Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
March 21, 2007
BASEBALL: 2007 AL Central EWSL Report

The second of six division previews, using Established Win Shares Levels as a jumping-off point. 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. Further disclaimers and explanations are in my AL East preview here.

Detroit Tigers

Raw EWSL: 250 (83 W)
Adjusted: 267 (89 W)
Age-Adj.: 246 (82 W)

C35Ivan Rodriguez1913
1B32Sean Casey1412
2B31Placido Polanco1715
SS31Carlos Guillen1916
3B30Brandon Inge1615
RF33Magglio Ordonez1412
CF26Curtis Granderson#1216
LF30Craig Monroe1312
DH38Gary Sheffield1813
C234Vance Wilson44
INF27Chris Shelton#811
OF30Marcus Thames76
1325Omar Infante79
SP124Jeremy Bonderman1111
SP223Justin Verlander*816
SP342Kenny Rogers1413
SP429Nate Robertson119
SP529Mike Maroth76
RP139Todd Jones119
RP222Joel Zumaya*615
RP330Fernando Rodney65
RP441Jose Mesa66
RP530Jason Grilli22

The Tigers feel like last year's fashion, and inevitably a few things will go wrong that didn't last time around; Pudge and Rogers are old, Guillen may be off a little from last year, the team's general lack of plate patience and lack of a true leadoff hitter could bite. But this is still and up-and-down solid team with some real depth (players not shown here include Zach Miner and Brent Clevlen), the addition of Sheffield should help the offense, and the power trio of Bonderman, Verlander and Zumaya are a very stable foundation for the present as well as the future, especially if Zumaya can be moved into the rotation at some point. Bonderman in particular has yet to really put up the kind of ERAs that his K/BB numbers suggest he has in him.

I would imagine that Casey will be sent packing once Shelton gets back on track; certainly the Shelton of 2005 is superior to anything Casey is likely to produce at this point. Which is not to say Casey's acquisition was a bad idea, given the Tigers' needs at the time, but when you take into consideration the double plays, he's really only been a productive hitter once in the past five years.

Cleveland Indians

Raw EWSL: 214 (71 W)
Adjusted: 234 (78 W)
Age-Adj.: 240 (80 W)

C28Victor Martinez2021
1B26Ryan Garko*37
2B24Josh Barfield*923
SS25Jhonny Peralta1620
3B23Andy Marte*26
RF33Trot Nixon119
CF24Grady Sizemore2126
LF33David Dellucci119
DH30Travis Hafner2422
C227Kelly Shoppach*23
INF27Hector Luna77
OF33Casey Blake1110
1331Jason Michaels109
SP126CC Sabathia1414
SP228Cliff Lee1111
SP329Jake Westbrook1210
SP424Josh Sowers*47
SP536Paul Byrd97
RP136Joe Borowski54
RP442Roberto Hernandez66
RP332Rafael Betancourt64
RP425Fernando Cabrera#23
RP526Tom Mastny*11

It seems ridiculous to list Mastny as a second-year player with just 16.1 innings of big-league experience, but the man had 7 save opportunities in the major leagues last season (he was second on the Indians in saves), so he really isn't a true rookie. Josh Barfield is probably overprojected here for the same reasons I discussed regarding Melky Cabrera in the Yankees comment, but that is offset by the fact that the EWSL figures for Garko and Marte are lowballed by their half-seasons of experience last year, so I left them all as is.

As you probably know, the Indians underperformed their "Pythagorean" record by a whopping 11 games last year, so they ought to improve just standing still. Of course, it was the bullpen that did them in most of all last year, and while the new pen looks to be a little better, it hardly inspires confidence. If there had been the kind of relievers on the market this offseason that there were entering 2006, you have to figure the Indians would have laid out some serious cash - the Indians were a better team than the Blue Jays last year, by runs scored and allowed, but won 9 fewer games. You do the math and tell me if the money Toronto spent on BJ Ryan would have been a worthwhile investment for the Tribe.

This is probably the year that this officially becomes Grady Sizemore's team, assuming he stays as indestructible as in past seasons. Cliff Lee has been ailing this spring, but if Cleveland's Big Three can stay healthy they should have the starting pitching to run with the AL Central elite. Probably the two most important guys on the team are Peralta, who is still young and needs to show us whether 2005 or 2006 or somewhere in between is his real level of ability, and Sabathia, who seems perenially due for a breakout year if he is healthy. And, of course, the more games they can stand Victor Martinez' defense behind the plate, the better.

One thing I've noticed in recent years is the decline of platooning, driven both by the ability of managers to neutralize platoons by going righty/lefty/righty from their bullpens ever earlier in the game, and by the need to carry fewer non-pitchers to make room for those overpopulated bullpens. The Blue Jays, though - always an organization on the forefront of platooning - used outfield platoons to great effect last year, and the Indians seem set to do the same, with Nixon/Blake and Dellucci/Michaels platoons in the corners. Shin-Soo Choo is also a fine hitter, and may yet surpass the struggling Hee Seop Choi as the best position player to come from Korea. That depth should be more generally helpful and may put their offense over the top.

Minnesota Twins

Raw EWSL: 222 (74 W)
Adjusted: 230 (77 W)
Age-Adj.: 223 (74 W)
Subjective Adj.: 234 (78 W)

C24Joe Mauer2329
1B26Justin Morneau1719
2B31Luis Castillo1916
SS27Jason Bartlett#911
3B29Nick Punto98
RF28Michael Cuddyer1516
CF31Torii Hunter1512
LF35Rondell White64
DH25Jason Kubel*11
C236Mike Redmond65
INF37Jeff Cirillo64
OF30Lew Ford98
1330Jason Tyner44
SP128Johan Santana2425
SP226Boof Bonser*36
SP328Carlos Silva88
SP434Ramon Ortiz43
SP523Matt Garza*11
RP132Joe Nathan1813
RP225Jesse Crain89
RP328Juan Rincon910
RP426Pat Neshek*36
RP530Dennys Reyes65

Note that the Twins' numbers may be artificially depressed a bit here for two reasons - Jason Kubel isn't going to produce just one Win Share as the everyday DH, and they actually have two other non-pitchers (Matt LeCroy and Phil Nevin), one or both of whom may make the team, with better EWSL numbers than Kubel and Tyner. Accordingly, I'm using the subjective-adjustment override to up Kubel to 8 WS to reflect that combination of factors, which also has the advantage of breaking the EWSL tie between the Twins and White Sox. I'm similarly using the adjustment to pop Garza up to 5 WS to at least equal what he would project at if he came into 2007 as a pure rookie.

The Twins are a classic "tweener" team - they have the bats to be a winner behind solid pitching, but not to carry a bad rotation even with a good bullpen. Yet, after Santana the rotation is two uncertain youngsters (Bonser and Garza, the latter with only about 200 innings in pro ball under his belt), and two veterans who have fallen long and hard from not being that great in the first place and are only a hope and prayer to be adequate. At least their lineup isn't starting in a self-inflicted hole the way they did last year, but unless they can come up with better starters (giving Scott Baker a shot over Ortiz would be a step in the right direction that they are still considering, but Baker's no more reliable than the other young guys), I can't see them repeating as a 90-win team without Francisco Liriano.

Chicago White Sox

Raw EWSL: 239 (80 W)
Adjusted: 249 (83 W)
Age-Adj.: 223 (74 W)

C30AJ Pierzynski1312
1B31Paul Konerko2218
2B32Tadahito Iguchi#1616
SS27Juan Uribe1415
3B29Joe Crede1615
RF33Jermaine Dye2018
CF25Brian Anderson*36
LF31Scott Podsednik119
DH36Jim Thome1813
C231Toby Hall76
INF28Alex Cintron77
OF33Darin Erstad87
1331Rob Mackowiak108
SP128Mark Buehrle1516
SP235Jose Contreras138
SP327Jon Garland1615
SP430Javier Vazquez119
SP524Gavin Floyd00
RP126Bobby Jenks#810
RP230Mike MacDougal54
RP330Matt Thornton44
RP424Andy Sisco#22
RP525David Aardsma*25

The White Sox probably need to stop coasting on 2005 and get Podsednik out of the lineup if he can't keep his OBP above .350 and his stolen base percentage above 70%; he just doesn't bring anything else to the table.

Chicago has another deep bench, and will undoubtedly use it if Anderson can't win back Ozzie Guillen's confidence.

Floyd is a major crapshoot - with him, Jenks, MacDougal, and Sisco around, White Sox fans will get plenty of heartburn. It would not surprise me, if Floyd doesn't pan out, to see Sisco get a run in the rotation. He's still a major talent despite last year's not-entirely-shocking setbacks.

Kansas City Royals

Raw EWSL: 145 (48 W)
Adjusted: 168 (56 W)
Age-Adj.: 156 (52 W)
Subjective Adj.: 159

C26John Buck89
1B27Ryan Shealy*46
2B37Mark Grudzielanek149
SS29Angel Berroa87
3B23Alex Gordon+011
RF24Mark Teahen#1218
CF27David DeJesus1415
LF32Emil Brown1311
DH33Mike Sweeney109
C233Jason LaRue119
INF29Esteban German*610
OF39Reggie Sanders97
1331Ross Gload33
SP128Gil Meche77
SP230Odalis Perez44
SP330Luke Hudson43
SP426Brian Bannister*23
SP523Zack Grienke33
RP133Octavio Dotel32
RP230David Riske54
RP326Jorge De La Rosa22
RP428Todd Wellemeyer22
RP531Joel Peralta#33

On the subjective adjustments, I topped up Ryan Shealy from 6 to 9 WS to reflect a conservative estimate of his value with increased playing time. I considered doing the same for Brian Bannister, but it's better practice not to make assumptions about any pitcher's ability to pitch more than he did last year. They would pick up a Win Share or three if you spotted in Joey Gathright in place of Gload.

Amazingly, EWSL rates the Royals even lower than it did last season, when I was certain that they would lose at least 110 games (they lost 100). In part that's because this team is even younger and its veterans even further removed from their primes, neither of which is really bad news for the franchise, but both of which provide a caution that the revival of long-term optimism that has bloomed lately in KC may not yet be matched by anything tangible on the field.

Mike Sweeney is only 33? He seems a lot older. He's a good guy and a hometown favorite, but it's probably near time to plan for a future without him. As for John Buck, he's only 25 and I still think he has a chance to turn into a decent hitter (he'll need a mite more plate discipline), but I take LaRue's arrival as a sign that the Royals are not unlimited in their patience with Buck. Then there's Angel Berroa, who just sucks the life out of this team on both sides of the ball. Get as excited as you want about Gordon and Teahen, but the Royals aren't getting out of the cellar as long as Berroa is the everyday shortstop.

That said, I do think the Royals will be improved this season - they're much like the Devil Rays (albeit behind them on the curve), developing a bunch of talented young position players under the guidance of a new GM, but without any basis beyond hope and prayer to think they are making progress towards fixing their abysmal track record with pitchers. They probably need to reach into the farm system and bring up people not listed here to get to 70 wins - Billy Butler, for one, and maybe Justin Huber.

Check out prior years' AL Central reports for 2004, 2005, and 2006.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:05 PM | Baseball 2007 • | Baseball Studies | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Crank, I agree with much of what you say here. This is the division I watch most closely. I can say without reservation that the Royals will suprise you this season. Here is the basis of my point, last season the starting pitching was horrible to start the season and the bullpen was worse. None of the rotation that started the season is even on the roster this year. That is good. Do they have a legitimate number one starter, NO, but they are much better than what started the season last year. As for the pen, they blew 38 saves last year thanks mainly to your new boy Burgos the walking gas can. If they had converted only 25 of those saves, still a horrible percentage, they would have won 87 games. The addition of Dotel, provided he is as healthy as he seems, insures there will not be 38 blown saves. Will they win the division, I doubt it, but they will be much better as long as the injury bug stays away.

As for the rest of the division, going into last year did anyone really think the Tigers were going to the series? Me either. They had one of those dream season where everything went right. No major injuries, the kids stepped up and some vets put up big numbers. That rarely happens twice in a row. The flaws will show up this year. The Tigers were fadding fast at the end of the year. They were swept by the Royals in the final series of the year and almost missed winning the division. That being said, if they have addressed their bullpen needs ( and I don't think they have) the Indians will be the class of the division this year. The Twins have good hitting, but their pitching after Santana and Nathan is suspect. Also, the Hunter saga will drag on them. The White Sox are not special, they have a lot of holes.

This is a difficult division the handicap. If the Indians have addressed their bullpen, it will not be a close race. They will win 90+ games. The names I see in that bullpen do not impress me as a group. If I am right, 85 games may win the division and if that is the case all five teams have a chance. The reason I say five is when young players get a sniff of winning anything can happen. It will be fun to watch this division this year. It may still be the best division top to bottom, but the records may not reflect it this year.

Posted by: maddirishman at March 22, 2007 9:53 AM
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