FanIQ NL West Preview

The World Champs Face Off Against the Offseason Champs in the NL West [FanIQ NL West Preview]

3/28/13 in MLB   |   Eric_   |   7716 respect

Blog Photo - FanIQ NL West PreviewWe end FanIQ’s 2013 MLB previews with the NL West. This division of course houses the defending World Champion San Francisco Giants, as well as the offseason champions and bottomless pit of money that is the Los Angeles Dodgers. We have the Diamondbacks and their interesting offseason strategy as well. This division is also home to extreme ballparks. On one hand, the Giants, Dodgers, and especially Padres are home to some of the biggest pitching parks in the game. On the other hand, there are the D’backs and Rockies and their hitters’ havens. How will it all shake out? Below is one man’s attempt to make sense of it all.
 
Once again note that teams are listed in predicted order of finish, and that all projected Opening Day lineups are from MLBDepthCharts.com. Bold indicates new acquisition. Italics indicate rookie.
 
San Francisco Giants
 
Projected Lineup
 
CF Angel Pagan
2B Marco Scutaro
3B Pablo Sandoval
C Buster Posey
RF Hunter Pence
1B Brandon Belt
LF Gregor Blanco/Andres Torres
SS Brandon Crawford
 
Projected Rotation
 
RHP Matt Cain
LHP Madison Bumgarner
RHP Tim Lincecum
LHP Barry Zito
RHP Ryan Vogelsong
 
Closer: RHP Sergio Romo
 
Key Losses: OF Melky Cabrera, RP Brian Wilson, 1B Aubrey Huff, RP Guillermo Mota, SP Brad Penny, 2B Ryan Theriot
 
The defending World Champions essentially stayed pat, making very few moves, but at the same time, not losing anyone of particular note except Cabrera, who was unlikely to come back due to the circumstances anyway. Pagan and Scutaro both received contract extensions that run until Pagan’s age 35 season and Scutaro’s age 39 season. Both are long-term risks, but in year one both should be fine, although it’s safe to say Scutaro won’t hit .362 again. The heart of the order remains the reigning NL MVP Buster Posey and the reigning World Series MVP Pablo Sandoval, both among the best at their positions. Belt is also one to watch, where the hope is he’ll start adding home run power to his fine .360 OBP last season. There are concerns though. Pence was the opposite of Scutaro, a midseason acquisition that didn’t hit at all, and the team is betting $13.8 million that Pence will rebound. The Blanco/Torres platoon isn’t going to come anywhere close to Cabrera’s production last year, and Crawford is glove only. Still, there’s enough here that the Giants should have another above average offense.
 
Like the lineup, the Giants will open up with the same rotation as the year before. Cain is finally shedding his label as one of the most underrated pitchers in the game after his perfect game and earning Cy Young votes for the third straight year. 2012 marked his sixth straight year of 200+ innings, and on the surface, there’s no reason this won’t be the seventh. Bumgarner has had moments of ineffectiveness in his nascent big league career, but two straight years of over 200 innings, a career 8.1 K/9 ratio, and a career 3.20 ERA make him arguably the top #2 starter in the game. Vogelsong moves into the third year of his incredible resurrection into a mid-rotation starter, while Zito is what he is, a fifth starter that makes way too much that sometimes can do more (see: last year’s postseason). The wild card of course is Lincecum. Things got away from him in the regular season, and the Giants hope that whatever was wrong has been fixed, and that he can at least get somewhat back to what he was before. However, the postseason shows that the team has a plan B if it doesn’t happen. Lincecum in the postseason was a dominant multi-inning reliever, practically unhittable that one time through the lineup. Baseball hasn’t had a 100+ inning relief ace in some time, but if Lincecum can’t get back the mojo starting, he could become that ace and be a huge weapon that no other team has.
 
Normally you don’t want to see a defending champion make no significant upgrades in the winter, but the core, superstar talents on the team are in their prime, and Brian Sabean is not afraid to make the in-season moves necessary to make it back-to-back.
 
Projected Record: 92-70
 
Down on the Farm: The Giants’ minor league system right now mostly exists as trade bait for whatever the big league club needs in the summer. Can’t argue with the results. The current consensus top guy in the system is SP Kyle Crick, a kid with a good fastball who impressed in his first year of full season pro ball. The top hitting prospect remains OF Gary Brown. His stock has dropped after a so-so year in AA to follow up raking the Cal League in 2011. His defense and running are plus, it’s just a question of how well he developing his hitting.
 
Los Angeles DodgersBlog Photo - FanIQ NL West Preview
 
Projected Lineup
 
LF Skip Schumaker
2B Mark Ellis
CF Matt Kemp
1B Adrian Gonzalez
RF Andre Ethier
SS Luis Cruz
C A.J. Ellis
3B Nick Punto
 
Projected Rotation
 
LHP Clayton Kershaw
RHP Chad Billingsley
LHP Hyun-Jin Ryu
RHP Josh Beckett
LHP Chris Capuano
 
Closer: RHP Brandon League
 
Key Losses: OF Shane Victorino, OF Bobby Abreu, IF Adam Kennedy, SP Joe Blanton
 
What can $7 billion over 25 years buy? If you’re the Dodgers, seemingly any player you want. Note however that there are limits in the form of roster spots. Take outfield for instance. The Dodgers have long-term contracts for Kemp, Ethier, and Carl Crawford. It’s going to be hard for them to add another outfielder, even if they wanted to. Also given the new caps on the draft, international signings, and the trend of teams locking up their young stars, the Dodgers can’t spend all that money. They just can’t. Just looking at the projected lineup and rotation show the issues the Dodgers high priced talent has: injuries. Hanley Ramirez is out two months with a torn thumb ligament. Zach Greinke is dealing with elbow inflammation, and him not being ready for Opening Day might be the best case scenario. Carl Crawford is still recovering from Tommy John surgery, and no one’s sure what he’s capable of once he is healthy.
 
The question marks continue in the lineup. Can Kemp stay healthy after shoulder surgery? If he can, he’s a MVP candidate. Can Adrian Gonzalez regain his power? How much does Mark Ellis have left? Will the hits fall for Luis Cruz since he has no patience? Is Nick Punto actually going to play while Ramirez is out? If things go right, the Dodgers are on their way, but there’s a lot of ways it can go wrong, more than one would think given the spending spree.
 
The rotation is anchored by stud Clayton Kershaw, who could’ve easily won the Cy Young again last year and is a prime contender to win it this year.  If Greinke isn’t seriously hurt, he slots in as the most expensive #2 starter ever, but would be perfect for that role. Over the past few years, his Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) has been significantly lower than his ERA, primarily because of a poor BABIP with runners in scoring position. This could mean he’s been unlucky, it could mean something else, but if healthy, he’ll be good. Ryu is a bit of a mystery after being posted from Korea. The Dodgers paid a $25.7 million posting fee, then signed him to a 6 year, $36 million deal. Time will tell if the Dodgers were right to be that high on him. Beckett had a good start in LA last season, but overall is still a question mark. A true advantage the team has though is starting pitching depth. Chris Capuano, Ted Lilly, and Aaron Harang are all still kicking around the roster. All three are average at best, but if there are injuries, any of them can slip into the fifth starters role and do a credible job. The Rays might be the only other team in baseball that enjoys that kind of depth.
 
This write-up is generally skeptical of the Dodgers, but as you can see, the predicted record puts them right in the thick of the race. In the end, while there are issues, I like the top of the rotation and the pitching depth, plus the talent them have can't be ignored. If they get to the playoffs, watch out, as they have the elite talent capable of carrying a team to a championship. The key is getting there.
 
Projected Record: 88-74
 
Down on the Farm: Cuban import OF Yasiel Puig has been the talk of Spring Training, which forgets that Spring Training stats mean nothing and that Puig has exactly 95 career minor league plate appearances. He’ll start the year in AA to see if he can keep it up. Puig is raw, but not quite as raw as their first round pick last year, SS Corey Seager. His first jump from high school to pro ball was encouraging, making him one to watch as time goes on.

The Diamondbacks really, really like scrappiness and grit. Will it help them improve? Find out on the next page.

Arizona DiamondbacksBlog Photo - FanIQ NL West Preview
 
Projected Lineup
 
CF Gerardo Parra
3B Martin Prado
2B Aaron Hill
C Miguel Montero
1B Paul Goldschmidt
LF Jason Kubel
RF A.J. Pollock
SS Cliff Pennington
 
Projected Rotation
 
RHP Ian Kennedy
RHP Brandon McCarthy
RHP Trevor Cahill
LHP Wade Miley
LHP Patrick Corbin
 
Closer: RHP J.J. Putz
 
Key Losses: OF Justin Upton, OF Chris Young, SP Trevor Bauer, 3B Chris Johnson, SP Takashi Saito
 
What is the value of intangibles and grit? The Diamondbacks in many ways are an experiment to find out. They have plenty of guys, like Eric Hinske and Willie Bloomquist, with sterling clubhouse reputations. The team wasn’t happy with Trevor Bauer’s way of doing things, so out he went.  The team didn’t feel Justin Upton tried hard enough, so out he went. Both trades were highly criticized, and long-term it’s probably the trades won’t work out. In the short term though, it might not be so bad. Martin Prado was the primary major league return for Upton. His value is primary tied to batting average, but he’s hit .300 most of his career and Chase Field should help. The team gets plenty of power from the middle of the order, with Montero quietly becoming one of the game’s best hitting catchers. Goldschmidt has also developed into a nice 40 double/20 homer guy. Parra starts the year at center and leadoff due to an injury to rookie Adam Eaton. Eaton was expected to bring a solid OBP, but Parra will be a reasonable facsimile the 6-8 weeks Eaton will be out. The Arizona offense should also expect Cody Ross to come back soon enough from a strained calf, even if he doesn’t start the season, as this lineup projects. This is a star-less lineup, but the whole (and the ballpark) is greater than the sum of its parts.
 
I’ll start looking at the rotation with Cahill. He took another step forward after coming to Arizona from Oakland, and his extreme ground ball style works well at Chase Field. Cahill could easily become the top guy in the staff by the end of the year. Kennedy’s hit luck went back to normal levels in 2012, and as such showed what he probably is in reality, a mid-rotation innings eater. Miley nearly won the Rookie of the Year award, and while repeating a 3.33 ERA is probably optimistic, he does well at avoiding walks and keeping the ball in the yard, both key tenets of the organization’s current philosophy. Joining the rotation is Brandon McCarthy, who also avoids walks and home runs and by ERA been one of the better pitchers in baseball. Unfortunately, he also ends up on the DL with shoulder problems two or three times a year. Luckily for Arizona, they have guys that can be take the mound and be competent- another team with enviable depth. Corbin, Josh Collmenter, Randall Delgado (acquired in the Upton deal), and Nelson Figueroa (last seen in the WBC) aren’t household names, but they’ll do in a pinch, and if they want to, the D’Backs could call up their true top talents.
 
Again, long term it’s not likely trading their best player and best pitching prospect will work out, and as you might guess, I’m skeptical on the emphasis on intangibles. However, in the short term they could be better. Last year run differential said they’d be 86-76; they were actually 81-81. Getting luckier alone could propel Arizona to at least the hunt for the second wild card.
 
Projected Record: 84-78
 
Down on the Farm: When I mentioned Arizona’s pitching depth, I didn’t even mention Tyler Skaggs and Archie Bradley, their two top prospects. Skaggs is considered the best left handed pitching guy in the minors. He’s just about ready for the bigs full-time, and will almost certainly be in Arizona. Bradley, a right-hander, was the team’s first round pick in 2011 and had a solid full season debut in A-ball. The prospect at the center of the Bauer trade was SS Didi Gregorius, who has a fantastic glove, but can’t hit a lick even in the minors.
 
San Diego PadresBlog Photo - FanIQ NL West Preview
 
Projected Lineup
 
SS Everth Cabrera
3B Jedd Gyorko
1B Yonder Alonso
LF Carlos Quentin
RF Will Venable
CF Cameron Maybin
C Nick Hundley
2B Alexi Amarista
 
Projected Rotation
 
RHP Edinson Volquez
LHP Clayton Richard
LHP Eric Stults
RHP Jason Marquis
RHP Tyson Ross
 
Closer: RHP Huston Street
 
Key Losses: SP Tim Stauffer
 
Is there a more anonymous team than the Padres? The team made very few moves in the offseason, instead hoping their young core in the bigs plus their deep farm system takes a step forward. Unfortunately, Chase Headley will be out a month with a fractured thumb. Even one month without the Padres breakout star and borderline MVP candidate will take a bite out of the offense, but it’s not a bad lineup once you adjust for the cavernous Petco Park. Quentin actually just nipped Headley for team OPS lead, but in only 86 games. If healthy (admittedly a rarity), he’ll join Headley as a solid heart of the order. Venable and Maybin have their weaknesses, but both have developed into useful players. Still establishing himself is Alonso, who profiles as more of a doubles hitter than a home run hitter, but he should be yet another solid cog. Gyorko is a stealth Rookie of the Year who hit 30 bombs in the minors last season. He’ll move to second once Headley comes back, which admittedly could be a stretch for him defensively. Another spot of potential is catcher. Hundley was signed to an extension after a breakout 2011, then spent most of 2012 injured and ineffective. He’ll get a 50 game chance to reestablish himself with Yasmani Grandal serving a PED suspension to start the year. Grandal did impress in his first taste of the majors last year. Is this a great lineup? No, but is it a bad lineup? Not at all, and there are few black holes. With the Padres moving in the fences a bit, the offense should look at least superficially better, and they have enough young talent to improve in reality.
 
Petco makes the Padres offense look worse than it is, and it also makes the Padres pitching look better than it is. Despite Petco’s advantages, San Diego was below average in run prevention last year. Volzquez can miss bats and can look impressive, but he also led the league in walks. Richard is only capable of being successful at home. He got bombed on the road so much that he actually led the NL in home runs allowed. Note that those are the top two guys. Slults has an ERA that looks good, but he doesn’t strike out nearly enough guys and struggled against righties. Tyson Ross comes from Oakland after a terrible year in that pitcher’s park. Jason Marquis’s presence should speak for itself. Reinforcements will come when Cory Luebke returns from Tommy John surgery, but otherwise? Yikes.
 
Before I realized how awful the pitching staff was, I though the Padres could be a sleeper team. However, it’s just not good enough to get there. The lineup is underrated, and the farm system is promising, but it's those on the bump that will hold the Padres back.
 
Projected Record: 76-86
 
Down on the Farm: Despite the graduations of Alonso and Grandal, this is still one of the deeper farm systems in the game. Gyorko will be the newest graduate hoping to make an impact. The top of the system though is still a ways away from the majors. C Austin Hedges is considered one of the best defensive catcher in the majors, and he showed better hitting ability than expected in A-ball last year. SP Max Fried, the 7th pick in the 2012 draft, has barely got his pro career started, but projects as a #2 starter. On the minus side, OF Rymer Liriano and SP Casey Kelly (the key to the Adrian Gonzalez trade) have both seen their seasons end before they began due to Tommy John surgery.

The Rockies were a disaster last year. Find out if they can improve on the next page.

Colorado RockiesBlog Photo - FanIQ NL West Preview
 
Projected Lineup
 
CF Dexter Fowler
2B Josh Rutledge
LF Carlos Gonzalez
SS Troy Tulowitzki
RF Michael Cuddyer
1B Todd Helton
C Wilin Rosario
3B Chris Nelson
 
Projected Rotation
 
RHP Jhoulys Chacin
LHP Jorge de la Rosa
RHP Juan Nicasio
LHP Jeff Francis
RHP Jon Garland
 
Closer: RHP Rafael Betancourt
 
Key Losses: SP Alex White, 1B Jason Giambi, SP Guillermo Moscoso
 
While Coors Field will likely always be a hitter’s park, over the years it has calmed down. Until last year, that is, when the park effects spiked back towards the Silly Ball era. That didn’t help a pitching staff that was already overwhelmed, but it showed in the offensive stats. The Rockies were third in the NL in scoring, but the splits showed a different story:
 
Home: .306/.367/.500, 100 HR, 133 OPS+
Road: .241/.291/.371, 66 HR, 87 OPS+
 
First thing that will help though is a healthy Troy Tulowitzki. A groin injury ruined his 2012, and the Rockies must have him for 150+ games to anchor the lineup. Unfortunately, that’s not often the case. Gonzalez and Fowler are just hitting their prime at 27 and will be Tulo’s primary backup singers, so to speak. Cuddyer and Rosario are at two very different points in their careers, but both bats profile the same: good power, poor walk rate. Rutledge’s offense contributions were similar to these two, but he did a credible job filling in for Tulo that he moves to second this year, a more natural position. I put the home/road numbers to show that they’re park aided, and it will always be that way, but there’s still plenty of talent here.
 
Coors Field is tough for pitchers, but no ballpark could’ve made the Rockies’ pitching look good last year. The team’s road ERA as a whole was a still pretty lousy 4.41. The team even experimented with a four man rotation and a 75 pitch limit. One thing that didn’t help was that Chacin, de la Rosa, and Nicasio combined for just 28 starts last year due to injuries. All three could still be something, but all have concerns. de la Rosa had Tommy John surgery in 2011, but 2012 for him was only three terrible starts. He still must prove that he’s not going to be an example of how not everyone rebounds from TJ surgery. Chacin’s fly ball rate went way up in his limited innings last year, a red flag at Coors. Nicasio’s walk rate ticked up significantly last year. The good news is all three can pitch much better when healthy, and they’ll need to pick this rotation off from the mat. Francis was signed midseason and led the team in innings with 113, the lowest total for a team leader since 1891. Garland was signed Sunday. Seriously. If anyone falters in that group, younger guys with various levels of potential left- Tyler Chatwood, Christian Friedrich, and Drew Pomeranz- are there to take the ball.
 
A full season from Tulowitzki will help, and the pitching almost can’t be worse, but it’s far from the point where the Rockies can get out of the division basement. They still have to find a pitcher, any pitcher, that they can count on.
 
Projected Record: 65-97
 
Down on the Farm: 3B Nolan Arenado has been the top prospect for the Rockies, but a so-so year in AA has dropped his stock a bit. He still could end up in Colorado this season and contributing though. The new Rockies prospect that has scouts drooling is OF David Dahl. Dahl went from high school to the Pioneer League last season, which he crushed to the tune of .379/.423/.625. He’s proven to have a more advanced bat than previously thought. Of course, turning 19 on Opening Day, he’s got a while to go.
 
Those are my picks and predictions for the NL West. What are yours?
 
Thus concludes are division previews for this season. I hope you’ve enjoyed them, and now we can finally get to some baseball.
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3/28/13   |   mcleodglen   |   32 respect

very accurate preview i'd say, appreciate it.