Thursday, April 1, 2010

"Giants" Enemy Lines: The NL West Preview

It's finally here. I'm sorry for the delay. It's been tough balancing two blogs (this and 500 Days of Zobrist, the fantasy baseball blog) so I've kind of slacked a little the past week on posts here at Remember '51.

However, here is Remember '51's complete NL West Preview, with each team by team breakdown (including your very own San Francisco Giants).

Arizona Diamondbacks
2009 results: 70-92 (last in the NL West).
2010 projections: 82-80 (PECOTA; tied for third in NL West)

The Diamondbacks in 2009

The Diamondbacks suffered a huge letdown season last year after finishing second in the division in 2008, and making the playoffs in 2007. The main problems for Arizona last season? Management change, injuries and general ineffectiveness by their players.

First off, Arizona changed managers last season after 29 games, firing manager Bob Melvin and replacing him with A.J. Hinch, the Diamondbacks' farm director at the time. The move was surprising because a.) Hinch had no managerial experience at the time, and b.) it seemed he was being groomed to be a future "general" manager rather than a "field" manager (hence, him working as the manager of minor league operations).

Well, the relationship never really clicked, and the Diamondbacks tanked. It wasn't completely his fault tho. Brandon Webb went down to injury, and promising players like Chris Young, Chad Tracy, Conor Jackson and even Stephen Drew all had down years. Dan Haren had another solid campaign, and Justin Upton, Mark Reynolds and Miguel Montero all showed promise of being future stars, but for the most part, the Diamondbacks didn't get a whole lot of consistent contribution from their roster, hence their last place finish in 2009.

Why the Diamondbacks Can Be Good in 2010

The young talent is in place. Though Drew is coming off a bad year, he certainly has enough promise to bounce back to his 2008 form (.291 average, 21 home runs, .836 OPS, 13.6 wRAA in 2008), and his plate approach was actually better in 2009 (0.56 BB/K ratio in 2009 in comparison to 0.38 ratio in 2008). Also, Haren and Upton are studs. Reynolds, Webb and Montero are big question marks, but if they continue to progress, they could have real impact on this team in 2010.

Furthermore, the Diamondbacks made some interesting moves that could work out for better. Edwin Jackson definitely is a talent, and made a step last year in Detroit to prove that he is on the cusp of being one of the game's better pitchers. Also, the acquisition of Ian Kennedy also adds depth to their starting rotation, something they didn't really have in 2009. If the hitting can bounce back, the pitching will look a whole lot better in 2010 than in 2009, which consequently will have a big effect on their record.

Why the Diamondbacks Might Be Bad in 2010

A lot of question marks surround this team. Can A.J. Hinch manage this ballclub after failing to motivate them in 2009? Can Brandon Webb be healthy? Can Dan Haren get some run support? Is Chad Qualls a top-tier closer or just another good reliever? Is Mark Reynolds a one-year wonder or a consistent power threat? Can Justin Upton carry this offense? Can Stephen Drew return to 2008 form? Can Edwin Jackson repeat his first-half stats in 2009 over the course of a full-season?

In my mind, the Diamondbacks have more questions than any other team in the NL West. So, while the Diamondbacks have potential to be solid players in the National League race, they could also fall apart as easily as last year if a lot of their players don't bounce back and produce.

What's my gut feeling about a lot of these questions? I don't think Webb will be back to his Cy-Young form, I think Reynolds won't repeat his 2009 numbers, I think Jackson is good but not great (Max Scherzer was a much better fit for this team), and Haren will get more run support than in 2009, but not that much.

Remember '51 Projection: 78-84 (fourth in the NL West)

The Diamondbacks have an interesting pitching core in Haren, Webb, Jackson and Kennedy and an even more interesting offensive core in Montero, Reynolds, Upton and Drew. My main beef is that I can't get a good read on these players. In my opinion, I think half of these "core" guys will flourish (Upton, Drew, Haren) and half will most likely not (Reynolds, Webb, Kennedy). So, I think Diamondbacks will flounder around .500 the whole year. They won't be out of it early, but they won't be serious contenders like a lot of people think.

Colorado Rockies
2009 results: 92-70 (second in NL West; NL Wild-Card winners)
2010 projections: 86-76 (PECOTA; first in NL West)

The Rockies in 2009

The Rockies were a tale of two teams last year: the team under Clint Hurdle, and the team post-Clint Hurdle.

To start off the year, the Rockies seemed to be a tremendous disappointment. At the time of Hurdle's firing, the Rockies were 18-28 and many thought general manager Dan O'Dowd was in the midst of another rebuilding season in Colorado.

Then Jim Tracy took over, the Rockies got hot, and eventually took second place from the San Francisco Giants, as well as the NL Wild Card spot. Though the Phillies bounced the Rockies in the NLDS, it was a successful season for the Rockies, who got big-time performances from hitters Troy Tulowitzki, Brad Hawpe, Dexter Fowler, Carlos Gonzalez, and Ian Stewart and solid pitching seasons from Ubaldo Jimenez, Aaron Cook, Jorge de la Rosa, Huston Street, and Jason Marquis.

Why the Rockies Can Be Good in 2010

The Rockies have a chance to be not only contenders in the NL West, but perhaps in Major League baseball as well. They return their entire, young core from last year, and shed all the spare parts they didn't need (Garrett Atkins) this off-season. Furthermore, the Rockies will also welcome back Jeff Francis, one of the Rockies' aces in 2007, who is coming back after missing the entire 2009 season to injury.

The Rockies lineup will be absolutely stacked, especially in outfielder where Gonzalez will play left, Fowler center, and Hawpe right. While Hawpe may be a detriment to the Rockies defensively, no baseball fan can doubt the offensive potency of that trio in the lineup.

There are some question marks with the pitching staff (mostly concerning de la Rosa and his high walk rates). However, Rockies fans have to be happy with the progress of Ubaldo Jimenez, who had the highest VORP (value over replacement player) of any pitcher on the Rockies staff last year according to Baseball Prospectus.

Why the Rockies Might Be Bad in 2010

If there is one thing you can say about the Rockies it is this: they don't necessarily have a track record for consistency. After winning the NL Pennant in 2007, the Rockies tanked in 2008, going 74-88. Could the same be in store for them in 2010? Sure, they have a new manager in Tracy, but one has to wonder if the Rockies are the kind of franchise that can put together back-to-back solid seasons. In their short history, they haven't necessarily proven that.

To make matters worse, the Rockies are dealing with some serious issues in the pitching category, especially at closer. Huston Street was shut-down this Spring, and most likely will begin the season on the Disabled List. Now, he could be back by May 1, but one has to wonder: can Street do what he did for the Rockies last year? Or are we going to see a Brad Lidge-esque trend? (e.g. solid one year, terrible the next).

Last year was a very surprising season for Street that might be hard to duplicate. Additionally, there isn't too much depth in the Rockies bullpen either (Franklin Morales is slated to be the temporary closer). If there is one thing that is required for a successful season, a solid bullpen is it, and unfortunately for Rockies fans, you can't necessarily say that of Colorado at this point.

Remember '51 Projection: 86-76 (first in the NL West)

The Rockies have question marks galore with their bullpen, and a few question marks with their starting pitching (how healthy is Francis? Can de la Rosa duplicate his 2009 numbers, but improve his walk stats?). Nonetheless, from top-to-bottom, the Rockies are pretty solid, and I consider them to be the favorite to win the NL West. Offensively, they look dynamite. Tulowitzki is the real deal, and Hawpe could prove to be a stud over his career as well. The players with the biggest upside though are Fowler and Gonzalez, who could experience real breakout season now that they will be expected to be playing full time in Colorado.

Los Angeles Dodgers
2009 results: (95-67, 1st in the NL West; NLCS runner-ups)
2010 projections: (83-79, PECOTA; second in the NL West)

The Dodgers in 2009

The Dodgers got off to a hot start in 2009 and never looked back. Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier broke into superstar status in Los Angeles, and Jonathan Broxton delivered in his first full-season as Dodgers closer. While Manny Ramirez didn't live up to expectations after coming back from a 50-game suspension to start off the season, free agent pickup Orlando Hudson picked up the slack en route to an All-Star appearance and his fourth Gold Glove at the end of the season.

While the Dodgers didn't have a strong ace for most of the year, they got a pleasant surprise in Clayton Kershaw, who had the highest VORP of any Dodgers pitcher in 2009 (Randy Wolf was second). While the Dodgers lost Wolf, Kershaw and Chad Billingsley, who had a solid first-half last year, return as well as Vicente Padilla, their Opening Day starter this year, who performed admirably (4-0, 1.22 WHIP, 3.20 ERA) after being acquired from Texas last season.

Why the Dodgers Can Be Good in 2010

They have Kemp back. They have Ethier back. They have Manny back. The solid trio of slugging outfielders return and the National League West should take notice. Yes, the Dodgers didn't make many upgrades this off-season, but when you have those three as your three-four-five hitters, you don't really need to hit free agency that hard.

Also, the bullpen is scary (even if they aren't completely healthy). Broxton is a stud, and George Sherrill, a former closer with the Baltimore Orioles, is a solid left-handed compliment. The Dodgers also have two solid young arms in the rotation in Kershaw and Billingsley, both who had great stretches during the season in 2009. If they can get a hold of their command in 2010, Kershaw and Billingsley could be one of the NL-West's better one-two punches.

Why the Dodgers Could Be Bad in 2010

There is a lot against the Dodgers going into Opening Day. First off, the McCourt divorce is proving to be a huge distraction, and as Frank and Jamie sling mud, lawyers and money at each other, one has to wonder who the heck is running the ballclub for the time being. The Dodgers were already hit-hard this off-season because of Frank and Jamie's messy dealings, will the same be true during the season when they are in need of a pitching upgrade?

Furthermore, age is a concern for many of the players on the Dodgers roster. Manny seems to be in regression, as does Casey Blake, as does Russell Martin, as does Rafael Furcal. Sure, the Dodgers have a great core in Kemp and Etheir, but other than that, their offense seems to be a little shaky at this point. James Loney hasn't really prove to be anything special, lord knows how Blake DeWitt will fare over a full Major League season, and one has to wonder about their outfield depth, which was hit hard by the departure of Juan Pierre to the Chicago White Sox. I guarantee you, Pierre will be missed once the Dodgers reach mid-season.

Remember '51 Projection: 81-81 (third in the NL West)

The Dodgers look to be in regression as a team, and the McCourt divorce certainly doesn't help their situation either. Maybe Manny has one more good season left in him. Maybe Loney will reach his potential this year like Kemp last season. Maybe Billingsley will get his control problems panned out. Maybe Kershaw will develop a third pitch.

I'm sorry...I know I'm biased as a Giants fan, but I just don't see a whole lot of optimism with this 2010 Dodgers squad.

San Francisco Giants
2009 results 88-74 (third in the NL West)
2010 projections: 82-80 (PECOTA; tied for third in the NL West)

The Giants in 2009

The Giants were expected to continue their rebuilding process in the post-Barry Bonds era in 2009. Well...the rebuilding process finished sooner than expected, as the Giants raced off to a hot start and stayed in the NL Wild Card race the entire year. While the Giants didn't get a lot of help offensively (they finished in or near the bottom of the NL in most major categories such as OPS, OBP and runs scored), the pitching made up for their offensive deficiencies. Tim Lincecum won his second Cy Young, Matt Cain made the NL All-Star team, Brian Wilson improved from 2008, Barry Zito finally showed he was worth a semblance of the contracts he was given in 2007, and Jonathan Sanchez showed some promise by throwing the first Giants no-hitter since John Montefusco.

Granted, the offense was not a complete bust. Pablo "Kung Fu Panda" Sandoval proved to be the most exciting Giants third baseman since Matt Williams as he slugged 25 home runs, hit .330, and sported a VORP of 64.2 (almost 40 points higher than the next-best Giants hitter, Juan Uribe, who had a VORP of 25.7). The Giants had a lot of problems getting consistent offensive production from their lineup. Thankfully, Sandoval wasn't one of the problems.

Why the Giants Can Be Good in 2010

It's not just the Sandoval and Co. show anymore. Though one can question how good the moves were financially, Giants fans can't accuse general manager Brian Sabean of not putting out any effort to improve the Giants offense this off-season. Sabean signed Mark Derosa from the St. Louis Cardinals and Aubrey Huff from the Detroit Tigers, and also managed to re-sign Uribe (as insurance should Edgar Renteria flounder a second-straight year), Freddy Sanchez and Bengie Molina. There are some questions concerning the direction the Giants are taking as an organization (are they going young or are they still trying the old "plug and chug" model of building a ballclub?) but any Giants fan can admit that the Giants' Opening Day lineup looks a whole lot more promising in 2010 than in 2009.

As for the pitching? They return their top-four starters from last season, they return their top-three bullpen arms (Wilson, Jeremy Affeldt and Sergio Romo), they added a fifth starter who has had a marvelous Spring (Todd Wellemeyer), and they have a Top-10 prospect (Madison Bumgarner) waiting in the wings should that "Spring Star" prove to be a dud during the regular season.

Yes, it's safe to say, things are good on the pitching end for the Giants.

Why the Giants Could Be Bad in 2010

They did their "best" to address their power need this off-season by signing 20-homer guys Huff and Derosa. However, there still are major concerns about this Giants lineup.

They have Aaron Rowand penciled in to bat leadoff.

They have only one guy returning with an OBP over .350 (Sandoval) and the guy with the second-highest OBP (Fred Lewis) is on the verge of being released.

F. Sanchez will begin the season on the DL.

Thus, it's tough to say that the Giants are in a "much" better situation in 2010 than in 2009. They have an older roster, a lot of their players (Molina, Derosa, Huff, Sanchez, Rowand) have already reached their peaks as players, and a lot of the promising young guys (Buster Posey for example) seem to be blocked unless major injury or major moves should happen during the year.

In many ways, Sabean had a chance to really improve the Giants roster this season and set them up well for the future. Instead, it looks like he just speckled problems (need for offense) with plaster (Derosa, Molina and Huff signings) that will wear off sooner than expected.

Remember '51 Projection: 83-79 (second in the NL West)

I know I have been a negative Nancy about the Giants for the most part this off-season. However, at the core, I think this Giants team is a good enough team, and the NL West is vulnerable enough for the Giants to make a run. The Dodgers aren't the same Dodgers in 2009 and won't be the 2009 Dodgers with this McCourt Divorce hanging over them. The Diamondbacks, in my mind, could be a dark horse should Webb be healthy, but if he isn't, I seriously doubt they'll be major contenders. San Diego is San Diego.

The opportunity is there. All the stands in the way is the Rockies, and despite their great young talent, they don't have a history of repeated success.

That's what makes me hopeful about the Giants this season, but I'm not going to jump the gun and give them the NL West yet. However, I won't be surprised if the pull it off.

San Diego Padres
2009 results: 75-87 (fourth place in the NL West)
2010 projections: 73-89 (fifth place in the NL West)

The Padres in 2009

Widely maligned as a laughingstock earlier in the season, the Padres actually turned it around at the end of the year and turned out to be a pretty decent ballclub, despite their poor start. Adrian Gonzalez proved to be a stud once again, and the Padres got relative breakout years from position players like Everth Cabrera (14.8 VORP, fourth-highest on the team), Chase Headley (15.1 VORP, third-highest on the team), Will Venable (12 home runs, 38 RBI, 10.3 VORP), and Kyle Blanks (10 home runs in 172 plate appearances, 10.0 VORP). Also, Giants castoff Kevin Correia also proved to be a breakout of sorts as he posted the highest VORP out of any pitcher on the team (24.9) and Heath Bell proved to be a viable closer as the he made the NL All-Star team and saved 42 games.

Why the Padres Can Be Good in 2010

Kevin Towers and his questionable general manager ways (picking Matt Bush No.1 overall  over Justin Verlander, Billy Butler and Stephen Drew, giving Brian Giles a "no-trade" clause in his contract, etc.) are gone and the Padres have a good young core in place to compete. Venable and Blanks weren't spectacular in 2009, but they certainly have the potential to breakout in 2010. Headly proved to be a very solid player down the stretch, and Cabrera might be one of the games most underrated shortstops.

Add that with a solid closer (Bell_, one of the best hitters in the game (Gonzalez) and manager with a good reputation (Bud Black, who actually garnered some Manager of the Year votes), and the Padres have the chance to be successful in 2010 in a Tampa Bay Rays or Florida Marlins mold.

Why the Padres Might Be Bad in 2010

They have a good young core offensively, but there are serious issues in their pitching department. Jon Garland is their No. 1 starter. Jon "Freaking" Garland! That is not good sign for your ballclub.

To make matters worse, it only seems to be a matter of time before Gonzalez is traded. For the Padres to have playoff hopes, they need Gonzalez, and at this point, having him for more than two months seems to be a luxury.

The Padres are young and talented, but they seem too young at this point to compete, even in the "free-for-all" NL West.

Remember '51 Projection: 72-90 (fifth in the NL West)

The Padres could be good in 2011 or 2012. However, they just don't seem to have enough pitching and their young talent seems to be a bit too unproven at this point in order to be a contender. I like what the Padres are doing as an organization, but they just don't have the horses to compete for a playoff spot. Most likely, it's going to be a long, tough year for Padres fans, and it will only get worse when Adrian Gonzalez leaves.

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