Time to Face the Music - NL West
Well, the regular season has ended and it's time for me to face the music, or at least see how my preseason predictions turned out.
First the NL West:
San Diego Padres
What I got right - The Pads did experience a drop off from last year, although a lot more than I expected. They didn't get as many complete games or quality starts as they did last year and I think a large part of that has to do with the losses of Kevin Brown and ex-pitching coach Dave Stewart.
What I got wrong - The Pads didn't miss Caminiti, but did miss Finley. Arias didn't live up to expectation, but Phil Nevin filled in and had a breakout season. He has good power, decent command of the strikezone and he ranks in the top third of the league in fielding percentage, range factor and zone rating on defense. But what most impressed the Pads was his desire to win and his all out effort, very reminiscent of Caminiti. Rivera just seems clueless at the plate, but he did match Finley in game saving catches so he wasn't a complete bust. If he can get straightened out in winter ball, he certainly has the talent to produce as much or more than Finley.
Outlook for next year - I am convinced that one of the Pads biggest problems is manager Bruce Bochy. While he has a good temperament for managing, he is a woeful tactician and a poor judge of talent. Damian Jackson, even with all of his errors, is a much more effective player, both offensively and defensively than Chris Gomez. Phil Nevin had to plead for 2 months before getting a shot to play third regularly. This is a guy who was taken 1st overall in the 1992 draft as a third baseman. His last year at Cal St Fullerton, he won the College World Series MVP, the Golden Spikes Award (the baseball equivalent of the Heisman Trophy) and Baseball America's College Player of the Year Award, hitting .402 with 22 homers and 86 RBI. He also hit 9 homers and drove in 31 for Team USA against international competition. All totaled that year, he hit close to .400, with 31 homers and 117 RBI in roughly 85 games... this guy had to wait for Bochy to try George Arias (.271 OBA/.421 SLG), Dave Magadan (.372/.355) and even Eric Owens (.326/.386), a guy who had a total of 8 career games experience at third, before getting his shot. Had they been available, I don't doubt that Bochy would have tried Luis Salazar and Graig Nettles, too. Nevin finished the season with a .352 OBA and .527 SLG, .371/.530 since getting the starting job at 3rd. By comparison, MVP-candidate Matt Williams had a .344/.536. In addition to playing the guys who are good, the Pads also have to find some way to dump the guys who are not, which won't be easy since they gave them bloated contracts after last year's delirium. The Pads have to convince someone that Carlos Hernandez and Chris Gomez are starting material because they are too expensive to sit on the bench but not good enough to warrant taking at bats away from Jackson, Ben Davis and Wiki Gonzales. They also need to replace Wally Joyner at first. While he did finish the year well (.342 BA/.432 OBA/.579 SLG over the final 3 weeks), rarely do 37-year old players get more productive or more healthy. Ex-Padre and poster-boy-for-stat-geeks Roberto Petagine is having a monster year in Japan (.335/42 HR/109 RBI in 406 ABs) and would seem like a good candidate and should be available. The Pads are stuck with Randy Myers and his $6+ million contract unless he can prove he's still a big league closer. Other than that, the Pad's pitching situation is pretty good with a solid if unspectacular starting 5 (although Clement might become very good) and a solid bullpen headed up by one of the best closers ever.
San Francisco Giants
What I got right - Ellis Burks was a solid producer, managing to stay relatively healthy for most of the year. The bullpen was again very good.
What I got wrong - The Giants rotation wasn't bad without Danny Darwin and Orel Hershiser. In fact, they were better with solid contributions from their young starters Russ Ortiz, Shawn Estes and Joe Nathan.
Outlook for next year - Overuse is a concern for the young pitchers, especially Ortiz. Dusty Baker left him out for 125+ pitches 8 times, second in the NL to Randy Johnson's 10. Rich Aurilia blossomed as a hitter and now the Giants have the most homer happy middlefielders in the NL. The Giants will need Marvin Benard and JT Snow to be as productive as they were this year. Other than PCL star Calvin Murray, who will push Benard for playing time next year, the Giants have little on the farm to help. So while Baker does get the most out of his players, injuries, especially to the young pitchers, loom large as the biggest impediment to the Giants playoff hopes.
Los Angeles Dodgers
What I got right - In 1997, the Dodger offense was one of the worst in the league, due largely to one of the lowest on base percentages in the league. The Dodgers crowed when they signed Devon White and Todd Hundley this past offseason, exclaiming they had just won the division with their upgraded offense. Obviously, they did not know they had signed two of the lowest on base regualrs in the majors. Devon White was terrible and he was actually much better than his career average. Do they miss Roger Cedeno? If they knew better they would. Todd Hundley was one of the worst in the league offensively and compounded that with poor defense, as baserunners ran wild against his surgery impaired arm. In the second half, the addition of Kevin Brown's intensity finally rubbed off on the Dodger's troika of young pitchers and Chan Ho Park, Darren Dreifort and Ismael Valdes surged. But again, good pitching won't win games unless the team can score and the Dodger's offense was muddled by one of the lowest on base percentages in the league. And the suspect Dodger D was again one of the worst in the league, leading the league in chances but finishing in the middle or near the bottom in put outs, assists and double plays..
What I got wrong - Despite woeful defensive numbers from Dodger middle infield, Kevin Brown was again awesome. Maybe he is worth $15 million a year... for now.
Outlook for next year - Bob Graziano, the author of many of the Dodgers highly publicized moves over the past 2 years, got fired. The message to GM Kevin Malone: talk all you want but you better win. Davey Johnson did a decent job with what he had to work with but the Dodgers, like the Orioles in the AL, still don't understand that this is not a game of individual statistics but a game of individual's playing as one. Raul Mondesi, who chose to engage in an all out war of words with Johnson and Dodger management instead of an all out war against opposition pitching, will be dealt, as will the Dodger's only effective leadoff man, Eric Young. Adrian Beltre will continue to improve and in 2 years will be the best 3rd baseman in the league. The Dodgers will try to deal Eric Karros, but his salary will be a major sticking point.
What I got right - Brian Bohanon pitched as good as he possibly could and he still wasn't very good. Mike Lansing was injured for most of the year so the line-up changes were ineffectual. Darryl Hamilton was an upgrade over Perez at leadoff and over Burks in the outfield, but it wasn't enough to jump start the Rockies offense. Leyland's presence did mean less work for the bullpen
What I got wrong - It wasn't their pitching that was the problem, although that wasn't very good. But their offense was not significantly better than that of the D-backs, Reds and Giants. For a team that benefits from a 10% increase in the distance a ball flies for half their games, that's not good.
Outlook for next year - There're rumors swirling that the Rockies will clean house this winter and dump just about everyone but Walker and Helton. This seems a little far fetched since the only player with real trade value is Vinny Castilla and the Rockies don't really have any other alternatives at third base. Prospects Derrick Gibson and Ben Petrick will get more playing time and the Rockies will again try to bring in more pitchers which will be difficult without trading. Whoever they decide on as manager better understand that he needs fast, athletic outfielders to cover Coors huge outfield, and extreme groundball starters to keep the ball in the yard. Otherwise, the Rockies are gonna be staring at another sub .500 season.
What I got right - The outfield was much improved and the presence of more threats in the line-up made for a much more potent offense. The D-backs bullpen did hold up because the front office revamped it almost entirely as the season progressed
What I got wrong - Gilkey did show an improvement over last year but ever really got the chance to play regularly, as Gonzales, Finley and Womack had career years.
Outlook for next year - Unless they suffer a spate of injuries, or their GM continues to make baffling trades - Tony Batista for Dan Plesac? - they should contend. Their pitching is solid, the defense is dependable and their hitting is fairly consistent, except when Randy Johnson starts. Their farm system is already producing solid major leaguers like Durazo and Barajas, and Travis Lee is not as bad as he showed this year. Jack Cust, John Patterson and Abraham Nunez are only a year or two away so they should continue to be good well into the millennium.
2) San Francisco
3) San Diego
5) Los Angeles
Not bad. There's definitely room for improvement, though.