31 March 2008

Closing the Opening

After three innings I thought Penny was lucky to have held the Giants scoreless, but after six my opinion turned to the theory that he was doing just enough to get by against what he knew was an inferior team. The game never felt in doubt after the first inning, and Penny must have felt like he had a lot of rope to work with --- no need to try to overpower the inept Giants lineup. As Vinny noted most of the edge is gone now that Barry has left.

I take awhile to get back into mid-season form as a fan. I was surprised when Penny did not bunt in his third at-bat, when there were runners at first and third with one out. After Torre had put on the bunt the first two times Penny came up with a runner on first, I assumed it would happen again. When it didn't, I had the thought that Little surely would have bunted there, and maybe Torre was showing that he really wasn't a manager who loves the bunt. Nonsense, though. I eventually remembered that Penny is a very good hitting pitcher, and that Little occasionally had Penny swing away with a man on first and less than two outs last year. I think.

It has yet to develop how Torre will deploy the bunt in this go-round in the National League. With the lineup the Dodgers sent out Opening Day bunting should only occur when a pitcher is at the plate. It goes without saying that your corner players should be good enough hitters that they never bunt, and for the Dodgers the up-the-middle players all have enough power to make bunting inadvisable. Maybe he might have Furcal bunt sometime. DeWitt, possibly. I hope not. I really love the potential of this lineup. Loney is batting seventh! Can that be right?

So Pierre's consecutive games played streak is over. Stating the obvious and piling on are two of the great sins of blogging, but I'm going to say it anyway: it would really work out best for everyone if the Dodgers could trade Pierre away. Pierre really doesn't offer a whole lot off of the bench, other than a late game pinch runner, which is usually a wasteful use of one of the 25. Jason Repko would be far better in the fourth outfielder role.

I anticipated both Kent's homerun and Martin's double play. I am Nostradodgerama. I promise any other feelings I have that come true will be reported after the fact, and that I will conveniently forget the ones that don't come true. Here is the quatrain I wrote while in a trance that predicted the homerun:

The rainbow man will bow his head
His orb will go into the mountains
The rainbow man will meet his nemesis:
It will be the ancient noisy-bike dude

NL West Opening Day Contender Blender

In the following I take all the latest injury news and position battle resolutions of the Padres, Diamonbacks and Rockies and create a delicious, not-really nutritious summary smoothie. It's empty calories, I fear.


Mark Prior will not be ready to start the season in the rotation, in fact he was recently moved to the 60-day DL. Between Jason Schmidt and Prior, I wonder who will pitch first this season? I'm guessing Prior.

So Wolf and Germano are the back end of the Padre rotation. Randy Wolf was knocked around in his last exhibition start against the Angels, which might be an indication he's not quite ready yet. The Dodgers figure to get Germano to open their three game set in San Diego this weekend, followed by Peavy and Young.

To no one's surprise Jim Edmonds has already been hurt, and he will miss at least the first five games of the regular season. The young prospects Headly and Antonelli the Padres were sort of considering for the outfield weren't ready yet, so for now the outfield will be Giles, McAnulty and Hairston. As expected the Padre outfield is not an inspiring group.

Good reliever from last year Kevin Cameron was sent down to AAA to start the season, which really surprised me. It was an options-roster crunch, apparently.


Jayson Nix won the second base job. It was kind of a farcical competition --- a six way battle for second base in which each contestant got about 50 spring training plate appearances. I think the fix was in for Nix to win among the six all along, unless he really fell on his face. To be fair he did have the best hitting stats among the six, for what that is worth, and he did seem to be the best choice all along anyway. I still don't think the Rockies will get much out of Nix.

Mark Redman and Franklin Morales won the two back-end jobs in the Rockie rotation. Morales might do well, but on balance this looks like a weakness for the Rockies. Then again, the Dodgers are one injury away from having Loaiza and Park be the back end of their rotation, which might be even worse. At least the Dodgers also have Kuo and Kershaw in the mix as well.


A few hours after my preview of the Snakes pitchers the news broke that Doug Davis has thyroid cancer. Now I feel really bad about saying he might not do well this year! The plan is for him to make his first two starts of the regular season, the second of these against the Dodgers, and then he'll have the surgery. He's expected to be out 4 to 6 weeks after the surgery. I don't know how the timing of the surgery was decided, but purely from a baseball perspective it sort of works out for the Snakes, because Randy Johnson should be ready to slot back into the rotation by the time Davis has his surgery. It looks like Edgar Gonzalez will be the fifth starter for at least two months.

Other than Davis being diagnosed with cancer, nothing really major happened at the end of spring training in the NL West. The Dodgers really made the most news in the last week, with Ethier beating out Pierre, and Kent coming back a little early.

30 March 2008

Irrationality Owed Us

Yes, it is irrational that Ethier wins the starting job over Pierre based on Spring Training Stats. If Ethier had instead been the one to hit below 0.200 and Pierre had hit over 0.300 then Ethier still would have been the better choice. Ethier is the better player, the better hitter, the better fielder, the better thrower, and less than 100 at-bats against rusty major league pitchers and AAA pitchers isn't going to prove or disprove that.

But you know what? Irrationality owed us. The signing of Pierre was irrational; the insistence that only he could play center field for 161 games last year was irrational. ( He came off the bench in one game. ) Ideally the Dodgers will make all their decisions based on rationality and clear thinking. But if they're going to be irrational about things, then damn it I want it to work out the right way sometimes. Today, it did. Pierre goes to the bench. It's the right decision. Sometimes throwing darts can pick the right stock.

Now both Ethier and Kemp have to hit. A man who awards a starting spot based on Spring Training may not hesitate to pull a starter after a three week slump. It's a long season. But it's good to start it out the right way, at least.

Things seem to be turning the Dodgers' way as the season opens. After a spring full of injuries and losses and some shaky performances, the Dodgers are ending on a high note. Billingsley has quieted the fears that he wasn't quite ready with his gem Friday night, though of course he does need to build up a little bit more stamina. Ethier is starting in left. ( Why not right field, I wonder? ) Kent has returned from injury after it appeared he might not be ready by opening day. I feel good about this team. I feel like they can win 100 games.

Irrational? Yes. I wouldn't have it any other way.

28 March 2008

Snakes Slingers Summary

Last time I had a look at the Snakes offense, which wasn't a team strength last year. This time I look at their pitching, which was a strength. This is the last of the NL West contending opponent previews here are Dodgerama --- be sure to check out the Rockies preview from last week and the Padres preview from two weeks ago.

Brandon Tyler Webb

2.84, 3.59, 3.54, 3.10, 3.01: these are the earned run averages of Brandon Webb in the first five years of his career.

3.44, 3.55, 4.34, 4.06, 3.34: these are the ground ball to fly ball ratios of Brandon Webb in the first five years of his career.

12, 17, 21, 15, 12: these are the number of home runs Webb has allowed in each of the first five years of his career.

12, 24, 30, 29, 20: these are the number of ground ball double plays Webb has induced in each of the first five years of his career.

As far as I can tell Webb has never had a serious injury at the big league level in five years.

Daniel John Haren

Haren isn't the extreme ground ball pitcher that Webb is, but he does have better control. And that's all I want to say about Haren. The subject of Webb and Haren being at the top of the Snakes rotation is very depressing one for Dodger fans, especially since it seems like Haren may be the guy who puts the Snakes over the top this year.

Douglas P Davis

I think the Snakes are going to get a 4.5 ERA from Davis this year. The last two years he's basically been a 200 inning, 100 walk, 150 strikeout pitcher, which is serviceable but nothing special. I guess it's possible Davis could recapture his form of 2004 and 2005, when he had the best years of his career with a strikeout to walk ratio of 2:1. If he could do that, the Snakes would have a fearsome rotation. I see no reason to think he will, though. In fact, I think it's more likely that instead of improving he just turns up ineffective this year. Davis is 32 and the trend over the last few seasons isn't good.

Micah Burton Owings

Owings is a much more likely candidate for improvement than Davis. He could end up with a 4.0 ERA, which would be a great number from the back of the rotation. Back when Davis and Owings were the 2 and 3 starters for the Snakes, their rotation didn't look so good. Yes, they won a division with that rotation, but regardless of whatever magic the Snakes were able to put together last year, be it bullpen voodoo or just plain luck, Davis and Owings aren't what you want in your second and third best starting pitchers, especially on a team that isn't so great offensively. But a rotation where Owings and Davis are the 4 and 5 can be very good indeed. Half of that change is getting Haren, and the other half will depend on Randy Johnson being healthy and effective.

You can't realistically expect to win more than half the games Davis and Owings pitch with the offense the Snakes have. So they have to try to win the division with the starters who are better than those two. If that's just Webb, that's going to be pretty hard, as good as he is. If that's Webb and Haren and a healthy Johnson, well --- watch out for the Snakes.

Randall David Johnson

Randall isn't fully healthy yet, or at least he isn't ready to pitch in the regular season yet. But he's getting close. The Snakes will use Edgar Gonzalez in the rotation for the first two weeks, after which Johnson is expected to be ready. Gonzalez is one of those guys who is making the roster as much on the strength of his being out of options than on any excellence he has shown at the big league level.

Randall had 72 strikeouts with just 13 walks in 56.2 innings pitched last year. He can still bring it. I just wonder if he can hit triple digit innings this year. Johnson has never been the most durable pitcher around, with plenty of stints on the disabled list, though to be fair he's also had plenty of full, healthy seasons in his career. But he's going to be 44 this year. On his creaky old back may rest the playoff chances of the Snakes. Unless Webb and Haren are so good that the Snakes don't even need Johnson. We'll see.


Valverde, the excellent closer of last season, is gone. But the superb supporting quartet of Cruz, Slaten, Lyon, and Pena are back. Slop up men Nippert and Medders are also back, unless they are cut. But these are back of the bullpen men. It was the front five of the 'pen that were so good for the Snakes last year, and though Qualls has replaced Valverde, the hopeful and naive assumption is that front five figures to be excellent again.

But as jaded baseball fans everywhere are aware, few relievers are a sure thing. Both Lyon and Cruz have multiple +6.0 ERA seasons in their work histories. Pena came up in 2006, was bad, then last year was good. Slaten was a rookie last year: good first year, kid. Now do it again. I'm guessing that two of these four will turn up snake eyes on the snakes and regress into Nippert-land. As for the new guy Qualls, I kind of think the Astros should have just kept him instead of trading him and change for Valverde. I wouldn't be surprised if Qualls is better this year than Valverde, who as recently as 2006 had a 5.84 ERA.

I don't think the Snakes are going to have as good a 'pen this year as last year. This means that the starters have to be much better than last year, which is likely. It also means that the Snakes probably can't depend on having a winning record if they're outscored again.


As much as I detest the Snakes I guess I'm picking them to finish in first place. This is a team that figures to have a better offense and starting rotation than last year, when they finished first. I think the Dodgers have more potential than the Snakes, but until I see the team run out the strongest lineup they can consistently, and stay mostly healthy, I'm picking the Snakes.

For the record, if I put on my optimistic fan hat I think the Dodgers will win 95 games and take first place.

So here is my projected standings for the NL West:

Snakes --- 90-72
Dodgers --- 89-73
Rockies --- 88-74
Padres --- 82-80
Giants --- 11-150*

*One Giants game is rained out and not made up.

26 March 2008

Snakes Swingers Summary

Mark Andrew Reynolds

Last year Reynolds struck out in 129 of his 414 plate appearances, almost a third of his times at the plate. In spite of this Reynolds had a 0.843 OPS last year, which is a very nice number for a rookie third baseman. I wonder if he can sustain a OPS above 0.800 long term if he strikes out a third of the time, though. Last year his batting average on balls in play was about 0.378, a high figure unsupported by his line drive percentage of 20%. He needed every bit of his apparently lucky BABIP, because all those strikeouts took his real batting average down to 0.279. If his BABIP had been closer to a level normal to his line drive rate, say 0.320, then his real batting average would have been 0.243. So he either needs to keep getting lucky with his hits falling ( at which point it might become clear that maybe it wasn't luck, but some mysterious skill at directing ground balls and fly balls into holes ) or he needs to cut down on his strikeouts. The latter is a real possibility, as Reynolds is still a young player.

Aside from slugging pitcher Micah Owings, Reynolds had the highest OPS of any player on the Snakes last year. That's right, a figure of 0.843 was good for best on the Snakes. A number put up by a strikeout prone rookie in a hitter park. Make no mistake, the Snakes offense was bad last season. I'm not saying the team was bad: they won a lot of games. The pitching was great. But the offense was sub-average, and absolutely awful when looking at on-base percentage. And it does need to get better, I think, for the Snakes to finish ahead of the other three contenders in the NL West this year. The good news for them is that they are loaded with young players bound to improve, so it could happen. I have a suspicion, though, that Reynolds may improve the least of the young players.

Reynolds appears to be average at best with the glove, according to the hardballtimes.com RZR stat. He was not known as a good glove man in the minor leagues, so he may yet prove to be below average.

Christopher Brandon Young

Young finished fourth in the NL rookie of the year voting last year on the strength of 34 home runs and some fine defense in center field. For a rookie he had a good year, but just as a major league center fielder he had at best an average year. It's the usual story for a lot of young players: too many strikeouts, not enough walks. His on base percentage was below 0.300. The 34 home runs are nice but you can't use up so many outs!

Young seems to be the complete package as a player. He's fast and strong, a real 40-40 threat in the future. But he also made exactly as many outs at the plate as Juan Pierre did last year ( 494 ), while playing in 14 fewer games. If Young starts to play at the level everyone thinks he is capable of the Snakes may be hard to beat this year. But it hasn't happened yet. It takes more than home runs to be an above average major league player, even if you're a good defensive center fielder.

Stephen Oris Drew

Drew had an OPS+ of 72 last year. That's well below average. Even for a shortstop that's pretty crummy. And speaking of crummy, that's what Drew's defense was like last year. He barely edges ahead of Hanley Ramirez for the bottom spot in hardballtimes.com RZR list for qualifying shortstops in the National League. The thing is, if you're going to field as bad as Hanley Ramirez, you'd also better hit as well as Hanley, and Drew doesn't. Not even close.

Drew is still young. There is still time. But maybe he's just not that good? Maybe he could never readjust to the pitchers once they adjusted to him after his initial success in 2006. His line drive percentage was 16.5% last year, after being 23.8% in 2006, and without great power or great contact skills and plate discipline that's just not going to get it done. Chris Young is a future star who is currently an average player. Stephen Drew is supposed to be a future star, but at this point I think the Snakes would settle on him becoming just a solid average shortstop. The Snakes, like the Dodgers, have a lot of question marks in their lineup.

Justin Irvin Upton

Forget about his numbers in two months of big league play last year. There's nothing there worth looking at. Upton is going to be great someday, most likely. I don't think he'll be great this year, though. He might be good, or he might be average, or he might struggle as he did last year. He'll only be 20 this season. Can't expect too much from him, right?

Upton is one of four Snakes, along with Young, Drew, and Reynolds, who is almost impossible to predict for 2008. These are all young players, and overall the Snakes should get more from these four this year than they got last year. But how much more? This is part of what makes predicting the Snakes so hard this year.

Eric James Byrnes

On his Baseball Reference page his nicknames are listed as "Crash Test Dummy" and "Pigpen". So he's either filthy or destined to hurt himself against an outfield wall like Repko or Kemp.

Byrnes is the kind of player I imagine Andre Ethier becoming in a few years. Like Byrnes, Ethier is a great defensive outfielder. Ethier seems headed to becoming a decent power and walks guy, with solid but not spectacular offensive numbers. Byrnes is already that player. Byrnes isn't a star, but he is a good solid corner outfielder, and in a few years he might be the worst of the Snakes outfielders next to Young and Upton. That's a scary thought.

We can only hope that Ethier ends up being the worst starting outfielder for the Dodgers this year. For that to happen, Kemp has to fulfill his early promise, Jones has to really bounce back, and Pierre has to spend a lot of time scowling in the dugout because of his lack of playing time.

Christopher Ryan Snyder

Snyder puts up fine offensive numbers for a catcher. He's no Russell Martin, but so few are.

Conor S. Jackson

Jackson lacks the power you want from a first baseman, but he makes up for it in giving the Snakes something they desperately need: a player who gets on base often. Jackson has been a partial platoon player the last few years, since he doesn't hit right handed pitchers that well. Last year Tony Clark took a lot of those at bats. But this year it appears that Jackson is going to get most of the at bats at first base to himself, at least while Chad Tracy is hurt. Indeed, the sponsor of Jackson's B-Ref page has given Jackson the motto of "600 PA in '08 or bust!"

Jackson isn't going to make the difference for the Snakes this year. He's going to be solid, but the days of him being projected as a future star seem to be over.

Orlando Thill Hudson

Here is another solid regular on the Snakes. He had the best year of his career last year, when he had a scorching hot first half and made the all-star team. He's probably not going to do as well this year.

Hudson is yet another Snakes infielder whose defense appear to be at best average, going by RZR. Obviously Webb was still an effective pitcher last year with this group behind him, but I wonder how many outs he's losing to them.

Chad Tracy

When will Tracy come back? How good will he be? Where will he play? How often will he play? None of these questions have firm answers right now.

His goal was to return from microfracture surgery to his right knee by opening day, but now it appears the earliest time he could return is mid-April. Bob Melvin hasn't said where or how often Tracy will play once he does come back.

What is certain is that Tracy gives the Snakes some depth once he returns from injury, some insurance in case Reynolds turns out to be a damp squib in 2008 because of his strikeout problem. I guess it's a good problem to have.


At this moment the Snakes are half a team of solid, unspectacular regulars, and half a team of high-potential high-risk prospects. Byrnes, Snyder, Jackson and Hudson are all fine players, none of whom will sink an offense, but none of whom will lift up an offense very high either. Reynolds was the best of the high-potential players last year, but he may also be the highest risk. Young and Upton will be very good offensive players, but maybe not this year. Drew is just trying to be average. The Snakes big weakness on offense last year was on-base percentage: they were last in the National League, second to last in the Major Leagues. Having fewer strikeouts and more walks from the young players would help a lot. I think the young players will improve enough this year to give the Snakes an average offense this year. If their pitching is as good as it was last year, then this could be enough to win the NL West again. I'll have a look at their pitchers in the next entry.

19 March 2008

Rockies Rotation & Relievers Review

Jeffrey William Francis

Over the last three years, Francis has a 4.86 ERA on the road, and a 4.43 ERA at home. In general pitchers tend to do slightly better at home, but his home park is Coors field! It's weird, no?

Francis took a huge leap forward last year and became the ace of the Rockies staff. His ERA was actually slightly higher in 2007 than in 2006, but his strikeout rate improved dramatically and his walk rate improved slightly in 2007. Oh, and his win-loss record improved as well, from 13-11 to 17-9. Only one other Rocky pitcher won 10 games last year ( Fogg ), even though the team won 90 on the season. Francis was the rock of the rotation all year. Francis' 17 wins ties the Rockies record for wins in a season. Pedro Astacio also won 17 in 1999, and Kevin Ritz won 17 in 1996.

Aaron Lane Cook

Cook has never had a season strikeout rate per nine innings above 4 in his career. That's really not good. And yet he hangs in there, and has actually put together some really fine years. Well, one fine year, in 2006, and several other decent but injury shortened years. He missed most of the last two month of the 2007 regular season. The Rockies have signed him to a 3 year, 30 million dollar contract, so they clearly do believe in him. And they should, because they aren't likely to get anyone better for that money. But there are two nagging questions attached to Cook.

First, will his poor strikeout rate really nail him one of these years? Unlike Francis, Cook is much worse at home, which isn't too surprising since you don't want to be giving up a lot of balls in play in the giant Coors Field outfield. Aha, but Cook doesn't have that problem very often, since his ground ball to fly ball ratio is so high, near 3 in recent years. This probably helps explain how he can keep up his low strikeout success.

Second, will Cook be healthy for an entire year ever again? He missed half of 2004 and half of 2005 because of blood clots in his lungs resulting from a rib pressing against a vein. This is a freak thing unlikely to occur again. Last year's injury was not to his arm but too his oblique muscle. When I first looked at his stats I thought it was almost a sure thing he'd break down sometime this year but now I'm not so sure.

Ubaldo Jimenez

He's a talented pitcher without much of a record in the major leagues so far. He could be great, or he could flounder due to too many walks. He had a great four start stretch in late August last year when he was striking out far more than he walked, but before and after that he mostly struggled with a near 1:1 ratio of strikeouts to walks. Which pitcher shows up in 2008? Probably both, of course. I think the Rockies are going to end up with a solid front three starters when it's all put together, though.

Jason Michael Hirsh

Too many walks, too many fly balls, too many home runs. He had a 4.81 ERA last year before he broke his leg --- well, strike that, he actually pitched for five innings on the broken leg! To know what his actual ERA was before he broke the leg, I'd have to come up with pre-broken-leg and post-broken-leg splits.

Even with all this the Rockies would probably be delighted to slot him into the fourth starter slot right now if they could. But Hirsh has been shut down for most of this spring with right shoulder soreness and he's not likely to be ready by opening day. None of the contenders for the fifth starter job have been very impressive yet, which is a bad sign for the Rockies since these guys are also now contending for the fourth starter job.

Fifth Starter Spot

Mark Redman, Josh Towers, Kip Wells, Franklin Morales. None of them have a good spring ERA, which maybe isn't the end of the world given that these are small sample sizes in spring, but these guys know they are fighting for a starting spot, so can't even one of them get a mix of major league and AAA hitters out?

Morales seems to have lost velocity on his fastball this spring, but unless it's a catastrophic loss of velocity I think he has to make the rotation. He's the only young guy with lots of room to improve in the bunch. The rest of them are all past their expiry date, Tomko types, or worse.


The Rockies had a fine bullpen last year. Along with Francis the 'pen was the glue that held the pitching staff together through all the injuries to starters last year. The Rockies 'pen won 35 games last year, most in the National League. They very often gave the Rocky offense a chance at comeback wins.

The core of the Rocky 'pen is back this year. Manny Corpas, Taylor Buchholz, Matt Herges and Brian Fuentes all had an ERA below 3.1 last year, and all are back. Affeldt and Hawkins who pitched over 100 innings between them at an ERA of 3.5 are gone. The 'pen of the Rockies projects to be a strength again, but one never knows with bullpens. Can the Rockies really count on another sub 3 ERA from a guy like Herges? Given how shaky the back end of the rotation looks, the 'pen had better be good again.


Where do the Rockies fit into the NL West this year? The easy part is that they appear better than the Padres. Both the Padres and Rockies have back of rotation issues, but where the Padres appear slightly better in the 'pen and at the front of the rotation, the Rockies are much better on offense. Especially compare those outfields.

I think the Dodger pitching is going to be superior to the Rockies pitching this year. The Dodgers are at worst equal to the Rockies at the top of the rotation, and what the Dodgers have available for the fourth and fifth rotation spots overwhelms anything the Rockies have. This analysis changes dramatically if someone goes down with injury suddenly, of course. The bullpens are probably a wash.

The Dodger offense is potentially as good as the Rockies offense. It could be. Kent, Furcal, Martin, Kemp and Loney could match the production of the big four plus Tulo for the Rockies. Kemp and Loney each has to play to his potential ( and be given playing time ). Kent has to hold off a steep decline due to age. Furcal has to bounce back from injury. Only Martin appears as much a "sure thing" as any of the Rockies big four. There's also Andruw Jones --- but I really don't like what I'm seeing from him so far.

Even if the Dodger offense can't match the Rocky offense, I think the Dodger pitching makes them slightly better this year, especially since I'm now sold on Kershaw making a significant contribution sometime this year. So right now, among the four NL West contenders, I have the Padres last, with the Rockies a game or two behind the Dodgers. Where do the Snakes fit in? I'll figure that out in my next NL West preview entry.

12 March 2008

Rockies Regulars Review

Todd Lynn Helton

Helton has become a doubles-and-walks hitter. These kinds of hitters tend to be slightly undervalued, because neither doubles nor walks show up in batting average or home run totals, and doubles will only marginally boost RBI totals. Of course, on-base percentage and slugging percentage and OPS are becoming more and more mainstream each year, and every baseball fan has heard of Helton, so I don't know if he's actually underrated at the moment. But I wonder if he still isn't seen mostly as a declining, overpaid, Coors-aided hitter these days?

Helton piled up 22 doubles on the road in 2007. His on-base percentage away from Coors was a terrific 0.407. Helton may not be the 1.100 OPS monster he was from 2000 to 2004, but he's still a terrific hitter. Even if his power has declined a bit from his hey-day he still a very tough out and a threat to drive in a runner from any base.

Matthew Thomas Holliday

Who is better, between Holliday and Helton, right now? I know, I know, the answer has to obviously be Holliday. But it's closer than I thought when I looked at it.

On the road, the 2007 comparison is kind of a wash. Helton has a higher on-base percentage, while Holliday has slightly more power. What about the things besides hitting? They both play pretty good defense at offensive positions, though Helton is at the easier position. ( Both are near the top of the NL in 2007 in the RZR rankings at hardballtimes.com ) Holliday has okay speed, while Helton has become a plodder.

It's in Coors field where Holliday really comes out ahead of Helton. Holliday is taking advantage of the extra Coors homeruns while Helton isn't.

If the comparison is between Holliday at his peak and Helton at is peak, then there is no contest. Helton wins easily. Now Holliday's true offensive peak may yet be higher in coming years, but since he's already 28 he's not likely to get a whole let better than he already is. Speaking as a Dodger fan, I think Holliday and Helton are both plenty good already.

Troy Trevor Tulowitzki

He has some pretty extreme home-road splits. Maybe that shouldn't be held against him too much. My understanding is that it's hard to hit well on the road after getting used to the favorable hitting conditions at Coors. It must be even harder on a young player. Still, his road OPS of 0.720 doesn't scream out "star player", even if he is a fine defensive shortstop.

I guess he is a star, though. The home numbers are terrific and it seems he's going to only get better. I'd love for him to be a Dodger, sure, though if Furcal is healthy this year he might just have a better year than Troy.

If Tulowitzki ever wants to have a shot at becoming the best shortstop in a league with Rollins and Ramirez and Reyes, he'll have to decrease his strikeout rate and increase his walk rate. The power is there, the great defense is there. He can hit. He just has to be more discerning at the plate.

Entering last year the Rockies were offensively great at the four corners of first base, third base and left and right field, but not good at all up the middle at short, second, center field and catcher. Those up-the-middle defensive positions are of course the hardest to fill with good offensive players. The emergence of Tulowitzki last year really helped the Rockies offense and was one reason they were able to climb all the way to the peak before being dropped into the wood-chipper in the World Series.

Bradley Bonte Hawpe

I swear I don't remember ever typing out the name "Bonte" last year, which is strange, because I must have done player capsules on the Rockies at some point last year, right? I'm too lazy to do a search of my own blog to find out. But not too lazy to go ahead and make a horrible pun in the next paragraph. It's all about priorities.

Brad Hawpe had one sacrifice hit last year. This is one too many for a player as solid offensively as Hawpe is. But my question is this --- when he bunted to get that sacrifice hit, did Hurdle give him the "bonte" sign?

Garrett Bernard Atkins

Atkins had a poor April last year, and then followed it with a brutally bad May. Not a Kouzmanoff-in-April-of-2007 bad, but pretty bad nonetheless. And then after that he was terrific. I wonder how he starts out this year?

Yorvit Adolfo Torrealba and Christopher Domenic Iannetta

The good news for the Rockies in their quest for offense up the middle ends with Tulowitzki at short. The other three positions are still black-and-purple holes in the lineup, and it begins with the catching tandem of Torrealba and Iannetta.

In limited at bats at home last year Iannetta bizarrely had an OPS of 0.538. I think even Mark Hendrickson would do better than that, given 100 at-bats in Coors Field. ( Especially if he was allowed to bat against a clone of himself. ) In more playing time than his catching-mate, Torrealba was lucky sevens at home with a 0.777 OPS, but his road stats were miserable. Unless young Iannetta suddenly gets better there's not a lot to choose from here.

I guess Torrealba will get the bulk of the playing time again, but I doubt it matters much who gets it. I'm so glad the Dodgers have Russell Martin.

Willy Taveras

He's younger. He gets on base more. He has a much better throwing arm. He has more power, though it's close. He doesn't wear a batting helmet 4 sizes too big for him.

So Taveras wins a comparison with Juan Pierre. Kudos!

What he won't win is a comparison with Ryan Spilborghs, and yet Taveras is still the probable starter in center field. I feel your pain, Rockies fans.

Jayson Truitt Edward Nix

The Rockies will miss Kaz Matsui. They'll miss him for his good defense, but even more they'll miss him because they're apparently replacing a slightly sub-average offensive second baseman with a completely untested young non-prospect who is almost certain to be awful unless his swing changes and hot few months to end last year really mean something.

Check out some projections of how he might do in about 450 at bats this year. They average about a 0.250 batting average, single digit home runs, 30 walks --- there's just nothing in his minor league record to suggest he'll be any kind of answer at second base. I know, he fixed his swing. I've heard that before. At least he has a stellar defensive reputation. He was drafted as a shortstop, after all.

To be fair no one has yet said Nix will be the second base starter --- he just seems to be the frontrunner right now. He's out of options and he closed out last year in AAA very hot. He's listed at the top of the depth chart for the Rockies at their official site, whatever that is worth. Glove man Omar Quintanilla is also a candidate to win the second base job, but he doesn't figure to do any better. Barmes, Baker, and Stuart are also in the mix at second. And then there is also Marcus Giles in camp with a minor league deal. Second base for the Rockies is rather mysterious right now.


The Rockies have fewer offensive question marks than most teams. You pretty much know what you're going to get from the big four corner players. None of them are very young or very old so you won't see a big improvement or decline from any of them. Unless Iannetta can really break out they won't get much from catcher. There are a lot of mediocre players competing to see who can put up lousy numbers at second base. Taveras is who he is in center field --- a slightly better version of Juan Pierre. Only Tulowitzki is a real question mark --- he could improve dramatically, or take a step back, or anything in between. Young second year players are like that. Given that the Rockies are going to have three holes in their lineup, they really need Tulowitzki to keep improving.

It's hard to say how good the Rockies offense really is, given park effects in Coors and especially the hitting-away-from-Coors effects. Their offense on the road isn't really anything too special, but if the pitching is a team strength again then the Rockies should be able to tread water at about 0.500 on the road and excel at home, which is how they won the NL wild card last year.

So pitching really is the key to the Rockies repeating their playoff trip this year, and I'll look at the Rockies pitching in the next entry.

07 March 2008

Kershaw Enough

Chad Billingsley was 22 at the beginning of 2007 when the Dodger sensibly assigned him to bullpen duty for the first half of the season, thereby limiting his total innings on the year to 147. Clayton Kershaw will turn 20 later this month. He is almost 3 full years younger than Billingsly was at the beginning of last year. Would the Dodgers dare start the year with Kershaw in the starting rotation?

Via Dodger Thoughts I came across the story by Ken Gurnick about the possibility that the Dodgers might go with Kershaw as the fifth starter to begin 2008. In spite of Honeycutt and Martin talking about it as if it might happen, I really don't think it will. And as much as the fan in me wants to see Kershaw make the starting rotation, I don't think it should happen either.

The Dodgers have to limit Kershaw's innings this year, and next year, and probably the year after as well. More specifically, they have to limit his pitches thrown. Kershaw has major league stuff right now, clearly. But he probably doesn't have major league command yet. And that means walks and high pitch counts. He could easily throw 110 pitches in a five inning start. If Kershaw thrives in the rotation to begin the year, will the Dodgers be able to take him out of the rotation later in the year to keep his overall pitch count down? Will Torre take him out after four innings if he's already thrown 95 pitches but only given up one run?

I would by far rather watch Kershaw pitch than Loaiza pitch. That said, Loaiza is probably a better pitcher in April of 2008 than Kershaw is. Kershaw has only pitched 24.2 innings above single A ball in non-exhibition games. He walked 17 and struck out 29 in those innings, which in a nutshell shows both his awesome talent and his need for more seasoning. If Kershaw starts the year in AA or AAA, he can work on his command without pressure, and the Dodgers can put hard limits on his pitches thrown. By August of this year, Kershaw may well be a better option than Loaiza, and by that time the Dodgers could plug him into the rotation without worrying too much about wrecking his arm.

Still, if the Dodgers started the year with Kershaw in the rotation, I would be beyond excited, in spite of my rational misgivings. What a ticket that would be to get, to see Kershaw's first home start!

04 March 2008

2008 Padres Pitchers Preview

Be sure to check out the previous entry on the Padre position players for 2008.

Christopher Ryan Young

I just wonder if a guy so tall and powerful can stay healthy, or if he'll continue to have back problems, as he did in the last two months of 2007. Young started slowly in 2007, then was the best pitcher in the major leagues from May to July.

April ERA --- 4.33
May ERA --- 1.13
June ERA --- 1.52
July ERA --- 0.41

Sometime in August Young's back really began to bother him.

August ERA --- 5.48
September ERA --- 6.27

He just wasn't the same pitcher at the end of the year. His walks were way up, and he started giving up home runs again, too, after banishing them after his so-so April.

The Padres really need Young to be healthy, because after him and Peavy the rotation is awfully thin, unless one pretends name recognition equals depth.

Jacob Edward Peavy

What is there to say? His road ERA last year was 2.57. He struck out more than a batter an inning, and walked less than one every three innings. He allowed only 13 home runs last year, including one to Nomar Garciaparra! He is the best pitcher in the NL West, and we may see a terrific duel for the 2008 NL Cy Young between him and Santana.

Gregory Alan Maddux

Maddux just doesn't strike hitters out anymore. He stays average by keeping his walk totals way down. His road ERA was 4.65 last year. At the age of 41 he's become the classic innings-eater. See, Brett Tomko, this is how it's done. Being an innings-eater doesn't mean you get to completely stink.

Maddux is about a 2-1 ground ball pitcher. He would really benefit from some stellar infield defense, but I don't think he's going to get it. At best that infield defense is average, though I know a lot of people have a higher regard for Greene's defense than I do.

Last year the Padres were 17-17 when Maddux started. I just wonder if the Padres offense will score enough this year for them to be break even in Maddux's starts again this year.

Randall Christopher Wolf

My prediction for Wolf in 2008: Two months of great pitching, two months of bad pitching when he's fighting injury, and two months on the DL. This would be one more great month than he gave the Dodgers in 2007.

It's just impossible to know with Wolf. It's a good gamble by the Padres to sign him, because when healthy Wolf is good. But realistically the Padres can't be counting on Wolf any more than the Dodgers can be counting on Schmidt.

Mark William Prior

The depth chart on the Padres official website lists him as the fifth starter. So does the depth chart on espn.com. Well, okay. Prior didn't pitch last year. He made 9 starts in 2006 for an ERA of 7.21. I'll believe it when I see it, I guess.

Strikeout challenged Justin Germano is also a rotation possibility, as is imported reliever Ledezma. By August the Padres may well have a rotation of Peavy, Maddux, and three new faces, if injuries hit them hard. Even if Young stays healthy the entire year the Padres don't have a lot of depth in the rotation, unless having a lot of injury-prone guys counts as depth.

The Padres have a lefty prospect named Wade LeBlanc who might be called up into the rotation by the middle of 2008. Maybe prospect Josh Geer could be called up at some point. But the Padres have no one who is likely to be any better than Justin Germano or a declining Greg Maddux, no Clayton Kershaw who could potentially set the world on fire when he comes up. ( Not saying that Kershaw would do that, only that it's a reasonable possiblity. ) Peavy and Young are great, but with their so-so offense the Padres can't afford to have three middling starters behind them, and that's what they are likely to have most of the year. But if Wolf can stay healthy and put it all together, then this rotation looks a whole lot better.


Trevor Hoffman just isn't as good as his reputation anymore, or maybe it is, since his reputation should have taken a hit after how he ended 2007. Hoffman is still a good closer, though he had an ERA above 4.5 on the road last year. ( Small sample size, though. ) Bell, Cameron, and Thatcher were terrific. Meredith was okay. With relievers one never knows, ( see Linebrink's decline last year ) but this looks like a team strength headed into 2008. If I had to guess I'd say the Padres will have a better 'pen in 2008 than the Dodgers, but only barely, by the long hair of a Beimel.


Maybe everything breaks right for the Padres, and they have terrific pitching again, enough to carry their suspect offense. With Peavy and Young in the rotation and their good bullpen they certainly have to be considered contenders. But I just can't see picking them to win the NL West. Right now both the Snakes and Rockies look better than the Padres, and the Dodgers too, though the Dodgers have so many question marks that it's hard to say that for sure. But the Dodgers have two things the Padres don't have: true depth in the starting pitching and lots of offensive players with potential to get better. I see a fourth place finish for the Friars in 2008. The Padres seem to have some good young players come up through the farm system, and their GM is top-notch, so even if they slip in 2008 they may be right back in the mix by 2009.

2008 Padres Position Player Preview

Khalil Thabit Greene

I look at this player's stats and hold my nose. I'm so overwhelmed by what he doesn't do well that I am temporarily unaware of what he does do well. It's the stench of a low on-base percentage that gets me every time. His OBP last season was 0.291. His career OBP is 0.312. Those are some rotten numbers. I don't catch a whiff of the sweet smell of 27 home runs and decent defense from the shortstop position.

On the road Greene is undeniably a good, though flawed, player. On the road he's a 0.800 OPS shortstop. Man, you sure don't turn up your nose at that kind of player. Okay, so his road on-base percentage is a little low, at 0.320 most years. You can live with that given all the power he brings. Heck, Greene's road stats are similar to the road stats of young Rockie phenom Troy Tulowitzki, save for the small fact that Greene's slugging is 100 points higher!

It's at home that Greene delivers the true stink-bomb. Okay, most everyone knows that Petco is a tough place to hit. Every Padre regular with the exception of Milton Bradley took a big hit in offensive stats at Petco last year. ( Bradley had close to a 1.000 Petco OPS in a mere 23 games there last year. ) The great Adrian Gonzalez becomes a 0.760 OPSing weakling in Petco. So it happens. But at least all these other players are able to maintain respectable home on-base percentages. They all get on base about 1 out of 3 times at home. But not Greene. He only gets on base 1 out of 4 times at Petco. His home on-base percentage was a putrid 0.258 last year. Why? Is it the strikeouts? He had 77 at home last year. Lucky sevens, for opposition pitchers. He only had 51 on the road. Why would players strike out more at Petco Park, anyway, as they do as a group? Is it just because the park is bigger? Something about the San Diego air? The mound? I don't get it.

The Padres signed Greene to a two year deal this off-season to avoid arbitration. That's probably a good thing, since arbitrators are unlikely to care about things like on-base percentage and instead focus on counting stats like home runs. On the other hand, arbitrators are unlikely to care about park-factors as well. Nevertheless, he's signed, and now the Padres should try to trade him. So much of Greene's value is sucked away by Petco Park. He's not good enough defensively to make up for being so bad at home. He's no Adam Everett with the glove. Last year by hardballtimes.com's zone rating (RZR) Greene was slightly above average; in previous years he was about average.

But the Padres don't really have any young shortstop who is close to being ready to take over for Greene if they traded him, so they'd have to get a shortstop back in a trade. It would be hard for them to find a good fit, I think. Teams don't much go for challenge trades anymore, where you swap guys of the same position for each other. It's a pity for the Padres, since they aren't getting full value from Greene's talents. Greene would be great with the Phillies, for example, his talents maximized there. Not that the Phillies need a shortstop!

Kevin Kouzmanoff

The Padre third basemen may end up as a 0.850 OPS guy on the road. That's good. He has power, but as is usual Petco Park kills his home home run total. But even on the road his on-base percentage is a middling 0.330. Between him and Greene a lot of outs are being used up. That's not something to dismiss lightly --- outs are precious, in limited supply. You only get 27 per regulation game, and here are two of the Padres better offensive players sucking them down. Kouzmanoff was average with the glove last year based on the RZR stat from hardballtimes.com.

Kouz finished aces last year, with a 1.031 OPS in September. He hit 0.380 that month --- he's not going to come close to that over a full season, so this month should probably be viewed as just a lucky hot stretch. If, however, his dip in strikeout rate in September was real, then maybe some of that apparent improvement is also real. So how good is he going to be? Who knows? How good will Matt Kemp or James Loney of the Dodgers be, or Justin Upton of the Snakes be? The big difference between those players and Kouzmanoff is that Kouz is already 26. He's not likely to get a whole lot better, though a small improvement in last year's stats seems indicated here. It is, however, a good bet that the Padres will get more production out of third base than the Dodgers, especially if LaRoche is stuck behind Garciaparra by veteran loving Joe Torre.

Tadahito Iguchi

He signed a one-year deal with the Padres this offseason to play second base. Given how awful Marcus Giles was last year, he almost has to be an upgrade. But he may not be. His road OPS over the past three years is just 0.709. His overall batting line doesn't look too bad, because of hitter-friendly home parks in southside Chicago and Philadelphia, but once he's forced to take half his hacks at Petco this year his overall line may end up closer to the cumulative 0.661 OPS Padres second basemen put up last year.

Iguchi isn't a glove wizard either. His American League RZR had been consistently near the bottom the last few years. Iguchi isn't awful, I guess. He'll steal a few bases, draw some walks, hit a few home runs, but when you put it all together he's a below average second baseman, and at 33 he's not likely to get any better. The Padres had a great opportunity to really improve their second-base production from last year and it looks to me like they blew it. Of course it's easier to say "let's get a better second baseman" and harder to actually do it. This is a position they might look to upgrade at the trade deadline, but more likely they'll be more pre-occpupied with getting a decent outfielder onto the team at that point.

Adrian Gonzalez

On the road Gonzalez is a +0.900 OPS star. He's what the Dodgers hope Loney will become. It would be better for the Padres if he was more of a 0.400-0.500 guy than the 0.350-0.550 guy that he is: in other words, it would be better for the Padres if he was more of a high walk/good power guy than a medium walk/great power guy. So much of Gonzalez's great power is wasted in Petco ( 10 HR at home, 20 HR on the road ) and while his 0.347 on-base percentage is decent the Padres could really use a 0.400 OBP kind of guy to balance out those high power/high out guys on the left side of the infield. It's really kind of goofy and counter-productive that the strength of so many Padre players is home run power. This is just quibbling, though. Gonzalez is the Padres best offensive player by far.

Last year in 80 plate appearances Gonzelez had a 0.450 OPS against Dodger pitching, with just one home run. Probably just a one year fluke. In spite of getting nothing from Gonzalez the Padres won 10 of 18 from the Dodgers last year.

The Padres signed Tony Clark for some reason. He can only play first base, so does that mean he'll take at-bats away from Gonzalez?

Joshua David Bard and Michael Patrick Barrett

Barrett is a 31-year old catcher who had a 0.650 OPS last year after three straight +0.800 OPS years. I'm going with the pessimistic interpretation here and saying that Barrett's skills are decomposing. It's rarely wise to bet on a catcher older than 30. Bard isn't that much younger at 29, but he seems by far the better of the two and I think he'll eventually see about two thirds of the starts behind the plate. Bard actually had a higher on-base percentage than Adrian Gonzalez last year. He's a nice complementary player for the Padre lineup. Goodness knows they need to get something from their catcher given the lousy production they can look forward to from the outfield in 2008.

Scott Alexander Hairston

I guess he's the starting left fielder for the Padres in 2008. I'm looking at their roster, trying to see if there is another option. Paul McAnulty? He's even more of a AAAA fourth-outfielder type than Hairston is. At least both Hairston and McAnulty are 27. Maybe one of them will break out with a career year. More likely they'll hit 15 home runs combined, with an on-base percentage hovering around Khalil Greene territory. The Padres are going to miss Milton Bradley so much. Why didn't they try harder to resign him?

Brian Stephen Giles

I guess the plus side of him losing his power is that the Padres can't miss it at Petco. Now he did hit 11 home runs in the last two months of 2007 after only 2 in the previous four months, so maybe some injury healed ( unlikely, right? --- since when do injuries heal while playing regularly in the middle of the season? ) or maybe he "fixed" his swing. He's still a good on-base guy regardless of his power issues, which the Padres sorely need. But he's 37 and apparently on the very steep downslope of his career. It's no sure thing that the Padres will get anything like even 150 games out of him. They need help in the outfield.

James Patrick Edmonds

And Edmonds is not that help. He seems to be an even older 37 than Giles' 37. He was really wretched in 2007, after being not so great in 2006, after being very good in 2005, after being unbelievable in 2004. Here's the OPS progression from 2004 to 2007: 1.061 -- 0.918 -- 0.821 -- 0.728. He loses a shcoking 100 points a year, so this year he'll have an OPS of 0.631, give or take a few points. Don't laugh. Now that he's playing half his games in Petco, it could happen.

Edmonds no longer matches his defensive reputation either. His RZR the last two years has been in the bottom half of the National League.

There are rumors that the Padres might try to trade for Brewer outfielder Gabe Gross. Gross isn't much with the bat either, but given how unlikely it is for both Giles and Edmonds to stay healthy all year they just need more warm bodies. The Padres may also give prospects Headley and Antonelli a shot at left field. Sounds good, except that neither has played extensively above AA, and neither has even been an outfielder in the minor leagues!


The Padre offense is going to struggle in 2008, and it's going to be because of their outfielders. The Dodgers have a lot of question marks on their offense, but unlike the Padres they Dodgers have very young players likely to improve and relatively young players likely to bounce back from poor performances last year. The Padres have a lot of old, declining players. Gonzalez is great, Kouz should be a little better than last year, Greene is good on the road, Bard is solid, and that's about it. It's all about the pitching for the Padres, even more so than in past years. The Padres may yet finish better than the Dodgers, but I don't see their offense being good enough to win the NL West.