Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
March 26, 2008
BASEBALL: 2008 NL West EWSL Report
The fourth of six division previews, using Established Win Shares Levels as a jumping-off point. Today: The NL West. Notes on the EWSL method are below the fold.
Key: + (Rookie) * (Based on one season) # (Based on two seasons)
Raw EWSL: 199.17 (66 W)
Subjective Adjustments: None, but as I have generally been doing I rated Justin Upton as a straight rookie, rather than using the lower rating that would come from his 140 mediocre at bats as a teenager last season. Upton probably isn't 100% ready to make full use of his prodigious talents (.309/.399/.556 in a half season at AA last year) at the big league level, but for this year he may be roughly equivalent in value to an older, more polished and less talented rookie. Think Ken Griffey Jr, who as a 19-year-old rookie batted .264/.329/.420.
Also on Hand: Non-Pitchers - Longtime Astro Chris Burke, finally freed of being assigned to play wherever Craig Biggio isn't, and third catcher Robby Hammock. Pitchers - Brandon Medders, LOOGY Doug Slaten, and Dustin Nippert are the main ones who will get lots of major league usage. Prospect Billy Buckner is on hand as well. Yusmeiro "Big Y" Petit, still just 23 years old, remains a tantalizing prospect, but he's posted a 4.99 ERA in 288.2 career innings between AAA and the majors in large part because he's allowed a staggering 1.53 HR/9 IP, 2.05 if you look only at the majors. 321 times in major league history a pitcher has allowed 1.5 or more homers per 9 in a season of 100 innings or more; only 47 of those managed an ERA below 4.50, only 16 managed an ERA below 4.00, and only one (Dave Boswell, 3.40 ERA in 1965) got below 3.58. Eddie Guardado in 2000 is the only major league pitcher ever to have an ERA below 4.25 while allowing more than 2 homers per 9. Petit's K/BB numbers haven't been bad (2.84 BB, 6.30 K over those same 288.2 IP), but not spectacular as they were at lower levels and as they need to be to offset the longballs. Arizona may not be the ideal place for him.
Analysis: The Diamondbacks hugely overperformed their EWSL last season and, not coincidentally, outdid their Pythagorean record by 11 games, advancing to the LCS despite allowing 20 more runs than they scored. Now, ordinarily a team that wins that many games and exceeds its Pythagorean projections by that much would be close to a mathematical certainty to decline in the following year, as nobody stays that lucky (or that "clutch") for that long, especially when the team's most significant offseason departure is the guy who saved 47 games last year.
But the Diamondbacks are more reminiscent of another team that won 90 games while being outscored by 24 runs, besting its Pythagorean record by 12 games: the 1984 Mets, who went on to improve their real record by 8 games in 1985 and 10 more in 1986, and improve their Pythagorean record by 18 games in 1985 and 7 in 1986. Like those Mets, this team is just stacked with young, in many cases very young, talent, although configured a bit differently - Arizona's pitchers are mostly in or near their prime, while the hitters include a number of people who are still 2-3 years away (Young, Reynolds, Drew) and one (Upton) who is probably 5-6 years from his prime. Aside from Eric Byrnes and a few of the bullpen guys, almost nobody here really had a career year in 2007, and only Byrnes and Randy Johnson are really on the downside of the age mountain. While there's no guarantee that they won't backslide this year if the young hitters take a year before striding forward and the bullpen unravels, it's not at all difficult to envision Arizona winning 100 games in 2008, 2009 or 2010, and maybe more than once.
What that presages for the future of this division is a fascinating question. The NL West looked just a year ago like a weak division, but Colorado and probably the Dodgers will be competitive for the next several years - and they will likely be chasing the Diamondbacks.
In the rotation, of course, we have Randy Johnson, who I expect will be effective when available (even last year, his rates were 1.11 HR, 2.06 BB and 11.44 K per 9), and Edgar Gonzalez is expected to sub for him in the meantime. Bill James likes Micah Owings (of course I remember when he liked Jimmy Haynes), and Owings finished the season strong, with a 3.02 ERA in his last ten starts (1.36 HR, 1.96 BB and 6.79 K per 9 in that stretch - much will depend, as with Petit and new arrival Danny Haren, on keeping the ball inside the friendly confines of Chase Field, f/k/a the BOB).
National League Champion Colorado Rockies
Raw EWSL: 191.17 (64 W)
Subjective Adjustments: Troy Tulowitzki -5 (from 33 to 28). I've seen this repeatedly before (Khalil Greene and Bobby Crosby come to mind): EWSL over-projects the growth potential of a second-year shortstop whose rookie value consisted very heavily of his defense. Sorry, Tulowitzki just doesn't have that kind of room to improve with the glove. 28 Win Shares is +4 from last season, when he was effectively the leader of a pennant-winning team; if he does that, Rockies fans will be thrilled. You will notice, however, that the subjective adjustment for Tulowitzki, small though it is, comes very close to tipping the microscopic balance of power between the Rockies and the Dodgers.
Also on Hand: Non-Pitchers - Marcus Giles was brought in to replace the departed-to-Houston Kaz Matsui, but Giles has apparently played his way out of a job and, at age 30, seems destined for the Brent Gates Hall of Second Base Careers That Never Quite Happened (he's being shopped to the Dodgers and Orioles). Omar Quintanilla is the next infielder in line, and Ian Stewart and Seth Smith are the remaining OF options. Pitchers - Jason Hirsh remains talented and a good bet to end up in the starting rotation at some point once he gets healthy again; Hirsh is still just 26. Veteran starters Kip Wells and Josh Towers are also on hand, as are relievers Micah Bowie, Jose Capellan (who had a busy winter), and Ramon Ramirez.
Analysis: My gut tells me that this team's future may already be behind it - 2007 will be a tough act to follow. And the whole back end of the bullpen, so effective last season, is gone - Hawkins, Affeldt, Julio (not that any of those guys is likely to repeat 2007 anyway). That said, Helton, Fuentes and Herges are the only significant players past 30, and even in a rough division, Colorado should be a force to contend with for the next few years. But Helton was third in the majors in OBP last season; if he takes a nosedive, it will be a big gap in the offense. Moving Corpas to the closer role may end up being counterproductive to the extent that it takes him out of the setup role where he was so crucial last season - but there's no money in being a setup man, and you have to keep your best players happy.
Like KC with Angel Berroa, the Rockies remain haunted by the Ghost of Shortstop Past in Clint Barmes, who may make the team as an older and wiser bench player.
The big question as always is pitching. I noticed when checking the Rays stuff that Baseball Prospectus projects the Rox to allow the most runs in the NL, always a hard fate to avoid in Coors (humidor or no) but a dubious distinction they have evaded the past three seasons. The Win Shares totals suggest what you already know: even on an effective staff, the park just doesn't let any one pitcher shine as they could elsewhere. Jeff Francis may be harder to replace than most teams' aces, but he still will never contribute as much positively to the Rockies as a guy in another park who can throw 20 more innings and exert more influence on the game. And three years from now he could look like Jason Jennings.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Raw EWSL: 211.17 (70 W)
Subjective Adjustments: None.
Also on Hand: Non-Pitchers - Top prospect Andy LaRoche was supposed to challenge for the 3B job, but is injured and may not end up getting his opportunity for some months. Delwyn Young appears to have made the team as a reserve infielder (more on the latest roster doings here). Infielder Ramon Martinez is also in camp but may go elsewhere if not on the Opening Day roster. Pitchers - Jason Schmidt will be trying to pitch through pain in his shoulder, but his recovery is going slowly and he may not pitch until May or June. Either Schmidt or the talented but frustrating Kuo, who has made the team as a reliever, could be a valuable addition to the rotation if needed, assuming Schmidt still has something left. Fireballing lefty phenom Clayton Kershaw has impressed everyone this spring, and may also step in but despite his enormous talent, he's likely to have the same control issues as Kuo (0.66 HR, 4.94 BB and 12.02 K between A and AA last season). If the Dodgers need a ninth starter - and I can't say they won't - the glass case containing Chan Ho Park is near at hand. Reliever Yhency Brazoban is in extended spring training after labrum surgery, and ancient LOOGY Mike Myers is on the same bubble as Martinez. Rudy Seanez was a late cut.
Analysis: As I have noted before, Joe Torre has spent 31 seasons in the National League as a player and/or manager and only been to the postseason once; it remains to be seen whether Torre can build a winner without Rivera, Jeter & co. The team he inherits has talent, including a fair distribution of young talent - but it also has a bunch of age, injury and contract questions: Kent is 40, missed a lot of time last year and may not be ready for Opening Day this season, Juan Pierre can't hit nearly enough to play a corner and makes too much money to trade, Nomar is of questionable value at this point and is already injured, Saito has been ailing this spring, and Derek Lowe is reaching a dangerous age. Can Torre work the young core of Martin, Loney, Kemp, Eithier, LaRoche, Billingsley, Broxton, Kuo and Kershaw into regular slots the way he did once upon a time with Jeter, Rivera, Posada and Pettitte, and more recently with Melky and Cano? Or will he stay too long with the broken-down or breaking-down veterans as he did with Bernie? This team has the potential for a lot of frustrating second and third place finishes over the next few years if the management, including Torre, lacks the will and judgment to limit the playing time of veterans to those who are really still contributing. Which is not to say this team should strip down and rebuild, but rather that they can't contend on the cheap - they need to get the higher-ceiling kids broken in and use their financial resources to surround them with quality veterans, not just keep holes plugged with declining players who are merely adequate, as the Padres are doing.
The 33-year-old Kuroda seems to be, quality-wise, in the Masato Yoshii model (career 0.96 HR, 2.36 BB and 6.65 K per 9 in Japan).
San Diego Padres
Raw EWSL: 195.67 (65 W)
Subjective Adjustments: None.
Also on Hand: Non-Pitchers - The Padres had a fair amount of outfield chaos in camp (more on which below), ending by the decision that hot hitting prospect Chase Headley really needed to go back to the minors despite a great camp following a bust-out year in AA, despite a better minor league record than Paul McAnulty; Headley hasn't played at AAA and is being converted to the outfield from 3B (which is blocked by Kouzmanoff), and the Padres want him to get his feet under him on both counts before making the jump to the majors. (More here). Chip Ambres is in camp as well; Jeff DaVanon and Robert Fick were late roster cuts. Matt Antonelli is the heir apparent at 2B (his minor league numbers are solid, esp. that career .406 OBP, but at 23 Antonelli has yet to face AAA pitching himself), and Oscar Robles and Luis Rodriguez are on hand as well. Pitchers - In the short run, Ledezma's competition for the last rotation slot is Germano and the revived Glendon Rusch (returned after retiring due to blood clots), as well as Shawn Estes. Longer term, the Padres are taking a savvy but possibly fruitless flier on the oft-injured Mark Prior, the Brigadoon of starting pitchers, though he's been missing almost as long as D.B. Cooper and might take longer to return. Other arms on hand: Justin Hampson, Joe Thatcher, Enrique Gonzalez, Adam Bass and Aaron Rakers (probably the most likely to contribute at the back of the pen).
Analysis: Pity the poor Padres, still working off a 2004-07 blueprint for winning the NL West - over the past 4 years, the division winner has averaged 88 wins a year. This roster might, if things break right, be up to the task of winning in the high 80s against weak intra-division competition - but against a deep and talented trio of opponents, the Pads are just outclassed, and should be officially in rebuilding mode by midsummer, looking to shop Giles, Maddux, Iguchi, and possibly Clark and Edmonds (Hoffman, I assume, will remain a Padre to the bitter end).
Raise your hand if you didn't see this coming: Jim Edmonds is hurt and not ready for the season's opener (it was past time for the Cardinals to be rid of the frustration of Edmonds and Rolen). That likely leaves Hairston in center and Jody Gerut, who has missed two full seasons with a major knee injury, starting in left (more here - the Pads may end up needing another CF).
In the infield, I expect Kouzmanoff to pick up where he left off, batting .310/.364/.514 after May 14 following a horrible beginning to the season that saw his average drop as low as .108. The utilityman role has been given to speedy Callix Crabbe, acquired from JK Rowling in the Rule 5 draft and who stuck with the Pads due to his versatility.
Kevin Cameron had a ludicrous 0.80 ERA through mid-August but got torched to a 9.69 mark the rest of the way; his second tour around the league will tell whether he can find a workable medium. He still has not allowed a home run.
San Francisco Giants
Raw EWSL: 170.33 (57 W)
Subjective Adjustments: Dan Ortmeier (+3 from 3 to 6); I was tempted to bump up Ortmeier further but remembered the Ryan Shealy fiasco from last season. +3 is a conservative adjustment for the fact that Ortmeier, who isn't really a great prospect, should play a lot more this year and is rated on one partial season. On the other hand, Brian Bocock's inexperience and weak minor league batting line, combined with the likelihood of Omar Vizquel's return, prevented me from giving Bocock any more Win Shares to reflect the fact that he is temporarily the everyday SS in Vizquel's absence.
Also on Hand: Non-Pitchers - Catcher Guillermo Rodriguez, OF Nate Shierholtz, SS Eugenio Velez. Pitchers - Mostly veteran releivers - Steve Kline, Randy Messenger, Scott Atchison, Patrick Misch.
Analysis: The Giants are slowly, slowly easing out the ancient veterans, but the guys who are taking their place in the lineup are not that young and already close to their ceilings. Rarely have I seen such a desperate, terrible lineup supporting such a deep and talented pitching staff as these Giants last season and this. Rowand should give good defensive backing, as will the old and young shortstops, but Durham is awfully creaky this spring. And of course, you need to score the occasional run to win games.
While Cain and Lincecum should exceed those WS numbers, Lowry is out until late April at least due to forearm surgery, and Sanchez will replace him in the rotation in the interim.
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 12:35 PM | Baseball 2008 | Baseball Studies | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)