Seattle opens the season at the Oakland Coliseum tonight against the defending AL West champs. But despite 94 wins last season, Baseball Prospectus projects just 83 wins for the A’s in 2013, and Fangraphs’ combined ZiPS/Steamer projections have them slated for 82 wins. When three smart systems converge and suggest a lot of regression, it’s something that should grab our attention. Let’s take a look at last year’s positional starters, and this year’s probables.
The first player listed at each position in 2013 is the opening day starter, and the WAR figures come from Fangraphs’ positional power rankings series. The A’s have experienced some major changes in the middle of their infield, improving upon Suzuki, Weeks and Pennington with better options and more depth. Overall it seems like the offense has improved quite a bit, and the A’s are expected to pick up about 3.5 wins from last season with their bats and gloves.
With an improved offense, the 11-win regression projected for the entire team comes mostly in the pitching department, right? Not exactly. The Oakland pitching staff is expected to produce similar value in 2013. My brain was outputting “syntax error” for a second there, until I remembered that WAR value is context-neutral. The A’s produced just 38 WAR last season as a team. For most teams, that’s a .500 season, but the A’s were 25-18 (59.5%) in one-run games and 11-5 (68.8%) in extra innings games. Another way to put it is this: the A’s were league average in terms of their context-neutral statistical production, but 4th overall in win percentage added, which depends heavily on each at bat’s specific scenario. This basically implies that Oakland was better in key situations and worse when it didn’t matter as much. That’s all fine and dandy, and it lead to a fun result for A’s fans, but the problem is that “clutchiness” doesn’t stick around from season to season. This is the main reason why projection systems don’t like Oaktown in 2013.
I leave you with the pitching matchups for the four-game series, along with the ZiPS/Steamer ERA predictions for each pitcher.
Vegas has the M’s at even odds in tonight’s opener. So, you know, if you Washingtonians don’t mind Class C felonies, that’s an attractive bet with the King on the hill.