You can’t predict Baseball. The Yankees’ very own John Sterling always says that.
And like most of the things out of the Yankees’ infamous radio announcer’s mouth, he’s only half right. You never know who is going to win a World Series.
If you did, the Angels would have won in 2012, the Red Sox in 2011, the Phillies in 2010 and so on.
You never thought the Giants would sweep the Tigers or the Tigers would sweep the Yankees last season. And raise your hand if you had the Orioles and Athletics in the postseason in 2012?
Not one hand?
Didn’t think so.
The great thing and the great contradiction to this phenomenon is that baseball has the most advanced metrics and the richest history with statistical backing of any of the major sports.
So when it’s a popular sentiment to crown a team a champion in the offseason or declare a division winner because of acquisitions, it’s important not just to look at the present day, but the past as well.
For instance, the 1998 and 1999 Diamondbacks hold the benchmark for modern day improvement. Fresh off a 65 win season, the D-Backs jumped three tiers to become a 100 win a team, a record 35 win improvement.
Of course, those Diamondbacks were in a dreadful division (the Giants won 86 games for second place and no other team eclipsed 77 wins), a year removed from its expansion season and signed Randy Johnson in the offseason.
They were eventually knocked off by the Mets in four games in the NLDS.
The AL East is decidedly different and the Diamondbacks were more or less a fluke with only the Rays ever surpassing a 30 win differential in the span of a season since 2002.
Speaking of those Rays, the 2008 version and last year’s Orioles are the only two out of 50 combined seasons of all five clubs in the division since 2002 to have a win differential better than the difference between the Blue Jays and Yankees last season (22 games).
In fact, only five of the 30 teams in Major League Baseball have had such a season since 2002, making it right off the bat a less than 2% (six out of 300 with the Tigers pulling it off twice) chance the Blue Jays can pull it off.
Of those six teams, for those keeping track at home, only three of them actually made the playoffs that season and only one, the 2008 Rays, won their division.
So the Blue Jays are trying to do what only one out of the past 300 teams has been able to do, improve by 23 victories and win a division.
Of course, this implies the Yankees (or whoever wins the division) do not fall below the 95 wins necessary in 2012, which I already believe is going to be the case.
The Blue Jays won 73 games last season, and like most of the division, were ravaged by injuries.
Just three, the aforementioned Rays and Orioles and the 2005-2006 Tigers, who went from 71 to 95 wins representing perhaps the most realistic blueprint for the Blue Jays to follow (those Tigers won the wildcard in 2006, losing first place to the Twins by one game the final game of the season).
The Orioles pulled it off advancing from 69 wins in 2011 to 93 wins in 2012, going 16-2 in extra innings and 29-9 in one run games, two impossible to maintain statistical anomalies and still only captured second place behind the Yankees.
The Rays went from 66 wins to 97 but rather than having spent huge in the winter and expecting an entire roster to gel effortlessly in one year (look no further than recent history to see how that usually turns out in year one), they had quite the opposite approach.
A series of homegrowns panning out at the same time after a decade of collecting draft picks.
In either case, it doesn’t describe the 2013 Blue Jays, a collection of acquired talent through trade and Free Agency.
Jose Reyes has never played on turf, Josh Johnson has never pitched in the AL and has issues staying healthy, Mark Buehrle has never pitched in the AL East, R.A. Dickey is a knuckleballer who returns to the American League and is coming off a Cy Young season at the age of 38.
Jose Bautista is coming off of injury, Melky Cabrera will play for the first time after steroid allegations and Brandon Morrow will once again try to stay healthy while Ricky Romero and Brett Lawrie try to bounce back.
The Jays are no sure thing, just like the Yankees’ health, the Red Sox talent, the Orioles peripherals and the Rays lack of offense are no sure things either.
The difference is teams like the Orioles, Rays and Yankees, all of whom won 90 games or more last season, do not have the burden of proof going into 2013.
The Yankees have reached the postseason every year since 1995 except 2008 (where they still won 89 games), in the face of injuries, other team’s recent spending sprees and everything else.
The Rays have contended for five years now.
The Orioles had their breakout season.
The Red Sox won a title six years ago and were in the playoffs as recently as 2009.
The Blue Jays are a franchise out of the postseason picture since the early 1990’s.
They have everything to prove (the Yankees outscored their run differential by 204 runs last season) and finally have the pieces to have the chance to prove it.
That doesn’t mean it will happen.
Or that the odds are in their favor.