2011 Season Preview: NL West

Other Divisions:

I know I promised this last night, but I just passed out while watching the Oakland/Seattle game on my DVR.  It wasn’t necessarily a strenuous weekend as I pretty much only watched baseball, but there were a lot of long nights that just caught up to me.  This afternoon, I did some packing for impending move and then watched my Tigers lose to the white-hot Baltimore Orioles.  So here’s the final piece of the Season Preview.

COLORADO ROCKIES:

Record – 89-73

Improved playerSeth Smith (the batting average dipped a bit last year, but otherwise his year was essentially identical to 2009.  Look for a very nice season as a full-time player for the first time ever.)

Improved pitcherJason Hammel (I’ve written exhaustively about him.  I’m betting he finally improves with runners on base which, with his skills, will lead to a very nice season.)

Regression playerCarlos Gonzalez (a middling walk rate, astronomical BABIP and pretty high strikeout rate give some pause on CarGo’s follow up to his brilliant 2010 season.  He’s not some out-of-nowhere fluke so I don’t think he will fall off of the map, but a full season of his 2009 triple slash numbers with 25-28 HRs is what I think we will see.)

Regression pitcherUbaldo Jimenez (again, not a significant fall from grace or anything, but use 2009 as your guide for Jimenez, which would be a great season for the Rockies’ ace.)

Why they will win – …because the regression of their two superstars won’t be overwhelming and their rotation behind Jimenez is very underrated especially if Hammel improves as expected and Esmil Rogers performs up to his skill level.  I really like the lineup, though Todd Helton should likely be hitting 2nd with Smith in the run producing 5-hole.  This is the last gasp for Chris Iannetta, but if even he doesn’t meet expectations, he is going to do much harm as a catcher in the 8th spot.  Their bench is also very strong.

Why they might not win – …because despite how much talent there is in the rotation, it’s also rife with uncertainty.  We’ve still yet to see it for a full season Jorge de la Rosa, it will only be Jhoulys Chacin’s second season and Hammel & Rogers are upside guys.  Similarly, there is a lot of projection within the lineup, too.  Tulowitzki is very streaky, CarGo has done it for just a season and guys like Smith, Ian Stewart, Dexter Fowler, Jose Lopez and Chris Iannetta have only shown themselves in spurts throughout their career.

Conclusion/Bottom Line – It’s a deep division, but I like this team with their star power and up & comers, who they will rely on to win the division.  Even a regression from their two superstars in the lineup is still going to yield All-Star caliber play.   

LOS ANGELES DODGERS:

Record – 88-74

Improved playerMatt Kemp (his “down” season last year was heavily overblown and due a lot to BABIP regression and a rise in strikeout rate.  The rest of his skills either held steady or went up including a career high in ISO which led to a career high 28 home runs.  But I’m not just seeing a rise back to his 2009 levels; he can have an MVP-type season if he remains focused.)

Improved pitcherChad Billingsley (another guy I’ve talked about a lot this preseason, so I won’t re-hash everything again.  I see 2008 or better out of Bills this year.)

Regression player – I’m not going to force one here as one just don’t jump out, probably because the team was such a disappointment last year.  Juan Uribe is a bit streaky, so I could his power dip a little, but it was his fourth 20-home run season so he is hardly a fluke.

Regression pitcherKenley Jansen (Jansen should have a very nice season as a setup man, but he’s not carrying a sub-1.00 ERA all year as he did in 27 innings last year.  If he doesn’t limit hits as well as he did last year [4.0 H/9], the walks could haunt him a bit, too.  I like him a ton for strikeouts, but the converted catcher is still learning to pitch so his ERA and WHIP might be a little higher than expected based on his first major league cup of coffee.)

Why they can win – …because their rotation is sick.  They are running four deep with Jon Garland on the shelf, but it is a very impressive 1-4 and it will be the strength of the club all year long.  The lineup isn’t great, but there is some star power within it and with the rotation backing them, they won’t need to mash the cover off of the ball to win.

Why they won’t win – …because the bullpen could fall apart if things go awry.  Jonathan Broxton is a wildcard after last year’s second half meltdown and if he’s not right, it could be trouble.  Hong-Chih Kuo is fantastic, but hardly a bastion of health.  Pair that with the potential of three dead spots in the lineup on any given night (Tony Gwynn Jr., Rod Barajas and Jamey Carroll) and they may not have enough firepower to overtake the Rockies.

Conclusion/Bottom Line – I love the rotation and once their lineup is whole, it will be improved, but they need to stay healthy because the reinforcements aren’t plentiful and the divorce messiness severely limits their ability to make moves in season, or so it would seem.  I have them just a game behind the Rockies so I like their chances to compete. 

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS:

Record – 88-74

Improved playerBrandon Belt (thrilled to see him win the job out of spring as I thought we’d have to wait a month or two to see him.  Here’s my scouting report on him from the Arizona Fall League.)

Improved pitcher – Hard to see anyone improving from their dream season last year that resulted in a World Series win.  The two studs, Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain, will remain very good, but we could see some regression elsewhere.

Regression playerAubrey Huff (because he’s got an on/off trend going since 2005 making 2011 an off season.  Just kidding, I don’t really buy into those types of trends.  I don’t see a ton of regression out of him, but I’d be really surprised by another 138 OPS+.)

Regression pitcherJonathan Sanchez (with nearly identical skills from 2009, it is safe to say that Sanchez’s 3.07 ERA was pretty luck-fueled, specifically with BABIP and a well-above average LOB%.  He’s a 4.00 ERA pitcher barring a skills change.  And that’s fine for your #3 as he gets a ton of strikeouts and can be nearly unhittable on any given night.)

Why they can win – They are the reigning champs and added a key piece in Belt which goes toward addressing their main weakness.  If Pablo Sandoval’s newfound svelte figure allows him to get back to his 2009 level, they will be tough once again.

Why they might not win – Winner’s Hangover will rear its ugly head and open the door for some other teams in this division to ascend a bit past the Giants.  More than that, the extra innings of postseason on this relatively young staff could cost them a bit, especially because the division will be so tight.

Conclusion/Bottom Line – Almost nobody had this team winning the World Series last year and almost no one has them even repeating as division champs, but they can’t be dismissed altogether.  Now obviously I didn’t predict them to win, either, but a tie for second place and a game out of first is so tight that a key break or two for any of these three teams could be the difference. 

SAN DIEGO PADRES:

Record – 76-86

Improved playerBrad Hawpe (ugly season last year, but I think it’s a blip and he will be back in the mid-20s for home runs this year… yes, even in PETCO.)

Improved pitcherTim Stauffer (very excited to see what he can do over a full season.)

Regression player – They had a host of new plays to an otherwise bad offense (outside of Adrian Gonzalez) from last year and the PETCO monster could eat them up a bit, but I don’t see anyone severely disappointing against expectations.

Regression pitcher – Hard to regress in that stadium, but I guess Mike Adams could see his ERA tick up even if he repeats those impeccable skills as it’s virtually impossible to maintain a sub-2.00 ERA, even in a reliever’s sample.

Why they can win – The pitching would just have to be excellent to the point that Stauffer, Aaron Harang and Clayton Richard all posted low-3.00 or sub-3.00 ERAs while the offense would need to surge to not only make up for the loss of Gonzalez, but also compete with their divisional foes who are set to get better, too.

Why they won’t win – It’s not just the loss of Gonzalez, but that’s most of it.  I like the additions they made to the offense, but I don’t think it is enough to remain competitive.

Conclusion/Bottom Line – The lineup is just not good enough as it’s filled with complementary and role player types lacking anything close to Gonzalez in the middle and that will be their undoing even if the rotation repeats 2010’s success. 

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS:

Record – 67-95

Improved playerStephen Drew (the D’Backs have a brother in each of the big brother combos in baseball with Drew and also Justin Upton.  Unfortunately, both sets of brothers kind of underwhelm with their performance against what many believe their peaks can be given the incredible talent of all four.  I think Drew rises up and has a career year… once he gets off of the DL.)

Improved pitcherDavid Hernandez (as a full-time bullpenner now, he is set to emerge as a true asset.  If the D’Backs wanted to flip J.J. Putz for pieces in the summer as he isn’t going to be a part of their next good team, Hernandez could definitely fill in capably.  In fact, I think he is a future closer whether later this year or in the years ahead.)

Regression player

Regression pitcherDaniel Hudson (don’t take this to mean that I don’t like him for 2011, but I was worried he would be overrated in fantasy circles based on his excellent stint with Arizona after the trade last year and that came to fruition in my drafts and auctions.  He’s just not going to be a sub-2.00 ERA stud with those skills.  Instead use Ian Kennedy’s 2010 as a guide for expectations of Hudson in ’11.)

Why they can win – I have them as one of the worst teams in the league and as such I just can’t compose a scenario in which they will rise up and win.  The rest of their rotation behind Hudson and Ian Kennedy would have to MASSIVELY over perform expectations and I just don’t see it.

Why they won’t win – See above.

Conclusion/Bottom Line – They’ve got some more down seasons in their future before things turn around, but there’s a solid youthful core to build and they need to use this deep draft to their advantage, too.  GM Kevin Towers has already done a lot to address last year’s horrible bullpen from last year and that alone should earn them a few extra wins. 

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