03 August 2007

Snakes Preview: Fantasy vs Reality

by Joshua Worley

I believe, in my heart, my brain, and every other vital organ that I have, that the Dodgers are a better team than the Snakes. The Dodgers have a much better run differential than the Snakes. The Dodgers hit and pitch better than the Snakes. But the reality is the Snakes have more wins than the Dodgers and are by far the hotter team. All those who think the Snakes are on their way to winning the NL West may be right. But unless disaster happens and the Dodgers get swept this weekend, I won't be joining those who believe in the Snakes anytime soon.

Christopher Brandon Young -- CF

age: 23
bats: right

0.243 -- 0.291 -- 0.458

Improved play from Young is often cited as one of the reasons the Snakes may pull away from the rest of the NL West in the second half. He's a young talented player with power to spare who has struggled a lot in his first full major league season. He may end up with 30 home runs by the end of the season, but he's going to make a lot of outs along the way. If he was a corner outfielder instead of a good defensive center fielder this line would be even worse for the Snakes.

Here is a comparison between Young and another promising young player whose name shall be withheld for the moment. The Iso numbers are just SLG and OBP with batting average subtracted. LD% is line drive percentage; SO% is strike out percentage.

player -- AB -- SO% -- LD% -- BABIP -- IsoSLG -- IsoOBP -- OPS
Young -- 367 -- 21% -- 13% -- 0.262 -- 0.213 -- 0.048 -- 0.749
???? -- 133 -- 26% -- 13% -- 0.424 -- 0.186 -- 0.044 -- 0.908

Young and the mystery player both have an iffy line drive rate. Young is has superior power, patience, and contact skills, and yet because of the mystery player's incredibly quirky ( lucky? ) batting average on balls in play he has a much better OPS.

The mystery player is Matt Kemp! It's a bit worrying that so much of Kemp's current success is tied to his abnormally high BABIP, though one thing to keep in mind is he will only has 133 at bats. Kemp's line last from 2006 looks a lot like Young's line from this year. Kemp had a very good LD% of 24.3 last year: his problem in 2006 was hitting the ball, as he struck out more than a third of the time. One area in which Young is clearly superior to Kemp is in outfield defense. But since Kemp is a year younger than Young, I'd say that Kemp may be the better hitter. Only time will tell there, though.

Young does seem to be improving as the year progresses, and he might even end with a flourish and reach 35 home runs. If he did that I think the Snakes could live with his lowish OBP, which hasn't shown the same kind of improvement as his power has yet. But I just can't see Young and the rest of the youngsters improving enough to actually make the Snakes score more runs than they allow over the balance of the season. I think to win the NL West they'll have to keep up the same trick of winning while being outscored overall.

Mark Andrew Reynolds -- 3B

age: 24
bats: right

0.246 -- 0.310 -- 0.463

He generated a lot of hype with his hot start when Tracy was hurt, but since May he's been dreadful, with a batting average of 0.162 in June and 0.194 in July. He's still playing semi-regularly at third base, which will only hurt the Snakes down the stretch unless he somehow gets blazing hot again. Reynolds and his continuing presence in the lineup is another reason I don't believe in the Snakes at all.

Stephen O. Drew -- SS

age: 24
bats: left

0.241 -- 0.299 -- 0.378

These are Pedro Feliz type numbers. He's played like this for four months now. I know a lot of people expect him to turn things around and play a bit better in the final two months based on his track record prior to this year, but I'm guessing this is his true level of performance, at least in 2007. The scouting reports caught up with him. Maybe he gets a little better and has an OPS of 0.750 the rest of the year. That's not going to do much to close the huge run differential gap the Snakes have. Again, it's all about them continuing to get lucky, or clutch, or whatever it is they do to win games.

Conor S. Jackson -- 1B

age: 25
bats: right

0.269 -- 0.362 -- 0.418

I think this is the kind of line the Snakes were expecting from Drew, not from their first baseman.

Orlando Thill Hudson -- 2B

age: 29
bats: switch

0.286 -- 0.369 -- 0.435

Thill the thrill gives the Snakes some very nice production at second base.

Eric James Byrnes -- LF

age: 31
bats: right

0.308 -- 0.371 -- 0.500

It's really the veterans who are leading the way for the Snakes. Byrnes has been the MVP of the Snake lineup so far. As it has turned out, with the complete flame-out of Carlos Quentin ( maybe because of injury ) they may have been better off keeping Luis Gonzalez around for another season, though I think at the time it was certainly the correct call to cut him loose. I wish the Dodgers had made the same sort of move with respect to Nomar this past off-season.

Chad Austin Tracy -- 3B

age: 27
bats: left

0.263 -- 0.348 -- 0.461

The man who everyone expected to be the Snakes offensive MVP has been battling injuries all year. He just had synthetic gel injected into his right knee! Does this sound like someone who can play every day down the stretch? Well, maybe he can. The Snakes better hope so since the over-matched Reynolds is not the answer at third.

Justin Upton -- RF

age: 19!
bats: right

He made his major league debut last night. Normally it would be foolish to expect much out of a 19 year old but by all reports this kid is so talented all bets are off. If the Snakes make the post-season, I think it has to be Upton leading the way. I'm assuming he'll become the regular right fielder in pretty short order.

Christopher Ryan Snyder -- C

age: 26
bats: right

0.244 -- 0.329 -- 0.400

Snyder was wicked hot in July with an OPS of 0.978 after a very bad June. Can he keep up the good play? There's no reason to think he can sustain an OPS above 0.900. Maybe above 0.800? His backup, Montero, has slightly worse numbers.

Starting Pitchers

name -- ERA -- FIP -- SO/9 -- BB/9 -- HR/9
Webb -- 3.08 -- 3.20 -- 8.3 -- 3.2 -- 0.53
Davis -- 4.11 -- 4.76 -- 6.1 -- 4.7 -- 0.84
Livan -- 4.98 -- 5.70 -- 4.2 -- 3.8 -- 1.38
Owings -- 4.91 -- 4.78 -- 5.7 -- 3.4 -- 0.97
Petit -- 4.23 -- 5.11 -- 6.8 -- 3.1 -- 1.69

After Webb, this isn't a very impressive group. Even with Tomko and Hendrickson the Dodgers can do better, and this weekend they will do better, with Billingsley, Lowe, and Penny to counter Davis, Livan and Webb. The Padres also have a much better rotation than the Snakes.

Petit is a young pitcher who has shown some promise but his home run rate has been his undoing so far. I suppose if he suddenly stopped allowing home runs he might be a part of a surging Snake team down the stretch. Livan Hernandez is just awful; his ERA is finally climbing to reflect that and I will be very disappointed if the Dodgers don't hammer him. What is there to say about Doug Davis and Micah Owings? By rights the Snakes should lose more of their starts than they win the rest of the way with their middling offense. Webb of course is great. I'm disappointed he's not going up against fellow ground-baller Lowe.


It seems like a pretty good 'pen, with a 3.75 ERA. They sure do win a lot of games once the pen gets involved in the decision, with a 23-12 record. I wonder if clutch 'pen leverage and late inning offense is the real key to the Snakes' winning ways?


I still predict that the Snakes will fade out of the race by mid-September, though that prediction is looking worse and worse every day, almost. I guess I'm stubborn. As for this series, anything less than a 2-1 win by the Dodgers with these pitching matchups will be pretty disappointing. Of course, if Lowe re-injures himself, and Billingsley uses too many pitches again, and Penny is out-dueled by Webb, then I may have to ditch my fantasy of the Dodgers being better than the Snakes and accept reality.

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