We’ve finally made it: the last of the division breakdowns. Despite being a week in to the regular season, these predictions are made primarily based on preseason play, with very little of the regular season play impacting my thoughts. Without further delay, here is the NL West breakdown.
It was tempting to let my buddy Parker Fleming do the analysis for the Rockies as he embarks on his new found fanship (you can follow his experience here: http://www.rockieszingers.com/2015/04/12/year-abroad-reflecting-first-days/) but their season hopes can be wrapped up with one word: health. If Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez are able to stay healthy, this team could threaten for a wild card spot. Without these two, Colorado fans will have to look to Charlie Blackmon and Corey Dickerson to reprise breakout years, something that can be difficult without the proper lineup protection.
Tulo was worth 5.5 wins above replacement (WAR) last year before going down with yet another injury. While arguably one of the best shortstops in the game, he has played in a mere 264 games out of a possible 486 games since 2012. This is a guy who needs to be in the lineup, particularly considering how many runs will be needed to keep the Rockies competitive with their weak pitching staff.
That being said, don't take your eyes off of Nolan Arenado. Looking at his peripherals, it’s very possible Arenado ends up top three at his position. Despite 47 less plate appearences last year, Arenado created 13 more runs then he did in 2014 (according to Baseball Reference). Three changes in his numbers helped lead to this: a 5% jump in his homerun to flyball ratio and an increase in walks combined with a decrease in strikeouts. His line drive rate and batting average on balls in play (BABIP) stayed consistent, firther demonstrating his success should be attributed to greater patience at the plate, not luck. Watch for Arenado to take another step forward this year.
San Diego Padres
Anyone who has paid attention to baseball this year is aware of the remade Padres. Justin Upton, Matt Kemp, and Wil Meyers were brought in to create a new outfield. The signing of James Shields adds a workhorse to a rotation filled with great, though potentially fragile, young arms. Closer Craig Kimbrel was the last piece, added last Sunday shortly before the first game of the season.
Despite the excitement surrounding the new look team, skepticism is still rampant. Plenty of people are questioning whether Myers can be a full time center fielder, if Kemp is still a superstar, and the entire infield. While many are anticipating down years from the outfield trio to due their move to an extremely pitcher friendly field, the field actually provides a significant benefit to them. Kemp and Upton had their highest career line drive rates last year (32% and 27% respectively), while Meyers had a 24% line drive rate during his Rookie of the Year campaign. More line drives in a larger field should equate to more hits. Each player should have no problem trading off a few home runs for higher averages and better run production.
Make no mistake, despite all the offseason transactions, this is still the Dodgers’ division. Yasiel Puig may promise fewer bat flips, but his production will continue. Add Adrian Gonzalez, Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke to the mix and you have the backbone of a very strong team. The Diamondbacks are rebuilding and the Brewers are going to be pedestrian this season. Expect to see a battle for the wild card between the Rockies and Padres, again dependent on if the Rockies can stay healthy.