Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
May 1, 2007
BASEBALL: 2007 NL Central EWSL Report

The last of six division previews, using Established Win Shares Levels as a jumping-off point. As always, the largest and probably most obscure division, the NL Central, goes last - my apologies for lagging on this one. Until last year the NL Central, a division whose star had fallen badly since the McGwire/Sosa/Bagwell heyday, was the only division not to claim a World Championship under the post-1994 divisional alignment. In fact, the division features two teams that have never won it all, one that is nearly a century into its drought, and two others that entered last year having waited 24 and 27 years for a flag.

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; my AL Central preview is here, AL West is here, NL East here and NL West here.

World Champion St. Louis Cardinals

Raw EWSL: 229 (76 W)
Adjusted: 240 (80 W)
Age-Adj.: 213 (71 W)

C24Yadier Molina1012
1B27Albert Pujols3739
2B31Adam Kennedy1513
SS32David Eckstein1714
3B32Scott Rolen1916
RF32Preston Wilson108
CF37Jim Edmonds2012
LF26Chris Duncan*511
C235Gary Bennett32
INF30Aaron Miles109
OF34Scott Speizio76
1237So Taguchi85
1331Juan Encarnacion1613
SP132Chris Carpenter1812
SP230Kip Wells22
SP325Adam Wainwright*511
SP425Anthony Reyes*24
SP529Braden Looper85
RP134Jason Isringhausen108
RP225Brad Thompson#46
RP331Randy Flores22
RP438Russ Springer43
RP531Randy Keisler10

Also on hand: Ryan Franklin, Skip Shumaker, the rehabbing Mark Mulder, and Tyler Johnson. Josh Hancock, of course, was in the bullpen picture until his fatal auto accident Sunday morning; it seems terribly unfair that the Cardinals organization has to go through this again less than a decade after Darryl Kile's death. Keisler is presently in the rotation due to Carpenter's injury following an unprecedented two straight seasons for Carpenter without serious injury.

There isn't really a ton of precedent for whether a World Championship helps offset a 17-game decline in the standings (22 over two years); the closest parallel that comes to mind is the 1998-2001 Yankees. The Yanks dropped 16 games in the standings in 1999, another 11 in 2000, but still won the Series both years. In 2001 they bounced back from 87 to 95 wins and pushed the World Series to a Game 7. Like this team, those Yankees had a lot of guys in their early 30s but their signature star (Jeter) was 27. The Yankees added one high-end starter to their rotation, Mike Mussina, while these Cardinals have overhauled the whole rotation behind Carpenter but with two youngsters, a retread and a converted reliever. Oh, and both teams had Randy Keisler. The other parallel would be the 1908 Cubs, who won the series after a 17-game decline over two years; they bounced back to win 104 games but finish second in 1909 with essentially the same team, and the pennant in 1910, but have never won it all again.

Injury risks with Carpenter and Rolen are a given, but really the big question marks for this team - creating both the upside and downside are (1) that rest of the rotation, including the talented Wainwright and Reyes; (2) whether Edmonds has one last Jim Edmonds year left and (3) whether Chris Duncan, a born DH, can ever play the outfield respectably enough to keep his bat in the lineup (realistically, the Cards would be better off just dealing him to an AL team to whom he would have more value).

Houston Astros

Raw EWSL: 236 (79 W)
Adjusted: 245 (82 W)
Age-Adj.: 207 (69 W)

C38Brad Ausmus107
1B31Lance Berkman2823
2B41Craig Biggio158
SS30Adam Everett1312
3B31Morgan Ensberg1916
RF29Luke Scott*610
CF27Chris Burke#79
LF31Carlos Lee2219
C227Humberto Quintero11
INF35Mark Loretta1913
OF30Jason Lane98
1231Mike Lamb97
1338Orlando Palmeiro32
SP129Roy Oswalt2017
SP228Jason Jennings1011
SP340Woody Williams77
SP427Chris Sampson*23
SP528Wandy Rodriguez#22
RP130Brad Lidge1110
RP229Dan Wheeler109
RP328Chad Qualls88
RP434Trever Miller43
RP538Rick White32

Jennings and White are presently injured, and Lidge has for the moment at least lost the closer job to Wheeler, though I expect him to reclaim it if he rights himself. Also on hand: Matt Albers (currently in the rotation), Brian Moehler, Dave Borkowski and Hunter Pence, plus the rehabbing Brandon Backe.

The Astros? The Astros. Partly EWSL rates, or overrates, them on depth - the bench is stocked with guys who recently held regular jobs (Loretta, Lane), the pen runs three deep in quality - plus the addition of Carlos Lee. And partly this just isn't that strong a division. Of course, experience tells us that over a long season, depth matters, especially when you have a 41-year-old second baseman and a rookie right fielder.

Jennings is key - he ought to be better in Houston than in Colorado, but the early injury is another sign that pitchers age in dog years in Coors.

Absent a return from Roger Clemens, I can't realistically see this team winning the division, but they should plod along around .500 again.

Milwaukee Brewers

Raw EWSL: 201 (67 W)
Adjusted: 219 (73 W)
Age-Adj.: 206 (69 W)

C31Johnny Estrada1311
1B23Prince Fielder*923
2B24Rickie Weeks#812
SS24JJ Hardy#58
3B36Craig Counsell1410
RF29Kevin Mench1110
CF27Bill Hall1718
LF32Geoff Jenkins1714
C37Damian Miller106
INF35Tony Graffanino118
OF25Corey Hart*36
1227Gabe Gross66
1324Tony Gwynn jr.+14
SP128Ben Sheets1111
SP228Chris Capuano1212
SP332Jeff Suppan128
SP427David Bush99
SP529Claudio Vargas65
RP132Francisco Cordero128
RP229Derrick Turnbow76
RP331Matt Wise54
RP438Brian Shouse32
RP523Carlos Villanueva* 24

Also on hand: Corey Koskie, Laynce Nix and Greg Aquino (all injured; Koskie's future seems doubtful), Elmer Dessens and Chris Spurling, and, looming at AAA, top pitching prospect Yovanni Gallardo, who has a 42-8 K/BB ratio and just 1 HR allowed in 30 innings this season in the hitter-happy PCL after striking out 188 batters while posting a 1.86 ERA last season.

When asked before the season who should be the favorite in the NL Central, I told people, without conviction, the Brewers. Now that April is behind us, the first place team is, without conviction, the Brewers. Sure, they are tied with the Braves for the NL's best record and with the Red Sox for the majors' largest division lead (3.5 games), but they have outscored their opponents just 117-114, for a "Pythagorean" record of 13-12. In other words, they aren't playing like a team that is gonna take the division out behind the garage and teach it a lesson. That said, the hot start by JJ Hardy, who fizzled and got hurt last season after a promising second half in 2005, is most encouraging, and as they have been doing for a few years now the Crew has scrounged up veterans to plug most of their potential holes. What this team is missing is a really big bat in the outfield; I still don't buy Bill Hall as a consistent 30 HR threat or Mench as a serious corner outfielder outside of Texas. Also, as has been true for several years, Milwaukee lacks a reputable fifth starter, although Vargas has gotten off to a good start. Presumably it won't take long for either Vargas or Bush to falter or Sheets to sustain his usual injury and get Gallardo into the rotation.

Chicago Cubs

Raw EWSL: 207 (69 W)
Adjusted: 219 (73 W)
Age-Adj.: 202 (67 W)

C30Michael Barrett1514
1B31Derrek Lee1714
2B32Mark DeRosa97
SS27Cesar Izturis88
3B29Aramis Ramirez2018
RF32Jacque Jones1412
CF31Alfonso Soriano2118
LF34Cliff Floyd1514
C235Henry Blanco64
INF24Ronny Cedeno#35
OF22Felix Pie+04
1227Ryan Theriot*36
1325Matt Murton#812
SP126Carlos Zambrano1818
SP227Rich Hill*35
SP331Ted Lilly108
SP428Jason Marquis78
SP530Wade Miller33
RP130Ryan Dempster87
RP227Neal Cotts44
RP333Bobby Howry96
RP428Michael Wuertz44
RP529Will Ohman#44

Also on hand: Daryle Ward, Scott Eyre, Angel Guzman, and of course the oft-injured Kerry Wood and already-out-for-the-season-again Mark Prior.

Eventually, after two years of significantly underperforming their EWSL, it was inevitable that the Cubs' expectations would drift down to meet their performance. That should end now that I'm no longer listing Prior and Wood anywhere on their depth chart (not that Wade Miller is Mr. Durability). They have shored up some of their weaknesses by importing pricey 30-somethings, but while Soriano will help them for some time (aside from his outrageous price tag), the long-term future around the core of Zambrano and Ramirez is with Hill, Pie, Murton, and Theriot. And Pie is still a raw youngster while the latter two have much to prove to show that they are more than just useful role players.

Win Shares aren't out yet, but Rich Hill is probably closing in already on that 5 Win Shares figure. As I have noted several times, Hill just clicked at the start of last August after getting pounded in 2005 and early 2006, and now looks like a coming frontline starter.

Lee is having an odd year that suggests a guy whose wrist is not quite 100% back but compensating well - he's batting .392 with a staggering 14 doubles in 24 games, but has only gone deep once. The homers will doubtless come, and it's good to see him back.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Raw EWSL: 154 (51 W)
Adjusted: 182 (61 W)
Age-Adj.: 184 (61 W)
Subjective Adj.: 186 (62 W)

C26Ronny Paulino*716
1B27Adam LaRoche1314
2B29Freddy Sanchez#1617
SS29Jack Wilson1513
3B26Jose Bautista*510
RF28Xavier Nady99
CF27Chris Duffy#58
LF28Jason Bay2324
C226Ryan Doumit#34
INF26Jose Castillo89
OF26Brad Eldred+04
1225Nate McLouth12
1328Humberto Cota33
SP124Zach Duke#810
SP225Ian Snell#46
SP324Tom Gorzelanny*23
SP425Paul Maholm#57
SP529Tony Armas32
RP135Salomon Torres106
RP223Matt Capps*47
RP332Damaso Marte53
RP428John Grabow33
RP529Shawn Chacon44

I try to avoid the subjective adjustments with pitchers, who are inherently unstable when projected out to higher innings totals, but Gorzelanny, like Rich Hill, should easily surpass that 3 WS total. I did give a 2-WS subjective bump from 6 to 8 to Duffy to reflect increased playing time. I could have listed Jonah Bayliss or John Wasdin instead of Chacon, but Chacon is a little more estaablished than Bayliss and the Pirates already list a lot of unproven young pitchers.

Pittsburgh has little to be excited about beyond Bay on the offensive side, though an optimist would say that the next few years should be solid ones for LaRoche, Sanchez and Paulino. What we will know a lot better after this season is whether the Pirates have any real gems among their young arms - Duke, Snell and Gorzelanny have all given flashes (even Maholm, in late 05), and all four are 24 or 25, plus Capps is 23 - there ought to turn out to be somebody there with more upside than the last few generations of young Pirate hurlers, which gave us only Jason Schmidt and Denny Neagle as front-line starters (the jury is still out on Oliver Perez), and neither of those guys originally came out of their system. You'd like to see someone here better than the Kris Bensons and Kip Wellses of the world. Certainly the Pirates' fans deserve better.

Cincinnati Reds

Raw EWSL: 191 (64 W)
Adjusted: 201 (67 W)
Age-Adj.: 180 (60 W)

C30Dave Ross87
1B37Scott Hatteberg138
2B26Brandon Phillips78
SS30Alex Gonzalez1211
3B24Edwin Encarnacion#813
RF37Ken Griffey148
CF31Ryan Freel1210
LF27Adam Dunn2324
C231Javier Valentin65
INF41Jeff Conine116
OF26Josh Hamilton+04
1235Juan Castro64
1328Norris Hopper+14
SP129Aaron Harang1312
SP230Bronson Arroyo1513
SP328Kyle Lohse67
SP431Eric Milton54
SP527Matt Belisle#33
RP137David Weathers98
RP226Todd Coffey#67
RP340Mike Stanton66
RP428Kirk Saarloos67
RP530Victor Santos22

Others on hand include Chad Moeller, Rheal Cormier, Bill Bray, Joe Coutlangus, the injured Eddie Guardado and Gary Majewski, and AAA flamethrower Homer Bailey, who like Gallardo is pitching well and likely to arrive this season.

The Reds, as so often has been true in recent years, seem less than the sum of their parts. Some of that is lack of pitching depth (though Harang and Arroyo are the best 1-2 punch they have had since the days of Jose Rijo). Some is that the parts are less than they seem - guys who are no longer the stars they were (Griffey), guys who are stuck in reverse (Dunn) or have never lived up to promise (Milton) or have yet to prove they can do it twice (Phillips, Encarnacion, Ross). They don't look like an awful team, though probably between Cincy, the Cubs, the Astros and the Pirates somebody will run off the rails.

You know, the first time I saw the name "Norris Hopper," before I knew anything else about him - position, skills, track record - I thought "speedy outfielder." Some guys really are exactly who they sound like.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:10 PM | Baseball 2007 • | Baseball Studies | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
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