With Opening Day upon us, let’s project the 2010 leaderboards before a single pitch is thrown. Can Ichiro Suzuki pass Joe Mauer for the batting title? Can Zack Greinke lead the American League in wins despite playing for the lowly Royals? Let's find out just how likely those scenarios and many more are.
Using the Monte Carlo method, the baseball stat nerd's version of Lincoln Logs, and the various probabilities generated by the ZiPS projection system, I was able to make some educated guesses about whom the leaders will be. For runs and RBIs, which are statistics that have a lot to do with opportunity, I went through the data generated by the Diamond Mind simulations to make a reasonable estimate of how teammates and lineup spot could affect the final statistics.
Joe Mauer looks like the overwhelming favorite to earn his fourth batting title this season. While he hasn't amassed enough at-bats to appear in the career rankings, Mauer's .327 career average would be fourth in baseball and second in the AL behind Ichiro Suzuki. But the biggest variable might be the new Target Field, because it's extremely difficult to guess how a park will play until it's opened.
The home run standings are one of the few places where Mauer doesn't look like a force to be reckoned with. Carlos Pena is the clear favorite after leading the AL with 39 home runs in 2009 despite playing only 135 games. Chris Davis is perhaps the most interesting name in the HR standings, as he could very well hit 30 home runs with a sub-.300 on-base percentage.
For RBIs, the field is much closer. Justin Morneau is the best power hitter in one of the best offenses in baseball and will spend the season hitting behind Mauer. It would be interesting to see the Royals' Billy Butler put up a big RBI number, as ZiPS is intrigued by his upside power potential, but the Royals' low-octane offense will make it a struggle for him.
Nobody has won a Triple Crown since Carl Yastrzemski pulled it off in 1967, but Mauer did win another triple crown in 2009 -- the Sabermetric Triple Crown (BA/OBP/SLG). He won the OBP title in a walk last season, beating Kevin Youkilis by 31 points, and is the clear favorite to repeat. Slugging percentage looks like the hardest title for Mauer to repeat, as his 28 home runs more than doubled his career high of 13.
Finishing seventh in the league in wins last season, Zack Greinke's league-leading ERA of 2.16 won over enough old-school voters for him to win the Cy Young Award. He'll have to do it again, as the Royals won't provide him the run support CC Sabathia, Josh Beckett, Javier Vazquez and James Shields will get. Sabathia never has led the league in strikeouts or ERA and has led the league in wins only once, but as the biggest workhorse in the league with Roy Halladay gone to Philadelphia, the Brobdingnagian hurler always has a good shot to put up some impressive totals.
When you get to play 1,000 seasons via simulations, you see all sorts of improbable events:
• Brett Anderson might not have cracked the ERA leaderboard, but he did have the best single-season ERA in a millennium, with an impressive 1.66.
• Nobody ever broke 30 wins, and only Josh Beckett broke 25. Bob Welch's 27 wins in 1990 without an otherworldly ERA (sixth in the AL) is one of the more unlikely things to have happened in the past 20 years.
• A pitcher lost 20 games roughly once every 10 seasons, and that was without a computer manager mercifully benching pitchers after their 19th loss. A third of the time, the pitcher who lost 20 games was Ricky Romero.
• Cliff Lee probably had the unluckiest season, going 8-21 with a 3.85 ERA for the Seattle Mariners one year. How did that happen? I went through the game logs, and Chone Figgins, Ichiro, Milton Bradley and Jose Lopez all missed at least 50 games due to injury. Felix Hernandez was a little luckier that season, ending up at 10-16 with a 3.35 ERA.
• In 1,000 seasons, no AL hitter hit 60 home runs. Carlos Pena was the most frequent 50 home run-hitter, but in one wacky season, Chris Davis managed to hit 57 home runs with only a .941 OPS.
• Nobody broke the .400 barrier. Joe Mauer came closest with a .383. No other major records fell, but Michael Young made a run at Earl Webb's record of 67 doubles with 64 one season.
• Only one player won a Triple Crown: Miguel Cabrera. The Sabermetric Triple Crown turned out to be an easier target, with Mauer managing it 11 percent of the time.
• Jose Bautista once hit .141 in a full season, by far the lowest observed batting average.
• Worst cups of coffee were Nick Weglarz (0-for-23 one season) and Deolis Guerra (two outs, 10 earned runs).
Dan Szymborski is the editor-in-chief of Baseball Think Factory.