Wednesday, November 05, 2008

2008 NL West in Review

Arizona Diamondbacks

W-L: 82-80 (2nd in NL West)
pW-pL: 82-80
Payroll: $66,202,712 (13th in NL)
R/G: 4.44 (10th in NL)
ERA: 3.99 (5th in NL)
DER: .685 (T-12th in NL)
Team MVPs: Brandon Webb, Dan Haren, Stephen Drew
A Drag on the Payroll: Eric Byrnes (209/272/369, 52 G, $6 MM)
What Went Right:
The rotation was solid, much improved with the arrival of Dan Haren (3.33 ERA, 206 K 216 IP). With Brandon Webb as the ace and Haren as #2, the 'Backs also had a rejuvenated Randy Johnson (3.91 ERA, 173 K 184 IP) and a productive Doug Davis (4.32 ERA, 146 IP).

What Went Wrong: The team's young prospects once again failed to take a big step forward. The only one to have a good season was shortstop Stephen Drew (291/333/502). Justin Upton was pretty productive (250/353/463), but fell far short of expectations, playing in just 108 games. Even more disappointing was the performance of Chris Young (248/315/443) who failed to take a step forward in his sophomore season. The outfield was rounded out by the unproductive -- and expensive -- Eric Byrnes (see above). The team did acquire Adam Dunn for the stretch run, and he shored up the outfield somewhat (243/417/472 with Arizona), but he couldn't play all three positions.
The 'Backs were stymied to put together a productive bullpen, despite getting such good work from the squad last year. Former closer Jose Valverde had a fine year in Houston, while his replacement, Brandon Lyon, struggled (4.70 ERA in 59.1 IP). The team did get good work from Chad Qualls -- the player acquired for Valverde -- who eventually stepped in as closer. But the same couldn't be said of Tony Pena, Doug Slaten, or trade acquisition Jon Rauch.
In short, the team had a great deal of raw talent that was underwhelming on almost every level. They were contenders on paper but ended up lucky just to finish above .500.

Notes: Third baseman Mark Reynolds (239/320/458) set a new strikeout record for hitters in a season with 204. It's not a huge deal, but Reynolds isn't like Adam Dunn or Ryan Howard, who are very good hitters even with their strikeouts. There's very little margin for error with Reynolds, whose poor defense doesn't help him ... The team included Micah Owings as the PTBNL in the Adam Dunn trade. Owings' best times are ahead of him, and they'll probably come at the plate ... The 'Backs are in trouble in the infield, especially if Conor Jackson has to move to left field. If he does, the only quality guy the team has there is the shortstop Drew ... The potential is still there for these guys, especially Upton, but if you keep failing to meet expectations, eventually those expectations will lower ... The trade for Dan Haren worked out very well for the team. The starting rotation was what kept this team relevant ... Brandon Webb won 22 games, but he may not have even been the best pitcher on his team (Haren).

Colorado Rockies
W-L: 74-88 (3rd in NL)
pW-pL: 74-88
Payroll: $68,655,500 (12th in NL)
R/G: 4.61 (8th in NL)
ERA: 4.77 (15th in NL)
DER: .677 (14th in NL)
Team MVPs: Matt Holliday, Chris Iannetta, Brad Hawpe
A Drag on the Payroll: Todd Helton (264/391/388, 83 G, $16.6 MM)
What Went Right: Precious Little. Matt Holliday had another stat-friendly year (321/409/538), but that may just mean that he gets traded away sooner. Catcher Chris Iannetta has finally arrived (264/390/505), but it may have been too late, as the team's young talent didn't congeal like it did in '07.
What Went Wrong: The fearsome starting rotation from the 2007 postseason was basically decimated. Only Aaron Cook and Ubaldo Jimenez returned to have a good season on the mound. Former ace Jeff Francis fell back to pre-2007 levels (5.01 ERA, 143.2 IP), and the rogue's gallery of rotation filler (Jorge de la Rosa, Greg Reynolds, Mark Redman, Livan Hernandez, Kip Wells, Glendon Rusch) wasn't much help. The bullpen was better, if still spotty. The stars were former closer Brian Fuentes (auditioning for a trade) and converted starter Taylor Buchholz (acquired from Houston in the Jason Jennings deal).
The lineup was woefully unproductive as well. Injuries to Troy Tulowitzki resulted in a woeful sophomore slump (263/332/401) while third baseman Garrett Atkins posted poor numbers (286/328/452) for more conventional reasons, thereby hurting his trade value. Willy Taveras (251/308/296) came back to earth out in center, and injuries were again the culprit in the case of Todd Helton (264/391/388).
Notes: A young core of good young players is there, but the supplementary parts are woefully lacking. The Rockies got one great season out of it, but it would be disappointing if that's all they got. They'll need to get better consistency from their young stars and surround them with better role-players if they want a repeat of 2007 ... Whatever team trades for Matt Holliday will almost definitely give up too much to get him ... Yorvit Torrealba benefited from the Postseason Halo Effect to get a new contract, which didn't make sense then and doesn't make sense now (246/293/394, plus one more year) ... Todd Helton is under contract through 2011 at more than $15 MM per. It's the only albatross contract the Rockies are still regretting ... 22-year-old Franklin Morales still has great potential, but it won't come as easily as it did for him last year ... With Atkins suffering a poor year and hurting his trade value, the Rockies could look into shopping around Brad Hawpe, who did fine last year (283/381/498).

Los Angeles Dodgers
W-L: 84-78 (1st in NL West)
pW-pL: 87-75
Payroll: $118,588,536 (2nd in NL)
R/G: 4.32 (13th in NL)
ERA: 3.68 (1st in NL)
DER: .690 (10th in NL)
Team MVPs: Chad Billingsley, Manny Ramirez, Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp
A Drag on the Payroll: Juan Pierre (283/327/328, $8 MM), Andruw Jones (158/256/249, $9 MM), Jason Schmidt (Did Not Pitch, $12 MM)
What Went Right: Just enough. The trade for Manny Ramirez, of course, worked out pretty well; Manny hit 396/489/743 with the team, earning slobbering adulation from the very sportswriters who howled at his exit from Boston. The offense had enough good performances to get along, but no one had a great year apart from Manny and Andre Ethier (305/375/510).
The pitching staff was the saving grace of the team, pacing the league in ERA. The rotation featured a dominant 1-2-3 of Derek Lowe, Chad Billingsley, and Hiroki Kuroda, and they added a fourth when they brought up rookie sensation Clayton Kershaw. The bullpen enjoyed an embarrassment of riches; Takashi Saito did a great job as closer. Jonathan Broxton filled in for Saito while he was injured and had a great season of his own. The team also got good work from Joe Beimel (the token overworked reliever under Joe Torre, along with Broxton), rookie surprise Cory Wade, and free agent surprise Chan Ho Park, who had a pretty startling comeback.
What Went Wrong: The offense was working short-handed to begin with. The team was hampered by having to waste a roster spot on Juan Pierre (although they made the most of it by playing him in nearly every game, hurting the team in the process). Pierre hit just 283/327/328, but somehow wasn't the team's least valuable player. That was quite obviously Andruw Jones, the former star who inexplicably turned into Mario Mendoza, hitting 158/256/249 in 187 ABs.
The team was further hamstrung by a number of injuries. Third base became an issue when veteran option Nomar Garciaparra and rookie option Andy LaRoche were both injured in Spring Training. Therefore, replacement Blake DeWitt became Joe Torre's favorite option (a little too much for someone hitting 264/344/383). Second base was an open problem, with the aging Jeff Kent struggling (280/327/418) when he wasn't on the DL.
But the biggest blow was at shortstop, where spark plug Rafael Furcal was injured early in the season, and ended up playing in just 36 games. With all of that, it's really quite amazing that the team made it to the postseason at all.
Notes: Luckily for the Dodgers, they only have to swallow one more year of Andruw Jones ... Joe Torre caught the lion's share of credit when the team won, and he deserves accolades for smoothing over a discontented clubhouse, but the work was really done by the Dodgers' player development people, who gave the team so many opportunities to succeed.

San Diego Padres
W-L: 63-99 (5th in NL)
pW-pL: 68-94
Payroll: $73,677,616 (11th in NL)
R/G: 3.93 (Last in NL)
ERA: 4.41 (10th in NL)
DER: .694 (T-6th in NL)
Team MVPs: Jake Peavy, Adrian Gonzalez, Brian Giles
A Drag on the Payroll: Khalil Greene (213/260/339, $4.5 MM)
What Went Right: Not much. Jake Peavy had a good (if not great) year, giving the Padres the opening to trade him in the off-season. Adrian Gonzalez had another good year. So did Brian Giles, although Giles' defense was so spotty that, at his age, it's unclear if the Padres will pick up his option, since they're not likely to be contenders this year.
What Went Wrong: The defensive deployment of Kevin Kouzmanoff at third and Chase Headley in left was much-criticized. As it turned out, offense was a bigger issue, as neither guy hit very well. The rest of the infield, except for Gonzalez, was a shambles, especially shortstop Khalil Greene (213/260/339).
The pitching staff was, apart from Peavy, quite disappointing. #2 man Chris Young was injured for most of the year (3.96 ERA in 18 starts) and although Greg Maddux ate up some innings, the rest of the staff was mediocre at best.
Notes: He did win a Gold Glove this year, but people still don't realize what a good player Adrian Gonzalez is. That's the price you pay for hitting in a pitcher's park ... Khalil Greene (213/260/339) just may not be a viable major league shortstop ... One of the great comeback stories was outfielder Jody Gerut (296/351/494) who looked promising with Cleveland a few years ago, but spent two years out of the majors before making a big comeback this year, at age 30. He deserved to win the Comeback Player of the Year award ... The Padres are in full sell mode, and what they could really use are some pitching prospects. As well as some major league pitchers.

San Francisco Giants

W-L: 72-90 (4th in NL)
pW-pL: 68-94
Payroll: $76,594,500 (9th in NL)
R/G: 3.95 (15th in NL)
ERA: 4.38 (8th in NL)
DER: .685 (13th in NL)
Team MVPs: Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Randy Winn
A Drag on the Payroll: Aaron Rowand (271/339/410, $8 MM), Dave Roberts (224/341/280, $6.5 MM), Barry Zito (5.15 ERA, 180 IP, $14.5 MM)
What Went Right: Despite being hideously overworked, Tim Lincecum (2.62 ERA, 265 K in 227 IP) emerged as one of the best pitchers in baseball, period. He was backed up by another young stud, Matt Cain (3.76 ERA, 186 K in 217.2 IP). Jonathan Sanchez didn't do as well on the field (5.01 ERA, 157 K in 158 IP), but he's a very promising arm as well.

What Went Wrong: Just about everything else. The back end of the rotation wasn't very good (Barry Zito continues to plummet) and the bullpen was a work in progress, but the real problem was in the lineup.
I guess the good news is that the team wasn't really trying to put together a good lineup, and so their awful performance isn't so surprising. There were minor league lifers all over the place, so at least it was mostly a cheap sort of terrible. And there are some very good prospects on the way up. The team just has to resist the temptation to sign another Aaron Rowand or Dave Roberts along the way.

Notes: Rumors abound that the Giants are attempting to trade some of their young pitching to get good young hitters. They'll probably keep Lincecum, and maybe Cain, meaning Sanchez would be the one to go. He's a good pitcher, but he also wouldn't bring back as much as Cain or Lincecum ... How many terrible contracts do you have to sign before someone takes contract-signing OUT of your job description? ... The Rowand and Zito contracts are more than just an albatross around the Giants' payroll; they're incredibly heavy, stinking, slowly decaying albatrosses. And I just like saying the word "albatross" (it's not any bloody flavor!).

Up next, I move over to the AL. I also take a look at the potential free agent market and see who's likely to be available and where they might end up going.

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