Baseball has proven us all to be stupid time and time again.
Not stupid in our intellect, but stupid in the way that we believe our intellect is so adept that we can predict what the hell will happen during the Major League Baseball season.
Remember, we are dealing with the unpredictable grind of the longest season in professional sports only to find the game immersed in a one-month tournament dictated by more randomness than any other major sport. As the Harvard Sports Analysis Collective so astutely pointed out to us, baseball’s playoff system is as predictable as having all the participants draw straws for the World Series trophy.
Yet we still predict. We still analyze. We still believe we can know.
With that said, a soft prediction: The National League West can very well be the best division in baseball come the first weekend of October, and we aren‘t just talking ballparks.
I think it’s safe to say that The NL West is now baseball’s best division
— Baseball Tweets (@TheBaseballGuy5) February 11, 2015
This is not outlandish thinking even with the Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks expected to be well below .500. The division houses the World Series champion from three of the last five seasons (San Francisco Giants), a potential juggernaut with arguably the best 1-2 rotation punch in baseball (Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke) and a newly competitive team that did everything it could this offseason to legitimize its 2015 postseason chances (San Diego Padres).
The James Shields signing makes the Padres a real threat after all their other positional and lineup upgrades over the winter. Matt Kemp is a potential MVP and might have been the best hitter in baseball after the All-Star break last year. Wil Myers is good enough to be the league’s best everyday player at age 24 or younger. And let’s not put a monster contract year past Justin Upton, who had a 132 OPS-plus and won a Silver Slugger award in 2014.
Let us also not forget that the Padres’ pitching staff was solid before it added Shields and low-risk, high-reward depth with Brandon Morrow and Josh Johnson.
As for the Dodgers, the annual PECOTA projections at Baseball Prospectus see them as the best regular-season team in the majors at 97 wins. Sure, they lost Kemp and Hanley Ramirez, but the defensive upgrades of shortstop Jimmy Rollins, second baseman Howie Kendrick and center fielder Joc Pederson, as well as the defensive/offensive upgrade with Yasmani Grandal at catcher, make a three-game improvement for the Dodgers a reasonable feat.
Plus, if Kershaw, Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu can combine for something like a 14.5-15 WAR, the Dodgers being the top seed in the postseason is realistic.
For comparison’s sake, the Washington Nationals’ trio of Max Scherzer, Jordan Zimmermann and Stephen Strasburg combined for 15.1 wins above replacement last season while making 99 starts (according to the FanGraphs formula for WAR). The Dodger trio had a 14.6 WAR over 85 starts, so it’s feasible for it to reach 15 or higher in 2015.
And we should not read too, too much into the Kenley Jansen injury. He could be back as soon as two weeks into the season or as late as mid-May. While it is not ideal, the rebuilt bullpen won’t have to rely on washed-up former closers like Brian Wilson or Brandon League to fill the ninth inning, and whoever they do give the ball to won’t have it for long.
As for the Giants, their offseason was unimpressive, certainly. The rotation is murky at best, and PECOTA sees them as the third-worst defensive team in the NL.
Still, this team has been counted out in each of their World Series years, so instead of making that mistake again, let’s just agree that they will find a way to be in the mix. After all, PECOTA has them as a wild-card team again, and my B/R predicted standings also have them as one of the teams involved in a tiebreaker for a Wild Card.
The Diamondbacks are not a playoff contender, but they are remaking their roster and rapidly improving, especially in their rotation. They also suddenly have the freedom to make expensive moves since their new TV contract with Fox Sports Arizona has them swimming with the other great whites.
— azcentral sports (@azcsports) February 19, 2015
Even with the Diamondbacks not ready to be October contenders yet, PECOTA still sees a 10-game improvement this season with a solid defense.
The Rockies don’t impress anyone, but Troy Tulowitzki still projects to be an elite hitter with a 5.2 WAR via ZiPS projections, while third baseman Nolan Arenado continues his rise with a projected 3.2 WAR. As for Carlos Gonzalez, if he is healthy, his .283 BABIP last season—about 60 points lower than his career average—should rise and increase his productivity and value.
The pitchers will still be mediocre, but if the lineup stays healthy, they shouldn‘t be complete pushovers.
As stated up top, these kinds of projections are subject to too many variables to be entirely confident in them. But they are a good jumping-off point, and PECOTA has the NL West with 410 total wins, the most in the league and the third most overall behind the American League West (419) and East (414).
These picks are always fickle and always capable of making prognosticators look like fools. But if rosters stay relatively healthy and an impactful in-season move or two happen, the NL West can be the best in baseball.
All quotes, unless otherwise specified, have been acquired firsthand by Anthony Witrado. Follow Anthony on Twitter @awitrado and talk baseball here.
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