Friday, February 11, 2005

2005 vs. 2004

I am so ready for baseball season. The problem is, it's been harder than I ever imagined to come up with things to write about this time of year. Once spring games start, I'll be posting more. I swear.

Anyway, here's my attempt at making a prediction of the number of wins the Cardinals will make a run at in 2005. Of course, this isn't much better than a wild guess on my part, but it's a fun exercise nonetheless. Also, note that I'm simply comparing the 2005 team vs. the 2004 team, and am not taking the competition into consideration.

Rotation

This is the area that the Cardinals got hammered for last year, and they continue to get no respect so far in 2005.

1. Mark Mulder
2. Chris Carpenter
3. Jason Marquis
4. Jeff Suppan
5. Rick Ankiel/Matt Morris

Without using statistics for starters, take a look at that rotation. The starting pitcher for the AL in last year's All-Star Game is the #1. The #1 starter on a 105 win team 2004 (by performance) is now their #2. Jeff Suppan, the man who won the clinching games in both the NLDS and the NLCS, is in the middle of the pack. And a guy that was a 22 game winner just 4 years ago finds himself as the #5 starter right now.

Granted, there are plenty of question marks. The only guy in that group with a low injury risk is Jeff Suppan. Mulder was shaky down the stretch, Carpenter didn't pitch after mid-September, Marquis had a career high inning count, and Morris had off-season surgery. And we won't even go into the Ankiel situation.

OK, enough of the subjective stuff.

Mark Mulder takes over for Woody Williams. Last year, Woody posted 8 win shares, while Mulder had 15. Woody was just below average for a starting pitcher, while Mulder had 3 win shares above average. On an ERA+ basis, Mulder was off last year, only posting a 106. His 3 previous seasons he had put together ERA+ seasons of 126, 134, and 136. Considering that Mulder turns 28 this season, if he really is healthy? Expect him to rebound to pre-2004 form, thus posting more like 17 to 19 win shares. If we split the difference and say Mulder will post 18 win shares this year, we have a 10 WS advantage over Woody, thus giving the Cardinals about 3 more expected wins than the 2004 team.

Chris Carpenter and Jason Marquis are in a similar situation to one another, in my opinion. They were both great, they were both worked more than they had been in recent memory, and they are both an injury risk in 2005. Marquis had 14 win shares last year, with Carpenter getting 11. (I know that sounds backwards, but Marquis helped himself with his bat while Carpenter didn't.) How do we quantify the injury risks for these two? I'm sure there is a good way of doing so, but I'm not sure what it is. For me, I'm simply going to say that the two of them will see a 20% reduction in win shares this season. That would take their total from 25 to 20 win shares. If you don't like my method? Well, tell me a better way to make an estimate.

Jeff Suppan catches a lot of flak from the fans of other teams who don't tend to pay much attention. "He was lucky and can't do it again" is the general consensus. Which makes no sense, of course.

2004 - 7 Win Shares, 100 ERA+
2003 - 14 Win Shares, 105 ERA+
2002 - 9 Win Shares, 97 ERA+

In fact, that ERA+ in 2002 is the only time over the past 6 seasons in which Suppan has been below average. And last year was the first time in that same time span that Suppan didn't throw 200 innings, due to him getting some extra rest down the stretch after the Cardinals wrapped up the Central. End result? What you saw in 2004 is probably about what you're going to get, regardless of what Cubs fans want to believe. If anything, Suppan may in fact have a better season in 2005. We're going to assume, however, that he'll be even.

Finally, there is the #5 slot. This one is tough. Morris is likely out until May, if not June. Ankiel will start the season as the team's #5 starter, assuming he doesn't implode in Spring training. What are the Cardinals going to get? Who knows? With Ankiel - my feeling is that he is going to be fine, based upon the fact that he played in 3 levels of the minors, plus the majors, plus some Winter ball without any wildness issues. Granted, his ERA was ugly with St. Louis last year, but based mainly upon one bad Coors Field outing. I can live with that. And even if Ankiel doesn't look good, the Cardinals have so many off days in April that they may only need him (or someone else) to make 4 or 5 starts before Morris is back.

Morris is another wild card. Last year was the first season in his 7 year career in which he was below average. His 89 ERA+ was well below his career average of 118, as well as his career single season low of 111. Morris only posted 7 win shares last year after having 10 in 2003 and 14 in 2002.

The #5 starter slot presents a gamble on the part of the Cardinals, but with some serious upside. Yes - Ankiel could end up out of the game forever, with Morris injured the entire season. On the other hand, the Cardinals could end up with 2 guys with #1 stuff filling out their rotation. Ankiel could become a spot starter with nasty bullpen stuff, or the Cardinals could deal a starter for help in the middle infield. Either way, I like the Cardinals chances to get something special here. For the sake of this article, however, let's be conservative and give the Cardinals 10 win shares out of the #5 slot.

Bullpen

The Cardinals bullpen was great last year, netting the team 47 win shares which translates into about 16 wins. Some are wringing their hands over the losses of Kline, Calero, and Haren - and for good reason. Kline was great as a 2nd lefty, with Calero and Haren providing some great stuff out of the pen. However, those 3 pitchers only accounted for 12 win shares last season, or 25.5% of the total out of the pen. I realize that 1/4 of bullpen win shares being lost sounds bad, but those 3 accounted for 30% of the players that the Cardinals used in that role. Perhaps more interesting to note is the following.

Reyes - 2
Flores - 1
Lincoln - 1
Haren - 1

I wouldn't have guessed that the likes of Al Reyes, Randy Flores, and Mike Lincoln actually contributed as much (or more) to the Cardinals success last year as Dan Haren, but according to win shares they did. That's not to say that Haren won't be missed, because he will. But he can in fact be replaced in the 2005 season. (Beyond that may be another story.)

So basically, the Cardinals have let Kline, Calero, and Haren go. Kline will be replaced by someone out of Mike Myers, Carmon Cali, and Rick Ankiel. (I half expect Myers to go the way of Al Levine this Spring.) Calero and Haren will probably be replaced by the returning Al Reyes and a healthy Mike Lincoln, with Anthony Reyes and Adam Wainwright not out of the question by the end of the season.

Kline's 6 win shares will likely not be completely replaced, unless Ankiel and Morris both come back with a vengeance. Let's assume a let-down in that area by half, or 3 win shares. The 6 win shares lost by Calero and Haren will most likely be replaced by Al Reyes and Lincoln quite nicely.

That leaves the rest of the bullpen, which is Issringhausen, Tavarez, King, and Eldred. Personally, I think Izzy will be slightly better than last year, with the other 3 being slightly worse. Let's assume a net reduction of 4 win shares out of those 4 players, giving the Cardinals a reduction of 7 win shares in the bullpen.

Starting Lineup

Obviously, this is the bread and butter of this team. And, of course, many are already citing that the Cardinals are going to be hit hard by their losses "up the middle." Personally, I think the rumors of the death of the Cardinals middle infield have been greatly exaggerated. Here are the win shares of our dearly departed brethren. (Well, I'll miss Renteria and Matheny.)

Womack - 18
Renteria - 17
Matheny - 10

The fact that Womack had more Win Shares than Renteria last year speaks volumes in my opinion. Talk about planets aligning - Womack had a career year, while Renteria was less than spectacular. The Yankees will regret the Womack signing by about May 15th. The Red Sox probably won't be too upset until 2006 or later.

What are the Cardinals going to get in return? I personally think that Molina is going to provide more wins at the Catcher spot in 2005, as evidenced by him having 0 WSAA last year compared to Matheny at -2. I'm going to expect the Cardinals to get 3 extra WS there.

Grudzielanek is unlikely to produce 18 win shares next year. He will be better than Womack defensively, but he can't match the offense provided by Womack last year. (Of course, Womack wouldn't have either.) Grudz did post 18 win shares in 2003, but I personally think that was a fluke. Unless the Cardinals make a deal for Placido Polanco by mid-season, the Cardinals are going to have a loss at that position. Assume a loss of 10 Win Shares.

Renteria to Eckstein is an interesting one. And believe it or not, the potential is there for Eckstein to replace Renteria this year. Look at his win share totals from the last 3 seasons.

2004 - 9
2003 - 11
2002 - 20

That's not the kind of trend you want to see, and I'm not ignoring that. But the fact that just 2 years ago he was a player producing at 2004 Renteria levels makes it at least within the realm of possibility. However, I think a loss of 10 Win Shares at SS should be expected.

That leaves the rest of the team. Assuming Pujols doesn't have heel problems, he could actually improve slightly over last year. Rolen is due to decrease a little, but should be offset by Albert. I think Edmonds will remain constant, giving us a 2nd year of a trio of MVP caliber players.

That just leaves the corner outfield, where the Cardinals will see a full year of Larry Walker rather than a cast of thousands. Walker's health is the obvious issue. If he can play 120 or more games, he's going to be a big plus. If he only plays in 44 or less, then the Cardinals won't receive any additional help over last year. Personally, I expect Walker to be around more often than not this year. If he can play in 132 games this year - exactly 3 times more than he did with the Redbirds last year - and at the same level as 2004, he'll give the Cardinals 21 win shares. That's approximately 5 more than they received from right field in the first 4 months of last season.

Bench

The bench is the hardest task of this exercise. For one thing, with Tony La Russa it's hard to pin down who's the starter and who's the bench player a lot of the time. For another thing, win shares puts a lot of value into hitting and defense, thus giving role players a larger impact on wins than may be actual. (Cody McKay receiving 1 win share last year for example.)

Overall, the Cardinal bench provided 39 win shares last season, or 13 wins. Of that bench, the Cardinals have 3 players returning in John Mabry, So Taguchi, and Roger Cedeno. Taguchi and Cedeno will likely provide similar production to last year, with Mabry having a decrease. Let's assume their impact will be 3 WS less than last year.

Einar Diaz will take over for Yadier Molina as the primary backup catcher. Last year, Molina had 5 WS. Diaz? Five as well. Let's assume a wash.

That leaves replacements for Luna, Lankford, and Anderson. Those 3 combined for 12 Win Shares last year, and are being replaced by some cheap bench filler. In fact, it's so uncertain now as to who the players are that will replace them that I hate to speculate. But let's put it this way - if a Rule 5 player, a guy that was out of the game for a season, and a backup player that had a 649 OPS last year with no glove can combine for 12 WS? Then I suspect the Cardinals can replace them with players out of the pool of Abraham Nunez, Bo Hart, Wilton Guerrero, et al.

Adding it Up

Rotation +7 Win Shares
Bullpen -7 Win Shares

Starting Lineup -12 Win Shares
Bench -3 Win Shares

According to this quick and dirty analysis we see a pitching staff that is essentially the same as last year with the rotation slightly better, the bullpen slightly worse. We also see a team with a lineup quite a bit worse than last year (by 4 wins), and a bench that is slightly weaker as well. (And I can hear people already telling me that I didn’t need win shares to tell you that much….)

The net loss in Win Shares is 15, which translates to 5 fewer wins than last year, or 100 total. And to make things slightly more accurate, let's throw in the luck factor. Last year, the Cardinals predicted wins (based upon the Pythagorean method) was 100, meaning they had 5 "lucky" wins. Since predicted wins usually reverts to the norm, we can assume that the Cardinals will be "unlucky" this year by 5 games, shifting my prediction to 95 wins.

Do I think the Cardinals will win 95 games? Obviously, about one thousand things factor into this, making it highly unlikely that my crappy little analysis here will peg their win total. Do I think it's in the right neighborhood? Assuming the team doesn't go through catastrophic injuries this year - yes I do.

4 Comments:

At 11:02 AM, Blogger L Boros said...

i think your bottom line is pretty close, maybe just a tad high. i've got 'em at about 92-93 wins --- all the indicators i've looked at (and won't go into those here; they're at my site if you're inte'sted) seem to point that way. eckstein's a definite step down (prob'ly two or three wins' worth), and the outfielders all another year older; but to the good, walker (if healthy --- big if) and his .400 obp will be in the #2 hole all year, and they have the payroll space to add an impact player midseason if needed.

 
At 10:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What is a "win share"?

 
At 7:52 AM, Blogger Robb said...

For information on Win Shares, either read the link below, or buy the book by Bill James.

http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/article/2004-win-shares-have-arrived

 
At 8:21 AM, Blogger Robb said...

L Boros - I agree that my win total is probably slightly high. However, the numbers spit out what the numbers spit out. (GIGO.)

 

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