Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
March 18, 2008
BASEBALL: 2008 AL West EWSL Report

The second of six division previews, using Established Win Shares Levels as a jumping-off point. Today: The AL West. Notes on the EWSL method are below the fold. One new development: I've added a line for each team's estimated 2008 W-L record, to reflect EWSL plus 38.57 Win Shares, which is the average number of Win Shares by the rest of the team's roster (i.e., the players other than the 23 listed before the season) over the teams I have tracked the past three seasons. I'll go back and add that in to the AL Central report in a little while.

Key: + (Rookie) * (Based on one season) # (Based on two seasons)

The Angels

Raw EWSL: 253.67 (85 W)
Adjusted: 267.07 (89 W)
Age-Adj.: 250.31 (83 W)
2008 W-L: 96-66

C26Mike Napoli#910
1B25Casey Kotchman810
2B24Howie Kendrick#710
SS24Erick Aybar*13
3B30Chone Figgins2017
RF33Gary Matthews1614
CF32Torii Hunter1916
LF36Garret Anderson1410
DH32Vladimir Guerrero2723
C225Jeff Mathis#12
INF27Macier Izturis1314
OF29Juan Rivera87
1327Reggie Willits*715
SP129John Lackey1916
SP225Jered Weaver#1114
SP332Kelvim Escobar1410
SP428Jon Garland1515
SP527Joe Saunders#56
RP126Francisco Rodriguez1617
RP232Scot Shields107
RP334Justin Speier75
RP437Darren Oliver54
RP525Ervin Santana77

Subjective Adjustments: None.

Also on Hand: Position players - Robb Quinlan, who is actually a more established player than Willits, but is possibly the odd man out for this team, Kendry Morales, and Brandon Wood. Pitchers - Chris Bootcheck (who has been banged up this spring), Dustin Moseley, Jason Bulger. The 26-year-old Moseley is apparently going to open the year in the rotation, but on a temporary basis; he pitched fairly well in 92 big-league innings last season (0.68 HR, 2.64 BB and 4.89 K/9 - he can succeed in the majors if he bumps up that K rate a bit), but mixing him in the chart wouldn't change the numbers much (age-adjusted EWSL of 6.5).

Analysis: The Angels are not a superpower like the Yankees and Red Sox of recent years, but they are a team with an embarrassment of riches in terms of depth, and they stand astride the AL West in a forbidding pose. An awful lot needs to go right for the Mariners, their only real competition, to dethrone the Angels.

Right, and/or wrong - while the Angels have Ervin Santana and Moseley on hand in case anything happens to the starting rotation, the health of that rotation remains the biggest concern, as a strained triceps for John Lackey and a bum shoulder for Kelvim Escobar seems likely to keep both sidelined into May, leading some Mariners scribes to label them the faves. Which is another reason why the acquisition of Jon Garland made so much sense - Garland is unlikely to be much more than a league-average starter (his already-low K rate dropped perilously last season) but he specializes in eating innings, having made 32 or 33 starts each of the past six years.

In all likelihood - and the issues with Lackey and Escobar only make this more likely - the outfield/corner logjam will be busted by a deal at some point, as (1) the Angels don't really have room for Rivera, Willits and Quinlan and (2) they are overpaying two guys for their center field defense (Hunter and Matthews) while there are teams out there starting the likes of Nick Swisher in center field.

Given their performance last season, 2008 is about the point for the Angels to stop regarding Kendrick and Kotchman as gravy and start really being able to depend on them as regulars.

Seattle Mariners

Raw EWSL: 235.00 (78 W)
Adjusted: 244.17 (81 W)
Age-Adj.: 220.97 (74 W)
2008 W-L: 87-75

C32Kenji Johjima#1515
1B33Richie Sexson1412
2B24Jose Lopez1114
SS26Yuniesky Betancourt1416
3B29Adrian Beltre1615
RF31Brad Wilkerson109
CF34Ichiro Suzuki2825
LF36Raul Ibanez2317
DH33Jose Vidro1412
C236Jamie Burke32
INF30Willie Bloomquist33
OF27Jeremy Reed22
1326Mike Morse33
SP129Erik Bedard1412
SP222Felix Hernandez1113
SP329Carlos Silva97
SP437Miguel Batista1110
SP533Jarrod Washburn107
RP131JJ Putz1713
RP229Sean Green#33
RP323Eric O'Flaherty*24
RP423Brendan Morrow*35
RP525Ryan Rowland-Smith*12

Subjective Adjustments: None.

Also on Hand: Position players - Catcher Jeff Clement, the ubiquitous Miguel Cairo, Greg Norton, outfielders Wladimir Balentien and Charlton Jimerson. Balentien and Jimerson both strike out a ton and neither walks much (Jimerson doesn't at all), and while both have a little pop, once you take out the Pacific Coast League inflation factor there isn't much reason why either would threaten Jose Vidro's job as DH, or any of the starting outfelders. Pitchers - Oh, there are lots of cases Arthur Rhodes (Tommy John surgery) and Chris Reitsma, relievers Sean White, Jake Woods, RA Dickey, Jon Huber, and Cesar Jimenez, and starters Ryan Fierabend and Cha Seung Baek.

Analysis: The Mariners are unlikely to be bad, but a lot of things need to go right for them to unseat the Angels - basically most of the things that went right last year plus the things that didn't. They need Lopez in particular to step forward as he gets older, while Ichiro, Ibanez, Johjima and Vidro hold to their 2007 performance against the tides of age. They really, really need more from Sexson than .205/.295/.399. They can't afford a big falloff from Putz, although even a good year could see him add a run to his 2007 ERA.

How desperate is Jose Lopez' need for plate discipline? Last season he batted .240/.297/.392 after getting ahead 1-0 in the count. Lopez batted .362/.361/.594 when swinging at the first pitch, and .320/.338/.373 when putting the ball in play 0-1, but almost any hitter in baseball will improve dramatically when spotted the first pitch. But pitchers could afford to waste one to avoid Lopez' first-pitch proclivities, and he still didn't make them pay for it.

A major challenge for John McLaren is digging through the pile of mostly young bullpen arms to decide who can really get the job done behind Putz, especially with George Sherrill gone to Baltimore. Rowland-Smith had probably the best peripheral numbers (0.93 HR, 3.49 BB and 9.78 K per 9, with minor league totals of 0.48, 4.00 and 8.79 in 204.2 innings at AA and AAA) of any of the rest of the relievers, whose 2007 numbers are otherwise a blur. Rowland-Smith also had the least-worst stretch run of the bunch - take a look at how the young relievers ran off the road after August 1:

PERA thru 7/31ERA from 8/1
Sean Green2.665.60
Eric O'Flaherty3.287.02
Brendan Morrow3.166.10
Ryan Rowland-Smith3.683.96

The team ERA as a whole was 5.12 in August and 5.20 in Sept/Oct.

And, of course, the biggest question mark of all is whether they can get 60-66 starts from Bedard and King Felix, which would cover an awful lot of sins. Those two should be the equal of any 1-2 punch in the game, even Santana and Pedro. But I continue to have little faith in Washburn and Batista.

Texas Rangers
Raw EWSL: 158.00 (53 W)
Adjusted: 171.10 (57 W)
Age-Adj.: 162.51 (54 W)
2008 W-L: 67-95

C28Gerald Laird77
1B31Ben Broussard87
2B26Ian Kinsler#1317
SS31Michael Young2521
3B27Hank Blalock1111
RF34Frank Catalanotto1211
CF27Josh Hamilton*611
LF30Marlon Byrd87
DH30Milton Bradley1210
C223Jarrod Saltalamacchia*37
INF31Ramon Vazquez43
OF27Nelson Cruz#34
1327Jason Botts*12
SP133Kevin Millwood97
SP230Vicente Padilla65
SP329Jason Jennings65
SP426Kason Gabbard#34
SP526Kameron Loe44
RP131CJ Wilson65
RP237Eddie Guardado32
RP330Joaquin Benoit76
RP428Frank Francisco22
RP525Wes Littleton#45

Subjective Adjustments: None.

Also on Hand: Position players - David Murphy, Kevin Mench, Chris Shelton, Joaquin Arias, Miguel Ojeda, the injured Travis Metcalf, and slugging catching prospect Max Ramirez. Pitchers - Brandon McCarthy, who had been projected to be in the Rangers' rotation before injuries claimed him for a minimum of 4-6 weeks; Jamey Wright, now settled in the bullpen; 31-year-old Japanese closer Kazuo Fukumori, who sports career averages of 0.76 HR, 3.30 BB and 6.25 K in Japan; starters Robinson Tejeda, Ezequiel Astacio, Sidney Ponson, Luis Mendoza, Eric Hurley and John Rheinecker (Rheinecker is supposed to be out until the All-Star Break); relievers Franklyn German and Scott Feldman. Akinori Otsuka is supposed to miss the whole season with Tommy John surgery.

Analysis: Basically all of the Rangers' pitchers are hurt, and most of them aren't that good when they are healthy. How screwed up is Texas' pitching? They had to absorb multiple pitching injuries before realizing there was something wrong with the mound at their spring facility. I can't even begin to assess this pitching staff except to say that we have seen many such staffs over the years with the Rangers, and few of them ended well. I have been doing EWSL for five years, and in those five years the Rangers have had a pitcher with 10 EWSL only four times (Francisco Cordero twice and Kenny Rogers twice).

Experience tells us that the Law of Competitive Balance should narrow the gap between the top and bottom two teams in the AL West a little from what EWSL projects... I realize that Catalanotto may be slotted at DH, but that assumes that Bradley is healthy enough to play the field, which he's not at present, and I don't like projecting Milton Bradley to get healthier. Catalanotto is starting to show his age, and Byrd seems likely to disappoint after last year's bravura performance; this lineup will have its share of holes. The Rangers are headed nowhere in particular; I'd suggest that they deal Michael Young, as that would at least formalize a rebuilding posture.

Oakland A's

Raw EWSL: 139.17 (46 W)
Adjusted: 164.43 (55 W)
Age-Adj.: 161.69 (54 W)
2008 W-L: 67-95

C24Kurt Suzuki*49
1B22Daric Barton+212
2B31Mark Ellis1815
SS28Bobby Crosby77
3B30Eric Chavez1210
RF24Travis Buck*513
CF27Chris Denorfia#11
LF33Emil Brown1110
DH29Jack Cust109
C227Rob Bowen#34
INF28Jack Hannahan*35
OF28Dan Johnson89
1325Donnie Murphy*24
SP126Rich Harden45
SP227Joe Blanton1212
SP325Chad Gaudin78
SP430Justin Duchscherer65
SP528Lenny DiNardo33
RP124Huston Street1212
RP233Kiko Calero43
RP338Alan Embree64
RP428Santiago Casilla*24
SP524Dallas Braden00

Subjective Adjustments: I didn't add a subjective adjustment to Jack Cust, but counting him based on three years rather than one, while consistent with my policy of not treating guys as rookies if they have had numerous if short-lived major league opportunities, does short-change him somewhat (he had 19 WS in 124 games last year), and even a few extra Win Shares would push Oakland ahead of Texas. So apply whatever grain of salt you feel appropriate. Also, bear in mind that Beane teams traditionally finish near the top when I do the postseason wrapup of who got the most Win Shares from players not on the 23-man preseason roster (an average of 53 per year compared to 39 across the majors).

Also on Hand: Position players - Mike Sweeney, fighting Dan Johnson for the backup 1B job; Matt LeCroy (who has been sent down). Jeremy Brown is not on hand, having retired this spring at age 28 without ever really getting more than a cup of coffee in the majors. Brown sported a .268/.367/.439 line in six minor league seasons, so while he never did make it as a big leaguer it's hard to say he didn't cut it as a pro; many are drafted, few become big league regulars. Pitchers - Once-hot prospect Dan Meyer and starting prospects Dana Eveland (whose minor league numbers and good spring are competing with his 7.55 career ERA in the majors), Greg Smith and Gio Gonzalez; relievers Fernando Hernandez, Joey Devine, Jay Marshall, Andrew Brown and, back from the dead, Keith Foulke; Brad Halsey is in extended spring training after shoulder surgery. Kirk Saarloos is back in the minors for the A's.

Analysis: The House of Beane started teetering last year, and the GM decided to scrap it and go back to the drawing board, with what will undoubtedly be ugly short-term results. One of the wild cards of projecting fantasy baseball this season is the possibility that two top-shelf closers, Huston Street and Joe Nathan, could get dealt in midseason. Blanton remains actively on the block; while Street might get traded, Blanton being dealt is only a matter of time.

Harden, naturally, will be worth more than 5 WS if healthy, but his injury record has historically been nothing if not consistent. And poor Dan Johnson's woes just never cease:

A recent bout of sinusitis turned so severe, Johnson revealed Monday, that he had to spend eight days in the hospital late last month - and he nearly had to have a hole drilled into his forehead....Johnson already had had viral meningitis in the winter (a four-day stay in the hospital) and altogether, he lost 30 pounds....Johnson's variety of maladies is remarkable. Along with this winter's meningitis and sinusitis, he had vertigo his first month in the big leagues (and wound up not playing at all), then he developed double vision after sunscreen was sprayed in his eyes during spring training in 2006, a problem that wasn't correctly diagnosed until after the 2006 season. Last spring, he tore hip cartilage, but he avoided surgery and successfully rehabbed the injury instead.

Of course, each of these setbacks has eaten into what could have been productive seasons with the bat. Johnson's value to the A's, as well as his market value, would be greater if he was a plausible outfielder - I'd rather have him than Emil Brown - but as is, he would seem likely to be dealt once Barton gets settled in. Barton, once heralded as a power prospect, seems for now at least to be more of a Mark Grace type, but that will do if he can provide good defense.

Hannahan's .422 OBP at AAA Toledo - not a hitters' haven - last season, combined with his major league numbers in 2007 (.278/.369/.424), suggests to me that he may be ready to take on an everyday job ain a modestly productive and low-cost capacity. At 28, the future is now, but of course that assumes the A's could move Chavez, which seems unlikely.

Rob Bowen drew 10 walks in 54 plate appearances in Oakland last season, giving him a .415 OBP, but nothing in the rest of his major league or minor league records suggests a repeat of that performance.

Donnie Murphy is the sixth Murphy to wear an A's uniform, and three of them (Danny, Eddie and Dwayne) had multi-year tenures in the A's lineup.

Check out previous AL West previews from 2007, 2006, 2005 and 2004.

The Method

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 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.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:04 PM | Baseball 2008 • | Baseball Studies | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

"we have seen many such staffs over the years with the Rangers, and few of them ended well."

You could put that in AutoText and just recycle that every year, seems like to me.

Posted by: Northbound at March 18, 2008 11:07 PM

The Rangers rebuilding efforts have already come a long way. From the beginning of last season to this spring their minor league system shot for the low 20's, to one of the 5 best in baseball. What they are is a young organization who has finally started to stop relying on high-dollar aging vets to plug holes. I'm not saying they'll challenge for the division this year, but they are headed in the right direction.

Posted by: The Deacon at March 21, 2008 12:02 PM
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