Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
April 12, 2010
BASEBALL: 2010 NL Central EWSL Report

Part 6 of my preseason previews is the NL Central; this is the sixth and last of six division previews, using Established Win Shares Levels as a jumping-off point. (As usual, the large and depressing NL Central brings up the rear; I almost never seem to get to the NLC until after Opening Day). 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.

Prior previews: the AL West, AL East, AL Central, NL West, NL East.

Some players are rated based on less than three seasons or given a rookie rating. Key:
+ (Rookie)
* (Based on one season)
# (Based on two seasons)

St. Louis Cardinals

Raw EWSL: 214.50 (85 W)
Adjusted: 231.22 (90 W)
Age-Adj.: 212.35 (84 W)
WS Age: 29.79
2010 W-L: 84-78

POSAgePLAYERRaw EWSLAge Adj
C27Yadier Molina1718
1B30Albert Pujols3633
2B30Felipe Lopez1715
SS28Brendan Ryan99
3B27David Freese*11
RF31Ryan Ludwick1916
CF23Colby Rasmus*716
LF30Matt Holliday2422
C236Jason LaRue22
INF30Skip Schumaker1614
OF27Joe Mather#12
1225Allen Craig+04
1328Nick Stvinoha*11
SP128Adam Wainwright1616
SP235Chris Carpenter117
SP332Brad Penny75
SP431Kyle Lohse76
SP523Jaime Garcia+04
RP137Ryan Franklin119
RP237Trever Miller44
RP326Kyle McClellan#46
RP428Jason Motte*22
RP533Dennys Reyes43

Subjective Adjustments: None, but obviously Freese will either exceed 1 Win Share or lose his grip on anything like an everyday job. But bear in mind the eccentric nature of "everyday" under LaRussa, given the flexibility of Lopez and Shumaker in roaming the infield. Rasmus, by contrast, is appropriately projected to take a step forward this season.

Also on Hand: Position players - Tyler Greene.

Pitchers - The perennially rehabbing Rich Hill, Blake Hawksworth.

Analysis: By LaRussa standards, this is a youth movement, as the Cards are still breaking in Rasmus (career .277/.366/.485 in the minors, all at age 21 or younger), Freese (career .308/.384/.532 in the minors, including .304/.363/.542 in 735 plate appearances at AAA) and Craig (career .306/.366/.513 in the minors, including .322/.374/.547 last season in a full year at AAA), while deploying prime talents like Pujols, Holliday, Wainwright, Molina, and Lopez. The Cards remain the class of a weak division but potentially face competition from the Brewers and Cubs.

Pujols should be due for his first career off year somewhere between 2010 and 2012, but thus far this season he's at .375/.444/.875, so don't bet the ranch against him just yet.

Milwaukee Brewers

Raw EWSL: 199.83 (80 W)
Adjusted: 211.27 (84 W)
Age-Adj.: 203.30 (81 W)
WS Age: 30.00
2010 W-L: 81-81

POSAgePLAYERRaw EWSLAge Adj
C39 Gregg Zaun86
1B26Prince Fielder3034
2B27Rickie Weeks1112
SS23Alcides Escobar*25
3B27Casey McGeehee*918
RF40Jim Edmonds53
CF24Carlos Gomez810
LF26Ryan Braun2933
C227George Kottaros*11
INF39Craig Counsell118
OF28Corey Hart1314
1232Jody Gerut54
1332Joe Inglett54
SP124Yovanni Gallardo78
SP233Randy Wolf107
SP334Doug Davis97
SP430Dave Bush43
SP535Jeff Suppan43
RP142Trevor Hoffman107
RP229Todd Coffey43
RP337LaTroy Hawkins86
RP429Mitch Stetter#33
RP526Carlos Villanueva45

Subjective Adjustments: None.

Also on Hand: Position players - Mat Gamel, Norris Hoppes, Luis Cruz.

Pitchers - David Riske (on the DL), Claudio Vargas, Manny Parra.

Analysis: As with so many teams, the pitching staff is the big question mark for the Brewers, who aside from Gallardo have largely loaded up with the sorts of veteran arms one settles for at small-market prices, which in turn puts a premium on their defense (most of the veteran arms throw a lot of strikes, but few are high-K pitchers), which in turn is one reason why they need Carlos Gomez and have to hope for good glovework from erratic-at-best fielders like Weeks, Braun and McGeehee. I'd be worried about Edmonds running into Gomez, though.

A big offensive key will be getting Hart to avoid a repeat of his underachieving 2009 while getting McGeehee, who had never hit well in the minors (.279/.332/.409 over six seasons and more than 2,800 plate appearances, including three full years trying to master AAA pitching), to repeat his seriously overachieving .301/.360/.499 line.

Alcides Escobar (I do love the Latin American guys with classical-allusion names like Escobar and Asdrubal Cabrera) has thus far lived up to his minor league rep as a high-average, little-else hitter, but he's young yet; he's still working on translating his minor league success as a base thief.

Chicago Cubs

Raw EWSL: 215.67 (85 W)
Adjusted: 234.51 (91 W)
Age-Adj.: 202.57 (81 W)
WS Age: 30.74
2010 W-L: 81-81

POSAgePLAYERRaw EWSLAge Adj
C27Geovany Soto#1214
1B34Derek Lee2118
2B30Mike Fontenot88
SS30Ryan Theriot1614
3B32Aramis Ramirez1915
RF33Kusuke Fukudome#1414
CF32Marlon Byrd1613
LF34Alfonso Soriano1412
C231Koyie Hill43
INF29Jeff Baker66
OF31Xavier Nady87
1230Chad Tracy43
1324Tyler Colvin+04
SP129Carlos Zambrano1311
SP233Ryan Dempster139
SP334Ted Lilly1410
SP427Tom Gorzelanny33
SP527Randy Wells*712
RP127Carlos Marmol1110
RP227Sean Marshall54
RP331John Grabow65
RP426Esmailin Caridad+26
RP531Carlos Silva22

Subjective Adjustments:

Also on Hand: Position players - Micah Hoffpauir.

Pitchers - Jeff Samardzjia, Justin Berg, James Russell. Angel Guzman is out for the season.

Analysis: The Cubs, as you can see, are functionally tied in the EWSL analysis with the Brewers. They're actually the strongest team in the division before applying the age adjustments, so expect people to want more from their roster "on paper" than they can deliver. Even some of the younger guys like Zambrano are showing their mileage. The great disappointment here is Soto, who is batting .091 and already at risk of losing playing time, having lost his power last season to shoulder troubles.

Using the age adjustments I had at the time, when the Cubs signed Soriano in November 2006 for 8 years and $136 million ($17 million/year), I rough-estimated that if he followed a predictable aging pattern, Soriano would be worth 13 Win Shares per year for the life of the deal, which obviously was a pretty grim assessment at the time. Three years in, he's averaged 15 WS per year so far and age-projects for 12 in 2010; looks like I may have been optimistic.

Wells was something of a low-key pleasant surprise last year, finishing with the 10th-best ERA in the league (6th best if you park-adjust), although he's had great control records and good K and HR numbers throghout the minors. I'm sure Toronto, which returned him to the Cubs after a Rule V claim in 2008, could use him back.

Houston Astros

Raw EWSL: 190.67 (77 W)
Adjusted: 206.51 (82 W)
Age-Adj.: 181.60 (74 W)
WS Age: 31.58
2010 W-L: 74-88

POSAgePLAYERRaw EWSLAge Adj
C26JR Towles11
1B34Lance Berkman2723
2B34Kaz Matsui1412
SS27Tommy Manzella+011
3B35Pedro Feliz1410
RF27Hunter Pence1819
CF27Michael Bourn1515
LF34Carlos Lee2017
C230Humberto Quintero33
INF30Jeff Keppinger77
OF34Jason Michaels54
1237Geoff Blum85
1330Cory Sullivan32
SP132Roy Oswalt1310
SP231Wandy Rodriguez1210
SP329Brett Myers55
SP425Bud Norris*23
SP526Felipe Paulino*00
RP130Matt Lindstrom43
RP230Brandon Lyon98
RP330Jeff Fulchino*46
RP436Tim Byrdak54
RP538Brian Moehler43

Subjective Adjustments: None.

Also on Hand: Pitchers - Chris Sampson, Samuel Gervacio, Yorman Bazardo, Wilton Lopez.

Analysis: The Astros may not be as bad as their 0-6 record, but they're pretty bad. Adding insult to grinding mediocrity, they're the second-oldest team in the majors by weighted average EWSL, behind only the Yankees. And the Yankees have a reason to be old. In fact, four of the nine teams with an EWSL age of 30 or older are in the NL Central; no other division has more than two (the AL Central has none). If you're looking for a winning business model for fielding a quality team in small markets in hard times, this division is not where you shoud look. In Houston's case, the primary culprits are the team's dependence on Berkman, Lee and Oswalt; this team should probably tear it up, deal the three of them along with Matsui, Feliz, and spare parts like Moehler and Blum if they can (as they did in jettisoning Miguel Tejada), and start over. Older players are harder to keep healthy (Berkman hasn't played yet in 2010) and harder to keep motivated when they're playing pointless games. Jeff Bagwell's not walking through that door, Craig Biggio's not walking through that door, and if they did, they'd be old and gray.

Paulino earned his zero Win Shares last year by giving up 1.8 HR/9 and getting pounded for 11.6 Hits/9, but 3.4 BB/9 and 8/6 K/9 indicate a sign of a guy who might be able to contribute; he didn't have longball issues in the minors, but of course he wasn't pitching in Minute Maid to big-league hitters (then again, look at his home run log and you see a lot of guys like Jay Bruce and Corey Hart and Elvis Andrus, not Pujols and Braun).

It would be hard to fail more completely as a major league hitter than JR Towles, who has batted .299/.390/.473 in the minors and debuted with a 14-game, .375/.432/.575 cup of coffee in 2007, and then went on to faceplant to the tune of .144/.238/.268 in 283 plate appearances since 2008. The Astros, however, really have nothing better to do than wait and see if Towles can come around and recapture the brief glory days of Mitch Meluskey.

Cincinnati Reds

Raw EWSL: 174.00 (71 W)
Adjusted: 189.11 (76 W)
Age-Adj.: 173.02 (71 W)
WS Age: 30.12
2010 W-L: 71-91

POSAgePLAYERRaw EWSLAge Adj
C34Ramon Hernandez119
1B26Joey Votto1921
2B29Brandon Phillips1918
SS35Orlando Cabrera1813
3B35Scott Rolen1411
RF23Jay Bruce#710
CF25Drew Stubbs*36
LF29Jonny Gomes77
C229Ryan Hanigan#66
INF27Paul Janish*24
OF28Chris Dickerson#56
1229Laynce Nix33
1336Miguel Cairo22
SP132Aaron Harang86
SP233Bronson Arroyo128
SP324Johnny Cueto#67
SP424Homer Bailey33
SP522Mike Leake+04
RP135Francisco Cordero128
RP228Nick Masset66
RP325Danny Herrera*36
RP440Arthur Rhodes64
RP527Micah Owings54

Subjective Adjustments: None.

Also on Hand: Position players - Wladimir Balentien, Aaron Miles.

Pitchers - Aroldis Chapman, the latest in a long list of hyped Reds prospects. Jared Burton, Mike Lincoln, Travis Wood. Also Jose Arredondo and Ednison Volquez, neither of whom is expected to pitch after Tommy John surgery.

Analysis: The Reds have a stable infield, but everything else is either a crapshoot or just crap. Stubbs seems like a Gary Pettis type player, but maybe with more power in this park. Leake recently became the rare first-round draft pick to debut directly in the majors without minor league seasoning; he had a great college career, but pitching in this bandbox has traumatized plenty of young pitchers. There's still hope that Cueto and Bailey could become a 1-2 punch, but progress has been slow.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Raw EWSL: 118.67 (53 W)
Adjusted: 144.49 (61 W)
Age-Adj.: 142.55 (61 W)
WS Age: 28.11
2010 W-L: 61-101

POSAgePLAYERRaw EWSLAge Adj
C29Ryan Doumit109
1B26Jeff Clement#11
2B31Akinori Iwamura1210
SS27Ronny Cedeno56
3B26Andy LaRoche78
RF29Garrett Jones*59
CF23Andrew McCutchen*922
LF25Lastings Milledge78
C227Jason Jaramillo*12
INF30Bobby Crosby55
OF31Ryan Church108
1228Delwyn Young#55
1326John Raynor+04
SP127Zach Duke77
SP228Paul Maholm87
SP327Ross Ohlendorf#66
SP426Charlie Morton#23
SP527Daniel McCutchen+14
RP136Octavio Dotel65
RP228Joel Hanrahan44
RP338Brendan Donnelly22
RP427Evan Meek*24
RP533DJ Carrasco53

Subjective Adjustments:

Also on Hand: Position players - Brandon Moss. The Padres didn't get equal value from Brian Giles when they traded Jason Bay to get him, but of the four teams to deal away Bay, they were the only ones who didn't get completely ripped off. The sad spectacle of Moss and Craig Hansen giving Pittsburgh essentially nothing from the deal that sent Bay to the Red Sox and Manny to LA has just been the icing on the cake for this franchise.

Pitchers - Hayden Penn, Javier Lopez, Jack Taschner, Hansen (on the DL).

Analysis: Not every major league franchise rates a profile in Failure Magazine, but the Pirates are unique; last season they displaced the 1933-48 Phillies' record for the most consecutive losing seasons in major professional team sports history by notching their 17th consecutive losing record. Indeed, only twice since Barry Bonds' departure as a free agent following NL East-winning seasons of 95, 98 and 96 wins in 1990-92 have the Bucs topped 75 wins in a season, topping out at 79 in 1997. Not coincidentally, in terms of both cause and effect, the Pirates' 11th place finish in the NL in attendance in 2001 - the year they opened PNC Park - is the only time in that period that they finished higher than 12th or drew 2 million fans. 1962, when they still played in Forbes Field, was the last time the Pirates finished in the top 4 in the league in attendance, and they've led the league only once, with the 1925 World Champions. Even the 1908 Pirates, finishing a game out of first place in the NL's most legendary pennant race and with Honus Wagner having his greatest season, finished fifth in attendance.

All of this is a way of saying that the monotony of the Pirates' condition is such that really any discussion of their present roster is almost pointless; it is long past time to move this franchise. I feel for the Pirates fans; this is a venerable franchise, tracing its Pittsburgh roots back to 1882 and having played continuously in the same city in the National League since 1891. And I don't buy the idea that the game's economic structure is fundamentally broken; the Pirates and Royals are the only two teams that plainly can't be saved. Nor is contraction the answer, since the union won't allow it and the owners would just turn around and re-expand at the next available opportunity. No, the Pirates have to move on to a better market, and bid a fond, wistful farewell to a city that hasn't been able to support them for a very long time.

The Method

For those of you who are unfamiliar, EWSL is explained here, and you should read that link before commenting on the method; 2010 revisions to the age and rookie adjustments 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, 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.

Prior NL Central roundups here: 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:00 PM | Baseball 2010 • | Baseball Studies | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)
Comments

Crank,

As a lifelong Pirates fan I take exception to a number of your statements about the Pirates. Here are my comments:

"The Padres didn't get equal value from Brian Giles when they traded Jason Bay to get him, but of the four teams to deal away Bay, they were the only ones who didn't get completely ripped off. The sad spectacle of Moss and Craig Hansen giving Pittsburgh essentially nothing from the deal that sent Bay to the Red Sox and Manny to LA has just been the icing on the cake for this franchise."

This is a snarky comment. The Bucs traded Bay because he was going to become a FA the next season and his value was never higher. Did they get a fair return for someone they were going to lose anyway? I think they did. While no specific player has turned out to be a star (yet), time will tell. It was a gamble the Bucs had to make to trade for potential upside players and fill a farm system that was empty.

The Bucs were poorly run until the new GM (Neil Huntington) was hired. He has aggressively moved the Bucs in the right direction. He had to dump the older players (who never won) for whatever talent he could get. He mainly went for high upside players with risk. Some will payoff, most will not. But he could not stand pat. The farm system had only 1 or 2 impact players.

The Bucs are now a fanchise on the rise. They have some young stars (Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez) with great potential. They need to keep drafting upside players (particularly pitchers).

2010 will be a poor year. Us fans at http://www.bucsdugout.com/ project 65 wins this year. However, 2011 will be better and then by 2012, the Bucs will pillage the league again.

I tell you what, let's check back at the All Star break in 2012 and see if the bucs or the Mets have better record? Okay?

Posted by: Lee at April 12, 2010 7:12 PM

I thought Moss and Hansen were a better return for Bay at the time than they look now. I'm well aware that Bay was a free agency issue, but he was very marketable and the Pirates have gotten so little from Moss and Hansen they may as well have kept him.

I'd love to see a Pirates revival, but I'll believe it when I see it; as with the Royals, they seem to lack the money to keep a nucleus together even as youngsters.

Posted by: Crank at April 12, 2010 7:16 PM

"Pujols should be due for his first career off year somewhere between 2010 and 2012" Why, unless he is injured, is there any reason at all to expect this? The Mang is the most consistently productive player ever and is healthier than he has been in several years.

Posted by: Bill Dozier at April 13, 2010 2:31 AM

Crank,

If you you want to criticize a trade, do it right. The Pirates traded Jason Bay for Brandon Moss, Craig Hansen, Andy LaRoche, and Bryan Morris. Andy LaRoche was the main piece of the trade, and if you believe FanGraphs, he was an average 3B last year. Also Bryan Morris was a first round pick and is still in the minors. He's not a sure thing, but he's something.

As a Pirates fan, I'd like to have seen us get more out of our best player at the time, but it's not like we got zero value in return, as you are suggesting.

Posted by: bmf at April 14, 2010 1:29 PM

"And I don't buy the idea that the game's economic structure is fundamentally broken; the Pirates and Royals are the only two teams that plainly can't be saved."

I thought back to this comment when I read this:

"On average, the Yankees’ 2009 gate receipts for a seven game home series were greater than the Pirates’ gate receipts for the entire year."

http://itsaboutthemoney.net/archives/2010/04/18/the-ecret-to-our-uccess-2/

That's just a staggering statistic, and the article makes an interesting case for gate receipts being more important than the YES Network in terms of the Yankees' cash advantage.

I also noticed from that post that Florida is rock-bottom in terms of gross revenues and second-to-last in gross gate receipts.

Posted by: MVH at April 20, 2010 10:42 AM
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