M-SABR 2017 Season Preview: NL West

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Today, we finish our divisional previews by looking at the NL West. Last year, in a twist of fate, the San Francisco Giants did not win the World Series in an even-numbered year (for the first time this decade). Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Dodgers won the division despite Kershaw pitching 83.2 IP less than his 2015 campaign due to injury (and still posting a 5.6 rWAR). The Colorado Rockies surprised the world by staying within six games of a wildcard spot for much of the season but ultimately finished 12 games out of a spot. The Arizona Diamondbacks had a huge offseason, acquiring Zack Greinke, Shelby Miller (at the price of Dansby Swanson and Ender Inciarte), and Jean Segura, but fell short of expectations in an extremely disappointing season. The San Diego Padres, meanwhile…. it’s hard to tell what’s going on over there. They haven’t been over .500 since 2010. How does the division shape up going into 2017? Let’s find out.

Arizona Diamondbacks

2016 Record: 69-93 (4th in NL West, missed playoffs)

2016 Payroll: $103,373,186 (26th)

Offseason Moves: Two winters ago, GM Dave Stewart decided to shake things up in the desert by signing marquee starter Zach Greinke on a hefty contract, and making a move in trading #1 pick Dansby Swanson to the Braves for starter Shelby Miller. Neither move panned out as Greinke posted a 4.37 ERA, his worst since 2005, and Miller imploded with a 6.15 ERA and a demotion to AAA. After the foreseeable firing of Dave Stewart, Mike Hazen took over as GM and proceed to make small, but pleasant moves this offseason. Hazen capitalized on a bounce back season from Jean Segura in which he led the NL with 203 hits, a .319 AVG with 20 HRs, and a 13th finish in NL MVP voting. Segura was traded this offseason to the Mariners for young players shortstop Ketel Marte and pitcher Taijuan Walker, both of whom are controllable for multiple seasons. Other moves saw a revamp of the Diamondbacks catcher position, letting go of Welington Castillo and Tuffy Gosewisch in favor of Chris Iannetta and Jeff Mathis. Outfielder Oswaldo Arcia was added, as well as risky closer Fernando Rodney (whom I still do not trust after he blew many games for my Detroit Tigers from 2002 to 2009).

2017 Outlook: I was able to see the Diamondbacks in action this spring against the Dodgers, and they won, 15-3! They looked unstoppable, scoring again and again, with their stars performing well; Paul Goldschmidt going 2-2 with 1 HR and 4 RBIs, and Zach Greinke going 2 innings on the mound looking like his former Cy Young self. Is this a sign of things to come this year, however? Unfortunately for Diamondback fans, not likely. While these two stars are likely to perform at high levels this year (especially higher than last year for Greinke), the Diamondbacks are going to need much more help. It is unclear the amount of help this rotation will give them. As mentioned before, Shelby Miller is coming off an unbelievably awful season, and Patrick Corbin and Taijuan Walker both have potential but are coming off seasons in which they regressed. Corbin increased his ERA from 3.60 in 2015 to 5.15, and his FIP from 3.35 to 4.84. While Walker decreased his ERA (4.56 to 4.22), his FIP went up (4.07 to 4.99)! Not good. Whereas the starting rotation has potential, the bullpen cannot say the same. The bullpen ranked 4th worst in ERA this past season at 4.94, with a collective WAR of just 0.5. While it may seem that 2016 All-Star, Fernando Rodney, will help the bullpen, look again and you will see a 40-year-old pitcher who posted an abysmal 5.89 ERA in the second half of last season for the Marlins (however, who knows, he may tilt his hat a few more degrees sideways and all will be well). Offensively, the lineup has solid pieces in Paul Goldschmidt (.297/24 HR/95 RBI), Jake Lamb (.249/29 HR/91 RBI) and Yasmany Tomas (.272/31 HR/83 RBI) (who my friend Bryce Morrow, see the Padres preview, struck out in AAA). After missing all of 2016, CF AJ Pollock is back for 2017. Two seasons ago he posted an eye-popping 7.2 fWAR, which was good for 4th in the NL. With the return of AJ Pollock, the Diamondbacks will form a respectable lineup, which also includes David Peralta, who batted .312 in 2015 but missed a majority of last year with injuries. Overall, this lineup will score runs, but the success depends on the pitching. There will be some improvement from last year, but not enough to bet on them as a viable contender.

Player to Watch: Zach Greinke

As mentioned, the success of the Diamondbacks hinges on the pitching. In 2015, Greinke went 19-3, with a 1.66 ERA and 200 Ks. He finished 2nd in Cy Young voting and 7th in MVP voting. Then, he mysteriously regressed to a modest 13-7 record, 4.37 ERA, and just 134 Ks. Not surprisingly, he received no Cy Young votes. This spring was more of the same. He had one terrific start, followed by two mediocre starts. If Greinke can find a way to return to his Cy Young form in 2017, similar to how Justin Verlander has for the Tigers, the Diamondbacks could be a possible surprise wild card contender after all.

– Matthew Kikkert

Colorado Rockies

2016 Record: 75-87 (3rd in NL West, missed playoffs)

2016 Payroll: $120,586,480 (19th)

Offseason Moves: The Rockies added outfielder/first baseman Ian Desmond, relievers Greg Holland and Mike Dunn, and utilityman Alexi Amarista through free agency. Starter Jorge De La Rosa, infielder Daniel Descalso, outfielder Ryan Raburn, catcher Nick Hundley, and reliever Boone Logan were not re-signed. Former top prospect Eddie Butler was traded to the Cubs for minor league pitcher James Farris.

2017 Outlook: Ten years after the best season in their relatively short history, the Colorado Rockies are hoping they can repeat some of the magic of that NL Pennant-winning October. New manager Bud Black never qualified for the playoffs during his eight and a half seasons with the Padres, but he came as close as you can get in his first season in 2007, losing to that Rockies team in a game 163 13-inning tiebreaking heartbreaker.

The Rockies should again be among the top run-scoring offenses in the Majors in 2017. They finished second with 845 runs and a .339 wOBA, no doubt boosted by the thin air in Denver. Their wRC+, which adjusts for park factors, is not as friendly, ranking in the bottom third of the league at 92. Their offense is led by a five-man wrecking crew of Nolan Arenado, DJ LeMahieu, Charlie Blackmon, Carlos Gonzalez, and Trevor Story, all of whom had wOBA’s above .360 in at least 400 plate appearances last season. Story, who hit an NL rookie shortstop record 26 home runs, will be coming off thumb surgery that caused him to miss the last two months of the season, but his .579 slugging percentage in the small sample size of spring training supports his claim that it won’t affect him this year. Ian Desmond was also signed to play first base but will start the season on the Disabled List.

The Rockies will be banking on the development of their young rotation, as they did not add any starters this offseason. Jon Gray is the team’s ace, and while his 4.61 ERA in 2016 may seem unsightly, his 3.7 fWAR ranked 17th among all big league pitchers. He also finished ninth for qualified pitchers with 9.91 strikeouts per nine innings. What’s interesting is Gray actually pitched better at Coors Field than on the road, with a lower ERA (4.30 vs 4.91), WHIP (1.12 vs. 1.40), triple slash line allowed (.235/.291/.383 vs .242/.343/.389), and wOBA allowed (.290 vs .322), and a higher K/9 (10.11 vs. 9.71) and K/BB ratio (5.22 vs. 2.22). If he can pitch elsewhere as well as he does in the mile-high pitcher graveyard, he could gain more recognition as an elite starter. In matters bigger than baseball, Chad Bettis, second in the Rockies 2016 rotation with a 2.6 fWAR, was diagnosed with testicular cancer and is currently undergoing chemotherapy. He is optimistic he can play this season, but whether he throws a pitch or not is obviously of little importance to the Rockies in the grand scheme of things. Tyler Anderson (2.5 fWAR) and Tyler Chatwood (2.5 fWAR) will slide up the rotation while the last two slots will be filled by two of three prospects, German Marquez, Kyle Freeland, and Harrison Musgrave. The bullpen is similar to last year, with either newcomer Greg Holland, who hopes he can return post-Tommy John to his 2014 Mariano Rivera Award-winning self, or Adam Ottavino serving as the team’s closer.

The Rockies are a popular sleeper team. Their offense will continue to score runs. If their pitching can improve, they could make a postseason push, despite playing in the crowded NL West.

Player to Watch: Ian Desmond

The shortstop turned outfielder is now trying his hand at a new position: first base. Last season, Desmond rebounded nicely from a disappointing 2015. His 3.3 fWAR was still lower than his 2012-2014 numbers (4.7, 4.8, 4.0), but much better than his 2015 1.7. While he is moving into very-hitter-friendly Coors Field (league-leading 1.368 ESPN Park Factor in 2016, where above 1.00 favors the hitter), Globe Life Park in Arlington is also hitter friendly (1.156). Furthermore, Desmond will be making a late debut, as he’s currently sidelined with a hand injury. Overall, the Rockie’s success will heavily be determined by Ian Desmond’s 2017 campaign.

– Josh Kremers

Los Angeles Dodgers

2016 Record: 87-75 (1st in NL West, Lost NLCS)

2016 Payroll: $279,107,794 (1st)

Offseason Moves: The Dodgers locked up RHP Rich Hill, CP Kenley Jansen, and 3B Justin Turner during the offseason. They also acquired 2B Logan Forsythe from the Rays for top pitching prospect Jose De Leon. The team also added RP Sergio Romo and RP Brandon Morrow. Key losses include OF Josh Reddick, RPs Jesse Chavez and Joe Blanton, LHP Brett Anderson, 2B/OF Howie Kendrick, and C Carlos Ruiz. The team’s most notable departure, however, is legendary announcer Vin Scully.

2017 Outlook: The Dodgers won 91 games and the NL West in 2016 while Clayton Kershaw provided around 65% of his career average workload. How did they do it? After all, their team OPS+ was only 98, the team’s AVG was only .249, and the team’s OBP was only .319. The team’s ERA+, however? 106. That might have something to do with Clayton Kershaw still having 149 IP in 2016 (with an ERA of 1.69, ERA+ of 220, a FIP of 1.80, a WHIP of 0.725…. I could go on for hours). After all, had Kershaw pitched a full season, it may have been the greatest season for any starting pitcher ever, considering the opponents that Kershaw must deal against. Kenley Jansen also proved to be one of the premier closers in the game in 2016, converting 47 of 53 saves with a FIP of 1.44. All in all, this is a very impressive Dodgers team that should perform even better in 2017. Kershaw is healthy, Rich Hill is healthy, Logan Forsythe will lead off, and Corey Seager will enter his second full season. The Dodgers are a must-watch team in 2017, and may just be the favorite to win it all.

Player to Watch: Andrew Toles

Taking one quick glance at the Dodgers lineup, it is easy to say that OF Andrew Toles is the weak link in an otherwise impressive 1-8. That said, he posted a 1.4 rWAR in 115 PA in 2016, posting a 135 OPS+ and a .462 AVG in the NLCS against the Chicago Cubs. It’s hard to tell how Toles will play out in the field over time based on his 2016 stats, but if he can continue putting up close to his numbers at the plate, then Andrew Toles will be one of the best eight-hole hitters in the Bigs.

– Zane Harding

San Diego Padres

2016 Record: 68-94 (5th in NL West, missed playoffs)

2016 Payroll: $133,681,702 (17th)

Offseason Moves: Before the 2015 season, general manager A.J. Preller prematurely went into win-now mode, consequently pushing back rebuilding efforts substantially. Last season, Preller made multiple moves to trade those pieces, including Matt Kemp and James Shields, in return for solid prospects. However, the Padres are still feeling the pain of these moves as they are left responsible for $76.95 million in contract salaries for players that are not even on the current roster. This will continue to hinder their ability to go out and get big name free agents for multiple seasons. The only notable free agent signings for the Padres this year come in pitchers Trevor Cahill and Jhoulys Chacin. Both players are slated to be in the starting rotation, which is not a good sign (especially because Jhoulys Chacin is slated to be the team’s ace and Opening Day starter). Since his breakout 2015 season, Chacin has posted a 0.7 rWAR in the past three years (that is virtually one-tenth of his 5.8 rWAR in 2013), while Trevor Cahill has a -0.9 rWAR since 2014 (primarily thanks to his abysmal 2014 season, the last time he was a starting pitcher in the NL West). Key departures include 2016 ace Tyson Ross, outfielders Jon Jay and Oswaldo Arcia, and starting catcher Derek Norris.

2017 Outlook: With young players continuing to fill key roles, the Padres will once again be competing to stay out of the NL West cellar. They are on the right track, however. The lineup will be centered around Wil Myers, who is coming off an All-Star season where he hit 28 HRs and had 28 SBs, and Yangervis Solarte, who had 71 RBIs in just 109 games. Multiple youngsters will be joining them this year: Hunter Renfroe, Manuel Margot, speedster Travis Jankowski, and Austin Hedges, all of whom played with my personal friend, Bryce Morrow, on the Padres’ AA and/or AAA squads (unfortunately, Morrow was released by the team midway through 2016). Aside from Renfroe (more to come on him), look for Jankowski to make headlines this year. Last year, Jankowski stole an impressive 30 bags for the Padres, but in 2013, Jankowski stole 71 bags in A+ ball in just 122 games. That is a 162-game average of 94 steals! I agree with Griffin Murphy’s prediction from our “Bold Predictions” article: Jankowski will steal at least 40-50 bags this year and be a bright spot on this weak Padres roster. The bullpen will be a highlight with closer Brandon Maurer (3.09 ERA after Fernando Rodney trade), Brad Hand (2.92 ERA), Ryan Buchter (3.07 ERA), and the return of a healthy Carter Capps (1.16 ERA in 2015) after missing the entire 2016 season. The success of this team will mainly hinge on how well the starting rotation performs. And judging by the names in the rotation: not well. The starting rotation on Opening Day will be Jhoulys Chacin, Clayton Richard, Jered Weaver, Luis Perdomo, and Trevor Cahill. When your ace is coming off an ERA of 4.68 (Chacin) and you have a guy in the rotation who been used out of the bullpen for the last three seasons (Cahill), it is bound to be a rough year for the Padres. Jered Weaver’s 84 MPH fastball doesn’t help, either. Overall, the Padres are on the right track once more but are still a few years away from contending for a playoff position.

Player to Watch: Hunter Renfroe

In the minor leagues, Renfroe raked for teams such as the San Antonio Missions (AA) and El Paso Chihuahuas (AAA). In 2016 hit .306 with 30 HRs and 105 RBIs for the Chihuahuas, leading them to the PCL title and the AAA Championship Game, and was named the Padres’ top hitting prospect along the way. As a September call-up in 2016, the former top prospect continued his torrid pace batting a cool .371 with 4 HRs and 14 RBIs in just 35 ABs. Look for Renfroe to have a terrific season and contend for the NL Rookie of the Year Award.

– Matthew Kikkert

San Francisco Giants

2016: 87-75 (2nd in NL West, Lost NLDS)

2016 Payroll: $183,077,044 (6th)

Offseason Moves: The Giants’ only big splash this offseason came by signing Mark Melancon to a 4-year deal, addressing their glaring need for a shutdown closer. Key departures include pitchers Santiago Castilla, Sergio Romo, and Mr. No-Hitter, Chris Heston. Offensively, the Giants will lose Angel Pagan, and utilitymen Ehire Adrianza and Gregor Blanco.

2017 Outlook: The trademark of seemingly every Giants team is their outstanding pitching, and this year will be no different. The starting staff is loaded, led by postseason legend Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija, and a resurgent Matt Moore. Last season, this staff was Top 5 in almost every pitching category including ERA (3.71), FIP (3.75), K/9 (8.14), BB/9 (2.49), and BABIP (.287). One area of concern for ace Madison Bumgarner last year was his career high workload of 226.2 IP and highest FIP (3.24) since 2012 (still not very high), the only year in the past 6 seasons he did not receive Cy Young votes. However, I would not doubt a country man who just happens to chop down trees with an axe in the offseason. Last year’s weak link was closer, Santiago Castilla, who blew an MLB-high 9 saves. This year, new closer Mark Melancon should shore up a solid bullpen. Last season Melancon went 47 for 51 in save opportunities, with a 1.64 ERA. This was no fluke. Over the past 4 seasons, Melancon has averaged 72 innings with a 1.80 ERA and 2.25 FIP. The rest of the bullpen is stellar, consisting of Derek Law (2.13 ERA), George Kontos (2.49 ERA over past three seasons), and flamethrower Hunter Strickland (3.10 ERA) (may I add he is almost impossible to hit on MLB The Show). Offensively, the Giants’ solid lineup will be led by Buster Posey, Hunter Pence (who is hopefully free from 2016’s injury struggles), Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt, and Denard Span. This Giants lineup ranked 11th in BA and 7th in OBP last season. The trouble spot will be left field, where unproven young players Jarrett Parker and Mac Williamson will split time. Jarret Parker looks to have taken the starting job (for now), showing nice power in spring training with a slugging percentage of .509 (which is on par with Brandon Belt). Let us not forget, the Giants posted the best 1st half record in MLB last year. With the added assurance of late-game wins thanks to Mark Melancon, look for the Giants to be serious World Series contenders.

Player to Watch: Matt Moore

We all know the top of the Giants rotation is special, but the return of Matt Moore could make it even better. One of the most touted prospects coming up in the Rays system, Moore was touted as a Bryce Harper/Mike Trout tier prospect and quickly established himself in the MLB throwing a fastball in the upper 90s. In 2013 at the age of 24, Moore compiled a 17-4 record, 3.29 ERA, and 143 strikeouts, all in just 150 innings. He made the AL All-Star team and finished in the Top 10 in Cy Young voting. Following Tommy John surgery in 2014, however, Moore hasn’t been the same pitcher…until being traded to the Giants at last year’s deadline, that is. He pitched much better, taking a no-hitter into the 9th against the Dodgers, and throwing 8 IP of 1 ER ball in the NLDS against the Cubs. Additionally, he lowered his FIP from 4.51 in 130 IP with the Rays to 3.53 in 68.1 IP with the Giants. Look to see if Moore can return to prominence and take the Giants rotation to new heights.

– Matthew Kikkert

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