Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
March 20, 2008
BASEBALL: 2008 AL East EWSL Report
The third of six division previews, using Established Win Shares Levels as a jumping-off point. Today: The AL East. Notes on the EWSL method are below the fold.
Key: + (Rookie) * (Based on one season) # (Based on two seasons)
The Hated Yankees
Raw EWSL: 277.17 (92 W)
Subjective Adjustments: None. But certainly Joba Chamberlain is likely to contribute more than 24 innings of work. I did not want to rate him higher than a rookie, though, whereas I used the rookie adjustment for Ian Kennedy, who would otherwise have had 2 WS.
Also on Hand: Non-Pitchers - Alberto Gonzalez, catcher Wil Nieves. Pitchers - Failed/injured starters Kei Igawa and Carl Pavano, young starters Jeff Karstens, Matt DeSalvo, Darrell Rasner and Ross Ohlendorf, and relievers Chris Britton, Edwar Ramirez, and the unfortunate Sean Henn. I gather that Igawa will pitch out of the bullpen; Pavano will pitch if mutually convenient dates can be arranged.
Analysis: The Hated Yankees have run off the road in October seven years running now, but the regular season juggernaut shows no sign of stopping. A lineup with four 34-year-olds, a 36-year-old and a 37-year-old could change that in a hurry - consider even how much the Yankees lose if A-Rod drops back to .290 and 40 HR - but there's a lot of quality bats here and the Yanks' bench, while not great, is not quite as bare as it was for much of the late Torre years. 2008 is an exciting year for purist Yankee fans who have waited a long, long time to see the team break in a significant amount of young talent (Melky getting an everyday job, two rookie starters and maybe three if Joba slots in for Mussina), but it's also a year of risk. In a sense - and this was reflected in the desultory pursuit of Johan Santana - the Yankees and Red Sox almost seem to have entered into an unspoken detente this season, both deciding simultaneously to take a breather from big-ticket acquisitions, prepare for the decline in earnest of their aging stars, and start working more youth into their rotations and lineups - a Melky for an Ellsbury, a Hughes for a Buchholz, a Kennedy for a Lester, a Mussina for a Schilling, a Giambi for a Manny (both of whose contracts finally end in 2008). If there was a serious threat to their two-superpower system this would be risky, but as of now there still isn't.
The notoriously indestructible Matsui's numbers are still dragged down by his 2006 injury, although of course at 34, he may be more susceptible to injuries anyway. Jeter, by contrast, seems on the path of slow, gradual decline, with age starting to eat away around the corners of several of his assets, breaking down his weak defense and stripping some of his speed and power. I expect Jeter to continue to be productive into his late 30s, like similar hitters like Paul Molitor and Pete Rose; just a little less like the Jeter of old.
I can't add much to the Joba saga except to note the obvious that his future path will probably be determined less by his own performance than by Mussina's and by Mariano's health.
World Champion Boston Red Sox
Raw EWSL: 216.17 (72 W)
Subjective Adjustments: Jacoby Ellsbury (+5 from 8 to 13, to place him just ahead of the typical rookie). Buchholz I just rated as a rookie. Obviously, there's some significant upside to both Buchholz and Lester, but young pitchers are also a risk. Ellsbury will probably clear 13 WS, but if he does, Crisp won't approach 15 in a Sox uniform this year, so I didn't want to get carried away.
Also on Hand: Non-Pitchers - Sean Casey, onetime big league regular Keith Ginter, SS Jed Lowrie, OF Brandon Moss, catcher Dusty Brown. Pitchers - The injured Curt Schilling, Bartolo Colon, relievers Julian Tavarez, Devern Hansack, Kyle Snyder, David Aardsma, and Bryan Corey.
Analysis: I can't quite put my finger on one single reason why the defending champs are not rated higher by EWSL, other than the loss of Curt Schilling. The rest is little things - the mid-30s wearing-down of Manny, Lowell and Varitek, the uncertainty of two rookies in the rotation, the relative lack of solid relievers after Papelbon and Okajima, the difficulty of projecting health and productivity from the erratic backgrounds of Beckett and Drew, even the decision to carry a backup catcher with a remarkable facility for accruing service time without accumulating even a single Win Share (Cash has notched zero Win Shares in four of his five big-league seasons). Other than the rookies, Matsuzaka (who I expect to do better this season) and who-knows with Drew, about the only upside here is possibly a slight recovery for Julio Lugo, who was sapped by an intestinal parasite last season.
Toronto Blue Jays
Raw EWSL: 237.50 (79 W)
Subjective Adjustments: None.
Also on Hand: Non-Pitchers - Russ Adams, John McDonald and Hector Luna are all in the middle infield mix. Adam Lind has fallen out of favor but remains a top prospect, and it's not hard to see him reclaiming a corner outfield or DH slot if the logjam of veterans ahead of him break down. Young Curtis Thigpen and old Sal Fasano are on hand to back up Zaun and Barajas. Pitchers - Starter Gustavo Chacin is still trying to get healthy enough to get back to where he was in 2005. Brandon League will be in the bullpen mix, as will Brian Wolfe and perhaps the recently acquired Armando Benitez. Casey Janssen is out for the year, which is a shame given his talent - I was wondering why I thought Janssen had been kicking around Toronto's system for a long time and then I realized I was thinking of Marty Janzen.
Analysis: I admit that I have tended to discount Toronto this offseason in thinking about the AL East...there's definitely upside here - if healthy that rotation could be quite good (you never know with Burnett and Halladay; McGowan's numbers here are suppressed by including his 2005-06 struggles), and BJ Ryan might come around to his old form. But only 3 non-pitchers are under 31, and one of those is Vernon Wells, whose power may well be permanently degraded as a result of his bum shoulder (Will Carroll seems pessimistic). David Eckstein is not likely to age well. Frank Thomas has been old for a very long time. And life is too short to discuss here all of Scott Rolen's health woes.
Tampa Bay Rays
Raw EWSL: 147.17 (49 W)
Subjective Adjustments: None, but see below re: Garza and Sonnanstine. I suppose I could have rated Upton on a 3-year basis, since he was really a rookie in 2004, or a 1-year basis; this was a reasonable compromise. By contrast, Pena is rated here on a 3-year basis since he's 30 years old and has been a regular in the past; ditto for Percival.
Also on Hand: Non-Pitchers - Rocco Baldelli is probably done for his career due to his bizarre mitochondrial illness, which is a terrible shame for such a young and talented man who never really got to find out whether he had what it takes to turn a promising debut into major league stardom. Shawn Riggans and the undead Mike DiFelice are the catching backups. Hot SS prospect Reid Brignac, OF Justin Ruggiano and INF Joel Guzman. Pitchers - A bunch of relievers will round out the bullpen options - Trever Miller, Grant Balfour, Chad Orvella, JP Howell, and Kurt Birkins. Jason Hammel is on hand as a starter, followed by waves of highly touted youngsters who don't appear to be likely contributors in 2008 (first round draft pick David Price is the biggest name but hasn't pitched in the pros yet).
Last season, Tampa allowed 944 runs (5.83 per game), the highest in the majors by a margin of more than 50 runs. This season, BP is projecting them to allow 713 runs (4.40 per game), the lowest in the AL, third-lowest in the majors (behind the Mets and Padres), and a 32% reduction from last season. This for a team that returns 4 of last year's top 5 starting pitchers, last season's closer as a setup man for a 38-year-old who just came out of retirement in the middle of last year, and six members of last season's starting lineup, one of whom is learning to play second base at the major league level after not having played it since junior high. I have not done a study to see how many teams have (absent a radical change in the league scoring environment) cut their runs allowed by a third in one season or shot in the space of a year from the worst to the best pitching/defense team in the league, but it's an incredibly ambitious goal - the 2006 Tigers cut their runs allowed by 17%, the 1991 Braves by 27%. And remember: like EWSL but with more science behind it and more ambitions to be an actual prediction system, PECOTA is supposed to predict, not what might or will happen, but what is most likely to happen. Until I saw BP's prediction, I considered myself quite bullish about Tampa; they could, if everything breaks right, win in the high 80s even in this division, and they seem likely to get up around or maybe a little over .500, which would be a historic achievement for this franchise and a great foundation for the future of a young team. 81 wins would require them to exceed their EWSL by 10 games - and note that at least measured by the 23-man rosters, only 5 teams in the past three years have cleared their EWSL by 30 or more. BP has put itself way out there on a limb on this one.
All of that said, let me give my own reasons, not so dissimilar from BP's, why I am optimistic about this team. As I have explained before, there has been a fair amount of deadwood pruned from the pitching staff, and the arrival of Jason Bartlett, if he stays healthy, should do wonders for the majors' worst defense in 2007, thus lifting a big load off the shoulders of the pitching staff. The rotation could be quite good, as Kazmir and Shields are solid and still improving, and Edwin Jackson's improved K rate suggests a guy who is gradually learning to harness his long-heralded natural talent, although I would not expect dramatic improvement given the problems he still has with walks and homers. The key to the rotation will be Garza and Sonnanstine. Garza has front-of-the-rotation talent and had a good 3.69 ERA last year; he could put it all together, but young pitchers are young pitchers. Sonnanstine got shellacked last season to the tune of a 5.85 ERA, but his main rate stats (1.24 HR, 1.79 BB and 6.68 K/9) suggest a guy who should be a solid big leaguer and could be a good one if he can get the homers down; in 257 innings at AA and AAA, those rates were 0.81, 1.65 and 7.67. Again: reasons to like Sonnanstine. Not reasons to bet the ranch on a guy with a 5.85 big league ERA.
The lineup is another story - the Rays desperately need more than last season's .227/.286/.356 Avg/OBP/Slg from Dioner Navarro, and don't really have a workable Plan B if they don't. The outfield looks good, but the departure of Baldelli, Delmon Young and Elijah Dukes means that the problem of too many talented young outfielders has now been replaced with hoping that Cliff Floyd can hold up as a regular again at age 35. Longoria could be a big star right away, but even if he's going to be one eventually, he could be Alex Gordon's 2007. Tampa's 1324 strikeouts (on offense) set an AL record, and other than Delmon Young, all the major offenders are still here.
Carl Crawford's slugging percentage dropped 16 points last season, and in 2005 his OBP stayed steady from 2004. I mention these two examples because they are the only exceptions - otherwise, Crawford has increased his average and his slugging percentage and his OBP each of his six seasons in the majors, a record of steady growth that makes up for not having taken the explosive leaps forward of similar hitters like Hanley Ramirez and Jose Reyes. Still, one more significant improvement is needed if he's going to be the cornerstone of a contending team.
There's a good reason why Baseball-Reference.com and Baseball Prospectus both identify one of the most similar players to Carlos Pena as Jim Gentile.
Trivia - Did you know that Cliff Floyd's real first name is Cornelius?
Raw EWSL: 155.00 (52 W)
Subjective Adjustments: Luis Hernandez (-2 from 11.5 to 9.5). Hernandez is just such a horrible hitter (.296 career OBP in the minors) that I couldn't seriously assign him the standard rookie EWSL.
Also on Hand: Non-Pitchers - Freddy Bynum, whose knee injury took him out of the infield picture for now; Tike Redman, and Adam Stern. Pitchers - Chris Ray and Danys Baez are among the scores of pitchers rehabbing from Tommy John surgery this spring. Hayden Penn, Greg Aquino and Fernando Cabrera are on hand; Aquino is sometimes a useful pitcher.
Analysis: Another year, another roster full of short-term thinking. I don't envy new pitching coach Rick Kranitz, trying to see if he can do a better job with this staff than did Cooperstown-bound pitching guru Leo Mazzone, and without the team's ace, Erik Bedard, and its top 2 relief arms. Let's put it this way: they are contemplating starting Steve Trachsel on Opening Day. More here on the remaining rotation battles. Guthrie and Loewen should contribute solid full seasons, but they can't fill the void left by Bedard.
Whether the lineup will be weak or horrendous depends on who else gets shipped out of town to start yet another half-hearted rebuilding process (Brian Roberts is supposed to head the list). Pity poor Nick Markakis, who will be stuck in this mess for years to come.
Luke Scott's comps have some interesting names, the most encouraging of which are Mike Easler and Matt Stairs.
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. The line for each team's estimated 2008 W-L record adds 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.
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.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:00 PM | Baseball 2008 | Baseball Studies | Comments (11) | TrackBack (0)