A tale of two cities

With the season around the corner, it’s time for predictions, something I’m not overly fond of doing, but people ask and so one has to offer something — if only to give people something to criticize. My predictions last year were guessed based on these categories:

  • Performance of younger and older teams
  • Performance based on previous season’s finish
  • Performance based on minor league team strength
  • The most basic components of a team’s record: bases earned and surrendered, outs made on offense and defense.

That guesstimate had the Yomiuri Giants finishing last in the Central League because: first place teams tend to decline, as do older teams. Despite Yomiuri’s 2014 record, they won more games than expected based on their runs scored and allowed, and scored more runs than their bases earned and outs made would have predicted, while allowing fewer runs than their opponents’ outs and bases would have predicted.

Those predictions had the Carp first, the Swallows second, BayStars third (I think), then the Dragons, Tigers, Giants in that order. While the Tigers lived a charmed existence and finished third by a miracle — a lazy call by the umpires on a video review, the Giants overcame a lot of adversity to finish second.

The Giants, as a rule, don’t finish last, and there’s a reason for that, but how big is the effect that keeps the Giants from collapsing when everything says they should?

While trying to work on this year’s predictions, I discovered that a team’s offensive performance (relative to the league) is to a greater or lesser degree predictable based on two factors, the age of the players who produce the runs in the previous year and the degree to which the offense rose above the league the season before. Young teams tend to improve more as do teams that underperform offensively.

But here’s the kicker. There’s a huge gap among teams. While the total balances out to around zero for all teams, there are franchises that generally exceed expectations, and others for who rarely fail to meet them.

You probably see where this is going.

From 1990 through 2015, the Yomiuri Giants’ offense has produced an average of seven more wins a season than the formula that works for NPB teams as a whole would predict. But if the Giants are plus-seven wins, it stands to figure that the rest of NPB, on the average,  fails to meet expectations.

Of course, this is just one side of the picture. If you look at some managers, you can see they improved the offense at the expense of the defense and overall balance. It doesn’t help much if you give the runs you gain on offense away in the next inning.

In addition to the Giants, three other teams since 1990 have showed a strong inclination to overachieve offensively, the Hawks (+ five offensive wins a season), the Dragons four and the Lions three.

It shouldn’t take too many guesses to identify the dead weight that allows the leagues to balance and a few teams to overshoot their predictions. Give yourself a prize if you said the BayStars. Nobody has been as good as the BayStars have been bad, missing their offensive predictions by an annual 9-1/2 games a year. The Eagles are at -4, the Marines and Fighters around 3, while the Tigers, Carp, Swallows, Buffaloes have been very close to their predictions the past 26 seasons.

The Dragons’ effect was mostly the result of former manager Hiromitsu Ochiai, and Chunichi is now smack in the middle. Because a huge part of the Yakult Swallows’ offense last season came from Tetsuto Yamada, the team’s run production was the youngest in either league.

I haven’t had a chance to look into pitching and defense, but it would be cool if it works the same way.



Author: jballa5_wp

sports editor for a wire service in Tokyo

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