New York Yankees Actual RBI Leader: Curtis Granderson (106)
New York Yankees Predicted R Leader: Curtis Granderson
New York Yankees Actual R Leader: Robinson Cano (105)
I did *not* finish strong here. Cano, on the heels of his massive 2012 campaign, scored about three runs more than Granderson did over the course of the season. Meanwhile, Teixeira missed several games with injury, but even if he hadn't, he might not have caught up with Curtis's 106 RBI.
So that's it for the American League. I made 28 predictions and my final tally: I picked eight correct.
Eight. Out of 28. Roughly 29% success rate. That's kind of awful. It wouldn't have even been a very good OBP, were I a hitter in the American League. So where did I go wrong? I wasn't any better at predicting R than I was RBI, getting four right for each. Injuries certainly took a toll, as players like Bautista, Longoria, Teixeira, and Ellsbury might have made me look good had they stayed healthy. There were a few surges in talent I didn't see coming (Trout, Rios, Davis, Seager), and a few guys who I overvalued despite diminishing skills (Teixeira, Ramirez, Markakis). So, basically, I was wrong for a number of reasons
The best thing I can hope for, is that I'll have more success in my National League predictions. But this is another reminder that making these kinds of predictions can be a hazardous business, and that context-dependent stats like R and RBI are tough to predict, even when you think you know what the true talent levels of players are.