Two on Two: 2008 AL West Preview
By Rich Lederer and Patrick Sullivan

This week's edition of the annual Two on Two series focuses on the American League West. We were thrilled with the way last week's discussion on the NL West went, and we think we have assembled a similarly excellent ensemble for readers this week.

David Cameron of one of the very finest team blogs out there, USS Mariner, joins us. So too does Sean Smith of "Anaheim Angels all the way". David and Sean are two of the brightest baseball analysts writing regularly on the web.

Sully: Rich, you're in Southern California, a west coast guy, I want to start with you. What are some immediate thoughts that come to mind when you think of the AL West in 2008?

Rich: Although it's difficult to try and compare a division with four teams to another with six, the AL West isn't much stronger than the NL Central. I like the Angels and Seattle ain't half bad but Oakland is in the process of rebuilding and Texas is – what do you call it when a team has had just one winning record in the past eight seasons? – well . . . Texas. Long gone are the years in which the AL West sent two teams to the playoffs like in 2000-2002. While the Angels appear to have the clearest path to the postseason of any AL club, there is zero chance that the Wild Card will come from this division this year.

Dave: I see where Rich is coming from here. The AL West, at first glance, might look a little boring for 2008. Texas is rebuilding, Oakland is selling off talent, and the Mariners are banking on their starting pitching to help them chase down the Angels. For most people, they'll just decide whether they think Eric Bedard and Carlos Silva are enough to put the M's over the top, and if not, they'll default to LAA as the choice for the division.

However, I think that overlooks a lot of variables. Texas has quietly put together a potentially terrific offense with a lot of young talent, and despite the sell-off, Oakland's still got a quality club capable of putting together a good streak of wins. While I'm not disagreeing that the Angels are the presumptive favorites, I will say that I think there are a lot more possible outcomes in this race than just the Mariners and Angels fighting to the death in September.

Sean: The Angels look far stronger than everyone else in this division. Last year they were the favorites, but this year they will be expected not just to win, but to run away with the division.

Sully: I agree, Sean. I want to go against the grain here but no matter how much I squint, the Angels still come out on top. What excites me about following this division in 2008 is the intriguing young talent coming of age in it.

Sean: Well that's just it, if we're not expecting a close race, the excitement comes from seeing which young players can establish themselves as major leaguers. This time next year, we should know if Brandon Wood and/or Erick Aybar are capable major league shortstops. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, will he become a run producer? Will his defense be acceptable at catcher? If yes to either one, he'll be a useful player, but if the answer is yes to both, he'll be a superstar. The A's are unsettled in the outfield, in the pitching rotation, and will start rookie Daric Barton at first. Only the Mariners seem to rely almost exclusively on veterans, though Wladimir Balentien may take some playing time away from Brad Wilkerson or Raul Ibanez in the outfield.

Sully: The most decisive strength on the best team in the division is the pitching of the Angels. Los Angeles had a 108 ERA+ in 2007, a fine figure before taking into account specific circumstances. When you take the 250 innings of 5.99 ERA pitching that Bartolo Colon and Ervin Santana contributed, you really start to get a good sense for how strong this Angels pitching staff is.

Rich: The Angels have a deep pitching staff, both in the starting rotation and in the bullpen. The depth, aided by the acquisition of Jon Garland this winter, is going to come in handy once again with Kelvim Escobar expected to be out of action until May. John Lackey, a healthy Escobar, and Jered Weaver form a solid 1-2-3. Garland is a dependable, if unspectacular, No. 4, and Ervin Santana and Joe Saunders are certainly capable at the back end of the rotation. There are worse things than turning the ball over to Justin Speier, Scot Shields, and Frankie Rodriguez for the late innings.

Dave: From my perspective, this Angels team has a lot of downside potential on the run prevention side of the ball. Even beyond Escobar's injury, this isn't the dominating pitching staff they've had in recent years. Jon Garland is nearing the end of his usefulness, and while Rich might not want to hear this, Jered Weaver is more innings eater than ace. Importing Torii Hunter and shifting Gary Matthews to a corner outfield spot should keep the defense good enough that it won't cause the pitching staff to implode, but this isn't a team of guys who are going to create extra outs with their gloves either.

The key here will be the performance of Saunders and Santana - both will probably spend a solid amount of time in the rotation, and both are good enough pitchers to solidify the back end should Escobar not get healthy.

Sully: Pretty harsh, Dave. Weaver is a 25 year-old, career 137 ERA+ Major League pitcher. [Dave responded to this and his thoughtful remarks are posted at the bottom of the piece.]

Sean: The Angels' defense is pretty ordinary, but the pitching is outstanding. If only the Halos had Hunter five years ago. He's still a good center fielder, but most observations I've read suggest he's lost a step or two from his peak. This is to be expected with a 32 year-old who plays the most speed intensive position in the field. If Aybar is the starting shortstop I expect to see a lot of errors. In 35 games in the Dominican winter league he made 19 errors.

Sully: The Angels offense was dead average last season, and that was with Garret Anderson going bananas. The addition of Hunter helps but I still don't love this offense. What does everyone else think?

Rich: Hunter's signing will help but this is still a middle-of-the-road offense, one that scored more runs at home than on the road. There are a lot of moving parts here, just in the infield alone. Casey Kotchman was having a breakout season when he suffered a concussion on a thrown ball while diving back to second base in June. Howie Kendrick broke bones in his left hand not once but twice last season and missed more than 70 games. Orlando Cabrera is being replaced at shortstop by either Aybar or Maicer Izturis. Chone Figgins had a career season and will be hard pressed to duplicate it this year. The outfielders will rotate through the DH spot but none of these guys are young or getting better. As usual, the Angels will be dependent on another big season from Big Daddy Vladdy. Put me in charge and I would pitch to him like the count was 0-2 from the moment he stepped into the batter's box.

Dave: For years, if you pitched around Vlad, you could hold the Angels offense down and be okay. This looks to be the year that changes. I see Kendrick and Kotchman both ready for prime time and if that's the case, the team has two impact young bats that can produce runs even when Guerrero's not terrorizing fastballs. I wouldn't be surprised if the Angels sent these three to the All-Star Game, and along with Hunter, Gary Matthews, Mike Napoli, and the role players, the Angels should actually be a threat to win their games with the bats for once.

Sean: The Angels should be able to produce about as many runs as last season. Anderson is unlikely to hit as well as he did in the second half, and Figgins is not going to hit .330 again, but the young trio of Kotchman, Kendrick, and Napoli should improve the team some, even if just by playing more than they did last year. Hunter adds a 25 homer bat to the middle of the order. While he's not the dominant hitter that Mark Teixiera, Adam Dunn, or Miguel Cabrera are (the mythical big bat behind Vlad) he certainly won't hurt.

Rich: A lot was made out of the fact that Arizona scored fewer runs than it allowed last year, but how many folks know that Seattle did the same while going 88-74? It wasn't that the Mariners offense (with an OPS+ of 104) let the club down as so many people tend to think; rather, it was due to the fact that the defense (ERA+ of 91, third-worst in the AL) gave up a lot of runs. Well, the good news for Seattle fans is that this problem has been addressed in a big way by acquiring one of the game's best pitchers in Erik Bedard. A starting rotation of Bedard, Felix Hernandez, and three league-average innings eaters coupled with arguably the most dominant closer in baseball last season gives Seattle a competitive advantage in the pitching department for the first time in five years.

Dave: One of the main themes I've been hammering on our blog for the past couple of years is the contribution of defense in run prevention. In general, people attribute almost all of a pitcher's ERA to his own ability, but I think we realize more and more that there's significant contributions from his teammates involved in his performances. Well, the Mariners seem bound and determined to do the opposite of whatever we preach, and so they've decided to build a team around a starting rotation and put a group that is mediocre-at-best defensively behind them. Yes, Erik Bedard is awesome, and I'm as high on King Felix as I have ever been, but are two terrific arms enough to contend?

Sully: Interesting stuff, Dave. How do you see the lacking defense impacting the M's?

Dave: Both Carlos Silva and Jarrod Washburn are highly dependent on their fielders, and the Mariners are going to run out two of the worst defensive players in baseball (Ibanez in left, Richie Sexson at first) on a daily basis. The organization has spent about $30 million on the back-end of the rotation to try and avoid any more Jeff Weaver / Horacio Ramirez / Joel Pineiro disaster type seasons, but perhaps someone in that front office should consider spending a fraction of that on some better defenders? Don't be surprised if the M's are at a loss to explain the sudden collapse of one of their proven veteran starters; my money's on Washburn.

Sean: Seattle's starting rotation may be the best in the division. I could see Bedard and Hernandez each contending for the Cy Young award. Their defense is poor. Despite good reputations for Ichiro, Adrian Beltre, and Yuniesky Betencourt, the team defensive efficiency was better than only Tampa Bay's among AL teams. It's some combination of those players being not quite as good as their reputations, and Raul Ibanez, Sexson, and Jose Guillen being true liabilities. Wilkerson or Balentien should be improvements on Guillen, though neither is a gold glover. Still, the pitching is good enough, combined with the park, that Seattle will be right there with Anaheim in run prevention.

Sully: I think I see this one just as you and Dave do, Sean. Having two premier strikeout guys at the top will go a long way in masking problems with a particularly defense-dependent back end. All in all, it's probably nothing more than an above-average run prevention unit. As for the offense, I see a considerable step back coming in 2008. As Rich mentioned above, the offense was actually quite good in 2007. I think Ibanez and Ichiro will both regress a bit this season.

Rich: Change out Guillen for Wilkerson in right field and this is basically the same offense as last year. Betancourt and Jose Lopez are the only two players under the age of 29 and both are in the lineup more for their defense than offense. As such, it is difficult to see how the offense will produce more runs in 2008 than in 2007. Oh, I guess Sexson could bounce back a bit and Jeff Clement could be of some help on the margin, but the bottom line is that the team is deficient at drawing walks (last in the majors in 2007 with 389 BB) and hitting home runs, hardly the recipe for scoring runs. These are your guys, Dave. What do you think?

Dave: Watching this team hit, there are times when I wonder if the Mariners purchased this offense at Costco; why buy just one right-handed free-swinger with gap power who can't hit a curveball when you can have four? Jose Guillen's departure takes away some of the repetition of this player type, but it's still hard to find a line-up that has four guys more similar in approach than Beltre, Kenji Johjima, Lopez, and Betancourt. If you can bury a slider in the dirt in the left-handers batters box, odds are you can get these four to get themselves out with very little effort.

Beyond those four, the team is counting on production from Ibanez (36 years old, can't hit lefties, clearly in physical decline), Jose Vidro (33 years old, zero power), Sexson (33 years old, already collapsed), and Wilkerson (31 years old, body of someone three times that age). Intimidated? Not unless you're worried they're going to steal the remote from you to watch Matlock or take your spot at the early bird table at the cafeteria.

And, as the cherry on top, this already questionable line-up is built horribly for Safeco Field, which destroys right-handed power hitters and is quite friendly to lefty flyball hitters with pull power. Ibanez and Wilkerson are good fits for Safeco offensively (defense is another story), but Vidro and Ichiro pound the ball into the ground, nullifying the short fence down the RF line, and the rest of the roster swings from the right side, watching their long fly balls turn into outs in the alley.

I can't help but look at this offense and think that advanced scouts for opposing teams look at writing this team up as something of a vacation. The offense is both simultaneously not good and easy to match up with; Bedard is going to have to be pretty fricking awesome to win 20 games with this bunch providing run support.

Sean: The Mariner offense will struggle in 2008. Last year they had seven regulars play 147 or more games. Their catcher played 135 games. They were lucky to stay as healthy as they did last year, and I would be shocked if they can repeat it. Especially as this is not a young team. As Rich mentioned, their only young regulars, Lopez and Betencourt, are also the team's worst hitters.

Sully: It seems to me that the M's made moves as though they were building off of the foundation of a legitimate 88-win team again in 2008. Add Bedard and Silva and look, "we're a 95-win team." Unfortunately, it does not appear to be that simple for Seattle. Oakland is another team that might struggle but at least they have come to grips with their identity. They are rebuilding. Dan Haren is gone now, so what do we make of Oakland's pitching and defense?

Rich: On the positive side of the ledger, Oakland's pitching staff gave up the fewest home runs (138) in the AL last season. Of course, the A's are helped by playing home games in a big ballpark. The club allowed the fourth most runs on the road, which is probably a better indication of its pitching prowess (or lack thereof). Add in the fact that Haren is no longer with the team and the possibility that Joe Blanton could be traded at some point, and it becomes difficult to comprehend how the situation could improve this year. A healthy season from Rich Harden would certainly help but that likelihood is remote at best.

Dave: While the Mariners seem to have no idea how big of a role defense plays, on the other end of the understanding the importance of defense, we have the Oakland Athletics. Mark Ellis continues to be one of the more underrated players in the game, as he gets very little credit for being a premium defender. Perhaps one of these years, he'll get the recognition he deserves as one of the prime reasons the A's keep shuffling pitchers through their rotation while still preventing runs with the best teams in the league. With Haren off to Arizona and the health of Chad Gaudin, Rich Harden, and Justin Duchscherer all up in the air, Oakland will have to continue to rely on their defense to help keep runs off the board. Don't be surprised if they continue to perform better than expected, and hopefully, one of these days people might give Ellis some of the credit.

Sean: It's very hard to predict how the A's will do this season keeping runs off the board. Joe Blanton is the only starter they can count on. They have a lot of potential starters, and I expect to see a lot of auditions for spots. In past years the A's defense was good enough to make ordinary pitchers look good, but this may not be the case in 2008. The infield defense is still strong, especially Ellis, but the outfield has no true center fielder, and the possibility of Jack Cust playing outfield (to get the bats of Mark Sweeney or Dan Johnson in the lineup) does not bode well for the young pitchers.

Rich: With the additions of Barton, Travis Buck, and Kurt Suzuki, the offense is getting younger. The question is whether it will be better. The A's traded away Nick Swisher, their most productive offensive player, and the left side of the infield is once again struggling with back problems in March. If Cust turns out to be a one-year wonder, Oakland is going to have a difficult time finding a power source this season. The sleeper here is Buck, a first round draft pick out of Arizona State in 2005. As a 23-year-old rookie, the lefthanded-hitting outfielder, who put up a .325/.398/.510 line over three seasons in the minors, hit .316/.407/.538 on the road. He is an All-Star in the making and will anchor this club's offense in the years to come.

Dave: On the offensive side of things, the view isn't quite so pretty. Long gone are the days of the A's sitting around and waiting for the three run homer, because this offense is seriously short on power. Yes, Jack Cust can hit a fastball a long way, Travis Buck has some pop, and Eric Chavez can still pull pitches off of right-handed pitchers, but beyond that, the position players are going to struggle to do much besides slap the ball around and try to draw walks. It's the kind of line-up that pitchers aren't afraid to attack, and with a bottom of the order that could include some combination of Bobby Crosby, Emil Brown, Suzuki, and Chris Denorfia, it's easy to understand why.

Sean: Their offense should be below average. They traded their best player, Nick Swisher. If Barton develops quickly they might be able to maintain the offensive level of the last few seasons, but the chances of that aren't especially good. If Barton struggles and Cust proves a fluke (hard to keep producing like that while striking out over 40% of the time) the offense could be ugly. In any case, it leans strongly to the left. They have 5 hitters who I project to be above league average - Barton, Cust, Buck, Chavez, and Johnson, and all five bat from the left side.

Sully: So it looks like the A's might struggle in 2008. I would have to agree. But the news isn't all bad for A's fans and it sure seems like Billy Beane is comfortable with a down-tick this season. The Swisher and Haren deals both netted them considerable returns and the future figures to get better in Oakland before long. The same goes for the Texas Rangers, whose farm system Baseball America ranks as fourth best in MLB. They are not there yet though, are they?

Rich: Texas doesn't do a very good job at preventing runs. The Rangers had the AL's second-worst road ERA in 2007. Among the six likely starters, only Kason Gabbard (100) had an ERA+ better than 93. Three of them had ERA in the fives and sixes. The bullpen isn't all that great either. Overall, Texas just gives up too many walks (4.1 per game, second to last in the AL) and gets too few strikeouts (6.02/game, dead last), putting way too much pressure on a mediocre defense to save runs.

Dave: Thanks to their ballpark, the Rangers could assemble a veritable all-star rotation and people would still talk about their struggles in finding good pitchers. Between the dimensions and the weather, trying to keep run scoring down in Arlington during the summer is basically impossible. However, I can say with some confidence that the 2008 Rangers have not assembled an all-star rotation. Kevin Millwood is a solid bounce back candidate, and I think Texas could get some positive contributions from back-end starters Jason Jennings and Gabbard, but when Vicente Padilla and Brandon McCarthy are your #2 and #3 starters, well, you're probably not going to make the playoffs.

Sean: What run prevention? They will bring back the same group of pitchers. Last year, only McCarthy (4.87) started at least 10 games and had an ERA under 5. They had one pitcher, Edinson Volquez, who appeared to make progress last season and might have improved the staff, but he was traded to the Reds. Like usual, the Rangers are not going to prevent many runs.

Rich: On a ballpark-adjusted basis, the Rangers had the worst offense in the division last season. The arrival of Milton Bradley and Josh Hamilton, as well as a healthy Hank Blalock, could help the cause this year. However, the team will be without Teixeira for the entire campaign and Saltalamacchia is unlikely to come close in replacing his lost production. Shake it all up and the Texas offense should be about the same or perhaps slightly better if everything goes well in 2008.

Dave: With a pitching staff that is going to require the team to win a lot of 7-6 games, the Rangers offense may actually be up to the task, assuming they can figure out how to keep their best hitters healthy. Bradley and Hamilton are legitimate offensive forces when they step up to the dish, and every other line-up spot is filled with a player with some real offensive talent. Former uberprospect Hank Blalock might actually be the worst hitter in the line-up when Saltalamacchia is behind the plate. Even if Bradley tops out at 400 at-bats, the outfield depth in the organization should keep the holes filled adequately, and this team should easily score the most runs in the division. Even when accounting for their home park, this is probably the best line-up in the American League West.

Sean: They will score quite a few runs, and not just against Baltimore (I'll never forget watching that 30 run outburst). The Rangers will look good offensively thanks to their ballpark. Assuming they stay on the field, Bradley and Hamilton should put up impressive numbers this year, assuming they stay on the field.

Sully I think the big surprise in the West this season is just how bad the Rangers will be. I think they battle injuries and horrendous pitching all year long en route to a sub-70 win season.

Dave: I am going against Sully here. Because Texas doesn't have any marquee names and are assumed to be rebuilding with young players, the national assumptions I have seen have them winning 70-75 games. In reality, I think this team is going to be quite a bit better than that, and it's not hard to envision a scenario where the Rangers put up 82-86 wins. In a division where the top of the division looks relatively weak in comparison to other divisions and the bottom of the division is apparently underrated, there may not be a huge gap between the teams at the end of the season, and while it may appear a major surprise considering the preseason narrative, there's a realistic chance for each team in this division to take the title and sneak into the playoffs.

Sean: My surprise is that Brandon Wood will win the starting shortstop job for the Angels, and most of the talk about him will not be about his power, but about his defense as he proves that he does indeed have the range to stick at the position, and then some.

Rich: I don't see many surprises in the AL West this year, yet I think the division could play a factor in the MVP, Cy Young, and Rookie of the Year awards. I mean, as far as the MVP goes, the voters would eat it up if Hunter hit .300 with 30 HR and 100 RBI while playing a Gold Glove center field for an Angels club that won the division. Given that Hunter has never hit .300 means that probably isn't gonna happen. If it did, I guess that would be my surprise. Otherwise, I would go with Guerrero as the MVP or perhaps Suzuki should the Mariners beat out the Angels. The CYA could go to Lackey, Bedard, or King Felix. Barton would be the favorite to win ROY if it went to a player in the AL West.

Sean: I don't think the MVP will come from the West, but Guerrero is the #1 choice, and Torii Hunter #2. For Cy Young, I'll pick Bedard, Felix Hernandez, and Francisco Rodriguez. Daric Barton for Rookie of the Year.

Dave: The two best position players in the A.L West are Ichiro and Vladimir Guerrero, and you have to start any potential MVP discussion from this divsion with those two players. However, there's a second tier of quality role players who all have some breakout potential and are capable of having an MVP caliber season. Among this group are Casey Kotchman, Howie Kendrick, and Adrian Beltre, while Michael Young and Ian Kinsler could get votes from those who don't adjust for park effects (and, in Young's case, defense).

In terms of Cy Young contenders, you have to look at John Lackey, Kevlim Escobar, Erik Bedard, and Felix Hernandez. While Bedard could be scary good as a high strikeout southpaw pitching half his games in Safeco Field, King Felix is the guy here who could make this a race for second place. Despite his inconsistencies, he's still the most talented pitcher on the planet, and has the raw ability to put up seasons that would rank among the best of all time.

As for the newcomers, Daric Barton seems to be the obvious frontrunner as the guy who should get 500 at-bats if he stays healthy. Perhaps Brandon Wood finally learns how to recognize a breaking ball and provides some competition, but this isn't a particularly strong crop of rookies, with most of the young talent in the division having already surpassed the rookie thresholds, and thus, no longer qualify for the award.

Rich: I will be surprised if the Angels and Mariners don't finish 1-2. Put me down for the A's in third by the slimmest of margins and the Rangers in fourth – that sounds better than last, doesn't it?

Dave:
Los Angeles: 88-74
Seattle: 83-79
Texas: 82-80
Oakland: 79-83

Sean:
1. Angels
2. Mariners
3. A's
4. Rangers

Sully: Thanks for participating, everyone. I am taking the same order as Sean, with the Rangers a good bit back of Oakland.

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David Cameron on Jered Weaver:

While ERA+ is a fun little toy for historical comparisons of past events, I don't find it particularly useful for projecting pitcher's future performance. There are a host of variables that go into ERA that have little or nothing to do with the actual talent level of the pitcher, and I'm not interested in assuming past events that were outside of the pitchers control will continue on in the future.

And, let's be honest, quoting Weaver's career ERA+ is not exactly giving people accurate information. People would be better served by actually looking at what he's done in his short time in the majors.

In 2006, Jered Weaver posted an ERA+ of 173. This is, of course, a tremendous number. There were few pitchers better at keeping runs off the board. What was the key to his success? As many others have shown (and I've covered in my Evaluating Pitcher Talent article at http://ussmariner.com/2006/08/29/evaluating-pitcher-talent/), run prevention is influenced essentially by five things; walk rate, strikeout rate, home run rate, batting average on balls in play, and runner stranding. Or, statistically, BB%, K%, HR/F, BABIP, and LOB%. By looking at these five metrics, we can easily determine why a pitcher was successful in keeping runs off the board.

So, what was so great about Jered Weaver in 2006? His strikeout rate was very good (8.3 K/G), his batting average on balls in play was very low (.236), and his runner stranding rate was very high (86.2%). As has been shown in various studies, the latter three events aren't nearly as predictive as the first two from year to year. Considering the shaky foundation of Weaver's 2.56 ERA in 2006, it wasn't any surprise to watch him take a significant step back last year as both his batting average on balls in play and his strand rate regressed heavily to the mean.

So, when Weaver wasn't posting the lowest BABIP and the highest LOB% in the American League, he was actually just a bit above average, and not a world beater as quoting his career ERA+ might suggest. If we look at his FIP, we see that the 3.99 mark in 2006 wasn't that much different than his 4.14 mark in 2007; in other words, Jered Weaver didn't pitch that much worse, as his ERA might imply, but instead his run prevention performance just regressed to more closely match his actual abilities.

Jered Weaver is essentially a strike-throwing flyball machine with a good enough breaking ball to miss bats a little more than average. When those flyballs aren't flying over the wall or are being chased down by his outfielders, he'll look just fine. When the wind is blowing out or Garret Anderson or Vladimir Guerrero are chasing that same flyball, he's going to look pretty mediocre.

This isn't to say Jered Weaver isn't an asset. Having a healthy pitcher who can put the ball in the strike zone with regularity without giving up 30+ home runs a year means that you've got a pretty solid pitcher, but let's not be deceived by the fact that his ERA in 2006 was artificially deflated by things outside of his control. Weaver's a nice pitcher to have, but he's a huge step behind the good pitchers in this division.

Comments

I wouldn't be so quick to give up on Weaver being a dominant pitcher. This is one case where I think a little scouting adds context to the numbers.

I've seen Weaver pitch in person several times the last two seasons, and guy who pitched in 2007 was not the same guy who pitched in 2006. The 2006 Weaver I saw threw fastballs in the mid-to-upper 90s, and barely needed to change speeds at all, because few batters were doing anything with his fastball.

The guy I saw last year could barely touch 90 on the gun. His fastballs were mostly upper-80s. He managed to keep his team in the game by craftily tossing slop up there--a lot of changeups and curveballs--the type of pitch selection you typically see with old, mediocre innings-eaters.

He was clearly pitching hurt, and went on the DL shortly after I saw him. I was actually pretty impressed that a young pitcher like Weaver could adjust his game when his best stuff was missing, and still provide league-average performance. But it was also quite shocking to see how much zip he had lost off his pitches.

It sounds like the arm troubles Weaver had might be chronic, in which case he may just be that innings-eater type Dave describes. But if the injury heals, and Weaver gets back to throwing in the mid 90s, I think it's quite possible he becomes one of the best pitchers in the league.

I don't recall Weaver ever hitting the mid-to-upper-90s in 2006, but the point that his velocity was down for much of last year stands. I recall him as being around 91-93 in '06, last year it was 89-91.

Incidentally, he was far better than league average last year. He had an ERA+ of 117, and even if you want to say his ERA "should" have been 4.14, that's still a 110 mark. This is much better than average for a starter, and certainly nothing to sneeze at.

This race will be closer than many expect, and it won't be because of the Angel offense, which IMO is going to surprise people. The Angel pitching staff has issues. How they are resolved - and in particular, how the back-end of that rotation pitches - might well determine the AL West.

btw, Law, you are correct about Weaver and his 2006 velocity. With it, his control and deception made a difference. He rarely touched 90 in 2007, making him a more ordinary pitcher.

And, let's be honest, quoting Weaver's career ERA+ is not exactly giving people accurate information.

I just want to weigh in on this portion of Cameron's response. Quoting a statistic is, of course, accurate. ERA+ is a great indicator of how well a pitcher has performed. If you don't think so, have a look at the career leaders over at B-Ref and see if the statistic correlates pretty well with the hurlers you consider to be among the best. During the roundtable, all I responded to was Cameron's characterization that Weaver is an "innings eater" and nothing more. I said that it was "harsh" to label him as such.

I did not say that Weaver will complete his career a 137 ERA+ pitcher. Nor did I say that there was not more to his pitching that may offer more predictive value. It's in roundtable format, we are all offering up quick comments, and I simply laid out what Weaver is; a 25 year-old MLB pitcher who has thus far posted a 137 ERA+ in 284 career innings pitched.

That's an innings-eater to some; a bit more than that to others (myself included).

But if the injury heals, and Weaver gets back to throwing in the mid 90s, I think it's quite possible he becomes one of the best pitchers in the league.

Well, I'd agree with LAW, in that I've never seen Jered Weaver consistently hit the mid-90s on his fastball. In college, he was consistently 88-93, and the 2006 Jered Weaver I saw was usually in the low-90s as well. Weaver certainly could regain some of his prior velocity, but I'm not sure that he's ever been, or will be again, a mid-90s guy.

I'd also suggest that even the 2006 Jered Weaver wasn't one of the best pitchers in the league. He had one of the best performances of any pitcher, but I'm of the opinion that a significant chunk of that performance had very little to do with Weaver's own abilities. A projection for him to be one of the best pitchers in baseball is a projection for him to be something he's never been, not to return to a prior talent level.

Incidentally, he was far better than league average last year. He had an ERA+ of 117, and even if you want to say his ERA "should" have been 4.14, that's still a 110 mark. This is much better than average for a starter, and certainly nothing to sneeze at.

Again, I'm not trying to say that Jered Weaver isn't useful. He clearly has value. However, I think his true talent level going forward is closer to a 4.25 ERA with some significant room for decline. That's a solid pitcher, but as I stated in the roundtable, closer to an innings eater than an ace.

Quoting a statistic is, of course, accurate. ERA+ is a great indicator of how well a pitcher has performed.

If we were having a discussion about how well Jered Weaver had performed in the past, or having a discussion about the facts of history, then the statement could be classified as accurate. However, this is a discussion about projecting future performance, and in this context, quoting career ERA+ while simultaneously insinuating that it has significant predictive ability is misleading.

and I simply laid out what Weaver is; a 25 year-old MLB pitcher who has thus far posted a 137 ERA+ in 284 career innings pitched.

You can call this semantics if you'd like, but I'd argue that you laid out what Weaver's performance had been, which is significantly different than "what Weaver is". In determining what a pitcher is during a roundtable about the upcoming season, we're inherently stating that the context of our comments relates to how we feel a player will do going forward.

And, in terms of projecting how Jered Weaver will pitch going forward, quoting his career ERA+ is simply not an accurate point in supporting the point of view that you're implying.

Or, in short, we aren't having a discussion about how valuable Jered Weaver was to the Angels two years ago. We're talking about how valuable Jered Weaver will be in 2008, and in that context, career ERA+ doesn't really belong in the discussion, especially in light of better tools to answer the question we're asking.

And, in terms of projecting how Jered Weaver will pitch going forward, quoting his career ERA+ is simply not an accurate point in supporting the point of view that you're implying.

Sure it is. I think he is going to be better than an innings eater. And to the extent that you think past performance is a good indicator of future performance, ERA+ serves as an instructive data point. Particularly so for a 25 year-old with 284 MLB innings to his name.

I understand the point that you need to peel back the onion in order to gain a more thorough understanding of how Weaver is going to perform. You do so convincingly in your remarks. No argument here other than to say that your fly-ball point misses a bit because I think Weaver's deceptiveness will enable him to induce more than his share of weak pop-ups to the OF. Either way, none of that does anything to discredit this point; that 284 innings of 137 ERA+ pitching is enough to suggest that a pitcher entering his 25 year-old season has a good chance at performing better than how we think of an "innings-eater" performing.

I'd gladly take Jered Weaver in my team's starting rotation. And that's impressive, considering that the name "Weaver" makes me want to puke.

"More innings eater than Ace" is the sort of comment that is ambiguous enough that you can argue it any which way.

The main issue I would worry about, were I an Angels fan, is Weaver's health.

And to the extent that you think past performance is a good indicator of future performance, ERA+ serves as an instructive data point. Particularly so for a 25 year-old with 284 MLB innings to his name.

But that's just it, looking at a player's past performance is not a good indicator of future performance. That's results based analysis and it is inherently flawed. From everything I've read of Cameron's works, he does not believe what you said he does.

As for Weaver's deception, history has shown that pitchers with quirky motions or deceptive deliveries can only maintain success as long as their stuff survives. Deception, in and of itself, is only a minor assistant. So, a deceptive delivery with a low 90s fastball can be effective, but a deceptive delivery with a high 80s fastball is not as effective. Jered Weaver, like nearly every pitcher in baseball history, is still dependent upon his velocity, movement, control, and command.

looking at a player's past performance is not a good indicator of future performance

I need that explained to me. I may be obtuse but I bet I can do a pretty good job of looking at who will be good this season based on past performance alone.

Age, injuries, peripherals - all of that adds context but how is it an accurate statement to assert that "a player's past performance is not a good indicator of future performance"?

As for Weaver's deception...

I meant deception both in terms of delivery and quality of off-speed stuff.

Just to add one item of clarification here as it seems TIF believes that I would eschew peripherals and all of the other determinants that go into performance projection for simple results based analysis.

I would not, and I have not said so anywhere else. The simple statement is that the track record Jered Weaver has amassed to date leads me to believe he will remain far better that how we think of the innings-eater's level of performance. The points that Dave makes are what stop me well short of saying "look, he's teh 137 ERA+ pitcher and will remain so for the remainder of his career!1!1"...

I think there are instances where "scouting" trumps metrics like defense-independent stats like FIP, and there's always someone who's willing to suggest that their guy is the exception.

Sully, your weak fly ball argument is potentially interesting, but is it quantifiable or just conjecture? (He did have a 14% IF/F in '07 and 11.5% IF/F in '07 so there might be something to it.)

Here too I think it's semantics. I'm guessing Dave saying Weaver's an "innings-eater" is what's setting people off. If he'd said "Weaver's more a #3 starter and his '06 numbers are more in line with what I'd expect going forward" would we still be arguing?

Sure it is. I think he is going to be better than an innings eater.

I would note that Dave said "more innings eater than ace" which implies something better than an innings eater.

And to the extent that you think past performance is a good indicator of future performance, ERA+ serves as an instructive data point.

At this point, it is well-accepted that RBI is a context-dependent stat. We all expect that while Alex Rodriguez led the league with 156 RBI last year, he would likely have had many fewer RBI if he was playing for the Washington Nationals last year. In that sense, RBI is as much a team statistic as it is an individual statistic.

In the same sense, ERA is as much a team statistic as it is an individual statistic. Jesse Litsch had a 117 ERA+ last year, but he very well could have had an 83 ERA+ last year if he was pitching for Tampa instead of Toronto. Park-adjusting ERA isn't enough--you have to adjust for defense and regress to the mean and all that if you want to get at what Litsch's contributions to run prevention were.

No one uses RBI to project player performance into the future, even though we all agree that it's an undeniably good thing for a hitter to produce a base hit that scores a run. Instead, we project his performance ahead by looking at the statistics that we can attribute more to a hitter--his AVG/OBP/SLG, his strikeout rate, etc. In the same way, we ought to project pitcher performance by looking at those things which a pitcher is most responsible--K/9, BB/9, GB%, etc.--and weighting those most heavily.

I agree that past performance is an indicator of future performance, but Weaver's ERA+ isn't necessarily his performance. It's a combination of his performance and his team's performance with what seems to me to be a bit of luck mixed in. While ERA+ is part of the picture, it has significant shortcomings in projecting future performance.

The points that Dave makes are what stop me well short of saying "look, he's teh 137 ERA+ pitcher and will remain so for the remainder of his career!1!1"...

When I read your initial comment, it came off to me as "Jered Weaver has a career ERA+ of 137, and since I mentioned his age, I'm suggesting that he will improve as time goes on." Anytime someone says "player X has career statistic Y and is young" the underlying implication is that career statistic Y is likely to improve in the future. Perhaps that's not what you meant to imply, but that's how it comes off to me.

Ubelmann, there is nothing in your post I disagree with.

I just remain unconvinced that ERA+ is not an acceptable stat to throw out when looking for a quick-and-dirty measure indicating a pitcher's performance.

There are two reasons why past performance is not a useful tool in projecting future performance.

The first is age: A player who only has a couple of seasons under his belt, and maybe not even enough data to effectively gauge his skillsets, cannot have his past performance be used to gauge his future performance, because it leaves no room for improvement nor regression. The same could be said for an older player who had a career year. There are certain players who annually perform at a high level. Those people can be fairly easy to project, but those players are also rare. The rest of Major League Baseball's players have variances in their seasons some of which are the result of bad luck, mathematical regression to the mean, and natural age decline.

The second problem that comes with past performance evaluation is what season(s) do you pick and choose to determine "true" performance potential? Do you take the career year, their worst year, and average the two? Do you use a three year average? Or do you just look at the old stats and come up with something that looks close to what they usually do? It's not very scientific to say that because Result A happened, we can expect it to happen again.

Baseball is too chaotic and linear to allow us to say that the results of one chain of events will be the result of a completely separate one.

What we're left with to project future performance is what others have struggled to create. The Bill James system, CHONE, ZIPS, PECOTA, etc. These guys have put a lot of effort into their projection systems. To not take a similar approach and use such "quick-and-dirty" methods is to not only dismiss their works, but also to promote laziness.

I'm not trying to disrespect you or anything, I'm merely trying to point out why results based analysis is irresponsible.

Which of the following statements do you disagree with?

1. ERA is significantly influenced by a pitcher's batting average on balls in play and strand rate.

2. BABIP and LOB% have low year to year correlation, and when projecting future performance in these categories, they should be regressed heavily to the mean.

3. ERA+ assumes that BABIP and LOB% are intrinsic skills, equally repeatable to walk rate, strikeout rate, and home run rate.

4. That assumption is incorrect and an inherent flaw in ERA, and conversely, ERA+.

5. FIP adjusts for these flaws by retaining a huge majority of the useful information in ERA and none of the incorrect assumptions. Because of this, FIP is a more accurate representation of a pitcher's abilities than ERA.

6. When faced with two metrics presuming to measure the same thing, we should default to the more accurate measure.

If you don't disagree with any of those statements, then by default, I'd suggest that you already agree that ERA+ is essentially useless in this discussion. I'd argue that it's been made obsolete by more effective metrics, and while you can argue that it's still somewhat reliable, it's relative unreliability to other, better metrics makes it basically worthless for player projections.

Or, to use a transportation analogy, ERA+ is a horse and FIP is a car. You could ride a horse to work, but you don't, despite the fact that it would probably get you there and is definitely better than walking. You drive a car (or take mass transit) because these things displaced the usefulness of the car by doing the same task better.

When the task is projecting future pitcher performance, and you have FIP, you simply don't need ERA+. It adds nothing to the discussion that we don't already have except for a host of incorrect assumptions that simply confuse the issue.

I do not agree that Sully using ERA+ dismisses the work of other's projection systems,promotes laziness, or is irresponsible. Unless he is the GM offering contracts. Then only using one flawed stat is irresponsible and lazy.

But like he said, it was a quick response in a round table format.

6. When faced with two metrics presuming to measure the same thing, we should default to the more accurate measure.

Honest to God. Dave, as soon as you attain the readership and persuasiveness necessary to facilitate a widespread enough understanding of FIP, I will vow to use it in every Two-on-Two lighthearted division preview here on Baseball Analysts so long as I do them. Until then, I will use measures that I think offer a representative picture of how effective a pitcher has been/is/will be while having the dual effect of allowing most anyone to understand it.

I have posted too much here and elsewhere referencing the very projection systems and statistics mentioned above to have my analytical chops come into question by one throw-away line referencing a stat that very effectively encapsulates how a pitcher has done in carrying out his mandate (keeping runs off the board).

past performance is not a useful tool in projecting future performance

I think I might know what you are trying to say here, but you should really come up with a better way of articulating it. Do you think a player's past performance might populate the projection models? It's not only a useful tool, it's an absolutely essential tool (though notice I have not said, nor have I at any point implied, that past performance is the only tool).

Wow. So much for my "semantics" argument.

Honest to God. Dave, as soon as you attain the readership and persuasiveness necessary to facilitate a widespread enough understanding of FIP, I will vow to use it in every Two-on-Two lighthearted division preview here on Baseball Analysts so long as I do them.

Okay, so, you're intentionally using metrics you know to be inferior (and, in this case, totally misleading) because you're assuming that your audience isn't capable of grasping FIP?

That's your call, but I think you're wildly underestimating your audience, and doing them a disservice in the process.

Until then, I will use measures that I think offer a representative picture of how effective a pitcher has been/is/will be while having the dual effect of allowing most anyone to understand it.

Except, the problem is that has been, is, and will be are not synonyms, and you absolutely have to use different tools to describe those different contexts. Well, you don't have to, but as long as you use historical statistics to do projections, you'll be doing projections that don't really mean anything in the presence of projections based on metrics that actually do what they're supposed to do.

Do you think a player's past performance might populate the projection models?

Obviously a player's past performance can be used as part of the tools to discern what a player's current talent level is. But the key is that the past performance in and of itself doesn't mean anything, and propping the historical performance itself up against a better projection that adjusts for the performances flaws is simply clouding the issue.

Okay, so, you're intentionally using metrics you know to be inferior (and, in this case, totally misleading) because you're assuming that your audience isn't capable of grasping FIP?

That's your call, but I think you're wildly underestimating your audience, and doing them a disservice in the process.

LOL. It's a matter of weighing recognition/acceptance versus whatever marginal improvement may or may not be there. But I am sure readers appreciate your advocacy.

but as long as you use historical statistics to do projections

I am not trying to "do projections." I am using my gut and my understanding of the most readily available statistics to make assertions in a roundtable division preview discussion. I thought your quip about Weaver sold his abilities short, as evidenced in part by his performance to date.

But the key is that the past performance in and of itself doesn't mean anything, and propping the historical performance itself up against a better projection that adjusts for the performances flaws is simply clouding the issue.

Since you are attributing mere opinion variance to a morality issue, out of curiosity, who is "clouding the issue" on Weaver in 2008? Szym and his 3.56 projection for Weaver this season or PECOTA and its 4.40?

Or might it be acceptable for two reasonable individuals/entities to employ sound reasoning and come out with different conclusions?

Or might it be acceptable for two reasonable individuals/entities to employ sound reasoning and come out with different conclusions?

Absolutely. I'm just saying that using ERA+ to project future performance doesn't qualify as sound reasoning.

I always enjoy this website. You guys are great.

Still, way to completely ruin this topic. While I actually agree with his comments on Weaver and using FIP by name in this forum, you guys will be better off never featuring Dave Cameron again. There's nothing like a self righteous fanboy who accuses everyone else of having some sort of bias. He doesn't deserve to occupy the same space as guys like Rich, Joe or Bryan. If I wanted to read his snarky crap I'd go read a couple posts on USSM (assuming the server is working) about how they need more money to run their site, since, shockingly, they can't find enough people that want to donate for their services without a continuous campaign.

I'm not sure if replacing Wilkerson with Guillen was such a good idea. at least from my memory it's hard to debate that he's a huge upgrade over anyone that's not utterly bad defensely. and offesnively Jose Guillen was like the M's second best hitter last year. Wilkerson has also played a wooping 204 games over the last two year. and more over he also showed pretty extreme splits both against lefty and on the road.

So instead of a free swinging righty that you could kill by just buring a pitch on teh outside corner. you switch it up to a guy that gets annihlated whenever a lefty (or even a righty) can even get a good strike over.

I'm suspicious that Richie Sexson may be done and Ibanez is due for some decline, Ichiro is an ailen but last year was still one of his better years.

as for Texas, I dunno, i can't see them come close to 80 win. they still can't pitch or field, and now they can't even hit that much.

I think A's are the team that will outdo expectation.

When a hitter makes contact with the ball, the pitcher has little control over what happens next, and so the earned runs attributed to a pitcher doesn't accurately reflect that pitcher's skill. That doesn't seem very hard to understand, honestly.

In science, or law, or etc., when we find something that isn't working, we endeavor to find a better way to do things. No good has ever been done by redacting something new just because it challenges the common wisdom. You do your readers no favors by patronizing them through simplification. This is Baseball Analysts, after all - not Baseball for Dummies, and the readership is, I would hope, baseball savvy enough to understand these things.

If you think Dave Cameron is a "self righteous fanboy who accuses everyone else", I dont know what you will say about an idiot called DMZ, who co-authors in USSM; he is the absolute definition of "self righteous fanboy who accuses everyone else" and much more; atleast Dave has stuff and he has proven it many times before; DMZ has no stuff, but he thinks he is God. Awful.

Hair-splitting arguments about the differences between 2006 and 2007 variables of the Angels #3 pitcher in a Division Preview?

It is called NAVEL-GAZING and it is proof the Angels cruise to the AL West title in a laugher. Mariner fans can only hope Howard Lincoln is fired along with Bavasi.

For what it's worth I think Dave's a tremendous writer and we were thrilled to have him participate. His tough critiques of the Mariners in the roundtable alone discredit any fanboy labeling.

I don't think we disagree on much of anything with respect to the major points made in these comments. I just took exception to the notion that using ERA+ is a de facto rejection of lesser known, more complex figures. I thought I got "straw-manned" a little in both the closing remarks in the roundtable and subsequent posts by Dave and felt compelled to address a few of the points.

It's no biggie at all.

This thread got hilarious in a hurry. Two knocks on Dave and DMZ and USSM in general with a proclamation of people being "self righteous fanboy who accuses [sic] everyone else of having some sort of bias" and then Rev shows up.

The internet is remarkable. I couldn't script a coincidence better then that.

Anyway Sully, to finish what were talking about earlier, I know you weren't necessarily projecting Weaver's future performance per se, but there was an attempt to validate Weaver's skills through past performance. In a round about way, if you're saying that Weaver isn't what Dave says, then you believe that he will be (implying a future projection) better based on what he has already done (past performance).

But that's nitpicking and I'm sorry for it.

No apologies necessary, TIF. Thanks for stopping by and participating.

To sum up my thoughts on Weaver, I will leave it at this (and perhaps should have left it at this from the outset); you can discount the 137 pretty aggressively and still come up with an expected performance level well north of "innings eater".

"Okay, so, you're intentionally using metrics you know to be inferior (and, in this case, totally misleading) because you're assuming that your audience isn't capable of grasping FIP?"

Even if I, the reader, did not know what FIP is, and you, the writer, used it to support you case for/against a player, I'd look it up. That's why I'm reading this after all, because I want to better understand the game. Ten years ago (or more I guess) we were at the same point with batting average and OBP, and thank god enough people decided to start using OBP at the risk of leaving a few readers behind that didn't care to learn something new.

I think the problem is nobody defined what innings eater is.

Is innings eater a league average starter for a particular year. Or is it a good #3 or #4 starter on a contending team.

It seems Dave seems him as more innings eater than ace, and I agree with that. I wouldn't want or expect Weaver to be the best starter on a contending team. He's no Beckett or Peavey or Webb or a dozen other names I could come up with.

That being said Sully sees him as well north of an innings eater. And I agree with that. He would be the ace on many a team. Royals and Twins perhaps to name two.

I'd tend to agree with Dave. Weaver is more likely nothing more than an innings eater on a contending team, not something that's easy to find, mind you, with some upside. I wouldn't be surprsied if Weaver posted an ERA anywhere from 3.70-4.50, with 4.50 more likely. That puts him on level with games like Wakefield and Schilling and Blanton.

Well, I think we can all agree that Weaver was no innings-eater or ace in the postseason last year..

Seriously though, it was a very detailed, well-thought and thorough roundtable for the AL West with little bias and a tiny controversy.

I think one possible oversight supporting the Halos pitching depth is Ervin Santana. He is the guy more likely to become an ace than Weaver if he can ever reconcile his home/road performance split.

Al west for 08
1. Mariners 90-72
2. Angels 88-74
3. Oakland 80-82
4. Rangers 75-87