Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
March 24, 2010
BASEBALL: 2010 AL West EWSL Report
Part 1 of my preseason previews is the AL West; 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; while EWSL is a simple enough method that will be familiar to long-time readers, it takes a little introductory explaining, so I'd suggest you check out the explanations first if you're new to these previews. I've also resurrected for this season the team ages, which are weighted by non-age-adjusted EWSL, so the best players count more towards determining the age of the roster.
Some players are rated based on less than three seasons or given a rookie rating. Key:
Raw EWSL: 225.00 (88 W)
Subjective Adjustments: As I did last season, I'm trying to be very sparing with introducing purely subjective adjustments into what is intended to be an objective system, but sometimes you have to have a sanity check. I'm docking 2 Win Shares from Adam Moore, the Mariners' rookie catcher, because I can't quite value the combination of him and weak-hitting #2 catcher Rob Johnson as being cumulatively worth 20 Win Shares, and given the choice between the two, I prefer to dock the guy who is less proven. That said, Moore's career line in the minors is .301/.369/.483; even factoring in the very large adjustment from a Class A hitters' haven like High Desert to Safeco, that suggests a guy who will bring noticeably more pop than the punchless Johnson.
Also on Hand: Position players - Jack Hannahan, Matt Tuiasosopo, Corey Patterson, Mike Sweeney, Mike Carp, Josh Bard, Michael Saunders.
Pitchers - Luke French, Jason Vargas, Yusmiero Petit, Garrett Olson, Kanekoa Texeira, Randy Messenger, Ryan Feierabend. French appears to be the favorite to take Bedard's rotation slot until when and if Bedard is ever ready to pitch, and with Cliff Lee starting the season shelved with an abdominal strain, the staff may need to dig deeper than that. French put in three very undistinguished seasons in the Tigers' system before reeling off 13 excellent starts at AAA Toledo last year, posting a 2.98 ERA and improving his K/BB ratio to 3.6 from 1.47, earning him a promotion. He had a 3.38 ERA but weak peripherals with Detroit before arriving in Seattle, where he surrendered a ghastly 2.1 homers per 9 innings in 38 innings of work. So, French should be regarded as a work in progress.
Analysis: Probably no team moved as aggressively or with as clear a plan in mind in the offseason as the Mariners, a franchise adrift for much of the past 6 years despite occasional youth movements and spurts at overachieving contention-like records (last season's 85 wins exceeded their Pythagorean record - i.e., their record as predicted from runs scored and allowed - by 10 games). The reason was obvious: they saw an opportunity and a limited window to grab it. The opportunity came in the form of the Angels' free agency losses - John Lackey, Chone Figgins, Vlad Guerrero, on the heels of last year's losses of Francisco Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Jon Garland and Garret Anderson. It's cold comfort to Angels fans that many of those guys were declining commodities unlikely to match their prior production in Anaheim; the point was that that prior production will be hard to replace, leaving the team that dominated this division to the tune of five division titles in six years suddenly vulnerable. At the same time, with star Ichiro Suzuki now 36 and Felix Hernandez subject to the usual concerns about how long a very young pitcher can stay on top before he breaks down, the team had a sense of urgency about seizing this opportunity.
The Mariners' plan wasn't brilliant, but you can accomplish quite a lot just by knowing what you want to do and sticking with it. They snagged Figgins from the Angels, which killed two birds with one stone, depriving the Angels of his services and importing a slap hitter more suited to Safeco than departing underachieving slugger Adrian Beltre. Even if Figgins can't sustain his improvement in walks last season, he'll be a solid addition in the short run. Casey Kotchman was brought in to soften the blow of Russell Branyan's departure, and while Kotchman is a fairly punchless hitter, he's just hitting age 27 and he and Milton Bradley are both guys who similarly don't depend on the home run for their offensive value (Kotchman may end up platooned with Ryan Garko at first). Ditto for stretch-drive acquisition Jack Wilson at short and scrap heap claim Eric Byrnes.
On the pitching side, bringing in Cliff Lee was part of a larger project (along with last season's addition of Ian Snell) to prop up the Mariners' low team strikeout rate (only Felix Hernandez notched more than 90 Ks last season), rendering them less dependent on repeating last season's AL-best-by-a-wide-margin .712 Defensive Efficiency Rate, and enable the team to re-sign the rehabbing Erik Bedard without having to bank on him as the #2 starter.
Not everything fit the pattern, of course; the team re-upped 40-year-old Ken Griffey jr. to DH (assuming Bradley can play left), after Griffey hit .214, albeit with a really freaky home-road split in which he mauled opposing pitchers at Safeco but was utterly helpless on the road. But Griffey is apparently supposed to provide veteran leadership. If he falls on his face in a "Willie Mays, 1973" way, the Mariners don't have a ton of hitting depth to cover the LF/DH spots, especially if Bradley is, as usual, frequently unavailable. Griffey is the most extreme example of a division-wide trend: the average AL West DH is 36 years old this season.
Clearing 90 wins by more than a hair will be an uphill battle for Seattle unless Lee, Bedard, and Snell suddenly all get healthy and back to top form at once - like the rest of this division, the Mariners are out of the wild card race before the season starts, when you look at the AL East - but this team has definitely made the moves necessary to swipe a division title if one can be had in the high 80s.
Raw EWSL: 221.17 (87 W)
Subjective Adjustments: None, although I expect Brandon Wood to finally establish himself as a reputable major league hitter after cracking 160 home runs in a long minor league career that saw him bat .272/.338/.497, .296/.375/.595, and .293/.353/.557 over the past three full seasons at AAA. Also, one assumes that Kendry Morales will do better than 12 Win Shares, but I don't argue with EWSL's bias against guys like Wood and Morales whose recent history still includes flopping in extended trials against big-league competition.
Also on Hand: Position players - Robb Quinlan.
Pitchers - Scot Shields, Sean O'Sullivan. The stability of the Angels, even with all the free agent losses, is reflected in how few battles for roster spots and starting jobs they have this spring; if everybody's healthy, you'll know who their players are.
Analysis: Mike Scioscia also knows what he's doing, though I'm starting to worry he's suffering from Gene Mauch/Buck Rogers Syndrome, where the ownership assumes he can keep winning without having to supply him with quality players. Notice, as is often the case with the Angels, the focus on prime talent: the roster above includes two 25-year-olds, three 26-year-olds, five 27-year-olds, a 28-year-old, and three 29-year-olds - more than half the roster in that age cohort, and except for the outfield (where Abreu's age remains a concern) the age is mostly concentrated in the bullpen. That's a similar distribution to the one I noted in the 2002 World Champs.
That said, the Angels' fate will rest with the health of their starting rotation, especially the power pitchers. Kazmir needs to rebound, and recent reports are not optimistic about Ervin Santana. And I remain skeptical that Pineiro can keep his walk and home run rates sufficiently microscopic to survive his inability to strike anybody out. If Weaver and Saunders end up as this team's 1-2 starters, they're in trouble and could easily sink below .500.
Subjective Adjustments: A primary reason why I added subjective adjustments was what I think of as the Khalil Greene problem, since he's one of the first (but not the last) second-year shortstops to exhibit it: EWSL assesses a very young hitter as having a lot of rapid room for growth, but as a result it tends to overvalue second-year hitters who are (1) under age 25 and (2) have a disproportionate amount of their value in their gloves. Nobody improves that much defensively from a good start in one year. So, rather than 21 Win Shares, I've trimmed back Elvis Andrus by 2 Win Shares to 19, which is still +2 from last year's total of 17.
Also on Hand: Position players - Esteban German, Max Ramirez, Brandon Boggs, Toby Hall. Ramirez is the third of Texas' troika of hugely hyped young catchers, but he had a .234/.323/.336 train wreck of a season at AAA last year, and with Saltalamacchia and Teagarden scuffling at the major league level, suddenly nobody's talking about this as the second coming of the Giants' McCovey vs Cepeda problem.
Pitchers - Colby Lewis (who's been in Japan and may end up in the rotation), sometime closer Chris Ray, Edwar Ramirez, Matt Harrison, Dustin Nippert, Doug Mathis.
Analysis: The story has been the same for years: the sun is rise, the sun is set, and there's no pitching in Texas yet. Have we finally turned a corner? Certainly, this team's pitching doesn't present the ghastly hue that doomed past Rangers squads to the cellar. Last season's 4.57 team ERA was actually better than the league average, especially when adjusted for the park. Scott Feldman's one-season improvement suggests a guy who can serve as an innings-eater (though 0.9 HR, 3.1 BB & 5.4 K/9 are decent numbers, but don't foretell much more room for growth, esepcially after two seasons of being pounded). Whether he stays in middle relief or becomes a Joba Rules-style starter, Naftali Feliz has an enormous upside as a power pitcher. Young control/groundball starter Tommy Hunter had a good ERA last season, while Derek Holland, who struggled, struck out more than twice as many as he walked (7.0 K, 3.1 BB, but a frightening 1.7 HR/9) following a fairly spectacular tour through the minor leagues (career rates of 0.4 HR, 2.6 BB, 9.9 K, albeit mostly in A ball). Rich Harden - who's only a year older than Feldman - is on hand, bringing the same gambler's chance to Texas that Bedard and Snell bring to Seattle, Kazmir and Santana to Anaheim, and Ben Sheets and Justin Duchscherer to Oakland. For once, there's some hope. But in the short run, the pitching will have an uphill battle to match last season with the departure of staff ace Kevin Millwood, the dependence on young pitchers and potentially erratic setup men and the mercurial Harden.
(UPDATE: It currently looks like the Rangers will be trying CJ Wilson in the rotation and McCarthy in the bullpen, but we'll see how long that experiment lasts.)
The offense was more unreliable last season. Kinsler's 30-30 numbers made Roto fans happy, but a .253 batting average just isn't enough in a park like Texas. Andrus was adequate and promising, but still isn't an offensive plus. Davis needs to arrest his strike zone problems before his career vanishes. And one of the catchers needs to step up.
Vlad Guerrero was a good gamble - he fell off last season and could be almost done, but guys with his talent and track record have been known to bust out with one last gasp around this age, and it wouldn't surprise me in the least to see him notch a season like Andres Galarraga's first year in Atlanta, Juan Gonzalez' first year in Cleveland, Frank Thomas' first year in Oakland, or Gary Gaetti's 1995 with Kansas City.
Raw EWSL: 168.67 (69 W)
Subjective Adjustments: None.
Also on Hand: Position players - Travis Buck, a supposedly healthy Eric Chavez.
Pitchers - Gio Gonzalez, Vin Mazzaro, Lenny DiNardo, Brett Tomko, Jerry Blevins, Clayton Mortenson. Also Josh Outman, the obligatory Tommy John rehab case.
Analysis: Sure, Billy Beane's vaunted "Moneyball" savvy and bargain-hunting skills are widely revered. Sure, he's spun silk from a sow's ear repeatedly with Chad Bradford- and Scott Hatteberg-style scrap heap finds. Sure, every year when I do my post-season EWSL wrapups, the A's are at or near the top of the list of teams getting the most Win Shares from guys not even on their preseason 23-man lineup, attesting to Beane's ongoing ability to retool his teams on the fly.
But look back at the glory days of Beane's A's and you'll notice something else: Jason Giambi won the MVP Award in 2000 and was the runnerup the following year, batting .338/.476/.653 over those two seasons; Miguel Tejada won the award in 2002 and averaged 30 HR and 116 RBI from 2000-2003. Barry Zito won the Cy Young Award in 2002, going 23-5. Ben Grieve was Rookie of the Year in 1998, Bobby Crosby in 2004, Huston Street in 2005. Tim Hudson went 20-6 in 2000, and finished 2d, 4th and 6th in the Cy Young balloting over a four-year period. Mark Mulder had 21- and 19-win seasons back to back, finishing second in the Cy Young balloting in 2001. Eric Chavez averaged 100 RBI per year from 2001-2005. In short: the A's had stars, big ones, most of them homegrown along with star-level seasons from acquisitions like Jermaine Dye, Matt Stairs and John Jaha.
That's what's missing now from a team whose best everyday player is...Kevin Kouzmanoff? Kurt Suzuki? Ryan Sweeney? Rajai Davis? Ugh. You can hold together a battleship with duct tape, but you need a battleship first.
The A's have the usual array of young pitchers, granting that none of the starters are blazing from the minor league gate as Hudson and Zito did, and Sheets and Duchscherer are rolls of the dice. The bullpen could be outstanding, but beware of their various aches and pains: Bailey was a great surprise last season but spring soreness could portend a guy who takes a step back after flying too close to the sun for a year, and Breslow and Devine are also various shades of banged up. I expect Beane to press enough buttons to keep Oakland around .500, but for more than that, they need to wish upon a star.
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, 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 2010 W-L record adds EWSL plus 39.42 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 five seasons (it went up this season, as the average team's EWSL in 2009 undershot its final win total by 41.82 Win Shares).
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 1:00 PM | Baseball 2010 | Baseball Studies | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)