Wednesday, March 27, 2013

On the clock...

And as I write this I learn that time has run out for Ricky Ro to right his ship and break with the Jays. In anticipation of Opening Day one week from tonight, and with most rosters pretty close to settled, I wanted to take a look at how the AL East rivals match up.

Clearly, I'm not generally the go-to girl for in depth statistical analysis of player quality, but I'll still offer my impressions and if nothing else, provide a handy reference for what these teams intend to go to war with next week. I used the recently published Fangraphs positional rankings, which uses a projected WAR figure which I won't explain (find out the details at the link) as the sole source (other than my own opinions) but for simplicity sake I've separated the starters from the bench.  also, I totaled each player's WAR across all positions for which they were projected to contribute, again for simplicity. My goal here is total projected WAR, while there's was specific to positional strength. Finally, I disregarded those bench players beyond the 4 I listed on each team. The extent to which this affects the overall rankings should be marginal.

Commentary after each list will note if there's some obvious concern (i.e., for instance, the 2012 figure is strikingly different from their previous 2-3years of work)

(Note: projections were published before Vernon Wells was traded - you be the judge of how much that deal affects the rankings)

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Catcher

1. Matt Weiters - 4.1 
2. JP Arencibia - 2.2
3. Jarrod Salalamacchia - 1.6
4. Jose Molina - 1.0
5. Francisco Cervelli - 0.8

Of note here is who actually wins the full time job in New York. but since they project the same WAR for both Cervelli and Stewart, it doesn't really matter. 

First Base

1. Edwin Encarnacion - 3.3
2. Mark Texeria - 2.9*
3. Mike Napoli - 2.2
4. Chris Davis - 1.6
5. James Loney - 0.9

The obvious caveat here is how long Texeria is out. The author (in this case Matt Klassen) factors in projected playing time but I'm not sure the projected 525 PA is a solid prediction or not. As it goes down (potentially) then so, too, do the Yankees projection (unless you put a lot of stock in Wells' contribution).

Second Base

1. Robinson Cano - 5.1
2. Ben Zobrist -5.1
3. Dustin Pedroia - 4.9
4. Macir Izturus - 1.8
5. Brian Roberts - 0.4

Note well that Zobrist's high total derives from the ability to play multiple valuable positions. Izturus gains from that too, of course, but he's far from being the hitter Zobrist is. also of note here is the impossibility of projecting Brian Roberts because no one can say how much he'll be able to play or how well.

Shortstop

1. Jose Reyes - 3.2
2. JJ Hardy - 3.0
3. Yunel Escobar - 2.8
4. Derek Jeter - 1.7
5. Stephen Drew - 1.7

Over his last six seasons in which he exceeded 500 PA, Reyes averaged 5.2 WAR - over the last three since the injury that cost him most of a season, he's averaged 4.4 and that includes the only season of the six in which he fell below 4.5 (2010, coming off the injury season). With all due respect to the projection systems, I cannot let such a low projection for him go unchallenged. It's at least 1.0 too low given his age and recent health.

Third Base

1. Evan Longoria -6.4
2. Brett Lawrie - 4.2
3. Kevin Youklis - 3.4
4. Will Middlebrooks - 2.8
5. Manny Machado - 2.5

The author rightly notes the potential for Lawrie to take a quantum leap, I'll go ahead and make the assertion that he could easily be in the top 3-5 at his position in baseball in 2013.I'll also concede that both Middlebrooks and Machado have more helium than lead in their potential futures.

Left Field

1. Brett Gardner - 3.5
2. Matt Joyce - 2.4
3. Melky Cabrera - 2.1
4. Nolan Reimold - 1.3
5. Johnny Gomes - 0.9


Projecting Cabrera to regress to the level of his Yankees days seems a bit much, in my view. Gardner gets a big boost from the projected time in CF while Granderson recovers, and Joyce a smaller bump from the projection that he'll open in RF until Myers is recalled. 

Center Field 

1. Adam Jones - 3.3
2. Desmond Jennings - 3.2
3. Jacoby Elsbury - 2.9
4. Curtis Granderson - 2.2
5. Colby Rasmus - 1.8 

Elsbury suffers from playing time concerns due to injury history, Granderson likewise.While I don't share the pessimism on Rasmus, I'm not in a position to dispute it.  I will note, though, that he only need to improve by 1.0 WAR to land right in the thick of this list. It doesn't take an All-Star year to do that.

Right Field

1. Jose Bautista - 4.6
2. Shane Victorino -2.7
3. Nick Markakis - 2.3
4. Will Myers - 1.4
5. Ichero Suzuki - 0.9

Bautista's 2012 pro-rates to about 6.0 WAR, which is pretty much in line with the two previous years.  I'll say the projections are selling him short here. Victorino is so high because they project him to play CF in the presumed absence of the likely-to-be injured Elsbury.

Designated Hitter

1. David Ortiz - 2.6
2. Adam Lind -1.1
3.Travis Hafner - 1.0
4. Luke Scott - 0.8
5. Wilson Betimit - 0.5

Lind edges out Hafner on the basis of his potential to play 1B on occasion, which hafner won't likely be doing.

Bench

1. Rays (Lobotan, Johnson, Rodriguez, Fuld) - 2.5
2. Red Sox (Ross, Carp, Ciriaco, Nava)- 1.9
3. Blue Jays (Blanco, Bonifacio, DeRosa, Davis) - 1.8
4. Yankees (Stewart, Rivera, Nunez, Boesch) - 1.5
5. Orioles (Teagarden, Canzler, Flaherty, McLouth) 1.1

My observations here is that possibly Bonifacio's playing time was under-projected, and that I would have assumed Teagarden had more value. On the other hand, the Rays get perhaps a bit more credit here than they otherwise would because of the assumption that Johnson will gain some noticeable at-bats in the period while the Rays wait on the clock to tick on Will Myers. The Rays do use their bench morethan any of their rivals here though.

Totals so far, offense only:

1. Rays - 25.7
2. Blue Jays - 25.0
3. Yankees - 22.0
4. Red Sox - 21.6
5. Orioles - 19.6

Am I the only one here who thinks the undervaluing of Bautista, Reyes, and possibly Cabrera - to say nothing of the potential progress of Lawrie and/or Rasmus - ought to be more than sufficient to account for 0.7 WAR? I am biased of course but I don't see anything close to a similar undervaluing of the Rays hitters, and in fact I might contend that both Zobrist and Jennings are a bit high.

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On to the pitching...

#1 Starter

1. CC Sabathia - 5.2
2. David Price - 4.8
3. Jon Lester - 3.9
4. Jason Hammel - 3.2
5. RA Dickey - 3.1

SERIOUSLY? The models make Dickey out as a slightly worse bet than Jason HAMMEL? You're kidding me, right? The author notes that dickey seems to be undervalued and encourages an upgrade in yur mental adjustments. No s***. Add one full WAR here, on my authority.

#2 Starter

1. Hiroki Kuroda - 3.1
2. Ryan Dempster - 2.9
3. Brandon Morrow - 2.5
4. Wie-Yen Chen - 2.0
5. Jeremy Hellickson - 1.4

Again...huh? Hands up everyone in baseball who'd rather have Ryan Dempster in 2013 as Brandon Morrow? anyone/ Anyone at all? Buhller? also, by the way, I'll take Hellickson over Chen, and I'm not a huge Hellickson fan.

#3 Starter

1. Andy Petitte - 3.3
2. Matt Moore - 2.7
3. Mark Buehrle - 2.3
4. Clay Buchholtz - 2.3
5. Chris Tillman - 1.6

Sensing a pattern? FORTY year old Andy Petitte is a full win better than Mark Buehrle? while throwing (projected) 40 fewer innings?The seven years younger Beuhrle has had exactly two season in his career under 3.3 - I'd also project Moore to best Petitte and, if healthy (a big if) Buchholtz as well. Petitte's numbers did pro-rate to 3.4 last year over a similar number of innings, but we're to accept that the models saw no age-related decline? He only put up 2.1 in his last year before "retirement."
 
#4 Starter
1. Josh Johnson - 2.9
2. Alex Cobb - 2.4
3. Ivan Nova - 2.1
4. John Lackey - 1.7
5.  Miguel Gonzalez - 1.4

Pop quiz - Josh Johnson or Ivan Nova? if you even paused to consider Nova, go away - you don't know what a baseball looks like. Johnson, in far from classic form for a significant portion of 2012, still put up 0.9 more than this.

#5 Starter

1. Feliz Doubront - 2.1
2. Rickey Romero* - 1.6
3. Phil Hughes -1.3
4. Jake Arrieta - 1.3
5. Jeff Neimann - 1.0

Obviously, you have to adjust for the Romero situation here, but he's only projected for 137 IP in this model so it seems as if that's been done already.

Other projected starters in total

1. Yankees - 1.5
2. Red Sox - 1.1
3. Orioles - 1.1
4. Jays - 0.9
5. Rays - 0.9

Sigh. Not going to sweat half a win.

 Totals for rotations: 

1. Yankees - 16.3
2. Red Sox - 14.0
3. Jays - 13.3
4. Rays - 13.2
5. Orioles - 10.6

Highly disputable in my view. I could argue that any or all of four different Jays starters are projected at least 1.0 too low. Two of them workhorse guys for whom injuries are not an issue. The writer points out that a lot of Tampa's run preventions success comes from excellent fielding results, which is why they appear to be somewhat undervalued and mentally I adjust their totals accordingly. Petitte is as much as a full win too high. In reality, I'd suggest all of the top four fall somewhere between 14 and 15 total.

Closer

1. Rivera - 1.4
2. Santos - 1.4
3. Hanarahan - 1.0
4. Rodney - 1.0
5. Johnson - 0.9

Yes, Janssen is ostensibly the closer but since they are so tightly bunched, i decided to use the guy with the higher projection here. Let's also pause to note here that WAR, as a rule, doesn't much care for relievers in general.

Set-up

1. Yankees (Robertson/Logan) - 2.2
2. Red Sox (Bailey/Uehara) - 2.1
3. Blue Jays (Janssen/Oliver) - 2.0
4. Rays (Peralta/McGee) - 1.5
5.  Orioles (Stroup/O'Day) - 1.2


Not much to complain about here, other than perhaps wondering whether Bailey is ready to give 65 innings this year.

Other relievers

1. Yankees - 0.7
2. Blue Jays - 0.7
3. Red Sox - 0.5
4. Rays - 0.4
5. Orioles - 0.4

You should have expected something like this - it's usually inconsequential who the "other relievers" are unless they are horribly bad.

Bullpen totals

1. Yankees- 4.3
2. Blue Jays - 4.1
3. Red Sox - 3.6
4. Rays - 2.9
5. Orioles - 2.5

Pitching staff totals

1. Yankees - 20.6
2. Red Sox - 17.6
3. Blue Jays - 17.3
4. Rays - 16.1
5. Orioles - 13.1

Obviously based on my previous remarks you know I question this. off the Cuff I'd make it more like

Jays - 20.3
Yanks - 20.1
Red Sox - 17.6
Rays - 17.6

But...I'll lay that aside and go with the opinion of the cold numbers and the objective evaluators of those numbers. So with that said, here's the overall WAR totals:

1. Yankees - 42.6
2. Blue Jays - 42.3
3. Rays - 41.8
4. Red Sox - 39.2
5. Orioles - 32.7

So if you've been makingthe AL East a 3-way dead heat, well, the projections agree.  You'll forgive me if I assert that a reasonable intuition regarding the numbers presented here make the Rays and Yanks virtually even and the Blue Jays 2-4 games better.

If we assume, just for ease of discussion, that replacement level is a team that would win 50 games (I know, it's not that simple and I may have that total wrong - so sue me) then this would produce standings like this:

Yankees: 93-69
Blue Jays 92-70
Rays 92-70
Red Sox 89-73
Orioles: 83-79

I'm not going to take time to work out whether that would even be realistically possible given the intra-division schedule - but just adjusting it for my own views (i.e. that Reyes, Bautista, Morrow, Dickey, Buehrle, Johnson and maybe Cabrera are a full win short - and giving them credit for only half that much...and docking the Yanks for Petitte and too much optimism re Tex and Granderson...and bumping the Rays for the defense notation regarding their run-prevention ability....

Blue Jays: 95-67
Rays: 93-69
Yankees: 91-71
Red Sox: 89-73
Orioles: 83-79

But that's 31 wins more than the division accumulated last year., 16 more than their best year in the
last five....so....I'll do a little intuitive adjustment to get my final prediction

Blue Jays: 94 - 68
Rays: 89-72
Yankees: 87-75
Red Sox: 84-78
Orioles: 79-83

I'll go with Detroit to win the AL Central (shocker I know) and Texas to re-bound slightly (and benefit from Oakland coming back to earth a bit) and win the AL West. Just for fun I'll call the angels the other Wild Card. Jays\ and Rangers in the ALCS. I'll go with the Nats to represent the NL.

 

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