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)
Raw EWSL: 251.17 (84 W)
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.
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.
Raw EWSL: 172.50 (58 W)
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.
Raw EWSL: 173.00 (58 W)
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.
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.
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 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; 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.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:00 PM | Baseball 2009 | Baseball Studies | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)