It happens every spring.
When you write about baseball for a living, and you've just been down in Florida covering the Yankees and Mets in spring training, you get the same questions from eager baseball fans before Opening Day:
"How do the Yankees and Mets look?"
And this year, especially:
"How does Harvey look? How does A-Rod look? How many wins? Is my team going to make the playoffs?''
Any answer a baseball writer gives is going to be based on reporting, observation, opinion, personal biases and maybe just a little wishful thinking. It's educated guesswork, but it's guesswork just the same.
That's why it can be fun to take the humans out of it.
The folks at Baseball Prospectus, the popular online home of sabermetric analysis and publisher of a must-have annual season guide ("Baseball Prospectus: 2015''), calculate team records by taking the sum of individual player projections and adjusting for strength of schedule. Player projections stem from the PECOTA forecasting model developed by noted statistician Nate Silver.
So let's ask BP: How do the Yankees and Mets look?
BP projects the Yankees to finish 79-83 and tie for last place in the AL East with Baltimore, last season's division champion.
BP projects the Mets to go 83-79 and miss the playoffs by one game.
As Terry Collins might say: One stinkin' game! Cripes!
"This is the worst projection our system has ever given the Yankees going back a little more than a decade, though it's still good enough that they have about a 10 percent chance of winning the AL East," BP editor-in-chief Sam Miller said.
As for the Mets, Miller said: "This is a team that should be pretty good. That's what makes their relatively inactive offseason so frustrating: Pretty good teams should be spending. We project them to win 83 games, with about a one-in-three chance of making the playoffs."
BP projects a strong bounce-back season from Mets ace Matt Harvey in his return from Tommy John surgery. Harvey is projected to go 11-8 with a 2.90 ERA and 167 strikeouts in 164 innings.
Among the hitters, solid breakout-type seasons are forecast for Travis d'Arnaud (.251, 19 homers, 68 RBIs, .740 OPS) and Wilmer Flores (.254, 14 homers, 58 RBIs, .691 OPS).
David Wright's season is projected to be OK, with a 3.0 WARP (wins above replacement player, which measures a player's total value), but far below his best season (2007, when he had an 8.0 WARP).
Wright is projected to bat .268 with 17 homers, 73 RBIs and a .771 OPS. Guess moving in the fences again won't be that much of a help for the captain.
As for the Yankees, solid seasons are forecast for pitchers Masahiro Tanaka (11-8, 3.00), CC Sabathia (11-11, 3.70) and Michael Pineda (10-9, 3.10), although none is projected to reach the 200-inning mark.
But the Yankees are projected to bat .245 -- tied for worst in the AL with Houston -- and score only 690 runs. The projected AL East champion Red Sox are projected to score 806 runs.
"We didn't think the Yankees were really as good as an 84-win team last year," Miller said. "Looking more closely at their performance -- how many runs they scored and allowed, basically -- we saw the performance of a 77-win team. Our projection looks about right to me, though even that depends on good health from Tanaka and Pineda, who project to be the ninth- and 15th-best pitchers in baseball."
Alex Rodriguez? He is projected to come to the plate 309 times and bat .243 with 10 homers, 38 RBIs and an OPS of .734.
Last year, BP projected the Yankees to win 82 and the Mets to win 74. The Yankees won 84 and the Mets won 79. So is it art or science?
"It's science," Miller said. "But it's science with tremendously limited data in a sport that has huge variance between true talent and actual performance . . . If we play out this season a million times, I'm confident that the projections would get really close to the average outcome. But we only play it out once.''