Thursday, January 18, 2007

MLB 2007 Preview - NL Lineups

Same rules as yesterday, this time for the NL...

  • The Run Per Game projections given below are only for the starting 9. I do not consider the effect of bench (this will be considered in later posts)
  • Ignoring platoon situations. If there is an expected platoon situation (e.g. Cleveland LF will likely be split between Jason Michaels and David Dellucci), I used the player likely to contribute the most at-bats
  • Projected player BA/OBP/SLG are projected from the PECOTA projection system.
  • We use the PECOTA projections for EqBA/EqOBP/EqSLG to remove the effect of park when comparing teams
  • The NL pitcher is projected to hit 0.200/0.200/0.200 (BA/OBP/SLG), which is around the average for the position over the past few years
  • Team BA/OBP/SLG are estimated as a weighted average of the BA/OBP/SLG of each lineup slot, weighted by the percentage of plate appearances that lineup slot typically gets.
  • Team RPG are estimated from a linear regression formula RPG = -6.09+1.36*BA+18.89*OBP+9.75*SLG+5.96E-05*SBA where SBA is stolen base attempts. So, there's no fancy Monte Carlo engine here, just a plain vanilla estimate of the strength of each team's current offensive performance.
  • Projected Lineups are estimated as of 1/16/07.
Onto the results...

Cream of the Crop

New York Mets: 5.23 RPG (848 Runs)

The Mets are the toast of the NL offensively, and they can certainly be considered on par with the Big 3 of the AL. Replacing the pitcher in our projection (0.200/0.200/0.200 BA/OBP/SLG) line with a replacement level DH (0.250/0.300/0.400), we increase the RPG estimate by 0.42 runs, bringing the Mets to 5.67 RPG. The Mets are strong up the middle, with superstar level production from Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes. The thing that catapults the Mets to the elite, however, is a third superstar-level producer at 3B in David Wright. In fact, Wright is projected to have the 3rd highest VORP in baseball next year (behind Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera). New York also has top prospect Lastings Milledge available, and he just happens to play the same position (RF) as the offense’s only weak link: Shawn Green. Replacing Green with Milledge increases New York’s scoring estimate to 5.30 RPG. Milledge will also be available to DH in interleague play, likely giving the Mets the strongest DH of any of the NL teams.

Second Tier
Atlanta Braves: 5.10 RPG (826 Runs)
San Diego Padres: 5.04 RPG (817 Runs)
Philadelphia Phillies: 5.03 RPG (815 Runs)
St. Louis Cardinals: 5.01 RPG (812 Runs)
Florida Marlins: 5.00 RPG (811 Runs)

The NL’s second grouping clearly separates themselves from the Mets above, and the mediocre below. The Braves come out on top of the second tier thanks to strong expected production up the middle (Brian McCann is second only to Joe Mauer for hitting catchers, Edgar Renteria, and Andruw Jones), complemented with good to excellent production from Adam LaRoche, Jeff Francouer, and Chipper Jones. Like the Mets, the Braves also have some upside potential with strong hitting Kelly Johnson perhaps taking over at 2B, and top catching prospect Jarrod Saltalamacchia forcing his way into the lineup. By contrast, the remaining teams seem to me to all have tremendous downside potential (or TDP in the phraseology of Bill Simmons). Little in the way of depth will hurt all of these teams if time is lost due to injury. San Diego and its balanced attack are probably best suited to deal with the loss of a starting player. The Cardinals continue to live and die on the production of Pujols, Rolen, and Edmonds, while the Marlins are relying heavily on Miguel Cabrera to carry the load.

San Francisco Giants: 4.89 RPG (793 Runs)
Chicago Cubs: 4.88 RPG (790 Runs)
Arizona Diamondbacks: 4.82 RPG (780 Runs)
Milwaukee Brewers: 4.77 RPG (772 Runs)
Colorado Rockies: 4.72 RPG (765 Runs)
Cincinnati Reds: 4.69 RPG (761 Runs)
Houston Astros: 4.68 RPG (758 Runs)

What to say about these teams? Give them an extra 0.5 runs to account for the DH difference, and most of the teams slot in with the rest of the mediocre AL offenses. A couple of notes: San Fran’s projection is based on the return and continued performance of Barry Bonds. Replace him with Todd Linden (his current back-up), and that projection drops to 4.62 RPG. From the rest of this group, I think the strength of D. Lee, Aramis Ramirez, and Soriano may provide an uptick in performance to the rest of the Chicago Cubs, and I think the Diamondbacks are poised to be a sleeper. The D-Backs have a lot of young talent coming up from the minors (and unlike Tampa Bay, a longer track-record of success), but currently lack an established superstar. The Brewers and Reds both have depth around the diamond, although both teams have had injury problems with starters in the past. The Astros could substantially improve their numbers by dumping Biggio or Ausmus, moving Chris Burke back to his natural position at 2B, and promoting Hunter Pence. In essence, come the All-Star break, I may end up wishing I had switched the Second Tier and Meh lists.

Los Angeles Dodgers: 4.59 RPG (743 Runs)
Washington Nationals: 4.55 RPG (738 Runs)
Pittsburgh Pirates: 4.51 RPG (731 Runs)

Calling these teams bad is a little unfair, as after adjusting for the DH effect they are projected to score as frequently as many of the AL offenses. The Dodgers have the best chance of beating their projection, as they have three prospects that PECOTA pegs as superior to the current starters – Matt Kemp in the OF, Andy LaRoche at 3B, and James Loney at 1B. I am somewhat surprised by the Nationals low ranking, given the abilities of Ryan Zimmerman, Nick Johnson, and Austin Kearns. However, the “strong-up-the-middle” meme continues to be quite useful. The grouping of Brian Schneider, Felipe Lopez, Christian Guzman, and Nook Logan contains maybe one league average player. Maybe. The Pirates up the middle: Ronny Paulino (not bad actually!), Jose Castillo (second worst everyday player in the MLB), Jack Wilson (like scrappy David Eckstein without the talent), and Chris Duffy (meh).

It appears at first glance that the overall quality of offensive talent may be superior in the NL this year; however, given the well-documented superiority of the AL, this quality differential may be an illusion. I’ll study this in a future post.

NOTE: Late word that the Braves have traded Adam LaRoche to the Pirates for Mike Gonzalez and minor-league SS Brent Lillibridge. Adam LaRoche’s replacement at this point is likely to be Scott Thorman, a sizable downgrade. The Braves projection with Thorman at first is 4.99 RPG, still in the Second Tier, but now on the low side. The Braves may go with Kelly Johnson at 1B and Lillibridge himself at 2B, and PECOTA is totally crushing on both those dudes. Throw that configuration in and you get a 5.14 RPG estimate. I’m skeptical. For the Pirates, the addition of LaRoche raises their projection to 4.59 RPG…or only 2nd worst in the NL.

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