MLB 2014 Preview: National League West
Hanley Ramirez and the Dodgers are primed to win their division in 2014.
After a rocky start last year, the Dodgers cruised to 92 wins and an NL West crown. In fact, their 11-game margin of victory was the largest in baseball.
Leaving L.A. in the offseason were SP Ricky Nolasco, IF Mark Ellis, and IF Nick Punto. The departures of the latter two (who combined for 3.7 fWAR in 815 PA) paved the way for Cuban defector Alexander Guerrero to play 2B, but he may not win the job. If not Guerrero, Chone Figgins or Dee Gordon will man the position. Both are replacement level players, making 2B a problem spot. To address pitching, the Dodgers signed SP Dan Haren for 1 yr/$10MM-$13MM (depending on incentives) with a vesting option at 180 IP. Haren still posts great peripherals (> 4 to 1 K:BB last year), but health is the big question. He can keep the ball in the park in the NL West, and will pitch to a FIP in the 3.50 range or better when healthy.
Los Angeles will win the NL West again, but will be challenged by the Giants. The Dodgers are the most talented team, though, and have shown a willingness to spend dollars and resources to fill needs during the season.
The Giants faltered to a 76-win, 3rd place finish in 2013. Back in 2010, the World Series winning pitching staff with Tim Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner, and Matt Cain finished 7th in pitching fWAR. All of these guys were around in 2013, but the Giants finished a dismal 27th in pitching fWAR. The Giants finished 8th in team batting/defense fWAR, and suffered no major losses, so the main focus in projecting them is on the pitching.
Bumgarner is a good pitcher and projects to post a fWAR of 3.5. Lincecum has been victimized by a strand rate that has plummeted below 70% in each of the past two seasons, explaining his terrible results. “The Freak” will continue to pitch well, and his results will improve. Lastly, Cain is a fly ball pitcher in one of the hardest parks to hit a HR in (28th in HR park factor last year), yet he posted a HR/FB% 3.6% higher than his career norm. That is nearly eight HR, and most fly balls that are not HR go for outs (90%). This number will improve and Cain again will be a 3 fWAR pitcher. To bolster the rotation, the Giants signed former Brave Tim Hudson to a 2 yr/$23MM deal. Hudson will post a FIP in the 3.60 range. There are questions about his durability given his age, but he will be a solid MOR pitcher for 150+ innings this year.
While the Giants are not as talented as their rival Dodgers, a bounce back from the pitching staff will keep San Francisco in the race until late, though I predict they will narrowly miss the playoffs.
The Rockies finished 6th in team pitching fWAR and 23rd in team batting/defense fWAR. This recipe led to a 74-win, last place finish for the team.
Colorado’s starting rotation (Tyler Chatwood, Jorge de la Rosa, Juan Nicasio, Brett Anderson, and Jhoulys Chacin) projects to post basically the same numbers. Anderson (received from the A’s via trade for SP Drew Pomeranz) is a major injury concern, but he is replacing a collection of guys that accrued an fWAR of 1.7 in 50 starts. Anderson projects to post a WAR of 2 if healthy, but if not, the Rockies can easily replicate what they had last year. As for the offense, six guys had a 2+ fWAR last year, which is excellent considering the NL plays only eight batters. Those six (SS Tulowitzki, OF Gonzalez, 3B Arenado, OF Cuddyer, OF Fowler, and C Rosario) produced an fWAR of 20.1 of the total 16.1 output of the team. This means that the rest of the team produced at a level four wins below what a replacement level team would have produced.
Colorado’s biggest offensive moves were trading Fowler and his 2.2 fWAR to Houston for Brandon Barnes (projected 1.5 fWAR) and acquiring OF Drew Stubbs (projected 1 fWAR) for RP Josh Outman. Although the Rockies have ample pitching and a talented core, that’s not enough to address their depth issues and they are destined for 3rd place.
The Diamondbacks finished 2nd with 81 wins last year. They finished 21st in team fWAR for pitching and 14th in team fWAR for offense/defense.
In a puzzling move, Arizona traded excellent SP prospect Tyler Skaggs for lumbering OF/CIF Mark Trumbo. Trumbo is ostensibly an OF or 3B, but he is not a better player than any of the guys he will replace. Outfielder Cody Ross will lose out because he struggles against RHP (career wRC+ of 90), but so does Mark Trumbo when you consider he is supposed to be a slugger (wRC+ of 105). Ross is a legitimate LHP masher (career wRC+ of 145 vs. 123 for Trumbo), so the prudent thing would have been to acquire a player that hits RHP well. Nate McLouth and his career 109 wRC+ would have done the trick for less money than Trumbo is going to make and without the cost of Skaggs. The Diamondbacks did bring in SP Bronson Arroyo late in free agency, but he just turned 37 and projects to a WAR of 1.5.
Arizona had a terrible offseason by failing to improve their club despite the use of significant resources. This is a 4th place team, and GM Kevin Towers and manager Kirk Gibson may be unemployed after the season.
The 2013 Padres were all set on offense, but then almost everything went wrong on the way to 76 wins and a tie for 3rd in the NL West. Catcher Yasmani Grandal, SS Everth Cabrera, and OF Carlos Quentin all missed significant time (due to PED/injury, PED, and injury, respectively). Despite these challenges, the Padres offense finished a respectable 18th in team fWAR for offense/defense. It is possible to be a winning baseball team with that offense, but not with a pitching staff that finished 29th in fWAR.
To address the pitching, the Padres signed SP Josh Johnson to a 1 yr/$8MM deal. Johnson’s injury history suggests he will not make it through the full season, so the best case scenario is a WAR of 3.0. That means San Diego still has a bad rotation, though Johnson could be a moderately valuable trade chip.
The Padres did very little to fix the biggest problem with their team (pitching), and are looking at the cellar in the NL West this year.
Photo by Keith Allison (Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license)