You can take your Punxsutawney Phils and Staten Island Chucks if you like, but a far better way to know when Spring is right around the corner is the day that Baseball Prospectus releases its first projections for the upcoming baseball season. No shadows needed, just raw data churned through a spreadsheet to give us our first look at how the season could play out.
Yankees fans might prefer the groundhogs this year. PECOTA, the system BP uses to make projections, has the Yankees finishing third in the AL East and missing the playoffs despite winning 93 games. This is what happens when you trade away Melky Cabrera, you bastards!
Don't go running off to Vegas and blow your kid's college fund betting on the outcomes PECOTA presents, however. It's had its ups and downs as a predictor over the years and Spring Training and the remaining free agents will provide more accurate numbers to plug into the formula. In other words, things will look different before the first pitch.
What's more, the margin of error in the system makes the three win spread that encompasses the Rays, Red Sox and Yankees too small to bank on. There are other kinks to work out in the projections -- the Nationals probably aren't winning 82 games this year -- but there's a lot of fun to be had discussing just where those kinks come into play. You could also just check out the CAIRO projections for a sunnier outlook. They've got the Yankees winning 102 games and winning the division in a breeze.
Even if you shouldn't put much stock in these predictions, the Yankees should feel free to disemminate the findings widely among the players. It can be hard to motivate players after a championship and nothing does the trick like playing the old no one believes in us card.