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Purple Meanies: Is the Rox lineup still something to fear?

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Sal Baxamusa at the Hardball Times makes an interesting and important distinction about average hitters at a position, that it's important to compare your guy with the median hitter in the league, rather than the mean for the position. So, having that as a start point, I thought it might be interesting to take a look at how each NL West team's projected starter fared in 2007. For some, like a lot of the Arizona players, we shouldn't get excited by low figures as many of their guys figure to get better this year. Conversely, older players like Todd Helton have a pretty healthy chance of declining, so I'll also include ages.

Catcher: 83

Arizona: Chris Snyder, 27, 94
Colorado: Yorvit Torrealba, 29, 75
Los Angeles: Russell Martin, 25, 113
San Diego: Josh Bard, 30, 107
San Francisco: Bengie Molina, 33, 86

Backup Catcher:

Arizona: Miguel Montero, 24, 72
Colorado: Chris Iannetta, 25, 71
Los Angeles: Gary Bennett, 36, 61
San Diego: Michael Barrett, 31, 68
San Francisco: Guillermo Rodriguez, 30, 77

First Base: 108

Arizona: Conor Jackson, 26, 94
Colorado: Todd Helton, 34, 133
Los Angeles: James Loney, 24, 131
San Diego: Adrian Gonzalez, 26, 125
San Francisco: Dan Ortmeier, 27, 107

Second Base: 100

Arizona: Orlando Hudson, 30, 106
Colorado: Jayson Nix, 25, you don't want to know the MLE
Los Angeles: Jeff Kent, 40, 121
San Diego: Tad Iguchi, 33, 92
San Francisco: Ray Durham, 36, 65

Third Base: 101

Arizona: Mark Reynolds, 24, 110
Colorado: Garrett Atkins, 28, 112
Los Angeles: Andy LaRoche, 24, 75
San Diego: Kevin Kouzmanoff, 26, 109
San Francisco: Pedro Feliz?, 33, 81

Shortstop: 94

Arizona: Stephen Drew, 25, 72
Colorado: Troy Tulowitzki, 23, 108
Los Angeles: Rafael Furcal, 30, 76
San Diego: Khalil Greene, 28, 100
San Francisco: Omar Vizquel, 41, 62

Backup Corner Infielder:

Arizona: Chad Tracy, 28, 100
Colorado: Jeff Baker, 27, 61
Los Angeles: Nomar Garciaparra, 34, 78
San Diego: Chase Headley, 24, 68
San Francisco: it should be Aurillia, 36, 73

Backup Middle Infielder:

Arizona: Chris Burke, 28, 72
Colorado: Clint Barmes, 29, 33
Los Angeles: Chin-Lung Hu, 24, 86
San Diego: Oscar Robles, 32, 42
San Francisco: Kevin Frandsen, 26, 84

Right Field: 105

Arizona: Justin Upton, 20, 62
Colorado: Brad Hawpe, 29, 129
Los Angeles: Matt Kemp, 23, 125
San Diego: Brian Giles, 37, 109
San Francisco: Randy Winn, 34, 105

Center Field: 88

Arizona: Chris Young, 24, 89
Colorado: Willy Taveras, 26, 89
Los Angeles: Andruw Jones, 31, 88
San Diego: Jim Edmunds, 38, 88
San Francisco: Aaron Rowand, 30, 123

Left Field: 101

Arizona: Eric Byrnes, 32, 104
Colorado: Matt Holliday, 28, 150
Los Angeles: Juan Pierre, 30, 75
San Diego: Scott Hairston, 28, 94
San Francisco: Dave Roberts, 36, 80

Backup Outfielder #1:

Arizona:  Jeff Salazar, 27, 85
Colorado: Ryan Spilborghs, 28, 111
Los Angeles: Andre Ethier, 26, 103
San Diego: Callix Crabbe, 25
San Francisco: Raj Davis, 27, 92

Backup Outfielder #2:

Arizona: Robby Hammock, 31, 52
Colorado: Seth Smith, 25, 271
Los Angeles: Jason Repko, 27, 85(2006)
San Diego: ?
San Francisco: Nate Schierholtz, 24, 85

Okay, a few notes before I try and break this down a bit. First of all, I was basing several of the positions I didn't feel confident projecting from some of our rivals on their team depth charts at the official sites. I deviated from this sometimes, for instance with San Fran's third base situation or our backup infielder battle, as I see the train wrecks involving comfortable players noted above as more likely outcomes until whispers from Spring Training tell me otherwise. Even with that, some deeper bench positions still seem really murky to me, so if you're a fan of one of these other teams, just let me know if I made a mistake.

I just listed OPS+, not PA's, so in some cases like Chase Headley or Seth Smith, teeny sample sizes make players look a lot better or worse than they really are. I'm aware of this.

Positions in 2008 that Colorado can expect to be better than the rest of the division at the plate:

LF
SS

I don't really see that strong of competition for Tulo and Matt this season. There's almost zero chance Matt gets overtaken, I see Furcal (107 OPS+ in 2006) and Drew (still a talented bat) as the two with the best hope to pass Tulo, but last season makes me very much doubt it will happen.

Positions which it's likely Colorado will be one of the top two in the division at the plate:

RF
Backup Catcher
Backup Outfielder #1

Brad's likely going to be passed by Kemp this year, and there's an outside chance Upton does as well with a breakout season, the other two are declining fairly rapidly, and I don't see Hawpe finishing worse than third happening. Iannetta and Montero should duke it out for best backup backstop, but a rebound from Michael Barrett might give San Diego the edge here. Guillermo Rodriguez was kind of a small sample fluke for San Fran last season. The only reason Ryan Spilborghs isn't in the first category is because LA's going to be too proud to bench Juan Pierre.

Likely to be third or better, possibly as high as #1:

1B
3B
Backup Outfielder #2

I see both Loney and Gonzalez ahead of Todd this season, but not by much, and maybe the old man could fend the youngsters off for one more year. It's hard to see Atkins staying ahead of Reynolds and Kouzmanoff, but like Todd, I don't know if he drops that far behind offensively. LaRoche still is probably a season away from being in their company. San Francisco has depth in outfield mediocrity and Los Angeles just has good depth, so either Smith or Cory Sullivan will have to exceed the bar set by Repko/Delwyn Young in LA or Schierholtz/Fred Lewis/whoever in San Fran.

Likely to be middle of the pack:

none

Likely to only be fourth best:

CF
Backup Corner IF

Taveras might well come in fifth, the only player I think he'll outperform here is Jim Edmonds, who's got at least a halfway decent chance to have a strong rebound this year. Baker's placement is a bit more tricky for me to figure out, as Tracy's not going to be healthy the first part of the season and Headley's talented but unproven. I also don't know what really to expect from Garciaparra, but Aurilia's nearly finished, so it should be safe to say that Baker does better than him. It certainly seems at least possible to me that he could be better than the other four as well.

Likely to be the worst in the division offensively:

C
Backup Middle Infielder

Yorvit Torrealba's best chance is passing Molina, but the other three seem too far out of reach. If only Ian Stewart or Jayson Nix played shortstop as well as second.

Wild Card:

2B

Ian Stewart and Jayson Nix are the two most important position players to watch for the Rockies this Spring, specifically to find out if Stewart is ready with his glove here, and if Nix is ready with his bat. If just one is, we're going to be in decent shape, but it's not at all likely we'll pass Los Angeles or Arizona, and even San Diego stretches credibility at this point.

By team, positions I expect will be over the MLB median (backups count as half):

AZ - 4 to 6 (C, 2B, 3B, CF. LF's iffy, but any of 1B, SS or RF could make a big jump.)

CO - 6.5 (1B, 3B, SS, RF, CF, LF, Backup OF#1. CF's right around the median, but low in the division.)

LA - 5.5 (C, 1B, 2B, RF, CF, Backup OF #1. There's a conceivable 6.5 scenario if LaRoche plays like he's capable.)

SD - 5 (C, 1B, 3B, SS, RF. Those last two likely aren't over the median by much.)

SF - 2 (1B, CF. First base and right field are exactly on the dividing line. I gave Ortmeier the benefit of the doubt due to age. Given how Rowand's 2007 has several flukish aspects, there's a decent chance that they actually get zero in this category in 2008)

After doing this exercise, I'd currently rate the lineups as follows:

  1. CO
  2. LA
  3. AZ
  4. SD
  5. SF
But Los Angeles and Arizona are closer to us than they were last season, and either could conceivably pass us if all their young talent comes together. Our best hope for maintaining a clear advantage over the division involves leaps forward by Iannetta at catcher and Stewart at second, but frankly I see this about as likely as the Dodgers' best possible scenario of Pierre getting benched for Ethier, LaRoche producing right away like the scouts say he will, and Furcal having a renaissance year.