Chris at Capitol Punishment points us to an interesting exercise at the Replacement Level Yankees Weblog, where a fellow called SG (a Stargate fan, no doubt) simulated 100 seasons based on ZIPS, one of many competing player projection systems. Good news! We average out to 81-81, indicating that Phil Wood is the greatest genius who ever lived, the Miss Cleo of baseball, the Bizarro Will Carroll.
But don't get too carried away, or you'll wind up as blinkered and lazy as a Baseball Prospectus columnist after the PECOTA projections come out. Here's the thing about all these methods of predicting what a player's going to do: they're all almost always wrong. Somebody whose name I don't remember in an article I can't find pointed out that you can't project with any more than 70% accuracy (UPDATE: It was Ron Shandler - big ups to Basil the Inquirer). So it's fine to use these things to while away the long weeks until the season starts, but it's quite another thing to produce column after column filled with criticisms of GMs who make moves that your projection system says aren't going to work out.
Take, for example, this Baseball Prospectus filler, which takes issue with a prediction that Oakland is going to finish last in the AL West. I find that conclusion less than plausible myself, unless MLB switched out the Rangers for the Red Sox without my hearing about it, but author James Click (presumably of African bushman descent, given his ononmatopoeic name) rests his argument largely on some shit one of his coworkers made up. PECOTA says the A's rotation is going to be just fine and even presumes to tell us how many innings each pitcher will provide. Skeptical? Well, buckle up - Click provides a helpful link to a Baseball Prospectus article proving conclusively that Baseball Prospectus is the smartest. I haven't been so thoroughly convinced since Philip Morris told me that cigarettes cure gout. Anyway, it's all bullshit - that impossible-to-predict 30% can mean a hell of a lot, and it's unfortunate that BP expects us to pay for its rainy-day musings and what-ifs.
This wound up being much more of a screed than I intended it to be, but if you're going to go, you may as well go all the way: All player projection systems are sons of whores and can jump up my ass.
While BP gets itself through to April by pretending that Nate Silver can predict the future, I kill time by whining endlessly about how no one appreciates Livan Hernandez, official pitcher of Distinguished Senators (and congrats to to Washington Nationals MLB News, BTW, for snagging Jose Guillen. Jose Vidro can be yours for fifteen bucks). So here's my latest superfluous exercise: it's generally assumed that Bluegrass Brad Wilkerson is our best player. I maintain that B-Wilk is a sweet player and good guy, and I'm beyond thrilled to have him on my home team, but that he does not rank among the elite players in the game, while Livan does. Let's look at it this way: would Wilkerson be the best hitter on a playoff-caliber team, and would Hernandez be the best pitcher on such a club?
Eight teams made the playoffs last year, as has been customary since 1995: the Braves, Cardinals, Astros, and Dodgers in the NL; and the Yankees, Red Sox, Angels, and Twins in the AL. I'll be using VORP for this endeavor (glossary coming very soon - maybe tonight, but probably not), since that is the only way to capture the swankness of Livan. B-Rad Wilkerson put up a very impressive 48.2 VORP in 2004, putting him in the company of Sean Casey, Travis Hafner, and Ichiro. St. Louis, which won the more games than any other NL team, had three position players with superior VORPs (Pujols, 103; Edmonds, 88.9; Rolen, 73.7). Actually, those are much superior VORPs - the Cards frigging ruled. The Astros had three (sort of), as Lance Berkman checked in 83.7, Jeff Kent at 55.2, and Carlos Beltran provided 43.8 with Houston and an additional 30.7 in KC. The Braves and Dodgers had one guy each better than B-Wilk: J.D. Drew in Atlanta (78.7) and Adrian Beltre in LA (87.1).
Over in the American League, the Yanks sported a whopping five players with VORPs over 48.2: Sheffield (63.4), Rodriguez (62.3), Jeter (59.7), Matsui (57.5), and Posada (48.9). Boston had three: Ortiz (71.3), Ramirez (68.6), Damon (51). Vlad Guerrero (88.5) was Anaheim's only contribution. The highest-VORP position player on the Twins was Lew "Lou" Ford (44). Therefore, only one of the eight playoff teams didn't have a hitter superior to Brad Wilkerson.
Livan VORPed it up at 58.3 last year. No one on the Cards was close (Chris Carpenter was best at 41.6). Roger Clemens was slightly better for Houston (61.3). Atlanta and LA couldn't hang with Orlando's Rubenesque half-brother (40.3 and 49.7 were good enough to lead those teams, respectively). Things were a little better in the AL. The Yankees (Gordon, 39.8) and Angels (Escobar, 53.2) didn't have anyone better than Livan. Minnesota, however, had two: Johan Santana led everybody with 88.8, and Brad "Rad" Radke posted a 60.1. Curt Schilling of the Sox also exceeded Livan with 72.9. Livan Hernandez was a better pitcher than anyone on five of the eight playoff teams.
Here's what I'm getting at: Brad Wilkerson is not a legit #1 position player on a good team. This isn't to take anything away from the guy; he's very good and worthy of our respect. Livan, however, is absolutely good enough to be the ace of a great team. For some reason, this fact is lost on just about everybody.