Judging the Royals

Why sports predictions are pretty much worthless

The Oakland Athletics' Ben Zobrist
The Oakland Athletics' Ben Zobrist AP

I was once reading an article about long-range weather forecasts, and a weatherman was quoted as saying that they weren’t very accurate, but people seemed to like them. People also like daily horoscopes, fortune cookies, tarot cards and sports predictions.

On Monday afternoon I did an online chat, and the majority of questions asked me to predict the future. Once Johnny Cueto got here, who would be in the rotation? Would the Royals sign Ben Zobrist? Where will the Royals be in five years?

I don’t mean to disappoint you, but I don’t know the answers to any of those questions, and at this time, neither does anybody else. But I admit I don’t know the answers, and that frustrates some people. One reader asked why I would do a chat if all I was going to say was I don’t know.

Well, stop asking me to predict the future — something no one has been able to do with much accuracy — and maybe I can give you better answers.

Let’s look back at some predictions about the 2015 season

Monday night, the game against the Cleveland got out of hand pretty quickly and the Royals won 9-4. I spent the last couple innings looking up predictions about this season. While I was doing that, TV broadcast dude Ryan Lefebvre said the Cleveland Indians were a “trendy” preseason pick to win the division — the last place, 45-53 Cleveland Indians.

Year after year people make predictions, and year after year people get it wrong.

ESPN polled 88 “experts” for predictions about the 2015 season, and here’s what they thought would happen in the AL central: 43 of them thought the Cleveland Indians would win it, 25 of them gave the nod to Detroit, Chicago got 17 votes and Kansas City had three. Minnesota — the team currently in second place — did not get a vote.

The MLB predictions for the final standings had Cleveland in first place and Kansas City in fourth with a record of 80-82. The Royals already have 60 wins with 64 games to go.

By the end of the season maybe these predictions will look better, but right now they look dead wrong.

We know we’re bad at it but keep doing it

While surfing the net I came across this line by someone who was just about to offer his 2015 picks:

“Well it’s that time of year again where I embarrass myself by trying to predict the finish of the MLB regular season.”

Give the guy credit for being honest, but if you know you’re bad at it, why keep doing it?

Now here’s what “Fangraphs” had to say about their picks:

“We’re usually not so good at this sort of thing. Or, more to the point, we’re not any better at it than anyone else … Nevertheless, we press on!”

Predictions are inaccurate, but they generate interest

So if predictions often turn out to be laughably bad, why make them? Because they generate interest and interest generates page hits and page hits generate ad revenue. Even so, I don’t get the amount of time people spend on hypothetical situations when there are so many interesting, real things we could focus on. For instance, the Royals played a game on Sunday — here are some of the questions I could have been asked, but wasn’t, during Monday’s chat:

Q. On Sunday, what did Yordano Ventura do to show up the home plate umpire?

A. He threw a pitch that was clearly a ball, but posed as if he was heading to the dugout. Yordano was playing to the crowd; umpires — and opponents — don’t like that. Ventura’s posing and the high leg kick are considered “bling,” and such things get under some people’s skin.

Q. Why did Kendrys Morales gesture at Ventura after Kendrys caught a pop fly?

A. Pitchers are supposed to clear the area and let position players handle pop flies whenever possible. Yordano gave Kendrys a fly by when the ball was clearly Kendrys’ play. Morales’ gesture basically meant: “What are you doing? Get the heck out of the way!” (But he probably wouldn’t have used the word “heck.”)

Q. Why did the home plate umpire confront a Houston hitter?

The hitter stepped out of the box after taking a pitch. If a pitch is up and in and drives the hitter out of the box, stepping out is acceptable. If the hitter swings and has to readjust himself it’s also OK to step out. But if the hitter takes a pitch and can stay in the box, he’s expected to do so.

Q. In the fifth inning of Sunday’s game, Kendrys was thrown out trying to first-to-third; was that a good or bad idea?

A. Bad idea for a couple of reasons. Kendrys made the third out at third, and you don’t do that. If you reach second base with two down you’re already in scoring position and will score on most hits. Secondly, Alex Rios was at the plate, worked the count full and then kept fouling pitches off. Morales had to run three consecutive sprints when Rios fouled off three full-count, two-out pitches and by the time he ran that fourth sprint, Morales was gassed. Much better to stop at second base in that situation.

I’m beginning to understand Ned Yost … God help me

Getting asked to predict the future over and over when I tell people I don’t do that can get frustrating. But right after that Sunday game, the media did the same thing to Ned Yost. They wanted him to predict the future: When would Cueto start, who was coming out of the rotation and who might be off the roster?

I was pretty sure Ned wouldn’t answer any of those questions, and he didn’t. He said they found out Cueto was coming to Kansas City in the middle of the game, and he and Dave Eiland had not had a chance to talk yet.

Anyone who has covered Yost for any length of time knows he won’t answer hypothetical questions or predict the future; he will talk about the game they just played. But that doesn’t stop people from asking.

We can’t tell the future, but I’ll still make a prediction

I’ve covered the Royals and watched almost every game for over five years now. Despite my familiarity with the team, I didn’t think the Royals would make the playoffs in 2014 until they did. And I certainly didn’t predict how well they would do once they made it into the postseason. So how would I know how good they’ll be in five years? I tell people I have a hard enough time understanding what has happened, much less what will happen.

I know my track record, so I generally don’t make predictions, but I’ll still leave you with one: Despite knowing that what I’m saying is true, next year people will still want predictions about the 2016 season and the “experts” will be willing to make them.

And I think a final got one prediction right.

To reach Lee Judge, call 816-234-4482 or send email to ljudge@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter: @leejudge8.

Related stories from Kansas City Star