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March 5, 2009

Prospectus Hit and Run

Outside Help, AL West

by Jay Jaffe

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The AL West was the American League's weakest division last year, finishing with a .487 winning percentage and a .475 Hit List Factor. The Angels won an MLB-best 100 games, but they were the only team in the division to finish above .500, and they reached the century mark only by setting a record by outdoing their third-order Pythagenpat projection by a whopping 16 wins. All told, the division's HLF was just a single point ahead of the basement-dwelling NL West's mark, and the 12th-lowest of the Wild Card Era.

As with much of baseball beyond the East Coast, it's been a relatively quiet offseason in the AL West when it comes to flashing the cash around. The four teams have spent an average of $13.7 million on free-agent contracts, a bit ahead of the AL Central's mark ($12.4 million), and with the dollar amount of Oakland's Nomar Garciaparra deal still pending. But beneath the surface, a handful of trades have shown that these teams aren't standing still this winter, and PECOTA now foresees a typically tight division race between the two teams that have dominated the division during this millennium.

As we move the Outside Help series on to the AL, we've got a revised set of PECOTA projections to deal with. Some of the player values won't reconcile directly with the ones from the NL series, though perhaps I can ply a willing intern into getting some final numbers once the series is complete. Teams are listed in order of their 2008 finish; for each hitter, WARP and EqA are listed, while for each pitcher, the figures are WARP and EqERA.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

IN: OF Bobby Abreu (3.2, .294), RP Brian Fuentes (3.1, 3.52), RP Matt Palmer (0.6, 5.74)
OUT: LF Garret Anderson (1.3, .260), SP Jon Garland (2.3, 4.85), SP Nick Green (0.2, 6.12), RP Darren O'Day (1.2, 4.23), RP Francisco Rodriguez (5.7, 3.02), 1B Mark Teixeira (5.1, .308)
NET: -8.9 WARP

The Angels are a most interesting paradox during this winter of discontent. They're a perennially successful big-market club coming off of their fourth division title in five years, a 100-win season in which they had the sixth-highest payroll (according to both Opening Day and final reckonings). Among AL clubs, only the Yankees have outspent them in the free-agent market this winter.

Then again, that was by a mere $400 million or so, which helps to explain why the Angels have taken such a hit in the talent department. They were outbid on Teixeira, who ranked as the most valuable hitter on the market according to PECOTA and who came away with the winter's biggest contract ($180 million), and they decided not to spend that savings elsewhere. They've replaced Teixeira with the inadequate Kendry Morales, the latest in a long line of highly touted infield prospects who haven't really lived up to their hype (Casey Kotchman, Dallas McPherson, Brandon Wood, Erick Aybar, Howie Kendrick); the system says Morales will be worth 0.2 wins below replacement level. They let Rodriguez depart after he set the single-season saves record, and while they struck a reasonable deal for a replacement in Fuentes at less than half the total price tag, the latter doesn't have quite as strong a track record or a forecast. A perennial bullpen powerhouse-with the top four team WXRL finishes in six of the past seven years-they could have chosen to fill from within with Scot Shields or Jose Arredondo, but instead they spent for Fuentes, while letting Garland walk and banking they could replace him with surgically repaired Kelvim Escobar, bruised prospect Nick Adenhart, and Grade D staff filler Dustin Moseley. They made a solid upgrade by replacing Anderson with Abreu, but that was only after re-signing Juan Rivera to a three-year, $12.75 million deal at a time when they've got outfielders coming out of their ears, somewhat neutralizing that gain. All in all, it's a mix of defensible decisions and odd lapses, one that winds up being less than the sum of its parts, unless some of the youngsters on hand live up to their billing.

Texas Rangers

N: SP Kris Benson (0.4, 5.86), SP Casey Daigle (0.6, 5.28), RP Brendan Donnelly (0.6, 4.51), CF Gregory Golson (1.3, .239), RP Eddie Guardado (0.8, 4.5), CF Andruw Jones (1.1, .261), C Adam Melhuse (-0.3, .182), SP Guillermo Moscoso (1.1, 5.27), SP Elizardo Ramirez (0.1, 6.17), RP Derrick Turnbow (0.1, 5.78), SS Omar Vizquel (-0.1, .199)
OUT: RF Milton Bradley (3.9, .311), SP Kameron Loe (1.1, 5.01), OF John Mayberry Jr. (0.4, .235), C Gerald Laird (1.8, .249), RP Wes Littleton (1.2, 4.37), INF Ramon Vazquez (0.9, .26), RP Jamey Wright (1.0, 4.87)
NET: -4.6 WARP

The Rangers are one of two teams who eschewed the free-agent market almost entirely this winter except for minor league deals (the Blue Jays are the other), though it wasn't for lack of trying. An apparent deal with Ben Sheets was scuttled when an MRI confirmed his torn flexor tendon, but that was probably for the best as far as the Rangers are concerned. PECOTA's grim assessment shows them declining from 79 to 73 wins, with a pitching staff lacking a single starter projected to put up an ERA below 5.00; closer Frank Francisco is the only pitcher on the depth chart with an ERA below 4.00. Barring a Steinbrenner-sized outlay on pitching-and perhaps a giant fan in center field selectively employed to blow gusts of cool air against opponents' fly balls-nothing was going to move the needle very much.

Not helping matters is the fact that the offense is forecast to feature OBPs of .335 or below in seven of the nine spots, which simply doesn't cut it in the Rangers' high-offense ballpark. Bumping Hank Blalock to DH from third base in favor of a declining Michael Young, all to make way for the tandem of 20-year-old Elvis Andrus (0.7 WARP, .230 EqA) and the 42-year-old Vizquel-the raw and the cooked-creates subpar offense at three positions in one fell swoop, which is a pretty neat trick as player resource management goes. Still, given the presence of six players on our Top 100 Prospects list, it's clear that better days lie ahead for the Rangers. Clearing out dead wood like Laird to let the youthful catchers (Taylor Teagarden, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and Max Ramirez) have their day, and avoiding messy entanglements-such as the one in which Milton Bradley became somebody else's problem-is in their best interest. As one former Rangers owner liked to say, "Mission accomplished."

Oakland A's

IN: SS Orlando Cabrera (1.7, .252), RP Kevin Cameron (0.6, 4.81), 4C Joe Dillon (0.6, .242), 1B Nomar Garciaparra (0.7, .263), 1B Jason Giambi (1.4, .285), RP Edgar Gonzalez (1.0, 4.78), LF Matt Holliday (4.3, .305), RP Chris Schroder (0.8, 4.74, RP Russ Springer (1.4, 3.76), RP Michael Wuertz (1.0, 4.25)
OUT: RP Andrew Brown (0.9, 4.54), OF Emil Brown (0.5, .254), RP Alan Embree (0.7, 4.88), RP Keith Foulke (0.5, 4.38), OF Carlos Gonzalez (1.2, .249), INF Donnie Murphy (0.6, .244), OF Matt Murton (0.9, .255), SP Kirk Saarloos (0.5, 5.68), SP Greg Smith (2.0, 4.88), RP Huston Street (2.2, 3.68), DH Frank Thomas (0.1, .259)
NET: +3.4 WARP

Don't let it be said that Billy Beane hasn't earned his keep during the latest Hot Stove season. In a bleak economic landscape, even as his team's stadium deal crumbled, Beane significantly closed the gap on the Angels and-spoiler alert-wound up as the only AL West team to emerge with a net talent gain. The A's traded some considerably overvalued assets in Street, Smith, and Gonzalez to Colorado for Holliday, a pending free agent whom PECOTA projects to be around the 30th most valuable hitter in baseball in 2009. They brought back Giambi, creating an interesting three-position logjam that the team could parlay into a longer-term gain if they choose to buy more development time for the still-not-ready Daric Barton. They added Cabrera at a significant discount this week, and while the upgrade over Bobby Crosby (1.0 WARP, .243 EqA) isn't huge on paper, the latter has become one of the most thorough disappointments in baseball over the life of his five-year, $12.75 million deal; other than crushing the A's dreams, he's failed to demonstrate aptitude at anything since a productive half-season in 2005. They added some potentially useful middle relief in Springer and Wuertz, and unlike the Angels, avoided buying a closer off the rack. The initial PECOTA projections had the A's ahead of the Angels, and while moves since then have pulled the Halos back ahead, the three-win gap is hardly insurmountable.

Seattle Mariners

IN: RP David Aardsma (1.0, 4.29), 4C Russell Branyan (1.9, .289), 1B Mike Carp (1.2, .262), MI Ronny Cedeno (0.7, .241), OF Endy Chavez (0.8, .249), OF Ken Griffey Jr. (1.1, .272), CF Franklin Gutierrez (1.4, .263), RP Tyler Johnson (0.2, 5.64), SP Garret Olson (1.0, 5.32), RP Luis Pena (-0.2, 6.6), 1B Chris Shelton (-0.3, .238), DH Mike Sweeney (-0.1, .248), RP Jason Vargas (0.5, 4.98), RP Tyler Walker (0.5, 5.08)
OUT: UT Willie Bloomquist (0.1, .234), INF Miguel Cairo (0.1, .238), SP R.A. Dickey (0.7, 5.53), RP Sean Green (1.4, 4.25), INF Tug Hulett (0.9, .249), LF Raul Ibanez (2.2, .285), RP J.J. Putz (3.3, 2.89), OF Jeremy Reed (1.0, .265), 2B Luis Valbuena (1.4, .242)
NET: -1.4 WARP

New GM Jack Zduriencik has been a busy man this winter, and well he should have been, given that last year's Mariners bore the dubious honor of becoming the first 100/100 team in major league history-100 losses with a $100 million payroll. Some GMs might have taken that as a license to spend, spend, spend, but the Mariners have been extremely conservative in the free-agent market, laying out a mere $3.4 million in guaranteed free-agent money for one-year deals with Branyan and Junior Griffey. Where Zduriencik has been busy is in the trade market, striking two major deals. The first was a three-way affair in which the M's shed their increasingly pricey closer-a luxury lost on a 100-loss team-and some other minor goodies for a very mixed bag of assorted parts, including a potential center-field solution in Gutierrez and Chavez, and the outbound player in the second deal, Aaron Heilman (1.3 WARP, 4.54 EqERA). Trading Heilman netted them Cedeņo, an infielder who might end Yuniesky Betancourt's reign of error, and Olson, another hurler in an already-crowded rotation, but one whose development could push the team to trade a more expensive starter somewhere down the road. It still doesn't add up to anything close to a contender, and it isn't even obvious that they'll come out ahead on either deal, but PECOTA has them pegged for just 72 wins at this writing, so as an effort to stop some of the hemorrhaging, it's a solid start.

All in all, the West is one division where the winter's player-acquisition activity has produced a real race for first place as far as PECOTA is concerned. Whether that comes to fruition remains to be seen, and it's particularly important to note that the Angels still have a Teixeira-sized chunk of change in their pockets to spend on an in-season upgrade if needed, while the A's may have a player or two to spin off in a deal to be named later.

Jay Jaffe is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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I know you can look this up on the depth charts, but it might be helpful to include outgoing players' replacements under the "IN" category. This will avoid the fact that 80% of teams so far have had net negative WARP, which is neither intuitive nor accurate.

Mar 05, 2009 10:42 AM
rating: 1
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Your Pecota projections are biased against the Angels. Consider the following:

DH Role: Vladdy will be DHing about 15% of the time. Either Juan Rivera or Bobby Abreu will fill the majority of the DH time -50%. Either Rivera or Abreu will fill another 15% - whoever is the regular LF. That leaves another 20%, which another 15% is going to Mike Napoli. Last I checked, BP has GMJ in a significant role as DH - not going to happen unless there is an injury. This comes from the Angels website and local newspapers. GMJ is "along for the ride;" he permanently buried himself in the doghouse through his excessive pouting last year. Management will trade or dump him by the end of spring training.

Angel prospects: BP doesn't give a single - not a single - prospect the time of day. Aside from Aybar, Mathis, and Kendrick, the other prospects haven't been given the consistent playing time needed to "punch" through. They are about to get that chance. Odds are at least one will step up and shine. In addition, not one word has been spoken about the numerous adjustments made by players, management, or players and management. I attribute this to the east coast location of BP.

Don't misinterpret this as bashing, I love BP for its clarity and freshness in its reporting. With that said, I still maintain that there is a certain disconnect between BP and the west coast. Especially with what is currently going on with certain teams. The Angels will again win the division - barring injury - and they will do it with plus 90 wins.

Mar 05, 2009 14:59 PM
rating: -6
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

Re: the playing time issues, I suggest you input them into the comments section on their depth charts page so Clay can consider that input against his own sources. Adjustments are made on a daily basis.

Re: prospects, not sure I understand your complaint. I listed six of them from recent memory, and you agree that only two of those have gotten enough playing time thus far (Kendrick, Aybar). They haven't exactly turned into All-Stars. Kotchman got over 1000 PA with the Angels and was decidedly mediocre. Injuries got the better of McPherson both in Anaheim and beyond and he's never amounted to much, though personally I continue to hope he breaks through. The jury is still out on Wood and Morales, but what we've seen at the major league level has been decidedly awful, and they've worked their way into the suspects pile rather than the prospects pile. I'm not sure what adjustments you're talking about -- these prospects adjusting to the major league level? Well, let's see them do that so we can apply credit where credit is due. Same goes for Mathis, Adenhart, et al.

Oh, and see tomorrow's article (Friday) for some Mike Napoli love. Promise.

As for the West Coast disconnect, I disagree wholeheartedly. Joe Sheehan spent a good amount of time living in the LA area, and follows the Angels quite closely giving them consistent coverage year in and year out. Christina Kahrl is an A's fan from waaaay back and follows the AL West as closely as any other division, if not moreso. Will Carroll certainly stays busy writing about the myriad injuries of all those injury-prone middle infielders, to say nothing of the Lackeys and Escobars. I've written about the Angels, and favorably so, several times over the past four or five years on the Hit List, Hit and Run, and various postseason preview pieces as well as the 2006 annual essay. Beyond that, I follow the NL West even more closely than I do any other division because I grew up a Dodger fan, and because the Extra Innings package makes it easy to stay close if you're able to stay up late, which I am. We may not get to show up at Angel Stadium very often, but we do our best to stay on top of all 30 teams.

Mar 05, 2009 18:21 PM

Jay: Your thoughtful, civilized replies to readership (along with those of your colleagues...) are one of the pleasures of reading BP each day. Thanks.

Mar 06, 2009 05:52 AM
rating: 3
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

Thanks for the kind words. That means a lot. There are occasional days I write something -- particularly on a controversial topic -- and curse the fact that we ever bothered introduced the comments feature, but the back-and-forth with readers is by and large a fun and worthwhile undertaking so long as the civility is maintained on both sides.

Mar 06, 2009 10:58 AM

I think it's more than a little sour grapes to claim "East Coast Bias" when PECOTA pegs your team for a low win total. PECOTA has no bias - that's the point.

Mar 06, 2009 00:51 AM
rating: 3

As a person who works with scientific modeling on a regular basis (PECOTA is a model after all), I wanted to point out that one of the axioms in the world of modeling is that your model is only as good as your inputs. That was my point with the inaccurate info regarding who is DHing for the Angels - this has an effect on the model outputs. Plus, "bias" is not necessarily created intentionally. My observation is that BP seems to be a little behind the news curve for the west coast vs. the east coast and this creates the "bias" - intentional or not. I also made it a point to say that I wasn't "bashing;" I believe that BP is solid, and I enjoy the site very much. My intent was constructive criticism - not to bash Jay or BP.

Mar 06, 2009 13:20 PM
rating: 0

Everyone knows that the only bias that Pecota has is against the Rangers. (J/K).....

Seriously, The Rangers move of Blalock to DH, Young to third, and Andrus to SS may indeed create subpar offense at three positions (or not if Blalock stays healthy and hits like he did last year, and Young rebounds from a down last year). But the key is that it will improve the defense at two positions. Young may be a fabulous Defender at short (and I think he is), but Andrus is supposed to be better. I know what the errors say, but the scouts and coaches and everyone else is saying that Elvis Andrus is a special player on defense. Even if he hits like Ray Oyler, infield defense will help the pitching staff.

Mar 06, 2009 09:18 AM
rating: 0
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

While I'm sure the Oyler comparison was an offhand one, it doesn't hold water. Including defense (28 FRAA) and our new replacement level (NOCY - not on cards yet), Oyler was worth 0.2 WARP3 over a career of some 1400 PA, with a high-water mark of 1.9 WARP3 in 1967.

Meanwhile, the pitching staffs he served behind finished 7th, 9th, 6th, and 3rd in ERA ranking in a 10-team league from 1965-1968, the years in which he was a regular or semi-regular for the Tigers, and then 12th out of 12 teams with the Pilots in 1969. Those teams similarly failed to make much of a splash in Defensive Efficiency except in 1967, when the Tigers were in that great four-way race (4th in the league in DE) adn 1968, when they won the pennant (3rd). So I'm gonna say that it's a stretch.

I do think there's something to adding an excellent glove at shortstop to help a young pitching staff advance, and I would imagine Andrus can be the next Cesar Izturis or whomever in due time, but I think at this point he's just not ready offensively, and with the Rangers bound for Nowhere, it would be better to give him a season in Triple-A.

Mar 06, 2009 10:56 AM

There's also the argument that since the "Rangers are going nowhere,", why not let Elvis come up this year and get experience? That way, the Rangers have had their championship-caliber infield together for a whole year when they compete in 2010.

Mar 22, 2009 09:10 AM
rating: 0
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