Friday, July 20, 2007

Midseason Report: NL West

This is the House of Georges, and this is the HoG’s Midseason Baseball Report. In it we’ll examine each of baseball’s six divisions with a fan of a team in that division.

Today’s selection is the National League West, and our divisional expert is Cecil. In addition to forming the third leg of the HoG's famed Iron Triangle, Cecil is a devoted follower of Denver pro sports franchises. Among these are the purple pioneers of the Colorado Rockies.

You can find the Midseason Reports on the American League here: East, Central and West, as well as the National League East and Central.

One more thing...this exchange is very late and brazenly out-of-date. It got lost in the mail, or a dog ate it, or something. So quibble not with the statistical accuracy embedded within. At one moment in time it was spot on.

Old No. 7: After several years of serving as everyone's punching bag, the NL West is asserting itself as a deep and competitive division this season. It still seems as though the compliments are of the left-handed variety, though, with "deep and competitive" being euphemisms for "mediocre teams beating up on each other." Let's try to make the argument that the NL West is better than the consensus best division, the AL Central. First, pitching...which division has the edge?

Cecil: OK. The first time I did this, I wasted about an hour doing a team-by-team comparison of the AL Central with the NL...Central. (Editor's Note: This comparison is pretty flippin' excellent, so if you see it on a slow news day don't be surprised.) So much for reading my assignments.

So--I'll try and get it right this time. The question was, can we make the case that the NL West is at least the equal of the toughest division in baseball, pitching-wise? Yes. Yes, we can.

Whereas my last attempt discovered--shockingly--that the pitching in the NL Central, outside of the Cubs and Brewers (and it's not like either of them is the 1968 Tigers) can't compare, this one is easier on its face. Let's see the players:

AL Central:
White Sox

NL West:

Without the stat-heavy team-by-team I did the last time, we'll go over what we know already. The Tigers have two No. 1 starters, and a generally good staff; the White Sox have a bunch of big names without the production you'd expect, although they do have Bobby Jenks ("greatest closer I ever saw!!!!!!!!"--Some Old Guy We Know); the Twins are fairly deep with relievers and have the best Santana in the majors; the Royals blow and Gil Meche is their only semi-good pitcher; the Indians, like the Tigers, boast a pair of number ones in Carmona and Sabathia as well as solid depth elsewhere. Top to bottom, these teams are generally stocked with quality arms. Except for the Royals.

Now, the NL West.

The Rockies have some talent in Cook and Francis, but no relievers worth mentioning beyond Fuentes. OK--maybe Manny Corpas, but now we're stretching the definition of "worth." They need long help, and a few more big-game starters. How is it that Cook, with that killer sinker, is 5-6 with an ERA of 4.60? Francis could pitch anywhere and might be on the verge of true Ace status, which would be weird, because you can count on the fingers of one hand the number of Rockies pitchers who ever fit that bill.

The Dodgers, on the other hand, have historically always been loaded with arms. Brad Penny is a totally sucky 11-1, Derek Lowe has an ERA of 3.05 even though he's only 8-8, Randy Wolf is a good solid starter and between Broxton and Saito they have solid relief, with lots of additional help from other pen-dwellers. Rudy Seanez is 6-1. I'd take this rotation over any in the AL Central, even Detroit.

And how about those Padres? Even though I hate them for what they did in '84, and even though their aces are falling off the early season's pace, it's hard to argue with the staff management has put together here. Just look at Chris Young and Jake Peavy, respectively 8-3/1.97 and 9-4/2.30. I'm OK with those two as my lead starters. And throw in a semi-resurgent David Wells, the ageless Greg Maddux--neither has great numbers, but these are two of the best big-game pitchers of the last two decades--effin' great middle relief and one of the game's best closers in Trevor Hoffman. It adds up to one of, if not the best, staff in the majors (I might get some argument from you Boston fans there, sure).

The Giants are tough. They have some of the best young pitchers in the bigs in Lincecum and Cain, but neither is setting anything alight this year. Barry Zito cost them half of Marin County and sucks. Hennessey hasn't exactly jumped right up and grabbed the closer's role. Matt Morris and Noah Potential everywhere, but not enough production.

Arizona's team always seems to have a few studs, but that skeletal misanthrope Randy Johnson has seen much better days. Brandon Webb remains one of the best starters around, though, and their relief--long and short--is quite fine, between Jose Valverde, Tony Pena, Brandon Lyon and Doug Slaten. Even with no fully engorged Johnson, this is still a better staff than the Royals' or Twins'.

So it appears that we didn't have to fit the facts to the hypothesis here. An even-handed comparison finds the NL West with much better pitching overall.

Old No. 7: Very well. You're assuming the devil's advocate role even more brilliantly than I could have projected. Let's now examine the offensive abilities of the two divisions, with one very important distinction for the sake of the argument: the AL clubs don't get their designated hitters. So Travis Hafner is off the Indians, the Tigers are minus Gary Sheffield, the White Sox must bench Jim Thome and the Royals lose Bill Pecota. The Twins rotate their DH slot a lot as Jeff Cirillo (?) has started there twice this week, but Joe Mauer is often relieved of catching duties to DH so he's fucking out of there as well. Thoughts?

Cecil: Take away the DH and things do change some--the Tigers are a little less ferocious, for instance. Sheffield may have the all-time worst case of hoof-in-mouth disease, but he can effin' rake. So, OK, no DH for the striped ones--they still roll out Magglio, hitting an anemic .360, have couple good contact guys/run scorers in Polanco and Guillen (and Guillen has 14 dongs to boot), and power throughout the lineup. I'm not sure there's a roster in the NL West that compares to that.

The White Sox, on the other hand, are a buncha overpaid free swingers. If they can't have Thome, who has the highest average on the team (.288!), then they have to muddle through with Jermaine Dye and Paul Konerko as their big bats. Konerko in particular is having an OK season (.526 slugging percentage) and neither is a bad player, This team does nothing for me. Maybe because they're a buncha gasm-stained south siders.

Cleveland, like the Tigers, can flat out hit. Even without Hafner. Fuck Hafner. The Victor Martinez/Grady Sizemore/Ryan Garko/Jhonny Peralta (I really made a good decision cutting him in the fantasy league our readers don't care about)/Casey Blake axis are all in double figures for home runs. Not many hit for much average, but Martinez is chugging along at .321. Pretty solid.

The Royals have a ton of potential in guys like Alex Gordon and Mark Teahen--and wasn't Tony Pena Jr. a phenom a few years back?--but the only guy on their squad with more than 7 homers is a catcher, John Buck, who is currently batting .245. They also show an amazing lack of plate discipline, as pretty much everyone on the roster has struck out a lot more than they've walked. Potential, yes...but you'll get potential when you're always drafting in the top 5.

The Twins lose Joe Mauer, with his .300+ avg., but he's only hit 4 homers this year. Torii the Royal Teaser is having a fine year, as is Justin Morneau. Luis Castillo has less power than I do, but hits north of .300. Other than that, the squad is just OK. Michael Cuddyer is having an alright year, but he's nothing to yell about.

So--which NL West teams match up positively?
The Dodgers: Better than the Royals and White Sox. Not close to Cleveland or Detroit. Roughly Twin-like. They steal more bases than practically anyone. So, we give the edge to the NL West here, just because I say so. Edge: NL WEST

The Padres: Positively Soxian. Only three guys who have been hitting for power in Khalil "Only Baha'i in Baseball" Greene, Adrian Gonzalez and Mike Cameron. Not one of those dudes is over .270 on the year. They're better than the Royals. Freh. Edge: AL CENTRAL

The Giants: Eek. Almost as bad. Get beyond Melonhead's 19 homers and ass full of cow steroids, and it's damn near a desert. How 'bout that Omar Vizquel, with his two taters and .235 average? When your team's second-best hitter is Bengie Molina, your team has issues, friends. I would take the Royals over these guys. Edge: AL CENTRAL

The Diamondbacks: Well, they're better than the Giants and Padres. Eric Byrnes is having a career year---he wasn't good enough to play for the Rockies, remember--they have a few guys who can hit for power in Mark Reynolds and Chris Young, but overall, the depth is just not there. Ahead of the Royals but a touch behind the Twins. Edge: AL CENTRAL

The Rockies: Coors Field or no, these guys can hit. Matt Holliday's shitty stat line for the year: 59 runs scored, 16 homers, 73 RBIs and a .333 average. I'll take it. Tulowitzki is sneaking up on becoming a real threat, with his double-digits in homers and .285 average, Atkins dropped off from last year but still has 14 homers, Hawpe is having almost as good a year as Holliday, Helton is at his usual .310, even if his power is off, and they have a host of complimentary players in Matsui, Spilborghs, Taveras, etc. This team can swing with any of the big boys in the AL Central. Advantage: NL WEST.

So, what have we learned? We've discovered that the heavy lumber in the junior league is heavier, but not by much, than that in the National. And the clearly superior pitching out here swings the comparison westward.
Check and mate, bitches.

Old No. 7: There are a lot of baseball fans in Colorado that are like you and I--we love the Rockies, but when we were growing up they didn't exist and thus we have a different favorite team. What are your personal ground rules for your relationship with your mistress (the Rockies) versus your wife (the Cubs)?

Cecil: To answer your question, it's really basic. I root for the Rockies unless they are playing the Cubs or unless their winning would somehow negatively impact the Cubs' chances.

There's nothin' wrong with the home team. They've had their ups, their downs, they've provided some great drunken moments for the five people reading this, they play in a beautiful park in the capitol city of a truly fine state. But the last few years I've watched 'em play my team, my team has lost. And humiliatingly so.

I didn't wanna pay $150 for my wife and I to watch the ancient and honorable Chicago Cubs lose to a Rockies team starting J.D. Closser. Not only did I miss Maddux in his last go-round with the club whose logo he'll select to adorn his cap in the Hall (if in fact they do it that way--I recall some ruckus with Clemens a few years back...but come on, won't he?) but I had to sit through shit losses to the likes of Aaron Cook or Josh Fogg or whoever it was. One of them has sideburns, I know that much.

Still, I root. They've got some players these days, even if, as a fan, you fear attachment in the shadow of sure loss. You gotta know the Monforts won't pay to keep anyone who performs. So goodbye, Matt Holliday. Goodbye, Garrett Atkins. Goodbye Jeff Francis, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Ian Stewart and Joe Koshansky down in Triple A. At least the Cubs, with their slavering worldwide fan base, have to at least pretend to be players.

Old No. 7: Talk to me about the Rockies. Is there a formula that you think could lead to success for this franchise? Because I'm stumped for solutions, other than bitching about management. That's always fun.

Cecil: There is one--and it's the one they started off with. Collect big bats, stack that roster 1-8 with guys who can swing it. Assemble a staff of tough guys who don't give a rat's ass about ERA and can go relatively deep relatively often. Add one firebreathing closer.

Say what you want about Bob Gebhard--and I know you will--he understood how the game needed to work in this town. Ever since they canned him, they've bounced from philosophy to philosophy, never sticking with one long enough to have it pay dividends. Small ball, big-money pitchers, now grow through the farm and mimic Billy Beane's A's...I mean, I don't necessarily think that's a bad idea, and it's certainly more realistic than trying to win with Buddy Bell, Jeff Cirillo and Denny Neagle, but it sure took 'em long enough.

Of course, it's not as easy as it used to be. They got Dante Bichette in the expansion draft. Galarraga was considered almost washed up, and certainly not a big power guy any more. Ellis Burks had been hurt. These days, getting an equivalent three players would destroy the team's salary structure and leave the Monforts selling oranges on I-76.


bankmeister said...

Now the Monfort post from a month ago makes much more sense.

Brian said...

Did we have to wait this long because Cecil had to research all those clever hyper links to

Seriously dude, better than expected.

old no. 7 said...

The HoG has officially sold out to corporate America. Please buy those books, and I think we get like a beer. Not a stadium beer, though. Parking lot beer. In a can.

Brian said...

not a Steamworks schooner?