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)
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).
Raw EWSL: 236 (79 W)
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.
Raw EWSL: 201 (67 W)
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.
Raw EWSL: 207 (69 W)
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.
Raw EWSL: 154 (51 W)
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.
Raw EWSL: 191 (64 W)
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)