Thursday, April 3, 2008

2008 NL West Predictions

And for the final installment, we preview the NL West.

Arizona Diamondbacks
Sick. That’s the only word to describe the potential the Arizona Diamondbacks rotation.

It starts with Brandon Webb, 2006 Cy Young Award winner and 2007 NL Wins leader. Then Dan Haren checks in with the 3.07 ERA he earned in the American League. Third in the rotation is Randy Johnson, who seemed happy to be back in Arizona, as evidenced by his 72 punchouts in 56 innings. The fourth starter is lefty Doug Davis who’s average 12 wins in 4 straight season. Finishing up is Micah Owings, who has an impressive 1.28 WHIP.

The D’Backs are counting on their young lineup to provide enough runs to help out their corp. They need CF Chris Young (25), Justin Upton (20), Conor Jackson (25), Stephen Drew (25) and the other very young D’Backs to mature and gain more plate discipline. While they are very talented—and are capable of both smallball and longball—Arizona had an OBP of .321, worst in the National League.

But all that stuff almost doesn’t matter—the D’Backs are too talented on the mound not to win the West. And to their hitting woes, manger Bob Melvin spent spring training drilling plate discipline to his young team. If even a little of his teaching rubs off on his talented squad, it should be more than enough for the truly, truly sick rotation.

Sound Smart To Your Friends: Arizona posted a 90-72 record despite being outscored 732-712

Colorado Rockies
Get this. The Rockies were 4 games under .500 on July 1st last season, before heading to the World Series. How’d they do it? By winning 14 of their last 15 games and going 21-1 heading into the Series.

Yeah, but how’d they do it?

It gets even more puzzling when you go over the Rockies roster. Only three players on the 40-man roster for their World Series run were older than 32. The closer (Manny Corpas, 25), two MVP-quality players (Matt Holliday, 28, and Troy Tulowitzki, 24), two top starters, and seven of the eight everyday players and the entire projected bench are still in their 20s.

But when you look at their stats, it seems that the Rockies did it the opposite way of the D’backs. They can tear the cover off the ball, and have decent pitching to back it up. Colorado ranked a respectable eighth in the league with a 4.32 ERA and the bullpen was sixth at 3.85. Jeff Francis, Aaron Cook and Ubaldo Jimez all keep the ball low and change speeds, so hitters don’t get too many chances to take advantage of the lighter mountain air. But hitting—lead by MVP runner-up Matt Holliday and Rookie of the Year runner-up, Troy Tulowitski—that’s where the Rockies bread is buttered.

Tulowitski, Holliday, Helton, Atkins and Hawpe make for a scary 2-3-4-5-6, as all of they bat .290 or above and average over 26 homers per batter. Sprinkle in Willy Taveras (.320, 33 steals) and they should have no problem leading in batting once again.

It’s easy to discount the youthful Rockies; almost everyone outside Denver does. But don’t be surprised if they can sneak up on everyone again like they did last summer.

Sound Smart To Your Friends: Matt Holliday is only the fifth player in 59 years to lead the NL in BA (.339) and RBIs (137).

Los Angeles Dodgers
One scout put the 2007 L.A. Dodgers this way: “The Dodgers accomplish less with more than any other team in the game.” They’ve lead the NL West in payroll five of the past seven years, and have only one division title to their name.

Enter Joe Torre.

Make no mistake, Torre has a mandate. Win. And win soon. Because along with Torre, the Dodgers have signed Andrew Jones and placed him in center field, only one season after they signed Juan Pierre, who was supposed to play center field for year, but who now has been moved to left.

And that’s not Torre’s only problem. The Dodger’s clubhouse was divides last season between the veterans, (Jeff Kent, Nomar Garciaparra, etc) and the youngsters (Matt Kemp, James Loney), prompting Jeff Kent to vocally complain about the lack of respect the kids were giving the veterans.

Torre has already made his statement— benching Juan Pierre for youngster Andre Ethier—and his statement is, ‘I don’t care about feelings, I don’t care about contracts, I only care about wins.” And if it’s one thing Torre learned in New York, is that winning is the best medicine.

That talent is here—the rotation is solid, the lineup was good even before Andrew Jones showed up, the bullpen is solid, and the farm system is plentiful—all they need to do is to put it together.

The Dodgers aren't paying Torre $13 million over the next three years to lose. The best guess is that he won’t be able to put it together until next year.

Sound Smart To Your Friends: The Dodgers batted for a .406 team slugging percentage in 2007, the lowest among the 16 clubs with a winning record.

San Diego Padres
When you think about the San Diego Padres, you have to start with their stadium, cavernous and huge PETCO Park. Everything about them starts there.

Here’s a few stats. Last season the Padres had the best ERA in the majors and the third-worst batting average and on-base percentage. San Diego's staff posted a 47-34 record with a 3.02 ERA at PETCO Park, compared to 42-40, 4.42 on the road.

One more stat about PETCO Park. Brian Giles averaged 38 HRs a season when he was in Pittsburgh from 1999-2003. The last 3 years at PETCO, Giles has a TOTAL of 42.

But oddly, this off-season, the Padres aided their rotation rather than their lineup. They picked up Randy Wolf to be their number 4 starter, and they got Mark Prior from the Cubs in hopes to resuscitate his career. In the lineup, however, they took a backwards step. They let Mike Cameron go and replaced him with a declining Jim Edmonds.

When your team slugging percentage is .411 and your team OBP a pathetic .322, you should try and go get a few bats. The Padres did. The problem is, sluggers around the league know what happens to your averages when you play at PETCO. So most go somewhere else.

To put it plainly, San Diego isn’t talented enough. Khalil Green isn’t a bad power hitter and fielder at SS. 3B Kevin Kouzmanoff picked it up the second half of last year. But their outfielders simply don’t do enough heavy lifting to ensure their pitching staff the run support they need.

Some recent bad drafts have left San Diego short in the way of minor league help—so Peavy, Young Maddux and co. won’t be able to count on that for help in run support. In 2008, it looks like it may get worse for the Padres before it gets better.

Sound Smart To Your Friends: Jim Edmonds hit just .193 in 119 ABs during day games in 2007.

San Francisco Giants
There’s no nice way to say this; the San Francisco Giants are a mess. A complete mess.

For years, the franchise revolved around the obnoxious expression of Barry Bonds; as Bonds went, so did the Giants. Now that the carnival tent has been taken down over AT&T Park, the Giants find themselves barren of young prospects and filled with a team of overpaid, underachieving spare parts that don’t mesh.

Consider these names; Randy Winn, Omar Visquel, Bengie Molina, Dave Roberts, Ray Durham, Rich Aurelia. All are role players, 33 to 41 years of age, are in decline and are best suited to a veteran team, not one trying to rebuild. And the Giants don’t have much in the way of talented rookies to replace them.

The San Francisco organization hasn't produced an everyday position player through the draft since third baseman Bill Mueller arrived in the big leagues in 1996. They have ignored their farm system, choosing to use their money on veterans, many whom have flamed out once they hit the S.F. Bay—see Barry Zito’s 7-year, $126 million dollar contract and his 4.53 ERA in 2007, almost a point higher than his ERA in Oakland the year before. Only 25 year-olds Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum, can save this season from being a disaster of biblical proportions.

There’s not much else to say for the Giants. As a fan, I’d keep a close eye on the lower minor league. Hope that some of those kids can speed their way through the system. Well….a fan can hope.

Sound Smart To Your Friends: Matt Cain suffered 16 losses in 2007, the second-most in the NL despite his 3.65 ERA was the league's 10th best, and the .235 opponents' batting average against him was the fourth lowest among NL pitchers with 30 or more starts.

Tomorrow: We pick the champions, the wild-cards, the award winners and all sorts of fun stuff.


Anonymous said...

Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum are 23.

P-Cat said...

Right you are. Good catch.