Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
June 09, 2004
BASEBALL: 2004 NL Central Established Win Shares Report
Finally, at long last, I've completed my division-by-division walk around the major leagues by Established Win Shares Levels with the biggest division, the NL Central. Some time in the next week or so, I'll have to go back and pull together an overall summary of the results for all six divisions. To review, you can go back over my previous efforts:
A few recurring notes on the method: Recall that the projected win totals below are probably a bit on the low side, in part because I only list 23 players, and that these aren't really projections at all, so much as estimates of how much established major league talent is on each roster. Also, as before, I've indicated the players who are ranked only on 2002-03 with a #, players ranked only on 2003 with a *, and rookies with a +. For rookie non-pitchers with everyday jobs, I've arbitrarily pencilled in 10 Win Shares , 5 WS for rookie pitchers with rotation slots, 3 for bench players and 2 for relievers.
Adjusted EWSL: 276.0 (92 wins)
I tried as much as possible to stick to the pre-season rosters; there's actually been relatively few dramatic changes in who each NL Central team plans to play at each position, if only they can get healthy. EWSL concurs with the general preseason consensus that the Cubs had the most loaded roster in the National League, although the reasons for their underachievement thus far this season are fairly obvious, primarily the rash of pitching injuries. EWSL does tend to overvalue teams that have guys on the bench who played regularly recently, and that's true here with Walker and Grudzielanek, although both would have played significant roles this season if Grudzielanek wasn't ailing.
St. Louis Cardinals
Adjusted EWSL: 257.0 (86 wins)
The preseason favorite for the wild card, by EWSL calculations. That infield is just scary, even with Womack: a collective EWSL of 94, and 36 thus far this season through June 3, a pace for 110 even with Renteria playing poorly. In the Ken Boyer comment in the New Historical Abstract, Bill James notes that the record for Win Shares by one infield is 119 (the 1914 A's), and just 41 teams all time with 95 or more. That's pretty good company.
You can see here that pitching is what separates the Cubs from the Cards and to a lesser extent the Astros; St. Louis' staff starts out with what should be the middle of the rotation and goes downhill rapidly from there.
Even without casting any aspersions, the Cards have to lead the league in guys who seem like they ought to be older than they are. Izzy and Tavarez are only 31? Pujols, 24? Cedeno, 29?
Adjusted EWSL: 253.1 (84 wins)
I gave the Astros a bit of the benefit of the doubt on some of the judgment calls for what years to count (Everett, Ensberg). To an even greater extent than the Cubs and Cards, the Astros' big issues are age and injuries.
Adjusted EWSL: 139.7 (47 wins)
Hoo boy, is there a dropoff here - granted, AL teams get a slight advantage from the DH (sort of), but EWSL rates the Brewers, Reds and Pirates as the three weakest teams in the Major Leagues entering 2004. Let's remind ourselves what that means: the least proven major league talent on the roster. In Milwaukee's case, improvement has come partly from guys who had not had a full major league opportunity before (principally Lyle Overbay), and partly from young players finally pulling it all together (Ben Sheets, Doug Davis). But I'm not that optimistic on this team finishing close to .500, since I don't see Overbay hitting 70 doubles and I really don't see who will step up when Overbay and possibly Sheets and Davis start to cool off.
Adjusted EWSL: 134.5 (45 wins)
Nothing like making pre-season predictions, as it were, in June to make you look stupid. The Reds depend heavily on people who just haven't gotten the job done in recent years, but things have gone extraordinarily well so far (other than Kearns batting .195) to give them the division lead. Of course, if you seriously think these guys are going to win this division, take three Reds pitchers and call me in the morning.
Sean Casey continues to follow the John Olerud career path with a huge breakout season after several years of imitating the performance that got Olerud, at the same age, traded for Robert Person. I've been particularly surprised by Paul "Mr. February" Wilson, who's perfected his pinpoint control, although I'll believe Wilson holding up for a full season in the rotation when I see it.
Adjusted EWSL: 123.9 (41 wins)
EWSL is a bit unfair to the Bucs - really, Tike Redman looked a lot better than a 2 Win Share player in limited action last season, but he'd played enough in past seasons and he's far enough into his twenties that I couldn't pretend those years didn't happen. Benson is also a guy giving some upside on his return from injury, and Oliver Perez is looking like a guy ready to join the NL's elite starters (although he is young yet, and could wear down). The good news is that neither they nor the Brewers are wasting their time with old guys anymore. Verdict: the Pirates should be better than the win total above, but don't expect them to come roaring back from their current slump.