It's prediction season! Over the next few days, every major sports media outlet is going to put forth their official predictions of the coming season, designed not so much to be accurate but to get you to read. Many fans will do the same, also ignoring accuracy in favor of detailing just how truly bad Team X is, and how much they are homers for Team Y.
Hidden, meanwhile, are the year-in-year-out best ways to make those predictions (unless you're trying to sell magazines): objective forecast systems.
Some of the best and brightest baseball minds have dedicated themselves to removing their gut feelings and putting forth forecast systems to do the guess work for them. The result is -- in those successful cases -- better than you'll find from any fans or media. They get a lot wrong, of course, because baseball is unpredictable, but they still give you the best educated guess you can find.
So with that in mind, for the rest of this week, I'm going to highlight some of the more successful forecast systems and what they say about the Rangers.
We start with the most basic: Marcel.
Marcel was designed by Tom Tango to be the most thoughtless forecast system possible. It essentially expects things to stay the same, with some regression, and says "if you are not doing better than this, you are wasting too much time trying to predict things to be different." With that in mind, it still does pretty well, and is better than guessing based on your own intuition. The explanation and the link to the 2012 forecasts can be found here.
Probably the most glaring -- and alarming -- projection of Marcel's would be Mike Napoli. His 2011 was most certainly an aberration; he's good, just not that good. But Marcel has him falling from a .444 weighted On Base Average to a .365 this coming season; nearly 30 fewer runs created for the Rangers, just from one player.
Marcel also sees steep declines for Michael Young, Ian Kinsler, and Adrian Beltre. So much stepping back from the offense would be painful to watch.
The centerfield situation might seem a bit more optimistic to you, however. With it looking like we'll have a Craig Gentry/Julio Borbon platoon, there should be some interest in what that will look like. Neither forecasts particularly great at the plate, with a .319 wOBA for Gentry, and a .314 for Borbon. However, if both only face their platoon strength (lefties for Gentry, righties for Borbon), that wOBA likely raises more towards .330; well above league average, and not far behind Gentry's small performance in 2011. If that is to be trusted, a Borbon/Gentry platoon could quite reasonably give the Rangers above-average offense and plus defense. While neither player would be a star, together they could form one very valuable centerfielder.
There is not much to speak of with the rotation, as Marcel merely projects Japanese players coming over to be average, and handles Neftali Feliz as a reliever. The three returning pieces see some regression, but nothing that jumps out. There is no reason for panic of confidence in the Rangers' rotation here. From the bullpen, however, Mike Adams and Koji Uehara are both projected to improve from their Rangers stints last season.
Every player is in that link above, so if you want to see whoever you're wondering about, click away, it's easy and free. You can also see many of the projections on FanGraphs.
Replacement Level Yankees Weblog put Marcel through the trials of a season forecast, and the result is an 87 win season for the Rangers, and an end-of-season tie for the AL West crown. Perhaps a tad disappointing, but Marcel does not project high win totals period, and even with its extremely pessimistic (compared to 2012) outlook on the Rangers' offense, it thinks they're just about the best in their division. We'll look later at other forecasts, and see if they paint a rosier picture.