Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
March 12, 2008
BASEBALL: 2008 AL Central EWSL Report
This year, I'm starting my preseason previews with the AL Central; this is the first of six division previews, using Established Win Shares Levels as a jumping-off point.
For those of you who are unfamiliar, EWSL is explained here, and you should read that link before commenting on the method; 2008 revisions to the age adjustment are discussed here, rookie adjustments here, and subjective adjustments for players with less than three seasons' track record are discussed here.
Bear in mind as always that (1) EWSL is a record of past performance, adjusted by age to give a probabalistic assessment of the available talent on hand; it is not an individualized projection system - EWSL tells you what you should reasonably expect to happen this year if there are no surprises, rather than shedding light on how to spot the surprises before they happen; (2) individual EWSL are rounded off but team totals are compiled from the unrounded figures; and (3) as demonstrated here, 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). That said, I also don't adjust for available playing time, since as a general rule, teams that have excess depth of players with established track records are better off than those that are stretching to cover their whole roster with guys who have proven they can do the job.
As always, the depth charts here are drawn from multiple sources (my starting points are the depth charts at Baseball Prospectus.com and RotoTimes, modified by press reports and my own assessments) 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.
Key: + (Rookie) * (Based on one season) # (Based on two seasons)
Raw EWSL: 279.33 (93 W)
Subjective Adjustments: None.
Also on Hand: Position players - Vance Wilson (who is supposed to be the backup catcher but is slow coming back from Tommy John surgery), Brent Clevlen, the speedy Freddy Guzman, Timo Perez (who caught that old lightning in a bottle for a few weeks last fall), and Mike Hessman (who has excellent minor league power numbers, but he should, as he's 30 years old and has spent 5 full seasons in AAA). Pitchers: Joel Zumaya (whose shoulder injury, suffered moving boxes during the California wildfires, is sufficiently serious that you can't factor him in any preseason assessment of the Tigers - he'll be out at least until mid-season and possibly the year, although his prognosis doesn't sound as grim now as it did initially), Tim Byrdak, Francisco Cruceta, Macay McBride, the perenially tantalizing Denny Bautista, Yorman Bazardo and Jordan Tata.
Analysis: The Tigers are loaded with prime and veteran talent, but also have more question marks than the Riddler. The 260-pound question is the conditioning of Miguel Cabrera, but for now at least, Cabrera looks slimmed-down and ready to go - proof, perhaps, that a change of scenery and the prospect of working with quality veterans on a contending team was the motivation Cabrera needed to keep his appetite from swamping his prodigious talents (his career numbers remain nearly identical to Hank Aaron's at the same age). The Tigers also seem to have gambled wisely by not rushing to ink Cabrera to a gigantic long-term deal before seeing how he showed up in camp.
The Tigers' non-pitchers may be slightly overrated by EWSL for at least two structural reasons. First, Carlos Guillen's established value is based in good part on his defense at short, and it's questionable whether he can improve his offensive output enough at first to cover the switch. Second, Brandon Inge is precisely the sort of out-munching player whose Win Shares totals derive much more heavily from his playing time than from his actual productivity (yes, this is the point where someone tells me to switch to a Win Shares Above Replacement or similar metric); while Inge is more valuable than your usual supersub on account of being in his prime and only recently stripped of a starting job, he's unlikely to match 12 Win Shares unless some of the regulars fall short of their EWSL figures due to injury. More broadly, Inge is well-served if he takes advantage of Wilson's injury to re-establish himself as a catcher, as some reports have suggested he is hesitant to do; the man is past 30 and a lifetime .241/.304/.394 hitter who batted .236/.312/.376 last year, so his chances of getting another everyday job are pretty slim; but as a backup catcher who can play multiple positions, he could last another decade.
Looking at Jacque Jones in left (who at best needs a right-handed platoon partner and at worst may not make it as a regular anymore now that his power has evaporated), and the aging Gary Sheffield's health at DH (he's rehabbing from a torn labrum), it's hard to see why the Tigers would deal Marcus Thames.
But the pitching staff is where the real questions are. Verlander is the rock of this staff, and the rise in his strikeout rate last season resolves the tension in his rookie season between his talent and ERA, on the one hand, and his unimpressive peripheral stats, on the other. He should be one of the AL's elite starters as long as he remains healthy. An interesting note: Verlander threw 17 wild pitches last year and hit 19 batters, leading the league in both and belying his relatively low walk totals. Gradual refinements in his command should lead him to further improvements, although the HBP is also a reflection of his combination of tremendous velocity and a willingness to work the inside part of the plate.
Beyond Verlander, things get sticky. Bonderman is just as talented as Verlander but until he gets over his late season fades he will never be an ace. Dontrelle Willis has escaped the Marlins' woeful defense (well, except for Cabrera) that contributed to a terrible .682 DER last year, but defense alone didn't drive up Willis' rates of homers, walks and line drives allowed (his HR rate nearly tripled since 2005), nor the decline in his K rate. This season will tell us a lot about whether Willis is healthy or not - if he is, he seems a good turnaround candidate, but the markers pointing to latent arm injuries have been flashing red for a while.
Then, there's the bullpen, in 2007 a shell of the unit that was one of this team's signatures in 2006's run to the World Series, headed by the perenially embattled veteran closer Todd Jones. Rodney might be the logical successor to Jones with Zumaya out, but Rodney's had his own shoulder troubles this spring. And yes, if you are wondering, Bobby Seay really is just 30, even though he seems like a figure from the long-forgotten past for the headlines he made in 1996 when his agent, Scott Boras, found a loophole to get him out of his draft status with the White Sox, leading to a $3 million signing bonus with the the yet-to-field-a-team Devil Rays organization.
Raw EWSL: 233.00 (78 W)
Subjective Adjustments: None.
Also on Hand: Position players - Ben Francisco (who appears to be roughly the next Ben Broussard), Shin-Soo Choo (who is due back in May from Tommy John surgery), Jamey Carroll and Jason Tyner. Pitchers - A truckload of arms - Jensen Lewis, Japanese import Masahide Kobayashi (Kobayashi has a career record in Japan of 0.62 HR, 2.64 BB and 7.18 K/9 - quite good but not spectacular numbers, so he will need to avoid a big dropoff in translation to the U.S. if he wants to be effective in the U.S.), Tom Mastny, injury-prone prospect Adam "not to be confused with Andrew" Miller (who's been battling blisters this spring), Jeremy Sowers, Jorge Julio, Brendan Donnelly (another Tommy John rehab case) and, yes, Scott Elarton.
Analysis: The Indians remain a solid team and a serious postseason contender; nearly nobody in baseball did less this offseason to change their roster, the departure of Trot Nixon (last sighted in Arizona) being nearly the only significant move. They're not old, either; if everyone on the roster over age 31 collapsed completely, Betancourt is the only one they would really have a hard time replacing. And there's a fair amount of upside here, if Hafner bounces back, if Cabrera and Guitierrez can perform over a full season in line with 2007, if Sizemore takes a big step forward to claim the MVP that's clearly in his future (Sizemore's career tracks that of Duke Snider fairly closely, but he's still a year from the age at which Snider really exploded on the league.) The downside, of course, is the unlikelihood of a full reprise of 2007 by Betancourt, Perez and Carmona. I'm less certain about Aaron Laffey, whose minor league record suggests more and maybe slightly better of what we have seen in the majors: excellent control and very, very few homers.
I'm not ready to give up long term on Josh Barfield, who batted .280/.318/.423 as a 23-year-old regular in the toughest pitcher's park in baseball and batted .300/.351/.445 in his minor league career; Barfield's plate discipline skidded badly last season leading to the loss of his job, but he's still pretty young. And John Sickels has it about right on Andy Marte: he "still has a reasonable shot to develop into a useful, productive slugger . . . But his chance to be a star is gone". The Indians are fortunate to have both around; if even one of them rights the ship, they will have a real surplus to work with, most likely to replace Casey Blake or to make a trade.
Uneasy lies the head of Joe Borowski, whose position as closer is considerably more tenuous than Todd Jones; there's every indication that the Indians will be headed to a committee bullpen, and if a regular closer re-emerges from that mess it seems unlikely to be Borowksi.
Raw EWSL: 191.00 (64 W)
Subjective Adjustments: Delmon Young (-10 from 35 to 25). As we have seen repeatedly, the age adjustment goes a bit haywire on guys who put in a solid full season as 21-year-old rookies; Young might well be a 35-Win Share player someday, but if he gets to 25 this year, the Twins will be very happy. A slightly larger adjustment might even have been in order but 25 is not an unreasonable assessment of his value.
Also on Hand: Position players - Jason Pridie and Denard Span, both competing with Gomez for the CF job; neither seems to have a real impressive minor league record, although Pridie had an excellent year in 2007. Brian Buscher, a third baseman who likewise broke out with a good year between AA and AAA at age 26 last season. Pitchers - In the bullpen, Jesse Crain, who is rehabbing from shoulder surgery, and lefties Glen Perkins and Carmen Cali (with Santana's departure, either of them would join Reyes and Liriano as the only lefties on the staff); for the rotation, Nick Blackburn, Philip Humber and Kevin Mulvey (more on the latter two here).
Analysis: The Twinkies still have too much talent to be awful, although if Liriano doesn't give them 180+ quality innings and they deal Nathan, they could go down pretty badly, and of course they remain at the mercy of Joe Mauer's knees. The infield other than Morneau is a wreck (Everett can't hit, and Harris and Lamb aren't much with the glove, while Nick Punto was the worst everyday player in the game last season). They had mused about using Cuddyer in center, which is a true desperation ploy if none of the kids are ready. I can't see Gomez contributing nearly enough with the bat yet, especially after his injury, to be a useful everyday player. That said, I expect better from Bonser and Baker - the rotation has some potential - and a solid bullpen handled by Gardenhire, even if Nathan is dealt.
Chicago White Sox
Raw EWSL: 218.50 (73 W)
Subjective Adjustments: None.
Also on Hand: Position players - Danny Richar, who is part of a 3-way fight with Uribe and Ozuna for the second base job, Luis Terrero, fallen center field prospect Brian Anderson, and Cuban import Alexei Ramirez, a third baseman who is apparently working out at multiple positions. Pitchers - Boone Logan, one of the offenders from last year's ghastly pen after being rushed to the majors, the towering and talented but aimless lefthander Andy Sisco, and Lance Broadway, who far exceeded his minor league attainments with a hot streak at the big league level last fall.
Analysis: Saying goodbye to a contending team is never an easy thing to do, and so I present to you the 2008 Chicago White Sox. True, they should be better than they were last season, with a revamped bullpen, a solid 27-year-old bat in Nick Swisher and a better glove at short. And true, if the division leaders stumble these guys could back their way into a postseason berth with 86 wins or something, but this is a team whose best players are on the downside of their careers, and the injection of Swisher (out of position in center), Josh Fields (who is probably going to take over Crede's job again as soon as the Sox can deal Crede) and Quentin (looking to recover from a horrible 2007) isn't enough to turn that around. Realistically, they probably end up 2 games over .500 in July looking to deal Thome, Dye and Konerko and go back to the drawing board. It's a pity for them that the Mets are too tapped out to pursue any of those guys. If they try to squeeze one more run out of this roster, they are probably headed the way of the Orioles of the past decade or so.
Linebrink, by the way, was a guy I had wished the Mets could get, but over the past four seasons his HR/BB/K per 9 have gone from 0.86--2.79--8.89 to 0.49--2.81--8.55 to 1.07--2.62--8.09 to 1.54--3.20--6.40. Those are not encouraging trends.
Kansas City Royals
Raw EWSL: 159.00 (53 W)
Subjective Adjustments: None.
Also on Hand: Position players - Alberto Callaspo, former Rookie of the Year Angel Berroa (who appears to have no chance to return to the big leagues at this stage but the Royals still owe him money), Shane Costa and Justin Huber. Pitchers - 35-year-old Japanese import Yasuhiko Yabuta's career numbers in Japan are less impressive than Kobayashi's - 1.1 HR, 3.28 BB, and 5.99 K/9, but that includes early years as a starter; he's been an effective setup man the past four years, for which period those numbers are 0.68, 2.98 and 7.83. Also on hand are Kyle Davies, working to reclaim a spot in the rotation after two consecutive horrible years (and his rookie year wasn't that great either), and hot starting prospect Luke Hochevar, as well as relievers Brandon Duckworth, John Bale, Roman Colon (obtained from the Tigers) and Ryan Braun (The One Who Pitches).
Analysis: If the White Sox are facing a long, slow decline, the Royals face the opposite, a painfully slow climb up from the depths after a season in which they avoided 100 losses for the first time since 2003 and won 69 games, only the second time they have notched that many wins since 2000. KC has had a winning record just once since 1993 and hasn't won 85 games in a season since 1989.
Looking at the current roster, there are, yes, pockets of hope - Gordon and Butler should contribute a lot more this season, Greinke (who posted a 2.42 ERA in the second half) might finally get back to where he was going as a starter, Shealy should put a nightmarish 2007 behind him. But hope requires not looking too closely at the holes. The rotation is thin on accomplishments and long on failures. Buck had what looked like a career year last year with an early season power surge, and he still batted .222. Pena is never going to hit, and there's no future in Guillen and Grudzielanek. DeJesus is solid but he is what he is; he's not going to get better. Aside from Greinke, probably the key guy if you expect this team to take major strides forward is Teahen, as he tries to replicate the magic of the second half of 2006.
One of the underreported stories of 2007 is how well Kansas City's bullpen pitched, after years of having no relief at all. Look it up if you don't believe me - 6 relievers with ERAs 20% or more below the league. That can be hard to replicate, especially with David Riske gone and Greinke back in the rotation, but the personnel who remain should keep that a strength. I've always liked Ron Mahay, who has had a strange but often productive career. Gobble is another guy who is younger than he seems, having flamed out as a touted young starter in 2003-04.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:06 PM | Baseball 2008 | Baseball Studies | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)