Happy Tuesday. Opening Day is 13 days away! That means it is time to evaluate who exactly will be representing our divisional foes on the field in 2009. This week I run down what the most likely 25-man roster will be for the Dodgers and Giants, and the D-Backs and Padres will follow next Monday.
Note on projections: All projections are courtesy of CHONE (except Steve Holm, which is a Bill James projection due to CHONE ignoring Holm's existence). Some bench players and bullpen arms were projected for quite exorbitant at-bats or innings, so they were scaled linearly down to reasonable numbers.
Note on format: Bold items represent locks. For example, all eight starters for the Dodgers are set, but Blake DeWitt and Delwyn Young are still fighting for a bench spot. And off we go...
Los Angeles Dodgers
All eight starters in the lineup are set, with only the batting order left to decide. Rafael Furcal will hit first, followed by Orlando Hudson, but the rest is yet to be determined.
This line-up would be expected to produce 5.332 runs/game as constructed (or a max of 5.410 with optimal orientation). This equates to 863.8 total runs during the season.
Judging by wOBA, the starting lineup features one elite hitter (Ramirez), zero very good hitters, seven above average hitters (Furcal, Hudson, Ethier, Loney, Martin, Kemp and Blake), zero average hitters, and zero below average hitters.
Ladies and gentlemen, the Dodgers are no longer punchless. In fact, their offense is quite scary. You might be surprised to know they are projected to score north of 11 total runs more than the Rockies projected lineup.
Brad Ausmus was signed to replace Danny Ardoin as Russell Martin's backup. Ausmus should get more playing time than Ardoin, but Martin still hogs the plate like no other catcher. Loretta will be the chief pinch hitter, and Juan Pierre will be on the bench solely because his salary makes him untradable.
Delwyn Young is out of options, so expect him to fill in at the fifth outfielder slot over the recently signed Doug Mientkiewicz - he would also provide the main power threat off the bench. The final bench spot will go to an infielder who can play short. Blake DeWitt is the best offensive option, although he could struggle defensively at short. Chin-Lung Hu and Juan Castro are DeWitt's competition.
You just have to feel bad for DeWitt. Jeff Kent retired, Nomar Garciaparra and Casey Blake were free agents. After a solid rookie year in 08, DeWitt had a starting job...until GM Ned Colletti brought in three free agents that could push him clear off the roster.
Joe Torre has constructed his rotation for a RLRL beginning. Randy Wolf hopes to soften the losses of Derek Lowe and Brad Penny.
This gives Chad Billingsley the home opener. The fifth starter position is still a roulette wheel. None of the contenders have impressed, so James McDonald, Eric Stults, Eric Milton, and even 2008 2nd round pick Josh Lindblom has a longshot chance. In January, an additional game was added for April 7, so the Dodgers can't take advantage of the schedule to put off their decision.
Jonathan Broxton will get his first shot as a full-year closer, though Hong-Chih Kuo has closer stuff. Guillermo Mota returns to LA, while 2008 pleasant surprsie Cory Wade is guaranteed a spot.
|LH Set-up||Hong-Chih Kuo||45.0||3||2||2.69||1.18||11.00|
|RH set-up||Guillermo Mota||56.0||3||3||4.46||1.42||7.58|
|RH set-up||Cory Wade||53.0||3||3||4.00||1.25||7.30|
|2nd LHP||Scott Elbert||43.0||2||2||4.34||1.47||10.47|
Scott Elbert is has the lead in the LHP race, and James McDonald is assured of a relief role if he doesn't become the fifth starter. The final spot in the bullpen is likely between Jeff Weaver and Claudio Vargas, though Eric Stults, Ramon Troncoso, Brian Mazone, Tanyon Sturtze, Erick Threets, and Lindblom remain in contention.
Why the Dodgers will win the NL West:
The Dodgers boast exceptional lineup by divisional standards, with practically zero question marks. The bullpen is strong and capable of reining in strikeouts. With Manny Ramirez in the fold, they are the favorite in the division.
Why the Dodgers will NOT win the NL West:
This rotation is as weak as Los Angeles has fielded in some time. Kuroda and Wolf are decent rotation pieces, but LA will strongly be relying on the young arms of Billingsley and Kershaw. Then consider the disaster of a fifth starter and Manny's potential undoing, and it's easy to imagine a scenario where another NL West foe leapfrogs the defending champs.
San Francisco Giants
Emmanuel Burriss could replace Kevin Frandsen in the starting lineup, but the other seven starters are decided. The lineup has yet to be announced, but it could follow as such:
That line-up is worth a mere 4.448 runs/game (peaking at 4.473 arranged differently). That's the same as just 720.5 total runs.
Look at the wOBA like we did with the Dodgers. From that we can conclude that the starting lineup features zero elite hitters, zero very good hitters, six average hitters (Winn, Renteria, Lewis, Ishikawa, Rowand and Frandsen) and two below average hitters (Sandoval, Molina). Take your pick of statistical analysis - all project the Giants to have an abysmal offense.
Rich Aurilia is all but assured of a bench spot, and Nate Schierholtz will earn one as well due to being out of options. Burriss will either start or find a spot on the bench, and Steve Holm is the only contender as the backup catcher.
Eugenio Velez has attempted to learn OF to get the fifth bench spot, but it might not be enough. Juan Uribe, who signed this offseason, also looks to be an odd man out. Andres Torres appears to have a solid shot at the 5th OF spot with his hot spring; he is 31and spent each of the last three seasons in AAA with a different organization.
By far the Giants' strength, the rotation has all but been set since Randy Johnson signed. Like Joe Torre, Bruce Bochy is constructing his rotation in a RLRL fashion.
The Giants acted quickly to sign Affeldt and Howry, who will set up for Brian Wilson. Sergio Romo is currently sidelined with an elbow injury and won't be ready for Opening Day, but there will be a spot waiting for him when he returns soon thereafter.
|LH Set-up||Jeremy Affeldt
|2nd LHP||Jack Taschner
Jack Taschner's familiarity card might trump the hand of Alex Hinshaw, but Taschner could be traded, opening up the possibility for Hinshaw to be the middle relief southpaw. Luis Perdomo is a Rule 5 pick from St. Louis, and his decent spring points to a possible spot in the pen. Non-roster invitee Brandon Medders and Merkin Valdez will battle for the other opening.
Why the Giants will win the NL West:
With the Cy Young winners in tow, San Francicso just might have the best starting rotation in the division - only Arizona is otherwise in contention. Then consider the emerging Matt Cain and Jonathan Sanchez. The bullpen will be decent, especially with the back end headed by All-Star closer Brian Wilson. The lineup has candidates to significantly exceed projections (such as Pablo Sandoval), so it is possible they could score just enough for the pitchers to lead them to the top.
Why the Giants will NOT win the NL West:
It remains to be seen whether Lincecum and Cain's arms can hold up after ridiculous abuse in 2008. A long term injury to either would be debilitating to their divisional hopes. Zito and RJ are tailing off in their respective careers. And then there's the offense. The lineup is constructed solely of veterans past their prime and unproven youngsters. Even with a helthy Lincecum and Cain, don't expect the lineup to produce enough for divisional aspirations.
Thanks to Eric Stephen and Grant for their assistance in achieving accuracy.