March 19, 2007
BASEBALL: 2007 AL East EWSL Report
The AL East is yet again the first stop in my annual division-by-division roundups, powered by Established Win Shares Levels (EWSL is explained here, and you should read that link before commenting on the method; 2007 revisions to the age adjustment discussed here and rookie adjustments here). Bear in mind as always that (1) EWSL is a record of past performance, adjusted by age to give an assessment of the available talent on hand; it is not an individualized projection system; (2) individual EWSL are rounded off but team totals are compiled from the unrounded figures; and (3) as demonstrated here and here in some detail, nearly all teams will win more games than their EWSL total because I'm only rating 23 players per team (I'm not convinced going to 24 or 25 would make the system more useful, since it would tend to overrate teams that stuff their back bench slots with aging ex-regulars). As always, the depth charts here are drawn from a number of sources and modified to list the guys who will do the work (e.g., if there are two guys battling for a fifth starter spot I'll often list one of them with the relievers if I think they'll both end up pitching), but I take responsibility for any errors. It's still a fluid time for rosters.
The Hated Yankees
Raw EWSL: 279 (93 W)
Adjusted: 295 (98 W)
Age-Adj.: 270 (90 W)
Subjective Adj: 256 (85 W)
|POS||Age||PLAYER||Raw EWSL||Age Adj|
There is, sadly, a difference between doing baseball statistical studies professionally and doing them in your spare time, and one of them is that when you discover a methodological problem that should send you back to the drawing board, it's too late to change. EWSL more than doubles the Win Shares for a 22-year-old non-pitcher, based upon my experience with 15 such players over the past three seasons. Unfortunately, most of those 15 were guys who were working their way up to a full season of playing time; when the age adjustment is applied to a guy who played regularly for one season at age 21, it has a serious risk of over-projecting improvement. We will see this especially graphically when we get to the NL East.
Here, EWSL values Melky Cabrera as the best player in the AL East. Urk. It's true that Melky's ability to post a .360 OBP, have a nearly 1-to-1 BB/K ratio, and crack 26 doubles in 524 plate appearances at age 21 are all suggestive of a high-quality player who should take impressive strides forward this season. But there is simply very little chance that he will play regularly this year, let alone play a lot more than he did in 2006, and so for the first time (other than a 50% haircut I applied in 2005 to the injured Barry Bonds) I'm applying the Band-Aid solution of using subjective adjustments where appropriate to bring particular teams into line with what should be their reasonable expectations (you can still see and compare the purely objective ratings if you prefer them - I'll flag the players being adjusted with italics). Here, what I'm doing is shaving Melky down to 15 EWSL - still high for a bench player, but he's backing up three or four 33-year-olds (depending whether you think Giambi can slot in at first in a pinch) and a 36-year-old, so he should still get close to 400 PA. (Josh Phelps and Todd Pratt should take the remaining roster spots).
As for the team as a whole, the Hated Yankees' status as favorites may seem as fixed as one of Newton's Laws, but eventually we will find out whether they need to take some lumps like mortals when they can no longer rely on Jeter, Rivera and Posada as their anchors; we'll be asking those questions soon about the latter two. This is an old team - it's been an old team for years and has been shedding the oldest guys only gradually, and (as in the case of Gary Sheffield) replacing them with players who are likewise past 32. We saw last season what risks that carries even when you invest in players with previously bulletproof health records.
That is this team's only major weakness, though there are a number of smaller ones - Pavano's health, some questions about the bullpen and the bench beyond Melky, Minky's bat (although he'll be useful if he's platooned and hits like he did in 2006) - and there are young pitchers on the way, led by super-prospect Philip Hughes. Even with Cano sliding back a bit in his batting average and Jeter likely to return to his usual self, this team will score loads of runs and should have adequate starting pitching to take the AL East.
Boston Red Sox
Raw EWSL: 245 (82 W)
Adjusted: 263 (88 W)
Age-Adj.: 235 (78 W)
Subjective Adj: 240 (80 W)
|POS||Age||PLAYER||Raw EWSL||Age Adj|
|OF||25||Wily Mo Pena||9||11|
I've adjusted Matsuzaka, as a very high-quality foreign entry, up to 10 EWSL from the usual 5 for rookie starting pitchers. Valuing Matsuzaka at 10 and Kei Igawa at 5 may still be conservative, but you can rarely go wrong being conservative with rookie starting pitchers, whatever their pedigree, and especially in the American League.
The BoSox have two things going for them as against the Yankees. On the one hand, they have more upside from their established performance levels - any of their front four starters could be outstanding, with their ace, Schilling, perhaps having the lowest odds of a big leap forward (a lot has happened to him since 2004). JD Drew could always be healthy and rip off a "Lynn in 79" season. Piniero could turn his value around, freed of the workload of a starting pitcher. Crisp could have a huge year at age 27 after last season's regression.
On the other hand, the Sox have more depth, at least in the lineup, to withstand injury; Cora, Hinske and Pena give them more credible alternatives than the Yankees, who can only play Melky at one position at a time. Bullpen options besides those shown here include Craig Hansen and JC Romero (I still wouldn't bet against Hansen ending up the closer by mid-season; Piniero hasn't impressed this spring). Backups in the rotation are more questionable, as one wouldn't want to bank on Matt Clement or Jon Lester being ready to go any time in 2007, and that leaves us last year's collection of failed emergency options.
Overall, though, the Sawx are most likely competing for the Wild Card. The rotation could unravel due to health issues; Father Time could finally make some inroads on Manny at age 35, immaturity not being a defense to aging. Even if neither of those things happens, they don't have the guns to run with the Yankees unless the Yankees really get the aging bug badly or the Sox' rotation steps up in a big way.
Toronto Blue Jays
Raw EWSL: 217 (72 W)
Adjusted: 225 (75 W)
Age-Adj.: 209 (70 W)
|POS||Age||PLAYER||Raw EWSL||Age Adj|
I don't recall if Bill James ever formally listed the signs of a bad organization, but you would think that employing Royce Clayton as an everyday player (at age 37!) would qualify. JP Ricciardi is a smart guy, but if there's a method to that particular madness it eludes me.
Lind was sent down to AAA on Saturday, but I still expect him to play a big role in the outfield, as he's a serious hitter. Remaining roster slots should go to John McDonald, John Hattig and Jason Smith, or possibly Sal Fasano. Several experienced starting pitchers are on hand as additional options, including Josh Towers, Jon Thomson and Victor Zambrano, plus a bunch of the young arms who got exposure last season. I expect League to contribute more than EWSL suggests, and he could well be preferred over Frasor as a primary setup man.
The Jays, like the Sox, could exceed reasonable expectations if their starting pitching stays healthy and steps forward, but even if that happens and Frank Thomas is healthy, these guys will be hard pressed to match last season's 87 wins.
Raw EWSL: 214 (71 W)
Adjusted: 225 (75 W)
Age-Adj.: 204 (68 W)
|POS||Age||PLAYER||Raw EWSL||Age Adj|
Nick Markakis, by the way, is precisely the kind of player EWSL's sharp upward slope for very young regulars is based on - he was in and out of the lineup in the first half last season due to his mediocre performance, but picked up his power stroke in the second half, and anyone who saw him play after the All-Star Break expects significanly better full-season numbers from him in 2007. By contrast, Corey Patterson's EWSL hasn't changed a whit from last year, as he is basically topping out.
The Orioles' lineup is wall-to-wall adequate, but Tejada and perhaps Markakis are the only star-level contributors, and Tejada may yet break Jim Rice's single-season GIDP record. And the starting rotation, even with Bedard progressing nicely and the talented Loewen not far behind, is basically a burnt offering to Leo Mazzone. The Orioles will perform respectably for a fourth-place team, but have little to recommend them as anything more.
Tampa Bay Devil Rays
Raw EWSL: 108 (36 W)
Adjusted: 147 (49 W)
Age-Adj.: 159 (53 W)
Subjective Adj: 164 (55 W)
|POS||Age||PLAYER||Raw EWSL||Age Adj|
There's a saying about Brazil that it's the country of the future and always will be . . . so it seems with Tampa, which has done a fine job scouting talented youngsters (at least non-pitchers) but never seems to yield much in the win column.
This team should not be as terrible as its EWSL profile suggests, even with a subjective adjustment of Ben Zobrist from 2 to 7 EWSL to account for the fact that he has a steady job. The profile of Tampa's lineup looks a lot like last year's Marlins, no track record but a fair amount of talent. Of course, your guess for the Dan Uggla in this picture is as good as mine, and I don't see a Josh Johnson even if Kazmir plays Dontrelle...basically, the Rays should score a decent number of runs, especially if Upton slots in somewhere as a regular and shakes off 2006's apathetic performance with the bat, but there are too many question marks, too little patience and power here to make a really to-flight offense even if everything goes right, and too few credible major league pitchers (even trying the control-challenged McClung as a closer is a sign of desperation) to project them at much more than 75 wins as a best-case scenario.
You can compare the prior AL East roundups for 2004 here, 2005 here and 2006 here.
Honestly I never know what to make of stuff like this. I think pretty much anyone with baseball savvy would say this is the likely order of the AL East. Numbers that tell you an average to below average CF like Johnny Damon has the same WS value as Manny Ramirez are just not correct. Manny will have twice as many HRs, 50-70 more RBIs, a higher OBP, a significantly higher OPS and he is actually less of a defensive liability than Damon as he plays 70+ games/year in the smallest leftfield in baseball, he knows how to play the Wall and he has a good and accurate arm. Damon gets terrible jumps on balls and tons of stuff falls in front of him and in the cavernous Yankee Stadium that combined with his 13 year-old-girl-like arm leads to hits and runs.
I know all the stuff that goes into these numbers and I get them intellectually but there is no way on earth you can tell me that a worse (but still very good) hitter and a, by position, worse fielder is somehow worth as many win shares. No way. That is just an example of why stuff like this strikes me as no more or less valuable than any other type of projections.
Toronto - or somebody - just has to find a spot for Adam Lind. Sure, he's ordinary defensively and can't run much (okay, at all); but that's meaningless really for someone with that bat speed.
A solid .320 w/40+ homers are in his not so distant future. If he can get in the lineup.
Well, Jim, you may or may not get them 'intellectually', but I don't think you understand the basic truth behind these statistics. Someone coming off an unusally good year at Manny's age is simply likely to decline more than someone Johnny Damon's age, and these stats quantify that in a way that your gut instincts can't. I think you find it hard not to see them both play roughly as well the way they played last year. I guess we'll have to see them play it out to know.
Jim, if you want to tell me Manny is better, I agree. EWSL agrees too, before you apply the age adjustment (Manny wins 29-23). But Manny's 35. History tells us that 35-year-old hitters have a strong tendency to take a dive. If Manny is the same old Manny, yes, he will still be better.
Wow, Manny'll turn 35 in May. Somehow he's always been about 28 in my eyes.
He's been slowly sliding for a while, but I don't see him falling off a cliff. Despite his rep, the dude keeps himself in great shape. I'd be worried more about a 98 game season than a 275/350/450 season. The latter seems impossible; the former could happen.
I think we will see Manny really become a Fenway hitter now. At his peak, it didn't matter where he would bat; he's a selective hitter, which older hitters generally become (flaky, but at the plate, not flaky at all), but as you age, the hitters' parks tend to magnify what you can do. Good chance then, he will still walk a lot, and probably his average will stay high, letting the idiot reporters who don't know anything to figure Manny is still the same as he was 5 years ago. But outside of Fenway, his production will likely slip.
I no longer trust anything that Crank says after he refused to concede that Melky Cabrera is the best player in the AL East.
OK, I did not mean to turn this into a Manny thing but so much stuff gets posted about him that is just flat wrong.
The last 2 years these are Manny's splits home vs. away:
Home 05: .288/.581/.409
Home 06: .280/.573/.363
Away 05: .355/.659/.469
Away 06: .307/.618/.416
He is also over the past 2 years a better 2nd half hitter than a first half hitter. He is one of the top 3-5 hitters in all of baseball still. His past 2 years of production are the 4th and 7th, from a statistical point of view, in a storied 13 year career. He has also had a largely injury free career and plays a relatively untaxing position (and plays it in a way that is perhaps not super-strenuous).
My point is that there has been no slippage at all from this guy. There has been little if anything to indicate that this guy will not post .300/.590/.410 with 40 and 120 this year. Damon is not the player Manny is and I would say his injuries and the nature of his play make him, in effect, an "older" player than Manny. These numbers (the WS) essenitally say you could have either one and net the same benefit. I just don't see that from their play on the field. I am not denying guys get older and productivity drops. I just don't buy that the best right-handed hitter in baseball is all of a sudden going to be an average/above-average guy.
I root for the team that, more than any other, has taken this stuff to a GM level artform. I think the projections this offers are useful but inherently contrived (such as Melky Cabrera being the best player in the AL East-even if he got 650 ABs he wouldn't be and anyone with any sense knows that).
I think the reason it sort of became a Manny discussion is the reason it would have been a Mantle or Ted one. Manny is among the greatest hitters we've seen in a long time. Superstars are always magnets of discussion. Many is flaky; Jeter is overrated, ARod is too sensitive. How come we don't have many Homer Bush discussions.
They are magnets to such talk. If we had to talk about Tom Paciorek, we wouldn't bother.
Manny's production from 2003-2006 was not as good as 1999-2002. He played more games in the latter period, which is unusual, but didn't hit as well as the earlier stretch. Still hit great, but not all-time super great.
Plus, his production declined from '03 to '04 and from '04 to '05, though he did bring it up a bit last year.
Like Daryl, let me say, I LOVE MANNY. One of my favorite players of all time. I'm not criticizing him. But he's getting older, and it's less likely that he'll continue to stay at the same level of production and continue to play every day.
Can he? Sure. Will he? Probably not. Baseball analysis & prediction is all about the odds. Sometimes the odds fail: see 2006 NLCS.
Love you on this site but once again this is a case of only looking at stats and not seeing the game on the field. Yes, Manny was not as productive from a purely stats perspective. It does not take into consideration that from '03-'06 he had the best RBI guy in baseball hitting in front of him. Factually, he was coming to the plate less times with Damon on second than with Big Papi on second.
Is he as good as he was from 1999-2002? No. He was inhuman then, but then again a lot of baseball stats from that period are odd (and I am not saying Manny did steroids because there is no way he did, but pitching was thinner then, etc.). When he was 25 (his most average year of his career) would this have projected him to drive in 557 runs in the next 4 years and post the other numbers he did? Likely, no.
My point is that he is more likely to be a major offensive threat and one of the top-5 hitters in baseball this year than he is to being an average fielding, decent hitting lead-off CF. Anything that tells me that Melky Cabrera, given the ABs in 2007, is nearly a 50% better contributor to a baseball team than Manny Ramirez has fundamental flaws in it IMHO. Don't even get me started on A-Rod and the flaws with pure statistical analysis.
It's not hard to look at Manny and see him playing 110 games. If that happens, it's certainly not hard to imagine Damon having greater value.
Ok , why would Manny only play 110 games? In 2002 he broke a finger sliding into home and lost a bunch of games. Last year he missed about 15 due to a "hamstring and/or knee" and then another 15 he may or may not have just cashed out at the end of the year. He has never had any serious injury, he has never really had nagging injuries, he does not play a particularly stressful position, he sure as s*** is not running into any wall, he does not run out every grounder or pop up and despite what people think he works out hard and is always in great shape. He is a young 35. I'll take bets on a 110 over/under if anyone is willing to go on that.
To beat a dead horse a little more there are guys such as Ellis Burks, Darrell Evans, Edgar Martinez, Paul Molitor, Andres Galaraga, even Dave Winfield who had some of the best years of their careers between 35-40. I would consider Manny as good or better a hitter than all those guys and he has not been plagued by injuries the way some of those guys had. I would suspect that he is a guy that will still be massively productive into his late 30s. Again I realize this is atypical but my point is not so much about Manny as it is about watching a 40 year old Darrel Evans go .257/.501/.379 with 34 and 99 in over 600 PAs (with the 4th highest OPS+ of his 19 year career) and knowing that given all sorts of formulas that that happenstance would not be predicted. I get it, it's a guide that relies on typicity but those type of projections fail to meet the test of what actually happens on a baseball diamond.