Baseball Crank
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March 31, 2008
BASEBALL: 2008 NL Central EWSL Report

The last of six division previews, using Established Win Shares Levels as a jumping-off point. Today: the NL Central. Notes on the EWSL method are below the fold. Amazingly, for once I have finished all six divisions before the season is underway in earnest.

Key: + (Rookie) * (Based on one season) # (Based on two seasons)

Milwaukee Brewers

Raw EWSL: 195.83 (65 W)
Adjusted: 220.43 (73 W)
Age-Adj.: 224.43 (75 W)
2008 W-L: 88-74

C34Jason Kendall1412
1B24Prince Fielder#1929
2B25Rickie Weeks1215
SS25JJ Hardy1216
3B28Bill Hall1515
RF26Corey Hart#1217
CF35Mike Cameron2014
LF24Ryan Braun*1128
C231Mike Rivera11
INF37Craig Counsell106
OF25Tony Gwynn jr.*24
1228Gabe Gross66
1332Gabe Kapler11
SP129Ben Sheets98
SP222Yovanni Gallardo*511
SP333Jeff Suppan118
SP428David Bush88
SP524Carlos Villanueva#56
RP132Eric Gagne43
RP230Derrick Turnbow76
RP331David Riske65
RP436Salomon Torres66
RP525Manny Parra* 12

Subjective Adjustments: None.

Also on Hand: Non-Pitchers - Eric Munson lost the initial backup catcher battle to Rivera, but may be back. OF Laynce Nix and Russell Branyan were in camp, as were 3B Abraham Nunez and young 2B Joe Dillon. Pitchers - Chris Capuano, who had hoped to see if better defense could help him recover from last year's catastrophic falloff, faces an uncertain prognosis and may yet need Tommy John surgery. Don't bank on him. The Brew Crew has also been sentenced, like Sysiphus, to the potential of Seth McClung and Guillermo Mota. Chris Spurling and 39-year-old Brian Shouse are other relief options.

Analysis: The status of preseason favorite in the NL Central is a desirable one but by no means prestigious. The Brewers won 83 games last year, a bunch of their key guys are young, they brought in some veterans like Cameron (once his suspension is up), Riske and Torres...they will compete, and somebody's gotta win this division.

The rotation is far from imposing in the absence of Capuano, who has to be a longshot to reclaim his old form even if he is able to muddle through. If Sheets somehow stays healthy and Gallardo makes no return trips to the DL (he's on it now, recovering from offseason knee surgery), they could have a good 1-2, but the rest aspires merely to adequacy. The guys with real upside here are Weeks and Braun, if they can somehow avoid wrecking the defense again, and also the potential for a revival by Hall and Gagne.

88 wins sounds about right. That could be enough.

Houston Astros

Raw EWSL: 202.17 (67 W)
Adjusted: 223.93 (75 W)
Age-Adj.: 198.61 (66 W)
2008 W-L: 79-83

C24JR Towles+212
1B32Lance Berkman2622
2B32Kaz Matsui109
SS32Miguel Tejada1916
3B30Ty Wigginton119
RF25Hunter Pence*920
CF25Michael Bourn*25
LF32Carlos Lee2118
C239Brad Ausmus87
INF36Mark Loretta1410
OF34Darin Erstad55
1234Jose Cruz jr.65
1335Geoff Blum85
SP130Roy Oswalt1916
SP230Brandon Backe43
SP329Wandy Rodriguez54
SP430Shawn Chacon54
SP530Chris Sampson#44
RP128Jose Valverde1111
RP226Oscar Villarreal44
RP341Doug Brocail43
RP431Geoff Geary54
RP536Brian Moehler22

Subjective Adjustments: None.

Also on Hand: Non-Pitchers - C Humberto Quintero, who had a good spring and presumably would step in if the Astros finally realize that Ausmus is finished; Tomas Perez, David Newhan, Reggie Abrecrombie, Victor Diaz. Pitchers - Wesley Wright, a wild young lefty with good K numbers but little experience above AA, made the roster; Mark McLemore, with similar numbers last year in Houston, didn't. Dave Borkowski, Chad Paronto and Mike DeJean are also around; Woody Williams was a late cut (a terrible spring at 41 after posting a 5.27 ERA will do that; Williams can still throw strikes but I suspect he just has nothing left).

Analysis: For the second year in a row, EWSL seems unaccountably optimistic about the Astros, but I suppose optimistic is a relative term, when a lineup with this many quality veterans, a solid closer and a major ace pitcher is still projected to finish below .500. The new but not improved rotation seems unlikely to be competitive beyond Oswalt, but you never know; maybe this will be the year Backe is finally healthy. The bullpen is totally rebuilt, but in some cases with less than the most consistent relievers. Valverde is solid, but the Win Shares system may overrate him just a bit because of the extreme number of close games the D-Backs led in last season (not that he doesn't deservie his share of the credit for that).

Geoff Blum is ailing, and it's not like he's Mike Schmidt when he is healthy. Matsui is too, but we won't get into that. Ausmus is the emergency infielder, and that about says it all.

Chicago Cubs

Raw EWSL: 185.83 (62 W)
Adjusted: 216.63 (72 W)
Age-Adj.: 196.25 (65 W)
2008 W-L: 78-84

C25Geovany Soto+212
1B32Derrek Lee1715
2B33Mark DeRosa1312
SS28Ryan Theriot#89
3B30Aramis Ramirez2118
RF31Kosuke Fukudome+012
CF23Felix Pie*37
LF32Alfonso Soriano1514
C236Henry Blanco32
INF25Ronny Cedeno33
OF31Reed Johnson97
1233Daryle Ward54
1328Mike Fontenot*35
SP127Carlos Zambrano1716
SP228Rich Hill#810
SP332Ted Lilly128
SP429Jason Marquis76
SP531Ryan Dempster87
RP131Kerry Wood22
RP225Carlos Marmol#68
RP334Bobby Howry107
RP429Michael Wuertz55
RP536Scott Eyre54

Subjective Adjustments: None. Felix Pie hit too poorly last season to deserve any sort of bump until he proves himself.

Also on Hand: Non-Pitchers - Alex Cintron lost out on the middle infield reserve job. Matt Murton will almost certainly be traded unless there's an injury that presses him into service very soon. 2B Eric Patterson is also on hand. Pitchers - The Cubs have them in reserve if needed - Neal Cotts, Jon Lieber, Sean Marshall and Carmen Pignatiello.

Analysis: Why is EWSL so down on the Cubs, when everyone else in the universe seems to have ceded them this division? Age is a big factor: the age adjustments take a big bite out of 30-and-up players like Lee, Ramirez, Soriano, Howry, and Lilly, and those add up. Nobody on the team rates more than 18 EWSL; Arizona, Toronto and the White Sox are the only other teams with pretensions at contending that don't have a 20 EWSL player, and the D-Backs are deep in young talent and pitching, in ways the Cubs aren't, while I'm less than impressed with the other two. Some guys may be underrated here; Marmol, like Fausto Carmona, is rated in part on his dismal 2006, since I can't and won't just make it magically vanish, but Marmol in particular seems likely to come closer to last year's 11 WS than to the projected 8, just as Derrek Lee does seem likely to stay healthy enough to turn out 20 WS, as his 2006 injury was a fluke. The main upside here is in players who are unproven or a crapshoot - Wood, Soto, Pie and Fukudome. But EWSL is designed to deliver the bad news: by banking on each of them, the Cubs are banking on hope of something that has not happened at the Major League level before. I can see expecting the Cubs to outpace their EWSL record by several game; I can't see projecting this team as likely to cruise to 90+ wins, even with a boatload of games within a dreadful division.

I don't know any more about Fukudome than you do. He's listed at 6'0" and 190, so he doesn't quite have Hideki Matsui's size, and thus may be less reliable in preserving his HR power (and Matsui himself lost quite a few homers in translation). Fukudome's had great OBPs in Japan, it remains to be seen whether pitchers will work around him as much if he hits for less power here.

Cincinnati Reds

Raw EWSL: 192.00 (64 W)
Adjusted: 211.53 (71 W)
Age-Adj.: 193.18 (64 W)
2008 W-L: 77-85

C31Dave Ross87
1B24Joey Votto+212
2B27Brandon Phillips1314
SS31Alex Gonzalez119
3B25Edwin Encarnacion1317
RF38Ken Griffey jr.1310
CF28Corey Patterson99
LF28Adam Dunn1920
C232Javier Valentin65
INF28Jeff Keppinger55
OF32Ryan Freel86
1229Norris Hopper*47
1338Scott Hatteberg118
SP130Aaron Harang1614
SP231Bronson Arroyo1411
SP322Johnny Cueto+04
SP431Josh Fogg64
SP524Ednison Volquez#11
RP133Francisco Cordero129
RP238David Weathers119
RP329Jeremy Affeldt43
RP427Todd Coffey44
RP527Jared Burton*35

Subjective Adjustments: None.

Also on Hand: Non-Pitchers - Jay Bruce, of course, is the elephant in the AAA outfield. Juan Castro is rehabbing from Tommy John surgery (how many times have I written that in these previews this year?) Also OF DeWayne Wise, C Paul Bako and INF Jolbert Cabrera. Pitchers - Homer Bailey got passed on the way up by Cueto; Bailey still has great stuff but has apparently not proven all that swift a learner. Kent Mercker is on the roster; Mike Stanton got cut, and Greg McMichael was not in camp. Matt Belisle is expected to have a job when he is ready. Others include Bill Bray, Gary Majewski, Jon Coutlangus, snf Bobby Livingston.

Analysis: How many stories can Dusty Baker jump out of and still land on his feet? Perricone thinks the answer is "none, unless Barry Bonds is involved." The decision to bring in Corey Patterson and make him the CF/leadoff man has been hashed out by others, but I wonder if it's really just a smike screen for the same thing Tampa is doing, and keeping Bruce in the minors until the first time Griffey gets eaten by wolverines (15-day DL) so they can keep Bruce's service time down. Or, Dusty could just be an idiot.

The Reds are unlikely to be terrible, and that alone will make Baker look fine. There's not a ton of talent here unless the real youngsters (Bruce, Votto, Cueto, Bailey) go nuts, but there's enough to hang around .500.

I confess I had no idea Cordero was 33 already; as I noted in November, while he's not a great pickup he does have a pretty good record at avoiding the longball, which is key in this park.

Is it just me or does Ednison Volquez change the spelling of his name every year?

Pittsburgh Pirates

Raw EWSL: 179.67 (60 W)
Adjusted: 188.57 (63 W)
Age-Adj.: 180.17 (60 W)
2008 W-L: 73-89

C27Ronny Paulino#1012
1B28Adam LaRoche1516
2B30Freddy Sanchez2017
SS30Jack Wilson1614
3B27Jose Bautista#911
RF29Xavier Nady109
CF26Nate McLouth67
LF29Jason Bay1817
C227Ryan Doumit55
INF37Chris Gomez43
OF27Njyer Morgan*24
1234Doug Mientkiewicz55
1328Chris Duffy56
SP126Ian Snell89
SP225Tom Gorzelanny#79
SP333Matt Morris86
SP426Paul Maholm66
SP525Zach Duke67
RP124Matt Capps#911
RP233Damaso Marte53
RP329John Grabow43
RP430Tyler Yates22
RP526Franquelis Osoria11

Subjective Adjustments: None.

Also on Hand: Non-Pitchers - Matt Kata, Luis Rivas. Pitchers - Evan Meek, Phil Dumatrait, Sean Burnett, John Van Berschoten; Jonah Bayliss was also in camp but seems to have been let go.

Analysis: Maybe this is unfair to some of these guys, but when I was doing the depth charts, anytime I came across some guy who is miserable, washed up or otherwise down on his luck, and I was wondering where he ended up? Pirates camp.

Doug Mientkiewicz? Check.
Jaret Wright? Check.
Casey Fossum? Check.
Matt Morris? Check.
Luis Rivas? Check.
Chris Gomez? Check.
Byun-Hyung Kim? Check.
Elmer Dessens? Check.

They cut Kim, Dessens, Fossum and Wright, but then they traded for Tyler Yates, and gave a bullpen slot to Evan Meek, who has a career minor league ERA of 5.14, has never pitched above AA and has walked 198 batters in 287 career innings. Maybe this isn't satire.

David Wright, David Ortiz, Jack Wilson, Magglio Ordonez, Todd Helton, Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols, Carlos Pena, Jorge of these things is not like the others. That's the Major League OBP leaders for last August 1 through the end of the year, all of whom slugged above .560 with an OBP of at least .444 for that stretch. Wilson, who hit .409/.467/.697 down the last two months, had batted just .252/.303/.342 before that. (Actually, the whole Pirate offense had a torrid run to the finish line.) It was a bizarre hot streak, but don't expect a repeat. I do think LaRoche will turn in a better year, but Fredy Sanchez's early injuries worry me (Duffy is also hurt).

St. Louis Cardinals

Raw EWSL: 174.33 (58 W)
Adjusted: 191.10 (64 W)
Age-Adj.: 179.90 (60 W)
2008 W-L: 73-89

C25Yadier Molina1114
1B28Albert Pujols3435
2B32Adam Kennedy97
SS28Cesar Izturis55
3B31Troy Glaus1614
RF28Skip Schumaker*47
CF28Rick Ankiel*48
LF27Chris Duncan#1215
C234Jason LaRue65
INF31Aaron Miles108
OF26Brian Barton+04
1229Ryan Ludwick55
1330Rico Washington+01
SP126Adam Wainwright#1013
SP229Kyle Lohse86
SP329Todd Wellemeyer33
SP433Braden Looper75
SP526Brad Thompson55
RP135Jason Isringhausen117
RP239Russ Springer65
RP335Ryan Franklin64
RP432Randy Flores22
RP529Joel Pineiro33

Subjective Adjustments: None. I could have bumped up Ankiel, but who knows what to expect from him? I at least rated him as a rookie last year, since he's not the same player he was in 1999.

Also on Hand: Non-Pitchers - Juan Gonzalez is, unsurprisingly, hurt, much to Ryan Ludwick's relief; Juan Encarnacion is out quite a while. Brendan Ryan is hurt. D'Angelo Jimenez is on hand. Scott Speizio is not, having been cut in late February after an ugly DWI incident. Yes, the Cards have a Brian Barton and a Brian Barden. Colby Rasmus and Joe Mather are the soon-to-arrive power-hitting OF prospects. Pitchers - Much will turn on the impossible-to-predict returns of Chris Carpenter, Mark Mulder, and Matt Clement from injury; Tyler Johnson is also hurt. Anthony Reyes is at the back of the bullpen but remains a promising rotation prospect. Others on hand incluyde Ron Villone, Kelvin JImenez and Kyle McClellan.

Analysis: There are many storylines around the Cardinals this spring, and few happy ones - bad elbows and bad shoulders, steroids and HGH, lawsuits and demon alcohol. Minor league old soldier Rico Washington getting a major league job is one of the nicer ones, but inconsequential in analytical terms. From Pujols' could-blow-anytime arm on down, it's a fool's errand to predict anything of this team, but they won't be real good, that much is clear.

Pineiro will take one of the rotation spots, probably Thompson (the 5th starter) or Looper (who had a crummy spring) when he returns in a few weeks. LaRussa and Dave Duncan will be called on yet again to work their magic with Lohse, a classic guy nearing 30 with a live arm and not much to show for it, exactly their type.

If you were picking a guy to lose nearly 50 points off his batting average in 2007, you would not have selected LaRue, who had batted .194 the prior year.

Given that Molina is only 25, it may turn out that he will hit some after all; his brother Bengie didn't hit until he was 28.

You can compare the prior roundups for the NL Central: 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007.

The Method

For those of you who are unfamiliar, EWSL is explained here, and you should read that link before commenting on the method; 2008 revisions to the age adjustment are discussed here, rookie adjustments here, and subjective adjustments for players with less than three seasons' track record 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 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 2008 W-L record adds EWSL plus 38.57 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 three seasons.

As always, the depth charts here are drawn from multiple sources (my starting points are the depth charts at Baseball 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), but I take responsibility for any errors.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:01 AM | Baseball 2008 • | Baseball Studies | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
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