Nate Silver will tell you that projecting a baseball season, as he and our friends at Baseball Prospectus do every year, and have once again this year, is a lot tougher than projecting a senate race or two.
"The system tends to work in serial—sort of like those old cheap Christmas tree lights where one bulb goes out, and the rest will follow in sequence," Silver emailed me during the last baseball (and political) season.
Any baseball fan knows that a good start to the sequence of a season can end when one of the lights go out—a hamstring pops as a star rounds third, and suddenly, the season goes dark. "So a lot of my time will be spent debugging and backtracking," says Silver. "I'll find out that I screwed something up doing the pitcher park factors, for instance, giving lefties the righty part factors or something like that, and then I'll have to backtrack and redo 10 hours of work."
The work Prospectus put in this year offers a few possible surprises. There is the third place projection for the Tampa Bay Rays, who at 92-70—the same stunning record BP famously pegged them for last year—would leave them five games back of the Yanks and six behind the Red Sox, who are picked to win the mighty east. There's also the projection for World Series champion Philadelphia to fall into third in the NL East, behind the resurgent Braves and the free-spending Mets, whose millions might finally have fixed their bullpen for their move into Citi Field, the crown jewel of the LaGuardia parking lot.
But this is just projection, a baseball super-computing experiment that hits and misses every year. It's not as easy as nailing 98% of states in a national election, or every senate race. Dick Lugar of Indiana won't see his campaign derailed because of a torn labrum. Hurting his knee playing hoops, like Aaron Boone, wouldn't get Barack Obama in trouble with the DNC. That stuff's easier.
After all, PECOTA tries to quantify individuals first, teams second. Only after you determine what a single player might do can you get a grasp on the collective. In politics, the collective makes the man … or the Pelosi.
At least, like politics, the system is still patriotic. Seriously. Say you were trying to track Ken Griffey Jr.'s career based on similarities with Ted Williams. That Williams missed time for the Korean War does matter for projecting Griffey, who had, and still does have a similar build and statistical career path as Williams.
"There's a variable in (PECOTA) somewhere that builds an exemption for comparables that served in the Korean War; little things like that," Silver emails.
Did he just say "exempt" and "war" in the same sentence? This is getting too political.
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