The Most Unpredictable MLB Teams of 2012


Earlier this morning, I posted the results of our FanSided MLB team’s crowdsourced 2012 power rankings poll. Our aggregated list looks pretty good if I do say so myself, but as I was playing with the survey data I found myself particularly interested not in the general consensus we agreed upon but in the amount that our opinions differed.

Everyone agreed that the Texas Rangers are going to be very good and everyone agreed that the Houston Astros are in for a rough season. That’s great. But the real storylines of 2012 probably won’t involve the teams whose fates already seem clear. No, the most exciting teams to watch this season are likely to be the ones from whom we do not know what to expect.

In that vein, I went in search of the teams about whom there is the greatest difference of opinion heading into 2012.

The simplest way to get an idea of the dispersion of data is by calculating arithmetic range: you just subtract the lowest value from the highest value to see how wide the range of possible results is. So I calculated the range of our writers’ rankings for each MLB team. Here are the results:

I think it is first important to note how significant the variation in our opinions is across the board. Of the 30 MLB teams, 19 had ranking ranges of 10 or more and everyone’s rankings but the Astros had a range of at least six. (Incidentally, I was the only voter who did not put Houston last—if not for my ranking them ahead of the Orioles, they would have been the unanimous last-place pick.)

Moving on, the two top dogs here are the Toronto Blue Jays and the Cleveland Indians, followed by the Washington Nationals and Minnesota Twins. In each case the discordant rankings make a great deal of sense: the Blue Jays, Indians, and Nationals are all young teams packed with unproven yet high-ceiling cores of players, while the Twins were favored to win the AL Central last year yet ended up as the worst team in the league.

At the bottom end of the list, we see a fair amount of—shall we say—predictably predictable teams. The Phillies, Rangers, Rays, and Yankees are all very good teams, while the Astros and Orioles…aren’t. Those shouldn’t be particularly controversial statements, nor should the consensuses on those teams come as news to anyone.

But this isn’t the best means of measuring variation. Range tells us something about the dispersion of the data, but it reflects only the gap between the most extreme values and tells us nothing about how the other samples are distributed. Standard deviation, by contrast, takes both the middle numbers and the outliers into account. Here are the standard deviations for each team’s rankings:

This list tells a similar story, but with some significant differences. The order’s been shuffled quite a bit: the Nationals and Rockies plummet while the Reds and Diamondbacks shoot up. More importantly, though, the marginal dropoffs going down the list are miniscule. From the No. 3 Giants down to the No. 29 Rangers, each team’s standard deviation of rankings is within 0.2 of the team above it.

But there are three notable outliers, and they should all look familiar. Starting with the bottom, we have the Astros. Again, that there is any deviation at all is my fault—were it not for my ballot, the standard deviation of Houston’s rankings would actually have been zero.

Meanwhile, at the top of the list, the Blue Jays and Indians are way ahead of the pack. Roughly speaking, opinion is more than twice as divided over Toronto and Cleveland than it is over the Angels and Yankees. The difference between No. 1 and No. 3 is greater than the distance between No. 3 and No. 19.

The Blue Jays and Indians, then, would seem to be the most unpredictable teams of the 2012 season. What makes this especially interesting is that these are the same two teams who stand to benefit most from the addition of the second wild card. It’s pure coincidence, of course, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be a significant confluence. There’s no way to predict the surprise of the season (otherwise it wouldn’t be a surprise) but I’d put my money on Toronto or Cleveland.

Finally, I calculated the average range and standard deviation of the rankings for each division’s teams. Here are the results:

Looks like the NL Central and the AL West will be fairly boring, but we could be in for a wild ride in the AL Central.

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