Saturday, November 14, 2009

20/20 Hindsight---National League West

  • My predictions in retrospect----National League West:

Another near miss. I'm getting the idea that I'll either take off like a rocket in the very near future of go sailing off the cliff like Wile E. Coyote. Anyone care to venture a guess as to which it'll be? Send me your odds for either/or. They'll be published in a future posting. I'm honestly curious.

National League West, Paul's Predicted Order of Finish:

  1. San Francisco Giants
  2. Los Angeles Dodgers
  3. Arizona Diamondbacks
  4. Colorado Rockies
  5. San Diego Padres

National League West, Actual Order of Finish:

  1. Los Angeles Dodgers
  2. Colorado Rockies *(Wild Card Winner)
  3. San Francisco Giants
  4. San Diego Padres
  5. Arizona Diamondbacks

Los Angeles Dodgers:

Paul's Predicted Record: 85-77

Actual Record: 95-67

By now, Joe Torre would have a chance of coaxing the Washington Generals to a series of wins over the Harlem Globetrotters by sheer force of reputation, handling of people and defusing bad situations.

With most other managers any team in the tough National League West with that starting rotation would've stumbled around .500. A rotation of Randy Wolf, young Clayton Kershaw and the injury-hindered Chad Billingsley and Hiroki Kuroda; along with the floating fifth starters they used all season, should've had no realistic expectation to the Dodgers to win 95 games, but they did.

I thought Billingsley would contend for the Cy Young Award, but he got hurt. Kershaw's gifts were apparent, but so was the reality that he'd experience growing pains in his first full year in the majors. I didn't expect Randy Wolf to stay healthy (history was on my side there), but he did and had a useful if not spectacular season.

Here was a creepy Nostradamus like bit of prognostication regarding Jonathan Broxton:

(Broxton) sometimes let the pressure get to him in big games and overthrew, which resulted in his fastball flattening out and becoming easier to hit.

Uh. Yah.

Torre wound up relying on Ramon Troncoso and Ronald Belisario throughout the year. I had no idea who they were before the season started. I'm still a big fan of James McDonald, but he struggled in his first full year in the majors.

I try to come off with a "nothing surprises me" attitude of cynicism, but it's partially crap. There's a bit of an idealist buried in here somewhere under all the other crud and I was shocked that Manny Ramirez got caught using PEDs. Manny's year was unraveled by the 50 game suspension; his reputation sullied; and his status as one of "the top three hitters in baseball" as I called him, is damaged almost beyond repair.

Under the surface and taken individually, my Dodgers predictions were close to the mark; but discounting the Torre factor; the strength of the bullpen; and the mid-season acquisitions doomed me to being wrong about them.




Colorado Rockies:

Paul's Predicted Record: 81-81

Actual Record: 92-70

Who knows where the Rockies season would've ended up had they not pulled the trigger on manager Clint Hurdle with the club stumbling at 18-28? Jim Tracy's hiring and the sudden hot streak that is a hallmark of this club in recent years led to a run to the Wild Card.

I had the Rockies loitering around contention throughout the season and fading at the end. Ubaldo Jimenez and Jason Marquis performed up to expectations. I don't know anyone who thought that the journeyman Jorge De La Rosa would be such a linchpin to the Rockies run. Neither did I.

I mentioned Dexter Fowler as a possible Rookie of the Year candidate and he played respectably as a youngster on a contending team.

One thing I nailed was the importance of Troy Tulowitzki. He's the key to the Rockies. As he goes, so does the club and once Hurdle was fired, Tulowitzki caught fire; coincidentally so did the Rockies.

San Francisco Giants:

Paul's Predicted Record: 89-73

Actual Record: 88-74

Like the Marlins, another near miss.

Where would I be right now had the Marlins and Giants won those five more games each so that both would've made the playoffs? Would I be sitting there receiving accolades of "brilliance" like Nate Silver as he received endless credit for his picking of the Rays in 2008?

I'm kicking at the door, people.

Just like the situation with the Marlins, I don't know anyone----specifically the stat zombies----who had the Giants improving to the degree that they did. One thing that has to be accounted for when looking at all the aspects of a club is their pitching staff. Any team with two young starters the quality of Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain is going to be good for at least two out of every five games much of the time. Even Barry Zito had a useful season when ignoring his salary and taking him for what he is now.

I drilled the value of Lincecum and Cain; that manager Bruce Bochy would manipulate the bullpen into a solid year; and that their offense would be a nightmare (everyone said that). I mentioned Pablo Sandoval as deserving a chance to play, having pop and on base ability, but never expected him to blossom into a 25 homer, 90 RBI man so quickly, if at all. I predicted that the Giants would find some use from Juan Uribe and he hit 16 homers.

San Diego Padres:

Paul's Predicted Record: 56-106

Actual Record: 75-87

It's a slippery slope when you project a club to be so universally heinous that they'll lose nearly 110 games, but the Padres roster was so atrocious to start the season----even with Jake Peavy and Adrian Gonzalez----that it was a reasonable assumption to think that their downsizing would continue and contribute to rottenness of epic proportions.

Of course, dithering leads to mediocrity.

The same "deep strike" risk I took when trusting my eyes rather than numbers with the Marlins and Giants also led to the gacks of the Indians, Cubs and to a lesser extent, the Padres.

The Padres were a weird team in that they had these amazing hot streaks and humiliating cold streaks. It didn't take a genius to predict that Jake Peavy should be traded; that Adrian Gonzalez is one of the best players in baseball; and that Heath Bell would be a good closer.

I noted Everth Cabrera as a prospect, but had no idea who he was; that David Eckstein's days as an everyday player should be over----Eckstein had a decent enough year with some big hits. He still shouldn't be an everyday player at this point.

I've always like Kevin Correia's stuff and, as I saw it, he was "salvageable" and more with a very good 12-11 season with fine across-the-board stats, especially pitching for a bad team.

As I've long said, Bud Black is not a good manager. Black did nothing to distinguish himself as anything more than a bad manager for a bad team, overachieving record or not.

Arizona Diamondbacks:

Paul's Predicted Record: 84-78

Actual Record: 70-92

Like the Mets and Indians, certain aspects of the Diamondbacks disastrous 2009 can be thrown out. When a team is built on the foundation of having two Cy Young Award-caliber starting pitchers and one gets hurt, missing essentially the whole season as happened with Brandon Webb, they're already on the verge of collapse from the get-go. That said, the club sabotaged themselves to a large degree with the firing of Bob Melvin and by replacing him with a neophyte manager A.J. Hinch.

Hinch was also hamstrung by GM Josh Byrnes's verbal validation of his qualifications as a manager by uttering vague terms such as "organizational advocacy" (whatever that means) and giving Hinch a long-term contract that the Diamondbacks season was shot as soon as he took over. It's possible that Byrnes was smart enough to see that and figured he might as well hire the guy he wanted to manage the club and get him some experience despite the labor pains.

Stat zombie and not thought the Diamondbacks would be contenders. This was the second year in a row where one could to look at the Diamondbacks roster and ask, "what's wrong with this team"?

Haren was as good as expected; Jon Garland was what Jon Garland is----an innings eater who will win around the same number of games as he loses and gives up a load of hits and homers. On paper, they had an excellent, deep bullpen; in practice, they were terrible.

I had Felipe Lopez as a "stopgap" and a journeyman at second base, but he had a fine year until he was traded to the Brewers. I suggested that Mark Reynolds should be traded due to his shoddy defense and immense numbers of strikeouts; he wound up hitting 44 homers. Justin Upton's development put him on the path to being a superstar. He's a smart choice for the MVP as soon as 2010.

  • Was $5.5 million really out of the question for Braden Looper?

*Yes, I'm actually writing about Braden Looper. Slow day.

I understand the Brewers' thinking in declining the mutual option they held with Braden Looper. The negatives on Looper are what they are. He gave up a whopping 39 homers and when he was bad, he was horrendous; that said, he did pitch 194 innings and find a way to win 14 games (I know wins are relatively irrelevant when judging a pitcher, but still...); and for the most part, they knew what they were going to get out of him pretty quickly. Is there some value in that for a back of the rotation starter? And are they going to get someone much better?

The option was for $6.5 million with a $1 million buyout, so it might've been worth it to keep Looper and see if he's as good as he was in 2007-2008 with the Cardinals as a starter----and he was pretty good in making the conversion to the starting rotation.

With the number of non-tender candidates said to be massive and the quality of such players extensive, if the Brewers want to bring Looper back at a reduced rate, declining the option was obvious. They have payroll constraints factoring in; so it's not a ridiculous decision to cut ties with the pitcher, but worst case scenario, they could always stick him back in the bullpen if he falters as a starter again. I would've thought hard about this because while teams often focus on what players can't do, many times they miss on what a player can do; and Looper had some value as an innings-eater who couldn't be as bad in 2010 as he was in 2009.

  • Speaking of non-tender candidates...

Who came up with this idea that the Mets were going to possibly non-tender Jeff Francoeur?

It was pure nonsense from the start.

Never mind the pure talent that Francoeur has, the Mets got the guy for nothing (Ryan Church); he lit up the clubhouse with his personality and all-out play; he played well; he connected with the city and the fans; and he wants to be a Met.

As another player whose faults are focused on far too greatly, Francoeur's age and natural ability are too enticing to simply give away (the Braves doing just that notwithstanding). If the Mets are able to bridle his over-aggressiveness just a tiny bit, surround him with bats who get on base, he could drive in 120 runs easily. He's very good defensively and that factor of wanting to be in New York isn't quantifiable.

How many players have come to New York (and not just to the Mets) reluctantly and been colossal failures? Randy Johnson comes immediately to mind. With the way things have gone for the Mets in the past three years, to have someone say he's happy to put on the uniform and play like it can't be ignored.

That football mentality of Francoeur (he was a high school star with loads of college scholarship offers) is an attribute, not a negative; of course it's that go-go-go energy that leads to Francoeur's lack of patience at the plate, but to take that natural aggression away completely would rob him of something important. His willingness to talk to the media; to try and lead by example and in behavior is something the Mets have sorely lacked. Aside from Jose Reyes, they're mostly a group of quiet intellectual types; Francoeur brings some swagger.

Who was it that was standing on the top step of the dugout ready to fight after David Wright was beaned? Francoeur. Who was it that led the team on the field during Wright's absence (after being with the team for a month?!?)? Francoeur. And who has multiple MVP ability despite his faults? Francoeur.

The stat zombies hate him because he's so hungry to swing at anything and everything, but other aspects of his game make him an important part of a club that needed what he provides: energy, enthusiasm and excitement. Non-tendering him was a notion that came straight out of the same blue binder that led Joe Girardi to almost single handedly sabotage the Yankees championship hopes. It should be flung out the window. Immediately.

  • Mets to hire Wally Backman to manage the Cyclones?

You want fire?

You want an over-the-edge personality in the Billy Martin style?

And you want someone to teach young players how to play all-out, all the time and take everything you can from the opposition while getting in their faces?

Then you want Wally Backman as a part of your organization.

It's been five years since Backman was hired and fired as the Diamondbacks manager within days because he failed to disclose his drunk driving arrest and domestic disturbances with his wife; and now reports are saying that Backman will be hired to manage the Mets A-level club, the Brooklyn Cyclones.

Backman's potential as a manager is immense; his potential to crash and burn is just as big. But if he behaves and instills the desire that got Backman himself to the big leagues and led to a 14-year career, the Mets will have some well-schooled and feisty young players on the way up.


She-Fan said...

Sounds like Brackman is, indeed, in the Billy Martin mold. I hope he's successful - and stays out of trouble!

Jeff said...

Good, 'cuz if anyone can straighten out Jose Reyes type prima donnas it's Backman's drunk backhand slap to the face. I like it.

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