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.
Some players are rated based on less than three seasons or given a rookie rating. Key:
St. Louis Cardinals
Raw EWSL: 214.50 (85 W)
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.
Raw EWSL: 199.83 (80 W)
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.
Raw EWSL: 215.67 (85 W)
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.
Raw EWSL: 190.67 (77 W)
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.
Raw EWSL: 174.00 (71 W)
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.
Raw EWSL: 118.67 (53 W)
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.
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 (5) | TrackBack (0)