Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
April 6, 2009
BASEBALL: 2009 AL East EWSL Report
Part 3 of my preseason previews is the AL East; this is the third 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 previews: the AL Central and AL West.
Key: + (Rookie) * (Based on one season) # (Based on two seasons)
The Hated Yankees
Raw EWSL: 283.00 (94 W)
Subjective Adjustments: None; I had considered downgrading A-Rod for his injury, but the age adjustment hacks off 5 Win Shares, and that's probably a built-in adjustment for the scope of the injury (assuming A-Rod is something like the old A-Rod when he returns; if he's not, things will get ugly in a hurry).
The Yankees get a boost for having two outfielders on the bench (Swisher and Melky) who are rated largely on the basis of regular playing time, but that just offsets Gardner and Matsui, who are not.
Also on Hand: Non-Pitchers - The Yankees' bench is stronger than it has been in some time, but the next level down is still pretty sad; other than Shelley Duncan, the people immediately on hand are non-hitting catcher Kevin Cash and Royals castoff Angel Berroa. 22-year-old OF prospect Austin Jackson appears to be a year away from being ready to help at the big league level.
Pitchers - Here, there is more depth. Phil Hughes will likely step in if one of the rotation starters gets hurt (a pretty good bet with the likes of Burnett and Joba), and there's also Brett Tomko, Ian Kennedy and Kei Igawa, although the latter two are in very bad odor. Also relievers Jonathan Abadejo, Phil Coke and Alfredo Aceves. Darrell Rasner signed with a team in Japan.
Analysis: The Yankees seem more vulnerable offensively than they have in years, with the injury to A-Rod and Father Time chasing down Jeter, Posada, Damon and Matsui. But EWSL says they are still the team to beat in this division, thanks very largely to the acquisitions of Teixeira and Sabathia (see here if you missed my look back at the Yankee's pitching acquisitions of the last 35 years). I'm not sure I'd go that far, but this team has excellent starting pitching, few holes and a fair amount of redundancy built in; they're going to be formidable.
This is (other than Wang) a very high-strikeout staff, maybe even one that could challenge the 2001 Yankees' AL record for strikeouts (1266). Andy Pettitte, at 7 K/9, was above his career average last season and higher than in any of the Yankees' championship seasons, and Sabathia, Burnett and Joba combined to strike out 600 batters in 574.2 innings last season, 9.4 per 9 innings. Of course, they will still need defense. The Yankees, as so often has been the case in the past decade (and in contrast to days of yore) were third from the bottom of the AL in defensive efficiency. With many of the same fielders returning, aside from a distinct upgrade at first, the pressure will be on the light-hitting speedster Brett Gardner (the poor man's Jacoby Ellsbury) to provide a boost with the glove. Gardner is a kind of light, fast player the Yankees haven't had much lately - Derek Jeter in 2006 is the only Yankee in the last five years to steal 30 bases in a season; Chuck Knoblauch in 2001 and Tony Womack in 2005 are the only Yankees since 1995 to steal 20 or more bases without hitting double figures in home runs.
Somehow, though, the story of the Yankees' year seems destined to be Alex Rodriguez. Your guess of how he will perform when he returns is as good as mine. With Cody Ransom handling third base in his absence, the pressure will mount daily to get A-Rod's bat back in the lineup no matter how unpopular he is.
Boston Red Sox
Raw EWSL: 258.00 (86 W)
Subjective Adjustments: None.
Also on Hand: Non-Pitchers - Infielder Nick Green, and outfielders Cris Carter, Paul McAnulty and Chip Ambres. The Brad Wilkerson experiment seems to have run its course; Wilkerson was once a multi-tool player, but too many disappointing seasons have left him at what looks like the end of the line at 32.
Pitchers - The Red Sox have an embarrassment of pitching riches, even taking account of the traditional baseball maxim that you can never have too much pitching, and if you do you'll end up needing it all. I didn't even have room to list reliever Ramon Ramirez, the bounty of the Coco Crisp deal who had an outstanding year for the Royals last season, or Justin Masterson. The Sox hope to get John Smoltz to return around June, and presumably they'll make room for him somewhere. Clay Buchholz was a hotter property than Lester this time last year; Buchholz had a 2.52 ERA this spring (0.46 until his last spring outing), he struck out 8.5 men per 9 last season and had a 2.47 ERA while striking out a batter per inning at Pawtucket last season; none of that was enough to avoid getting sent back to AAA this year, but for a 24-year-old pitcher with his credentials and stuff, 76 innings of poor control and too many longballs last season should not be enough to give up on him as a prospect.
Analysis: The Sawx remain a deep team with few real holes and lots of pitching depth, albeit without a proven front-line regular-season ace (yes, I know about Lester's and Matsuzaka's big years last season and Beckett's 2007 and postseason glories). The offense should be OK as long as Jason Bay doesn't revert to 2007 form, even assuming some return to earth from Pedroia, but the man in the spotlight will be David Ortiz. Ortiz remained productive last season, but 2007's falloff in homers amid an otherwise outstanding season followed by 2008's distinctly declining production for a guy who - while better-conditioned - has the build of a Mo Vaughn or a George Scott raises the question of whether he'll be following a similar mid-30s fade or whether last year was just the kind of off year that signals a guy moving out of his prime but not necessarily sledding straight downhill.
Baldelli should get his chance to seize the fourth outfielder role before Kotsay returns from injury.
Tampa Bay Rays
Raw EWSL: 210.33 (70 W)
Subjective Adjustments: None; I could rate Niemann as a starter and Price as a reliever, but it doesn't really matter. Niemann will open as the fifth starter following Jason Hammel's trade to Colorado, but Price will be in the rotation pretty quickly, I have to assume, and the Rays don't seem shy about sending Niemann to the pen.
Also on Hand: Non-Pitchers - Gabe Kapler in the outfield and Adam Kennedy in the infield provide insurance. SS prospect Reid Brignac is on hand, but will be pressed to make his move quickly on Bartlett by the specter of Tim Beckham, the last first pick in the draft the Rays are likely to have for a while. Outfielder Fernando Perez is out three months with a dislocated wrist. Morgan Ensberg was in camp but was cut.
Pitchers - Reliever Joe Nelson, who had a great year for the Marlins last season and veteran relievers Jason Isringhausen, Chad Bradford, Brian Shouse and Lance Cormier provide depth.
Analysis: EWSL rates the Rays pretty highly when you factor in all the adjustments, but it's unsurprising that any rating based on established major league performance still shows they have to prove last year wasn't a fluke compared to the twin titans of this division. Of course, at the end of the day, it's unlikely that there will be three 95-win teams in the East no matter how solid they are; one of them will have to give.
I scoffed last season at Baseball Prospectus' projection that the Rays would cut their runs allowed from 944 to 713 in a single year, being unable to find any precedent for such an enormous percentage reduction in runs allowed by a single team in a single year and operating on the assumption that you never predict something that's never happened before. A year later, I still have yet to do a systematic study but I've also yet to locate another team with such a dramatic reduction - yet the Rays allowed 671 runs, accounting for almost the entirety of their improved record. As I've detailed on several occasions, that improvement was partly the young pitching but overwhelmingly the defense. There being really no precedent for this sort of thing, I remain guarded and skeptical at best about whether they can avoid a natural letdown from such a drastic leap forward in defense in a single season.
If you are looking for a sleeper on this suddenly under-the-microscope team, it would be Matt Joyce, who slugged .492 with the Tigers last season before being dealt for Edwin Jackson. Joyce may even get an audition in center when Upton's unavailable.
Toronto Blue Jays
Raw EWSL: 186.50 (62 W)
Subjective Adjustments: None.
Also on Hand: Non-Pitchers - Joe Inglett and Russ Adams in the infield, Buck Coats in the outfield and catching prospect Curtis Thigpen.
Pitchers - Dustin McGowan may or may not be out for the season; Shawn Marcum likely is. Others on hand include relievers Jason Frasor and Shawn Camp, as well as TJ Beam, Brad Mills, Brian Burres (a year removed from his unfortunate tenure in the Baltimore rotation), Casey Janssen, and Brett Cecil.
Analysis: Sometimes, a team that underachieves its Pythagorean projection is a candidate for a leap forward the next season on the grounds that bad luck evens out, but sometimes, as with the Jays (who fell 7 games under theirs last season), it's just a missed opportunity. The injuries to McGowan and Marcum and the departure of Burnett have left a shell-shocked remnant of the AL's best pitching staff last season (hey, you could look it up). Litsch, with a career average of 4.7 K/9, seems an unreliable second starter, and things get scarier after that (Purcey's an excellent prospect but as yet unproven). And beyond Lind and Snider, both unproven as well, there isn't a lot of future in their current lineup - Rios and Hill and in their primes, and the rest are 30 and up. Not that you'd be looking to dump a guy like Rios, but at this point he doesn't look like much to build a championship team around.
Raw EWSL: 160.50 (54 W)
Subjective Adjustments: None.
Also on Hand: Non-Pitchers - Newly-acquired infielder Robert Andino, catcher Robby Hammock, Luis Montanez and Donnie Murphy.
Pitchers - Rich Hill, who has fallen incredibly far in such a short time but will probably get another crack at a rotation gig once he's healthy, Danys Baez, Matt Albers and Radhames Liz.
Analysis: Another grim year in Baltimore, and like Toronto, while the Orioles don't look like they have a 100-loss kind of lineup, their weaknesses - especially a pitching staff that may rival the Rangers for the league's worst when you adjust for the park - will be brutally exposed playing New York, Boston and Tampa all year.
That said, there is some hope here - once Wieters gets promoted, you really do have a core of very young and at least possibly very good players in Wieters, Markakis, Jones and Pie (the latter two being crapshoots at this stage, but young and gifted enough to be worth hoping on). Hopefully for O's fans, they won't fall into delusions of adequacy again if the rotation opens with a few good weeks.
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 12:01 AM | Baseball 2009 | Baseball Studies | Comments (7) | TrackBack (0)