Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
April 1, 2010
BASEBALL: 2010 NL West EWSL Report
Part 4 of my preseason previews is the NL West; 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; 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:
Los Angeles Dodgers
Raw EWSL: 242.67 (94 W)
Subjective Adjustments: None.
Also on Hand: Position players - Nick Green. Jason Repko was cut, and Brian Giles retired.
Pitchers - Charlie Haeger is in the long-term mix for fifth starter. Jeff Weaver appears to be on the Opening Day roster. Russ Ortiz joined Ramon in this spring's Night of the Living Ortiz spectacle. Also James McDonald, Carlos Montaserios, Justin Miller, Luis Ayala, Josh Towers and Cory Wade. Fifth starter candidate Eric Stults was sold to the Hiroshima Carp.
Analysis: The NL West is not baseball's strongest division, but it remains its most competitive, with no dominant team and four of five primed to battle for first place. That said, the Dodgers should still be the strongest of the five, with a talented outfield, two possible rotation anchors, a good bullpen and the steady leadership of Joe Torre.
Age keeps coming up here, age and what it does and doesn't mean. EWSL values three Dodgers (Martin, Loney and Billingsley) as improving young players, not the worn-down veterans or they looked to be at times last season. It's easy to forget that Martin's still just 27 and Billingsley only 25. Billingsley's probably the most crucial Dodger - Kershaw continues to improve but may not quite be ready for center stage and a full #1 workload at age 22, so keeping him as the #2 man will be valuable. Martin, by contrast, looks unlikely to recover his past offensive glories. Manny's age matters too, as he showed it at times last year, batting a most un-Manny-ish .251/.378/.431 from July 24 through the season's end. At 38, the end of his years as a dominating slugger may be at hand, although he's likely to remain a dangerous bat. Blake's age (36) suggests that he's unlikely to sustain last year's pace, although his big improvement was in walks, an area where older players tend to retain improvements. And the bench is geriatric even by the standards of Joe Torre benches (assuming Belliard doesn't end up as the starting 2B; that situation remains unstable).
Kuo starts the year on the DL. It's anybody's guess whether the fifth starter will end up being Ortiz, the other Ortiz, Weaver, Haeger, or somebody else (Kuo's probably not returning to starting).
UPDATE: Haeger wins the 5th starter job. If we add him in for Ortiz, it won't change the EWSL picture much; he's 25 but has been kicking around the majors for four years now in small doses. His control remains iffy.
Raw EWSL: 194.50 (78 W)
Subjective Adjustments: None - obviously Upton's age adjustment is fairly aggressive, but he batted .300/.366/.532 as a 21-year-old last season, and earned 19 Win Shares in 138 games; 29 this season is not an especially unusual target.
Also on Hand: Position players - Brandon Allen, Cole Gillespie, Drew Macias, Rusty Ryal.
Pitchers - Aaron Heilman, Kris Benson, Kevin Mulvey, as well as some non-ex-Mets: Rodrigo Lopez, Blaine Boyer, Leo Rosales.
Analysis: If Chad Billingsley is the most critical Dodger, Brandon Webb may be the most critical player in the whole NL West. A healthy Webb would give the D-Backs a formidable 1-2 punch, and combined with the solid Edwin Jackson as the third starter, give Arizona's offense a lot of chances to win. But as of now, Webb hasn't thrown since early March and is expected to miss at least the season's first month, which makes you wonder how long he'll be out and what he'll be like when he returns. That bumps Jackson to the #2 spot, and he's miscast as a #2 starter despite a good ERA last season in a less challenging ballpark (albeit in a tougher division), and after Jackson you have the deluge Arizona can't compete unless it gets at least half a season's worth of something resembling the old Brandon Webb. I have to figure that Webb's health was a driving force behind the otherwise inexplicable deal that brought in Jackson in exchange for Max Scherzer - Jackson doesn't have Scherzer's A-list talent (granted, that talent only got him a 9-15 career record in Arizona), but he's started 95 games and tossed 558.1 regular season innings the last three seasons, whereas Scherzer retains a reputation for being brittle. That may have been more risk than this staff could absorb. As for Jackson, his main risk is whether he can retain the improvements in his control that saw his walks per 9 innings drop from 4.9 to 3.8 to 2.9 the past three years.
Of course, a big part of last year's 92-loss fiasco was the offense managing to finish 8th in the NL in runs scored despite playing in a high-altitude bandbox that inflates everyone's offensive numbers. LaRoche and the continued development of Upton should help that (Arizona first basemen last year hit an appalling .229/.321/.398, to go with .219/.293/.379 from their center fielders, mainly Young; Upton was their only outfielder with any punch). They'll also need better years from Young and Drew and a return to the land of the living by Conor Jackson and Kelly Johnson; the latter steps in for Felipe Lopez, one of the team's few bright spots last year.
Mark Reynolds should be a steady power source after 2009's breakout, and could be devastating if he could cut his strikeouts to the 160-170 range some year; he's whiffed 427 times the past two seasons. I wouldn't hold my breath, but it's the sort of thing he could pull off once.
Raw EWSL: 218.00 (86 W)
Subjective Adjustments: None.
Also on Hand: Position players - Eric Young and Omar Quintanilla compete with Mora for the reserve infield role.
Pitchers - Manuel Corpas and Taylor Buchholz still fighting to get all the way back. Greg Smith, Matt Belisle, Tim Redding, Randy Flores, Justin Speier.
Analysis: The Rox have their own returning-injured-ace issue with Jeff Francis. Jimenez seems to have taken the ace reins; although I remain skeptical of the long-term prospects of any starter who carries the burden of Coors, he did finish second in club history in ERA and strikeouts last year (his 198 Ks second only to 210 by Pedro Astacio in 1999), and set a club record for fewest hits/9. He's a quality starter.
I was baffled last season why so many outlets were prematurely burying Huston Street, who rebounded well in 2009 (including a 70/13 K/BB ratio and a 1.71 road ERA), but Street has been shut down repeatedly this spring with shoulder stiffness, which may unsettle the bullpen.
He may not be the question mark that Billingsley or Webb or Francis is, but how critical has Tulowitzki been to the Rockies over his career? Since his arrival in August 2006, Tulowitzki has had an OPS above 750 in a month 10 times, and below 750 (or didn't play) 10 times. The Rockies' record in the ten good months? 164-109 (.601), with a winning record in 9 of the 10 months. Their record in his ten bad months? 117-154 (.432), with a losing record in 8 of the 10 months. Last season, the Rockies caught fire on June 4, turning from a 20-32 record, 15 1/2 games out of first place, to go 52-36 and pulling within a game of the Dodgers through October 2 before dropping the last two to LA and settling for the wild card. Tulowitzki's season went the same way: batting an anemic .216/.306/.377 on June 6, he tore the league up to the tune of .336/.414/.637 with 27 homers in 101 games through October 2, before going 0-for-4 against Kershaw and the Dodgers bullpen on October 3 and sitting out the final game. Still only 25, he'll have a chance this season to add the missing consistency that is the only thing holding Colorado's indispenable man back from superstardom.
San Francisco Giants
Raw EWSL: 220.83 (87 W)
Subjective Adjustments: None.
Also on Hand: Position players - Travis Ishikawa, Buster Posey, Eugenio Velez, John Bowker.
Pitchers - Alex Hinshaw, Danny Bautista, Kevin Cameron, Byung Hyun Kim (who came out of retirement), and Santiago Casilla, who's been approaching triple digits this spring.
Hot prospect Madison Bumgarner is one of the people on the cover of this year's Baseball Prospectus, asking if he's the next Lincecum. The book overall isn't quite as hyped on Bumgarner, but even so. Obviously Bumgarner's a talented guy, and at first glance his numbers are eye-popping: 27-5 with a 1.65 ERA in 283 professional innings, an ERA below 2.00 at each of his four stops, including 10 innings in the big leagues. His walk and home run rates are microscopic. You do that at any level as a teenager, you're a serious prospect. But I also know he's 20 years old and has pitched a grand total of 117 innings above A ball, in which he has struck out 79 batters, just over 6 per 9 innings. I'm guessing that a guy who's barely striking out 6 men per 9 in AA isn't quite ready to take the majors by storm in 2010 (his K/BB was 164/21 in 141.2 innings in the Sally League, so he's not a low-K pitcher). Adjust your short-term expectations accordingly.
Analysis: One of the joys of looking at your favorite team's roster before the season is imagining what the team will look like if everything breaks right, if the guys with injuries get healthy, the guys with potential put it all together, the guys who are inconsistent get in a groove. For most teams in a given season, that daydream falls apart once the harsh reality of the season sets in, but there are always a few teams for whom most of the pieces fall into place.
Giants fans can't do much of that with this team, especially the non-pitchers. What room for growth is there? Who's going to blossom on this team? Most of the lineup is old (seriously: a 35-year-old second baseman in left field?), the rest aside from Sandoval has little potential, and Sandoval was pretty close to maxed out in 2009. The pitching staff, while much more talented, has mostly put it all together (or in Zito's case come as far back as he's gonna come), the main exception being Sanchez, who has struck out more than a batter per inning for his career while allowing less than 1 homer per 9, but has been held back by consistently poor control.
All this is another way of saying that the Giants will be fortunate indeed to match the 88 wins of last season. Their pitching should keep them in the hunt, but they're the least likely of the four contenders to close the deal.
San Diego Padres
Raw EWSL: 160.50 (67 W)
Subjective Adjustments: None.
Also on Hand: Position players - Josh Barfield, Eric Munson, Aaron Cunningham.
Pitchers - Sean Gallagher, Adam Russell.
Analysis: The Padres don't have the Giants' problem, but they do have a fairly narrow foundation to rebuild upon, at least so far, and it will get a lot narrower if they deal Gonzalez or Bell. (I assume Young will be dealt if he's able to recapture his 2006-07 form)
The mountainous Kyle Blanks showed some real pop last season (.250/.355/.514 in 172 plate appearances at age 22 after a .304/.393/.505 minor league career); the Pads hope the outfielder, listed at 6'6" 285, isn't the next Ken Harvey.
Mike Adams, who basically disappeared off the map due to injuries and ineffectiveness after being penciled in as the Brewers closer entering 2005, throwing just 15.2 big league innings over a three-year stretch, has had an amazing revival in San Diego, a 1.85 ERA and 10.5 K/9 the past two seasons, including an 0.73 ERA and just one home run allowed last season.
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 6:00 PM | Baseball 2010 | Baseball Studies | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)