Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
March 27, 2009
BASEBALL: 2009 AL Central EWSL Report
This year, I'm starting my preseason previews with the AL Central; this is the first 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.
Key: + (Rookie) * (Based on one season) # (Based on two seasons)
Raw EWSL: 200.50 (67 W)
Subjective Adjustments: None - I'm trying to be stingy with those - but clearly, 20 Win Shares from Denard Span and his sloppy pants is very aggressive for a guy who entered 2008 having never slugged higher than .369 in any stop in the minor leagues and appears to be starting the season without a fixed position in the outfield, although he's expected to end up with semi-regular playing time. That said, I'm not going to adjust downward a guy who only appeared in 93 games last year; he can lose a fair bit of productivity and make up for it with increased playing time.
Also on Hand: Position players - Infielders Brian Buscher and Matt Tolbert; Buscher was basically the everyday 3B for part of last season, and may yet get decent playing time if Crede's back gives out again.
Pitchers - Relievers R.A. Dickey, Luis Ayala, and Jose Mijares, and starters Phil Humber and Kevin Mulvey, both fruits of the Santana trade. Pat Neshek, so valuable the last few years, is out for the season with Tommy John surgery.
Analysis: As referenced in the comment above about Span, Ron Gardenhire's approach to playing time is a fluid one, and that's reflected in the distribution of Win Shares (and other statistical markers) among the Twins' non-pitchers. It may affect the catching corps as well: Joe Mauer is banged up already with a lower back strain, which is the kind of thing that can start the process of eating into his productivity around the edges even if he's only on the shelf for a few days. Redmond should start in his absence, although the Twins seem to be toying with Kubel behind the plate. It's premature to be overly worried about what could just be a week or two of early season stiffness, but with catchers you never know; it would be a shame if it ended up that Mauer, who should have been the AL MVP last season, had more of his best years already behind than ahead of him. (If you missed my look at the all-time great catchers, Part II of that series noted that Mauer has just a tremendous record by historical standards in throwing out base thieves).
The Twins' dependence on Mauer and the 34-year-old Nathan (along with Morneau, but as a 28-year-old slugging first baseman Morneau is as close to a sure thing as exists in the uncertain world of baseball) is a risk factor, but the major area for upside for the Twinkies - as well as the sort of downside that sends teams unexpectedly to the cellar - is their just-hitting-their-primes starting rotation. I think it's highly likely the rotation as a whole delivers more Win Shares than what's set out above; only Blackburn is really rated here as if he's a successful full-season starter. Liriano would surprise nobody if he won the Cy Young Award, ERA and/or strikeout titles this season, but his career high in innings is 167.2 as a minor leaguer and 121 in the major leagues - he needs to establish himself as capable of carrying the workload of a #1 starter. Then there's Slowey, who in his last 19 starts last season was 10-5 with a 3.24 ERA and averaged 1.0 HR, 1.3 walks and 7.2 K per 9 innings. If he can keep going at that rate, he too will be a top-of-the-line starter. Baker also has solid peripheral numbers, though he has struggled badly this spring. Blackburn, by contrast, has never struck out 100 batters at any level, so I'm skeptical of his viability going forward (ask Brian Bannister how that works out). On the whole, I think I'd much rather enter the season with this team than any other in the division, and EWSL appropriately rates them as the handy favorites.
On the everyday side, Gomez and Casilla should be an interesting bet for steals in fantasy baseball, but their value in the real world remains speculative (Bill James notes that Gomez laid down a MLB-high 66 bunts last year; Casilla at 37 was fourth). Delmon Young improved at the margins in a bunch of areas last year - upped his steals a bit, cut his GIDP a bit, cut his K/unintentional walk rate from 5.25 to 1 to 3.75 to 1 - and it's not that unusual for a very young hitter to follow an stagnate-then-explode growth pattern rather than steady improvement every season. That said, the drop in his doubles rate reduces some of the grounds for optimism about a big power breakout, while his dismal glovework raised the more immediate, short-term questions about whether he is helping the team while they wait for him to make the leap forward (the Baseball Prospectus article on the Twins argued that Young should be dealt, given that the Twins are contenders).
Raw EWSL: 210.33 (70 W)
Subjective Adjustments: None.
Also on Hand: Position players - Josh Barfield and Andy Marte, both of whom will probably get only one more chance to reclaim their status as potential everyday players; speedy 25-year-old outfielder Trevor Crowe, who is trying to catch on as a utilityman; slugging OF prospect Matt LaPorta, received in the Sabathia deal; 24-year-old 3B prospect Wes Hodges. Pitchers - Jake Westbrook, who may be back around midseason after Tommy John and hip surgeries; Carl Pavano; top prospect Adam Miller; Matt Herges; Japanese import and onetime Japan League ace closer Masahide Kobayashi, who was largely a flop last season despite a respectable 2.5-to-1 K/BB ratio (he had trouble with the longball); and Juan Salas.
Analysis: When you get past the shattered hopes of 2008 and the residue that remains (e.g., the ghost of Travis Hafner), there's actually some grounds for optimism in Cleveland. This remains a division for the taking if Minnesota's rotation unravels, and like the Twins, the Indians have some young pitchers with upside, like Scott Lewis and Reyes, as well as guys like Carmona and the two Rafaels who could bounce back from last season (granted, Cliff Lee's not going to repeat 2008). The Indians have announced Pavano, Scott Lewis, and Reyes in their rotation and sent down Laffey and Jeremy Sowers, but there's nothing less reliable in this world than Carl Pavano, so I rated them on the assumption that Laffey, the lesser of those two evils, will have to step in soon enough; Pavano would rate at essentially zero. If the Indians' training staff can keep both Pavano and Kerry Wood healthy all season, they should get a Nobel Prize or something.
Choo is penciled in for now in the Indians' plans, but he's 27 and owes the South Korean government two years of compulsory military service before age 30, and awaits word on whether he can get an exemption. There are not the greatest of outfield options at the big league level if he has to go serve his country, but I would assume LaPorta would get a crack sooner or later. Peralta's another guy whose value in the real world is a good deal less than to fantasy baseball owners: his defense is poor, his OBPs are uninspired, and he's hit into 57 double plays the past 3 seasons. Valbuena, a 23 year old second baseman, may get a crack at regular playing time, but aside from an out-of-nowhere power surge in 70 games at AA last season (which he was unable to duplicate at Tacoma), his minor league line is pretty unimpressive.
And of course, there's Sizemore, the American League's answer to David Wright: like Wright, he's a perennial MVP candidate already at age 26, and like Wright he's likely sooner or later to have a bust-out year that soars over even his already elevated standards. Baseball-reference.com identifies the most similar player through age 25 as Barry Bonds (Duke Snider is third, having been Sizemore's closest comp in earlier years).
Raw EWSL: 220.00 (73 W)
Subjective Adjustments: None.
Also on Hand: Position players - Clete Thomas, who subbed adequately for Granderson in center field last season; 25 year old OF Brent Clevlen, coming off a .279/.358/.496 season at AAA Toledo; and 26-year-old 1B Jeff Larish, coming off a .250/.341/.477 season at Toledo. All three could likely step in and provide adequate production, much as the Twins were able to keep throwing rookies out there last season. Pitchers - Dontrelle Willis is still part of the eventual rotation mix unless the Tigers can find a greater fool for his contract, although he's unlikely to be in the Opening Day rotation, as is 20 year old super-prospect Rick Porcello, who pitched well but without a whole lot of strikeouts in his first go-round in pro ball last season. The mediocre K rate is nothing to worry about until we see another season from him, but it does suggest he's not big league ready. Also Juan Rincon, Clay Rapada, and Freddy Dolsi. Aquilino Lopez has been justifiably given the boot after a year in which he had good K/BB numbers and a 3.55 ERA, but let in 29 of 57 inherited runners and saw the Tigers lose two thirds of his appearances.
Analysis: By season's end, the Tigers and Indians looked like Germany and Russia circa 1919, two onetime adversaries reduced to rubble, shell shock and internal strife. While nobody as valuable as Sabathia has left Detroit, the Tigers' problems may be more intractable, with more, older players (Polanco, Guillen and Ordonez are all 33 and up and Sheffield may be finished) and more severe pitching injuries, especially to Bonderman and Zumaya. I'm more optimistic about Verlander, but the rotation remains questionable, and Brandon Lyon is not exactly the most reliable closer.
Maybe it's a coincidence that the Marlins' defense improved significantly, and the Tigers' decayed significantly, when Cabrera left Florida for Detroit. The revelation about Vlad Guerrero being a year older than he let on makes me wonder about guys like Cabrera who - great a hitter as he is - tend to get a very large boost by analysts for being so young.
Hard to believe Granderson's 28 already. He played at close to MVP candidate level after his return last season, but the Tigers never escaped the hole his injury caused, especially defensively.
Kansas City Royals
Raw EWSL: 185.83 (62 W)
Subjective Adjustments: None, but color me a skeptic on Aviles repeating 2008.
Also on Hand: Position players - Well, there's Ryan Shealy and Tony Pena, both refugees from the starting lineup, as well as catcher Brayan Pena (who has been stuck in AAA for four years) and outfielder Shane Costa. 25-year Hawaiian 1B Kila Ka'aihue is an enigma, batting .199/.303/.300 in AA in 2006, .248/.359/.435 between A and AA in 2007, then exploding for 38 homers and a .313/.453/.618 line at three levels, mostly AA, in 2008. Pitchers - As usual, a cast of thousands, including Robinson Tejeda (who could end up in the pen or the rotation), Sir Sidney Ponson (who actually stands a pretty decent chance of cracking the rotation), Brandon Duckworth, Joel Peralta, and John Bale.
Analysis: The Royals are still the Royals, so fourth place is something they aspire to. There remains a lot of upside in Gordon, Butler and Greinke, and it's too early to write off Hochevar after a bad rookie campaign, although based on his 4.35 career minor league ERA, the jury is still out on whether there was ever a rational basis to consider him something more than the next Dan Reichert or Jeremy Affeldt. Greinke, by contrast, is a pitcher, not just a thrower; on a team with more offensive and defensive support I'd be more willing to buy into the idea that he's on the verge of emerging as an elite pitcher, or rather of putting up numbers commensurate with that stature.
I have a feeling that Coco Crisp is going to have a much improved year with the bat. No, I don't precisely have a rational basis for that other than a lifetime of watching the shapes of players' careers. DeJesus remains the Lee Mazzilli of these Royals. It's hard to envision this team winning anything (defined as 85 or more games) so long as Guillen is in the clubhouse.
Chicago White Sox
Raw EWSL: 167.67 (56 W)
Subjective Adjustments: None.
Also on Hand: Position players - Jayson Nix, whose leg injury mostly left the 2B job to Getz; perennial disappointing CF Brian Anderson; Ben Broussard; and 33-year-old Crash Davis-style minor league catcher Corky Miller, and young SS Gordon Beckham. Pitchers - Bartolo Colon looks like he'll be in the starting rotation, but as with Pavano, I've rated the guy (Richard) likely to pick up the slack if Colon's not able to hitch up the plow every five days; the White Sox wouldn't rate much better if I rated Colon, who has amassed four Win Shares in the past three years. Then again, at least at the outset, Contreras may still be on the shelf. Jeffrey Marquez and Lance Broadway are also on hand. MacDougal is not a favorite of Ozzie Guillen, but his performance record still gives him the inside edge over those guys.
Analysis: EWSL and I were pretty down on the White Sox and wrong about it last year, and this year's prognosis is grimmer still; I don't actually see this as a last place team, but they do have real problems. Last year's improvement was driven by a bunch of breakout years from young players (Quentin, Danks, Floyd and Cuban import Ramirez); other than maybe the still gopher-prone Floyd, those guys look likely to be the real deal, but that doesn't mean they won't backslide some this season. It was also driven by the veteran power core, and another year of age on Thome, Dye and Konerko (also Pierzynski, Contreras and Dotel) is likely to catch up with them soon. The White Sox are likely to miss Orlando Cabrera's glove, and they still don't have a credible center fielder. That said, Fields could still provide some upside at 3B.
Flowers is 23 and hasn't played above A ball, and will start the season in the minors, and you never trust a guy the Braves let get away, but his career .291/.400/.488 line suggests potential, and it won't be surprising if the Sox give him the everyday job and deal AJ at some point.
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 12:00 PM | Baseball 2009 | Baseball Studies | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)