Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
February 9, 2004
BASEBALL: AL East Established Win Shares Level Report
Time to continue my division-by-division look at team rosters by Established Win Shares Levels. EWSLs are explained in my post raking the top 25 players in baseball by EWSL, and the team-by-team method is explained in the post on the AL West. One small change in the methodology: I downgraded rookie starting pitchers from 7 Win Shares to 5, given that rookie pitchers often struggle and given how many pitchers with a track record have less than 7 EWSL. As I and others have noted before, EWSL isn't a perfect tool for evaluating team rosters, and I'll note some of the flaws in the system as I go on; just bear in mind that what it measures is how much established major league talent is on each roster. EWSL can't and doesn't predict future progress; it just gives a sober assessment of what each player has proven in the last three seasons. A quick reminder on notations, for those of you who read the prior posts: players marked # are evaluated on their last 2 seasons rather than last 3; players marked * are evaluated only on 2003; and players marked + are rookies assigned an arbitrary WS total. On to the AL East . . .
New York Yankees
Adjusted EWSL: 319 (106 wins)
EWSL confirms something I've suspected but that a lot of the hand-wringing in New York this offseason has obscured: even with the back of the rotation in uncertain hands, a gaping hole at third base after the Aaron Boone injury, a porous infield defense (which will only be moreso if Mike Lamb wins the job) and an aging outfield, the Hated Yankees are loaded for bear. (And recall that Team EWSL generally understates slightly the number of wins a team can roll up, largely because I'm only rating 23 players rather than the 30-40 who appear for any team in a given season). Of course, the likely further decline of many Yankees due to the advanced age of the roster isn't factored into these numbers -- you can see that their weighted average team age is even older than the Mariners, about whom I expressed concern last time around. On the other hand, Lieber, and Contreras are pretty good bets to cough up a good deal more than 11 Win Shares this season, if they can stay healthy; the same goes for Kevin Brown.
Boston Red Sox
Adjusted EWSL: 307.3 (102 wins)
That's not a misprint; I didn't apply any adjustments to the Red Sox total because every single player out of the 23 listed here had a major league track record going back three years. The age of the Red Sox is well-distributed; only five players are older than 33, and two of those are middle relievers and a third is a knuckleballer who should be immune to the ravages of age. The Sox may be slightly overrated here due to two biases of the system: they have multiple pitchers who have been closers in the past three years (the Win Shares system gives extra credit for saves), and they have bench players who played everyday recently, who can't replicate those levels of contribution coming off the bench (the same would go if I listed Brian Daubach and Tony Womack here, although I'm not sure that there will be room for Daubach after the signing of Ellis Burks).
Toronto Blue Jays
Adjusted EWSL: 216.9 (72 wins)
Just because the people running the Blue Jays know what they're doing doesn't necessarily mean they'll be any good. EWSL says that on the basis of established talent, these guys should finish third -- thirty games behind the second place Red Sox. Still, this team is developing an air of late-90s Oakland A's about it: the lineup is stacked with prime-age players who play for peanuts because they haven't fully established themselves at the major league level yet. Even bearing in mind the mild downward bias of Team EWSL, they should clear 72 wins comfortably, particularly if Josh Phelps is healthy and they get progress from Ted Lilly and Josh Towers . . . I was surprised to learn that Miguel Batista is 33 already. Also, Kevin Cash is the only player I've evaluated so far who has an established track record of zero Win Shares; since he didn't earn a Win Share last season in over 100 at bats, it wasn't worth adjusting him. Ugh.
Adjusted EWSL: 202.8 (68 wins)
The AL East is like a medieval feudal society, where the rigid heirarchy is unchanging from year to year; the division's five teams have now finished in the same order for six consecutive seasons since the Devil Rays entered the league in 1998. This year's return to big spending by the Orioles was intended to overturn the Musick of the Spheres in this division, but it says here that they've still got a ways to go, and new additions Javy Lopez and Rafael Palmeiro are no spring chickens. Like the Blue Jays, this is still a relatively young lineup but with few genuinely young players (i.e., 25 and under), although there's more youth on the pitching staff than there is in Toronto.
Tampa Bay Devil Rays
Adjusted EWSL: 187.7 (63 wins)
Aubrey Huff scored 91 runs last season. After a decade of high-scoring seasons around the major leagues, this is hardly newsworthy. Except this one thing: no Devil Rays player had ever scored 90 runs in a season before (Huff also became just the third D-Ray to drive in 100 runs or bat .300 in a season, and the fourth to slug .500, while Rocco Baldelli's 89 runs scored also exceeded the prior team record of 87 shared by Gerald Williams and Randy Winn). Then there's the team's pitching leaders; Rolando Arrojo in 1998 is the only D-Ray ever to have an ERA below 4.00 or win more than 12 games, and one of just two to throw 200 innings, strike out 150 or have a winning record. On the plus side, Victor Zambrano's 12-10 season last year eclipsed Arrojo's team record for single-season winning percentage . . . all this is a roundabout way of saying that Tampa Bay has not only never won anything (88 games is the longest stretch that the franchise has ever played .500 ball), they've never even had star seasons from individual players. Baldelli and, possibly, Carl Crawford -- both young 'uns at 22, are the best hope for changing that, but neither is close to maturity yet, as their combined 56 walks and 230 whiffs attest, and the emergence of a respectable starting rotation seems as distant as ever.
(There are other guys with a major league track record hanging around Tampa - Fernando Tatis, Eduardo Perez, Mich Meluskey - but they wouldn't change the numbers much).