MLB: Are Baltimore Orioles Fans Overly Optimistic for 2017?

Feb 27, 2017; Sarasota, FL, USA; Baltimore Orioles infielder Manny Machado (13) fields a ground ball in the third inning of the spring training game against the New York Yankees at Ed Smith Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 27, 2017; Sarasota, FL, USA; Baltimore Orioles infielder Manny Machado (13) fields a ground ball in the third inning of the spring training game against the New York Yankees at Ed Smith Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports /

A comparison of MLB fans’ Optimism Scores and the projected wins for their favorite teams revealed some interesting information.

Spring is the time for baseball fans to be optimistic. If your favorite team played well last year, you hope they can continue to play well this year. If your team struggled, you hope they can turn it around. Most teams have added new players, either through free agency or trades, or they have young players full of promise coming up from the minor leagues. Everyone is undefeated on Opening Day, so everyone can still dream about what a great year it will be.

Heading into the 2017 season, some teams have more hope than others. A team in full rebuilding mode, like the Milwaukee Brewers, will naturally have lower expectations than the team that just won the World Series. Teams are at different places along the success cycle, with different probabilities to land a spot in the postseason. This has never been more true than during the current Wild Card era, when a team can slip into the playoffs with 87 or 88 wins.

So, which fanbase is most optimistic heading into the 2017 season? For that matter, which fans should be the most optimistic? To answer these questions, I created an expected number of wins for each MLB team based on the average of four sources. Three of the sources are the projected standings from FanGraphs, Baseball Prospectus and Clay Davenport. The fourth source comes from the Las Vegas over/under win totals for each team, which I took from the recent issue of Sports Illustrated. I averaged these four sources together and came up with the projected number of wins for each team.

As you would expect, the Chicago Cubs are near the top. Perhaps surprisingly, they are not at the very top. Using these sources, the Los Angeles Dodgers are projected to win 96 games. The Cubs are second, with 94 projected wins. At the bottom of the list sit the Chicago White Sox (70 projected wins) and the San Diego Padres (68).

That gives me the projected wins. Now what about the optimism of the fans? As luck would have it, a Seattle-based data research company named SportFacts created an Optimism Score for each major league team. With projected records and Optimism Scores in hand, I ranked each team from 1 to 30 based on Optimism Score and from 1 to 30 based on projected record, then compared the two lists.

For example, the Philadelphia Phillies are projected to finish with 72 wins, placing them 28th out of 30 teams. Their fans are much more optimistic, ranking 14th out of 30 teams in Optimism Score. The 14 spot difference (28-14) is the largest of any MLB team. Philadelphia Phillies fans are the most overly-optimistic fans in baseball. That’s surprising coming from Philly fans, a group that once booed and pelted Santa with snowballs at an Eagles game.

How about the headliners, the Baltimore Orioles? The Orioles have averaged just under 89 wins per year over the last five years and have been to the playoffs three of those five years. Despite their success, the projections aren’t very optimistic, combining for an average projected win total of 80 wins in 2017. This places them 16th of the 30 MLB teams. And yet, their fans are very optimistic, ranking 4th in baseball in Optimism Score. That 12-spot difference in rankings is the second highest in baseball, after the Phillies.

A closer look at the Orioles’ projections shows a 10-win gap between the Baseball Prospectus PECOTA projection of 74 wins to the Las Vegas over/under total of 84.5 wins (I used 84 for this exercise). PECOTA hates the Orioles. That’s all there is to it. Based on the team’s recent success, and their ability to beat the projections over the last few years, it’s not surprising that Orioles fans are more optimistic than the projections.

In contrast, another team in the AL East, the Tampa Bay Rays, is also projected for 80 wins. Unlike the optimistic Orioles fans, the fans of the Rays rank 29th of 30 teams in Optimism Score. Maybe it’s that horrible ballpark that drains the enthusiasm of all who enter, but Rays fans should really lighten up. FanGraphs, Baseball Prospectus and Clay Davenport all have the team projected for 80 or more wins. If that proves to be an accurate baseline, a little luck could put them in range of a Wild Card spot.

Two-thirds of the teams in baseball are just about as optimistic as the projections suggest they should be. These 20 teams all have rankings for Optimism Score and projected wins that are within five spots of each other. Among this group of teams in the middle, the Detroit Tigers (+5), Cincinnati Reds (+5) and Seattle Mariners (+4) are slightly more optimistic than they should be, while a couple of potential playoff contenders at the bottom of this group, the New York Mets (-4) and St. Louis Cardinals (-4), are a little less optimistic than their projected wins would suggest.

Fans of the defending World Series champion Chicago Cubs are at the very top of the list for Optimism Score and are projected for the second-most wins in baseball. They are optimistic and they should be, with a core group of good, young hitters in the lineup and strong veteran pitchers in the rotation. The Cubs also have some minor leaguers who could come up and fill in for an injured player or be used in a trade if needed.

Along with the Phillies and Orioles, the Chicago White Sox fans appear to be overly optimistic. The White Sox are projected for just 71 wins, 29th in baseball, yet their fans are 20th in Optimism Score. The team has a great farm system after the trades they made in the offseason, but this doesn’t look like a contending year.

The aforementioned Tampa Bay Rays have the most overly pessimistic fans, with a difference of 13 spots between their projected record (16th of 30 teams) and their Optimism Score (29th of 30 teams). Two more teams that have a big negative gap in the two rankings are the Houston Astros and the Pittsburgh Pirates.

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It’s surprising that Astros fans aren’t more optimistic. They have a great young team, with Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve, George Springer and Alex Bregman on offense, along with some veterans like Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann. Perhaps Astros fans aren’t confident in the pitching staff.

The Astros are projected to win 92 games, the third-best total in baseball, and yet the team’s fans are right in the middle of the rankings for Optimism Score, at 15th. The two teams they are most likely to compete with in the AL West, the Seattle Mariners and Texas Rangers, have much more optimistic fans. Mariners fans rank 5th in Optimism Score and Rangers fans rank 7th. The Mariners and Rangers are projected to win 85 and 84 games, respectively.

On the other hand, Pittsburgh Pirates fans are not as confident as they should be. Their Optimism Score is 22nd out of 30 teams, but they are projected for the 12th-most wins. The Pirates dropped from 98 wins in 2015 to 78 wins last year. Their best player coming into the season, Andrew McCutchen, had the worst full year of his career, and their best pitcher, Gerrit Cole, was limited to 21 starts. Bounce-back seasons from those two players should put them back over .500 and potentially in playoff contention, yet the fans aren’t that optimistic it will happen.

Here is the entire list, with projected wins, Optimism Score ranking and the difference in ranking in parentheses. A positive difference means the fans are overly optimistic and a negative ranking means the fans are overly pessimistic. The teams are ranked from most overly optimistic fans to most overly pessimistic fans.

72 wins, 14th in Optimism Score (+14)—Philadelphia Phillies

80 wins, 4th in Optimism Score (+12)—Baltimore Orioles

71 wins, 20th in Optimism Score (+9)—Chicago White Sox

82 wins, 8th in Optimism Score (+5)—Detroit Tigers

73 wins, 21st in Optimism Score (+5)—Cincinnati Reds

85 wins, 5th in Optimism Score (+4)—Seattle Mariners

84 wins, 7th in Optimism Score (+4)—Texas Rangers

77 wins, 15th in Optimism Score (+4)—Miami Marlins

75 wins, 19th in Optimism Score (+4)—Kansas City Royals

73 wins, 22nd in Optimism Score (+4)—Milwaukee Brewers

90 wins, 2nd in Optimism Score (+3)—Washington Nationals

81 wins, 13th in Optimism Score (+2)—New York Yankees

77 wins, 17th in Optimism Score (+2)—Colorado Rockies

67 wins, 28th in Optimism Score (+2)—San Diego Padres

94 wins, 1st in Optimism Score (+1)—Chicago Cubs

88 wins, 5th in Optimism Score (+1)—Boston Red Sox

92 wins, 3rd in Optimism Score (+0)—Cleveland Indians

74 wins, 27th in Optimism Score (-2)—Atlanta Braves

87 wins, 10th in Optimism Score (-3)—San Francisco Giants

85 wins, 12th in Optimism Score (-3)—Toronto Blue Jays

75 wins, 26th in Optimism Score (-3)—Oakland Athletics

87 wins, 11th in Optimism Score (-4)—New York Mets

82 wins, 17th in Optimism Score (-4)—St. Louis Cardinals

80 wins, 22nd in Optimism Score (-6)—Los Angeles Angels

77 wins, 25th in Optimism Score (-6)—Arizona Diamondbacks

95 wins, 8th in Optimism Score, (-7)—Los Angeles Dodgers

76 wins, 30th in Optimism Score (-8)—Minnesota Twins

83 wins, 22nd in Optimism Score (-10)—Pittsburgh Pirates

92 wins, 15th in Optimism Score (-12)—Houston Astros

80 wins, 29th in Optimism Score (-13)—Tampa Bay Rays

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One last interesting combination to note is the pair of teams projected for 82 wins, the Detroit Tigers and the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cardinals have been more successful the last half-decade and are projected for the same number of wins as the Tigers, yet Tigers fans rank 8th in Optimism Score and Cardinals fans rank 17th. Are Detroit fans dreaming too big, perhaps? Or are Cardinals fans not optimistic enough?