The 2016 baseball season has its soft launch today, with three regular-season games today to wet our whistle before the floodgates open with nearly a full slate Monday. It's also our last chance to make some preseason predictions before the (very healthy) process of watching teams tear the expectations to shreds, both positively and negatively. Making predictions after the start of the season always feels a bit like cheating, even if it's just a day or two into the season, so let's make some last-minute observations to maximize any helpings of crow I may have to eat this fall.
Better championship odds: Mets or Royals?
Starting off the year with a World Series rematch is always a nice piece of schedule-making. If a team takes both games of this opening series, they're unlikely to be dousing each other with the bubbly -- it's a 162-game season, and cases of good champagne don't come cheap -- but whether the storyline is one of affirmation or redemption, both teams take these games slightly more seriously than a typical game.
Last year, the projections did not pick the Royals to win the World Series -- and they didn't do very well at nailing the team's final record. The ZiPS projection system (81 wins) and Vegas (81-83 wins, depending on the sportsbook) were closest of the system, but in the philosophical sense, that's more about being "less horribly wrong" than most accurate.
The bad news is that exceeding projections isn't actually predictive. Looking back at a dozen years of ZiPS projected standings, including in the predictive model, how wrong ZiPS was in previous years for a team doesn't actually increase the accuracy. Projections have large misses because the future is very uncertain, not because teams have a special ability to beat expectations that carries forward. Teams overperform until they don't. Remember when the 2005 White Sox proved they had a special ability to beat projections? Or the 2009 Mariners? Or the 2014 Orioles?
So which team is more likely to play deep into October this year? While ZiPS likes the chances of both teams to make the World Series better than it did last year, it gives the New York Mets the edge as having the better roster but also the easier pathway.
Even with good reasons to believe players like Edinson Volquez and Mike Moustakas are superior to our estimations of their abilities going into 2015, one thing you can't forget is that the Royals are no longer a young team on its way up. In 2012, the Royals had the youngest set of hitters in baseball and the fourth-youngest pitching staff. Fast-forward to 2015 and the team has the second-oldest pitching staff and fifth-oldest hitters. A team on the younger side of the spectrum tends to have a greater ability to pleasantly surprise than a team on the older end.
The Mets are in an opposite scenario. While many projection systems thought the Mets would eventually ride their young pitching staff back into contention, most did not think that 2015 would be that year. Going into 2016, the Mets have Michael Conforto in the lineup instead of Michael Cuddyer, some better injury news than last year for players like David Wright and Travis d'Arnaud (for now at least), a full year of Yoenis Cespedes, an eventual return by Zack Wheeler and more experience from the rest of the rotation. These are all good things. And the Mets are helped by their division, as the NL East has two teams essentially competing to get the No. 1 draft pick in the 2017 draft, while the AL Central's worst team, the Minnesota Twins in my eyes, have reasonable scenarios in which they can compete.
Now, the Royals may shred expectations again, which of course would be cool -- one of the best things about sports is when athletes do things that people didn't think they could -- but the better money is on the Mets.
With that, let's take a look at the full ZiPS projected standings for 2016, complete with each team's chances of reaching the playoffs, winning its division, earning a wild-card spot and winning the World Series.
Two leagues, two completely different scenarios
Before we do a league-by-league breakdown, let's lay out the latest ZiPS standings projections, followed by relevant notes, such as a dark-horse playoff selection, the impact of A.J. Pollock's elbow injury, teams' chances of earning the first overall pick in the 2017 draft and the most likely World Series pairings.