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Midseason Divisional Review: Trendlines

I thought with the midseason upon us it might be a good idea to review my preseason analysis of the trendlines each team had coming into the season and make adjustments if needed given any new information that has surfaced. Basically, I use the principle that the best predictor of a team's record year to year is their record in the previous year, and build a chart similar to what economists do for stock or commodity prices to derive these conclusions.

San Diego:

The Padres had a rapid decline after their last World Series appearance, followed by a relatively brief rebuild and have bounced off their 2003 low with an 87 win season. They have not quite reached their peak, but with the aging of Ryan Klesko and Phil Nevin and thinness at the back of their pitching staff, and without a well stocked farm system to replace the aging or overpriced parts, we can expect the peak period to be relatively brief. Last year they broke over their 10 year average. We think 90+ win seasons should be expected this year and next before a levelling takes them to just over .500 in 2007. 2008 and years beyond show further declines without significant acquisitions.

10 year win average: 86.4

5 year win average: 74.4

10Y Peak: 98

10Y Low: 64

Last year: 87


Current Record: 45 - 39

Adjustments: I think I'm going to maintain my outlook on the Padres, except to say that with their good young pitching and Xavier Nady and Khalil Greene, the decline phase might drag out for a couple of years longer than I anticipated here. Look for the Padres to be in the running for the division again next year, followed by a slip to mediocrity that lasts two to three years where they'll be close enough to feel like they're competitive when they really won't be. What really hurts the Padres is lack of minor league depth to rebuild or acquire new talent via trade, they could reverse this outlook with heavy spending in FA market, but I don't see ownership taking that step.

Los Angeles:

The Dodgers have probably just passed a mini peak, as last year's division crown seems to be a result of fortunate timing. Their system is well stocked, and the payroll will add flexibility next year indicating an extended long term peak is in the near future. Despite the excellent long term posture don't be surprised if they take a correction step back this year and next as key pieces mature. In 2005 and 2006 we see 85-90 win seasons, although 2006 could go higher depending on what they pick up in the free-agent market. 2007 and several years on show a string of 90+ wins.

10 year average: 86.6

5 year: 88.4

10Y Peak: 93

10Y Low: 77

Last year: 93


Current Record: 39-44

Adjustments: I really didn't see the injury bug hitting LA as heavily as it has this season and while 85 wins is still easily attainable if the Dodgers get hot, it's not going to happen with their current lineup. LA remains well poised to make some moves, but if Paul DePodesta feels that the team isn't in a strong enough position for a postseason run, it might be wise to hold most of his chips this year and just make a few low-cost cosmetic changes to keep the fans semi-placated. Long term, the Dodgers' outlook remains strong.

San Fran:

San Francisco hit its peak two years ago, and last year's 9 percent drop(below their 5 year average) indicated a decline phase has already begun. To hold this off another year they spent a lot of money in the offseason but we feel that the corrections aren't enough to counteract the aging. Despite some expected improvement in the pitching staff, the decline should be steep. This year we also see them dropping to the 85-90 win level although they have a greater downside than the Dodgers due to increased exposure to injuries, followed by three plus years of sub .500 baseball similar to the 1994-1996 teams. A complete rebuild of their offense will be necessary and that could take some time.

10 year average: 88
5 year: 94.6
10Y peak: 100
10Y low: 68
last year: 91


Current Record: 34-48

Obviously the Giants' offseason moves and my above prediction were with the asumption that Barry Bonds would be playing some this year. Thus far he hasn't, and we see the severe plunge predicted in the model already taking place. When I made these projections, the Giants' anticipated win range for 2005 showed a strong possibility of them slipping into the sixty to seventy win area, particularly when I removed Bonds from the lineup (removing Schmidt has a similar effect). The Rockies might catch them this year if things continue to go bad. Outside of Matt Cain and Eddy Martinez Esteve, the Giants' system is relatively weak, and won't provide much help, I see the Giants slipping to the bottom of the West next season and for several years after that without major rebuilding.

Arizona:

Arizona hasn't had a full ten years, but has already had a peak with a hook, and two low points. Their offseason moves are going to make the second low as brief as the first, but the next peak phase will be considerably less impressive due to a relatively limited farm system (particularly in pitching) and long term payroll issues. We see a 15 to 20 win spike in 2005, followed by a smaller rise in 2006 and then a levelling off for a couple of years around the .500 mark before a longer decline phase as the team develops a new core.

7 year win average: 82.14
5 year: 82
7Y peak: 100
7Y low: 51
last year: 51


Current Record: 41-44

The Diamondbacks are a tricky nut to crack, their position prospects are among the best in the majors at every spot -sometimes two or three deep even (shortstop, where they have Sergio Santos, Stephen Drew and now Justin Upton springs to mind)- while their pitching talent is still very thin. Still, they have Brandon Webb and Brad Halsey already at the major league level and they are proving to be a very effective front two for the rotation, especially should Javier Vazquez stick around for a while (which is not that likely, actually). We see lots of problems at the back end and in the pen outside of Lyon, however, and that could get expensive to repair. The D-backs' run differential suggests that they should only be a few games better than the Rockies at this point, and for the second half they will continue to slip in the standings as they play divisional foes. Long term, their position is middle of the pack (those high quality position prospects counter a lot of problem contracts and lack of depth in pitching) and they should be in the mix of things two years from now, but without key additions to the pitching staff, they don't look to have a peak as high as the Rockies or Dodgers will. The model isn't showing a lot of potential for major spikes (their first years of existence were all over the map) -up or down- in the next few years, although this year already appears to be a major anomaly (read: fluke season) in that regard.

Colorado:

Colorado is hitting the floor of an extended valley. Indicators show a similar or worse result this year compared to last with a rapid rise starting in 2006. The good news is due to astute scouting and drafting their system is flush with high quality prospects. The next peak should therefore be quite a bit higher than any in the franchise's short history, and depending on management's ability to keep payroll flexibility after current problem contracts expire could last for several years. This makes them the Dodgers' primary competition starting in 2007 while the other divisional teams rebuild. Right now we have little confidence in on-field management, but still feel this team has long term upside.

10 year average: 77.1
5 year: 74
10Y peak: 86(1995 projection)
10Y low: 68
last year: 68


Current Record: 29-53

Adjustments: Colorado is pretty much on target as far as the projected model goes. It showed the bottom being in the first part of this year, with a little slide yet to come around the middle of August, but has us improving by fifteen wins or so for next season, and we have an outside possibility of playoff contention in 2007. Our peak remains 2008-2010, and we should see at least one season around the triple digit win mark in that time. Right now, I have a hard time seeing us extending beyond then because of minor league player development concerns, but should our drafts remain strong and with continued strength in foreign free-agency, it's possible that the run will be longer with minor fixes in the pipeline. Payroll flexibility and minor league depth are huge factors in projecting this rise starting next year, but we really need to see a boost in attendance in 2006 (despite a mediocre record) to keep that in tact. Should attendance continue to decline dramatically next year, it might lower the ceiling and cut the duration of our run.