Clay Davenport's First Draft of the 2014 MLB Standings Forecasts Another St. Louis Cardinals Division Title

Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

It's early, maybe even too early for such an exercise. What the heck, let's dig into Clay Davenport's 2014 projected standings anyway.

When the various projection systems unveil their player forecasts for the oncoming season, it's difficult not to get greedy. After examining the contours of each player's projection, it's hard not to turn an eye toward the St. Louis Cardinals' competition, to see how it stacks up. Player-to-player comparisons are rarely satisfying enough. And so the urge to do something like add the individual player projections' WAR totals takes hold. This is an impulse we must resist every single time.

Looking at the 2014 ZiPS projections for Cardinals outfielders gives us a good idea of why: the playing time simply doesn't add up to a big-league season's worth of playing time. In 2013, the Cardinals outfield notched 2,144 PAs. Set out to add together the ZiPS projected 2014 PA totals for the Cardinals outfielders and it's difficult to know where to begin or end:

That's a lot more than 2,144 PAs for outfielders. So, adding together team zWAR is not a fruitful endeavor. It would only mislead us regarding which team is likely to be better in 2014.

Enter Clay Davenport. Sick of projected individual player WAR totals? Davenport has got 2014 team win projections.

Davenport takes individual player projections, which he has available on his site, and fills in projected playing time for all the players so that there are 162 pitching starts, no position player starts more than 90% of the time, etc. The filled in playing time totals mirror those from the 2013 season. Once Davenport has done this, he runs one million computer simulations of the 2014 season. Here's the first batch of Davenport's 2014 projected standings for the National League Central:

Club

Wins

Losses

R

RA

Champ

WC

Net Post

STL

90

72

698

619

58.0%

17.4%

75.3%

PIT

83

79

660

639

21.7%

21.4%

43.0%

CIN

80

82

633

640

12.3%

15.5%

27.8%

MIL

77

85

654

690

7.4%

10.8%

18.3%

CHC

67

95

598

721

0.6%

1.2%

1.8%

THE CARDS ONLY HAVE 90 WINS!?!?!?!?

Okay, so maybe that wasn't my initial reaction. Having perused Davenport's projections over the last couple of seasons, I expected the Cardinals to be much closer to 90 wins than 100 in the first draft of his 2014 projected standings.

Folks reacted with the requisite righteous indignation of a fanatic at Davenport's first set of projected standings for 2014. Davenport posted his response to some of the questions and criticisms of his initial foray into the 2014 projected standings. He specifically addressed the gap between his simulations' magic number of wins to take home the division title (about 95 in every division) and the top team win totals for each division in the first 2014 projected standings:

It is almost certainly NOT the case that the best record in baseball will only amount to 91 wins. In fact, if you looked at the playoff chances page, you’ll see that the AL East says this

Average wins by position in AL East: 95.2 87.7 81.9 76.1 68.5

indicating that it will take 95 wins, on average, to win the division – even though no team in the division, on average, gets above 90. Every division, in fact, takes 94-95 wins to finish first. WTF? Teams don’t win _on average_. The winning team will be the one who combines a good projection AND beats their projection. If the past three years are any indication, the average team is going to be 5 games off these projections – and a couple of teams will miss by 20. In the odds page, I play the season out a million times. In the real world, it will only play once, and how you perform relative to your projection determines your final standing.

There is no doubt in my mind that the best teams will be better than their projection, and the worst teams will be worse. Last year, the six first place teams averaged 8.7 wins better than their projection. Only the Tigers were able to underperform their projection and still win their division.

The six second place teams were +6.5.

The third place teams averaged -0.2…basically zero. Just meeting your projection is a recipe for mediocrity.

The fourth place teams averaged -3.

The last place teams averaged -10.

Whether the projection error comes from mis-estimating the real quality, or just random luck, or a mid-season tradeoff of talent from the weak to the strong that exaggerates the difference…there will be errors, and they have as much to do with deciding the winners as real talent. I’m sorry if that sounds like a copout.

Davenport's explanation clicked for me as a Cardinals fan because it brought to mind 2010. After 2009, in which the club won the division title, the Cardinals signed Matt Holliday as a free agent and were poised to do it again. St. Louis had Albert Pujols in his prime, a full season of Holliday in his prime, Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, an emerging Colby Rasmus, etc. There's no way they weren't going to win close to 100 games again in 2010.

Except they didn't.

The 2010 Cardinals won just 86 games. Their Pythagorean record sat at 91 wins. As Davenport notes, "Just meeting your projection is a recipe for mediocrity."

Think back to last season. Davenport projected our Redbirds would finish second with a mere 83 wins. What happened? The Cardinals outperformed their projections and surged to 97 wins. Carpenter had an otherworldly breakout season. Allen Craig went down, but Matt Adams stepped into his shoes and the lineup didn't miss a beat. Holliday outperformed the projections for his age 33 season. And don't forget about the pitchers. The 2013 Cardinals outperformed their projections, won 97 games and the division, and then won the pennant.

So, what good are Davenport's projections? With his playing time projections and simulations, he has provided a nice baseline for how the Central teams' talent levels stack up to one another and the league overall. The Cardinals are clearly the class of the division on paper, as evidenced by their 90 projected wins.

What's more, Davenport's projected win total indicates St. Louis is one of the best teams in baseball at this very early point in 2014. The Cardinals are one of three teams Davenport projects to win 90 or 91 games. Joining them are the Tigers (91) and Rays (90). Not far behind Detroit, St. Louis, and Tampa are the A's and Dodgers, who are each projected to win 88 games. While a projection of 90 wins in 2014 for the Cards may not be thrilling, how that projection compares to their competition is.

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