Many years ago, when I was just entering high school, I took a business class. The teacher, let’s call him Mr. Stewart, was a quirky fellow – and quite honestly not that great of a teacher – but on the first day of class he told us something that he said we’d remember for the rest of our lives: the happiness formula. He wrote it on the board.
Results – Expectations = Level of Happiness
It seemed too simple to care about, silly even. He then shared with us a seemingly sillier example:
“If a friend asks to borrow $10 from you and you expect that $10 back at some point, but never get it, you’ll surely be unhappy”
0 – 10 = -10 → very unhappy
“If a friend asks to borrow $10 from you and you oblige out of the goodness of your heart, not expecting that you’ll receive the $10 back at some point, you’ll surely be content”
0 – 0 = 0 → throughly content
His example seemed poor. Why would one be content having lost $10? When I have experienced that very situation, however, I’ve found the happiness formula to ring true.
Now consider the 2017 Toronto Blue Jays. The team was coming off a season in which they’d won 89 games — their seventh highest total —and yet again come one stop short of the World Series. Pretty exciting stuff. The team then proceeded to lose their second best player, make Kendrys Morales their marquee signing, and have their already old starting roster age another year. The result? Projected records that put the Blue Jays well below the same projections in the previous season and even further below the team’s actual 2016 record.
But because the team had surprised each of the last two seasons, the general consensus was that there was still a good shot at the playoffs again in the 2017. Statistically speaking, the consensus wasn’t wrong; any team projected to have at least as many wins as losses is bound to have 30 percent plus playoff odds. Though, compared to previous seasons, fans were no longer betting on a great season from a great team, they had to bet on a lucky season from an ok team. When that works, it’s incredibly exciting, but when it doesn’t it’s bound to disappoint. In either case expectations need to be set well in order to get a happy conclusion.
Results – Expectations = Level of Happiness
The problem, however, is that expectations weren’t set well at all, and we at BP Toronto were as big a culprit as any. In our preseason bold predictions piece, only one person seriously predicted a record at or below .500, and that was Bennett Brauer at 81-81, but we were by no means alone. TSN predicted that the Blue Jays would win the AL East title on the backs of another successful year of pitching. Every one of Sportsnet’s baseball analysts forecasted that Toronto would be in the playoffs, and a few had the team as the AL East division winners. NBC Sports predicted that the team would place second in the AL East. Even Boston-based NESN thought the Blue Jays would be pressing the Red Sox for the division title, noting that, “Toronto easily is the second-most complete team in the AL East, and if the Red Sox slack off at all, the Jays likely will be poised to snatch the top spot.” We set the expectations quite high, but we had no logical reason to.
This was prevalent beyond the beginning of the season as well. Even as the team dwindled in the standings in April, May, and June, there was still widespread thought that a push for the playoffs could come, which I wrote about at the time.
In reality, as we know, the team didn’t meet those expectations, but it was due to more than just bad luck, indicating that it was an issue with expectations, not with results. Yes, Aaron Sanchez’s nagging blisters didn’t help, and the Bringer of Rain’s injury induced drought was a disaster. But even if those two things hadn’t occurred it’s entirely possible that the Blue Jays would have found themselves without meaningful October baseball. In other words, there were a myriad of issues.
Per PECOTA’s projections, Toronto lost out on 1.5 WARP from Aaron Sanchez and 1.1 WARP from Josh Donaldson, which, even when generously extrapolated to additionally lost value from the two players’ replacements, wouldn’t have been enough to make them competitive. The team wasn’t good enough. Of the Blue Jays’ primary starters — the 25 players on the team’s roster on Opening Day plus Roberto Osuna — 14 underperformed their PECOTA projections while 12 over performed them.
If we accept that reality, then in order to take the team from ‘not good enough’ to a playoff spot, one of two things would’ve had to have happened.
1. Play Out All the Games and Get Lucky.
Even though it’s most likely that a team plays at their true talent level, in any given season a team can play roughly ten games above or below their expected win total. The most recent and most prominent example of this is the 2016 Texas Rangers. They finished the 2016 season with 95 wins while only scoring eight more runs than they gave up over the full season. Had those runs been more evenly distributed, they would’ve missed the playoffs, but instead they won the division. However, as you can imagine, betting on this luck is an incredibly unsustainable strategy. When a team plays that high above their true talent level, it’s the outlier not the norm.
2. Make Major Deadline Additions
This was the 2015 Blue Jays’ playoff strategy. In April, May, and June of 2015, Toronto’s playoff odds hovered between 10 and 20 percent, which is actually fairly similar to where the 2017 team was. At the 2015 deadline, however, the team added David Price, Troy Tulowitzki, and relief depth, thereby increasing the team’s true talent level. Given the prospect — and $ cost — of this path, this too is unsustainable.
Because you can’t make lucky happen and because the team is trying to create a sustainable contender, neither of those two things happened. As such, there were high expectations with no path to matching results.
Ok Results – High Expectations = A lot of unhappy Jays fans
Unless Toronto can convince Shoehei Otani to join MLB’s only Canadian team, the Blue Jays are likely to be in the same position again next year. These aren’t the dominant, AL East title winning Blue Jays of yesteryear and a year of aging without any top prospects ready to graduate to the major league level won’t help matters. I’m not going to tell you how you should carry out your fandom, but I will say that if we don’t all set our expectations more realistically in 2018, we’re in store for another disappointing season in the unproductive middle.
Lead Photo © Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports