Sunday Rockpile: Avoiding getting delusional about depth...

In 2010 the Rays won the AL East for the second time in three years, once again toppling the twin behemoths that sit atop all of baseball with a shrewdly built underdog team that showed Boston and New York to respect the peons. Andrew Friedman is rightly recognized as one of the best executives in the game because of what he's been able to do with Tampa Bay in building a team that can win like the big boys on a little boy's allowance.

Having said that, however, I think that Friedman tends to get too much credit for being a miracle worker, and that some analysts allow themselves to get blinded by his prowess to the point they lack objectivity. Tampa's a very talented young club. Before the offseason, they were a very talented and extremely deep young club. I really don't believe this to be the case anymore. When healthy, Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena, Jason Bartlett, Rafael Soriano, Joaquin Benoit and now Matt Garza represented around 15 wins of value over replacement per season over the last three years. It's a testament to the Rays depth before these players' departures that in every single case the replacement for the departing player is at least in theory capable of putting up similar production.

There are a couple of problems with this, however. First, the supposed replacement of value is all involving speculative leaps of young, unproven players, and the risks to a season tend to be cumulative with each additional young player that you put this weight on. The projections might like that the players in question may be able to accomplish great things, but the confidence in the projections gets severely eroded because of a lack of MLB data to back them up.

Second, and from an analytical standpoint this is discouraging that it's been missed, but there's been some duplication in where the expected wins are to come from. The Rays lose Crawford, but analysts are okay that the loss can be made up with Desmond Jennings and increased production from a mystery DH the team has yet to sign. Now the Rays lose Garza for 2011, and replace his production with a decent pitcher taking up the bottom of the innings chain, Robinson Chirinos (who's like this stone cold lock to be a one WAR MLB player from the bench next season despite barely reaching AAA for 60 PA's at 27 years old) but also by adding a mystery DH. Mystery DH is very very good, apparently, and willing to sign at a deep discount to what his expected value to the Tampa team will be. 

Finally, there's an issue that it took some luck for the Rays to get where they did last season, the Yankees were likely a better team and the Red Sox were unlucky themselves, and in all of the foisting of Tampa as a legitimate contender in the league's most difficult division, there's an implicit assertion that this good luck will continue in 2011. I don't buy it. Every team besides Tampa and New York in the AL East added win value during the winter, and New York didn't lose the players that the Rays did. I think Tampa's likely to be one of baseball's biggest disappointments next year.

I guess what I'm saying is that if you ever see me doing stuff like this with the Rockies, kick me. Remind me about this post here. I think all fans get a little blinded when it comes to their own team, but in Tampa's case it's kind of going into crazyland.

Tracy Ringolsby writes that the Rockies are wise for locking up Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki long term, Colorado's using what advantages their market does afford over smaller market clubs like Tampa and Kansas City to offer near market level contracts to young stars. Having a couple of well paid but solid building blocks in their primes won't prevent the Rockies from being shrewd and frugal with the rest of their payroll, it just going to give the club quite a bit more margin for error than what we're seeing in Tampa.

More links after the jump.

In case you missed it from the comments to yesterday's Rockpile, the Denver Post has a little piece on everything Chris Iannetta is doing to improve his hitting for the coming season. Well, not everything, it's actually a bit lacking in specifics, but it sounds good on the surface. Watching video, shortening the swing, working with Lansford, etc... I don't mean to sound pessimistic, I'm just always a bit skeptical with this variety of off season stories until we actually see the pudding.

The DP also has a bit on the marketing of the pro teams in Denver, focusing on the three non-Broncos squads, where it acknowledges the Rockies have a bit of an edge, especially now with Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez locked up.

Vinny Castilla is retiring from playing in the Mexican Pacific League for a second, and likely final time. Similar to what has happened with Vinny and the Rockies since his playing days here ended, Castilla wants to continue working with his Hermosillo club in some capacity. 

Bobby Abreu tells a Veneuelan paper that he's proud of Carlos Gonzalez's accomplishments with the Rockies this last season and notes how close that CarGo was to becoming that country's first Major League MVP. 

Additionally, Thomas Harding's Jhoulys Chacin profile that WolfMarauder linked in Friday's Rockpile is getting a lot of mileage in the Venezuelan press. I'm not going to link any of the re-hashes since all of the articles are pretty much Spanish translations of what we already read and don't add new information, but with four or five of them popping up in a Google News search for the Rockies, it indicates that we may be on our way to having a second sports celebrity from that country. Despite the Rockies desire to keep a lid on this, it looks like we'll get to see how Chacin responds to the pressure of expectation anyway.

The good news from that would be that if Chacin does respond well, he really is a machine, a robot sent to help us vanquish the evils in our division. Secondly, I would guess that the Rockies as a team are getting more press than any other MLB franchise in Venezuela this winter, which will only help recruitment efforts for young players there. 

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