Thursday, March 31, 2005

Early Indications

The weather is finally turning nice, teams are leaving Florida and Arizona, and baseball is just 3 days away from opening in Boston! Needless to say, I'm ready.

With just a handful of Spring games left, I thought it might be interesting to take a look at how the new position players are doing compared to the old ones. Keep in mind - Spring training stats aren't exactly a good indicator of how a player will do in the regular season, as pitchers tend to work on new pitches, batters try getting more looks at pitches, regulars end up facing AA players, etc. With that out of the way - how are things looking?

Shortstop

David Eckstein - .420/.517/.560, 50 at-bats, 15 Runs, 4 Doubles, 1 Home Run
Edgar Renteria - .222/.314/.378, 45 at-bats, 8 Runs, 4 Doubles, 1 Home Run

Eckstein has been amazing this Spring, having one stretch where he reached base in 14 out of 16 games. All he has to do this year is get on base and he's going to be helping out the offense a lot. Note that his runs scored rate would translate into 150 over a 500 at-bat season. Granted, he's not going to get on base more than 50% of the time during the regular season, but if he can just crack the .380 mark he'll be the best leadoff hitter the Cardinals have had since Fernando Vina in 2000.

2nd Base

Mark Grudzielanek - .412/.464/.510, 51 at-bats, 5 RBI, 6 R, 5 Doubles
Tony Womack - .439/.476/.614, 57 at-bats, 9 RBI, 11 R, 3 Triples

Obviously, neither of these guys is going to hit .400 with a .450+ OBP in 2005, but they've both torn the cover off of the ball this Spring. Much like Eckstein, Grudzielanek has been getting on base a lot, having a stretch of 15 consecutive games where he reached.

Maybe Womack really didn't have a fluke season last year? Personally, I'm not buying that unless he can pull it off again this year.

Catcher

Yadier Molina - .289/.333/.378, 45 at-bats, 9 RBI, 7 R, 4 Doubles
Mike Matheny - .316/.350/.395, 38 at-bats, 2 RBI, 2 R, 3 Doubles

Matheny has been hitting slightly better, which of course is likely helped by the fact that he's the only guy in this article playing in the offensive-friendly cactus league.

If anything, one can look at Molina's stats and get a better understanding of just how good the St. Louis lineup really is. When the guy hitting 8th in a lineup is on pace to drive in 99 and score 77 over 500 at-bats despite only reaching base a third of the time, he is surrounded by some serious talent.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Diamond-Mind Projections

My favorite annual MLB predictions article is out, and you can find it here.

I've said it before, but let me say it again. DMB was the only organization that I read last year that actually picked the Cardinals to win the NL Central. This year? More of the same, according to their prognostications. You have to like comments like this:

"No team has an easier path to the World Series."

If you're in the market for a nice software package for simulating baseball games, I highly recommend their products. I've been using their software for the past 4 years, and have nothing but high regard for their methodology.

Bench Option?

The Pirates - yes, the Pirates - sent Ben Grieve to AAA today.

Yahoo had this to say about it.

I especially like their assertion that "Grieve hasn't hit over .261 in the past five years so needless to say his skill set has declined to the point it is no longer serviceable." Sure...until you realize that his OBP has been .353 or better in each of those 5 seasons. So much for "Moneyball" at least having a minimal impact with the Fanball staff.

Rotoworld had this to say:

"Pirates reassigned OF Ben Grieve and RHP Mark Corey to minor league camp.

Hitting .355/.382/.452 this spring didn't earn Grieve a roster spot. He has yet to decide whether to begin the season at Triple-A Indianapolis or become a free agent. He's worthy of a spot on some team's bench."

Here's a guy that's only 29 years old, hits left handed, has a career OPS+ of 112, and is hitting .355 this spring....and can't catch on with the Pirates, who are at best a 3rd place team. Huh?

Over the last 3 years, Grieve has hit righties to the tune of .256/.365/.440. His OPS+ has only been below 102 one time over his 8 year career, when he had a 92 during the 2003 season for Tampa Bay. Granted, he never has been able to repeat his rookie of the year season, when he posted a 122 OPS+ while hitting 41 doubles and 18 home runs. But AAA at his age? I understand that his defense is more reminiscent of Lonnie Smith than Jim Edmonds, but the guy doesn't make outs (thus his career .367 OBP).

I would love to see him chose to become a free agent, and for the Cardinals to pick him up. Yes, I realize that they have a log-jam of outfielders on their roster. But how could you pass up on a guy that has a better track record of getting on base than your current leadoff hitter? Grieve could take the roster spot of Hector Luna, who is currently slated to make the team out of Spring training. This would give the Cardinals another genuine hitter to give Sanders and Walker days off, in the event that John Mabry can't repeat his career 2004 numbers. Furthermore, it would give the Cardinals a chance to move Roger Cedeno to some team in need of a.....guy that can't really field, can't really hit, and can't really run anymore.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

2005 Predictions Wrap-Up

It was long. It was tedious. And frankly, I'm sure many of you found it too boring to read. But it's done. I've looked at the NL Central, attempted to figure out who's playing for who and where, and have made my fearless predictions for 2005. Here's a bit of a correction to my predictions, along with some basic re-cap.

"Lucky Wins"

As anyone who read any of my articles knows, I used Win Shares to predict the number of wins for each team, but further used the teams 2004 Pythagorean wins to adjust for the 2005 season. For more information on Pythagorean wins, see this article. Basically, it's a simple equation that predicts the number of wins a team should have based upon nothing more than runs scored and runs allowed.

By using a team's 2004 "expected wins" total, I adjusted their 2005 wins by the opposite amount. So, for example, the Cardinals had 5 more wins than expected last year, thus I subtracted 5 wins from my prediction total in 2005. Why? In general, when a team is lucky in one season, they are going to be unlucky in the future, and vice versa. Bill James calls this tendency "the Plexiglas principle" in one of his baseball abstracts. However, it bothered me during my predictions that I was using a 1 to 1 ratio in making my adjustments (especially in the case of the Reds, who had 9 lucky wins last year.) That didn't seem to be the best method of adjusting for luck.

In order to adjust my "luck" corrections, I did a quick and dirty study. I simply looked up all win totals in the NL Central since the 2001 season, including expected wins. That gave me a total of 18 seasons in which to look at. Granted, that's a small sample size, but I only had limited time. Using that data, I simply compared predicted "lucky/unlucky" wins for each of the 18 seasons in question and looked at how close the predictions were.

Using a 1 to 1 ratio, the results weren't too bad. Over the 18 seasons, the median error was 2.5 games. The prediction was exactly right 1 time, and was within 4 games 11 times, or 61% of the time. Unfortunately, there were 4 seasons in which I was off by 10 or more games.

From there, I simply started manipulating the prediction values by simple methods. I tried dividing by various numbers and fractions, raising them to different powers, taking the square root, etc. When the dust cleared, the best correction factor appears to be to simply divide last years "lucky" wins by 3 to adjust for this year.

When dividing by 3, the median error dropped to 2 games. But more importantly, the average error was reduced from 4.7 to 3.4, as the huge errors were reduced by quite a bit. The prediction was exactly right three times, and was within 4 games 13 seasons, or 72% of the time. And most importantly, the prediction was off by 10 or more games only 1 time.

Naturally, there could be much more work done on this topic. For one thing, 18 seasons is not much to go on. Ideally, you'd go back at least 10 seasons, and use every team in baseball. And even if you find a great relationship - well, luck is called luck for a reason. You never know when a team is going to have things fall their way one year, after nothing went right the year before. Bullpens are going to improve, thus helping a team win more one run games, offenses will get more consistent, new coaching staffs will teach new things, etc. That's why they play the games, as they say.

Anyway, my predictions can now be modified slightly, by taking the luck factors I used and dividing them by three. When you make those final adjustments, my modified predictions look like this.

NL Central

Cardinals 98-64
Cubs 92-70 (6 Games Back)
Astros 89-73 (9 Games Back)
Reds 80-82 (18 Games Back)
Pirates 79-83 (19 Games Back)
Brewers 68-94 (30 Games Back)

A couple of notes. I think the Cardinals win total is a bit high using this adjustment, but it makes the win totals for the Cubs and the Reds look more in line with reality. I also think the fact that this prediction shows 5 teams within 19 games of one another shows the reality of the division, which is that is should be better than last year.

Here is the breakdown of the division based upon various aspects of the teams. Listed below will be the Win Share predictions that I made in my NL Central reports, broken down into Starting Pitching, Bullpen, Starting Lineup, and Bench.

Starting Rotation

Cubs – 79
Astros – 66
Cardinals - 55
Pirates – 50
Brewers – 48
Reds – 34

This makes sense to me. The Cubs have what is far and away the best rotation in the NL Central. What's more, that will likely hold true even without Wood or Prior for a chunk of the season. (If both of them miss time, it's another story.) The Astros in 2nd also seems sound, with a nice 1-2-3 punch at the top of the rotation.

Bullpen

Pirates – 41
Reds – 37
Astros – 37
Cardinals - 36
Cubs – 27
Brewers – 20

This one is a bit surprising to me. While I like the Pirates bullpen, I'm not sold that it's the best one in the NL Central this season. I'm also not sold that the Astros 'pen is good enough to be near the top, but Brad Lidge is going to make it very formidable. The Cubs and the Brewers being back from the pack is very realistic.

Starting Lineup

Cardinals - 179
Reds – 151
Cubs – 137
Astros – 128
Brewers – 115
Pirates – 113

I'm completely fine with this. The Cardinals lineup is the class of the NL, let alone the Central. The Reds have a very strong lineup as well, which could challenge the Cardinals if Griffey and Kearns stay healthy, and if Casey can repeat last year. And the Cubs have a great infield, but their outfield is going to drag them down by a bit.

Bench

Astros – 36
Cardinals - 36
Pirates – 32
Reds – 27
Cubs – 27
Brewers – 20

I'm not at all convinced that the Cardinals have the best bench in the division. I'm not certain that this is an endorsement of the Cardinals role players, so much as it's an indictment on how bad the rest of the league is in depth.

All in all, my predictions were done in fun, and to give me (and hopefully some of you) a better understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the division this year. I do, however, find it kind of amusing that it took me six weeks and several hours of work to come to this conclusion: The Cardinals should win the NL Central, with the Cubs having the best shot at catching them. I could have told you that in January without going through these gyrations!

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

2005 Brewers

The NL Central has not one, but two teams that have managed to post losing seasons for the last 12 years in a row. That's quite a feat. But the future is looking brighter for the Brewers. They have some solid young players on their roster, several more top notch prospects on the way, and they've finally managed to shake themselves from the Selig family.

Rotation

Last year's rotation managed a respectable 47 Win Shares. That's not bad. The problem was, two of their starters (Ben Sheets and Doug Davis) accounted for 34 of those Win Shares. That's bad. Both Sheets and Davis would have been the #1 starter for the Cardinal staff last year based upon ERA+, which gives the Brewers a great right handed/left handed 1-2 punch at the top of their lineup. Can they build around them this year?

Ben Sheets - At the young age of 25 last year, Mr. Sheets really came into his own as he pitched 237 innings, striking out 264 batters with a 2.70 ERA and a 154 ERA+. The only items of concern I see are the fact that he's thrown 216.2 or more innings in each of the past three seasons (and at a young age), and that he's allowed 21 or more home runs in each of those seasons. However, his progress appears to be real, and to my knowledge he hasn't had any signs of arm injury to be worried about.

I honestly think that 2004 was just the start for this guy. I'll stay somewhat conservative and only increase his 2005 WS total by one, giving him 22 for this year.

Doug Davis - After playing for three different teams in the 2003 season, the Brewers made Davis a member of their rotation last year - and it paid off. Davis posted his first 200 inning season, and did so with career bests in ERA (3.39), ERA+ (122), and Wins (12). Interestingly enough, his ERA+ wasn't that much of an improvement over his 2004 numbers, when he had a 113 over 109.1 innings, which makes me wonder just how he ended up getting traded twice that season.

The irregular workload over the past few seasons makes it hard to judge how good Davis will be this season. Based upon his career ERA+ numbers, he appears as if he'll be slightly above average at worst. In other words, as long as he gets innings, he's going to be successful. He had 13 Win Shares last year, and 7 in 2004 over essentially half a season. In order to be on the conservative side, I'm going to predict a slight decline in 2005, but only down to 12 Win Shares. That would still be, by far, his 2nd best season in his career.

After Sheets and Davis, it gets ugly. As far as I can tell, the next three in line are likely to be Victor Santos, Wes Obermueller, and Chris Capuano. The three combined for a 5.25 ERA in 2004.

Victor Santos - Santos is quite the journey man for someone that's only 28 years old. Over the past 4 seasons, he's played for 4 different organizations, getting both starts and relief appearances in each and every season at the major league level. He was really good in 2001 for the Tigers. He was really bad in 2002 for the Rockies. And he's been below average in 2003 for the Rangers, as well as 2004 for the Brewers. 2004 was, however, the first season in which he topped the 100 innings pitched mark, racking up 154 innings over 31 games, 28 starts.

Santos had an ERA+ of 83 in 2004, which was almost exactly at his career mark of 84. He also posted 4 Win Shares, which was his best since the 2001 season. Santos is at an age where he could actually improve by a bit more, but it's kind of hard to imagine to be honest as he gives up a lot of hits, a lot of home runs, and a lot of walks. I'll mark him down for 4 more WS in 2005.

Wes Obermueller - You know a rotation has problems when a guy with a 5.80 ERA is given 20 starts in a season. Obermueller is a lot like Santos in that he gives up a lot of hits, home runs, and walks. Unfortunately for Obermueller, he also doesn't strike anyone out as he has 98 career K's over 191.1 innings. He had 4 WS last year over 118 innings, after posting 2 in 2003 over 65.2 innings. Looks like he's good for 1 WS per 30 innings pitched.

So I guess the question is - how much is he going to pitch this year? Or, on the other side of the coin - who else do the Brewers have that can take his place? I'll write him down for 150 innings pitched, and thus 5 WS this season.

Chris Capuano - Capuano wraps up the rotation of 29 and under starters. The young lefty wasn't horrible last year, posting an 83 ERA+ over 17 starts, 88.1 innings. He's going to have to give up fewer home runs, though, as opponents his 18 off of him last year. I'll assume that he's going to improve slightly with a slightly larger workload, giving him 5 WS in 2005.

Lineup

Last year, it looked a little something like this (ranked by WS.)

Lyle Overbay - 21
Scott Podsednik - 15
Geoff Jenkins - 14
Brady Clark - 13
Keith Ginter - 12
Craig Counsell - 10
Wes Helms - 4
Chad Moeller - 2

Keith Ginter got most starts (and more WS) at 2nd base, but Junior Spivey was hurt and may be more accurately described as the starter. And Wes Helms only got 274 at-bats on the season. With those things being said, the above players are going to be considered to have been the starters last season. The performances of others will be accounted for on the bench.

From the above group, Counsell, Ginter, and Podsednik are all gone. Counsell will be replaced with J.J. Hardy, Ginter with Spivey, and Podsednik with the newly acquired Carlos Lee. Damian Miller was also picked up this off-season, and will be the new starting catcher.

Lyle Overbay - The Brewers did a good job in getting Overbay from the DBacks for Sexson, who they would have lost to FA after the season anyway. (In fact - Overbay, Spivey, Counsell, and Moeller all came over for Sexson, along with Capuano and Jorge De La Rosa. Four positions starters and a starting pitcher for Sexson? Nice.) Finally getting to play every day in Milwaukee, Overbay posted a .301 average, .385 OBP, and a 127 OPS+. What he lacks in home runs (16 over 579 at-bats) he somewhat makes up for in doubles (53). And while an 863 OPS out of 1st base isn't top notch, the price is right.

With a season under his belt, Overbay should continue to mature and may have another season or two of improvement in his back pocket. He had 21 WS last year. I'm going to put him down for 23 this year, as Carlos Lee comes along to take some of the pressure off of him.

Carlos Lee - Lee come to Milwaukee via trade for, basically, Scott Podsednik. Another nice move by the Brewers in my estimation, as the trade value for Podsednik was likely as high as it was going to get. In return, the Brewers get a player that has topped 30 home runs and 35 doubles in each of the past 2 seasons. His OPS+ has been 116 or higher in each of the past 3 seasons.

Lee will provide the Brewers with some much needed power, as they only had one player with more than 16 home runs last year (Jenkins with 27). Lee posted 24, 20, and 17 WS over the past 3 seasons and will only be 29 this year. I look for Lee to have another solid season, and will mark him down for 22 WS in 2005. Which is a nice improvement over the 15 provided by Podsednik last season.

Geoff Jenkins - Jenkins is another hard one to project. Last year, he played in a career high 157 games, with his previous high being 135 games in 2000. However, he also saw his walk rate, home run rate, and double rate go down last year, resulting in him posting 6 fewer WS over 33 more games.

The bottom line is, Jenkins is a solid player, albeit overpaid (he made $8.7 million last year, just $600,000 less than Jim Edmonds.) The Brewers need the health of 2004 Jenkins, with the play of 2003 Jenkins. I'll simply average his numbers for the past 2 seasons and project Jenkins to have 17 WS in 2005.

Brady Clark - Clark posted a career high OBP of .385 last year, and the good news is that it didn't come from a higher batting average, but from drawing more walks. After drawing just 21 walks in 2003 over 315 at-bats, he managed to draw 53 last year over 353 at-bats. In fact, he had more walks than K's (48). Even more interesting, that walk rate was very similar to the one he posted in 2001 when he drew 22 over 129 at-bats, indicating that he may have "re-discovered" the importance of getting on base.

With Podsednik gone, Clark is likely to get more playing time as the regular in centerfield. We can't be sure that his OBP skills are here to stay, but I am fairly certain that if he stays healthy he's going to top 400 at-bats for the first time in his career (if not 500). Clark had 13 WS last year over 353 at-bats. For 2005, to be conservative, I'm going to say that Clark will only improve to 15.

Junior Spivey - Spivey is still trying to get back to 2002 form when he burst onto the scene with a .301 average, .389 OBP, and an All-Star appearance. Since that season, health has been a problem as Spivey has only played in 165 games over the past 2 years. What's more, his batting average, OBP, and SLG have not been back in the 2002 range during those seasons.

Last year, other than the injury, was somewhat encouraging for Spivey as he had his OBP back over the .350 mark, even though his power was still not back to his previous form. Over the past 3 years, Spivey has had 5, 10, and 23 WS. If Spivey can stay healthy this year, he should be able to post 12 WS for the Brewers.

J.J. Hardy - Good luck trying to project this guy. He only played 26 minor league games last year due to an injury, and has no major league experience. In AAA last year, at the age of 22, Hardy did hit 277/330/495/825, including more BB's (9) than K's (8).

This season, Hardy is going to be getting on the job training. I suspect he'll be hitting 8th, unless he shows promise - which is very possible. My guess is he'll be a solid shortstop that will show flashes of brilliance, and provide an upgrade over Counsell last year. I'll simply mark down Hardy for 12 WS.

Wes Helms - I realize that this may be a platoon with Russ Branyan, or that Branyan may even win the job outright. But for now, I'll assume Helms as the starter, and Branyan on the bench.

Helms was disappointing in 2004 after hitting 21 doubles, 23 home runs, and posting a 100 OPS+ in 2003. He was still getting on base at a respectable clip last year, but his power seemed to have evaporated. Add in the .904 fielding percentage, and you have a guy that lost playing time, and deservedly so.

Over the past 2 seasons, Helms has had 4 and 12 WS. I'm going to assume that his playing time in 2005 will stay similar in 2005, with Helms starting largely against left handed pitching. He'll get 4 WS again this year.

Damian Miller - Miller has been a pretty steady catcher over his career. Over the past 7 years, he's had an OPS+ of 91 or better 6 times, including a 104 in 1998. No one is going to confuse him with Johnny Bench, but he's sure and steady both with the bat and the glove.

Last year, Miller had a career high 442 plate appearances which resulted in him having a career high with 15 WS. Over the previous 2 seasons, Miller had 10 WS each year. As he is now 35 years old, I think the playing time is likely to revert to prior levels. Miller should be able to give the Brewers 10 WS in 2005.

Bullpen

Last year, the Brewer bullpen had 39 Win Shares which included Danny Kolb with 39 saves and a 2.98 ERA. Unfortunately for the Brewers, 15 of those 39 Win Shares have been traded away in the forms of the aforementioned Kolb and Luis Vizcaino. Replacing Kolb and Vizcaino in the bullpen are Justin Lehr and Ricky Bottalico. Right now, I have no idea who the closer is going to be.

Mike Adams - Adams was the best guy in the pen last year not named Kolb, as he posted a better ERA+ than Vizcaino. Adams, pitching as a rookie, posted a 122 ERA+ over 53 innings, and I suspect is in consideration for the closer's job. On one hand, I'm usually leery of players that have success out of the pen as rookies, as they usually have a rough 2nd year. On the other hand, if he is given the chance to close games, his WS totals will go up by quite a bit. Adams had 5 WS last year without recording a save. I'm going to say that 2005 will see him getting 7 WS.

Brooks Kieschnick - Kieschnick flip flopped in 2004, going from a solid hitter that didn't pitch well to a solid pitcher that didn't hit well. (If he can combine the two, it will be amazing.) His ERA+ last year was 110, which is about the same level as Cal Eldred in 2004. He had 4 WS last year. He's probably going to get about the same this year.

Jeff Bennett - Like Adams, Bennett was in the bullpen last year as a rookie. He ended up posting an 86 ERA+, and unfortunately gave up 12 home runs over 71.1 innings. Last year, he got 2 WS. I cannot imagine him improving on that for 2005.

Ricky Bottalico - Pros: Last year he had a 3.38 ERA and a 127 ERA+ over 69.1 innings, striking out 61. Cons: It was his highest ERA+ since 1996, and the first time he'd been over 86 since the 2001 season. Expecting him to repeat last year is a long shot at best. He had 6 WS in 2004, after having 0 in both 2003 and 2002. Are the Brewers going to make him their closer? For their sake, I hope not. I'm going to say that Bottalico can amass 4 WS this year.

Matt Wise - 2004 was the first season since 2001 that Wise pitched more than 8.1 innings. All told, Wise posted a 93 ERA+ over 52.2 innings and had 2 WS. Like Bennett, It's hard to imagine him improving on that in 2005.

Justin Lehr - Yet another pitcher in the Brewer bullpen who was a rookie in 2004. Lehr pitched 32.2 innings, striking out 16, walking 14, and posting an 89 ERA+. Considering he did that at the age of 26, I don't hold out much hope for a pitcher with a career 1.50 WHIP and a K/BB ratio of 1.1. He had 1 WS last year. Look for the same this year.

Bench

Last year's bench put together 31 WS, which isn't bad. (Once again, remember that I'm counting WS from Clark and Ginter in the starting lineup, not the bench.) However, this year's bench has lost some firepower. Ben Grieve, the leading WS player off of the bench, is gone. Junior Spivey (who I counted as a bench player in 2004) is in the starting lineup, with Ginter no longer on the team to take his slot on the bench. Bill Hall, who tied Grieve with 8 WS last year, is still around, but his career .280 OBP has to be of concern.

Russ Branyan is going to be on the team, whether that means on the bench or starting at 3rd. He provided the Brew-Crew with 6 WS last year over just 158 at-bats. I'm going to say that he'll end up helping the team more than that this year, giving them 8 WS. Those 2 extra WS will go to the bench total in this article.

After Hall and Branyan, along with backup catcher Chad Moeller, the bench gets harder and harder to determine. I assume Dave Krynzel will be there to backup the outfield. After that - who? It's uncertain to me, a mere outsider. Overall, however, I'm going to predict that Moeller, Krynzel, and 2 more bench players will only combine to provide 4 WS on the bench this year. Combine that with 16 out of Branyan and Hall, and you have a much worse bench available to Milwaukee this year.

Totals

Starting Rotation - 48 Win Shares (47 in 2004)
Bullpen - 20 Win Shares (39 in 2004)

Starting Lineup - 115 Win Shares (91 in 2004)
Bench - 20 Win Shares (31 in 2004)

That's a grand total of 203 Win Shares, or 68 Wins. Last year they had 1 less win than predicted (Pythagorean wins), so for this year I'll add a win, bumping them up to 69. Does this pass the sanity test?

I'm showing the rotation as about the same as last year, which makes sense. They basically have the same unit returning, and will be counting on both Sheets and Davis to repeat last year to get that much done.

The bullpen is much worse than last year, which once again make sense with Kolb gone and the only major additions being Ricky Bottalico and Justin Lehr. Not exactly Gagne and Smoltz.

The bench is also shown as being downgraded in a large manner. Even though I counted Clark and Ginter as starters, the Brewer bench really is downgraded with Clark starting, and Ginter in Oakland. Let alone Grieve being gone altogether.

That leaves the only improved portion of the team being the starting lineup, which sounds reasonable. Damian Miller is a nice upgrade over Chad Moeller, and Carlos Lee should provide the team with some much needed power. Brady Clark, as a starter, will likely replace Scott Podsednik nicely, just without the stolen bases.

So - another losing season in Milwaukee. Can it be avoided? Yes, but a few things are going to need to happen.

1. The Brewers need a 3rd starter. Whether that means one of their current guys to step up, or a rookie to come in and win the job (Jose Capellan?), 2 starters backed up by 3 below average guys isn't going to get it done.

2. The Brewers need bullpen help. And one guy isn't going to be enough. If Bottalico and Adams can repeat their 2004 seasons, that's a nice start, but not enough to replace the departures of Kolb and Vizcaino. Once again, they need someone to step up, or for Jose Capellan to come in an blow people away (even though he's more valuable as a starter.)

3. The Brewers need their offense to click. If Spivey can revert to 2002 form and if Hardy acclimates to MLB pitching quickly, the team could easily win an extra 3 or 4 more games than I have projected, putting them closer to the .500 mark.

4. The Brewers need bench help. If Branyan ends up starting most of the time, the Brewers are not going to have anyone available off the bench with good OBP skills or good power. That really ties the hands of a manager in close games. And since I seriously doubt that the Brewers are going to put Rickie Weeks and/or Prince Fielder on their bench, I'm not sure that this area is going to be addressed unless some good waiver plays can be made.

If 3 of the 4 areas above could be addressed, the Brewers might make a run at .500. But right now, I'm afraid they are the doormats of the NL Central in 2005.

If I were the GM of the Brewers, I'd be tempted to start shopping Lyle Overbay and Junior Spivey to other teams. Currently, they are both solid young players will some upside, who happen to be blocking the #1 2nd base prospect (Weeks) and the #2 1st base prospect (Fielder) in the minors. Let's face it - the Brewers are unlikely to even finish .500 this year, let alone make a playoff run. Fielder at 1st and Weeks at 2nd may not be great this year, but they'd take their licks, and maybe even be as good as Overbay and Spivey. If the Brewers could get, for example, a #3 starter for Overbay, and a bullpen pitcher for Spivey - the team could be improved for this season. And with the experience to Weeks and Fielder, along with Hardy, 2006 could be the year that Milwaukee finally remembers what it fees like to win more than they lose.

NL Central Predictions (Current)

Cardinals 95-67
Cubs 95-67
Astros 88-74
Pirates 80-82
Reds 74-88
Brewers 69-93

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Pujols Watch

One of my favorite websites on the entire internet, if not the favorite, is Baseball-Reference.com. Everyone should have that site bookmarked, and send them a little pocket change when you get the chance. The amount of information they have available for a free site is out of this world.

Today's post is in regard to a new feature they have which is very interesting. You can now sort statistical leaders by age using this section.

Using their new content, I decided to look into where my favorite young hitting stud ranks among others that have played the game at his age. Keep in mind that these statistics are different than those you may have seen that group players by their first 4 seasons in the majors.

Through Age 24

Mr. Pujols stacks up quite well on the all-time list of players at the age of 24 and younger.

OBP - .413, 10th
SLG - .624, 4th
OPS - 1.037, 4th
OPS+ - 169, 6th (Right behind Stan the Man at 170)

Doubles - 189, 9th
Home Runs - 160, 8th
Extra Base Hits - 358, 5th

The only contemporary players that tend to rank ahead of Pujols in counting stats are Ken Griffey Jr and Alex Rodriguez. Which, of course, isn't a shock considering they were both great young players, and that they both were getting major league at-bats at the age of 19, compared to Pujols at 21.

In the World of OPS+ - well, take a look at Albert's peers.

1. Ted Williams, 191
2. Joe Jackson, 183
3. Ty Cobb, 176
4. Lou Gehrig, 172
5. Stan Musial, 170
6. Albert Pujols, 169
7. Mickey Mantle, 166
8. Jimmie Foxx, 165
9. Tris Speaker, 162
10. Dick Allen, 161

Talk about some great company. Seven members of the Hall of Fame, Dick Allen, who was no slouch, and Joe Jackson, who may have found his way into the hall if he hadn't cheated.

Through Age 25

As Pujols starts his Age 25 season, what kind of milestones can we keep an eye on in regard to his age?

Doubles - Pujols only needs 42 doubles this year to have the 2nd most ever through the age of 25. Fourty two would give him 231, which would be one more than Ty Cobb's 230. Considering that he had 51 in each of the past two seasons, 41 should be very realistic, assuming his foot can keep up the pace.

The top mark through the age of 25 is 258 doubles by Joe "Ducky" Medwick, former Cardinal great and a Hall of Famer.

Home Runs - The field is more crowded in the home run department. Below, I'll list the milestones for where he could end up this year.

7th - 32 Home Runs to pass Orlando Cepeda
6th - 43 Home Runs to pass Frank Robinson
5th - 48 Home Runs to pass Mickey Mantle
4th - 52 Home Runs to pass Mel Ott

Pujols has hit 43 and 46 home runs over the last two years, and I've seen projections for him to hit as many as 50 this year.

Total Bases - Albert Pujols would need 372 total bases in 2005 to knock Ken Griffey Jr. and Frank Robinson out of 10th place. Over the past two seasons, he's had 394 and 389 total bases. If he is able to make the top 10, it will be the first time in his career that he's made the cut for his age group.

As a side note - Alex Rodriguez at 2nd on this list, just behind Mel Ott, is a great reminder of just how good he was at such a young age.

RBI - This one is a slight long shot, but not impossible. If Pujols can drive in 131 runs this year, he'll edge out Joe Medwick for 10th on the all time list. His career high was 130 as a rookie, but with a full season of Larry Walker hitting in front of him, topping that mark could be done.

Extra Base Hits - A completely underrated statistic. As I mentioned last year in this blog, Pujols made a run at becoming just the 3rd Cardinal to ever have 100 XBH in a season, falling just short with 99. (Rogers Hornsby and Stan Musial have each topped the century mark with the Birds on the Bat.) His 99 XBH's, however, were the 3rd most recorded by a 24 year old in MLB history, behind Lou Gehrig (117) and Jimmie Foxx (100).

In 2005, Pujols should pile up enough XBH to pull into 4th place all time for his age. To hit that mark he needs just 76, which matches his career low from the 2002 season. If Pujols somehow manages to fight off his injury enough to amass enough XBH to hit 3rd on that list (119), we'll not only be looking at an MVP season, but a triple crown run.

Summary

While this article likely would bore 99% of the general population (or more), I enjoy looking over statistics of this manner. Not only does it help put a player like Pujols into perspective, it also serves to help us connect with players from the past that most of us didn't have a chance to see. Names like Mel Ott, Jimmie Foxx, Joe Medwick - sure, we've heard of them. But seeing their names and numbers in relation to current players helps me to gain a better appreciation for what they were able to do in a different era.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Left Handed Complements

I was thinking about writing a short article about the left handed pitching competition today when I ran across this little blurb on Rotoworld.com:

Cardinals lefty reliever Ray King won't pitch again until next weekend at the earliest. King experienced muscle soreness near his left shoulder after his only appearance of the spring, March 8th. With Rick Ankiel done as a pitcher and Mike Myers struggling early in camp, King is the only reliable lefty St. Louis has on the roster. Mar. 14 - 10:31 am etSource: St Louis Post-Dispatch

The non-bold portion of that paragraph was added by Rotoworld as commentary.

Obviously, injuries are the biggest potential problem for the Cardinals this year. And having 2 superb lefties available in relief last year was a huge help for the team. With Kline gone and Ankiel no longer an option, the loss of King for any length of time could be a problem. And, of course, King's workload over the past four seasons are reason to actually expect King to not be as sharp this year.

Take a look at Ray King over the past 4 seasons. I'm going to list games pitched, his rank in his league, and ERA+.

2001 - 82, 3rd, 122
2002 - 76, 10th, 131
2003 - 80, 3rd, 118
2004 - 86, 2nd, 160

"Big deal" you say. "He's a gamer". Well, take a look at another gamer with a similar pattern over a 4 year period.

1998, 78, 2nd, 149
1999, 82, 1st, 126
2000, 83, 1st, 133
2001, 89, 1st, 240

That list of statistics belongs to one Steve Kline. After the workloads listed, he was much less effective in 2002, pitching in 66 games with an ERA+ of 115. There are many similarities between Kline and King during their high workload runs. Both started out with three seasons very similar, followed by a very successful 4th season. Will the appearances have the same effect on King this year?

On the plus side, Kline pitched 298.2 innings during his 4 year span, while King pitched 241 innings, or roughly 14 fewer per season. On the negative side, Kline was 28 in the 4th season of his run, while King was 30. Obviously, comparing 2 left handed pitchers is the definition of small sample size. However, lots of games pitched does have a tendency to catch up to relief pitchers sooner or later. Let's hope it's not this year in the case of King.

OK, with that out of the way - who can the Cardinals count on this year? Supposedly, the Cardinals were going to send a few left handed pitchers to the minors today. Who are the likely candidates?

Mike Myers

Rotoworld already mentioned him, claiming he was struggling in camp.

Myers - 4 innings, 4.50 ERA, 4 K, 4 BB, 3 Hits allowed

Not glowing, but not horrible. We all knew that Myers is a one out specialist, who hasn't been able to get righties out for years. The walks are, of course, of the most concern in the line above.

As a 2nd option, he may still be fine. If, however, King is out, Myers is not the option to be the lone lefty in the pen should it come to that.

Carmon Cali

The comparisons to Billy Wagner have been spoken, but I'm not ready to say as much out of a 26 year old who started last season in AA ball. But still - any time you have a lefty hitting the mid-90's on his fastball, you have to be somewhat excited.

Cali - 2.2 innings, 3.38 ERA, 3 K, 2 BB, 1 Hit allowed

You can't exactly see a lot out of 2.2 innings pitched, but the K and BB numbers look great. Not shown here, however, are 2 wild pitches. It's early, but looks like he needs some time in AAA. He may be a great mid-season option, however.

Randy Flores

Flores was great with the Cardinals last year, posting a 1.93 ERA over 14 innings. He has the added benefit of the ability to both start and relieve, which is what Ankiel was supposed to be providing this year.

Flores - 4 innings, 4.50 ERA, 3 K, 0 BB, 4 Hits allowed

He's looking pretty good. All of his hits allowed have been singles, and he hasn't given up a free pass as of yet. Add in his limited major league experience, and he's in the mix.

Bill Pulsipher

Talk about a dark horse candidate. This guy was working as a grounds keeper just last Spring, and hasn't pitched in the majors since the 2001 season. For you youngsters out there, Bill Pulsipher and Jason Isringhausen were supposed to be big for the Mets by the late 90's. Think Cardinal hopes for Rick Ankiel and Chad Hutchinson just 5 years ago. (Ouch).

Pulsipher - 5 innings, 0.00 ERA, 4 K, 0 BB, 4 Hits allowed

Not bad for a 31 year old pitcher with a career 5.13 ERA. As with Flores, all of his hits allowed have been singles. Anytime a left handed pitcher is allowing fewer baserunners than innings and has a K/BB ratio of infinity, he's in the running.

Hector Mercado

Technically, he's a starting pitcher, but do you honestly see him cracking the rotation?

Mercado - 1 inning, 0.00 ERA, 1 K, 1 BB, 1 Hit allowed

I don't know if Mercado is hurt, or if there is another reason he hasn't pitched much at this point. I do, however, know this. The Cardinals have had 10 Spring games, and he's only pitched 1 inning. Not exactly a ringing endorsement at this point.

Breakdown

Those are your candidates. For now, let's assume that King will be able to go come the beginning of the season. Looking at the early standings, you have to assume that Cali is going to the minors, with Mercado joining him if he isn't released. That leaves Myers, Flores, and Pulsipher.

Myers, as mentioned, is a one out guy. He can come in and punch out one lefty, but will get lit up like a Christmas tree if the other team pinch hits a right handed batter. The bullpen can handle that if he's the 2nd lefty. He's not an option, however, as the primary. We know that Tony likes veterans, so anything close to a tie will go to Myers. But the Cardinals have been known to cut veterans loose if they have a bad Spring, with the most recent comparable being Al Levine during the 2003 pre-season.

Flores is really hanging tough, and his ability to start games in a pinch could really make him a valuable part of the team. If nothing else, he'll be available down the river in Memphis should the Cardinals have injury problems. (Even Dan Haren and Kiko Calero didn't make the 2004 team out of Spring training, after all.)

Pulsipher is the interesting one in my book. To take 3 seasons off from baseball, then start off Spring training like he has is a great story. It's still early, but if he continues to be half as successful as he has been already, the Cardinals will probably try to find a spot for him on the 2005 roster. In fact, right now my guess is that he is possibly the current favorite to win the #2 left handed job out of the pen.

Addendum (2:17 pm)

It could be worse - we could be having injury problems to the starting staff instead of the bullpen.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Random Thoughts

Or, if you will, Random Redbird Reasoning, without much to do about Redbirds.

How washed up is Darius Rucker, aka Hootie, to be signing jingles for Burger King? I should have known that the Blowfish were done when they played Ribfest at Naperville last year.

While were on washed up bands, what is up with Bret Michaels, the former (and current) lead singer for Poison? I've never watched an episode of Nashville Star, but isn't that him that I keep seeing on the commercials? Why use him for a judge to pick the next George Straight? I mean, I realize that Paula Abdul could have never cracked the top 100 in an American Idol competition, but at least I can kind of see her as a judge. A bad choice of a judge, but a judge nonetheless.

OK, this next one is a bit racy. In fact, I probably shouldn't even post it. If you're a kid, stop reading now.

I stumbled across a web site that is cracking me up completely. If you get bored sometime, go to Gizoogle. You enter a url into their "search engine", and it will translate it for you into "Snoop Talk." Here is an example.

Here is a paragraph from what I wrote about Ankiel a couple of days back.

Let's see - Ankiel is out of options, and thus will have to either clear waivers or stay on the active roster. The Cardinals currently have 3 outfielders on their bench, making it uncertain as to how there will even be room for Ankiel in the first place. And, of course, there is the fact that he hasn't had a major league hit since the 2000 season, when he hit .250/.292/.382 over 68 at-bats.

And here it is after getting "Gizoogled".

Let's see - Ankiel is out of options, n thus wizzill hizzle ta eitha clear playa or stay on tha active rosta. The Cardinals currently hizzy 3 bitch on they bench, mak'n it uncertain as ta how there W-to-tha-izzill even be rizzy fo` Ankiel in tha fiznirst place. And, of course, there is tha fizzay thizzat he hasn't had a major league hit since tha 2000 season, when he hit .250/.292/.382 over 68 at-bats wit da big Bo$$ Dogg.

Beware - it will spit out some F-bombs and whatnot (thus I didn't show you the last paragraph of the same article.) It's worth a chuckle or two. Who knows? It might even liven up a Peter Gammons article.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

2005 Pirates

Enough with steroids and Ankiel - on with the NL Central outlook.

The Pirates are coming off of their 3rd straigh somewhat respectable season, even though they haven't managed to have a .500 season since 1992 - back when they had a guy named Bonds on their roster. This year, their most notable move was unloading the overpaid but solid Jason Kendall. How will they fare in 2005?

Rotation

Last year, the Pirate's rotation totaled 40 Win Shares, including an impressive 17 from Oliver Perez. In fact, their rotation featured 2 young lefty pitchers in Perez (22) and Sean Burnett (21), who both hold a lot of promise for the future. And, of course, the geezer of the rotation (Kris Benson, 29) was traded to the Mets at the deadline.

As of right now, it looks like the rotation will contain Oliver Perez, Mark Redmon, Josh Fogg, Kip Wells, and someone else. And even the first four are spotty, as I read that Wells is a little banged up as we speak. The 5th slot is up for grabs among a cast of plenty, with Zach Duke not completely out of the question.

Oliver Perez - Had a breakout year in 2004, posting a 2.98 ERA (139 ERA+) over 196 innings. And it wasn't the first time that he had been solid in the majors, as he posted a 109 ERA+ over 15 starts as a 20 year old for San Diego in the 2002 campaign. It's hard not to be impressed by a guy that has struck out 474 batters over 412.2 major league innings. I think that Perez will improve by a bit this year, posting 20 win shares.

Mark Redman - Gives the Pirates a solid 2nd left in their rotation this season, as he's pitched over 190 innings with an ERA+ of 99 or better the last three seasons. Redman will likely see a bit of a "Jeff Suppan" effect this year, with his ERA getting better with the move to the NL. Over the last 3 seasons, he's had 9, 11, and 10 Win Shares. Pretty consistent. Mark him down for 10 again this year, giving the Pirates a much better #2 pitcher than they had in 2004.

Josh Fogg - Has been a solid yet unspectacular pitcher for the Pirates for three years now. He's thrown 142 or more innings each year, getting 10 or more wins - but with an ERA+ fluctuating between 81 and 99. Last year, at the age of 27, Fogg had posted an 89 ERA+, just under his career average of 92. Fogg has likely settled in as a slightly below average major league starter. Pencil him in for 7 Win Shares in 2005, matching his 2004 mark.

Kip Wells - Is a very important piece of the puzzle for Pittsburgh this season. In 2004 he struggled with an injury, which required surgery in October. His ability to come back healthy this year is huge, as he was able to post ERA+ seasons of 121 and 129 in 2002 and 2003. (And once again - what exactly did Kenny Williams see in Todd Ritchie that made him give up both Fogg and Wells for him?) Along with the solid ERA+ seasons, Wells posted 13 and 16 Win Shares leading up to last year, when he only had 6. In other words, his injury cost the Pirates roughly 3 wins last year. To be conservative, let's split the difference and say that Wells can give the Pirates 10 Win Shares in 2005.

5th Starter - I don't know who it's going to be, as Burnett had elbow surgery and isn't an option in the early going. Dave Williams got 6 starts last year, posting 1 Win Share. Burnett managed to get 2 WS over 13 starts despite a 5.02 ERA. Rather than get too carried away, I'm just going to say that the 5th slot will be even this year over last, giving the Pirates 3 Win Shares, or 1 win.

Lineup

In 2004, the Pirates regulars and Win Shares totals looked like this.

Jason Kendall - 25
Jack Wilson - 23
Jason Bay - 18
Craig Wilson - 18
Rob Mackowiak - 15
Tike Redman - 11
Jose Castillo - 8
Daryle Ward - 7

More or less, anyway. The 3rd base job floated around a lot, but since Mackowiak had 15 Win Shares compared to Chris Stynes with 0 - well, I'm going with this. That's 135 WS out of the starting lineup, which isn't bad. Of interest to me is the oddity of a catcher and a shortstop providing the most WS from the lineup on a team. As mentioned, Kendall is gone. Not mentioned is the fact that both Oliver Perez and Jason Bay were received from San Diego for Brian Giles. That trade looks to be working out well for the Steel city.

Gone is Kendall, in is Matt Lawton, acquired from the Indians, and Benito Santiago, who is as resilient as Jason Vorhees. And to be honest - I don't know who in the heck is going to start for the Pirates in the outfield and at 1st base, because it's crowded. I assume Jason Bay and Matt Lawton are locks in the corner outfield, leaving 1st base for Craig Wilson and Daryle Ward. Centerfied could go to either Redman or Mackowiak, with 3rd base going to either Wiggington or Mackowiak. For the purposes of this exercise, I'm assuming Redman in center, Mackowiak at 3rd, and Wilson at 1st. Which means it won't happen, of course.

Benito Santiago - Turned 40 yesterday, but is still going somewhat strong. The Carlos Santana look-alike still has some pop in his bat, as he slugged .434 last year over 175 at-bats. His ERA+ over the last 3 years has been 107, 96, and 96 - which is decent for a catcher. His glove work still appears to be adequate as well. The biggest question I have, of course, is why did he only play in 49 games last year? (I could look it up, but....) I seriously doubt, of course, that the Pirates are expecting him to play in 150 games this year. In fact, his high over the past three years is 136 back in 2002. Over the past 3 seasons he's posted 3, 13, and 15 Win Shares. I can only assume that he'll play in roughly 120 games this year. Assuming a similar level of play to 2004, that translates into about 7 Win Shares this season, or a loss of 6 wins at the catcher position for the Bucs.

Craig Wilson - I have a soft spot for Craig Wilson. He was, after all, the starting catcher for my 2002 Simulation St. Louis Cardinals, who went on to win the World Series. Wilson still caught 4 games for the real Pirates last year, and maybe it's not out of the question to play him more there now that Kendall is gone. Whatever the case, the man can hit pretty well. He has a career OPS+ of 121, which he has exceeded in each of the past 2 seasons. Last year was the first time the Pirates let the guy get more than 375 at-bats, and he did not disappoint as he piled up 29 home runs, 35 doubles, and 5 triples while looking like one of the Alman Brothers. Wilson, who'll be 28 this year, has had 18, 10, and 10 WS over the past 3 seasons. If they actually let the guy play, he'll continue to hit. Give him another 18 WS this season, with low 20's not out of the question.

Jose Castillo - I don't have much to say about. He was only 23 last year as a rookie, posting a 75 OPS+ with an above average glove. He'll be starting again this year, unless Bobby Hill manages to beat him out this Spring. I'll take the easy way out and project him for 10 WS this season, as he gets more playing time, but struggles a bit against pitchers seeing him for the 2nd time.

Rob Mackowiak - A Tony LaRussa favorite, I'm sure, as he hits left handed, and plays all three outfield positions along with 3rd base. Honestly, I doubt he'll start at 3rd base this year, but it has to be an option considering his 15 Win Shares last year. His OPS+ last year was 93, matching his career mark. From an historical WS perspective, he had 6 in 2003, 12 in 2002. Most likely, you'll see him play at about the same level this season as last, with playing time the determining factor of his total production. Let's just assume a repeat, giving him 15 again this year.

Jack Wilson - After a torrid 1st half, Wilson came back to the pack a bit in the 2nd half of the year, but still had a great season. The always spectacular fielder added hitting to his game at the age of 26, posting a 107 OPS+, along with 41 doubles. Here's my concern.

2002 - 527 at-bats, 37 BB's, .252 average
2003 - 558 at-bats, 36 BB's, .256 average
2004 - 652 at-bats, 26 BB's, .308 average

Without digging too deeply, I have to think that a lot of his improvement last year was due to luck more than anything else, as his plate discipline actually decreased. And while it's not unusual for power to develop as a player ages, his 100 point jump in SLG last year seems a bit out of the ordinary. In other words - I'm not going to be a believer unless he repeats this year. He's had 23, 11, and 12 WS over the past 3 seasons. I'm going to say he can create 15 this year.

Jason Bay - In 2003, over 87 at-bats, he posted a 148 OPS+. Last year, over 411 at-bats, he posted a 135 including 24 doubles, 4 triples, and 26 home runs. The power is there, even if the plate discipline needs some help. Considering that this is his 26 year old season, he should continue to show improvement. I'm going to say that he can post 25 Win Shares this year. That may be a bit high, but I think it's reasonable.

Tike Redman - He's good defensively, but that's about all he brings to the table. Which, of course, isn't the end of the world for a Center Fielder. His career OBP is .319, and he was under that last year. It's unlikely that he'll improve much more over his current numbers, so I'll give him 11 WS again in 2005.

Matt Lawton - Might be a nice pick-up for the Pirates this year, although the Indians may have traded him when his stock was about as high as it was going to get. He's a career 105 OPS+ hitter, exceeding that mark in each of the past 2 seasons. He's a decent BB guy, as he averages 84 every 162 games played. Over the past 3 seasons, he's had 15, 10, and 9 WS, with the spike coming last year due to him saying healthy for a change. I think it's likely that either injuries, competition, or both will limit his playing time this year over last, pulling his WS total down to 12 for 2005.

Bullpen

The Pittsburgh bullpen last year was actually pretty solid, albeit a little top heavy. Jose Mesa got 43 saves with an ERA of 3.25, with Saloman Torres and Mike Gonzalez providing right and left handed setup options with ERA's under 3.00. Additionally, Brian Meadows served as a good long man, posting a 3.58 ERA. Those four pitchers combined for 33 of the 36 WS out of the pen last year.

This year, all 4 of them will return to the Pirate bullpen, along with another couple of players. Who? I don't know. Most likely they will be from the ranks of John Grabow, Mike Johnston, and Dave Williams.

Jose Mesa - After a horrible 2003 season, in which he got 0 win shares for 58 innings of 6.52 ERA pitching, Mesa rebounded to have a solid year, including a 128 ERA+. Unfortunately, he turns 39 in May and only struck out 37 batters over 69.1 innings last year. It's hard to imagine him repeating this year, making it likely that the Pirates will regret not trading him last year (even though he said he didn't want to be.) Mesa had 9 WS last year. I'll put him down for 8 this year, and expect him to miss that mark.

Saloman Torres - 2004 marked the first time since 1997 that Torres was a full time bullpen pitcher, and he did not disappoint as he got 7 wins with a 2.64 ERA, 157 ERA+. Most notably, Torres kept the ball in the park in 2004, which was a problem for him the previous season. I suspect that Torres will be solid again in 2005, most likely becoming the Pirate closer by mid-season at the latest. He had 11 WS last year in relief. This season, I'm going to say that he will improve slightly due to extra save opportunities, posting 13 WS.

Mike Gonzalez - Came out of nowhere last year, posting a 1.25 ERA and a 332 ERA+. Frankly, it's hard to imagine someone repeating that season, considering it was his rookie campaign and didn't come until he was 26 years old. Usually, a season like his is followed by a bit of a disappointment. He had 8 WS in 2004. I'll cut it in half for this year, giving him 4.

Brian Meadows - Here is another interesting player. He's never given up many home runs, never given up many walks, yet has had problems getting work over the past few years. Over the last 3, he's had ERA+ seasons of 116, 90, and 111. Last year he set career highs in ERA+, as well as games (68) as he had his first season as a full time reliever. Personally, I think last season was a sign of things to come for the 29 year old left hander. He's had 5, 3, and 3 WS over the past 3 seasons. I'm going to predict that he'll put together a 7 WS season in 2005, with more not out of the question.

5th and 6th Bullpen Slots - I simply don't know who to project into these slots. Last year, they only got 3 WS out of the back end of their pen, and it's hard to imagine it being that bad again this year. Rather than getting too carried away, I'm simply going to say that these slots will provide 2 extra wins this year over last, or a total of 9 WS.

Bench

Ah, the bench. How I hate trying to guess this one. Last year, the Pirates bench combined for an ugly 15 Win Shares led by Bobby Hill with 4, plus Raul Mondesi and Ty Wiggington with 3 apiece. This year, I'm projecting Daryle Ward to join the bench. Leaving are Mondesi, along with Tony Alvarez and Abraham Nunez. And, of course, Wiggington may end up starting with Mackowiak being on the pine, but I'm going to stick with my methodology for now.

Basically, I know that Bobby Hill, Daryle Ward, and Ty Wigginton (for me) are on the bench, along with catcher Humberto Cota. Ben Grieve is in Spring training tearing things up, which bodes well, and infielder Freddy Sanchez is another likely bench candidate.

To make this simple - I assume that Bobby Hill and Ty Wiggington will provide the same amount of production as last year, or 7 WS. Humberto Cota, getting more playing time, will improve from 1 WS to 3 WS in 2005. Freddy Sanchez will replace the production of Abraham Nunez, getting 1 WS.

That, however, will leave Daryle Ward and Ben Grieve to add to the bench. Ward had 7 WS last year, while Grieve had 9 WS between time with the Brewers and the Cubs. It may not be realistic for both of them to get any playing time on a team chocked full of RF/LF/1B types, but they still should improve the bench. I'm going to say that they can both repeat last year's numbers, adding antother 16 WS to the Pirates bench.

Totals

Starting Pitching - 50 Win Shares (40 in 2004)
Bullpen - 41 Win Shares (36 in 2004)

Lineup - 113 Win Shares (135 in 2004)
Bench - 32 Win Shares (15 in 2004)

That's a total of 236 Win Shares, or 78 Wins in 2005. Adjusting for luck, we add 2 wins, giving a prediction of 80 wins for the Pirates in 2005. Let's see if that looks right.

Improved rotation? Check - especially if Kip Wells can revert to pre-2004 form.
Improved bullpen? Maybe. They need help from the back end, though.
Improved bench? Should be, with Grieve and Ward joining it (by my logic, of course.)

Worse Lineup? With Kendall gone and me not believing in Wilson, yes.

So, could the Pirates actually make a run at a .500 season this year? It's not out of the question. They'll need Wilson to repeat his 2004 season and for Wells to come back - neither of those are impossible to imagine.

NL Central (2005 Wins)

Cardinals - 95
Cubs - 95
Astros - 88
Pirates - 80
Reds - 74

Note - I'm working on revising the way I factor in "luck" into my predictions. I believe that simply adjusting the previous year on a 1 to 1 basis is too harsh. Once I finish the Brewers recap, I'll come back and adjust my predictions slightly, explaining my reasoning at the time.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Ankiel a Bust?

According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Ankiel is an outfielder, effective immediately.

This comes as a complete surprise to me, although it does not surprise me that his problems this Spring may have been even worse than they were letting on. The fact that his first start was moved back twice, then changed to a B game, then to a relief appearance were all bad indicators.

Personally, I'm a little bit miffed about this. The Cardinals kept faith in Ankiel for the past four years, hoping he would come back some day. They didn't trade him two years ago when other teams were asking about him. Their return? Apparently, he has decided (on his own) to give up pitching and switch to the outfield.

Let's see - Ankiel is out of options, and thus will have to either clear waivers or stay on the active roster. The Cardinals currently have 3 outfielders on their bench, making it uncertain as to how there will even be room for Ankiel in the first place. And, of course, there is the fact that he hasn't had a major league hit since the 2000 season, when he hit .250/.292/.382 over 68 at-bats.

I guess it's possible that Ankiel will continue to work on pitching, but it doesn't sound like it. If he's serious about giving up pitching, it's probably time for the Cardinals to go ahead and place him on waivers to see what happens. If they lose him, they lose him. At this point - especially if he's given up pitching - I don't see any value in keeping him anyway.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Why Not?

Anyone else catch this little section buried in a St. Louis Post-Dispatch article?

La Russa said he has a lineup now that could produce even more offensively if he had the pitcher bat eighth instead of in the usual No. 9 slot. But he's not going to do so. In 1998, he batted the pitcher No. 8 for about half the season with considerable win-loss success.

This season, with Mark Grudzielanek and David Eckstein he has two leadoff-capable hitters and could use them as bookends, thus getting Albert Pujols and Larry Walker up in the first inning, but keeping two de facto leadoff hitters ahead of them in every subsequent inning.

The constant explanation - to media and to players - isn't worth the switch, La Russa said. But it's still academically of interest. "We won 105 (games last year) hitting the guy ninth," La Russa said. "I'm not sure I want to (mess with) it."

My question is - if La Russa honestly thinks that it would produce more runs, why not go with it? Who cares about the baseball purists complaining? I, personally, would welcome the discussion and find it interesting.

Of course, the move would likely only result in very few extra run over the course of the season (see Curve Blog for more fun with lineup changes.) And possibly, La Russa knows (or has been told) that the advantage would likely only produce a handful of runs over the course of the season, thus he's choosing not to rock the boat. But it would be fun...

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

2005 Reds

Today, I'll continue my NL Central predictions. The same methodology will be used - basically, win shares, ERA+, and OPS+ over the past 3 years for players to predict their 2005 performance.

Rotation

Last year, the Reds rotation combined to provide just 23 win shares. To make matters worse, 8 of those win shares were provided by Luke Hudson and Josh Hancock, who only combined to make 18 starts on the season. In an effort to improve upon their pitching, the Reds signed Eric Milton during the off-season, and added Ramon Ortiz via trade. That gives them a rotation this year that will likely look like this:

Paul Wilson
Eric Milton
Ramon Ortiz
Corey Lidle
Luke Hudson/Josh Hancock

Paul Wilson had what some thought to be a breakout season in 2004, posting his first double digit win total at 11. Interestingly enough, if you look at his ERA+ totals over the past 4 seasons, he's pegged 92 each and every year. Over the past 3 seasons, Wilson has had 8, 5, and 7 win shares. Write him down for 7 this year.

The Cardinals were supposedly interested in Eric Milton this off-season. Thankfully, they got Mark Mulder instead. Milton gave up an impressive 43 home runs last season for the Phillies, while putting up an ERA plus of 92. And while Milton hasn't been as consistent as Wilson, he did post an ERA+ of 91 in 2002, which was the most recent season before 2004 in which he was healthy. Milton has had 8, 2, and 9 WS over the past 3 seasons. I think he's good for 8 this year.

Ramon Ortiz, acquired from the Angels, was a bit disgruntled last year as he was asked to work out of the pen for the bulk of the season. And he may have been entitled to such an opinion, considering that guys like Bartolo Colon (5.01 ERA) and Aaron Sele (5.05) were in the rotation ahead of him. Overall, Ortiz posted a 4.43 ERA, 104 ERA+ on the year for a playoff team. In 2003, he had his career worst season. 2002? Career best. What will the Reds get out of him this year? It's hard to tell. Over the past 3 seasons, Ortiz has posted 7, 5, and 14 WS. Let's be a bit on the optimistic side and say that Ortiz can have a bit of a revival and provide 10 WS to the Reds in 2005.

Cory Lidle is another player that is hard to judge. Was he for real in '01-'02 for Oakland, when he was 20% better than league average? Or was the '03-'04 version accurate, when he was 17% below? Lidle has never been a strikeout pitcher, and has always allowed his fair share of home runs. The problem over the past two seasons has been the number of hits he's allowed, which has skyrocketed over his previous seasons. Over the past 2 seasons he's provided 7 and 5 WS. I think it's likely he can be counted on for 6 this season, unless he re-discovers earlier glory.

The #5 slot is going to be a Spring training battle. For now, I'll assume that Hudson, who had a 2.42 ERA over 9 starts, will end up getting the job. Hudson was undoubtedly playing over his head last season, posting a 168 ERA+. Since we were optimistic with Ramon Ortiz, and since the Reds rotation has already shown a lot of improvement in our analysis above, let's play it safe with Hudson and predict a very low WS total of 3 this season. Note, however, that even with that low guess, the Reds rotation is currently projected to have 34 WS this season - an improvement of 11 over last year, or 4 wins.

Lineup

Adam Dunn and Sean Casey kept the Reds in the hunt for a .500 season last year, putting up great numbers. Had Griffey stayed healthy all year, they may have been able to best the mark. This year, the notable addition to the team is 3rd baseman Joe Randa.

2004 Regulars/Win Shares

Adam Dunn (OF) - 32
Sean Casey (1B) - 30
D'Angelo Jimenez (2B) - 23
Ken Griffey, Jr. (OF) - 16
Wily Mo Pena (OF) - 15
Jason LaRue (C) - 15
Barry Larkin (SS) - 10
Felipe Lopez (SS) - 9
Juan Castro (3B) - 4

Note that Ryan Freel got a lot of playing time in the place of Griffey, as well as at 3rd base last year, totalling 19 win shares. His production will be included in the bench section of this post.

Dunn had a true breakout season last year, posting a 152 OPS+ which was 9th best in the NL. And he just turned 25 in November, folks. I think we're likely to see more of the same out of Mr. Dunn this year. Let's chalk him up for 35 WS in 2005.

As much as I think Dunn is for real, I wonder about Sean Casey. At the age of 29, Casey posted a career high 142 OPS+, after having seasons of 98 and 78 in the previous 2 seasons. His win share totals over that time span were 30, 17, and 5. I have to think that Casey had a bit of a fluke season last year. I'm going to predict a drop-off for him, giving him 22 WS in 2005.

Rumors abounded that the Reds might non-tender Jimenez this off-season, but I'm not exactly sure why. The "bad work ethic" tag seems to follow him around, but we're talking about a 27 year old switch hitting middle infielder who has a career OPS+ of 98, and has seen that mark about 100 in each of the past 2 seasons. Over the past 3 years, his WS totals have been 23, 17, and 11. Last year may have been his career high, but the trend is encouraging. I'm going to give him an estimate of 22 in 2005, making him as valuable as Sean Casey.

Ken Griffey Jr. When the Reds got him, I remember a friend of mine telling me it was the beginning of the new Big Red Machine. Of course, since joining the Reds, Cincinnati has not made the playoffs once, and Griffey has only managed to top 140 games one time. He hasn't played in more than 83 games in each of the past 3 seasons.

Griffey is now 35 years old. While it's hard to predict injuries, with Griffey it's almost a given at this point. From a production standpoint, it's hard to judge. He hasn't topped 22 home runs over the past 4 seasons, while his OBP and SLG have been all over the map. Griffey has had 16, 6, and 5 WS over the past 3 years. He could literally finish the 2005 season with as many as 35, and as few as 0. Let's be somewhere in the middle and predict that Griffey will find a way to generate 18 WS in 2005.

Also having a breakout season last year was Wily Mo Pena. At the ripe old age of 22, Pena posted an OPS+ of 121 thanks in large part to hitting 26 home runs over just 336 at-bats. I'm not familiar with the Reds, so I don't know for sure that Pena will be assumed to be starting in a corner this year over Austin Kearns. I'll keep things conservative here and assume that Pena will post 16 WS this year, as maybe he'll have a bit more trouble with pitchers that have seen him.

Jason LaRue had a career year, plain and simple. At the age of 30, the career 89 OPS+ hitter posted a 103, giving him his first above average season in his career. His WS totals over the past 3 years were 15, 10, and 11. LaRue should regress back to the 11 neighborhood this season.

Felipe Lopez started showing signs of power last year, hitting 18 doubles and 7 home runs over 264 at-bats. With Barry Larkin retired, Lopez should be the regular at short for a full season for the first time. Last season was his career high with 9 WS. Let's assume he'll improve a little this year, providing the Reds with 15 WS over the year.

Joe Randa should be the regular for the Reds this year, unless the Austin Kearns experiment starts back up. (And I, for one, liked the sentiment.) Randa is a solid if unspectacular option at 3rd base. He'll give the Reds a .340 OBP and a solid glove with little power. Over the last 3 years, he's had 12, 14, and 11 WS. 12 is the mid-point, so let's go with that for 2005.

Bullpen

The Reds Bullpen was horrible last year. A total of 20 Win Shares spread out over several pitchers, and a composite 5.72 ERA in relief. The Reds tried to address this situation by signing David Weathers, Kent Merker, and Ben Weber in the off-season. As far as I can tell, they'll join Danny Graves, Ryan Wagner, and Jose Acevedo in the pen this year.

Danny Graves. The good news for him last year was 41 saves. The bad news was 9 blown saves. His ERA+ was 102, which is horrible for a closer. It's hard to say what he'll be able to do in 2005, since his 2004 was so poor, and his 2003 season featured him in the rotation instead of the bullpen. This will be his 31 age season, so I will be generous and predict an improvement for Graves this year. He's had 5, 3, and 17 WS over the past 3 years. Let's give him 10 in 2005.

Ryan Wagner struggled a bit last year after having an impressive audition in 2003. Wagner will turn 22 during the 2005 season, and should be ready to step it up a notch. I'm ready to say that Wagner will provide 5 WS in 2005, with a bright future to come.

David Weathers bounced around last year, pitching for the Mets, Astros, and Marlins. Overall on the season, he ended up with a 102 ERA+, his lowest mark since posting a 98 in 1999. If you look at Weathers in the previous 4 seasons, his ERA+ was 134 or higher each year, maxing out at 181 in 2001. While Weathers may not ever see the 130's again, it's likely that 2004 was an off year. He posted 4, 8, and 7 WS over the past 3 seasons. I think Weathers can be counted on for 7 in 2005.

Ben Weber was almost a David Weathers clone entering the 2004 season. They were both 34, and they were both coming off of multiple solid seasons. In the case of Weber, he had posted ERA+ seasons of 139, 171, and 158 in the 2001-2003 time span. Then last year, for whatever reason, he was horrible, posting an 8.06 ERA, 57 ERA+. I'll admit it - I don't know if he was injured last year or not. However, with his innings pitched total so low, I have to assume he was. Over the past 3 years, Weber posted -1, 8, and 11 WS. He should be due for a rebound, giving him around 8 in 2005.

Kent Merker is coming off of great back to back seasons, posting ERA+ values of 178 and 218. In each of those years, he had 6 win shares. Personally, I see no reason why he can't do it again.

Jose Acevedo got 27 starts last year, but also pitched 12 games in relief. With the new additions to the rotation already mentioned, I'm going to assume that Acevedo will be the swing man in the bullpen. It's just a guess, but frankly - it doesn't matter that much. This slot is for the 6th man in the pen, and that guy almost never contributes very much. Give him 1 WS.

Bench

I always have problems projecting the bench. Playing time to regulars can really mess with playing time. With the Reds, this is especially true. Their bench will likely consist of Ryan Freel, who had 19 win shares for the Reds last year due to spot starts. Austin Kearns will likely join him there, along with Jacob Cruz, Javier Valentin, and a couple of more players that I'm frankly not aware of.

Look - the bench provided 34 win shares last year, including the 19 from Freel and 5 more from Kearns. I'm going to take the easy way out and simply say the bench looks like it's about as good as it was last year, but won't get as much playing time due to the conservative estimates given in my lineup projections. 27 Win Shares.

Adding it Up

Starting Rotation - 34 Win Shares (23 in 2004)
Bullpen - 37 Win Shares (20 in 2004)

Starting Lineup - 151 Win Shares (163 in 2004)
Bench - 27 Win Shares (34 in 2004)

That's a total of 249 Win Shares, or 83 Wins on the season. To be consistent, however, I have to adjust for the 2004 Pythagorean win total. The 2005 Reds, believe it or not, had 9 more wins than predicted. That forces me to subtract 9 wins from my prediction, turning it down to 74 wins in 2005.

Overall, the Reds have improved their rotation a little, and their bullpen a lot. I'm expecting their offense to actually regress by a bit due to Sean Casey and Jason LaRue not having career years again, combined with Felipe Lopez not being able to quite make up for the loss of Barry Larkin.

Of course, all isn't lost for the Reds. If Casey was for real last year, Griffey can stay healthy this year, and the Reds can keep up their good luck from 2004? They could in fact make a run at the division. That, of course, is a lot of if's.

NL Central Predictions

Cardinals - 95 Wins
Cubs - 95 Wins
Astros - 88 Wins
Reds - 74 Wins

I hope to wrap up the Brewers and Pirates in the next couple of weeks.