Our good friends at Football Outsiders are back with their 2012 Almanac and I got my greedy little paws on it earlier today. I thought I'd take some time to provide a few details from their 49ers section, particularly since I'm fairly certain a few of you will disagree with some of the FOA projections for the coming season. I won't be posting everything from the FOA, so make sure and head over to FO's Store to pick up your copy ($12.50 for the PDF). At the very least, you can know you're helping feed Florida Danny, who is currently an assistant editor at the site.
Danny will take some time to answer questions about the 49ers, based on what a variety of advanced stats have to say about the 49ers. You can use this to discuss some of the details below, but fire off any questions for which you'd like some of Danny's statistical insight. He wrote the 49ers chapter, and is of course a 49ers fan.
Before I get into the projections, let me attempt to explain what FOA is projecting each year. They provide a Mean Projection that is created based on a million simulations. This all "stems from three equations that forecast 2012 DVOA for offense, defense, and special teams based on a number of different factors including the previous two years of DVOA in various situations, improvement in the second half of 2011, recent draft history, coaching experience, injury history, specific coaching styles, and the combined tenure of the offensive line."
All that being said, the 49ers mean win projection is 7.2 wins. They also used the simulation to come up with percentages for various possible outcomes, as follows:
On the Clock (0-4): 12%
Mediocrity (5-7): 44%
Playoff Contender (8-10): 38%
Super Bowl Contender (11+): 6% Postseason Odds: 39.5%
Projected Average Opponent: -2.7% (26th)
One of the common refrains I've seen this offseason is the problems teams often have when they are coming off a big year following a poor year. There have been numerous descriptions for this, including National Football post referring to it as "The curse of the 10-win comeback season".
In FOA's 49ers chapter, Danny refers to it as the "plexiglass principle", which is a term Bill James coined for major league baseball. This principle states that "a team showing dramatic improvement one season tends to decline the following season." Pretty simple, wouldn't you say? According to Danny:
San Francisco's total DVOA was 29.8 percentage points better in 2011 than it was in 2010. If you look at the 41 teams between 1992 and 2010 that showed similar improvement from one year to the next (i.e., between 25 and 35 percentage points), you find that they declined an average of 12.1 DVOA percentage points and 2.3 wins the following season.
Football Outsiders' editor-in-chief Aaron Schatz acknowledged a number that likely surprises a few folks:
And yes, 49ers fans, 7.2 seems a little low to me too, but that's what the equations spat out. I'm expecting 9-7 or so.— Aaron Schatz (@FO_ASchatz) July 16, 2012
As I look at the 49ers from 2011 and look ahead to 2012, my subjective view makes it a little difficult for me to accept such a dramatic decrease in wins. I would not be at all surprised to see a decrease in 49ers wins in 2012 because 13 wins is such a high number. The 49ers had a lot of things go very right for them in 2011, including strong health on the defensive side of the ball, and recovering a whole lot of turnovers. I would expect some measure of regression (hoping for even more improvement, of course), which could potentially drop that 13 wins.
But, I keep selling myself on the idea that the 49ers could buck some of these historic trends. I continue to believe that a full season without the lockout will be a sufficient boon to the 49ers. Every other team dealt with the lockout, but after seeing what Coach Harbaugh was able to do in limited time with the team last year, consider me optimistic that the team can find a way through the plexiglass principle. I'm sure it will end up punching me in the gut later this fall, but I just can't convince myself things would go this poorly. Optimists of the world, unite!
And just for comparison's sake, the 49ers mean projection last season was 7.5 wins.