2013 Previews/NL West: How To Lose A Pennant
Let’s begin the annual dive into analysis, estimates, and hunches, with the National League West:
Los Angeles: In the original classic version of John LeCarre’s “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” Alec Guinness as George Smiley corners Bernard Hepton as the treason-enabling Toby Esterhase with a telling colloquy:
Smiley: Ever bought a fake picture, Toby?
Esterhase (smiling): Sold a couple once.
Smiley: The more you pay for it, the less inclined you are to doubt its authenticity.
The Dodgers have the talent to win the National League West twice this year. But they probably won’t win it at all, and that’ll probably unleash a disaster in which the General Manager and Manager both get fired, because they’re sticking to the truth behind that quote. The new ownership will stick with the high-end counterfeits they saddled themselves last year simply because they bought them, and they bought them simply because they cost so much.
1. The Dodgers invested in the useless-in-a-pennant-race Zack Greinke, the untested Hyun-Jin Ryu, and traded for the finished Josh Beckett, and will start them while burying or trading the useful but unspectacular Chris Capuano, Aaron Harang, and Ted Lilly. Among the eight possible Dodger starters, Beckett should be ranked eighth.
2. For two months or more, the Dodgers will attempt to replace the injured Hanley Ramirez with Nick Punto (or maybe Juan Uribe) instead of Dee Gordon. How much must they hate Dee Gordon? It’s remarkable enough that they chose to bet on a journeyman minor league lifer who got lucky last year (Luis Cruz) over Gordon, but to be forced to take a second bite of the apple and still bite your own tongue is amazing. Gordon is young and made lots of mistakes in the field and on the bases, but unlike Punto he can hit Punto’s weight, and unlike Uribe, in the field he doesn’t resemble a potted plant.
3. Brandon League – who has blown 29 percent of his career save opportunities – looks like he’ll be the closer. If my calculations are correct, six of these 84 opportunities have come during pennant races. I realize Kenley Jansen has these disturbing heart problems, but if that’s somehow a factor, how on earth are they letting him out on the field in the first place?
4. This is an Andre Ethier slash line: 23/89/.292/.368/.493, 3.2 Offensive War, -0.2 Defensive War. Those aren’t career numbers, or a forecast for 2013. Those are his stat-by-stat highs since his “breakout” season of 2009, which in retrospect looks like his high water mark. And yet the Dodgers and much of the L.A. media still think him a Golden Child who should be batting fifth. I believe this could be called “The Wes Parker Effect,” which was while I lived there the only portion of the dismissal of Southern California as superficial that I found true. For nearly a decade the Dodgers thought first baseman Wes Parker was it, because he looked like he was it. Graceful, good looks, dashing. His career slash was .267/.351/.375 – and his career defensive WAR was minus three. For a first baseman.
Ethier looks like he’s a great player. He’s not. He was an above-average guy with one pretty good year who is well into his post-age-28 decline and is just not going to get any better now (and have a hard time staying even this good). And he will play every day while Yasiel Puig – the closest thing there is to ‘this year’s Yoenis Cespedes’ – goes to the minors.
5. Even more amazingly, until Carl Crawford is ready to play every day in left field, the Dodgers will have Skip Schumaker and Jerry Hairston Jr fill in, and not Puig. This presumes, by the way, that when Crawford is ready to play he actually will play well, and not be consumed by the panic that destroyed him in Boston. And the Dodgers’ rationales for ignoring in Puig what might be their best athlete this side of Matt Kemp? Incredibly, they are a) blaming Dee Gordon (somehow he forced them to rush him and even though he played terrifically when they brought him up in 2011, because he didn’t last year, that’s a reason to send out Puig), and b) they are crying poverty or at minimum preaching economy. The team that assumed $261,000,000 in Dead Sox contracts on one sunny day last year is actually reported to be worried about Puig’s service time and the acceleration of his free agency and arbitration eligibilities.
6. Even if you think this line-up (A.J. Ellis/Gonzalez/M. Ellis/Cruz/Punto/Schumaker/Kemp/Ethier) is actually the best one the Dodgers can put on the field, my old ESPN colleague and figure filbert deluxe David Punto argues that the way Don Mattingly has ordered it will generate about half a run less than it could.
The only threat the Dodgers should face in this division is from themselves. Unfortunately it seems like a mortal one.
Arizona: So apparently Justin Upton, Chris Young, Trevor Bauer, John McDonald, Henry Blanco, Chris Johnson, Sam Demel, Takashi Saito and a bunch of other guys just weren’t the ‘right types’ for somebody in the Diamondbacks’ hierarchy. Kirk Gibson? GM Kevin Towers? Owner and T206 Wagner trimming scandal victim Ken Kendrick? Who knows, and, frankly, who cares?
The purging of players by dint of character or philosophy or whatever may have once been a productive means of shaping a team. But in the modern game, what it gets you is…the Colorado Rockies. I don’t know what personality trait is shared by the incoming Acceptable Diamondback Personality Types like Eric Chavez, Martin Prado, Heath Bell, Cody Ross, Brandon McCarthy, Eric Hinske, Cliff Pennington, Randall Delgado and Didi Gregorius (although everybody likes McCarthy and Ross, nobody likes Bell, and in terms of defensive prospects Gregorius might be the best one in the game). I only know that engineering a line-up based on anything other than talent is madness and usually results in big “Kaboom” sounds and incendiary lightning strikes.
The one pure baseball consideration in the off-season clean-out also didn’t go well. Chris Young (the centerfielder, not the pitcher) was moved in part to make room for Adam Eaton (the centerfielder, not the pitcher). While the latter may not be quite the prospect Arizona thinks him, it was a defensible argument. Until Eaton got hurt.
The team isn’t bad, per se – just ‘meh.’ The pitchers are mostly A.L. refugees (McCarthy, Ian Kennedy, Trevor Cahill, J.J. Putz, David Hernandez, Tony Sipp, the injured Daniel Hudson). There are some pretty good position players here and there but absolutely nobody you’d point to and say “All Star!,” which is an irony by itself given that the coaching staff behind Gibson (Alan Trammell, Matt Williams, Don Baylor, Charles Nagy, and now Steve Sax) is illustrious.
Fortunately when they finish a distant third the Specially-Selected Quality-Character D-Backs will all be good sports about it, I guess.
Colorado: Wanna hear something sad? In my fantasy baseball league, based solely on the NL, we had gone 140 players into the auction with every position player having inspired at least two bids (somebody opens for $1 and then another says $2 or $20 or whatever). Then Todd Helton was nominated.
Todd Helton cost $1 in our fantasy league.
The Rockies’ franchise he represents isn’t that bad, nor that sad. There is a disturbing fragility about its superstars (Cargo, Tulowitzki, and from the in-residence emeritus department, Helton) and just when the franchise seemed to be on the verge of recovering from the same kind of Character First nonsense Arizona will now suffer through, somebody decided to reinvent pitching. It’s well-intentioned (pitching has already been reinvented while pitching staffs have merely been enlarged and categorized) but seems to have incorporated only the worst of the old (four man rotation!) and the most dubious of the new (perpetual pitch counts and Vice Presidents of Pitching Developmental Personnel Evaluation Coordination).
There is this to consider, of course. The Rockies don’t have one outstanding pitcher right now, in the rotation or out of it (maybe Rex Brothers or Rob Scahill will become that, but not yet). And yet you don’t hear about that, do you? You only hear about The Executive Director of Coloradoean Pitching Prowess And Succor.
Clever diversion. It still means last place, but it’s clever.
San Diego: What, exactly, did the Padres get out of trading Anthony Rizzo to the Cubs? Oh yeah, Andrew Cashner (possibly not hurt this year) and outfielder Kyung-Min Na (he hit .155 last year). And, oh yeah, this gave the Pods an excuse to pack Mat Latos to Cincinnati for yet another first base prospect, Yonder Alonso (slugged .393 last year) and crack catching prospect Yasmani Grandal (Team Biogenesis; see you in June).
Occasionally the Pods hold on to somebody whom they should’ve given away for a bag of magic beans (Chase Headley) but, not to worry. He gets injured, the team’s faint prospects for a wild card slide back into the ether, and the happy, becalmed residents of San Diego continue to come out in sufficient numbers to keep this somnambulant franchise alive.
It’s really a shame. Hall of Famers Jerry Coleman, Ted Leitner, and Dick Enberg are among the Padres’ announcers. The impeccable Buddy Black is still the manager. And the weather is soooo nice. Shouldn’t somebody be complaining about fourth place?
San Francisco: OK, I admit it. Even after watching the Tigers melt the Yankees in the ALCS last year I had this sneaking suspicion that a good team with fewer stars but better defense, which could execute on both sides of the ball, might destroy the Tigers in the World Series. And then I looked at the San Francisco lineup and I just couldn’t go with my hunch.
I feel great shame.
Bruce Bochy and Brian Sabean just don’t make mistakes (well, Sabean shouldn’t have run his mouth when Buster Posey got planted in ’11, but I mean more pertinent-to-the-job mistakes). The rotation may get a little thin as early as Tim Lincecum and I’m not convinced Sergio Romo is the long-term answer in the bullpen. But in a doctrinal division, Giants management is non-denominational. The Dodgers throw money at everything. The Padres throw money at nothing. The Rockies tried religious tests. The Diamondbacks got rid of the ‘bad’ guys.
Bochy and Sabean (and coaches Dave Righetti and Mark Gardner) tried…everything. They did not hesitate to go to Plans B, C, D, or E when their Plan A failed. There were five closers last year, and somebody was invested in all the ones who weren’t Romo. Yet they changed, and changed again, and changed again, and finally were willing to go into the post-season with a closer who had pitched in 276 major league games but seen only 23 save opportunities.
The 2010 championship was won by midseason pickups like Cody Ross. 2012’s was sparked by Marco Scutaro and the finally at-home Hunter Pence. Who will make the difference for the 2013 Jints? Somebody Sabean goes and gets in July (although this year there are some actual farm products who could play a role, like outfielder Gary Brown, starter Kyle Crick, or closer Heath Hembree – who looks like one of those walk-the-bases-loaded-then-strike-the-side-out types).
And oh yeah, the Giants have Posey and Panda and the emerging Brandon Belt.
But mostly they’ll get 100% out of what they have while the more talented and monied Dodgers seem intent on getting 50%. I think they’ll have to keep the pedal down all season to beat L.A. and it might still be close around September 1, which is when the Dodgers will fold for good and finish 4-to-8 games out.
Division: Giants, Dodgers in a pennant race second, Diamondbacks not competitive in third, Padres struggling to fourth, pitching-free Rockies fifth.
Tomorrow the NL East.
Dang! I thought it was history here! 🙂
I wish the Dodgers would stop throwing money at everything and put together a winning team like, say…the SF Giants. Is that too much for a Southern California Girl to ask for? 🙂
No. They wish they all could be California girls.
Thanks for the link, Keith!
This was really entertaining and informative. I get to learn all the pertinent players for each team. Something I can keep an eye on. Oh yeah, I get to check your predictions after the season.
In a way I feel bad for the Dodgers as they will be penny pinching soon enough. I still don’t like what they did to Yasiel Puig. Lessons will be learned the hard way. The Diamondbacks will obtain a valuable education and I don’t mean the moneyed kind. One cannot base a roster on personality and good looking butts. They’ve got to have something besides a nice smile. The Rockies will suffer from the over-management phase as they learn management does not pitch, pitchers do. The Padres have not been on my radar at all, so I really couldn’t get a handle on them. Just as long as they show up to play, I guess that will be alright. Someone has to fill the space. My heart goes to the Giants in this league (so the song goes something like that). They were exciting in last year’s season and suspect they may be a hit this year. Plus I know a fan of theirs out in SF. I am looking forward to more insight and a valuable education in the art of prognostication.
The Dodgers will be fine.
Crawford will start on Opening Day and has played well since he has been in the lineup.
Puig had a great ST, but has 95 career AB’s in the US split between RK and A ball. Let him play a little while in AA to see if he is the real deal or not. If he hits there, he will be up by June.
All the pieces fell into place for SF last year. Will Scutaro hit .362 like he did with them last year? No. Sandoval is hurting and they wont get 500 AB out of a player that match Melky’s .346/.390/.516 line.
crawford will play…but he cant throw
he was hitting in st…lets see if he can hit in the regular season
I can’t believe I agree with (almost) everything Keith said (about baseball– when it comes to politics I agree with him 99% of the time). At least before the actual predictions. He dismantled the Dodgers and then had them finish second. I have them finishing fourth– they will be an even bigger disaster than the Yankees. Love the line about Greinke. And though I’m a fan of Ethier, it’s sad but true– after April or May his numbers (and health) take a nosedive. The Dbacks will finish second, though I can’t see how Heath Bell has a better character than Justin Upton. Maybe it was the water in Miami that made him the biggest clubhouse cancer I’ve seen in a long time. The Padres will surprise people– Maybin is going to get better and better, and while I used to think Bud Black was overrated I like his managing style more and more. The Gigantes will win the division but no NL team has ever won the World Series three out of four years. (2013 World Series– Brewers beat Angels in 6.) But I can’t wait to see Keith’s other picks, so first things first. And if he picks the Yankees to finish last, I won’t be mad this time.
NL East– Nats, Phillies, Braves, Marlins, Mets
If the Dodgers clue up, they’ll be up there with the Giants. If not, then they’ll be below the Diamondbacks. The numbers say the Diamondbacks won’t approach the Giants. Numbers have a way of getting injured. Unfortunately, that can work both ways. Best scenario: the lack of credible competition rope-a-dopes SF, and the D-backs are there to try to take it in September. Worst: Someone in LA gets that clue, fixes the lineup, makes a couple overpriced but this time rational-on-the-field trades, and the conclusion is going-going-foregone, just in time for fantasy football to get interesting…
As a former D-Backs fan, I wonder what Jason Kubel has to do to get some love? Had a great year last year. Upton’s problem wasn’t so much his attitude as his inability to take a walk. Ever. I mean, ever. I think dropping Young was a mistake. Before he hurt himself last year, he was mashing. He came back to quick and as the A’s are discovering, is great in the room. The real problem with the D-Backs is no bullpen depth and the lack of a plan. Just as it has been for the last three years.
Well, this has a precednet. I recall the the Kal Daniels / Todd Benzinger / finally Eric Karros of 1991 and the Todd Hundley in Left of 1997. But I guess this is why that they play the games.
I wish the Dodgers had never made the Boston trade. I think they would be a better team with Loney at first ( I know, but I like him ) and Puig in left. Gonzalez is a good guy and player and I understand his L.A. fan appeal, but he is a perennial loser. I don’t think either AJ or Mark Ellis will have years as good as last, but Cruz may surprise. Still think Dodgers duck the bullet . Giants fall and Diamondbacks get rattling close to a strike.
I like Loney too, personally, and he’s a great defender, but still you’re nuts if you’d rather have the lowest rated (by Fangraphs among others) 1B in baseball rather than Gonzalez. The latter was stuck on bad San Diego teams and then was only briefly in Boston. Don’t see how this makes him a “loser.”
First, I am shocked you started with the NL West, shocked! Then, I patiently read every line, starting with the Dodgers (read a prediction yesterday that had them in 1st place), and I agree with everything you said about the OVERRATED Dodgers and their BLOATED payroll containing lackluster performers. D’backs, Rockies, Pods; you took the words right out of my mouth; you are absolutely spot on with your assessments. When I got to the last, I fell out of my chair; “I feel great shame”. SWEET!!! Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU, Keith Olbermann; you have not just made my day, oh much, much more. I even take back my grousing about your blind spot regarding my beloved SF GIANTS. and you even tossed in many KUDOS for management and coaching. Brandon Belt has had a terrific spring and Brandon Crawford seems to have found his swing (thus ending the great defense, no bat thing). Also, “finally at-home Hunter Pence”, who has looked real good this spring; When I first saw him (playing for the Rangers) I thought, wish the Giants would get him. disappointed when he went to Philly, and happy when the Giants picked him up. All in all, the “no offence Giants” look to be a power at the plate this season.
“First, I am shocked you started with the NL West, shocked!”
…your winnings, sir. 😉
And yes, seeing KO admit he was wrong about the Giants is a beautiful thing. Perhaps the East Coast Bias is finally being laid to rest.
Question: is that a purple “Webster”? You know, the thing for taking out cobwebs.
… okay yes, I hear and agree with you, but have you SEEN Greinke’s look this spring? Gorgeous, flowing blonde/gold hair and all? That’s like what, 20 to 25 “Los Angeles” wins right off the gate already, small-market-Kansas-City-social-anxiety-disorder be damned.
Prediction? Bedding Miley Cyrus by all star break.
I’m waiting with baited breath to see what he says of the NL Central, and my beloved Reds. I’m not gonna lie, they’re hard to read in spring training this year, but if their pitching rotation and bullpen stays healthy, they should go deep.
It’s “bated”. As in “abated”. As in “held”. Shakespeare, see.
My prediction is that Olbermann’s eval of the Reds will mention that Billy Hamilton’s done the Kessel Run in twelve parsecs, and their chances could hinge on whether he makes the team this year. Or not. I just liked the joke.
… it’s the figgin’ Sin-See-Naughty Reds we’re talking about, perennial first round teaser club if there’s been one this generation; alas, “baited” is more than opportune.
reds will be fine. st means nothing
but they should fire dusty before the playoffs…he is a reg season manager and implodes in the post
I cannot count the times I’ve taken KO to task for his East Coast bias and what seemed like an anti-Giants stance. Nice and satisfying to see him come around. Meanwhile, Giants fans hope that the rest of the media continue to underestimate our team and coaches so we can fly under the radar to another World Series.
I think, unfortunately, we are done flying under the radar; more like Giants have a target on the back of their unies. Three out of four would tattoo the target. GO GIANTS!!!
Keith WAS 100% right about the new iteration of Tinker Tailor, though.
Keith, with respect, I stopped reading here: “Among the eight possible Dodger starters, Beckett should be ranked eighth” uh, no. He’s not finished, he’s not worse than Harang or Lilly. I wish you’d at least done some kind of due diligence before writing about their situation. As one who watched Beckett in the Fall in LA, and in ST, and the other guys I can assure you he does not rank 8th among the possible starters. I’m glad you’re excited about Puig, with good reason, but to use it as a launching point for this out of left field (pardon) tirade is wrongheaded. I hope you at least save some of that ire for your NY Yankees because they really are a mess right now. Also, Dodgers management team and ownership now includes Stan Kasten on these decisions. That should bode real well for the teams future in developing and scouting future players (as with Puig). Sorry, but this post was beneath you frankly. You can pick LA last as far as I’m concerned but at least try to show your work.
Also, Greinke useless in a pennant race? He hasn’t had many chances(but I’m sure it’s his fault KCwas so bad for so long), but, for example he was pretty darned good for Mil in Sep 2011. http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/gl.cgi?id=greinza01&t=p&year=2011
“… among the eight possible Dodger starters Beckett should be ranked eight” meaning at this point he is simply unpredictable/unreliable as a leader and/or teammate, discipline wise: you watch, he will throw a classic Boston-wonder-years “balking knee/pitching finger blister” contract/extension year tantrum midway through the season which in turn he (errr… his reps) will no doubt contrast to the inexplicable, insane load of cash thrown at Greinke… for achieving what up to this point, exactly?
Not that being ranked eight or whatever would ever matter to a typical me-first prima-donna, but I’ll say this: after six seasons out here in the East it is actually kind of refreshing to finally see him show up to spring training WITHOUT a pot belly’s worth of DL crippling dead weight under his shirt.
Seriously. Never, ever, losing when pitching at home can come in handy in a pennant race.
Keith, you’re scaring me. You didn’t have much respect for my Gigantes in 2010 and 2012 and they went on to win the World Series. Now that you are predicting they’ll win the West, I feel afraid. Very afraid.
Yea, during the 2010 Playoffs, Keith had about as much respect for The Giants as that AWFUL Fox Sports announcer team; what a bunch of bums. In 2012 they treated us with more respect, but still bias there, Bias??? on FOX??? No, say it ain’t so.
this is a trick. ko hates the giants and giants fans.
he knows by picking them, he has cursed them
giants will finish dead last
DAMN YOU TO HELL, KO
Sabean has never made a mistake? Was that a joke? Barry Zito and $127 million ring a bell? How about Aaron Rowand for $60 million? Zack Wheeler for 2 months of Carlos Beltran? Don’t get me wrong, Sabean’s made some good moves to go along with these bad ones. But to say he has never made a mistake is ludicrous.
Ah, nobody is perfect, besides, I wonder if the departed Peter McGowan did not have a lot to do with that god awful mistake of giving that contract to Zero. Aaron stunk and at least, Beltran moved on.
Great article! I know somebody in Keith’s fantasy baseball league. He’s worried that if KO doesn’t get a full time job soon, he’s going to be impossible to beat.
Although I hope he’s right about the Giants, I’m pretty sure he’s wrong about the Dodgers. 2013 might be “The Season of the Super Team”. The Dodgers, Nationals, Reds, Braves, Tigers, Angels, and Blue Jays all have great hitting lineups and starting rotations that are two or three aces deep.
I rank the Giants just below them. If the Orange and Black are to prevail, their defense and bullpen are going to have to be superb. Last season, they started off poorly in both those departments, they won’t be able to overcome the Dodgers this time if they falter early. By retaining their relievers, inserting Belt and Blanco into the starting lineup, adding Pence and Scuturo, plus having Crawford emerge as a Gold Glove candidate, they look poised to defend their title.
Nice preview. Giants v. Dodgers this season might well be revealed in the tale of two Crawfords: Brandon v. Carl. Brandon Crawford of San Francisco is projected to have a breakout season. Carl Crawford has a lot of performance ???? to go along with his big $$$$. As the Giants and Dodgers resume their hostilities tomorrow in LA, we’ll learn soon enough if all the high price talent in Dodger Blue is just high priced.
You know how to make a girl smile, Keith…especially one who’s a Giants fan. Come out to the West Coast some summer. 🙂
Great fun to read your stuff! Don’t bash Romo, he’s looking extreme in the Closer role. Nice personality as well.
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