March 26, 2003
Aaron's Baseball Blog 2003 Season Preview: NL West
NL West W L Win% GB
Arizona 98 64 .605 ----
San Francisco 95 66 .590 2.5
Los Angeles 92 70 .568 6.0
Colorado 73 89 .451 25.0
San Diego 66 96 .407 32.0
This year's prediction:
1) SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
95-66 (.590) | 2nd Place (2.5 GB)
783 Runs Scored (3rd) | 616 Runs Allowed (2nd)
As many of you know by now, I am somewhat obsessed with Barry Bonds. I love watching him play, I think he's possibly the greatest player ever, I tend to write about him a ton and I generally refer to him as "Superman." Because of my (healthy) obsession with Barry, I have also written quite a bit about the Giants and their off-season moves. Instead of re-stating things I have already touched upon (and brilliantly!), here's some of what I said back in January:
One of my favorite things to do over the past few months has been to "project" San Francisco's lineup. I've done it several times on this very website. With Jeff Kent leaving and Durham, Alfonzo (and now Cruz) coming, along with the fact that they have Superman, it's always entertaining to try to figure out how Felipe Alou will fill out the lineup card.
Here's my latest guess:2B Ray Durham
3B Edgardo Alfonzo
LF Barry Bonds
RF Jose Cruz Jr.
SS Rich Aurilia
C Benito Santiago
1B J.T. Snow
CF Marquis Grissom / Marvin Benard
It might not look it at first glance, but that is a very good lineup.
Here are each player's EqAs from last year, along with MLB average at their position:
Durham = .296
AVG 2B = .259
Alfonzo = .307
AVG 3B = .264
Bonds = .457
AVG LF = .283
Cruz Jr. = .267
AVG RF = .283
Aurilia = .256
AVG SS = .256
Santiago = .271
AVG C = .246
Snow = .263
AVG 1B = .287
Grissom = .289
AVG CF = .270
For those of you without calculators handy...
1 position was as far above average as a human being can possibly be: Barry Bonds +.174 over the average LF.
4 positions were significantly above average: Durham +.037, Alfonzo +.043, Santiago +.025 and Grissom +.019.
1 position right at league average: Aurilia +/- .000.
2 positions significantly below average: Snow -.024 and Cruz Jr. -.016.
As much as I worship him, I do not expect Barry Bonds to hit .370 next year, so I would suspect he will not be +.174 over the average LF in 2003. I also think Santiago is almost a sure thing to decline quite a bit and Grissom is a good bet to do the same. Those declines should be somewhat off-set by what I think will be a bounce back year by Aurilia and an improvement by Snow, because he simply can't be any worse.
In 2003, I would predict the Giants will have 4 players significantly above average: Bonds, Durham, Alfonzo, Aurilia. 3 players hovering right around league average: Cruz Jr., Santiago and Grissom. And 1 player way below average: J.T. Snow. That is the formula for a very good offense, particularly when 1 of the 4 "above average" guys hits like Babe Ruth dreamed of.
What I just did is one way of looking at the offense. Another way to do so is to look at what the Giants did in 2002 and see how that might be different in 2003.
Bonds, Snow, Santiago and Aurilia are the only guys that return from last season. As I said, I expect Bonds to "decline" a little bit and Santiago a lot. But, I also expect Snow and Aurilia to improve, which should off-set that.
As for the newcomers...
Durham replaces Jeff Kent at second base. Kent was good for 123 "Equivalent Runs" last year, Durham clocked in at 97. I would expect Durham to play at about the same level, which would mean a dropoff of about 25 runs.
At third base, Alfonzo replaces David Bell. Bell created 80 EqR last year, while Alfonzo had 88, in slightly less playing time (he had some injuries). If Alfonzo plays a full-season, he should be worth at least 20 runs over David Bell's performance last year.
In the outfield, Grissom and Cruz replace Reggie Sanders and the Lofton/Shinjo/Goodwin/Benard 4-headed monster. Last year Sanders and the group of CFs combined for 180 EqR in 1449 plate appearances. Shinjo, Goodwin and Benard all appeared some as left fielders and pinch hitters too, which is why the plate appearance totals are more than a "normal" center fielder/right fielder combo.
Meanwhile, Cruz Jr. and Grissom combined for 121 EqR in only 881 plate appearances. Cruz missed some time with injuries and Grissom was a platoon player some of the time. Add in some Marvin Benard and some Tony Torcato to fill in some of those remaining plate appearances and the Giants should definitely be able to equal or better the production of their 2-non Barry Bonds outfield positions from last year.
So, here's what we've got...
LF, SS, C and 1B are all the same players and I expect them to, as a group, produce similarly in 2003.
2B will probably be worth about 25 less runs offensively this season than it was in 2002.
3B will probably be worth about 20 runs more, at least.
And CF and LF should be about the same, total.
What we've really got here is a whole lot of new faces and a very similar offense as far as overall quality is concerned. And, if the Giants can have a similar offense to last year's, it will be among the best in the league.
The Giants scored the 3rd most runs in the National League last year, but that stat is extremely misleading because of how tough Pac Bell Park is on hitters. Their team EqA (which adjusts for everyone's home ballpark) was the best in all of baseball, at .283.
Assuming Bonds doesn't go McGwire on us this year, the Giants should once again have one of the top 2-3 offenses in the National League.
That statement about Bonds not going "McGwire on us this year" was just an off-the-cuff remark, but once I re-read it I started thinking. I think we all assume Barry will once again be Barry this season, but at some point doesn't he have to stop? He'll be 38 this year and I would expect him to have a great season, the best of any baseball player in the world. But do you think he'll be able to do that at the age of 45? How about 43? 42? 40? Just assuming an older player that is performing at an incredible level will continue to do so is dangerous. All you need to do is look at Mark McGwire for a perfect example.
Now, McGwire was a lot more injury prone that Bonds, which is a huge factor, but stay with me on this.
McGwire hit .274/.393/.646 with 58 homers in 1997. He hit .299/.470/.752 with 70 homers in 1998. He hit .278/.424/.697 with 65 homers in 1999. At that point he was 36 years old and coming off of 3 historic seasons. Would I have predicted he would be out of baseball in 2 years? Of course not. He got injured, but was still great in 2000 and then was injured and no longer great in 2001. And now he's retired.
Age is a very powerful thing in sports and it is probably the only thing strong enough to stop Barry Bonds right now (you could say it is his kryptonite, but that would be cheesy, right?).
With the help of Lee Sinins' Sabermetric Encyclopedia, I looked up all the seasons of batters that were 38 years old or older. In the history of baseball, do you know how many 38+ year olds have had seasons with an OPS over 1.000 (Bonds' OPS was 1.381 last year and 1.379 in 2001)?
2, in the entire history of baseball.
In 1933, Babe Ruth posted a 1.023 OPS, hitting .301/.442/.582 at the age of 38. He had one more good season in 1934, although he only played in 125 games, and then hit .181/.359/.431 in 72 at bats in 1935, the final year of his career. At 40, he was retired.
Ted Williams posted back-to-back 1.000+ OPS seasons in 1957 and 1958, at the ages of 38 and 39. He then had the worst season of his career in 1959, hitting .254 (his only year below .300), but bounced back with a very good 1960 season, in limited playing time. That was his final year and he was done playing at 41.
And that's it, in the history of the sport. Besides Ruth and Williams, 2 of the 3 greatest hitters ever - along with Barry - no other player has had an OPS of 1.000 at Bonds' current age. Not to mention that if Bonds does post a 1.000 OPS, it will be about a 400 point drop from his last 2 seasons!
If any player can successfully fight off age and continue to play at an extraordinary level, it is Barry Bonds. That said, it scares me a little that only 2 players in the history of baseball have had an OPS of 1.000+ after the age of 37. In fact, only 9 players have had OPSs over .900.
I'm not saying Bonds is going to collapse in 2003. In fact, I already said I expect him to be the best hitter in baseball this year. But history (and age) is not on his side.
Losing Jeff Kent is a bigger loss than most people think. He was really a dominant player with the Giants and a lot of his greatness is masked by Pac Bell Park. That said, I like what they did this off-season. I like Bonds. I like the ballpark. I like their announcers. I guess you could say I'm a Giants fan!
2) ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
98-64 (.611) | 1st Place
819 Runs Scored (1st) | 674 Runs Allowed (5th)
I don't particularly "like" the Diamondbacks for 2003. First, they are an extremely old team. They are also looking at having a lineup with Chad Moeller/Rod Barajas, Craig Counsell and Tony Womack taking up 38% of the non-pitcher spots.
Luis Gonzalez declined last year from his 2000/2001 level and he suffered a serious shoulder injury at the end of the year (which kept him out of the post-season). Steve Finley is a 38 year old center fielder that had a very good 2002, but is only one season removed from a serious decline. Danny Bautista is a nice outfielder, but he suffered a serious injury last year too and he's also a career .267/.306/.414 hitter.
They have a nice bench in theory, but Mark Grace is just about done and Quinton McCracken is still Quinton McCracken, despite what last year might have to say about it. And Matt Williams' best asset at this point is his wife.
So, as you can see, there are some reasons floating around in my head as to why I shouldn't have the Diamondbacks in 2nd place. But then I think about this:
You put that into a rotation and it is automatically the best in the league, whether Byung-Hyun Kim and Elmer Dessens are the other starters or it's me and my little cousin Josh.
As with Bonds, at some point Randy and Curt are simply going to stop performing like this. Johnson is 39 and Schilling is 36. Is it going to be this year? Who knows?
If one of them gets injured or stops pitching like a human strikeout-machine, this team is going to be in trouble, despite what I think is a much improved 3-4-5 part of the rotation. I guess I am just banking on them being able to do it for at least one more year.
3) LOS ANGELES DODGERS
92-70 (.568) | 3rd Place (6.0 GB)
713 Runs Scored (7th) | 643 Runs Allowed (3rd)
I toyed with putting the Dodgers in second-place, I really did. In fact, I actually had them there up until about 30 seconds before I started typing this very sentence.
I really like the Dodgers and it is a sudden occurence and one that snuck up on me a little bit. I think they have a great manager in Jim Tracy. They have some very "likable" players in guys like Paul LoDuca and Dave Roberts. And they have a legit superstar in Shawn Green (who is, incidentally, my mother's favorite baseball player). Plus, they have one of the best announcers of all-time.
But the NL West is such a tough division. I honestly think that the D-Backs, Dodgers and Giants are 3 of the top 4 teams in the National League. And I think the Dodgers are very close to the Diamondbacks, but I just couldn't go against the power of Randy and Curt. I tried, but I chickened out. If they do end up finishing in 2nd or even winning the division (which they definitely could do) I am going to be really angry at myself for not going with my gut and sticking them ahead of Arizona.
I started looking at L.A.'s roster and I had some serious questions.
Shawn Green will once again be among the top hitters in the NL, that is a given. After that it gets a little sketchy.
Dave Roberts was great last year, getting on base 35% of the time and stealing 45 bases, but he was also a 29 year old playing in his first full-season and he hit .249 with a .340 slugging % in the 2nd half of the year. He's a valuable player if he's at last year's level (.277/.353/.365), but any kind of drop makes him a negative.
Their rotation is the very definition of sketchy. They have Kevin Brown and Darren Dreifort coming back off of injuries and Kaz Ishii, who got hit in the head with a batted ball last year and walked 106 men in 154 innings before that. They also have another 100+ walk starter in Hideo Nomo, who had a very nice season and won 16 games. Still, that was his first season with an ERA below 4.50 since 1997! Heck, probably the safest bet among the starters in Odalis Perez, who was awesome last year. He pitched 222 innings with a 3.00 ERA and won 15 games. But he's got a somewhat big history of injuries and even he scares me.
And this is not an offense that can support a banged-up/struggling pitching staff.
Green is great and they added Fred McGriff at 1B, which is a big upgrade from last year. Other than that, this looks just like the lineup that scored 713 runs last year. Now, Dodger Stadium had something to with the low run total, but it also helped their pitching staff, which finished 3rd in the NL in runs allowed.
I don't know, I am still going round and round in circles trying to decide if they should be in 2nd or 3rd. It is really that close in my mind and I really would like to make a somewhat "gutsy" pick and put them ahead of Arizona.
But look at these numbers again:
For those of you with a memory like the guy from Memento, those are Johnson and Schilling's combined totals from 2001 and 2002. Unbelievable.
Sorry Dodger fans, I'm gonna leave them in 3rd place. I hope they prove me wrong (and my gut right).
4) SAN DIEGO PADRES
66-96 (.407) | 5th Place (32.0 GB)
662 Runs Scored (14th) | 815 Runs Allowed (14th)
Before Phil Nevin went down with a season-ending injury, I was giving serious thought to picking the Padres to finish in the top 3 of this division. It was probably a silly idea to begin with and, now that Nevin is out for the year, I have come to my senses and I'll stick with putting them in 4th.
Quite frankly, the Padres were awful last year. They ranked 3rd-to-last in the NL in both runs scored and runs allowed, which is why they won only 66 games.
There were really very few bright spots. Ryan Klesko had another great season, hitting .300/.388/.537 with 29 homers and 39 doubles. Mark Kotsay continued to be one of the most underrated CFs in the baseball, hitting .292/.359/.452 with good defense.
Pitchers Jake Peavy and Oliver Perez both made very nice debuts in the Majors, Peavy posting a 4.52 ERA with 90 Ks in 98 innings and Perez checking in at 3.50 with 94 Ks in 90 innings. Another young pitcher, Brian Lawrence, had an excellent first full-season, pitching 210 innings with a 3.69 ERA.
And that's about it for the good stuff. Phil Nevin was hurt a lot and didn't hit that well when he played. Deivi Cruz somehow got 514 at bats and had a .294 OBP. Bubba Trammell slugged only .414. D'Angelo Jimenez stunk at the plate and eventually was traded. Sean Burroughs made his MLB debut and didn't do well, then got injured and sent back to the minors. Kevin Jarvis, whom they signed to a multi-year deal in the off-season, was injured and pitched a total of only 35 innings. Dennis Tankersley had a horrible rookie year. I could go on and on.
And now this spring they got more bad news. Trevor Hoffman is going to miss at least half the year and Nevin is out for the whole thing.
In the long-term, I like the Padres. They have excellent young pitching in Lawrence, Peavy, Perez and Tankersley and they have a pretty good GM in Kevin Towers. They've just had too much bad luck lately though and I can't consider them a serious contender this year.
5) COLORADO ROCKIES
73-89 (.451) | 4th Place (25.0 GB)
778 Runs Scored (4th) | 898 Runs Allowed (16th)
Let's face it, the Colorado Rockies have no shot of winning this division or even the Wild Card. So, instead of breaking down their roster, I thought I'd take this chance to discuss something that has been on my mind for a while now...
Over the years, there have been many theories thrown about regarding what the Rockies can do to build a better, more consistent team.
Some people think they need strikeout pitchers, some people think they need ground ball pitchers.
Some people think they need power hitters, some people think they need guys that don't walk a lot and put the ball in play.
Some people think they need to focus on defense, some people think they should say "screw defense" and stick as many bats out there as possible.
And I am probably missing at least 20 other theories that have been discussed by very smart people that I respect a great deal.
While I agree with some of the theories and disagree with others, I have one of my own. The Rockies do not need to get this type of hitter or that type of hitter, they simply need to get better hitters, period.
Coors Field inflates offensive stats to such a degree that it is often hard to accurately judge players. At the same time, everyone (including the Rockies) knows how great Coors is for hitters and because of this, they often acquire a player because they think he'll do well in Coors. For example, when they traded for Preston Wilson this off-season, I heard several people, including their manager and general manager, say that they thought Preston Wilson could hit 40 homers in Coors.
That is all well and good and 40 homers from anyone, anywhere is certainly nice, but what they forget to mention is that Preston Wilson is still Preston Wilson, no matter where he is playing.
Let me try to explain...
Over the years the Rockies have acquired many different hitters and almost every single time they start talking about how "We think Player X can hit .330 here with 25 homers." I remember when Jeff Cirillo got to Colorado a few years ago they whipped out these computer projections they had done that said Cirillo could hit like .350 with 60 doubles or something like that.
By doing that sort of thing, the Rockies are missing the entire point. Almost any good hitter will put up fabulous numbers in Coors Field. Its effect on hitting cannot be emphasized enough.
In Cirillo's first year with the Rockies he hit .326 with 53 doubles, which is damn close to their "projection" for him. But guess what? That wasn't even a good season! That same year, the league offensive numbers, adjusted to Coors Field, were better than Cirillo's!
Cirillo had a .392 OBP.
The league had a .389 OBP.
Cirillo had a .477 SLG.
The league had a .502 SLG.
Despite hitting .326 with 53 doubles in 2000, Jeff Cirillo was actually a slightly below-average hitter, which tells you all you need to know about the effects of Coors Field.
The point is that the Rockies cannot get caught up in thinking the way that normal teams do about their hitters. They can't look at a .320 batting average and think the player is a great hitter. They can't look at 40 doubles or 35 homers and think the player is an elite power-hitter.
They simply need to go out and acquire the best possible hitters, without allowing what those hitters might do in Coors Field affect their decision-making.
Look at the players the Rockies have acquired recently...
Jay Payton, who is now their starting left fielder.
Chris Stynes, who is now their starting third baseman.
Preston Wilson, who is now their starting center fielder.
Jose Hernandez, who is now their starting shortstop.
Charles Johnson, who is now their starting catcher.
Ronnie Belliard, who is now their starting second baseman.
It is very likely that a lot of these guys will put up huge offensive numbers. Jay Payton might hit .320, Preston Wilson might smack 40 homers, Jose Hernandez will probably drive in 100 runs. But so what?
Masked by what their Coors-inflated numbers will be is the fact that Jay Payton is still Jay Payton. The same guy that had career hitting line of .278/.322/.413 before coming to Colorado at mid-season last year. Payton has a career OPS+ of 99, which means he has been an average hitter for his career.
Yet, I have no doubt that, if he stays healthy, Jay Payton will hit .300+ with 25+ homers for the Rockies this year. Let's say he hits .300/.350/.480, which would be his best raw numbers by a landslide. You know what that would make him? An average hitter! Last year the league, adjusted to playing half their games in Coors, hit .290 with a .470 slugging %!
The fact that mediocre hitters can hit .300 and smack 25 homers with ease in Colorado does not mean they are no longer mediocre hitters and I think that is the biggest problem for the Colorado Rockies right now - they do not seem to realize that.
Instead of filling their lineup with mediocre hitters that hit .260/.320/.400 like the rest of the league does, the Rockies fill them with mediocre hitters that hit .280 with .450 slugging percentages and they start thinking the players are a lot better than they are. I can't really blame them. When I see a .300 batting average, my first instinct is to think that the player is a good hitter, but if you learned that almost everyone in Coors has a .300 batting average, it wouldn't make it such a big deal.
Despite scoring about a billion runs, the Rockies have had very few legitimately great hitters in their history.
Sure, Dante Bichette hit .313 with 31 homers and 141 RBIs in 1996, but you wanna know something? He had an adjusted OPS+ that was only 5% better than the league that year. For his career with Colorado, Bichette hit .316 with 201 homers, 270 doubles and a .540 slugging %. You know what that got him? An OPS+ of 111, which is the same as Scott Hatteberg's OPS+ was last year. For all the .300 batting averages and massive RBI totals Bichette had in Colorado, he was about as good as Scott Hatteberg was last year for the A's, which is to say good, but certainly nothing special.
Same thing goes for Vinny Castilla. Vinny had some massive "raw" power power numbers for the Rockies in the 1990s. He hit 40 HRs for 3 straight years and drove in 144 runs in 1998! Total, for his career with the Rockies, he hit .299/.342/.530 with 203 homers. His OPS+? 105. Which means that despite all those gaudy homer totals and 100 RBI seasons, Castilla was as good as David Bell was for the Giants last year. Actually Bell had an OPS+ of 108, which means he was slightly better than Castilla, but you get the point.
Coors Field affects a lot of different things in a big way - batting averages, ERAs, RBI totals - but perhaps the biggest thing it seems to affect is the front office of the Colorado Rockies. It causes them to fill their lineup with mediocre hitters. When the stars of your offense (which is what Bichette and Castilla were) are hitting like David Bell and Scott Hatteberg, it is no wonder you have problems winning games, which is why the Rockies have never won more than 83 games in a season, despite spending lots of money, drawing lots of fans and making tons of big trades and free agent signings.
They need to start focusing on finding more truly good offensive players, like Walker and Helton, instead of trading for guys like Jay Payton and then getting all excited when he hits .300. It's just mediocre in a costume.
*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****