Here we go, right into the 2016 outdoor season! Excited for the season to start, of course, but also excited that the predictions for the
Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship are even more detailed and comprehensive than the predictions
were for Supercross. And, the predictions include both 450 and 250!
And and, there's a separate prediction that takes into account the riders' injury history!! And and and, there are
amateur predictions for 450 A and 250 A!!!
Pro MX Outdoor - 2016 Season Predictions
Well, I'm excited, anyway. For each of the classes there are two projections: one that pretends no one will get injured -- in order to look at the estimated true talent, and one that factors in injury history for each rider. The "injury history" is actually broader than injuries -- it factors in any race that was missed, be it due to injury, not having a ride (a la Josh Grant for most of SX 2016), or other issues (like supposedly what happened with Davalos and passport problems getting to Toronto).
Each projection, as usual, should be taken with a grain of salt. The injury factor is far from perfect, so either prediction needs some interpretation, such as whether the rider's history of injuries (or lack thereof) is something that will continue or not. Also, some riders may show major improvements that the numbers can't yet detect, as with Jason Anderson in SX 2016. The entire point of these predictions is to focus solely on what the numbers say and leave the scouting and interpretation out of it.
So, on to the Upper class -- the 450's:
Plenty to discuss here, starting at the top. I think that coming out of Supercross there was a growing consensus that instead of Ryan Dungey, Ken Roczen might actually be the man to beat in outdoors. Then Vegas happened, where Dungey's consistency won out again, and I think people shifted back to thinking Dungey is the favorite until someone actually dethrones him. The numbers agree.
Eli Tomac, though, sneaks into 2nd -- at least before we take predicted injuries into account (see below). Working for him is his 2015 MX season, where he blew away the competition through 2-and-a-half weeks. Working against him are his 2016 Supercross numbers, where he averaged a 5th place finish -- whereas Roczen averaged 4th (some info about why Supercross numbers are included found in this post).
For that same reason, Supercross numbers help Jason Anderson get into 4th in the prediction, edging out Trey Canard, whose 2015 motocross numbers weren't great and his 2016 SX numbers also fell flat -- average finish of 8th.
Another interesting projection is Marvin Musquin, in 8th, who doesn't have any 450 outdoor pro races, so his prediction is based on 250 pro MX results and his 450 SX results. (We apply an approximately 8% penalty when translating between 250 MX and 450 MX.) This leaves Musquin perhaps a bit low, considering how good he looked at times during Supercross, but he does still have to adjust to riding 450 outdoors. If you look at just his 250 MX numbers, you could say that he projects in the Top 4, but including his 450 SX results in the predictions drops him a bit since his average finish there was 8.5.
The James Stewart prediction, in 14th, might have seemed way out of line a few months ago, but after what we saw in Supercross it probably won't shock anyone. His most recent MX results were not that good, his Supercross season was awful, and the age factor is working against him. If we totally ignored his 2016 SX results, he would be in 12th, which is still lower than many might expect.
This prediction was probably going to be a relatively big deal, and got a couple comments on Reddit when the prelim predictions were posted -- but then it was announced he was going to skip most of the outdoor races: Chad Reed would have been outside the predicted Top 20, at #21. His outdoor results just haven't been that good over the past few years, and the age adjustment is really working against him according to the numbers. Reed's good 2016 Supercross results counteract that somewhat, but he still ends up just off the list, as does Jake Weimer, in 22nd. Then Weimer announced he's riding in Canada, so that prediction seems inconsequential as well. (If you care, once the injury predictions are taken into account, Weimer would have moved into the Top 20 but Reed stayed at #21.)
RacerX, in their 450 rider preview, which is always good, noted that Fredrik Noren "has Top 10 speed", but as you can surmise from his ranking here, Noren's recent results don't show it. Maybe it's a case of being inconsistent, but his average result in 2015 was 13th and in 2014 it was 12th. He's on the younger side, though, so maybe he'll out-perform his projection in 15th.
As a bit of a surprise, Ben Lamay sneaks into 20th. Rookie Benny Bloss checks in at #23, though he also has no Pro MX data to draw from. Dean Wilson would have been placed 13th if he weren't injured, and Wil Hahn 20th. Malcolm Stewart would have ranked around #10 had he decided to ride the 450 outdoor class. Davi Millsaps, Mike Alessi, and Vince Friese are racing in Canada, and they would have been #17, #18, and #32, respectively.
OK, now what happens when we add in the injury prediction? This adjustment is made by looking at what percentage of races each rider missed over the past five seasons and then reducing their expected points proportionally:
Once the expected injuries are factored in, Tomac slips all the way to 4th. Justin Barcia moves up a spot, above Canard, but still a ways out from 4th. James Stewart falls down to #19. Also, a gap opens up between the Top 4 (Dungey/Roczen/Anderson/Tomac) and everybody else, led by Barcia, Canard, Blake Baggett, and Musquin. That is because Dungey, Roczen, and Anderson have almost never been injured, and Tomac is actually slightly above average in terms of how many races he's ridden in -- despite the major injury last year.
The 450 non-injury and injury predictions together:
Now, the Lower Pro class - 250MX:
The consensus favorite is also the prediction's #1 -- Jeremy Martin. In 2nd is Cooper Webb, but he just slides by Aaron Plessinger. These two had very similar results in 2015, but Webb's 2014 MX and his 2016 Supercross results give him an edge in the prediction (that is, until you take into account injury probabilities).
After that, there's a fairly big drop off, with Jessy Nelson, Joey Savatgy, and Adam Cianciarulo somewhat tightly packed at 4th, 5th, and 6th. Christian Craig and Justin Hill--despite their relatively good Supercross seasons--land near the bottom of the Top 10.
Mitchell Harrison is the numbers pick to be the top amateur-turned-pro, at #20. Other newcomers, amateurs Tristan Charboneau and Josh Osby come in at #33 and #34, while Australian Luke Clout lands at #26 based on very limited amateur and pro Supercross data.
The biggest surprise, certainly from the amateur/newcomers but maybe from the whole list, is Austin Forkner. He shows up at #39, in the same range as not-really-household-names like Dakota Alix and Hayden Mellross. Forkner's problem in the predictions is that he hasn't raced above 450 B in the Loretta's amateurs [edit: looking at this again, he did at least ride some 450 A in the JS7 Freestone Spring Championship, where he did very well (other than a DNF) and at Baja in 2015, where he finished 2nd -- though the competition in these races is hard to determine, compared to the LL qualifiers/finals], and when he did his results were good/great not great/really great. So the other newcomers who had great 450 A results are looking better on paper. It seems the scouts expect Forkner to be a factor in the 250's, although in the Steve Matthes Show podcast, the RacerX guys seemed hesitant to say he was a lock to be running in the Top 10 or anything like that. So, we'll see -- but from a numbers perspective I can say that riders in the past who moved to the 250 Pro class with 450 B results like Forkner's were not particularly successful, at least right away.
The 250 predictions with the injury adjustment have a little more of a shakeup than the 450's:
The biggest change is that Webb drops from 2nd to 3rd, with Plessinger taking his place, and that's not even considering the current injury that Webb has. The broken bone in his hand has received quite a bit of scrutiny, though no one really knows how bad it is, but the consensus seems that this injury will ruin his season if it's as bad as what's been reported. Webb's injury rate has been decent up until now, but Plessinger and Martin have almost no missed MX races, which puts them ahead of Webb once the injury probability is factored in.
A major drop shows up for Colt Nichols, who has had a number of injuries, and for Shane Mcelrath, with the same injury issue. Arnaud Tonus moves up to 9th, from 13th, although his recorded history of injury is limited because he doesn't have that much U.S. experience. Same thing for Jordon Smith, moving from #15 to #11, and for Mitchell Harrison, from #20 to #18.
The 250 non-injury and injury predictions together:
With the Pro Predictions in stone for Lucas Oil Outdoor 2016, now all we can do it watch and wait! (Oh, and look for the predictions specific to Hangtown for Week 1, coming soon.)