Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
March 28, 2008
BASEBALL: 2008 NL East EWSL Report
The fifth of six division previews, using Established Win Shares Levels as a jumping-off point. Today: The NL East. Notes on the EWSL method are below the fold.
Key: + (Rookie) * (Based on one season) # (Based on two seasons)
New York Mets
Raw EWSL: 268.00 (89 W)
Subjective Adjustments: None. Indeed, Angel Pagan is the only guy listed here on less than three years' big-league experience. Pagan, Pelfrey, and relievers Joe Smith and Steve Register are basically the only non-established players who are likely to be a factor this year for the Mets, barring a meteoric rise by OF prospect Fernando Martinez.
Also on Hand: Non-Pitchers - Jose Valentin is still around and his knees are recovered, but has hinted at retirement if things don't improve with the pinched nerve in his neck; for now he will start the season on injury rehab. Ruben Gotay may be done with the Mets, having been placed on waivers, which is a shame because Gotay can hit, but he's just not that good a fielder and his chance at winning the everyday job in the near future was iced by the 4-year, $25 million contract for Castillo. If neither of them stays with the team, weak-hitting glove wizard Anderson Hernandez moves up the depth chart behind Easley (Marlon Anderson made just one appearance at 2B last year but can presumably still handle the position in a pinch). Brady Clark leads the pack of reserve outfielders, followed by Fernando Tatis, now in a second career as a utilityman, and Ben Johnson. Raul Casanova is the third catching option. Olmedo Saenz was also contemplating retirement; he's been sent to the minors. Pitchers - Sosa, who I had hoped never to see again, may get some starts early in the year, but Mike Pelfrey will be the main option for a #6 starter, which between El Duque and Pedro the team will inevitably need. It occurs to me that Pelfrey is basically the ideal situation for a pitching coach. Think about it: as a pitching coach you want four things:
1. A currently unsuccessful pitcher (you get no credit for working with Johan Santana),
Pelfrey scores on all four. On #1, his career major league ERA is 5.55. On #2, Pelfrey is tall (6'7"), throws very hard (mid-90s), and has great sinking movement on his fastball (0.67 HR/9 in the majors, 0.77 at AAA, 0.27 at AA). On #3, Pelfrey's never had a significant injury, he has command issues around the plate but has never had really serious control problems, he's still just 24, and he has had enough success at lower levels (including success following prior failures in college) that he won't have his confidence shattered. On #4, he seems to be regarded as a fairly intelligent, coachable guy, even adjusting for the tendency of white players to get a better reputation on that score. Rick Peterson has had many more successes than failures (Maine and Perez being great successes last season for which Peterson deserves some of the credit), and working with Pelfrey to figure out what second pitch he can best develop without hurting his arm and how to improve his command will be a real opportunity for Peterson. The downside is that it may take so much time that Pelfrey ends up getting traded for peanuts and not hitting it big until later on for someone else - I was discussing the other day with my older brother whether Pelfrey is more reminiscent of a young Kevin Brown or a young Mike Scott, and neither parallel suggests a short path to success.
Other starting options on hand include Jason Vargas, who has been suffering from a torn labrum in his hip, Tony Armas jr., Clint Nagoette, and blast-from-the-past ex-prospect Nelson Figueroa.
In the bullpen, Duaner Sanchez will sooner or later play a significant role but it's not quite clear yet what his status will be to open the year. Sidewinder Joe Smith will make the roster, and of course Scott Schoenweis is still around as a situational lefty. Others in the bullpen mix include Ruddy Lugo, Brian Stokes, and Rule 5 righthander Steve Register (the Mets are trying to work out a trade so they can keep Register without having him on the major league roster all year). Ambiorix Burgos is still rehabbing from surgery and unlikely to pitch this season, and the perpetually injured Juan Padilla has been sent down.
Analysis: EWSL rates David Wright as the best player in baseball. 40 Win Shares seems optimistic (EWSL has Wright and Reyes worth 24 wins all by themselves), but I can't disagree with the assessment that Wright is the player most likely to be the best in the game this season, even ahead of Pujols (whose elbow could go at any time), A-Rod, Miguel Cabrera or Grady Sizemore. Of course, the team's extreme dependence on four players (those two, Beltran and Santana) just underlines the risks that the Mets face if one of them gets injured (or, in Beltran's case, has his skills degraded by nagging injuries).
The Mets don't have a powerhouse offense (unless Delgado finds one last Delgado year in his bat), but the starting rotation could be tremendous (EWSL is properly cautious about guys who have not repeated success or are coming off large amounts of time missed to injury, plus it recognizes the extent to which Mets starters benefit from good defense and a favorable park, but I still expect a good deal more than 19 Win Shares from Pedro, Maine and Perez combined) and the defense should hopefully recover from last year's late-season defensive meltdown; the Mets should score enough to win a lot of games if they prevent as many runs as I expect. Of course, the bullpen hasn't really done much to address the horrors of 2007 other than shipping Guillermo Mota out of town, but Wise and Sanchez could take some pressure off the rest of the staff (I've been a Wise fan for years), and I'm hopeful that Smith can be more effective.
Ryan Church is one guy who, while he is unlikely to have a glorious career with the Mets, I am optimistic that he can have a big year in his first season away from RFK. EWSL rates Church as a downgrade from where Shawn Green was at this point last season, but there is upside potential here in the short run.
Raw EWSL: 232.17 (77 W)
Subjective Adjustments: None. Kendrick might exceed that 9 Win Shares if he holds up over a full season, but I am pretty much out of the business of projecting rookie pitchers to do that.
Also on Hand: Non-Pitchers - Chris Snelling, healthy for once and trying to break into the OF picture, So Taguchi, and 1B Pete LaForest. Pitchers - Kris Benson and relievers Vic Darensbourg, Travis Blackley, Clay Condrey, JD Durbin, and Fabio Castro.
Analysis: The Phillies remain a contending team loaded with players in their prime, but to understand why they aren't really quite as impressive as they first appear, you have to remember that all that offensive talent - like the Mets pitchers - benefits significantly from Citizens Bank Park; take a look at the career home-road splits during the years they played for the Phils since the park opened in 2004) of the incumbent regulars:
These are all fine players, other than Ruiz; they just aren't quite as great as they look. Note that while there are, as you would expect, some variations in the home-field advantage, the most pronounced effects show up in the guys with the largest sample of at bats to work with (Rollins, Utley, Burrell). Also, ironically, while Rollins rolls up a lot of Win Shares by his durability, it also means that there is nothing left for the bench to contribute at his position. That's a good problem to have - I've long argued that durability is a vastly underrated skill - it's just another way you have to avoid letting the statistics deceive you.
On the whole, I expect to see Rollins come back to earth a bit this year from last year's record-setting season (Rany Jazayerli has a fine look at the historic nature of Rollins' records for at bats and plate appearances), and Burrell to be off a little as well, but balanced off by better or healthier seasons from Utley and Howard and the removal of the sinkhole of Abraham Nunez at 3B. But as always, much will turn on the pitching staff, and the question of whether Hamels and Myers can each kick in 200+ innings of the kind of work they are capable of. My guess, again, is that the two of them will step forward but the back end of the rotation will falter again; Eaton still stinks, Moyer is 45 and has to run out of tricks eventually, and Kendrick won't have another ERA in the threes by striking out less than 4 men per 9 innings while pitching in a bandbox. In the bullpen, I suppose the theory is that Lidge (who is injured already) won't have a repeat of his mental struggles in Houston, in that the always-supportive Phillies fans and genial Philadephia media won't turn on him when he hits the first bump in the road.
To sum up, the Phillies are the same sort of adversary for the Mets that they were in 2007: available if given the opportunity, but fundamentally beatable if the Mets take care of their own business. And, of course, there's no particular reason, especially with Santana and a hopefully healthy Pedro in the rotation and the addition of a catcher who can throw, why the Mets should repeat their head-to-head problems beating these guys.
Raw EWSL: 193.67 (65 W)
Subjective Adjustments: None. I suppose I could have added two Win Shares to bump up Jurrjens to equivalent to a pure rookie starter, but he did start 7 games last year, and frankly that was balanced out by rating Moylan only on 2007, not 2006. I could also arguably have given a bump to Escobar, but the age adjustment adequately compensated him and 15 Win Shares seems pretty close to a fair target for him.
I included Mike Gonzalez, who says he will be back from Tommy John surgery by May, as well as DL-bound John Smoltz and Omar Infante. None of them are particularly unreasonable bets to match their EWSL despite the injuries, especially since Gonzalez' numbers include the 2007 season that was interrupted by injury in the first place.
Also on Hand: Non-Pitchers - Perennial disappointment Joe Borchard's presence suggests how thin the Braves are in the outfield. Top prospect Brent Lillibridge, acquired from Pittsburgh in the Adam LaRoche-for-Mike Gonzalez deal, is seen as a possible replacement if Johnson, Escobar or Chipper gets hurt, or if Escobar's 2007 proves a fluke. Pitchers - Buddy Carlyle and Jo-Jo Reyes are the next starters in line after Jones to step in if Smoltz or Hampton gets hurt (Smoltz is ailing already, and Hampton, well, you know that story) or Glavine reaches the end of the road, or rather returns from the end of the road where he was at the end of last season. The relief corps also includes Royce Ring, Jeff Ridgway, Manny Acosta, and Blaine Boyer.
Analysis: Last season was the first time since the divisional alignment that the Braves entered a season as not the team to beat. Mazzone is gone, Schuerholz is semi-retired and many of his key deputies are gone, Bobby Cox may be on his way towards retirement, the team's finances remain cloudy (Mark Teixeira remains unsigned after this season and is represented by Scott Boras), Andruw Jones is gone after a terrible year, and even John Smoltz won't last forever. The Braves, at last, are just another team.
They still could make some noise with full seasons from Teixeira and Yuniel Escobar, a bounce-back from still-young Brian McCann, a solid bullpen and continued development from Francouer, who - as I have said repeatedly - is a better long-term than short-term bet when you weigh his ability to drive the ball at such a young age against his appalling plate discipline. Francouer may finally be ready in 2008 to have some business batting in the middle of a contending team's order.
But there are problems, too. I really am convinced that Glavine is just done, and who knows what they will get from Hampton. I'm gunshy about saying this after EWSL picked them to finish last in 2005 in part because their starting outfield included Brian Jordan and Raul Mondesi and they won the division anyway, coming up with Francouer and Ryan Langerhans, but Atlanta really doesn't have much of an outfield besides Francouer and not much help on the way. Kotsay's just a stopgap at this stage (OPS+ below 100 three of the last four years), Diaz can mash but he's a platoon player, Josh Anderson had a nice debut with the Astros last year, but the man has a career line of .296/.339/.370 in the Texas League (AA) and .273/.325/.341 in the Pacific Coast League (AAA), both hitters' paradises; he projects as a poor man's Scott Podsednik, and Heaven help them if they need to rely on Borchard.
UPDATE: Mac Thomason emails that I'm overlooking the fact that if Diaz can't handle an everyday job, there's also Brandon Jones, who is 24 and batted .295/.367/.490 between AA and AAA last season. With the Braves, there does always seem to be another guy. Also, he notes that Gregor Blanco, a highly similar player but with more patience, may take Anderson's slot.
Raw EWSL: 175.00 (58 W)
Subjective Adjustments: None. Zimmerman may look a little high but it's not an unreasonable assessment of his age and talent. Dukes and Milledge may be low, but the point here, as always, is that neither has established himself as a Major League regular.
Also on Hand: Non-Pitchers - Oddly, there's a ton of depth here in terms of guys who you could slot in for the people in the lineup above and not alter the team's EWSL. Jesus Flores is the eventual starting catcher down the road, and might be the #1 catcher today due to Lo Duca's and Estrada's injuries, but in the intermediate term he will be headed for AAA. Utilitymen Rob Mackowiak and Willie Harris are battling for end-of-the-bench slots, along with 29-year-old perpetual OF prospect Alex Escobar. Aaron and Bret Boone are on hand, and probably both headed for the minors, along with OF Kory Casto and Michael Restovich and fourth C Humberto Cota. I forgot to mention in the NL West roundup that Nook Logan has left DC for the Dodgers. Pitchers - John Lannan is the sixth starter, and LOOGY Ray King will inhabit the back of the bullpen. Reliever Ryan Wagner will probably have a job waiting for him when he returns from injury, despite the crowded Nationals pen; starter Jason Simontacchi may not, despite the chaotic Nationals rotation.
Analysis: The Nationals are almost a mirror image of the Mets: they are deep in position players but lack stars (other than Zimmerman), they have a logjam at first base (last year's MVP Dmitri Young reported out of shape and let Nick Johnson get ahead of him), their bullpen is deep, stable and productive, and they are almost wholly lacking in established starting pitchers. Of course, given the choice I would always rather have one star than three guys who are just above replacement level; Washington's challenge is figuring out what to do with the pieces they have as they enter a new ballpark.
Milledge still looks like a coming offensive star, but color me skeptical that the man is or ever will be a major league center fielder, given the troubles he had handling right field with the Mets. I suppose the Nats were unimpressed with Dukes' contributions in center last season to the game's worst defensive team. That said, the outfield will be the fun part of this team, as both of them try to tap their talents (recall that Dukes last year averaged 33 homers and 108 walks per 600 at bats, but did absolutely zero else, batting .190 with 3 doubles and 2 steals in 184 AB). Wily Mo Pena, who finished last season with such a rush, now says he will have a much quicker than expected recovery from an oblique injury, but we shall see how that goes. #1 starter Shawn Hill is also ailing early.
The rotation remains a complete crapshoot, and without the crutch of pitcher-friendly RFK, though we have not seen how the new stadium will play. I was once an Odalis Perez fan, but his numbers for the last two seasons are ghastly: 5.87 ERA, and 4.95 K per 9. His HR and walk numbers aren't as bad (1.09 HR, 2.76 BB per 9), but they aren't the sort of excellence in those categories you need to survive that plunging K rate.
Raw EWSL: 137.17 (46 W)
Subjective Adjustments: None, but obviously I will be surprised if they don't get more than 2 Win Shares from Andrew Miller and Rick VandenHurk.
Also on Hand: Non-Pitchers - Future roto stud Cameron Maybin has been sent back to AA, and with just 69 career at bats above A ball and 181 K per 600 at bats as a pro, he probably just isn't ready to take his game to the big show yet. 3B Dallas McPherson is back at AAA hoping to keep his balky back healthy long enough to challenge for the 3B job if Cantu falters. Middle infielder Robert Andino is on hand, as is 1B prospect Tagg Boziel. Offseason acquisition Jose Castillo was cut and ended up with the Giants. Pitchers - The walking wounded include Anibal Sanchez, Josh Johnson, Henry Owens, Sergio Mitre and Harvey Garcia, none of whom is expected back at a reliable enough date in the near future to be worth including in the EWSL tables; the rotation listed above appears to be set. Swingman Wes Obermuller, reliever Reynel Pinto and starting prospect Burke Badenhop appear to be the main next options, as well as starter Christopher Volstad Act and reliever Logan Kensing.
Analysis: There's no particularly good reason why baseball should not succeed in South Florida, but yet again the Marlins are doing their best to suck the joy out of what had not long ago been a talented young team, while tantalizing fans with newly acquired young talents who will, in their turn, move on as well. They may legitimately have needed to move Cabrera to do something about their terrible defense and his disinclination, in Florida, to stay in shape, but they still have to figure out if a new 3B can cover more of Ramirez' ground. Fredi Gonzalez does, however, deserve credit for putting together a bullpen that was one of the team's strengths last season amidst the collapse of the rotation.
Cantu has had a bizarre odyssey - debuting as a professional as a 17-year-old, he was basically a slap hitter for years until he hit AAA in 2004, where his slugging average shot up 200 points in a year, resulting in a major league trial where he batted .301 and smacked 20 doubles in 50 games. The following year, as a 23-year-old second baseman, he cracked 69 extra base hits and drove in 117 runs, batting .325/.361/.601 with men in scoring position. But he's been in reverse gear ever since, with terrible plate discipline and who knows what else affecting him. This may be his last chance to show he can hold an everyday job. The yoga better work.
Rabelo may end up as the starting catcher but he's been hampered by spring injuries, so Treanor is the guy for now. Hermida will open the year on the DL, which is too bad - the guy whose talents he most resembles is JD Drew (he batted .340/.401/.555 in the second half last year, although his top 5 statistical comps are Shawn Green, Billy Conigliaro, Bernie Carbo, Mel Hall and Vernon Wells), but you'd like to see him avoid Drew's fragility.
They still don't have a center fielder; the departure of Juan Pierre just hasn't worked out for anyone.
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 (7) | TrackBack (0)