(Above: Nate Silver and crew take a break after shipping Baseball Prospectus ’09)

I’m the last one to doubt the statistical prowess of Nate Silver.  To run the table as he did predicting the ’08 presidential election results really says volumes about his proven ability to accurately predict a future by examining the past.  What’s more, I want to point out how much I personally appreciate the decision he made to share his number-crunching gifts with the worlds of politics and baseball, thereby depriving the Wall Street pig-pen of one more enabler.

All that said, it seems there’s a ghost in the machine. Silver’s Baseball Prospectus has published its 2009 edition, and its PECOTA team forecasts call for rain on the South Side once again. The system has has sold short the Sox three out of the last four seasons, but this year is truly inexplicable. PECOTA puts  the division champ White Sox dead last in an AL Central that just hasn’t improved appreciably.

Silver knows it’s been tougher to figure out the White Sox than a presidential election.  PECOTA badly missed predicting the 2005 World Champs, forecasting a mere 80 wins.  Next, BP shorted the Sox in ’06 before nailing their performance in ’07 – a year everthing went horribly wrong.

Last season, the Sox again whipped PECOTA’s projections and contributed significantly to the system’s first historical increase in average error predicting team wins.  On average, PECOTA now blows its forecasts by an averge of 8.5 wins, ending a steady trend toward increasing accuracy with a rude blemish.

“Everybody pick us for theer o four so I tink we doin pooty goo” offered Ozzie on last year’s expectations. Pooty goo is right. The Sox came out on top despite the loss of Scott Linebrink, the dismal months of Paul Konerko and Ken Griffey PAs, the cracked wrist and failed MVP bid of Carlos Quentin, the achilles tear of Jose Contreras and the mental desertion of Javy Vazquez in September.  To drag all that into the postseason was, yes, pooty goddamn goo.  While the Sox can’t do worse than PECOTA predicts, what’s likely to happen in ’09?

Going in, this spring looks worse for the Pale Hose than last year. The loss of Vazquez to Atlanta and Contreras for at least half the season has not been compensated.  The dicey proposition to cast Bartolo Colon in the fourth slot and and allow a competition for fifth probably means trouble early on.  It puts new pressure on Buehrle, Danks and Floyd to go deep and might lose the Sox quite a few games if the weeks drag on.  Average outings become a luxury for the starters the team can ill afford as the bottom either heals or learns.

But last place?  Quentin, Ramirez, Dye, Thome and Pierzynski are bats that more than easily match the local pitching.  Konerko may decide to play a full season, you never know.  Getz, Anderson, Viciedo – the kids are (probably) alright.

Last place? Who are these giants in the AL Central, anyway?

Cleveland?  I wouldn’t want to face Carl Pavano or Kerry Wood in a sulking contest, but this team is at least one CC Sabbathia short of where it was last spring, and Sizemore’s average is deflating faster than the Dow Jones.  I don’t see the threat.

Detroit?  Sure, Jim Leyland can croon like Sam Cooke when he’s taking the Motown studio tour, but where’s his pitching?  A healthy Zumaya and a restored Verlander is only the beginning of what they’re going to need to dominate.

The Royals?  The White Sox are supposed to finish behind the Royals? Not unless they’ve cloned Zack Greinke, recalled Mark Grudzielanek and given Esteban German the same surgery they gave Charlie Gordon in Flowers For Algernon.

Minnesota?  Okay, Joe Crede will help –but probably only for the two months his repaired back will survive him flinging himself onto the Metrodome concrete.  Mauer’s alarmingly unhealthy, which means nobody setting the table for Morneau, which means lots of pressure on an underwhelming rotation that unfortunately for them, is still forced to play away games.

The AL Central will probably come down to 5 or 6 games difference between first and fourth place.  Truth be told, the Tigers are probably the team with the most pent-up demand for wins and I see them putting in a far better effort this year.  Sox win 88, take the division, and Clint Eastwood takes Best Director in 2010 for The Human Factor.  Book it.