Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
March 31, 2009
BASEBALL: 2009 AL West EWSL Report

Part 2 of my preseason previews is the AL West; this is the second of six division previews, using Established Win Shares Levels as a jumping-off point. Notes and reference links on the EWSL method are below the fold. Prior preview: the AL Central.

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

The Angels

Raw EWSL: 251.17 (84 W)
Adjusted: 259.00 (86 W)
Age-Adj.: 231.51 (77 W)
2009 W-L: 90-72

C27Mike Napoli1011
1B26Kendry Morales11
2B25Howie Kendrick1214
SS25Erick Aybar#812
3B31Chone Figgins1613
RF34Vladimir Guerrero2517
CF33Torii Hunter2117
LF35Bobby Abreu2215
DH30Juan Rivera55
C226Jeff Mathis45
INF28Macier Izturis1313
OF34Gary Matthews1210
1328Reggie Willits#56
SP130John Lackey1614
SP226Jered Weaver1213
SP328Joe Saunders1212
SP433Kelvim Escobar86
SP526Ervin Santana1313
RP133Brian Fuentes118
RP225Jose Arredondo*612
RP333Scot Shields96
RP435Justin Speier43
RP538Darren Oliver76

Subjective Adjustments: None. Once again, there's nothing so off in the AL West I felt compelled to repair it. As usual, where some individual players came in lower than their projected playing time would suggest (here, Kendry Morales) the team also had guys sitting the bench who are rated on more playing time than they'll get (Matthews, Izturis), and rather than over-project Morales beyond what he's proven he can do, I'll just say "show me."

Also on Hand: Position players - 1B/3B Robb Quinlan and SS/3B Brandon Wood are the main non-pitchers, and Quinlan may actually stand to pick up some time if Morales isn't up to everyday productivity; with the flexibility of Figgins and Izturis, they give the Halos a lot of possible combinations.

Pitchers - Starters Dustin Moseley and Nick Adenhart are the likely fill-ins, and Jason Bulger and Shane Loux in the pen. Adenhart's minor league control numbers aren't as ghastly as his 13 walks in 12 innings last year with the Angels, but they're not good; Mosely had a 6.94 ERA at AAA to go with 6.79 in the AL, so while he throws strikes he's not fooling anyone. Bulger, by contrast, was just staggeringly dominant at Salt Lake, striking out - this is not a misprint - 75 batters in 43 innings (15.7 per 9) with an 0.63 ERA, and whiffing another 20 in 16 IP in the majors, albeit with even poorer control. Bulger, Loux and Moseley are all out of options.

The Salt Lake team, by the way, played .580 ball and won the Pacific Coast League.

Analysis: The Angels last season passed over the line from dominance to hegemony in the AL West, and nothing suggests that they are likely to surrender the crown this season even if Oakland returns to the neighborhood of the pennant race. With the departure of Mark Teixeira, K-Rod, Jon Garland and Garret Anderson, the Angels probably lost more free agent talent than anybody this offseason, yet they will probably end up with a slight upgrade by signing Bobby Abreu to replace Anderson (Abreu's a much better player, but he's also turning 35, a dangerous age for a guy who has already lost most of his power), they signed an adequate closer in Brian Fuentes, Garland will be replaced by the returning Escobar, and of course Tex was only here for half a season (he'll be replaced internally, by Morales). Despite that, the Angels are the picture of stability in a division of upheaval, with essentially everyone but Abreu and Fuentes a familiar face.

The main risk, of course, is the health of the starting pitching - Lackey, Escobar and Santana are all varying degrees of banged up at this stage - as well as whether Joe Saunders can avoid falling too far off from last season's career year. Really only the rotation could possibly give this division away. The team, as Angels teams this decade have tended to be, is about an ideal age mix, with an aging but not over the hill outfield and back of the bullpen mixed with a bevy of early/prime age players in the infield and rotation and at catcher.

Life, they say, is what happens while you're busy making other plans, and that's been the story of Juan Rivera's career and to some extent Escobar's and Weaver's as well - it's about time to start looking at them as the players they are, not who they might once have seemed likely to become. Morales and Wood are high on the list of guys who are running out of time to avoid the same fate. Morales now has a career line of .332/.373/.528 in the minors, most of it at AAA (albeit at high-altitude Salt Lake City), but just .249/.302/.408 in 407 big-league plate appearances. Wood's just 24, but he's smacked 128 homers the last four seasons (6 of them in the majors); while he flopped with the Angels last season, he also cut his strikeout rate at AAA. He needs a position; he seems to be regarded as a question mark at short, but his error rates in the minors at 3B are alarming.

Vlad Guerrero is and remains a great player, but his whole career trajectory has to be re-evaluated a bit since we found out he's a year older than he claimed.

Oakland A's

Raw EWSL: 172.50 (58 W)
Adjusted: 202.41 (67 W)
Age-Adj.: 195.44 (65 W)
2009 W-L: 78-84

C25Kurt Suzuki*1116
1B38Jason Giambi139
2B32Mark Ellis1613
SS34Orlando Cabrera2118
3B31Eric Chavez65
RF25Travis Buck#69
CF24Ryan Sweeney*616
LF29Matt Holliday2321
DH30Jack Cust1513
C227Landon Powell+04
INF29Bobby Crosby87
OF28Rajai Davis#45
1323Daric Barton*612
SP131Justin Duchscherer97
SP225Dana Eveland44
SP323Sean Gallagher*12
SP423Gio Gonzalez*00
SP525Dallas Braden23
RP125Joey Devine*510
RP229Brad Ziegler*611
RP329Santiago Casilla#33
RP440Russ Springer75
RP530Michael Wuertz44

Subjective Adjustments: None. Barton, however, will struggle to get the playing time to meet his EWSL.

Also on Hand: Position players - Nomar Garciaparra is the biggest name, and will slot in wherever an extra hand is needed, especially if Chavez can't stay healthy; Jack Hannahan is still around, but was awful last year and likely not Oakland's next choice at third after Chavez (Barton is no longer considered a third baseman). Outfielder Chris Denorfia is around as well, and outfielders Eric Patterson and Aaron Cunningham behind him. Pitchers - Hot prospects Trevor Cahill and Brett Anderson have been competing for rotation slots along with Josh Outman, and it now appears that Cahill will start the season's second game, with Duchscherer on the shelf with elbow surgery and Gonzalez having a rough spring. I rated them on the incumbents anyway, but it doesn't alter the numbers much. Jerry Blevins will be in the bullpen, and Andrew Brown is also on hand; both had ERAs in the low 3s last year.

Analysis: The A's perennially get more Win Shares from players I don't include in the preseason EWSL charts than almost anybody, and I have no doubt - especially if you look at the list above - that will happen again this year, and you can probably consider this closer to an 85-win than a 78-win roster. Of course, their young rotation could have substantial up- or down-side, especially a volatile power arm like Gonzalez or the highly touted Cahill and Anderson (although Gallagher may be the best bet for a step forward of the group). They'll probably end the season with a team more comparable to the Angels than they are on Opening Day, but even with the addition of Holliday's bat and Cabrera's glove, it will take quite a lot for this team to actually haul down the 24 1/2 game gap that separated them from the Angels last season.

Devine is seeing the dreaded Dr. Andrews, apparently leaving Ziegler to close (backed up by Casilla, who had a tough 2008). I believe Dr. Andrews gives a volume discount on former Braves pitchers.

Barton is hoping to avoid becoming the next Dan Johnson (the original finally gave up and signed to play in Japan); he'll probably be traded if he gets playing time and hits. Like Johnson, his timing is awful, as he's currently nursing a quad strain just when he was having a hot spring.

Fun fact from the Bill James goldmine: Duchscherer, the heir to Steve Karsay and Steve Ontiveros, narrowly missed having a 1-2-3 inning in half his innings last season.

Seattle Mariners

Raw EWSL: 173.00 (58 W)
Adjusted: 179.40 (60 W)
Age-Adj.: 164.92 (55 W)
2009 W-L: 68-94

C33Kenji Johjima1311
1B33Russ Branyan54
2B25Jose Lopez1518
SS27Yuniesky Betancourt1313
3B30Adrian Beltre1513
RF35Ichiro Suzuki2517
CF26Franklin Gutierrez55
LF39Ken Griffey jr1411
DH29Chris Shelton22
C225Jeff Clement*24
INF26Ronny Cedeno44
OF31Endy Chavez54
1327Mike Morse11
SP123Felix Hernandez1313
SP230Erik Bedard119
SP326Ryan Rowland-Smith#57
SP434Jarrod Washburn75
SP530Carlos Silva43
RP124Brendan Morrow#57
RP227Chad Cordero55
RP326Mark Lowe11
RP429Roy Corcoran*46
RP527Randy Messenger22

Subjective Adjustments: None.

Also on Hand: Position players - 35-year-old Mike Sweeney has torn the cover off the ball this spring, and Don Wakamatsu speaks warmly of having him on the team, which seems to give him the inside track for the DH or platoon DH job, but Shelton's had an even better spring and I expect his relative youth and durability to win out sooner or later. Outfielder Wlademier Balentien, who was just lost last season at the plate, is the other guy likely to get significant playing time, as may Chris Burke, just picked up from Houston. Shortstop prospect Matt Tuiasasopo is also on hand, as is outfielder Mike Wilson, and Jamie Burke may yet reclaim the backup catcher slot.

Pitchers - Relievers Miguel Batista, David Aardsma and Sean White (Tyler Walker has been cut) as well as Jason Vargas, Garrett Olson and Cesar Jimenez.

Analysis: The Mariners have rid themselves of a lot of deadwood - admitting you have a problem is the first step - but there's not that much here to really build on as a long-term foundation besides King Felix and maybe Lopez, and Lopez is too free-swinging to be a star. In the short run, they're making do with cheap spare parts like Branyan, Shelton, Sweeney and the Ken Griffey nostalgia tour. They may yet have a dominant front end of the rotation with Hernandez and Bedard, but that didn't work out last season.

The Mariners' closer job has been an ongoing soap opera. Cordero should get a crack at the job, but he may not pitch before June, so in the interim they are going with just-now-converted starter Brandon Morrow, but Morrow may not be adjusted to close by Opening Day, so in the interim it could be Lowe, except that he's had the stuffings beaten out of him this spring. At one point, they were actually looking at Batista. Safeco will probably help the bullpen hang together, and there's a lot of guys there who can pitch a little, just no ace.

The defense, next to last (above Texas) in defensive efficiency last season, may be another story. The infield is basically the same aside from 1B. The M's have four center fielders, sort of, with Ichiro, Griffey, Endy and Gutierrez, so Gutierrez better be careful calling for balls, but of course Griffey doesn't move especially well anymore and may DH as much as he plays left.

Ichiro has been taking some rest after feeling light-headed, which is hopefully just jet lag. It's hard to believe that Ichiro's only four years younger than Griffey, having arrived in Seattle 12 years later and representing a different era of baseball in Seattle.

Clement has been talked about as a possibility as DH or starting catcher ahead of Johjima, but he was sent back to AAA for now amidst concern about his glove.

Texas Rangers
Raw EWSL: 158.00 (53 W)
Adjusted: 171.10 (57 W)
Age-Adj.: 162.51 (54 W)
2009 W-L: 67-95

C24Jarrod Saltalamacchia#57
1B23Chris Davis*410
2B27Ian Kinsler2021
SS20Elvis Andrus+011
3B32Michael Young2218
RF28Nelson Cruz55
CF28Josh Hamilton#1721
LF27David Murphy#79
DH28Hank Blalock88
C225Taylor Teagarden+24
INF35Frank Catalanotto75
OF32Andruw Jones108
1331Marlon Byrd119
SP134Kevin Millwood75
SP231Vicente Padilla76
SP326Scott Feldman33
SP425Brandon McCarthy23
SP523Matt Harrison*23
RP129Frank Francisco44
RP228CJ Wilson54
RP338Eddie Guardado43
RP431Derrick Turnbow22
RP527Kason Gabbard33

Subjective Adjustments: None, but I am sorely tempted to downgrade Andrus, as discussed below.

Also on Hand: Position players - Slugging catching prospect Max Ramirez would garner more attention in another organization, but with Saltalamacchia and Teagarden on hand, there's a surplus of potential and a deficit of proven production at the position. With all Texas' needs, you have to figure at least one of them will be dealt by the deadline. Brandon Boggs is on hand in the outfield, Omar Vizquel, Joaquin Arias and German Duran are all poised to step in if Andrus fails.

Pitchers - The usual cast of thousands - high-ceiling prospect Neftali Feliz, and veterans Kris Benson, Joaquin Benoit (out with rotator cuff surgery), Jason Jennings, Dustin Nippert, Josh Rupe, and Warner Madrigal.

Analysis: The story of the Rangers, as always, starts and ends not with the AL's top-scoring offense in 2008 but with their appalling starting pitching, the reason they will be fighting the Mariners to stay out of the cellar. No help appears immediately on the way, although Feliz could be in the rotation later this year. The bullpen is more adequate, but nothing special. The Rangers were 14th of 14 teams last year in ERA and defensive efficiency, 13th in Ks, 12th in homers, 11th in walks; you can't blame all that on the park or the defense. Although, clearly some help would help: the average AL pitcher last season allowed 1.00 HR, 3.32 BB and 6.64 K/9; Kevin Millwood's averages were 0.96 HR, 2.61 BB and 6.67 K - better than average on all counts - but whereas the average AL pitcher gave up 9.19 hits per 9, Millwood allowed 11.74. Ouch.

Key to the defensive improvement will be Andrus, who has drawn raves for his glove this spring. Assuming the Rangers are committed to him, Andrus may be a decent fantasy baseball bet: he steals bases (94 in 244 games the last two seasons), plays short and plays in Texas. But realistically, I'll be shocked if he has an OPS+ above 80: the guy's 20 years old and slugged .367 in the Texas League last season. John Sickels notes that he's considered a good hitting prospect given his age, but that doesn't mean he's ready. And his defensive range better be good, because Andrus has averaged 45 errors per 162 games in the minor leagues. Rangers fans will need to be patient when he steps on his own blue suede shoes.

Saltalamacchia - the man who broke the box score - hasn't really repeated his stellar 2005 as a 20-year-old in A ball, raising memories of catching prospects like Javier Valentin and Robert Fick who just had a great year in the minors they could never live up to. With Teagarden and Ramirez on his heels, he'll have a short leash.

Davis, I'm a little leery of - yeah, great half-season run in the Kevin Maas style, but over his major and minor league careers he's averaged 47 walks and 172 K per 162 games to go with his averages of 42 HR and 44 doubles. The power is real, but so is Marcus Thames' (if we are still speaking of ex-Braves).

Frank Catalanotto, the king of the hot streak, has been a survivor and exceeded expectations many times before, but given his dependence on his batting average and dwindling defensive flexibility, he strikes me as exactly the kind of 35 year old who isn't on anybody's roster at 36.

The Method

For those of you who are unfamiliar, EWSL is explained here, and you should read that link before commenting on the method; 2009 revisions to the age and rookie adjustments are discussed here, and my overview from last year on 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, 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 2009 W-L record adds EWSL plus 38.82 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 four seasons.

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; in some cases I will list a guy who is starting the year on the DL or in the minors), but I take responsibility for any errors. It's still a fluid time for rosters.

Check out previous AL West previews from 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005 and 2004.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:00 PM | Baseball 2009 • | Baseball Studies | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)

Never been a big fan of this ambiguous stat that seems to wildly over-value some players and teams and under-value other players and teams. I know the disclaimer. However, if a statistic isn't that accurate at determining what it is allegedly supposed to help determine (and judging by the 2008 finals it is below average at best) how useful is it?

Over-valued guys seem to be in droves here. Matt Holliday? If he turns out to be the best player in this division I will stop complaining about this stat. This guy is a Coors Field Wonder who does nearly nothing on the road. He will find 81 games at Oakland's park a trying experience. Kenji Johjima? Might be the worst catcher in the AL if not baseball altogether (he makes Varitek look like Piazza at the plate). Yuniesky Betencourt? Yikes. Micheal Young?

The Angels are clearly the front-runners here probably winning about 93 games and presuming most of the rest of the field is below average. The A's could be interesting and I think they find a way to win 80 games, the Mariners have their issues as does Texas both who will be lucky to get to 70 wins.

Posted by: jim at March 31, 2009 6:54 PM

Holliday batted .301/.374/.485 on the road in 2007, .308/.405/.486 in 2008. Yes, there's a lot of thin air in his numbers, but when you let that out, he's an athletic 29-year-old outfielder with a good bat, decent plate discipline, a good baserunner...he won't be an MVP candidate, but Beane knows what he's getting.

Posted by: Crank at March 31, 2009 7:13 PM

Holliday has virtually no power outside of Coors and got to feast on the generally weak nature of the NL and NL West (although I will acknowledge there are quality starters in the NL West). I don't see his skill set transferring so fluidly that he is the MVP of the AL West. My point is that he is overvalued from a statistical point of view. He'll be better on paper at the start of the year than on the field during it.

Posted by: jim at March 31, 2009 11:21 PM

Thanks again Crank for this divisional summary. I think your projections are less accurate for the West than the Central. The gap between the A's and Angels has been closed by the Angels' pitching injuries, and neither the Rangers nor Mariners, while mediocre, are as far behind the top 2 as you project.

Posted by: seth soothsayer at April 1, 2009 10:19 AM

A few thoughts on the Rangers. First of all the starting rotation was wracked with injuries last year. They were also banged up early which put a lot of stress on the bullpen, which later caused it to collapse. This spring they have been remarkably healthy. Also Millwood and Padilla are essentially in contract years, and both have always performed better with that kind of motivation.

The defense should be markedly improved at third with Young holding it down, instead of the 8 players that spent some time there last year. And it wouldn't surprise me if Andrus helps to make Kinsler a better fielder as well.

Finally even with all the problem they had last year, the team still won 79 games. They are a healthier and deeper team this year. I'm not saying they'll go to the playoffs, but 80-something wins is not unreasonable.

Posted by: The Deacon at April 1, 2009 12:31 PM

One note on the Angels, Wood is solid at short. He's not a super defensive player like Aybar is(or will be) but he can play the position.

Posted by: Bill Kilgore at April 1, 2009 12:31 PM
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