MLB Divisional Preview, Part 2: NL West- Go Padres!

The wins under each team are the actual 2014 wins, the Steamer projected wins, and then Conwaywest and JDCam predictions (JD Cam’s team finish in the division is in parenthesis).

As successful as the Giants have been in the past few postseasons, the division they hail from definitely leaves much to be desired. The NL West had the least wins of any division in baseball in both 2013 and 2014, and 2015 looks like a mixed return for the five teams. The Dodgers got better, as did the Padres, but the rest of the division did not. In fact, the Giants slipped slightly, from a season where they already slightly overperformed. In this weak division, the key for me will be whether the Padres can beat up on the Diamondbacks enough to make the postseason.

  1. Los Angeles Dodgers

2014: 94 wins; Steamer 2015: 91 wins; Conwaywest: 96 wins; JD Cam: 97 wins (1st)
In: Howie Kendrick, Jimmy Rollins, Brandon McCarthy, Yasmani Grandal, Brett Anderson, Joel Peralta, Joe Wieland
Out: Hanley Ramirez, Matt Kemp, Dee Gordon, Tim Fedorowicz

Things to like: Clayton Kershaw; team defense improvements; Yasiel Puig’s continuing development; excellent farm system backing up experienced core; proven production at every position.
Things to worry about: aging position players; lack of roster flexibility due to massive contracts; continued lack of performance in playoffs.

The Dodgers of recent years prove the fickle nature of baseball. The past years, they have tried to throw money at all their problems, with somewhat disappointing results, all to show that money doesn’t necessarily equate to success in baseball. The bullpen was old and expensive, and up the middle had aging and expensive players who didn’t feel catching the ball was in their job description.

With Andrew Friedman now at the helm, the Dodgers will attempt to win while also being cost effective. It’s a truly unfair proposition: the Dodgers have baseball’s largest payroll, a top 5 farm system, and now management with a plan for all of it. Rollins and Kendrick are perfect fits: solid, varied skill sets on short term contracts, so they don’t block the young guns developing in the farm system. Those two, Grandal and rookie CF Joc Peterson will be huge upgrades defensively, and should hit some, too. McCarthy is an underrated starter and FIP hero, who should benefit from this improved defense and round out an excellent rotation.

Yasiel Puig should continue on his path to superstardom for the Dodgers in 2015.

While losing the bats of Ramirez and Kemp will hurt, the team should field better and still has reliable production at every position. The big question for this team is expectation. Is it Pennant or bust? World Series or bust? The ownership group isn’t spending all this money to flame out in the Divisional round every year. How I see it, this may be the year the Dodgers exceed our expectations, and if they don’t, big changes may be in order.

  1. San Diego Padres

2014: 77 wins; Steamer 2015: 82 wins; Conwaywest: 81 wins; JD Cam: 79 (3rd)
In: Matt Kemp, Wil Myers, Justin Upton, James Shields, Derek Norris, Brandon Morrow, Josh Johnson, Shawn Kelley, Brandon Maurer, Clint Barmes
Out: Yasmani Grandal, Rene Rivera, Seth Smith, Joe Wieland

Things to like: a rotation that goes 6 (or 7or 8) deep; more home runs!
Things to worry about: Who plays first? Or short? Or third? And will anyone catch the ball?

The team that made the biggest splash in the offseason also was the most talked about in the media. As we have covered here, relevance can never be a bad thing. Myers, Upton and Kemp all can mash, and give a huge upgrade in the middle of the lineup. Shields will lead a rotation that figures to be strong and deep. If they get anything close to past success out of oft-injured starters Morrow and Johnson, this could be one of the best rotations in baseball.

All this optimism is great, but the reality of the Padres is they have a decent (but new!) outfield with an atrocious infield. They have a stellar rotation and a solid bullpen, but without good team defense (is there a single plus defender that will play?) and losing their pitch framers (Grandal and Rivera were the best tandem in baseball at receiving last year), the run prevention may not improve all that much. So with all the shuffling, I only see an actual improvement of 3-4 wins. If everything breaks their way, they could be this year’s Royals. If not, at least they are a ton more fun, right?

The Padres got a host of new faces, but how much better will they be?

  1. San Francisco Giants

2014: 88 wins; Steamer 2015: 83 wins; Conwaywest: 80 wins; JD Cam: 84 wins (2nd)
In: Nori Aoki
Out: Pablo Sandoval, Mike Morse

Things to like: Buster Posey; Brandon Crawford’s defense; outfielders who make contact.
Things to worry about: Madison Bumgarner’s innings from 2014 carrying into 2015; replacing Sandoval; rotation injury concerns.

The defending champs lost some pieces this offseason, but the biggest concern is the story of 2014: the Giants were an 88-74 team that played out of their heads through May (36-20, best record in baseball). Then they finished below .500. Which team do I think these Giants are?

I am leaning to the second half team of last year. Posey is undeniably awesome, Brandon Belt is way underrated and I wish there were 20 Hunter Pence’s in MLB. But this team is mediocre, especially when Bumgarner doesn’t pitch half of their innings like he did against the Royals last Fall. The rotation is old and oft-injured, without much depth. Their bullpen is ok. This team screams .500, much like they were if you take May away last year.

Few teams have ever rode two players more than the Giants rode Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner last fall.

In 2011 and 2013, the past two chances to defend their title, the Giants limped out the gates (under .500 both years in March/April) and didn’t make the playoffs. I see the Giants missing out on that second wild card, and missing the playoffs for the 3rd consecutive title defense.

  1. Colorado Rockies

2014: 66 wins; Steamer 2015: 77 wins; Conwaywest: 74 wins; JD Cam: 74 wins (4th)

In: Kyle Kendrick, Nick Hundley
Out: Michael Cuddyer, Brett Anderson

Things to like: Nolan Arenado and Corey Dickerson continuing to improve; Jorge De la Rosa and Jhoulys Chacin actually being good pitchers; Wilin Rosario hitting
Things to worry about: Troy Tulowitzki’s health; getting 4,400 outs from demoralized pitchers; Wilin Rosario catching;

Colorado, by many mainstream analysts, continues to have the same problem: Coors Field kills their pitching staff. After looking at performance weighted by ballpark, however, it may not be the whole staff that kills the team. The team pitching WAR is middle of the pack, and the staff is led by two solid starters in Chacin and De la Rosa. The bullpen is decent with some power arms. The staff may be shallow at the back end, but a mid-level rotation can’t take all the blame for the Rockies continued shortcomings.

The problem may be the dead spots in their lineup. Second base is a weakness for this team, and no one hits away from home. Last year, the team had to give 300 plate appearances to Josh Rutledge, who was not very good. The team is optimistic to lessen these dead spots, with a healthy Carlos Gonzalez and Tulowitzki, who is still the most valuable shortstop in the game while playing 120 games every year. They also hope that Nolan Arenado can continue his offensive development to compliment his elite defense.

Nolan Arenado: the human highlight reel.

The Rockies deal with unique problems: the mental effect of pitching at Coors field is undeniable, as is the ballpark’s negative effects on outfield defense metrics. These factors contribute to something we have known for some time: the Rockies are hard to project. This Rockies team has a fairly high ceiling, but a fairly low floor. They are a just-below-average ballclub, which can be the most uninteresting type.

  1. Arizona Diamondbacks

2014: 64 wins; Steamer 2015: 74 wins; Conwaywest: 69 wins; JD Cam: 65 wins (5th)
In: Yasmany Tomas, Jeremy Hellickson
Out: Didi Gregorius;

Things to like: Paul Goldschmidt being awesome; Tomas hitting a few baseballs far; AJ Pollock being an average MLB regular (you have to reach for positives with this team)
Things to worry about: Mark Trumbo playing a lot; a guy named Tuffy Gosewisch being their #1 catcher on the depth chart; any pitcher throwing strikes

The Diamondbacks look bad for 2015. They have two good defenders (Goldschmidt and Pollock), one hitter who is not terrible (Goldschmidt), and pitchers who struggle to throw strikes consistently. When they did throw strikes in 2014, they were bottom 5 in home runs allowed. Adding Jeremy Hellickson to the mix won’t make matters better on the home-run front. This is a bad team, showing the effects of foolish front office decisions over the past few seasons.

Kicking the Diamondbacks while their down is easy. Let’s focus on some positives: Goldschmidt is in the conversation for “Best Player Not Named Mike Trout” (Andrew McCutchen also may have something to say about that). Tomas can hit the ball far, if they can figure out where to play him (an if he makes enough contact to play). And the Dbacks have some really good upper level minor league arms in Archie Bradley, Braden Shipley, and Aaron Blair (although the all have question marks coming into 2015). Lastly, Randy Johnson is going into the Hall as a Diamondback! Unfortunately, this might be the biggest thing for Arizona fans to look forward to this year. It will also give Arizona fans a great reason to remember the good old days:

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