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Even the PC thinks ChiSoc yack

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Computer crashes White Sox

Statistical program predicts aging team will win only 72 games

By Dave van Dyck

Tribune staff reporter

March 10, 2007, 5:49 PM CST

TUCSON, Ariz. -- After winning a World Series and more games the last two seasons than any team in baseball except the New York Yankees, the White Sox should have earned a little respect.


Well, maybe from real baseball people, but not in the surreal world of computers.

Baseball Prospectus, considered the new-age statistical bible, projects the White Sox to finish with a 72-90 record this season.

"Well, we're screwed now," team captain Paul Konerko said with a sarcastic laugh. "I guess we'll just have to battle through."

What the White Sox will be battling, however, are their own statistics, their ages, historical comparisons and myriad other data fed into the PECOTA system at Baseball Prospectus.

How the computer arrives at its final projections is way above the average baseball mind, a sort of "objective" analysis of what the computer predicts is going to happen.

And the scary part is that the computer can be accurate much of the time. It projected five of the six division winners last spring and predicted the Detroit Tigers would finish with a better record than the defending champion White Sox.

But 72 victories for a team that has averaged 95 the last two seasons? How could that be?

"Seventy-two is what the computer is saying, not what I would say if I were in Las Vegas and had a gun to my head," said Nate Silver, who helped write the program and feed statistics into the computer.

"If I were doing it [subjectively], I wouldn't say 72, but I would say they could be .500. I do believe they'll finish behind [Minnesota, Cleveland and Detroit] in the Central."

Silver lived on the South Side and currently lives on the North Side. But he has great respect for the White Sox organization because of its scouting, its aggressiveness in making trades and its managing/coaching staff.

"If I have a bias [in Chicago], it would be pro-White Sox, so I'm not doing it to spite them," Silver said. "If I were writing the article, I might say the computer was wrong. [but] you can't take into account [subjectivity]."

What data led to the computer spitting out 72?

"The reason the team projection is poor is because individual projections are poor," Silver said. "Jermaine Dye (33), Jim Thome (36) and Paul Konerko (31) are on the wrong side of 30 [years old]. And there are places where they give away too many runs."

The computer didn't like Darin Erstad because of his age (32) and injury history and didn't like expected fifth starter Gavin Floyd because of his inexperience. Plus, Silver said, the rest of the division and the American League are getting better.

"They're in the wrong division and the wrong league," Silver said.

Naturally, the White Sox scoff at this, although they could use it to help restore the massive chip on their shoulder that was lost after the 2005 season.

"That's a good sign for us because usually they're wrong about everything regarding our dealings," general manager Ken Williams said. "What can you do? We put the best team together we can, and we think we're going to end up somewhere in the mid-90s, although there are all kinds of variables off that.

"We have won a lot of games the last couple of years and we didn't do a whole lot different other than a couple of bullpen spots and the fifth starter."

But, Williams was reminded, the computer says the Sox are a year older.

"Maybe we're a year better then," Williams said. "I've run out of ways to respond to all the daggers that have been thrown our way over the years. I asked someone the other day who over the years has continued to be embarrassed, 'Don't you get tired of being wrong or is it you figure one of these days you're going to be right?'

"The only way to respond starts April 1. Before that it's all talk."

The computer can't talk back.

"Sometimes we're right and sometimes we're wrong," Silver said.

The projections for the 99-victory 2005 world champions were 71-91 and a fourth-place finish.

So there is hope, because the game is, after all, played by human beings who sometimes rise above their statistical trends.

To believe the computer or not, that is the question.

"I saw a bunch of preseason stuff last year that had us repeating as World Series [champions] and what good did that do for us?" Konerko said.

"It's all smoke."

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If anybody wants some action on that prediction, let me know. I would be willing to bet 2 to 1 on each win over 72 to under 72, any gamblers out there give me a shout, and your credit card number, LOL. I think this is the same computer that predicted Dewey defeating Eisenhower that the papers ran with!


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