Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
January 27, 2004
BASEBALL: AL West Established Win Shares Report
In this post, I introduced Established Win Shares Levels, a combination of two Bill James stats, to rank the top players in baseball based on a weighted average of their accomplishments for the last three years. But EWSLs have another use: you can add up the totals on a team's roster to get a fix on how much talent (or at least, how much established major league talent) a team has, and thus an early read on comparing the strength of teams as they enter the season. Lots of cautions apply here, as you'll see as I walk through my method; this is more art than science, although I do try to make my methods as transparent as I can for purposes of allowing people to analyze and critique them.
I'm starting with the AL West, which is the smallest division, and in theory at least I'd like to find the time to get through all six (we shall see; I reserve the right to switch to doing 1 team at a time if it's easier to swallow). Here are the basics of the method:
*23 players from each team, 9 starters, 4 bench players (8 and 5 for NL teams), 10 pitchers.
*For players who only played one or two years, I used those years if the player was playing regularly in the minors or overseas the other year (except veterans who had been sent back to the minors due to poor play). This was a judgment call, but let's face it: it doesn't make sense to project Hideki Matsui by slicing his 2003 numbers in half. I didn't adjust for guys like Gil Meche who missed two years with injuries. I've indicated the players who got 2-year credit with a # and 1-year credit with a *, so you can back out the numbers if you like.
*For rookie non-pitchers with everyday jobs, I've arbitrarily pencilled in 10 Win Shares (indicated with +), which may sound optimistic, but 10 WS for an everyday player is pretty poor, and it helps counteract the bias in the system towards established veteran talent. I'll use 7 WS for rookie pitchers with rotation slots, 3 for bench players and 2 for relievers.
*I'm listing each team's unadjusted and adjusted numbers, to show the effects of the two adjustments listed above.
*I fiddled with having an age adjustment, but it got too complicated and arbitrary. Instead, I'm listing side-by-side each team's weighted average 2004 age (weighted by adjusted EWSLs). This takes studies like Avkash's recent look at average age by playing time to the next level, focusing on which teams' talent is aging (after all, if you're the Giants, it's Barry Bonds' age that matters most).
*I used WS figures from the new Bill James Handbook, so there could be slight discrepancies with online WS numbers, including the ones I used for my earlier EWSL post.
*Team EWSL totals, adjusted and unadjusted, are done from the un-rounded numbers, but I report the rounded-off totals by individual player. Don't be thrown by the fact that the "best" team in the AL West comes in at 93 wins; the way the system is structured and the fact that I'm limiting myself to 23 men per roster means we'll come in a bit below enough wins to bring the whole league home at .500.
Without further ado, in declining order of Adjusted EWSL, your American League West:
Adjusted EWSL: 279.3 (93 wins)
Immediately, you see the problem with the method: the Mariners are stuffed to the gills with established players, but they are nearly all aging players, as the team's weighted average age of nearly 33 tells you; there's nearly nobody here with an upside outside of the setup men. On paper, before you take their age into account, I can see the M's as favorites. After you consider the age factor, though, I'd have to go with:
Adjusted EWSL: 273.5 (91 wins)
This is a strong team; you can see the additions of Guerrero and Colon bringing them to the lead. I may have overvalued DaVanon by rating him on 2003 alone, but he'd never gotten a shot at the major league level before.
UPDATE: Due to a typo, I'd listed the wrong tenth pitcher. This didn't affect the team calculations. It's fixed now.
Adjusted EWSL: 257.7 (86 wins)
At first glance it seems surprising to see the A's this far back, but then we all know they've been hemmorhaging talent, and it's no surprise that Billy Beane has invested in a lot of guys like Kielty and Byrnes who haven't really gotten a full season of at bats, or injury risks like Dye. That's who comes on the cheap. You can see how dependent the A's are on their Big Three, which will be more apparent still if Mulder hasn't made a full recovery by the spring. As usual, of course, don't bet against Beane improving this roster in mid-season.
Adjusted EWSL: 176.3 (59 wins)
Ugh. Can you say, "long summer in Texas"? I know, I know, the Rangers are at the opposite end of the methodological pole from the Mariners: lots of guys with upside, some of it (Blalock and Teixera) all but certain, and the team age is a lot younger than it looks, since the young guys are so lacking in established credentials that people like Eric Young and Brian Jordan (neither of whom I'd even noticed signing with the Rangers) skew the average. But any way you slice it, the point here is that an awful lot of things that haven't happened in the past have to happen just for the Rangers to be in the same area code as the other three teams in their division.