Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
April 14, 2009
BASEBALL: 2009 NL West EWSL Report

Part 5 of my preseason previews is the NL West; this is the fifth 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, NL East.

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

Los Angeles Dodgers

Raw EWSL: 232.67 (78 W)
Adjusted: 251.63 (84 W)
Age-Adj.: 234.49 (78 W)
2009 W-L: 91-71

C26Russell Martin2022
1B25James Loney#1318
2B31Orlando Husdon1916
SS31Rafael Furcal1411
3B35Casey Blake1510
RF27Andre Ethier1818
CF24Matt Kemp1317
LF37Manny Ramirez2516
C240Brad Ausmus84
INF35Doug Mientkiewicz85
OF31Juan Pierre119
1237Mark Loretta117
1323Blake DeWitt*612
SP124Chad Billingsley1315
SP234Hiroki Kuroda*57
SP321Clayton Kershaw*37
SP432Randy Wolf64
SP536Jason Schmidt32
RP125Jonathan Broxton1011
RP226Cory Wade*47
RP331Will Ohman43
RP435Guillermo Mota32
RP527Hong-Chih Kuo65

Subjective Adjustments: None; this team is pretty heavy on established talent.

Also on Hand: Non-Pitchers - Infielder Tony Abreu, outfielders Jason Repko and Delwyn Young, and catcher Danny Ardoin.

Pitchers - Claudio Vargas is on the 60-day DL. Joe Torre wants Jeff Weaver to take a crack as a reliever, but for now, Weaver and Shawn Estes are Isotopes. Also Ronald Belisario, Ramon Trancoso, and James McDonald.

Analysis: The Dodgers bear a pretty strong Joe Torre stamp by now, especially the antiquarian bench. 16 Win Shares still looks small for Manny after his colossal 2008 stretch run, but the history of 37-year-old hitters is ugly; even if he hits, there's the risk of injury. The Manny lovefest in LA has already been tarnished some by the offseason wrangling; it will be Torre's job to keep him happy for another year (you take one month at a time with Manny). Hudson, meanwhile, should upgrade the interior defense (especially if Furcal is healthy), helping offset an outfield defense with Kemp stretched in center and Manny in left. The pivotal guy for the offense, though, may be Loney, a lifetime .304 hitter who is about reaching the point where he'll either start hitting some home runs or never do it.

The rotation's combination of the young, wild Kershaw and the surgically rebuilt Wolf and Schmidt is naturally unstable, and will undoubtedly at some point tempt Torre to put Kuo back into a starter's role. Then again, the bullpen isn't that solid even when healthy.

The Dodgers are the natural favorite in the West, but age and injuries will be their trial.

Arizona Diamondbacks

Raw EWSL: 210.33 (70 W)
Adjusted: 222.03 (74 W)
Age-Adj.: 216.61 (72 W)
2009 W-L: 85-77

C28Chris Snyder1414
1B29Chad Tracy66
2B29Felipe Lopez1111
SS26Stephen Drew1719
3B25Mark Reynolds#1319
RF21Justin Upton*48
CF25Chris Young#1419
LF27Conor Jackson1516
C225Miguel Montero#34
INF34Augie Ojeda44
OF33Eric Byrnes119
1237Tony Clark32
1325Alex Romero*11
SP130Brandon Webb2118
SP228Danny Haren1817
SP333Doug Davis96
SP429Jon Garland1110
SP524Max Scherzer*25
RP130Chad Qualls109
RP230Jon Rauch98
RP327Tony Pena77
RP441Tom Gordon43
RP535Scott Schoeneweis42

Subjective Adjustments: None. Scherzer seems likely to do better than 5 Win Shares if he's healthy, but combine that with the uncertainty inherent in any young pitcher, and I'm leaving him as is. Webb's injury doesn't yet look bad enough for me to feel confident about downgrading him from 18.

Also on Hand: Non-Pitchers - Infielder/utilityman Ryan Roberts.

Pitchers - Relievers Doug Slaten, Billy Buckner and Juan Gutierrez and swingman Yusmiero Petit.

Analysis: You need three things to develop a young team into a powerhouse. One, you need a plan that identifies good young talent, commits to developing young players and slotting them into your lineup and pitching staff. Two, you need money - at least enough money to keep guys up through free agency and bring in the occasional complementary veteran. And three, you need luck - all the scouting in the world can't guarantee you'll land a major star.

The D-Backs have executed the first two parts of the plan: by a weighted average of their starting lineup by non-age-adjusted EWSL, they come in at an average age of 26.5, right on the sweet spot for a team coming into its own. They have multi-talented athletes, power threats, good gloves....but as of yet, when you let the park-effect air out (besides scoring 4.84 runs/game in 81 games at Chase Field last season, they scored 6.11 runs per game in their 9 road games at Coors, compared to 3.79 everywhere else), there are no stars in this lineup. And Reynolds, with his stone glove and outrageous K rate, isn't primed to become one, which leaves the D-Backs hoping either that (1) Drew or Young will have a big year or (2) Upton will mature into a star faster than his brother did.

Arizona seems a perfect illustration, however, of Bill James' "Devil's Theory of Ballparks," by which teams in good hitters' parks get complacent about mediocre hitters who put up big numbers, but develop outstanding pitching staffs because only the strong survive there (and vice versa for pitcher's parks). (The theory has exceptions, as an extreme location like Colorado simply destroys pitchers). Because what the D-Backs do have is - at least when healthy - a genuinely outstanding rotation. Scherzer, who throws nasty stuff in the high 90s, should make for a fearsome Big 3 when he comes off the DL tonight, assuming he can stay healthy and nothing is seriously wrong with Webb's shoulder. Haren in particular managed the difficult feat of setting a career high in K/9 and career lows in HR/9 and BB/9 while moving into high-scoring Chase.

Arizona's main asset last season was their superior ability to pound the NL West's three weak sisters: they went 8-10 head to head against the Dodgers, but picked up six games by going 36-18 against Colorado, San Francisco and San Diego (they were 15-3 against the Rox) compared to 30-24 by the Dodgers.

I expect Arizona, as usual, to hang in the division and wild card races to the end. The health question marks about their pitching, and the loss of Orlando Hudson's glove, are the main reasons to hesitate picking them as the favorites in the NL West.

Colorado Rockies

Raw EWSL: 170.67 (57 W)
Adjusted: 185.44 (62 W)
Age-Adj.: 182.72 (61 W)
2009 W-L: 74-88

C26Chris Iannetta#1014
1B35Todd Helton1510
2B30Clint Barmes76
SS24Troy Tulowitzki#1319
3B29Garrett Atkins1615
RF30Brad Hawpe1715
CF29Ryan Spilborghs87
LF26Seth Smith*23
C230Yorvit Torrealba54
INF24Ian Stewart*512
OF23Dexter Fowler+04
1228Jeff Baker44
1327Omar Quintanilla22
SP130Aaron Cook1311
SP225Ubaldo Jimenez#79
SP330Jason Marquis76
SP428Jorge De La Rosa44
SP523Franklin Morales#12
RP125Huston Street1112
RP226Manny Corpas99
RP327Taylor Buchholz66
RP432Jason Grilli64
RP539Alan Embree54

Subjective Adjustments: None.

Also on Hand: Non-Pitchers - Outfielders Matt Murton, Carlos Gonzalez and Eric Young (that's Eric junior), and 1B Dan Ortmeier. Scott Podsednik was cut and signed with the White Sox.

Pitchers - Ace Jeff Francis is out for the season following shoulder surgery. Many options are on hand: starters Greg Smith, Josh Fogg, Jason Hammell, Greg Reynolds and Glendon Rusch, and relievers Matt Belisle and Ryan Speier. I didn't say they were all good options, but Smith at least deserves another chance in a big-league rotation after posting a 4.16 ERA in 32 starts with Oakland last year (although his peripheral numbers were not encouraging).

Analysis: The departure of Matt Holliday and the loss of Francis formalized the Rockies' return to full-time also-ran status, and Helton's advancing age and declining health and production (just 29 RBI last season) mark the end of an era in Colorado baseball. The lineup is weak, the rotation in shambles. Fowler and Stewart will probably end up playing a lot - Fowler's had more plate appearances than Seth Smith so far, and there's not going to be any reason not to let the kids play.

I understand why people think Huston Street was overrated in Oakland, and certainly his start this season (10.12 ERA through 3 appearances) is not encouraging, but I don't subscribe to the idea that a guy who entered the season with career averages of 0.6 HR/9, 2.6 BB/9 and 9.1 K/9 is a certain disaster waiting to happen or necessarily a bad pick over Corpas to close. Street's only 25, he should have more up his sleeve. That said, there have been concerns over both his and Corpas' velocity, and Street's not a guy who can lose a few miles off his heater and remain an elite reliever.

San Francisco Giants

Raw EWSL: 173.50 (58 W)
Adjusted: 188.93 (63 W)
Age-Adj.: 178.62 (60 W)
2009 W-L: 72-90

C34Ben Molina1613
1B25Travis Ishikawa*25
2B24Emanuel Burriss*25
SS33Edgar Renteria1211
3B22Pablo Sandoval*312
RF35Randy Winn1712
CF31Aaron Rowand1513
LF28Fred Lewis#810
C237Rich Aurilia912
INF29Juan Uribe1211
OF25Nate Schierholtz#23
1227Eugenio Velez*24
1331Andres Torres00
SP125Tim Lincecum#1520
SP224Matt Cain1315
SP326Jonathan Sanchez#34
SP445Randy Johnson96
SP531Barry Zito87
RP127Brian Wilson66
RP235Bobby Howry74
RP330Jeremy Affeldt54
RP429Brandon Medders22
RP526Alex Hinshaw*24

Subjective Adjustments: None. I could bump up Ishikawa on the same theory as I used to bump up Ortmeier last season, but that didn't work out so well.

Also on Hand: Non-Pitchers - Steve Holm is the #2 catcher, but has been sent down, so Sandoval will back up Molina. That's why I listed Aurilia as the backup catcher, since he will likely sub for Sandoval at third when Sandoval catches. I'm not sure I've seen a team carry only one catcher and use the backup to play everyday at another position before (maybe the Yankees when they used Elston Howard in left, before they got Johnny Blanchard). Also Kevin Frandsen.

Pitchers - Noah Lowry, still struggling to reclaim his past form; Joe Martinez, who is injured; and Justin Miller and his armful of tattoos.

Analysis: The Giants are probably a year away from getting a handle on whether any of their youngsters are going to be productive regulars, but at least they now have some. On the other hand, with a heavy investment in starting pitching, they have made the defensible decision to rest on veterans in the key defensive slots at C, SS and CF (perhaps less defensible in Renteria's case, as his glove is somewhat shaky at this stage). Progress by Sanchez in throwing some strikes and/or a return to form by Lowry would be a big help.

If you are wondering, Nolan Ryan at Johnson's age - 45 - remained effective and a power pitcher, but saw his K rate drop from 10.56 to 8.98. Johnson's throwing well thus far, and while his durability is dubious at best, he seems to have recovered his strikeout rates from their dropoff with the Yankees.

San Diego Padres

Raw EWSL: 145.50(49 W)
Adjusted: 170.47 (57 W)
Age-Adj.: 159.34 (53 W)
2009 W-L: 66-96

C25Nick Hundley*24
1B27Adrian Gonzalez2324
2B34David Eckstein109
SS29Luis Rodriguez32
3B27Kevin Kouzmanoff#1215
RF38Brian Giles1914
CF31Jody Gerut75
LF25Chase Headley*410
C237Henry Blanco32
INF31Edgar Gonzalez*46
OF29Scott Hairston76
1236Cliff Floyd75
1322Everth Cabrera+04
SP128Jake Peavy1615
SP230Chris Young97
SP329Cha Seung Baek#43
SP428Kevin Correia44
SP532Walter Silva+04
RP131Heath Bell86
RP226Cla Meredith55
RP325Edward Mujica*00
RP425Luke Gregerson+06
RP529Duaner Sanchez33

Subjective Adjustments: None.

Also on Hand: Non-Pitchers - Perennial journeyman outfielder Emil Brown.

Pitchers - Starters Shawn Hill and Mark Prior, although Prior is way, way off anybody's radar to pitch again soon. Reliever Mike Adams, who is injured. Also Edwin Moreno and Eulogio De La Cruz.

Analysis: The Padres win this year's award, usually going to the Marlins, for most players I had to add to the spreadsheets for the first time; it's practically half the roster, as only 8 players return from last season's Padres depth chart. The Mets announcers last night quoted Bud Black as saying that the Padres' bullpen would change as other teams released people, which pretty much speaks for itself. Don't be fooled by the 6-2 start, this team has a lot of holes and comparatively few strengths. Hundley, if you are wondering, is no relation to Todd and Randy; he just happens to be a weak-hitting catcher named Hundley.

If nothing else, the Mets can feel good about having distributed their failed relievers across the NL - Mota in LA, Schoeneweis in Arizona, Sanchez in SD, Heilman in Chicago, Jorge Sosa in Washington. Of course, if watching Sanchez and Bell last night is any indication, those guys will be lights out against the Mets.

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.

You can compare the prior NL West roundups here: 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:30 PM | Baseball 2009 • | Baseball Studies | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Nice to see that Manny is better than Johnny Damon this year.

Posted by: jim at April 16, 2009 3:24 PM
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