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Sunday Rockpile: Is Troy Tulowitzki the MLB's best young player? Plus a lengthy discourse on the Dodgers lack of depth

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I'm guessing that the age cutoff for this John Thomase Boston Herald article is 25 and younger, which leaves you a handful of players that could make the claim of best player (Thomase also mentions Justin Upton, Evan Longoria and Matt Wieters) and Tulo is certainly one of them. Personally, I think until he actually puts up the kind of full season that Thomase envisions in this article, then the title would have to go to his former CSULB teammate, Longoria. I generally do think that Tulowitzki gets a little underrated by the national media, but articles like this would swing the pendulum the other direction.

Apparently Dan Szymborski's ZiPS projection system isn't aware that the divorce of Dodgers owners Frank and Jamey McCourt will rip the team apart, as it generated some pretty daunting 2010 numbers that the Rockies and other NL West teams will have to overcome. This outside perspective that has the Dodgers as the team to beat still in the NL West is probably a good balance to our purple tinted view.

Alright. Enough of that, back to the purple tinted glasses. There are a few reasons I'm confident that the Rockies will be able to finish ahead of the Dodgers for just the second time in franchise history in 2010, and I'll use these ZiPS projections as a starting point:

Manny Ramirez.

I don't know if it's getting off the juice or just age, but I really think he's on a faster downward slope than most of the projection systems seem to be seeing. I believe his 2010 would look something akin to what would happen if we stuck Todd Helton in the outfield. He'll still be a somewhat valuable hitter and get on base at a very good clip, but I think the power projections for him are too high at this point, and with his defense, he could actually wind up being a net negative. ZiPS sees him as LA's best hitter in 2010, I think that title's going to go to Ethier or Kemp (who definitely should have been mentioned as a possibility in Thomase's Tulo piece above, btw).

Depth.

When Dan Szymborski says:

While the Phillies are possibly the most dangerous team in the NL with their front-line talent, I think the Dodgers are the superior team over the season itself, thanks to better depth.

I'm having a really difficult time seeing what he means outside the infield and bullpen.

Because of what I see as a big dropoff to bench/reserve quality, there seems to be a higher than usual amount of players that the Dodgers simply can't afford to lose for any extended period of time next season. Last season Juan Pierre was able to step in for Manny and the team hardly lost a step. Xavier Paul and Jason Repko just aren't as decent a quality of player, meaning any starting outfield time lost now is likely to be a very big deal for LA.

The infield with the versatility of Jamey Carroll and Blake DeWitt is in much better shape, but the Dodgers still don't have a contender quality backup for Russell Martin and seem to be buying too much into AJ Ellis' Albuquerque inflated OBP. Any significant injury to one of the front three starters in the rotation could be a playoff killer as well. At the moment, the same can't be said of the two starters TBD at the bottom of the Dodgers rotation, but just remember that it's Russ Ortiz that's looming as their safety net.

Compare that situation to the Rockies. Because of Colorado's actual OF depth, Seth Smith and Ryan Spilborghs are far better options than Paul/Repko, so there's not a lot of drop-off losing a starter at any of those three positions. Tulo's crucial, but so long as the Rockies get a decent quality reserve (Tatis would be fine) for the corners, he would be the only position player which the team simply can't afford to lose.

For pitching, I think only Ubaldo Jimenez, and depending on your idea of how fungible the talent in the bullpen is, perhaps Huston Street would be irreplaceable. In stat terms, that's two of 13 starting players (stats won't ever say that Street qualifies, they don't like relievers) on the Rockies that would cost  the team 2 wins or more if they missed a third of the season or more. If I'm correct, the Dodgers have at least seven, this to me is a major risk issue, and one can look at the 2009 Mets and D-backs as cautionary tales of what happens when a quality team has insufficient replacements.

 

Actually, take a look at this list of every 2009 NL club and you'll notice that what largely separated contenders from pretenders last season was either fortunate health or the ability to replace missing or just otherwise under-performing parts. I'll just list the 2009 projected starter's career ERA+ or OPS+ (what their team was probably expecting) and their replacements 2009 figures. 


NL West

Los Angeles: Manny Ramirez (155) to Juan Pierre (105); Hiroki Kuroda (109) to Jeff Weaver (108)/Eric Milton (104)

Colorado: Garrett Atkins (102) to Ian Stewart (98); Chris Iannetta (103) to Yorvit Torrealba (87, but with panache) 

San Francisco: Randy Johnson (136)  to Ryan Sadowski (98)/Brad Penny (168)

Arizona: Brandon Webb (142) - Yusmeiro Petit (79), et al.; Conor Jackson - Chad Tracy


NL Central

St. Louis: Khalil Greene (94) to Brendan Ryan (96); Todd Wellemeyer (91) to John Smoltz (96); Kyle Lohse (96) - Mitch Boggs (98)

Chicago: Aramis Ramirez (114) to Mike Fontenot (72)/Jake Fox (101); Geovany Soto (104) to Koyie Hill (64)

Milwaukee: Rickie Weeks (100) to Felipe Lopez (129); Milwaukee's rotation is an interesting example too about how a lack of depth can tie a team's hands with under-performing players. The Brewers failed in 2009 in part because there was no pitching flexibility. Here it wasn't a case of inadequate replacements, it was a case of no replacements.


NL East

Philadelphia: Brett Myers (99) to J.A. Happ (145)

Florida: Cameron Maybin (89) to Chris Coghlan (122). It was actually Maybin to Cody Ross in center, Ross to Jeremy Hermida in right and Hermida to Coghlan in left, but the upshot was to put the better offensive player in the Florida lineup.

Atlanta: Jo-Jo Reyes (70) to Tommy Hanson (142); Casey Kotchman (95) to Adam LaRoche (152); Kelly Johnson (103) to Martin Prado (117); Jordan Schafer (62) to Nate McLouth (105); Jeff Francouer (92) to Ryan Church (99); Garrett Anderson (104) to Matt Diaz (133).

New York: Jose Reyes (101) to Alex Cora (69); Carlos Beltran (119) to Angel Pagan (121 - yeah, this one kind of surprised me); Gary Sheffield (140) to Cory Sullivan(92)/Daniel Murphy(95); Carlos Delgado (138) to Murphy(95); Oliver Perez to Tim Redding; Livan Hernandez

The contrast between Atlanta and New York is pretty telling here, both teams had a lot of turnover, but while the Braves were able to upgrade nearly every position during the course of the season, few of the Mets moves worked out.

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Okay. Uhm, that's it for the NL, right? For some reason I was thinking the Central was bigger than that (actually, depth woes worked against Cincinnati in 2009 as well, they were a hot pick to contend during the preseason last year but had few contingency plans in case of disappointment).

At any rate, my main point is that right now I see the Dodgers as a good, but fairly delicate team. It's a situation that reminds me of the D-backs over the last couple of seasons. If both teams have good health in 2010, LA's pretty much as good as the Rockies on paper. As you can see, some projections see them as better. If both teams have injury troubles, I like the Rockies chances a lot better.