Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
March 26, 2010
BASEBALL: 2010 AL Central EWSL Report
Part 3 of my preseason previews is the AL Central; 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; 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: 241.50 (94 W)
Subjective Adjustments: None, but given Justin Morneau's usual durability, unless Jason Kubel spends a good deal of time hurt or in the field, Jim Thome's not going to approach 11 Win Shares.
Also on Hand: Position players - Matt Tolbert, Jacque Jones, Ben Revere. Revere, a 22-year-old center fielder, may not make an appearance for a while, but he's a career .337/.396/.430 hitter in the minors, where he averaged 70 stolen bases per 162 games. That's all A ball and lower, so don't get too excited just yet, but a guy who can hit .379/.433/.497 and steal 44 bases in 83 games at age 20, as Revere did in Class A Beloit in 2008, is one to watch. Revere has hit .325 this spring in big league camp, but is headed for AA to work on his defense, which reading between the lines suggests that he'll end up as a left fielder.
Pitchers - Pat Neshek, Glen Perkins, Ron Mahay, Brian Duensing, Bobby Keppel, Anthony Swarzak, Rob Delaney. Also Joe Nathan, of course, but Nathan's having Tommy John surgery today, so Opening Day 2011 is an optimistic timetable.
Analysis: Despite the costly loss of Nathan, which likely leaves the closer job either in Rauch's hands or a combination of Rauch and Guerrier, the Twins remain the class of the field due mainly to Mauer and a solid infield. I already had Mauer approaching historic levels as a two-way catcher when I wrote my Hall of Fame catchers column in February 2009, and that was before he led the AL in batting, slugging and OBP. Fact: Mauer has now had 600 plate appearances in a season three times, and won the batting title all three. Fact: No other AL catcher has ever won a batting title; Mauer has as many as all NL catchers combined (Deacon White did win the 1875 National Association title as a catcher, and White and King Kelly won batting titles while doing some part-time catching in 1877, 1884 & 1886). But Mauer caught only 26% of opposing baserunners last season, by far a career low; like some of the other great catchers, he may end up with his best offensive and defensive seasons a little mismatched.
Delmon Young's progress remains agonizingly slow, but guys like him have been known to creep forward with little apparent improvement and then suddenly kick up to another level; he's still only 24, and I'd wait to see his 2010, 2011 and maybe 2012 before writing him off as a potential star. But the slow pace of Young's improvement, combined with Denard Span's success and Revere's potential, probably contributed to the decision to cut bait on also waiting for Carlos Gomez to progress, even if it meant losing the last tangible tie to the Santana trade. Anyway, adding Hudson and the offensively erratic Hardy should stabilize the infield.
The big question, as is so often true, is the rotation. Liriano has struggled badly enough that there's been talk of converting him to relief, and don't be surprised if that possibility is explored with Nathan out; Duensing could end up replacing him in the rotation. Assuming the old Liriano doesn't resurface, Baker and Slowey should be the anchors. Slowey posted a 5:1 K/BB ratio last season, but coughed up as many homers as walks, and was shut down after July 3 to have surgery on bone chips in his wrist; in Slowey's last two starts with the injury he surrendered 11 runs and 3 homers in 6 innings, ballooning his ERA from 4.04 to 4.86. Slowey's 0.56 spring ERA suggests he may be all the way back. Blackburn, like Baker and Slowey, has amazing control - the Twinkies and the Cardinals were the only major league teams to walk fewer than 3 men per 9 innings last year - but with his low K rate will depend more on the defense, and thus should benefit most from the arrival of the O-Dog.
Punto and Harris are still grappling over who gets to give away the third base job to the other; Casilla, who I have listed here as an outfielder solely because there was no room to list him as something else, is competing with Tolbert for the backup infield job.
Rauch currently holds the single-season record for most saves (18) by a pitcher who is taller than 6'10". Because you needed to know that.
Chicago White Sox
Raw EWSL: 213.17 (84 W)
Subjective Adjustments: None.
Also on Hand: Position players - Brent Lillibridge, who had a horrible 2009. Alejandro de Aza. 24-year-old catcher Tyler Flowers, who improved his career minor league batting line to .293/.406/.495 last season, handled AAA pitching just fine, and got a quick cup of the big league coffee in September. Kenny Williams seems more concerned with Flowers batting .188 in that 10-game trial...I expect him to take over for Pierzynski at some point, but that could be next year unless Pierzynski gets dealt in July.
Pitchers - Sergio Santos, Greg Aquino, Randy Williams, Daniel Hudson, Carlos Torres, Freddy Dolsi, Scott Elarton.
Analysis: As has been the case for a few years now, I'm a little unclear on what the White Sox think they are doing, other than just muddling through in a weak division. On the upside, the double play combination is young and talented, the power hitters are still sort of in their prime other than Jones, the top 4 in their rotation should - if Peavy's healthy - stand up well to anybody but the Red Sox, the bullpen's fairly deep, and as noted there seems to be an orderly succession plan behind the plate. On the downside, Pierre is likely to return to being an offensive millstone and is ill-suited to a power park like whatever they're calling Comiskey these days, and there are serious perennial questions about the attitudes of Quentin, Rios and Jones - if you could give one of those guys Pierre's attitude, you'd be in much better shape (I'm not clear on why Rios is seen as the center fielder here over Pierre). The Jones signing is a gamble, but when you acquire a DH who is 33, overweight and has hit .207/.304/.393 the past three seasons, you need a better Plan B than ... Mark Kotsay? Please tell me they're never gonna wake up one morning with Vizquel as the starting DH.
On balance this looks like a team that can make a run at the division if the Twins stumble and things break well with the rotation (including Garcia, who has a lot to prove after three seasons lost to injury) and the outfield.
Raw EWSL: 180.17 (73 W)
Subjective Adjustments: The 1.581 multiplier for pitchers age 21 and under is based on a sample of 9 seasons, two of them Felix Hernandez and most of them guys who had not, as Rick Porcello did last year, started 31 games in the majors. Projecting him to leap to 21 Win Shares seemed unrealistic even for optimists about Porcello, who after all struck out only 89 batters last year. I trimmed him down -3 to 18.
Overall, the Tigers are heavily dependent on guys without an established profile; they're the only team in the AL starting two pure rookies (Scott Sizemore and Austin Jackson).
Also on Hand: Position players - Jeff Larish.
Pitchers - Dontrelle Willis, who's had a great spring and isn't out of contention for a rotation slot just yet. Armando Galarraga, deposed from the rotation but still hanging around. Fu-Te Ni, Phil Coke, Daniel Schlereth, Eddie Bonine.
Analysis: The Tigers' question marks start with replacing Curtis Granderson, especially defensively. Jackson is currently penciled in as the heir, although they could still go with Clete Thomas. Sizemore is actually the better hitter at this stage than Jackson (.308/.389/.500 between AA and AAA last season; Jackson's career slugging percentage in the minors is .410), but is two years older, and second basemen with questionable gloves are not always the most likely guys to develop as hitters.
Cabrera is reportedly sobered up and slimmed down; we'll see how much that matters and how long it lasts. My guess is that it's not going to affect his hitting much, but of course being in shape and not hung over is likely to help his baserunning, defense and long-term durability. In a way, it seems almost quaint to see a player whose issue is alcohol.
Much of the rest of the offense is creaky, nonexistent (Everett) and/or likely to struggle in Detroit (Damon).
The pitching staff could be impressive if Scherzer finally has a healthy season and Zumaya holds up. Bonderman's ceiling now looks a lot lower than it once did. And getting Dontrelle back on track could help.
Kansas City Royals
Raw EWSL: 179.00 (73 W)
Subjective Adjustments: None.
Also on Hand: Position players - Mitch Maier, last year a frequent starter in the outfield. Wilson Betemit, Willie Bloomquist, Brian Anderson, Vance Wilson.
Pitchers - Where to begin? Bruce Chen (yes, that Bruce Chen), Jorge Campillo, Phil Humber, Brad Thompson, Victor Marte, Josh Rupe, Matt Herges, 37-year-old Yasuhiko Yabuta (who actually pitched much better in his second crack at American minor leaguers in 2009), Rule V pickup Edgar Osuna, Bryan Bullington.
Analysis: A little hope, but not much. Donald Zachary Greinke was so good in so many ways last year that he has to be considered an elite pitcher and not a one-year fluke, but even the elite don't repeat seasons like that. Gordon, once a hyped "next George Brett" by the same people who used the same tag on Hank Blalock, starts the season on the DL, which puts Callaspo at third. Butler is the trendy pick for a breakout, and for good reason: from June 10 to the end of the season he batted .312/.374/.526 with 34 doubles in 101 games, including a blistering stretch of .346/.418/.596 with 45 RBI in 53 games from August 4 to September 30. That may be partly a matter of being a second-half hittter, but it does seem that Butler's making real progress. He also had ridiculous home/road splits: .362/.415/.612 in KC, .240/.307/.372 on the road. Getz had a .324 OBP last year as a rookie, and should improve enough on that to actually be useful.
Then, there's the ugly side, the guys who have neither present nor future. The acquisition of Podsednik is like the White Sox acquisition of Pierre: cheered by Roto players but mostly an investment in a season that's unlikely to be repeated. Both guys remain useful fourth outfiielders miscast as starting corner outfielders. The Royals remain desperate enough for starting pitching that they've considered using Kyle Farnsworth in the rotation. Kendall is durable and ends their experiment with sub-.300 OBPs behind the plate, but he's old, slow, punchless and can't throw. Betancourt's only 27 and has been declining for two years now (from a peak when his OBP was .308). Guillen remains a 34-year-old headache who's been paid $24 million the past two years to bat .257/.305/.415 and block Butler from DHing. Expectations should be limited accordingly.
Maybe they should get Dontrelle; he could probably use some advice in coming back from anxiety problems from Greinke and Ankiel.
Raw EWSL: 133.00 (57 W)
Subjective Adjustments: None, but Brantley and LaPorta should produce more than that with more playing time (LaPorta may be platooned with Branyan).
Also on Hand: Position players - Anderson Hernandez, Austin Kearns, Mark Grudzeilanek, Brian Bixler, Chris Gimenez, and smooth catching prospect Carlos Santana.
Pitchers - Chris Perez, Jensen Lewis, Scott Lewis, Anthony Reyes, Tom Mastny, Hector Rondon, Carlos Carrasco, Mitch Talbot. Carrasco and Talbot are seen as in the rotation mix not far down the road.
Analysis: I see Baseball Prospectus has the Indians at 79-83. I get where some of the difference comes from: BP, as it often is with unproven players, is bullish on Masterson and LaPorta and has Brantley, Hafner and Westbrook valued relatively more than EWSL does. I'm not going to argue methods here - EWSL isn't a fine-tuned system like PECOTA, but its blunter approach can be summarized as: show me. Because to meet their PECOTA projections, all of those guys will have to do more in the majors than they've established as a baseline the past three seasons in the majors.
On a gut level, I'm conflicted. On the one hand, most divisions end up with a doormat, and the Indians have the look of a team with a complete mess of a starting rotation and an uneven offense beyond Sizemore and Choo. On the other hand, this division isn't overflowing with the kind of tough competition that hangs a 3-15 record on a team in one or more of its head-to-head matchups. Consider: the Indians last year went 4-14 vs Detroit but 16-20 against the Twins and White Sox; the Royals were 6-12 last year against the Twins but 17-19 against the other two. By contrast, the Orioles last year were 15-39 against NY, Boston and Tampa (including 7-29 against the top two) and the Blue Jays were 17-37 against the trio. Cleveland must look at the Blue Jays and think, there but for the grace of God...speaking of which, one major similarity this team has to Toronto is the destructive effects of a huge contract for a declining player in a collapsing economy, although Hafner's deal is not nearly the long-term millstone that Vernon Wells' is.
POSTSCRIPT: If you're wondering, the AL records, with all adjustments factored in, add up to an average of 82 wins per team, which is actually fairly consistent with the AL's aggregate record in the age of interleague play.
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 12:00 PM | Baseball 2010 | Baseball Studies | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)