Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
February 25, 2004
BASEBALL: AL Central Established Win Shares Level Report
Moving on to the AL Central . . . you may have wondered, watching as the Yankees, Red Sox and Angels grew stronger while other teams East and West held their ground, who was going to lose all those games that other teams plan to win . . . look no further. This is one ugly division. There are only three players in the whole division with an EWSL of 20 or greater, which is one fewer than the Yankees have just in their infield (counting Posada).
This is the fourth in my series on Established Win Shares Levels; see here for an explanation of the EWSL method and ranking of the top 25 players, here for an explanation of the team-by-team method in the post on the AL West, and here for my AL East analysis (in which I noted a downgrade of the arbitrary rating of rookie starting pitchers from 7 Win Shares to 5). (I haven't yet gone back and re-adjusted the AL East and West numbers after the Rodriguez-Soriano trade).
As I and others have noted before, EWSL isn't a perfect tool for evaluating team rosters; again, what it measures is how much established major league talent is on each roster. A quick reminder on notations: players marked # are evaluated on their last 2 seasons rather than last 3; players marked * are evaluated only on 2003; and players marked + are rookies assigned an arbitrary WS total.
The AL Central:
Kansas City Royals
Adjusted EWSL: 216.1 (72 wins)
Yup, that's right, EWSL says even after adjusting for all the youngsters, the Royals have enough established talent on the roster to win 72 games - and that that's enough to win this division for their first trip to the postseason since the 1985 World Champions. Of course, the EWSL projections tend to come in a little low (especially since I'm only rating 23 players per roster), and the teams in the AL Central have to play each other enough that you won't see five teams each notching 90 losses (recall that the Royals got as far as they did last year in part by going 27-11 against Detroit and Cleveland), and KC does have some young players who could step up and at least one veteran (Juan Gonzalez) who might, if healthy, well exceed 11 Win Shares . . . but as usual, take note: just to crack .500 the Royals will need to have a bunch of things happen that represent real and dramatic steps forward from prior years.
For all that, the first-place ranking tells us that KC wasn't crazy to push this team into contend-now mode by bringing in aging veterans like Santiago, Gonzalez and Leskanic, especially not with the best player in the division (Beltran) in his walk year. . . . if the current rotation holds - which seems unlikely, given injury histories and Jimmy Gobble - this team should set some sort of record for games started by pitchers whose names begin with the letter "A".
Adjusted EWSL: 207.1 (69 wins)
Unlike some professional sportswriters, I don't have Joe Mays listed in the Twins' rotation. But I will admit that while I'm working here from some online roto sites leavened by a sanity check as to what I learned over the winter, I could still be off base as to some of the planned starting rotations and lineups. Another thing to keep in mind here.
As you can see, the difference between the Twins and the Royals is all in the adjustments. . . At first glance, there's a sense that the Twins' window is shutting, with Koskie and Stewart likely to start taking a step backward, Hunter and Jones likely having had their career years in 2002, and the departure in recent years of numerous mainstays - Pierzynski, Guardado, Hawkins, Reed, Milton, Ortiz. But this is now a young team, the youngest in the AL by EWSL-weighted age, and it's easy to see some of the upsides. Santana, if he holds up over a full season in the rotation, should add another 2-3 wins to the bottom line right off the bat, Gardenhire's record with bullpens past suggests that he can get a bit more out of the current crop (note that Win Shares values established closers, and there's really no proven closer here, which ought to fix itself as someone takes the job), and LeCroy and Cuddyer should get more playing time. But the biggest wild card is the highly-touted rookie catcher, Joe Mauer, who has a tall order filling Pierzynski's defensive shoes while being asked to add some major offensive punch. If Mauer is back in Rochester by June 1 - not an unrealistic possibility with any rookie - the Twinkies are going nowhere.
Chicago White Sox
Adjusted EWSL: 205.4 (68 wins)
The White Sox actually have the highest team EWSL in the division before you run the adjustments for players with limited experience, rookies, etc. Which isn't surprising; this is mostly a team of proven commodities, although there may still be hope that Garland will develop (there's less reason to be optimistic about Wright). Overall, though, it's hard to see much room for improvement on this roster. Loaiza's always been a talented pitcher and his peripheral numbers were good last year, so I suspect he'll retain some of the added value from 2003, when he posted 23 Win Shares; the 14 number above does seem reasonable. Also, I think Konerko will bounce back some. But projecting these guys to make much noise seems very optimistic.
Adjusted EWSL: 158.9 (53 wins)
There's no team in baseball more likely to improve this season than the Tigers, if only because in 2003 they pushed the mathematical limits on how bad a major league baseball team can get. . . . baseball games are played by human beings, and baseball teams ask fans to come and watch them, so I can't fault the Tigers for bringing in Ivan Rodriguez to generate a little excitement and add some veteran stability behind the plate (although before 2003, his record working with young pitchers was hardly inspiring). Vina and Rondell White are another matter. You have to expect some improvement from Bonderman and Maroth (2004 will probably get Maroth to the top of his range; a guy with his low strikeout rate has a low ceiling). . . I have fond memories of Nate Cornejo's dad, Mardie, who pitched quite well in 25 games in relief in his one season with the Mets . . . observant Mariner fans will note that EWSL rates Guillen at 12 Win Shares compared to 17 for Rich Aurilia, although I still have mixed thoughts about the exchange.
Adjusted EWSL: 156.4 (52 wins)
The Indians are where the EWSL method breaks down completely. Remember, this is not a predictive method, although what it tells us is very useful in making predictions; what we're measuring here is how much proven, established major league talent is on the roster. But few of the Indians have "established" anything at this level. Not only do the Indians have a lot of guys with very short track records, but a lot of the key players don't even have a full season's worth of at bats under their belts. Thus, this team has at least the potential for a fairly large and hard to quantify improvement, although I still don't see them as a contender (they need a 13 game improvement just to hit .500).
The bad news is that few of the Indians' young players are really all that young - of the potential everyday players, only Victor Martinez, Coco Crisp and the perenially rehabbing Alex Escobar are 25 or younger - and a lot of them would appear to have only "pretty good player" ceilings. But for guys like Gerut and Hafner, the future should arrive this year.