On Opening Day, everybody gets to have hope.
That holds true for the historically spoiled fans of the Yankees and for the historically beleaguered fans of the Marlins. It's true for the Cubs on Chicago's North Side, and for the White Sox on the South Side. Of course, hope is not created equal.
Last season was unusually predictable, with consensus preseason forecasts nailing all six eventual division winners. That held true in the postseason as well, where the World Series pitted a pair of 100-win teams for the first time since 1970.
As I've written a million times, forecasts are not opinion, and aren't even really predictions. What forecasts do is create baselines of expectation for each team and for the league as a whole. They also create a range of possibilities, and it is within this realm that hope resides.
Over the course of the winter and all during spring training, I regularly run simulations of the coming season. The numbers used in these sims are generated by my projection, evaluation and tracking system I call MLBPET.
One layer of complexity I added was to fold in breakout and collapse rates. That is: How likely is a player to produce WAR at a clip 20 percent above his baseline forecast? How likely is he to be 20 percent worse? This concept, introduced to me through the work of FiveThirtyEight's Nate Silver back in his Baseball Prospectus days, aids in the visualization of the huge array of possible outcomes over the course of something as complicated as a Major League Baseball season.
Here, then, is where we come back to hope. By factoring in those collapse and breakout rates, every team in baseball made the postseason in at least some of the simulations. The Astros were the most consistent at getting into the postseason, while the Marlins saw October baseball the least often. No surprises there. But every team, in some parallel universe somewhere, got to the playoffs.
Not every team got to win a virtual World Series. In fact, only five teams won titles in at least 10 percent of the simulations. These are the superteams -- the Astros, Dodgers, Cubs, Yankees and Indians. The Nationals and Red Sox both won a little over 7 percent of the sims. These seven teams currently comprise baseball's crowded elite tier.
Meanwhile, six teams didn't win any simulated titles, while 10 others won fewer than 1 percent of them. Hope, it seems, goes only so far.
How can we change that?
I decided to run a special set of sims by messing with those breakout and collapse rates. How many breakout seasons do those 23 non-elite teams need to enter the elite tier (defined here as winning at least 7 percent of the simulated titles)? For the other seven, how many "collapse" seasons would the team need to fall from the elite?