It isn't Carlos Gonzalez, Matt Holliday, Jayson Werth or Jason Heyward. It isn't Justin Upton, Ryan Braun, Shane Victorino or Corey Hart. Inconceivably, it is 32-year-old Andres Torres of the San Francisco Giants, at least according to Fangraphs WAR this season. It is about time the NL West Report gave him some love.
Firstly, I will acknowlege Torres' UZR (ranked 2nd among MLB OF) is a bit misleading. He is absolutely a very good fielder, but 7.4 of his 14.1 UZR has coming in just 13 starts in left field (and an extra few dozen defensive replacement innings). I have come to be very skeptical of the Giants' UZR in LF after writing this article and seeing this guy's UZR trends. (This year, only Burrell is a negative LF according to UZR, while Mark DeRosa, John Bowker and Aubrey Huff are all assets - yeah, count me skeptical). Yet Torres is not a UZR wonder a la Franklin Gutierrez. His batting WAR is 5th among NL OF, right behind Carlos Gonzalez. So this isn't a UZR powered WAR.
Torres leads MLB in doubles with 38 in addition to five triples. He has hit 11 of his career 18 home runs in 2010, one of them traveling over 450 feet. In all, he has a .382 wOBA, which is very solidly an All-Star level bat. Yet when the Giants signed him as a minor league free agent in 2009, he had not played at the major league level since 2005. How in the world could this magnitude of emergence have happened for a guy on the wrong side of 30? His explosion is a bigger upset than if Brad Eldred somehow led all MLB first basemen in WAR this season.
It is entirely possible the Giants lucked out on his acquisition, but there actually was reason to expect a rebound from Torres, who was below replacement level in each of his MLB seasons from 2002-2005. The reality is that his swing was completely broken, and even 30-year olds can change their swing mechanics, particularly if there was as much to fix as Torres had.
Torres studied Albert Pujols' swing to every detail, then contacted and worked with hitting guru Chris O'Leary. There is not enough space here to recant all the interesting details, but if you have half an hour, the previous link is pure gold. Here are some excerpts (emphasis provided by me):
He realized that what he was doing at the plate -- which was trying to be another Ichiro and slapping the ball into the ground and trying to beat out the throw -- wasn't working at the major league level. He had to try something different....
We started talking about how Albert Pujols actually swings the bat -- and how that is different than what most people teach -- and, more importantly, what Pujols does when, why, and how. Andres then started working to incorporate those rotational hitting concepts -- and especially the concept of connection -- into his swing early on during his 2008 season with the Cubs' AAA affiliate.
By the time Andres got into winter ball in 2008, he had largely transformed both his approach and his swing. He wasn't trying to slap or throw his hands at the ball any more. Instead, he was trying to stay connected, drive the ball, and hit it hard.
Also included in O'Leary's report are gifs of Torres' horrifying swing with the Rangers in 2005 compared to his swing now. He had to become a completely different player, and he did. As much as it pains me to see the Giants as the beneficiaries of Torres' transformation, I just love seeing the perseverance of players paying off.
Team capsules after the jump.
NL West Report
Arizona (47-72, 5th, L1, 23.5 GB)
You Should Know: Given the boom-or-bust style of offense going on in the Desert, it would figure that any notable positive team accomplishment would involve longballs. Therefore, it wasn't all that surprising that they were the team to hit four home runs in a row, tying an MLB record.
Divisional Change: Lost 1.5 games to 1st place San Diego.
News: Chris Young became the first MLB player to reach 20 HR and 20 SBs. It appears he beat Carlos Gonzalez by about a week. CarGo stole his 19th bag yesterday in the 8th inning.
#24 / Center Field / Arizona Diamondbacks
Sep 05, 1983
|2010 - Chris Young||116||442||65||120||28||0||20||69||47||101||25||4||.271||.342||.471|
I'm not much of a Young fan, but he is undeniably having a career season, posting an OBP about 30 points higher than a career high and an above average wRC+/wOBA for the first time in his career. He ranks 8th among MLB CF in wOBA and 5th in WAR. His 3.6 WAR exactly equals that of Carlos Gonzalez.
With the signing deadline today, the Diamondbacks are unlikely to sign 1st rounder Barret Loux. Of course, that has been presumed since he failed his physical.
Arizona placed Kelly Johnson and Adam LaRoche on waivers. That move is also not a surprise.
Despite having a horrendously disappointing season, the attendance drop at Chase Field has almost exactly mirrored the MLB average trends, according to this very good research project by Jim McLennan at AZSnakePit.
Taiwan will host the DBacks to open the 2011 season. Here are some reactions from the Snakes on Taiwan.
With Dan Haren, Brandon Webb, Edwin Jackson, Rodrigo Lopez, Max Scherzer and possibly Joe Saunders all as former D-Backs next season, the Arizona rotation will be a youth project in 2011, as discussed by Ben Nicholson-Smith at MLBTR.
Injuries: Juan Gutierrez threw batting practice Saturday and could return Wednesday, the same day that Leo Rosales will start a rehab assignment.
Arizona Diamondbacks Injuries
Los Angeles (60-58, 4th, L1, 10.0 GB, 6.5 GB WC)
You Should Know: The Dodgers are currently 10 games behind in the division, a position they first reached with their Friday loss. The franchise has not been this far behind in the division since October 3, 2005.
Divisional Change: Lost 1.5 games to San Diego.
This Week: Wrap up the final game of the 4-game road series @ Braves. 3 game home series vs. Rockies. 3 game home series vs. Reds
News: Ted Lilly hasn't been a C.C. Sabathia or Brad Penny acquisition quite yet for the Dodgers, but he only the fourth LA Dodger to win his first three starts with the team.
#29 / Pitcher / Los Angeles Dodgers
Jan 04, 1976
|2010 - Ted Lilly||3-0||3||3||0||0||0||0||19.0||10||4||4||3||2||15||1.89||.63|
Of course, Lilly is leaving at the end of the season as a free agent, along with Vicente Padilla and Hiroki Kuroda. If you want to feel good about the Rockies finishing higher than Los Angeles for two straight seasons, check out MLBTR's Mike Polishuk's rundown of the 2011 Dodger rotation.
Joe Torre has announced that he won't announce his plans for 2011 while the Dodgers are in contention, choosing to wait until September. While they are 6.5 games out of the playoff picture and 10 games out of the division, "in contention" is becoming more and more a stretch.
MLBTR's Ben Nicholson-Smith touches on the different ways for the Dodgers to handle Matt Kemp.
Just a week after Russell Martin went down for the season with a hip injury, an article on the Dodgers' MLB site had this headline: Dodgers lacking offense from catchers. What a shocker.
Ken Rosenthal discusses whytrading Manny Ramirez might prove difficult.
Los Angeles' choice of Zach Lee in the 1st round was widely considered a throwaway pick. However, Dylan Hernandez reports that the Dodgers have offered Lee a $3million bonus. At least one rival GM thinks Lee will accept the offer by tomorrow.
Here is Eric Stephen's Week in Review, aptly named "Running out of Time."
Transactions: Signed RHP Geoff Geary and optioned RHP Ronald Belisario, both to AAA Albuquerque. Called up SS Juan Castro.
Injuries: Manny Ramirez has commenced "baseball activities" but it will still be another week or two before he wears a Dodger uniform on the field. Rafael Furcal is unlikely to return early this week, when his DL stint is over. He was placed on the DL last Wednesday retroactive to August 3. Jeff Weaver felt good after a bullpen session last week.
Los Angeles Dodgers Injuries
San Diego (69-47, 1st, W1)
Last Week: 5-1. 3-0 vs. Padres. 1-1 @ Giants.
Divisional Change: Gained 1.5 games on San Francisco and two games on third place Colorado.
You Should Know: The Padres have never led the division by more than four games this season. They currently lead by 3.5 games.
This Week: 4 game road series @ Cubs. 3 game road series @ Brewers.
News: Jayson Stark understands PetCo Park. Even though the Padres rotation own MLB's third best ERA, Stark does not rate the Padres in the top nine in playoff ready rotations. According to Fangraphs' park-adjusted pitching WAR, the Padres' have the 4th-WORST rotation in baseball. Another large reason for Stark's lack of belief in the Padres is most likely an "Ace." While Mat Latos is a Cy Young contender, his innings load in the regular season is already a concern, and October could be a bigger challenge.
#38 / Pitcher / San Diego Padres
Dec 09, 1987
|2010 - Mat Latos||12-5||22||22||1||1||0||0||135.2||95||36||35||13||39||134||2.32||.99|
San Francisco (67-52, 2nd, L2, 3.5 GB Div, Lead WC by 0.5 Gm)
Last Week: 4-3. 3-1 vs. Cubs. 1-2 vs. Padres. Jonathan Sanchez' guarantee of a sweep flopped in getting outscored 13-7 in the series against the Padres
You Should Know: Tim Lincecum allowed 6 ER for two consecutive starts and has lost three consecutive starts for the first time in his career.
Divisional Change: Lost 1.5 games to San Diego. Wild card lead has shrunk to 0.5 games. Philadelphia and St. Louis are within one game.
This Week: 3 game road series @ Phillies. 3 game road series @ Cardinals.
News: Andres Torres isn't the only outfielder to enjoy surprising success in a Giants' uniform. Picked off the scrap heap from Tampa Bay, Pat Burrell has transformed into an integral asset on a Wild Card team. Joe Pawlikowski at Fangraphs examines Pat "the Bat."
#9 / Left Field / San Francisco Giants
Oct 10, 1976
|2010 - Pat Burrell||55||162||24||47||10||0||10||30||26||40||0||2||.290||.380||.537|
"We didn't acquire him to be on the bench, so he'll get a lot of regular playing time," said Bochy, who added Guillen would hit in the heart of the order, but didn't yet know exactly where. via Cash Kruth, MLB.com
Injuries: Edgar Renteria was placed on the 15-day DL Wednesday with a left biceps strain.