2017 Pre-Season MX Outdoor Nationals Predictions
Not that I'm not excited for the changeover from Supercross to outdoors, but after the amazing 2017 Supercross season, with drama right up to the final turn, I think we're all bracing for a bit of a letdown heading into MX Week 1. Still, we had the prospect of getting to watch Ryan Dungey try to reclaim his spot as the #1 outdoor rider, even if we're all expecting Eli Tomac to be clearly faster, the same question remained from the end of the SX season: would Tomac's speed or Dungey's consistency win out?
Then, opening the MX showdown with a giant fart noise, Dungey announced that he was retiring. The community reacted, mostly understanding of a rider who'd given his all and didn't have any more left -- at least not enough overcome the nagging feelings that the dwindling prospect of another championship wasn't worth the risk to his life and limb.
Now that you're all depressed (You're Welcome, signed Captain Bringdown), let's look at the opening 2017 MX season! Now that Dungey's gone and Ken Roczen is still trying to recover from his arm injury, Tomac has every single person in the world pegging him as the heavy favorite, MotoXGraphs no exception. To me, that leaves 2 questions for the 2017 MX title: Will Tomac continue to have the mistakes that spoiled his Supercross comeback for the ages? Even if he does make mistakes, will anyone even be close enough in points for it to matter?
Like in previous pre-season predictions, for the class 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 Martin 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 or injuries (or lack thereof) is something that will continue or not. 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. Tomac, as expected, has a huge predicted lead -- but maybe it should even be bigger. Projections tend to flatten the extremes because those extremes are assumed to be exceptions. Make no mistake, that projection is still quite bold for Tomac: he's predicted to finish worse than 1st in no more than 6 of the 24 total motos. But perhaps the gap to Marvin Musquin in 2nd (64 points) and Jason Anderson in 3rd (103 points) is not quite as big as some think it should be.
Musquin solidly in 2nd is a bit of a surprise, since Anderson actually had a slightly better 2016 MX season than Musquin (by our tally ). Musquin's edge comes because he was markedly better than Anderson in Supercross. (Some info about why Supercross numbers are included in MX predictions found in this link).
On the other hand, despite Cooper Webb enduring a relatively unimpressive 2017 Supercross season, he comes into the MX season projected 4th due to a very impressive 2016 250MX campaign. Extra grains of salt for predictions regarding any riders who are moving from one class to the other (as detailed in The MX Book), but working in Webb's favor is that two top riders are gone and other Top 5-ish MX riders had mixed 2016 MX and 2017 SX seasons.
For instance, Justin Barcia (predicted 5th) has been all over the place for the past 12 months, Cole Seely (6th) has looked both great and average, and Blake Baggett (7th), a popular dark horse for 2017 MX, has had his moments but also had his numbers limited by injury. Based on what I see with my eyes, I'd flip Baggett and Barcia (but that's not the point of these predictions).
Trey Canard has been bogged down by injury, and he'll miss several races -- docking him down to 8th. The general fan consensus seems to be that he's done. I can't argue that. But the numbers, when ignoring future injuries, think the talent is there for Canard to be a Top 10 or even a Top 5 guy if he could stay healthy. After that is a run of guys who wouldn't shock if they finished Top 5, but are probably just Top 10 riders on average -- Broc Tickle, Dean Wilson, Josh Grant. Tickle, believe it or not, has been the best of the 3 in MX results in both 2015 and 2016. In 2014, Grant had his best year, including 4 times finishing Top 5.
With a mix of results in 250 MX and, less recently, 450 MX, Christian Craig has numbers that suggest he could challenge the Top 5 on occasion, but his SX numbers are not as optimistic, and he slots in at 12th. Malcolm Stewart has a similar line -- his MX results look Top 10-ish, but they're not as recent and his 450 SX numbers are lagging.
Weston Peick gets a seemingly low ranking, but in 2016 he performed just below any of the riders listed ahead of him. His 2017 Supercross results were better on average than some riders above him, such as notably Webb and Barcia, but that isn't enough to jump him into the Top 10. A not-great 2015 also hurts his projection.
Moving into the Upper class, Martin Davalos lands about where you'd expect, at 15th. This assumes he transitions just fine to the bigger bike, which it seems many are skeptical about. Also in that same range and not too surprising are Fredrik Noren (16th) and Justin Bogle (17th). Benny Bloss has potential, as we've seen, but he'll enter the season injured, missing a few weeks, and as a 20 year old, still has to show he can stay upright through the long, arduous outdoor season.
Once again disrespected by the predictions is Justin Brayton, predicted all the way down in 19th. His age (33) definitely plays into that, but also in 2016 and 2015 he didn't have particularly good seasons. Then again, the 2017 Supercross Predictions didn't expect much from him, and he managed a performance level somewhere around the Top 10 (when healthy).
Squeaking into the Top 20 is Davi Millsaps. He's missing an unknown amount of time due to wrist surgery, which drops his prediction from somewhere in the mid-teens to 20th. Missing from his statistical profile is 2016 MX season, when he rode in Canada.
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 reducing their expected points proportionally:
Once the expected injuries are factored in there are only a few major changes. Canard, as expected, drops quite a bit in points but only loses 1 spot. Craig loses several places, so hopefully for him he can stay healthy, which has been an issue in the past. Davalos and Peick swap spots as Davalos has been just a bit more healthy recently.
The "This Week" predictions, though brief, will be up by Saturday morning at the latest.