Projection Systems Still Peg Detroit Tigers To Win 87 Games


Apr 12, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA; Detroit Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera (24) celebrates an 8-5 win over the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Tigers are off to one of their hottest starts in recent history. The last time the franchise started a season 6-0 was the 1985 season, the year after their last World Series championship.

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But as fun as it was to see the team go undefeated in the first week, it’s important to remember that, despite what some Facebook posts indicate, this Tigers team isn’t going to go 162-0. I think everyone realizes that. But it’s also important to remember that this Tigers team probably isn’t going to win 100 games, and stands a good chance of not even winning 90 games.

As esteemed sabermetrician Tom Tango points on on his blog, talking about pace as a simple multiplication problem problem is a bad way to talk about pace. It’s perhaps interesting in a fantastical “holy cow, wouldn’t that be something” kind of way, but it’s not useful for any sort of reasonable analysis.

So what kind of win total pace are the Tigers on? That’s a more interesting question with more interesting analysis attached to it, but the answer probably won’t make many Tigers fans happy or excited.

The two best public playoff odds reports — those generated by Fangraphs and Baseball Prospectus — give very similar answers. Both systems use player projection systems — PECOTA for Baseball Prospectus and a combination of ZiPS and Steamer for Fangraphs — to generate projected rest-of-season team performance. That rest-of-season projection is added to the to-date performance to come up with a final season expectation.

The Fangraphs system (linked to above) projects the Tigers to play at a .522 pace the rest of the year (equivalent to 84 or 85 wins in a full season). With 156 games remaining, that means they’d be expected to win 81.4 games.* Add in the 6-0 actual start, and they give Detroit an 87.4 expectation.

*Teams obviously can’t win fractions of games, but 81.4 means 81 or 82 games are just about equally as likely.

The Baseball Prospectus system pegs the Tigers at a slightly lower .516 rest-of-season winning percentage. That would be good for 80.5 wins the rest of the way, which would mean 86.5 wins when all is said and done. Which system is better? I have no idea, and it’s not really important. Both are very close and a simple rounded average of 87 wins is good enough for our purposes.

Is 87 going to be the exact right number? Of course not. Well, maybe, but only by chance. An 87 win projection means the average scenario would generate 87 wins, but that there’s a 50% chance they win more and a 50% chance they win fewer. How many more, or how many fewer? It’s hard to say, but so early in the season plus-or-minus five wins is still probably what we’re looking at.

So, what the projection systems are really saying is the Detroit Tigers should now be expected to win between 82 and 92 games, with 87 being the midpoint of the expected results. It doesn’t take a genius to projected a 10-win spread between 82 and 92 — all one is really saying there is they’re a good team that’s expected to contend for the division and the playoffs — but I think what this serves is to temper our expectations after the fast start. We haven’t really learned as much about the 2015 Tigers as we may think just six games in.

The bullpen issues will flare up. Hitters will go through slumps. Runners will be stranded in scoring position. Someone important is going to get hurt and miss time. This is just how baseball works. The Tigers are a good team who could win the division and even a World Series, but any and all questions that existed prior to the season still exist. Let’s have fun with this, but let’s be careful not to allow our expectations to be swayed too much too soon.

Next: 3 Ups and 3 Downs for the Detroit Tigers