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NL West Offense 2009: It's about the outs, stupid.

  • Chris Iannetta

    #20 / Catcher / Colorado Rockies





    Apr 08, 1983

  • April: 20.2%
  • May: 18.9%
  • June: 19.9%
  • July: 19.2%
  • August: 12.1%
  • September: 10.9%

This is the percentage of pitches that Chris Iannetta took a swing at that were outside the strike zone over the course of the 2008 season. Twenty percent isn't bad, it would be among the 35 most disciplined hitters in the NL in 2008. Still, Iannetta wasn't satisified with that. By the end of the season, his 10.9% mark was the third best in the majors in September, trailing only Marlins Hanley Ramirez and Josh Willingham. Let's look at another player who went the opposite direction:

  • June: 30.7%
  • July: 31.1%
  • August: 35.0%
  • September: 43.5%

I don't imagine there's a more effective method of torture for Billy Beane than a player starting a season with poor plate discipline and then getting worse as the season goes along. Carlos Gonzalez did exactly that. Let's not beat around the bush, if he continues to perform like this at the major league level, his career will be very, very short. Perhaps this is why strike zone judgment seems to be the major focus of Gonzalez's winter league campaign thus far, with Carlos racking up a .440 OBP with an 8/6 BB/K ratio in 48 PA's.

According to Fangraphs, Gonazalez led the majors last season in the percentage of curveballs seen with just under 20% of the total pitches he saw being benders. It's clear that pitchers don't worry about him laying off the junk, so that's all they throw to him. Pitch recognition will do the kid wonders. It would do the Rockies wonders, but the fact of the matter is they already have pieces in place in case it doesn't materialize. I was mercilessly mocked the other day for my assertion that the Rockies offense is just fine without Matt Holliday. I'm not backing down. After doing a review of the rest of the division, in fact, I'm going further out on a limb. The Rockies will have the best offense in the NL West this season by a good margin, and should have one of the best offenses in the NL, period.

OBP, on base percentage, is the engine that drives the rest of a club's offense. If players don't get on base, there's no way they can score except via hitting a homer when it's their turn to bat. The opposite of OBP is the amount of outs created. You get enough outs, and it's game over, season over. There's a finite amount each team is allotted each year and you want to score as much as possible before you hit your limit. The Red Sox and Cubs were the major league's leaders in team OBP in 2008, the Rangers, who scored the most runs, were third. In 2007, the Rockies team OBP was .354, and we happened to go to the World Series. In 2008, it was .336 and we did not go to the World Series. It's more than a coincidence. The way this team is going to be successful is by having everybody get on base as much as possible, the parts are just about in place to make this happen.

Let me start by giving the league average OBP at each position in 2008 to provide some context for the projections that will follow.

NL 2008:

C: .328

1B: .359

2B: .338

3B: .335

SS: .334

LF: .350

CF: .334

RF: .344


NL West 2009:


  • Chris Iannetta .382
  • Russell Martin .390
  • Chris Snyder .342
  • Bengie Molina .311

First Basemen:

  • Todd Helton .421
  • James Loney .351
  • Chad Tracy .340
  • Travis Ishikawa .340

Second Basemen:

  • Jeff Baker .330
  • Blake DeWitt .333
  • Augie Ojeda .317
  • Kevin Frandsen .322

Third Basemen:

  • Ian Stewart .338
  • Angel Berroa .331
  • Mark Reynolds .350
  • Pablo Sandoval .346


  • Troy Tulowitzki .359
  • Chin-Lung Hu .309
  • Stephen Drew .336
  • Emmanuel Burriss .338

Left Field:

  • Ryan Spilborghs .386
  • Matt Kemp .360
  • Connor Jackson .379
  • Fred Lewis .353

Center Field:

  • Carlos Gonzalez .306
  • Andruw Jones .328
  • Chris Young .325
  • Aaron Rowand .339

Right Field:

  • Brad Hawpe .374
  • Andre Ethier .374
  • Justin Upton .356
  • Randy Winn .347

If you don't like the Bill James projections, use another system and do the same exercise, you'll come out with similar results. Let's do a buyer's remorse exercise with the laggards at each position. Replace them with the best available player to those teams. For Los Angeles and San Francisco, go ahead and use the free agent market. For Colorado and Arizona, they'll have to fill them internally or with relatively cheap talent:

Catcher: Giants

Molina's not going anywhere, but if he was, the Giants would replace him with Sandoval, and let's just put Casey Blake (.336) at third for them

Final result: Sandoval would give them a Snyder-esque offensive catcher and Blake would be serviceable at third. Neither position would be among the division's best, however. The Giants aren't actually looking to do something to fix this, as far as I can tell.

First Base: D-backs/Giants

The D-backs have a major damned-if-they-do,-damned-if-they-don't issue having to choose between playing Eric Byrnes in left or Tracy at first. This is the lesser of two evils. I think this set-up is their best internal option for this position and left field. The Giants could sign Mark Teixeira.

Final Result: Teixeira gives the Giants the best at the position in the division, the D-backs are stuck at the bottom rung.

Second Base: D-backs

The Diamondbacks are rumored to be interested in Ramon Vazquez. An internal option could be to move Mark Reynolds to second and Miguel Montero to third.

Final Result: Vazquez (.329) and Ojeda both played over their heads when it came to OBP last season, neither seems like a particularly strong bet to sustain their production. The Reynolds/Montero(.330) gambit gives up a lot on defense, but it would give AZ the highest OBP at second in the division once again. Third, unfortunately for them, would drop from the highest to the lowest. The sum result could actually hurt the D-backs more than it helps with the defensive sacrifice taken into account.

This exercise makes it fairly clear to me that Orlando Hudson is not going to be in the NL West next season. DeWitt/Baker/Frandsen aren't great, but there's no need to be great at this position in this division anymore. Cheap and mediocre is the order of the day. It's why the D-backs are okay targeting Vazquez, they'll still be competitive with the rest of the West here.

Third Base: Dodgers

The Dodgers re-sign Blake.

Final Result: How do the Dodgers and Giants both sign Blake at the same time? Oh wait, they don't. Before even taking into account other interested teams outside the division, I kept on running into this problem. Both these teams have multiple holes on offense to fill often at the same position. Both are willing to spend money to do it, but both have an upper limit of what they can spend, and a finite amount of players to choose from. The drop-off from Blake to Joe Crede (.311), or Rafael Furcal to Edgar Renteria/Orlando Cabrera is huge. Blake isn't a big upgrade over sliding Berroa over, however, and will cost a lot of money. I can see the Dodgers signing Blake, or Furcal but not both.

Shortstop: Dodgers/Giants

The Dodgers re-sign Furcal(.354). The Giants sign Furcal.

Final Result: One of these two teams wins, one loses. The scenario that may present the biggest challenge to the Rockies woud be if the Dodgers use a Blake/Berroa left side and the Giants a Furcal/Sandoval left side. This still comes out a bit behind Colorado's left side for LA (all scenarios have them behind) slightly ahead for SF.

Left Field: Giants

The Giants and Dodgers sign one each of Manny Ramirez (.404)/Adam Dunn (.386)/Pat Burrell (.377).

Final result: This is the one position where both of our deeper pocketed NL West rivals could conceivably come out ahead at the same time.Getting one of these outfielders would allow the Dodgers to push Matt Kemp to center, giving them an offensive outfield unmatched in the division, unless...

Center Field: Rockies

The Rockies replace Gonzalez with Dexter Fowler (.355)

Final Result: Matt Kemp would be a better offensive center fielder, but the Rockies would be getting the most value at the position in the division after defense is taken into account.

Right Field:Giants

The Giants replace Winn with Bobby Abreu (.389)

Final Result: The Giants would go to the front of the pack.

The reason I did this exercise was because I was realizing that in fantasyland, when we're talking about players that the teams don't actually have yet, that the Giants are just as much in contention for the NL West in 2009 as the Dodgers. If San Francisco signs Jason Giambi (.388), Furcal, Abreu and one of the left fielders, they're as competitive as if the Dodgers signed Blake, Ramirez, Hudson and a starting pitcher or two, and they've spent about as much play-money. The Diamondbacks don't have play-money in fantasyland, they don't have quite the players they need in the real world, they are what they are. The Rockies also don't have play-money in fantasyland, but they are already leading projections at four positions and have more high OBP players like Fowler and Seth Smith (.349) on the side, even if we consider Garrett Atkins (.359) to be on his way out.

So the upshot is that the Rockies have the pieces to be among the NL's best offensive teams in 2008 already on the roster, the Giants or Dodgers could have the pieces to be among the NL's best offenses if they spend a lot of money and block other teams around the majors from doing the same. Which is the easier road to success? A bird in hand.., you know. The distance LA and SF have to go to catch up is startling when you average it all together:

  1. Rockies (without Fowler) .362
  2. Dodgers .347
  3. D-backs .343
  4. Giants .337

Maybe .015 doesn't seem like a lot to you, so let me show you what it amounts to in the real world. Pick any three positions that you think the Dodgers could use an upgrade in. Look at their projected OBP for that position and add 0.040 to find the player you're looking for to make things even. At that point you realize that if the Dodgers added Orlando Hudson, Rafael Furcal, and Manny Ramirez, they still wouldn't project to have a higher OBP than the Rockies. The chances of them landing all three of those players is almost nil. They certainly wouldn't be able to do that and fill the holes in their rotation at the same time. And then you realize that the Rockies could actually get better as the season progresses with Fowler.

So at this point in time, I think yeah, it's safe to say that the Rockies should have the best offense in the division even without Matt Holliday or Garrett Atkins. One big danger continues to lurk, however. I started by showing the progression of the plate discipline of one Rockies player throughout 2008, let me show you another:

  • April: 37.9%
  • May: 38.9%
  • June: 37.0%
  • July: 34.8%
  • August: 30.7%
  • September: 39.0%

Outside of that blip of hope in August, Clint Barmes was absolutely awful when it came to laying off balls outside the strike zone. If he's given the bulk of starts over Jeff Baker at second, the Rockies will be putting another needless crater in their offense, similarly to what they did with Yorvit Torrealba at catcher for the first three months of last season. If they decide to bat Gonzalez lead-off because he's got some speed, it's another sign that our manager is trying to handicap the team to give our competition a better chance. The danger is that the people who pull the strings might not realize the kind of machine they've got to drive this year. This is a Moneyball team (Helton, Iannetta and Spilborghs were in the top 10 last season in laying off balls) with small-ball management, and that scares me.