Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
April 19, 2009
BASEBALL: 2009 NL Central EWSL Report

Part 6 of my preseason previews is the NL Central; this is the last 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. Prior previews: AL Central and AL West, AL East, NL East, NL West.

I'll be frank: as often happens, I'm a bit at the end of my tether and pushing to get done after the season starts when I get to the NL Central, baseball's largest division and the one with the most lost ships. The numbers are all here, but some of the commentary may be a bit abbreviated.

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

Chicago Cubs

Raw EWSL: 226.00 (75 W)
Adjusted: 245.11 (82 W)
Age-Adj.: 217.59 (73 W)
2009 W-L: 85-77

C26Geovany Soto*1224
1B33Derrek Lee1613
2B29Mike Fontenot#87
SS29Ryan Theriot1312
3B31Aramis Ramirez2319
RF31Milton Bradley1513
CF32Kosuke Fukudome*812
LF33Alfonso Soriano1916
C230Koyie Hill00
INF32Aaron Miles108
OF32Reed Johnson108
1228Joey Gathright66
1329Micah Hoffpauir+24
SP128Carlos Zambrano1616
SP227Rich Harden99
SP333Ted Lilly139
SP432Ryan Dempster139
SP526Sean Marshall45
RP131Kevin Gregg108
RP226Carlos Marmol1011
RP329Neal Cotts21
RP434Luis Vizcaino43
RP530Aaron Heilman54

Subjective Adjustments: None.

Also on Hand: Non-Pitchers - So Taguchi. Esteban German was cut and headed for the Rangers.

Pitchers - Relievers Angel Guzman and David Patton, starting prospect Jeff Samardzija. Chad Gaudin was cut and has caught on with the Padres.

Analysis: The Cubs are the favorites in the NL Central; they're not any more an overpowering one than the Dodgers, but they're a good, solid team and nobody else in the division has a proven basis for being considered one. As usual, the health of Rich Harden will be a significant factor - Harden's still only 27, but has the medical history of a 37-year-old. Soto's recent banged-up status is also a concern; catchers have that and thus far it may just be routine, but he's such a valuable commodity the Cubs would be in trouble if he ends up with one of those lost seasons that happen to catchers sometimes.

Milwaukee Brewers

Raw EWSL: 205.00 (68 W)
Adjusted: 217.72 (73 W)
Age-Adj.: 212.57 (71 W)
2009 W-L: 84-78

C35Jason Kendall1611
1B25Prince Fielder2328
2B26Rickie Weeks1416
SS26JJ Hardy1719
3B29Bill Hall1110
RF27Corey Hart1617
CF36Mike Cameron1915
LF25Ryan Braun*1928
C232Mike Rivera32
INF38Craig Counsell75
OF29Chris Duffy32
1226Casey McGeehee04
1326Brad Nelson+04
SP123Yovanni Gallardo#45
SP234Jeff Suppan85
SP326Manny Parra#56
SP429David Bush87
SP534Braden Looper96
RP141Trevor Hoffman107
RP225Carlos Villanueva67
RP328Seth McClung44
RP428Todd Coffey22
RP530Jorge Julio43

Subjective Adjustments: None, but Gallardo is a heckuva pitcher and if healthy should blow by that EWSL. I didn't ding Hoffman, since his EWSL incorporates the injury woes of fortysomething pitchers.

Also on Hand: Non-Pitchers - Tony Gwynn jr.

Pitchers - David Riske, Mitch Stetter, Wes Littleton, Chris Capuano, and Chase Wright.

Analysis: The Brewers return the same lineup and should score runs in bunches with all that power, but the pitching staff has been decimated by the departure of Sheets and Sabathia and the failure of Capuano. Suppan's K rate was in decay last season, and through 2 starts so far he has 7 BB, 2 K and a 12.91 ERA in 7.2 IP. It's possible that a healthy Gallardo could be an ace, and it's possible that they'll find the money to bring Sheets back in midseason, but on the whole this team just doesn't have the arms.

When I mentioned the National League's oversupply of failed Mets relievers, I forgot to note the Brew Crew with Looper and Julio. They should make Willie Randolph feel right at home.

St. Louis Cardinals

Raw EWSL: 181.67 (61 W)
Adjusted: 201.84 (67 W)
Age-Adj.: 185.89 (62 W)
2009 W-L: 75-87

C26Yadier Molina1315
1B29Albert Pujols3432
2B29Skip Schumaker#1012
SS29Khalil Greene1110
3B26David Freese+04
RF30Ryan Ludwick1513
CF29Rick Ankiel#910
LF28Chris Duncan1010
C235Jason LaRue42
INF32Troy Glaus1714
OF22Colby Rasmus+04
1228Brian Barden#04
1327Brendan Ryan#33
SP127Adam Wainwright1111
SP230Kyle Lohse108
SP330Joel Pineiro33
SP430Todd Wellemeyer87
SP534Chris Carpenter42
RP127Jason Motte+16
RP227Brad Thompson43
RP336Ryan Franklin76
RP432Dennis Reyes54
RP536Trever Miller33

Subjective Adjustments: None. The 3B situation is in flux pending Glaus' return, which may take months; I have Freese listed as the starter but graded as a bench player rather than take the WS out of Glaus, and anyway Joe Thurston is battling Freese for the playing time. Carpenter's injury is in line with his recent history, so no adjustment needed.

Also on Hand: Non-Pitchers - Thurston, Joe Mather, Brian Barton. Mather and Rasmus are the team's outfielders of the future, but only if they can get rid of the current outfield.

Pitchers - Kyle McClellan, who's been perhaps their best reliever in the early going, Josh Kinney, and Royce Ring.

Analysis: The Cards have started hot, and this team often has people who surprise me - two of the three outfielders (Duncan and Ludwick) have picked up where Ankiel and Ludwick left off last year. I'd warn that Pujols is reaching the age where guys as good as him start to be less consistently awesome every single year, but he hasn't looked thus far like this will be the year he gets his first taste of kryptonite. He'll be the best player in the game until someone wrests the title from him (although EWSL does rate Hanley Ramirez above him due to his youth).

Greene is an offensive enigma. Entering last season, while his overall numbers were poor because he hit so badly in San Diego, he had a career road batting line of .280/.338/.515, but he batted .212/.225/.317 on the road last season and has hit .158/.158/.316 on the road in the early going this year. He'll run out of excuses if he repeats last year's road performance.

Houston Astros

Raw EWSL: 210.50 (70 W)
Adjusted: 214.57 (72 W)
Age-Adj.: 181.56 (61 W)
2009 W-L: 73-89

C37Ivan Rodriguez149
1B33Lance Berkman3126
2B33Kaz Matsui1210
SS35Miguel Tejada1611
3B36Geoff Blum97
RF26Hunter Pence#1621
CF26Michael Bourn#57
LF33Carlos Lee2218
C229Humberto Quintero22
INF29Jeff Keppinger88
OF33Jason Michaels76
1235Darin Erstad64
1331Jason Smith11
SP131Roy Oswalt1715
SP230Wandy Rodriguez76
SP336Mike Hampton21
SP437Brian Moehler54
SP535Russ Ortiz10
RP129Jose Valverde1211
RP232Geoff Geary65
RP335Tim Byrdak32
RP436LaTroy Hawkins55
RP531Chris Sampson65

Subjective Adjustments: None.

Also on Hand: Non-Pitchers - Catching prospect JR Towles, who suffered a colossal (.137/.250/.253) wipeout last year, and outfield nomad Reggie Abercrombie. Aaron Boone was slated to play but will miss the season following heart surgery.

Pitchers - Doug Brocail started off in the pen but hit the DL after early ineffectiveness. Wesley Wright and Clay Hensley will be in the pen, and Brandon Backe's still trying to get back where he was. Jeff Fulchino and Jose Capellan are also on hand.

Analysis: The Astros were surprisingly competitive in 2008, but they were 9 games above their Pythagorean record, their team is old, and frankly they are fooling themselves if they think this roster is anything but spare parts to sell to contenders, or in the case of the back end of their rotation, guys who should have been put to pasture by now.

Lance Berkman had to win the 2008 "guy least likely to double his career high in steals while hardly ever getting caught" award. Berkman is basically Bob Horner if he'd stayed in shape, but he's a better athlete than Horner was even when young.

Cincinnati Reds

Raw EWSL: 156.67 (52 W)
Adjusted: 174.71 (58 W)
Age-Adj.: 174.65 (58 W)
2009 W-L: 71-91

C33Ramon Hernandez1311
1B25Joey Votto*1115
2B28Brandon Phillips1818
SS32Alex Gonzalez54
3B26Edwin Encarnacion1517
RF22Jay Bruce*414
CF27Willy Taveras99
LF33Jerry Hairston jr76
C228Ryan Hanigan*24
INF26Paul Janish+14
OF27Chris Dickerson*35
1230Darnell McDonald+11
1328Laynce Nix00
SP125Edinson Volquez910
SP231Aaron Harang1210
SP332Bronson Arroyo129
SP423Johnny Cueto*36
SP526Micah Owings#57
RP134Francisco Cordero128
RP239David Weathers98
RP334Mike Lincoln21
RP439Arthur Rhodes43
RP528Jared Burton#56

Subjective Adjustments: None. I thought of knocking Jay Bruce up a few spots, but 22 year olds, even ones who are accurately projected as big stars, are never a sure thing to make that dramatic an improvement. And Volquez has been kicking around long enough that I wasn't at liberty to just disregard his pre-2008 performance.

Also on Hand: Non-Pitchers - Jonny Gomes, Jacque Jones and Norris Hopper; Daryle Ward got cut.

Pitchers - Relievers Bill Bray, Danny Herrera and Nick Masset, and starter Homer Bailey, who seems to have been reclassified pretty swiftly from the next Clemens to the next Schiraldi but is still young and hard-throwing enough that nobody's counting him out yet. If nothing else, Bailey will get the chance to break the reputations of a few more pitching coaches before he's through.

Analysis: The Reds will feel the loss of Dunn, and at least symbolically the loss of Griffey as well, but there remains enough young talent here to build on with Votto, Bruce, Volquez and Cueto; it's just that there are still a lot of holes as well. Dickerson is sharing time with Hairston in left. I'm not sure I see the point of employing Taveras to play in a bandbox - it was one thing to live with his slap hitting in Colorado, where at least the vast outfield requires a fleet center fielder.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Raw EWSL: 135.83 (45 W)
Adjusted: 142.68 (48 W)
Age-Adj.: 136.16 (45 W)
2009 W-L: 58-104

C28Ryan Doumit1213
1B29Adam LaRoche1615
2B31Freddy Sanchez1614
SS31Jack Wilson1210
RF25Brandon Moss*36
CF27Nate McLouth1616
LF28Njyer Morgan#33
C226Jason Jaramillo+04
INF32Ramon Vazquez76
OF32Craig Monroe54
1231Eric Hinske76
1325Luis Cruz*11
SP127Ian Snell66
SP226Zach Duke44
SP327Paul Maholm77
SP426Ross Ohlendorf*11
SP526Jeff Karstens11
RP125Matt Capps910
RP231Tyler Yates32
RP330John Grabow54
RP426Sean Burnett11
RP525Craig Hansen11

Subjective Adjustments: None. The Pirates are, however, a classic vacuum situation: there's a lot of young guys on hand who haven't established themselves, most of whom have failed in a half a season or so worth of playing time but haven't yet proven themselves failures. A few of those single-digit guys in the lineup are bound to find their sea legs enough to keep this team from being quite as bad as 104 losses, but they won't be able to keep them far from the cellar.

Also on Hand: Non-Pitchers - Cruz was listed by default, as he seems to have been less of a proven failure than Brian Bixler, also a shortstop. Also catcher Robinson Diaz and outfielder Andrew McCutchen.

Pitchers - Relievers Jesse Chavez and Donald Veal; starter Tom Gorzelanny is in AAA purgatory. Phil Dumatrait is injured.

Analysis: There's no sense blowing up a bad team in exchange for prospects if you're not gonna play the prospects, and so that's what the Pirates are doing: the younger LaRoche, Moss, Ohlendorf, Karstens, and Hansen are the bounty of various deals the last few seasons as Pirate veterans like Jason Bay and Xavier Nady were sent to contenders, and Pittsburgh means to find out if they can do the job. It's still a shame that a storied franchise playing in a beautiful new stadium can't support itself - the Pirates' winning percentage dating back to 1993, during which they've suffered 16 straight losing seasons, is .438, good for a 71-91 record over a 162 game season, and they haven't finished higher than 6th in the NL in attendance since 1972, not even when they won the World Series in 1979 or the three straight division titles in the Bonds/Bonilla/Van Slyke era. 2001, when they opened PNC Park, is the only time in franchise history they've averaged more than 26,000 fans per game, and 1990-91 were the only other years they cracked the 2 million mark. It's hard to paint the current rebuilding effort with much hope if there just isn't any reason to believe that the current club ownership thinks it could make more money by having a winning team.

The Method

For those of you who are unfamiliar, EWSL is explained here, and you should read that link before commenting on the method; 2009 revisions to the age and rookie adjustments are discussed here, and my overview from last year on 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, 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 2009 W-L record adds EWSL plus 38.82 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 four 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; 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.

You can compare the prior NL Central roundups here: 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:24 AM | Baseball 2009 • | Baseball Studies | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Word on the street is that Freese will soon be headed to Memphis and Barton will be the Cards' 3B at least until Glaus comes back.

Posted by: bs at April 19, 2009 11:34 PM
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