LONGSHOTS: Whether forecast is right or not is the question
by Dave Long
Itís college basketball time, but since Iíve invested so much time in the Celtics this winter, Iím going to wait until week two before weighing in on the NCAA Tournament. Besides, Iíve got something more pressing to talk about.
Itís the Bill James forecasts for 2008. To some he is a stat savant whoís changed baseball. Thatís pretty much what Red Sox co-GM for about two months Jed (ahhh) Hoyer told the Globe last week in saying baseball would have been very different the last 20 years if it werenít for Jamesí theories on quantifying performance. To me, heís a crackpot and just because evaluating players is now different it doesnít mean itís any more accurate. Thatís probably a little harsh, as he is a good read and I should know more about all his theories before calling him a crackpot. But itís not really him Iím calling that anyway. Itís those who blindly follow trends, well, just because everyone does it.
My friend Jeff (the) Eisenberg (ís have it) says I wonít let go of the past ó which, given the dynamics of our friendship, I disagree with. I look ahead. For instance, when I was coaching at NHC, I tried to keep track of the plus/minus for each five-man group. Head coach Tom Sullivan and fellow assistant Stan Spirou thought I was nuts, especially after Carmen Giampetruzzi went for 40 one night and wound up a minus 46. I thought it could give us a gauge of how different units played together. But I didnít realize the math behind how many different units could play in one stinking game. Keeping up with it by hand was like watching Lucy stuffing chocolates anywhere she could because she couldnít keep pace with the conveyor belt on I Love Lucy. Today Stats Inc. has plus/minus in all box scores.
To me James eliminates intangibles. Anyone whoís seen the Celtics knows intangibles make a huge difference and canít be quantified. I doubt thereís anything in Jamesí arsenal to forecast the impact of Kevin Garnett. Yes, heís talented, but his biggest contribution has been force of personality. A team that never played defense now does. A team that rarely passed now has everyone doing it. And because heís here, veterans are coming here who wouldnít have considered it eight months ago. Secondly, I say the Red Sox dismal record in free agency ó Edgar Renteria, Matt Clement, David Wells, Julio Lugo, J. D. Drew ó has been helped along with an over-reliance on this stuff. I mean what numbers could possibly tell you the brittle Drew should warrant a five-year deal ó win-shares?
Having said that, those stats can be helpful to the overall evaluation process ó but nothing replaces watching a guy play. Besides, since I was in the fourth grade (including my entire time in freshman economics) Iíve forecasted whoíll do what in baseball and am willing to put my intuition against his computer. So, in a two-part column Iíll do just that. First the starting pitching, and then, after a week off for the tournament, Iíll get to the rest of the team. Jamesí forecasts follow the playerís name and mine are at the end.
Josh Beckett: 14 wins, 8 losses, 3.50 ERA. Guys like Beckett, with huge potential who show flashes while struggling early in a career and then, as John Madden would say, BANG, arrive, mess up the computer. Itís why if James had been around in 1963 I doubt heíd have had Sandy Koufax jumping from 14-7 to 25-5 and 181 to 303 in innings. Ditto for Tom Glavine in 1991 as he jumped from 10-12 to 20-11. Beckett made a similar leap in í07 as his ERA dropped nearly two runs in winning 20 and was better in the playoffs. So: 19-6 and 2.87 and it could be better.
Daisuke Matsuzaka: 14 wins, 8 losses, 3.54 ERA. His numbers are nearly identical to Beckettís. Does that mean his computer has spit a bit, or two? Yes, the pundits say heíll take a similar jump as Beckett did after an adjustment year, but after seeing him need 70-plus pitches to get out of the third last week I wonder. Yes, itís spring training, but lack of command and high pitch counts were the problems last year and partly responsible for his end-of-the-year fatigue. I think heíll battle it again ó 16-12, 4.37.
Tim Wakefield: 11 wins, 9 losses, 4.03 ERA. You get predictable unpredictability with the now 41-year-old M. Wakefield. The last four years heís won 12, 16, 7 and 17. His deal is eating innings, but thanks to age-related injuries heís pitched just 140 and 181 the last two years. Plus, while he did win those 17 last year, his ERA and batting average against was the highest since 2000. I say that trend continues ó 10-11, 4.87 and 161 innings.
Jon Lester: 10 wins, 10 losses, 4.42 ERA. Anyone realize heís 11-2 lifetime? Heís similar to Dice-K, as he struggles with command at times. Thatís led to a lifetime ERA of 4.68. But heís a battler and the one I saw strike out 16 F-Cats a few years back. This is the maturation year when he steps up to 14-8 and 4.04.
Bartolo Colon: 4 wins, 4 losses, 4.37 ERA. If he does this, heíll be released by the trading deadline. But Iím optimistic heís on the Luis Tiant rehab route. Luis went from arm trouble and the minors at 29, to 1-7, with a 4.76 ERA at 30, to a three-time 20-game winner, with the last coming at 35, which is what Colon is. He wonít be that good, but a respectable 13-9 and 3.98.
Curt Schilling: 4 wins, 2 losses, 3.48 ERA. Iím betting 0-2, 6.12 ERA. Thatís saying he really needed the operation and didnít have it, because the Sox wouldíve gotten nothing for the $8 million deal they gave him for 2008. So why not try for the miracle?
There were no forecasts for Clay Buchholz ó who I think, because of Colon, starts in the minors. Iíll look at everyone else in two weeks.
Dave Long can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He hosts the Absolute Sports Experience at Billyís Sports Bar in Manchester each Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon that is broadcast live on WGAM Ė The Game, 1250-AM Manchester, 900-AM Nashua.