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)
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.
Raw EWSL: 210.33 (70 W)
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.
Raw EWSL: 170.67 (57 W)
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)
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)
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.
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 (1) | TrackBack (0)