Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Good Fit?

According to this article:

At Clearwater, Fla., Placido Polanco isn't happy about being a backup to Chase Utley on the Philadelphia Phillies, and he hopes that he'll be with another team on opening day.

``It's a situation I can't control,'' Polanco said before the team's first full-squad workout. ``I don't like to be in this situation. I hate to be in this situation, but I have to live with it.''

Polanco hit .298 with a career-high 17 homers and 55 RBIs in 126 games, but the Phillies plan to start Utley every day at second base, and use Polanco in a reserve role.


Polanco is scheduled to make $4.5 million this season. (Yes, I feel sorry for his "horrible situation.") Can the Cardinals go out and get him? Only if a few planets align.

It appears to me as if the only way the Cardinals can pick up Polanco is if they think a couple of things will happen. One, Morris will in fact have to be back sooner rather than later. According to early Spring optimism, Morris may in fact be ready earlier than planned. Two, Ankiel will need to be ready to contribute. Personally, I haven't heard anything about Ankiel yet this Spring. And Three, either Anthony Reyes or Adam Wainwright (or both) will need to be available to come up in the event of an injury to the starting staff.

Why those three things?

If Morris and Ankiel can be part of the rotation, the Cardinals can throw them in with Mulder and Carpenter for the front four. The 5th starter could be one of Jason Marquis and Jeff Suppan, with the other being traded to the Phillies for Polanco. Both Marquis and Suppan would make salaries in the neighborhood of Polanco, with Suppan's being closest in dollars. (Of course, Suppan is the only guy I trust to be healthy this year, so I'm not sure that he should be the guy traded if this happens.) And teams always need an emergency option, which Reyes and/or Wainwright would have to be available for.

Polanco, if acquired, would be able to start 120 or more games, depending on health and the whims of Tony. He would provide a defensive upgrade at either 2nd or short, and further would be an offensive upgrade over Grudzielanek or Eckstein. Most likely, Polanco would be the usual starter at 2nd, playing at short to give Eckstein time off (or cover in the event of an injury.) Grudzielanek would still get plenty of starts at 2nd base, and could be further used as a utility player.

Think about it - Polanco would essentially replace Abraham Nunez or Wilton Guerrero on the 25 man roster. That, my friends, is a no-brainer. With Polanco obviously available, I suppose we'll learn something about the Cardinals real feelings on the return of Morris and Ankiel.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

2005 Cubs

Today, I'll attempt to assess the Cubs for the upcoming season. Once again - I'm simply looking at the Win Shares of the key players on the roster over the last 3 years and making an estimate as to how many the Cubs can expect to receive from these players in 2005.

Rotation

Having to go without Mark Prior and Kerry Wood in 2004 is largely credited with the Cubs missing the playoffs, which is fair. Prior and Wood only combined to make 43 starts last year, compared to 62 in the previous season. By simply looking at Win Shares in 2003 vs. 2004, the loss of Prior and Wood cost the Cubs as many as 5 wins on the season, putting them into the playoffs if they had been healthy. And this same argument is helping the average Cub fan to look to the 2005 season with hope.

2004 Win Shares

Zambrano - 19
Maddux - 12
Rusch - 9
Wood - 8
Prior - 7

(Note: Clement had 11 in 2004)

Carlos Zambrano may be a nut job, but he's a great pitcher. This guy doesn't turn 24 until June 1st, yet has already finished in the top 7 in the NL in ERA twice, and last year was in the top 10 in the league in ERA, wins, strikeouts, innings, and complete games. Oh, and he led the majors in hit batsmen with 20. Want an interesting comparison? Bob Gibson never hit more than 13 batters in a season.

Cubs fans should be a little nervous about the workload that Zambrano has seen at such a young age, exceeding 209 innings in each of the past 2 seasons. But so far, Zambrano has taken everything Dusty Baker has thrown at him and only improved. Over the last 2 seasons, Zambrano has posted 19 and 18 win shares. I'm going to write him down to have 20 in 2005.

Greg Maddux, the eternal 15 game winner, was the 2nd most valuable pitcher on the Cub's staff last year. His ERA+ of 113 was actually a slight improvement over the 105 he posted the previous season. Considering that Maddux turns 39 in April - well, he has to decline at some point. Maddux had 12 WS in 2004, and 11 in 2003. I'm going to assume that Maddux has one more solid season left in him, and give him a 10 WS prediction for 2005.

Glendon Rusch essentially came out of no where last year to keep the Cubs in the Wild Card race. Note his ERA+ trend over the past 4 seasons:

2001 - 89
2002 - 85
2003 - 68
2004 - 131

How good is a 131 ERA+? Kerry Wood has only exceeded that level once in his career when he posted a 133 in 2003. The Cubs having 129.2 innings of Rusch pitching like Kerry Wood was a huge plus for the North Siders last year. Did he learn how to pitch at the age of 29?

In 2004, Rusch had 9 WS. I haven't been able to find a Win Share total for Rusch in 2003, but in 2002 he had 7 WS for the Brewers over 210.2 innings. Based upon that season and the fact that I think Rusch was very lucky last year, I'm going to assume he can match the 7 WS mark in 2005.

That brings us to the guys the Cubs need to be healthy. First, Kerry Wood. Wood had quite a disappointing year, going 8-9 with a 3.72 ERA. His 122 ERA+ was quite respectable, but being limited to 140.1 innings due to injury hurt his counting stats. And, of course, critics of Wood always point to the fact that he's "never had more than 14 wins in a season." Personally, I'll point to the fact that he's played for horrible teams, but for some reason that gets ignored.

If Wood can stay healthy this year, he could be huge. He will turn 28 in June, and with a lower workload last year he may in fact be healthy again. Wood's career high in Win Shares was 18, which he posted in 2003. I'm going to go out on a limb ever so slightly and give him a 20 WS projection for this year.

Then there's Mark Prior - the man that was never going to get hurt due to his perfect mechanics. So much for that theory. In 2003? He was a stud. In 2002? He performed at the same level as his 38 year old rotation mate, just over fewer innings.

I'm a huge Mark Prior fan. I think he's going to be a blast to watch for years to come, and that he's going to be back to 2003 levels (if not better) this year. Assuming Dusty Baker doesn't overdo it, of course. Prior had 22 WS in 2003. This year, I think he can put together another 22 WS season, putting him back as the ace of the staff.

Bullpen

The Cubs bullpen had plenty of problems last year. Consider this - the Cubs had 8 relievers combine for 32 win shares. The Cardinals and Astros each had 39 WS out of the bullpen, giving both teams approximately 2 more wins out of relief pitching alone. What's more, 56.3% of the Cubs bullpen WS came from just two players - LaTroy Hawkins with 12 and Kent Merker with 6.

And, of course, it gets better. The Cubs let Kent Merker go to free agency, and further traded away their #3 bullpen pitcher in Kyle Farnsworth (3 WS in 2004). And they've added? Well....not much. An area that was a weakness for the Cubs in 2004 is even more uncertain in 2005 as they will be counting on AAA callups, retreads, and reruns.

Hawkins will be back, and is a great bullpen asset. Over the last 3 years, he's had 12, 13, and 11 WS. I suspect he'll be right back again this year with 12 WS. He appears to be best suited to work in setup, and it looks like he'll be back in that role this year.

Mike Remlinger missed time with an injury last year, only pitching 36.2 innings instead of his usual 70. Of course, considering that he turns 39 in March, it's hard to imagine that not happening to him again this year. He had 3 WS last year - I think that's likely to be what he does again this year.

Here's an interesting one for you - the Cubs let Merker go, as was already mentioned. Who is going to replace him as the 2nd lefty? As far as I can tell, they only southpaw they signed was Stephen Randolf who posted an 81 ERA+ for the DBacks last year. Randolf did have 3 WS last year, however, over 81.2 innings (including 6 starts). Let's scale him back to 2 WS this year due to a likely reduced work load.

That leaves the production provided last year by the likes of Leicester, Wuertz, and Beltran. Rather than getting too carried away, I'm simply going to say that the back end of the Cubs bullpen will provide them with 7 WS, which is what the 3 of them had last year.

After those guys it gets even murkier.

Ryan Dempster is supposedly the Cubs closer heading into Spring training. Dempster looked decent last year coming off of an injury - 116 ERA+ over 20.2 innings. However, he walked 13 batters over those innings, which has always been his problem. Last year was also just the 2nd time over his 7 year career that he's posted an ERA under 4.71. Personally, I'm not sold on him, although some claim he's well suited for bullpen work. For now, I'm simply going to assume that he can replace Farnsworth in the pen, giving him 3 WS on the season.

Other Cubs projects for this year include Chad Fox and Scott Williamson. Both have been solid in the past, both are struggling with injuries. Fox may be able to have an impact in 2005, while Williamson likely won't help until 2006.

Lineup

Talk about a different look. Out is the face of the Cubs for the last decade along with Bartman's best freind. In are Jeromy Burnitz and Jerry Hairston, Jr. How much production are the Cubs going to lose?

2004 Win Shares

Ramirez - 22
Lee - 21
Patterson - 19
Burnitz - 18
Barrett - 15
Walker - 14
Nomar - 6 (11 over 81 Games on the year)
Hairston - 8

(Note - Gone are Alou with 26, Sosa with 14, and Grudzielanek with 9)

Aramis Ramirez finally put together the type of season expected of him last year. Well, I say expected - he was only 26 years old. Ramirez had career highs in batting average, OBP, SLG, R, BB, HR - the list is long. His OPS+ of 136 was the best he had posted since his 125 in 2001. Do keep in mind, however, that Ramirez is just 3 years removed from a season in which he posted a 69 OPS+ with and OBP of 279. However, I think that was a fluke. ARam had 22 WS last year after posting 19 the year before. Chalk him up for 20 this year due to a slight decrease in production.

Derek Lee had a great season last year as well, posting career highs in hits and doubles and just missing his first 100 RBI season. Interestingly enough, Lee was off last year. His 114 OPS+ was lower than his previous 2 seasons (135 and 131 respectively), and his 21 WS was as well (25 and 23). Considering that he'll be 29 this season, I see no reason why he won't have a bounce back this year, posting 24 WS.

People forget that Corey Patterson is still very young. Despite being 24 for most of last season, Patterson managed to hit 24 home runs, steal 32 bases, and play solid defense in centerfield. He also saw his walk totals climb from a career high of 19 to 45. I'm not sold that he's ever going to be an OBP machine, but he's a solid player for a centerfielder. For this exercise, I'm going to assume that Patterson will progress a little more this year and provide the Cubs with 20 WS.

Nomar Garciaparra is an interesting player. After posting back to back 1000 OPS seasons in 1999 and 2000, Nomar has never been the same. Various injuries have kept him from reaching those amazing numbers since. (I'll ignore any Jose Canseco inspired rumors on Nomar.) With 4 straight seasons of 880 or less OPS, I think that it's safe to say that Nomar likely won't see those levels again. He should, however, be able to be a great player for the Cubs this season, assuming he can play in 150 or so games. Last year, Nomar would have had 22 WS if he had played a full season, even though he was playing through an injury. The previous 2 seasons saw Nomar posting 25 and 27 Win Shares. I think the Cubs can expect to get 24 WS out of him again this year, helping them replace the loss of Alou.

Michael Barrett had a career year last year, posting a 105 OPS+ over the season despite a career mark of 81. Barrett isn't going to regress to his 2003 level of 63, but it's hard to imagine him repeating his 2004 performance with the bat this year. From a WS standpoint, I think that he's likely to produce 12 this year, which would match his 2002 total.

Jeromy Burnitz gets a nice, juicy contract thanks to playing half of his games in Coors field. Are there really GM's out there that don't get that in 2005? Apparently so. Burnitz is a player that only provides value from his power. Over the past 3 seasons, his OBP has been .356, .299, and .311. And of course, the .356 came in a hitter's park. From a Win Shares standpoint, Burnitz had created 18, 9, and 7 over the past 3 years. One of these is not like the others. I think Burnitz will likely hit 30 home runs this year, but still only create 11 WS. And I might be generous in giving him that many.

That leaves the confusion of 2nd base and left field for the Cubs. Todd Walker is likely to start the bulk of the games at 2nd base, with Todd Hollandsworth and Jason DuBois available in left. And then there's Jerry Hairston Jr. who can play both positions. Combine that with Dusty Baker's preference to play veterans, and I'm not exactly sure what's going to happen here. My best guess is that Hairston is going to limit Walker's playing time by a little, and will limit DuBois already limited playing time by a lot.

At 2nd Base, Todd Walker will probably see a little more playing time than last year. Walker is a solid hitter who gets on base, although he's not a world beater (97 career OPS+). His glove gets a bad rap, as he's league average at worst. Over the last 3 years, Walker has had 14, 15, and 21 Win Shares, with the 21 coming when he played 155 games with the Reds. Since he's highly unlikely to play that much this year, I'm going to give Walker a 15 WS prediction.

In Left Field, Baker was expected to platoon Hollandsworth and DuBois, giving Hollandsworth the bulk of the at-bats. With Hairston on hand, I'm going to assume that he and Hollandsworth will in fact get the majority of the starts. This also makes the prediction easier, as neither Hollandsworth nor Hairston usually play the entire season injury free. Hollandsworth had 6 win shares last year over just 167 PA's. Of course, he was playing out of his mind, posting an OPS+ of 134, his best in 3 years. Over his career, Hollandsworth has a 101 OPS+, posting 96 and 97 in the 2 seasons leading up to 2004. I'm going to go back to his 2002 season, in which he got 430 at-bats to project his 2005 campaign. That season he got 12 WS between the Rockies and the Rangers. Since he's now 2 years older, let's give him a 10 WS prediction for this year.

That leaves Hairston, who will get starts at both 2nd and left. Over the last 2 years, he's averaged about 250 at-bats, which should approximate his playing time this year. He chalked up 8 WS last year, and 7 the year before. Another 7 WS this year should be about right.

Bench

And you thought their bullpen was weak? The Cub's bench was almost a joke last year. In 2004, the top 3 teams in the NL Central featured the following amount of WS.

Cardinals - 39 Win Shares (13 Wins)
Astros - 36 Win Shares (12 Wins)
Cubs - 24 Win Shares (8 Wins)

I knew the Cubs bench was bad last year, but had no idea just how bad. Just looking at their weaker bench and bullpen, the Cubs had 7 fewer wins than the Cardinals last year. And what have they done for this year? They've promoted their best bench player, Hollandsworth, to the starting lineup, and let their other one, Ramon Martinez, go to free agency. Hollandsworth and Martinez combined to produce 12 WS last year - a full half of the total for the bench! It would have been even uglier had Neifi Perez not arrived late in the year and provided 4 WS by playing at a level he'll never sniff again. (And yes - he's back!)

The Cubs bench will usually consist of one of the three between Hollandsworth, Walker, and Hairston, so at least they'll have one decent pinch hitter available. After that, they have the likes of Henry Blanco, Neifi Perez, Jose Macias, and I suppose Jason DuBois. Dave Hansen was also given a Spring training invitation, and should have a good shot of making the bench.

Here's how I'm going to break it down. Hollandsworth/Walker/Hairston will reproduce the value created by Hollandsworth last year (this is already accounted for in the lineup section of this article, however). Jason DuBois will reproduce the value lost by Ramon Martinez leaving. Blanco and Bako will cancel each other out, and Macias will get his 4 WS from last year again. Neifi Perez will get 6 WS, helping the Cubs out by 2 more over his production last year (only over a season instead of a month.) That leaves the end of the bench - Dave Hanson? - to come up with at least 1 win share to make the Cubs bench as "good" as the 2004 version. I think he can do it. In fact, I'm going to say that the Cubs bench will actually be a little better than last year, posting an extra 3 WS (or 1 win.) Hard to imagine with that cast of characters, but that's what I'm going to stick to.

Survey Says?

Starting Rotation - 79 Win Shares (66 in 2004)
Bullpen - 27 Win Shares (32 in 2004)

Lineup - 137 Win Shares (146 in 2004)
Bench - 27 Win Shares (24 in 2004)

That's 270 Win Shares, or 90 wins. Don't forget our friend Pythagoras, though. The Cubs had 5 - 5! - "unlucky" losses last year. If we assume that they can get a correction this year and have 5 "lucky" wins, the Cubs are projected to win 95 games, putting them right there with the Cardinals. Does this hold water?

Our little analysis shows the Cubs rotation improving in 2005 over 2004, giving the Cubs 4 more wins than last year. That seems to be conservative, if anything.

The bench also appears to be slightly better than the 2004 version, which I wouldn't have expected. The only way this becomes reality is if DuBois is allowed a decent amount of playing time, and if Dave Hansen makes the team.

The Cub offense does take a hit, however. The starting lineup appears poised to cost the team 3 wins over the 2004 version. Of course, this depends largely upon Nomar returning to pre-2004 form, but I don't think that's a long shot. Also key to the offense is the production of Aramis Ramirez, Derek Lee, and Corey Patterson. They have to play at or above their 2004 levels.

And, of course, the bullpen is a bit weaker on paper as well, costing the Cubs just under 2 wins from the 2004 season.

Looking at Win Shares alone, the Cubs appear to be about a wash over the 2004 version. Interestingly enough, luck factors more into my win prediction than performance. Can the Cubs in fact swing their luck around from having 5 fewer wins than expected to 5 more? To be honest, it's hard to imagine.

Usually, teams are not close to their predicted wins due to a bad record in close games, and by winning by large margins in blowouts. A bad record in close games is usually attributed to a bad bullpen - which the Cubs had last year and have not really addressed. And teams that blow out opponents from time to time are usually teams with a lot of power - which the Cubs had last year, but don't have as much of this year. With that being said - I'm sticking with my analysis method for the sake of consistency. (After all, my predictions have all seemed high to me thus far - so why change now?)

How can the Cubs improve? Obviously they need bullpen help, and could still use a corner outfielder or two.

How can they miss the playoffs? If just 1 of their top 3 starters (Zambrano, Prior, or Wood) miss half of the season or more, things get tight for this team quickly.

NL Central Win Predictions

Cardinals - 95
Cubs - 95
Astros - 88

So far, it's shaping up to be a fun Summer.

Monday, February 14, 2005

2005 Preview - Houston Astros

I am going to attempt to predict the number of Houston wins this year by the same method that I made my St. Louis prediction. Which is to say, I'm going to look at win shares, OPS+, ERA+, factor in age and injuries, pull some things out of my butt....and presto! Keep in mind when you read this, of course, that I'm not as familiar with the Astros as I am the Cardinals, so some of my points may be even worse than the assumptions I made for St. Louis.

Rotation

The Astros will head into Spring training with a solid, albeit top-heavy rotation.

1. Roger Clemens
2. Roy Oswalt
3. Andy Pettitte
4. Brandon Backe
5. Pete Munro/Tim Redding/Carlos Herndanez

Note that I'm especially fuzzy about that #5 slot.

So, what can the Astros expect to get this year vs. last?

Roger Clemens posted 20 win shares last year, en route to the Cy Young award. At the age of 41, he went 18-4 with a 2.98 ERA despite pitching in a hitter's park. Impressive stuff. Unfortunately for Astros fans, even if you ignore his age it's highly unlikely that he'll repeat that season in 2005.

His ERA+ in 2004 was a very, very impressive 145 (or 45% better than league average). How good was that? He did not have a season as good in his entire run with the New York Yankees. The last time he had an ERA+ better than that was way back in 1998 when he posted a 176 for the Toronto Blue Jays. In fact, if you look at the last 9 seasons you'll see that Clemens only had 2 years better than 2004 over that time span. The odds of him repeating it again in 2005 (at the age of 42) are slim to none. You see the same thing if you take a look at his win shares.

2004 - 20
2003 - 15
2002 - 11

If you're an optimist, you'll see the trend there and predict that he'll get 25 this year! If you're a realist, you'll probably say that Clemens is more likely to revert to the 15 WS range, costing the Astros about 2 wins that they had last year.

Roy Oswalt had a great season, giving the Astros rotation a fearsome 1-2 punch (which may have caused the Cardinals problems in the NLCS had Phil Garner used them properly in the NLDS.) On the year, Oswalt had 19 win shares and an ERA+ of 123. Interestingly enough, his ERA+ was the worst of his career. However, since he was able to pitch 237 innings, he was able to put together his first 20 win season of his career. (I'm sure he'll do it again a time or two before his career is over.)

With Oswalt only being 27 this season, combined with the fact that he was actually below career numbers last year, this could be a big season for him. Over the last three years, he's posted 20, 10, and 19 win shares, with his 10 WS season coming off of only 127.1 innings. I'm going to predict, however, that Oswalt will "break out" this year (if a 20 game winner can do so) and post 25 win shares, thus making up for any decline in the production of Roger Clemens. Of course, if Oswalt has continued health issues, all bets are off.

Andy Pettitte will give the Astros something they didn't have much of last year - a regular, reliable left handed starter. Look at the ERA+ numbers for Pettitte over the last 5 seasons.

2004 - 111
2003 - 109
2002 - 134
2001 - 112
2000 - 116

Pretty consistent, with that bump in 2002 sticking out as the outlier. If Pettitte stays in the rotation this year, he's likely to produce 12 to 15 win shares for the Astros, which is a step in the right direction for a team that only got 6 out of him last year.

I can only assume that Backe is going to be the #4 starter for the Astros this year, after getting 9 regular season starts in 2004 which were followed by 3 starts in the playoffs. Call me a skeptic, but I think Backe was a flash in the pan. After all - even Jason Simontacchi and Brit Reams had great half-seasons for the Cardinals as starting pitchers, only to crash and burn. Backe had a 100 ERA+ last year, which was the first time in his career he was as good as average.

Last year, Backe posted 5 win shares over just 67 innings. However, I think that it's highly unlikely he can produce at that rate this year. I'm going to take a wild guess and claim that Backe will post 8 win shares in 2005 (which is, in part, based upon the fact that Jeff Suppan and Matt Morris had 7 last year).

Finally, there is the #5 slot. The Astros probably have someone that can fill this slot without killing the team completely. However, that's not a given. Tim Redding, Pete Munro, Carlos Hernandez, and Brandon Duckworth combined to make 51 starts last year, yet only gave the Astros 2 win shares. That's less than 1 win of value, folks. I see more of the same this year. In order to be generous (and allow for any Brandon Backe success stories) I'll give the #5 slot in the Astro rotation 3 win shares this year. Note that this doesn't replace the 7 WS that Wade Miller gave Houston in 2004.

Bullpen

And you thought their rotation was top-heavy? The Astros bullpen posted 39 win shares last year, the same total the Cardinals had. The difference was, however, that Brad Lidge accounted for 43.6% of those win shares all by himself! After Lidge, Dan Micelli posted 7 WS, with Chad Qualls and the departed Octavio Dotel getting 4 each. The rest of the pen gave the team 7 win shares, or just over 2 wins.

Lidge is a stud, plain and simple. However, he's hard to gauge in regard to 2005 performance. He had 17 win shares last year after only posting 8 in 2003. Of course, the fact that he got 29 saves last year vs. 1 the previous season make up for a large number of those WS. His ERA+ also shot up last season, from 123 in 2003 to 227 in 2004. My guess is that Lidge will fall off in ERA+ this season by a bit, but will continue to see his WS value stay high assuming his high workload for the last 2 years doesn't catch up to him. I'm going to predict 20 win shares for Lidge, giving him a value of 1 more win over last season.

The rest of the pen is a large question mark. Dan Micelli is gone (turning Japanese, I really think so), with Dan Wheeler and John Franco coming in. It's interesting to note that the loss of Micelli really might cost the Houston bullpen by a bit, since no one else was really very good at all. What's more, Dotel's production really hasn't been replaced either. Unless, of course, you think that John Franco was just having an off-year last year when he posted an ERA+ of 81 at the age of 43.

Micelli and Dotel combined to provide 11 win shares last year. I'm going to predict that they have only replaced half of that value, or roughly 6 win shares, giving the "non-Lidge" portion of the Houston bullpen a loss of 5. Overall, their bullpen slips by 2 win shares, or almost 1 win.

Lineup

Here's what the regulars did for Houston last year.

Lance Berkman - 32
Jeff Kent - 23
Jeff Bagwell - 23
Carlos Beltran - 18
Craig Biggio - 18
Adam Everett - 12
Morgan Ensberg - 10
Brad Ausmus - 6

A few items of note from this list. Jeff Kent is gone, which leaves the Astros looking for 8 wins at his position alone. Carlos Beltran is gone, giving them another 6 win loss (which is amazing considering he was only with the team for half of the season.) Not listed are Mike Lamb, Jose Vizcaino, and Richard Hidalgo, who combined to provide another 24 win shares for the Astros as part time starters during the season.

Lance Berkman will likely be the best hitter on the team again this year, which he has been 3 of the last 4. Unfortunately for Mr. Berkman, he'll start the season on the DL. Last year, he had 32 win shares after posting 25 in 2003 and 30 in 2002. He also posted a 161 OPS+ last year, which was his best season since 2001. You can probably expect a drop-off in production from Lance this year, both due to him having a bit of a peak last year, plus reduced playing time. I'm going to project him to have 25 WS in 2005.

Jeff Bagwell is an interesting case. Look at his OPS+ numbers over the past several years.

1999 - 169
2000 - 152
2001 - 141
2002 - 137
2003 - 127
2004 - 117

If that keep up, his 2005 production is going to be about 7 to 10% above league average. Over the past 3 years, Bagwell has posted 23, 22, and 23 win shares. I suspect that he'll have a hard time posting 23 again this year unless he gets an age 37 bump in hitting. Peg him for 20 win shares.

Craig Biggio is another aging "Killer B." Last year he posted an OPS+ of 106, which was actually just the 2nd time in 5 years that he's been above average. He turned 39 on December 14th - think he'll be above average this year? Unlikely. He has had 18, 20, and 15 win shares over the past 3 years. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt and say it will only slip to 15. (Not that you really want a 15 WS player in the corner outfield, mind you.)

The rest of the Houston offense is going to rely on the likes of Morgan Ensberg, Adam Everett, and Jason Lane.

Ensberg had a disappointing season after looking good in 2003. Unfortunately, his 2003 season looks like a fluke if you consider the two seasons on either side. Still, look for Ensberg to provide 12 WS this year over 10 in 2005 if he gets more playing time.

Everett had 12 win shares in 2004 after posting 11 in 2003. Let's keep up the trend and give him 13 this year.

Jason Lane only got 136 at-bats yet still managed to post 6 win shares. If he can get 500 at-bats and keep up that rate? He'll be worth about 20 win shares. That may be a stretch, but I think he can do it.

The Catcher is Brad Ausmus, who has posted 6, 12, and 9 WS over the past 3 seasons. Looks like we can pencil him in for 9.

The 2nd baseman is likely to be Chris Burke, who hit .315/.396/.507 last year in AAA. The strange thing about him is that his 903 OPS in AAA was the first time he's exceeded the 767 mark as a pro. Had he played in pitchers parks? Did he mature? Or was he lucky? I have no idea. All I can say is that his bat is highly unlikely to replace Kent this year, while his glove has to be better. Let's be somewhat optimistic and say that he'll cost the Astros 3 wins from Kent, giving him 14 win shares on the season.

Bench

As was the case with the Cardinals, the bench is hard to gauge. Who was really on the bench, and who really was a part time starter? Take Mike Lamb for example. He started in the place of Morgan Ensberg when he was hurt - and proceeded to provide more value to the team (12 WS vs. 10).

Overall, the Astros bench had 36 win shares last year. Mike Lamb, Jose Vizcaino, Orlando Palmeiro, Erik Bruntlett, and Raul Chavez all return, and may be joined by the likes of Charles Gipson and prospect Willy Tavarez. I see no reason as to why the bench is going to be any worse, nor any better, than last year. So, for simplicity sake, I'm going to say that the Astro bench will remain neutral this year, giving them 36 win shares once again.

Grand Total

Starting Rotation - 66 Win Shares (60 in 2004)
Bullpen - 37 Win Shares (39 in 2004)

Starting Lineup - 128 Win Shares (140 in 2004)
Bench - 36 Win Shares (36 in 2004)

That's a grand total of 267 win shares, or 89 wins. From a Pythagorean standpoint, they had 1 "lucky" win in 2004, so we need to take that adjustment here as well, putting my prediction at 88 wins. Does this pass the sanity check?

I'm predicting a Houston rotation better than the 2004 version by 2 wins. This prediction includes Roger Clemens not being as good, Roy Oswalt being a little better, and a full season of Andy Pettitte. It also assumes Brandon Backe being average or slightly below on the year, and the #5 starter being slightly better than last year. It seems high, but within the margin of error.

I'm predicting a bullpen to be a downgrade over 2004 by about 1 win. This takes into account a full year of Lidge as the closer, but with the rest of the pen weaker with Micelli gone, and not getting the benefit of Dotel for half of the year. Once again, this seems like a conservative estimate, but not insane.

The lineup prediction is of course where most of the loss is taken. Berkman out for a month or more, Kent and Beltran gone, Biggio and Bagwell older. The only way my prediction of 4 losses due to those players holds is if in fact Jason Lane and Chris Burke can play at a decent level this season. If either of them do not produce, or if Biggio and/or Bagwell regress more than I'm projecting then the Astros could have trouble playing .500 ball this year.

And, of course, the bench prediction is hard to deal with, but does not seem out of line. If anything, I'm probably off by 1 win in either direction.

So as it stands right now, the Astros are looking like a Wild Card team at best. If they can add some production at either 2nd base or corner outfield (thus moving Biggio back to 2nd), it would be good for their win total. Additionally, the Astros should be on the market for a middle reliever or two, as they really need to bridge the gap between the rotation and their closer.

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.