Posted by: Nate | March 31, 2008

2008 Baseball Preview: National League West

Predicted Order of Finish:
1.    Colorado Rockies
2.    Arizona Diamondbacks
3.    Los Angeles Dodgers
4.    San Diego Padres
5.    San Francisco Giants

Breakdowns:

1.    Colorado Rockies
Last year’s hottest team and NL representatives in the World Series will be looking to avoid playing a 163rd game this year and win their division. With the veterans they are bringing back and the youngsters that they have they look poised to emerge on the top of the heap in the West this year.

Keys to Success:
The Rockies have a lot of weapons on offense, starting with Matt Holliday who has averaged 120 runs, 35 homers, 125 RBI and .330+ batting average over the last two seasons. This kind of phenomenal production has vaulted him into the MVP discussion and provides a stabilizing force for the rest of the offense. Brad Hawpe also provides strong production at the other corner outfield spot, and seasoned corner infielders Garrter Atkins and Todd Helton also are formidable offensive players too. Young shortstop Troy Tulowitzki is the real deal and will be a mega-star in the years to come at a premium position; Colorado was smart to lock him up long term this winter. Willy Taveras provides some speed to their lineup, stealing 30+ bases last year as well. Look for them to provide strong run support for their pitching staff.

While not overly heralded by the media, the Rockies starters are a mix of effective veterans and promising newcomers. Jeff Francis, Aaron Cook and Mark Redman have all been there before and know how to pitch. Francis is clearly the class of the bunch and the ace of the staff, and he quietly racked up 30 wins over the last two seasons. Youngsters Ubaldo Jiminez and Franklin Morales have shown patches of dominance and as they gain more experience should smooth out their performances on a start-to-start basis. The quality of production they get from those two could go a long way to determining the teams fortunes.

Fortunately for the starters, they won’t be leaned upon to go 7 or 8 innings every time out to protect a fragile bullpen as the Rockies have some strong arms out in the ‘pen. Closer Manny Corpas is electric (19 for 20 in saves) and former closer Brian Fuentes should work well with Matt Herges and Luis Vizciano to bridge the gap to Corpas this season.

Major Off-season Moves:
Most of the Rockies off-season dealings involved re-signing and locking up players that they already had. This list includes:
RHP Matt Herges re-signed to a one-year contract.
C Yorvit Torrealba re-signed to a two-year contract.
SS Troy Tulowitzki inked a six-year contract, after only one season in MLB.
OF Matt Holliday signed a two-year contract.
OF Willy Taveras signed to a one-year contract.
RHP Manny Corpas signed to a four-year contract.
INF Garrett Atkins  signed a one-year contract, avoiding arbitration.
OF Brad Hawpe signed to a one-year contract.

As you can see, much of their time and money went into bringing back their core of players that led them to a World Series berth last year, not leaving much room or resources for other major moves. They did sign RHP Kip Wells and LHP Mark Redman to one-year contracts and signed RHP Luis Vizcaino on a two-year contract to provide pitching depth and bolster their bullpen though.

2.    Arizona Diamondbacks
After a strong season that saw them win the NL West, despite being outscored by their opponents by almost 30 runs, I see their lack of offense being exposed a little bit more this year and them slipping to second in the West. If some of the younger players can develop faster than expected, perhaps they’ll repeat but I don’t see that happening.

Keys to Success:
CF Chris Young and 3B Mark Reynolds have a lot of power, although their batting averages leave a little to be desired. While they certainly aren’t in Jack Cust territory just yet (Reynolds especially) the ability for them to get more hits and cut down on their strikeout rate would be a huge boost. Eric Byrnes had a career year last season at the plate, and his ability to reproduce those numbers will be pivotal as he has a great combination of speed and power. 20-year-old Justin Upton is still a little raw, but the tools are there for him to be a fantastic hitter, I just feel that his adjustment to MLB pitching will provide some rough patches this year for him. Stephen Drew also has a lot of potential but has experienced struggles at the plate and is prone to long droughts. He’ll need to make the necessary adjustments this year to help spark the offense.

Their big moves this off-season centered around the pitching staff. The acquisition of Dan Haren from Oakland provides a dominant 1-2 punch with Brandon Webb and should be a huge asset to this team. If Randy Johnson can come all the way back from his back problems in recent years, he still has the stuff to be effective and Micah Owings and Doug Davis a good starters to round out the rotation. Starting pitching should not be a problem in the desert this year and if the defense can make the plays behind them, they should prevent a lot of runs from scoring.

In the bullpen they have a new closer in Brandon Lyon after the trade of Jose Valverde to Houston. Valverde led the league in saves last year, so they have some big shoes to fill there and the rest of their bullpen will need to step up. While they have some decent guys in their bullpen, I could see this being a potential problem area for them, especially if someone goes down with an injury. Ultimately, I feel like they will not be able to repeat the successes of last year without a significant boost in their run-scoring capabilities and I just don’t see that happening this season.

Major Off-season Moves:
The Diamondbacks made two major moves this year, which made headlines around the league. One precursor to these two big trades was the trade of OF Carlos Quentin to the White Sox in exchange for INF Chris Carter.
Carter was then included in the deal for Dan Haren later that month which sent LHP Brett Anderson, LHP Dana Eveland, LHP Greg Smith, OF Aaron Cunningham and OF Carlos Gonzalez along with him to Oakland for Haren and RHP Connor Robertson.

Shortly thereafter they acquired RHP Chad Qualls, RHP Juan Gutierrez and OF Chris Burke from the Houston Astros in exchange for RHP Jose Valverde in a major bullpen shakeup. They concluded their activity by trading RHP Dustin Nippert to Rangers in exchange for RHP Jose Marte in a move that likely will have limited impact this season as both players won’t be huge factors this year.

3.    Los Angeles Dodgers
With new manager Joe Torre in town and a slew of young talent, the Dodgers are a team on the rise. While I think they will be in the picture for the NL West race for awhile, I ultimately see them making major strides in 2009 and beyond and just being competitive this year. You never know what a guy like Joe Torre can coax out of his players though, so the Dodgers are a team to watch.

Keys to Success:
The Dodgers have 4 outfielders who all bring something to the table and will see playing time this year: Juan Pierre, Andre Ethier, Andruw Jones and Matt Kemp. Pierre brings speed, Jones brings power and Ethier and Kemp both have lots of potential to be great all around players. James Loney at first base has done nothing but rake since coming up to the majors and catcher Russell Martin is an up and coming star in his own right.
While most of the roster is oozing with potential and star power, there are some holes. At 3B they lost both Andy LaRoche and Nomar Garciaparra to injury and have yet to name a starter for opening day. Coupled with the declining Rafael Furcal at SS, they left side of the infield is looking weak both offensively and defensively, which could negatively impact the pitching staff. 2B Jeff Kent is still a great player, when he takes the field, but at 40 he is starting to feel the affects of his age and has had trouble staying on the field. He was slowed for much of the spring by a hamstring injury and if he is unable to go then their infield looks especially weak to start the year.

The pitchers look very strong to start the year, with a rotation of Brad Penny, Derek Lowe, Chad Billingsley and Japanese import Hiroki Kuroda. If they can all play up to expectations based off last year’s strong showings and Kuroda can quickly adjust to MLB then they are looking formidable. The issue could be the defense though, because if they don’t shore up the 3B situation and if Kent goes down they will be less then stellar. This is problematic because their top two starters are both not high strikeout guys and pitch to contact, specifically the groundball. An increase in infield errors or diminished range will lead to more base runners and more runs scored.

Their bullpen is very strong though; with closer Takashi Saito being as good as there is in the game in recent years. Set-up man Jonathan Broxton is lights out and racks up a ton of strikeouts, so the back end of the bullpen is set. As long as one or two guys emerge to handle the middle relief ably and be Torre mainstays then the Dodgers will be in good shape in the later innings.

Major Off-season Moves:
The Dodgers made a couple of big moves this winter and will be looking to reap the rewards of those this season. Their first was to win the bidding war for RHP Hiroki Kuroda from Japan and signed him to a three-year contract. They followed that up by landing free agent CF Andruw Jones with a two-year contract; a contract that was much criticized for it’s huge price-tag given Jones’ down year in 2007.
In some depth moves the Dodgers also signed RHP Scott Proctor to a one-year contract and Re-signed free agent 1B Mark Sweeney to a one-year contract.

4.    San Diego Padres
How is a team with the league’s best ERA from the year before going to finish 4th in their division? The answer there, is their complete lack of offense, so while they may prevent a ton of runs you can’t win baseball games if you don’t score runs. I expect their pitching to be strong again this year, but unless some people step up the offense will be lacking again.

Keys to Success:
Kevin Kouzmanoff and Adrain Gonzalez look poised to be the offensive stars for the team this year and will need others to step up around them to be successful. The outfield looks grim with veteran Brian Giles, Jody Gerut and Paul McAnulty being the starters. Jim Edmonds, or what is left of him, is on the disabled list to start the year, but should provide a bit of a boost on his return. Not a whole lot of power, or strong averages coming form these guys they have starting though, with the exception of Giles who is a career .293 hitter. These 3 will need to produce for this team to be successful. Josh Bard needs to try and find his power stroke a little bit more and bring his average closer to .290, which he is capable of doing, to provide some additional offensive support. The free-swinging Khalil Greene and journeyman Tadahito Iguchi man the middle infield spots and demonstrate some power/speed but need to get on base more often to be effective.

Their rotation is outstanding with Peavy, Young and Maddux headlining it and promising newcomer Justin Germano at the back end. Short of injury, their starters should be excellent and do their part to keep the league ERA crown in San Diego. Adding to that cause is their bullpen, which should also be strong with ageless closer Trevor Hoffman shutting the door and Heath Bell and Cla Meredith bridging the gaps until then. As long as their lineup can produce, their pitchers will keep them in the game. This could be a club looking to pickup an outfielder at the deadline this year to try and keep pace, since Jim Edmonds probably isn’t the solution either.  (Coco Crisp anyone?).

Major Off-season Moves:
Bringing back a first ballot Hall of Fame player is a good way to start the winter, especially when he still has some gas in the tank. This is precisely what they did when they agreed to terms with Greg Maddux on a one-year contract. In a potentially high-reward move they also signed oft-injured RHP Mark Prior to a one-year contract and hope he’ll be ready by mid-season. In some further depth moves the Pades Signed C Michael Barrett to a one-year contract to backup Josh Bard and signed free agent LHP Randy Wolf to a one-year contract to be their 4th or 5th starter. To help fill the outfield up after the loss of Milton Bradley and Mike Cameron they acquired OF Jim Edmonds and cash from the Cardinals in exchange for Minor League 3B David Freese. Lastly, they signed INF Tadahito Iguchi to a one-year contract to play 2B after cutting ties with Marcus Giles.

5.    San Francisco Giants
An ancient team with few marquee players and a long rebuilding process ahead of them that they appear reluctant to get started with lands the Giants in the NL West basement. While they do have some great players, especially pitchers Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain, there aren’t a whole lot of good things going on here.

Keys to Success:

For a team with innumerable starters who are over the age of 34, health will be a major concern. Already this spring Ray Durham, Omar Vizquel and Rich Aurilla were hampered by injuries and since the number of prospects in the Giants system isn’t high, they’ll need to be healthy for the Giants offense to be productive. If I were running this team, I would be looking to trade some of these older players if there was any interest in them at all, for some younger, higher upside players. The rebuilding needs to happen and holding on to any veterans with value seems foolish.  The loss of Barry Bonds, despite his age and the constant circus surrounding him, will certainly hamper the offense since at least he could still hit for power. Very few of these Giants players have any power to speak of, and certainly nothing in the Bonds realm.

The starters are promising with the electric Tim Lincecum leading the way. He is easily their best player and someone whom they will be building around for the foreseeable future. Coupled with Matt Cain and Barry Zito they have a strong front end of the rotation, assuming Zito isn’t completely toast. Their bullpen is a bit questionable, although they have some decent journeymen type arms who will most likely be serviceable, but not great.

It should be a long season out in SF this year, but if the right moves are made and they focus on player development they have some pieces to build around. It should be an interesting race between Baltimore, Pittsburgh and San Fran for worst team in baseball this year, in my opinion.

Major Off-season Moves:
Needless to say, with such a dismal outlook for 2008, San Franciso wasn’t exactly a hot destination for free agents and the Giants weren’t particularly active. Their big move was showing free agent OF Aaron Rowand the money, signing him to a five-year contract worth $60 million. This was quite a strange move since at 31 years old he doesn’t make them considerably younger and they are locking up a lot of money in him that they could be using on younger, higher upside players. In some bullpen/rotation depth moves they also signed RHP Vinnie Chulk and RHP Kevin Correia to one-year contracts.

Advertisements

Responses

  1. I don’t know if I agree with your positioning of the Padres. I understand their flaws, but they seem like they have the potential to put something together this year. 4th just seems to low for them.

  2. The NL West is traditionally one of the weaker divisions in baseball, and so perennial almost every team could be in the race. With the addition of Haren and maturation of Drew and contributions from Upton and the strong core of the Rockies and their strong bullpen I don’t see them not going 1-2.

    I could see the Dodgers and Padres flip-flopping but I really like the upside of the Dodgers lineup (Kemp, Ethier, Kuroda) and Clayton Kershaw in the wings, so I went with them.

    Also, Trevor Hoffman has to be a bit of a concern at this stage being 40 years old and blowing a lot of critical saves by a lot, dating back to last season. We’ll see how it all plays out though.

  3. Dissapointed by the lack of any new postings in the last week. Don’t become like that El Duffah guy and get really lazy. Also, Rick Ankiel had a slightly better BB/K ratio last year than Ryan Braun while posting a slightly lower homerun rate. Just in case you were wondering.

  4. Also Ryan Braun’s BABIP last year was .367. Given that the unadjusted league average BABIP is .305 and that this statistic tends to vary wildly from year to year for each player it would stand to reason that his batting average will be somewhat lower this year than last.

  5. Finally, check out this link: http://www.slate.com/id/2172223

  6. Braun’s walk rate (6.4%) and K rate (24.8%) were worse than Ankiel’s in 2007 (7.5% walk rate, 23.8% K rate). However, if you look at their minor league numbers Braun actually posted a much better walk rate and K rate (9.6% and 22% in a similar number of AB’s).

    Comparatively, Ankiel had a similar K rate to his minor league numbers and was actually walking a bit more than in his minor league days (7.5% 2007, 6.4% minors).

    Thus, it stands to reason that Braun will adjust better in his first full major league season and trend towards his career minor league numbers, increasing his walks and decreasing his K’s. Conversely, while Ankiel certainly can mature as a hitter and get more familiar with MLB pitching, odds are his walk rate goes down and his K rate stays the same – making Braun the better player, especially given the higher HR rate.

    I would also like to point out that while Braun BABIP of .367 is a bit high, especially compared to the league average, elite hitters like Manny, Jeter, Cabrera and Helton all have career average BABIP of .340-.360 and so it isn’t totally unrealistic to think Braun can replicate a strong BABIP in 2008.

    Only Albert Pujols reached some of the HR plateaus faster than Braun, so the kid is in rare company. While he probably won’t hit .330 this year, a BA over .310 with 30+ HR would come as no shock to me at all. Ankiel on the other hand, probably won’t ever hit better than .270, although he should continue to have plenty of pop. Keep in mind as well that Braun is going to be 24 this year, while Ankiel will be 29.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories

%d bloggers like this: