Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
April 10, 2009
BASEBALL: 2009 NL East EWSL Report
Part 4 of my preseason previews is the NL East; this is the fourth 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: AL Central and AL West, AL East.
Key: + (Rookie) * (Based on one season) # (Based on two seasons)
New York Mets
Raw EWSL: 254.67 (85 W)
Subjective Adjustments: None.
Also on Hand: Non-Pitchers - Utilityman/pinch hitter Marlon Anderson is clinging to the last roster spot for now; he will probably be moving soon into a role as a third base coach. Nick Evans was the odd man out in the outfield corners but remains a promising if unspectacular prospect. Angel Pagan, now long-forgotten after last year's hot start, will return to the outfield mix when he returns from injury, but continues to lack any significant skills. Robinson Cancel is the third catcher when he finds space on the roster, as he will do whenever Castro is on the DL. Fernando Martinez remains a heralded prospect but has yet to put up numbers commensurate with that status and is unlikely to get more than a late-season cup of tea; perhaps he'll still end up a superstar, but perhaps he should have been traded while his reputation was sky-high.
Pitchers - Billy Wagner is out for most or all of the season, but the bullpen could really be impressive if he makes it back by September, as has not yet been ruled out. Darren O'Day is currently in the pen. Jon Niese will likely claim the fifth starter job eventually; rehabbing Freddy Garcia and organizational fodder Nelson Figueroa and Casey Fossum are also candidates. Other pitchers in the mix include reliever Brian Stokes, swing man Tim Redding (also on the DL) and starter Brandon Knight. Orlando Hernandez remains unsigned at last check; I've lost track of whether he's trying to pitch this season, but it won't be with the Mets; the same goes for Matt Wise. A return of Pedro Martinez hasn't been ruled out - Omar still loves him - but seems unlikely.
Analysis: This Mets team is no juggernaut, but it could well be enough to take the division despite the weak links at second base, catcher and the outfield corners, due to the powerful frontline talent that if anything has gotten younger the past two years as K-Rod, Santana and Pelfrey have replaced Wagner, Pedro and Glavine. The bullpen should be improved, although as I have noted repeatedly, K-Rod's workload and declining K rate and Putz's health are both risks. But this team will ultimately rise or fall on its starting pitching; the front four starters all have their risk factors but they all have upsides too, albeit in Santana's case his upside is doing the same thing again. Santana's gradual transition to a control pitcher is a concern, as are Pelfrey's big jump-up in innings last season and still low K rate. Perez might flop or bust out or pretty much anywhere in between. But the most pivotal of all is Maine, who showed flashes of real star potential in late 2006 and much of 2007, but faded down the stretch in 2007 (other than his sensational start the next to last day of the season) and was sufficiently hobbled by injury last year to raise questions about whether he's cut out to be a starter at all. If Maine fails to make 30 starts this season, his days as a starting pitcher may be numbered.
Let's compare two starters in 2008:
The first, of course, is Pedro Martinez; the second is Livan Hernandez (who may or may not actually be 34 years old now). Livan allowed 257 hits in 180 innings in 2008; among pitchers to qualify for the ERA title, that's the third-highest hits/innings ratio since 1900, and the top two pitched in the Baker Bowl in the 1930s. Neither was effective in 2008, but looking at those lines I'd take Pedro's still-respectable K numbers and K/BB ratio (and velocity and ability to change speeds) over Livan's superior control and less gruesome HR numbers. The Mets have their reasons for preferring Livan - partly his durability and mostly his lower salary demands - but it would be hard to justify preferring Livan as a baseball decision.
Sometimes, players have a clear trendline pointing one way or another, but Carlos Delgado is all ways at once. On the one hand, he's 37 and coming off a year of dramatic improvement, so you would expect a serious dropoff; on the other, he's leaving a park that just murdered him (Delgado batted .237/.337/.458 for his career at Shea Stadium, although he did hit 21 homers at home last year), and he tore the cover off the ball after getting healthy again after a string of nagging injuries. My hope is that Delgado will take a slow decline from where he was the last four months of last season, which might mean, say, 28 HR and a .340 OBP. Delgado has started hot, but then last season he batted .375/.423/.542 the first six games before falling into a funk and being useless through the end of May.
In addition to keeping Putz healthy, the hard-throwing Parnell - still a work in progress - may become important, given that Feliciano and especially Green have had problems with overwork in recent years. The Mets will simply need to avoid having those guys throw 75+ appearances.
World Champion Philadelphia Phillies
Raw EWSL: 260.50 (87 W)
Subjective Adjustments: None; as befits a defending World Champion, the Phillies are relying entirely on established players.
Also on Hand: Non-Pitchers - Infielder Pablo Ozuna, outfielder Jason Ellison, and John Mayberry jr. Marcus Giles, in camp with the Phillies, did not make the team and appears to be finished.
Pitchers - Relievers Gary Majewski and Scott Eyre; starter Kyle Kendrick is in the minors; also JA Happ and Jack Taschner.
Analysis: The Phillies had to win when they did - this is not yet an old team, and the window of opportunity probably has a good two more years left in it, but there's little room for improvement left, as Hamels is the only player listed here under age 28 (Moyer was 28 in 1991). The Phillies' bullpen was their surprising strength last season; how that holds up will have a lot to do with their ability to repeat as division champs, let alone in the playoffs. As for the rotation, you'd love to have five of Hamels, but beyond him, the question is what kind of pitcher thrives in a bandbox like Citizens Bank. You'd assume that the pinpoint control of Moyer and Blanton has been their success - make the homers solo shots - but actually Hamels walked many fewer batters, whereas Moyer allowed the rotation's fewest longballs - 0.9 per 9 innings, his lowest average in five years and only the second time in the past decade he's allowed fewer than a homer per 9. That seems unlikely to continue; his groundball percentage was up last year, but mostly he allowed far fewer homers per fly ball, some of which is just luck. In fact, among current Phils who have thrown at least 50 innings at Citizens Bank, Moyer has the worst career ERA there:
Raw EWSL: 196.33 (65 W)
Subjective Adjustments: None.
Also on Hand: Non-Pitchers - Clint Sammons is the third catcher. Nobody else appears immediately on the horizon, but young players seem to shoot pretty quickly through the Atlanta system to arrive in time to help out the big club in mid-season.
Pitchers - Tim Hudson could be back from Tommy John surgery by August, which would help. Other available arms include Blaine Boyer, JoJo Reyes, Buddy Carlyle, Boone Logan, Jeff Bennett, and Charlie Morton.
Analysis: Speaking of pitchers with diametrically opposite styles, it would be hard to find teammates more specially designed for opposite circumstances than Lowe, Mr. Groundball, and Vazquez, Mr. Flyball. The revamped veteran-heavy rotation was a necessity for the Braves, who have had their starting staff unravel in recent years and don't have young arms ready to carry the load besides Jurrjens.
This isn't exactly a contending team - the Braves aren't a bad team, but they'll need the Mets and Phillies to stumble badly to be a serious player in the race. It's not quite a rebuilding team either - McCann is a young star, Jurrjens could be, Schafer may be in a few years (he's supposed to be a multi-tool type, he's still very young, and I know the Braves have a lot of pitcher's parks in their system, but he's also a career .270/.339/.447 hitter in the minors who's never hit more than 15 homers in a season and hasn't played above AA before); Francouer could still find his way, but he regressed so badly last season he's lucky to have a job at all. Kotchman, Johnson and Escobar are all solid players just hitting their primes, though none have star potential. The Gonzalez-Soriano 1-2 punch in the pen never seems to end up as impressive as it should be, although Gonzalez' bizarre rocking motion does appear to have added an additional level of deception to an effective reliever. Campillo actually had the staff's best K/BB ratio last season and should get an extended look somewhere on the staff.
The third basemen are next up in my annual "Path to Cooperstown" series, and I intend to get a serous look at where Chipper stacks up against the best third basemen of all time, updating this from before the 2001 season, but I'm thinking he may well be in the top five by now, jockeying for position with Brett and Boggs, a bit ahead of Brooks Robinson and Pie Traynor and behind Schmidt and Eddie Mathews.
Raw EWSL: 151.50 (51 W)
Subjective Adjustments: I added +4 to Bonifacio, who is rated on a fairly small major league sample here but seems to have the third base job in hand.
Also on Hand: Non-Pitchers - 1B Gaby Sanchez is in AAA. Dallas McPherson wins the "what does a guy have to do?" award for being released this spring after keeping his back healthy all year and smashing 42 homers in 448 at bats at AAA (along with a .379 OBP). McPherson's still an injury risk who strikes out a ton, but he's only 28 and has legitimate power, so he figures to catch on somewhere.
Pitchers - Rick VandenHurk, Dan Meyer and Hayden Penn are all hoping to turn things around after falling from grace as starting pitching prospects. Scott Proctor is also in the bullpen.
Analysis: As usual, EWSL is pretty much at a loss in dealing with the Marlins, since "established major leaguer" generally translates into "former Marlin." The rotation is very young and regrouping from injury, a bad combination if you want to try to rely on major league track records. Maybin has tools to burn but is still extremely raw. This looks like a team that will jostle with the Braves for third, but with this much youth on hand, you never know. The Marlins have continued to get more mobile and athletic, which has to help them consolidate the gains in team defense that followed the departure of Miguel Cabrera.
Volstad's ERA was very impressive last season, but 3.8 BB and 5.5 K per 9 are not a good mix; unless he can keep his HR/9 rate down near last season's microscopic 0.3 per 9, he'll have problems, and even then he still needs work on his control. Nolasco's K numbers are much more impressive. Bonifacio has made a lot of early noise, but didn't hit a lick for the Nationals last season and has a career .285/.341/.362 line in the minors. Hermida, of course, continues to disappoint - he's got JD Drew's durability without the same kind of production - but at 25, he is still young enough that we should not be surprised if he takes a huge leap forward at some point.
The perils of not doing previews all at once: sharp-eyed observers will notice that the NL East preview includes two players (Sheffield and Gload) who were also featured in my AL Central preview.
Raw EWSL: 164.33 (55 W)
Subjective Adjustments: None. Anderson Hernandez isn't rated on anything like a full season's worth of work, but I remain unconvinced that he can hit enough to play every day, despite his outstanding glovework (he's also on the DL to start the season). Nick Johnson, of course, will be worth a lot more than 5 WS if he's healthy, but that's as big an "if" as there is in the game.
Also on Hand: Non-Pitchers - Dmitri Young is still on the DL with a bad back and an uncertain timetable. Catcher Josh Bard and disappointing outfielders Ryan Langerhans and Corey Patterson are at AAA if needed. Wily Mo Pena has been given his walking papers.
Pitchers - Wil Ledezma, Gustavo Chacin, Steven Shell, Mike Hinckley, Julian Tavarez and Matt Chico; Chico is rehabbing from the unbiquitous Tommy John surgery.
Analysis: Hope and Change may be the buzzwords in political Washington, but both are in short supply for the capital's baseball team, which brings to mind words from the financial press these days instead. 14th among the 16 NL teams runs scored in 2008, 15th in runs allowed, just below average in defensive efficiency (and 15th in fielding percentage), 15th in homers, 13th in batting average, 13th in pitcher strikeouts, the Nationals needed to repair everything about their team, and while the addition of Adam Dunn addresses one of those needs - home run power - and there are causes for optimism regarding individual players (Jesus Flores showcased some doubles power early last season before fading in the second half, and Milledge as usual showed flashes), the failure to assemble a starting rotation leaves the Nats perennially in a hole that only a powerhouse offense - which they obviously lack - could get them out of. Importing Cabrera, the poor man's Bobby Witt, is just a symptom of the desperate need for stability. Ryan Zimmerman, of course, has been the biggest disappointment; it's no longer reasonable to project him as a guy who will go head-to-head against David Wright, but they need him to step up and become the team's go-to guy. It also doesn't help that a combination of inconsistency and lunacy has sent Dukes back to the bench yet again, given his talents. 2009 is unlikely to be as grim as 2008, although I suspect that the 72-win estimate above is the high end of what is realistic.
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 12:30 PM | Baseball 2009 | Baseball Studies | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)