I know this is a few days old, but it’s drawn enough attention to warrant another look. Baseball Prospectus’s Joe Sheehan released his Spring Training Preview for the NL West on February 12th (and has since been republished on CNNSI for the non-subscribing world to see) and it seems that it has accomplished its primary goal of inciting rage amongst the basement dwelling bloggers of the Friar faithful. In my case, this rage is generally directed towards the vacuum of cyberspace through my computer screen in the form of beer-fueled obscenities, the likes of which excite my blood pressure and frighten my neighbors.
I won’t lie, in some ways I love Baseball Prospectus more than my own wife (don’t worry, she doesn’t read this site and cooks a mean chicken pot pie from scratch, a fact that’ll keep her – and this is a rough estimate – at least in my top five), but I really think they phoned this one in. For what it’s worth, I’ve always believed BP was often times unjustly enamored with a youthful roster, regardless of their contributions to the team. But I regress – let’s get to the nitty gritty.
I’m not one to flap my gums when it comes to pre-Spring Training team analysis but I’ve paid a pretty penny for their services and while I expect this from those front-running asshats at ESPN, seeing BP reduced to this level of analysis truly hurts. The most glaring insult for Padres fans (and fans of logic/reason) resides in their Winter Grade analysis for the Friars:
They didn’t do a whole lot to address the aging of the roster, and with the Diamondbacks and Dodgers having passed them in terms of talent on hand, it may be time for the Pads to blow off a year.
“Blow off a year?” Look, I’ll be the first to admit that the Dodgers and Diamondbacks are brimming with young, talented players – but it’s not as if we’re the Twins, staring down the barrel of the gun at a heavily improved Indians or Tigers roster with a new ballpark and significant roster turnover to think about [deep breath]. We’re not looking at a bloated roster with no talent and hope far off on the horizon; if anything, I’d say that this is in response to what was a widely televised flameout to end the 2007 season. You could make a strong argument that the Padres are still built to win now with their depth in the rotation and, in my opinion, an improved lineup competing against the two anointed “top” teams – L.A. and Arizona – who have not necessarily addressed their own offensive woes. I’ll get to that later…
Remember, this is in response to a team that has improved its record in an increasingly more talented division each of the last three seasons with its “aging roster,” and finished third in a tight NL West race only after pushing the season to an extra-innings play-in against the 2007 NL Champions in which the winning run has yet to score (too soon?). Let that settle for a minute before reading it again: “…it may be time for the Pads to blow off a year.”
As if the above assertions weren’t insultingly ignorant enough…
Third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff’s big second half bought him some time. However, his poor glove and undisciplined approach at the plate are likely to give way very soon to the doubles and walks of Chase Headley.
…what?! Look, everybody knows that the Mashin’ Macedonian is, arguably, one of the worst defensive 3B in the league. It’s not even necessarily debatable. But this is a moot point. Chase Headley is no longer filling out the depth chart as a 3B and he hasn’t been since around the time the Padres missed out on Fukudome in the middle of December. The reasoning behind this is simple: Headley isn’t known for his glove and there’s a pressing need for him in LF. As was outlined in the afore-mentioned Kevin Goldstein headlining article, Future Shock: Padres Top 11 Prospects:
The Padres are moving Headley to left field this spring in order to get his bat into the lineup, and he’ll be given the opportunity to earn a big-league job. The logic of that decision is that neither he nor incumbent third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff is an especially good defender at the hot corner, but Headley is more apt to succeed in the outfield.
Beyond that, BP had reported nearly a month prior to the publication of Sheehan’s piece that Headley would be moving to the OF by linking to a Padres news article dated to late December. At this point, I’m willing to bet that the $39.99 membership might be a little too rich for Sheehan given his inability to do research through the very site that he writes for.
Additionally, BP has always admired Kouzmanoff’s ability to drive the ball to all fields and, ironically, Goldstein’s Future Shock article from last season has this to say…
Outstanding hitting prospect with well above-average pitch recognition, bat speed and power.
…and while the biggest criticism against him are his unintentional walk totals it doesn’t matter if you absolutely rake, which was the case when assessing his Double-A statisics.
While a 25-year-old at Double-A is far from a spring chicken, and he did draw only 27 unintentional walks in 394 minor-league PAs, 51 extra-base hits in 94 games is pretty amazing.
Now that the misinformation regarding the Padres is out of the way, I would like to look at their supposed inferiority in the farm system. I might be inclined to agree with this statement in past years, however, there is very little evidence within the rest of this article that asserts this point. The Diamondbacks and Dodgers, while both boasting extremely young and talented rosters, have a problem translating that prospect-level talent into Major League stat sheet fodder. The Padres hit better than both of these teams, regardless of talent. This is a point that didn’t go unnoticed by Joe Sheehan, who had this to say regarding those scrappy, young Dodgers:
There are four outfielders for three spots, and it’s excruciatingly clear to anyone familiar with baseball who ranks fourth among them. However, the likelihood that the Dodgers relegate Juan Pierre to a bench role is nil. Every PA he takes from Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier is a mistake.
He goes on to assert that their one move to make is to trade Juan Pierre and let the youngsters pan out; events which, he counters against himself, will never happen. I firmly believe that the Dodgers would be the team to beat if Ned Colletti wasn’t in charge of dismantling this franchise and making poor decisions in the free agent market. To me, this season is no exception. Sheehan disagrees on two counts:
The Jones signing was an excellent case of buying low, and Kuroda’s contract is a good gamble given the price of MLB free agent starting pitchers. Better still, the Dodgers avoided making another bad trade, retaining all of their young talent.
…Kuroda is a good gamble, but wait for the knockout punch…
Ned Colletti has squandered a fair amount of Logan White’s work in his time as the Dodgers’ GM, but he avoided doing so this winter. Thanks to that, he heads into the spring with his best team, and with the best chance of having that team play. There remains the need to push Pierre and Nomar Garciaparra into supporting roles, the latter so that OBP machine Andy LaRoche can take over at third base. The “right” Dodger lineup can win 94 games and the division. How Joe Torre apportions playing time in a situation not dissimilar to the 1996 Yankees will determine whether the Dodgers fulfill their potential.
Might I first point out that Sheehan’s belief that the Dodgers bought low on Andruw Jones’ 2/$36m contract is absolutely absurd. And somebody will need to explain this to me over a few beers one day, but is Sheehan’s entire point that the Dodgers will be awesome(r) if they don’t field the team they’re expected to field? As is my argument, Sheehan has no problem admitting the Dodgers boast some of the best young talent of all the teams in the division but doesn’t mince words – the more games expected starters Pierre and Garciaparra play, the worse the Dodgers will be. Whatever. I guess it’s cool because they’re still young.
- Although the Diamondbacks are young (Team Age for Batters/Pitchers, 26.6/28.0), they simply cannot hit. Their 4.40 R/G was only better than San Francisco (4.22) and Washington (4.15).
- While they went 90-72, their Pythagorean W/L was a paltry 79-83 due to their -20 run-differential.
- Randy Johnson’s mustache carries with it the secrets of the universe.
Sheehan seems to have securely strapped himself into the Baby ‘Backs Bandwagon (note to self: trademark immediately). Keep in mind that Sheehan’s task – as a baseball analyst who is being paid a lot more than me – is to defend the chance of a repeat NL Division title for the Diamondbacks after they just destroyed all logic and reason when they put up a 90-72 record with a -20 run-differential. He gets off to a strong start:
Josh Byrnes added the missing piece by trading for a top-tier starting pitcher in Haren, dealing many pieces from a deep system while not giving up the very best of it.
Fantastic, this has it all: top-tier pitcher, deep rotation in a pitching-centered division, ability to hold onto the farm leaguers. Excellent. Now reel those suckers in – hook, line, and sinker.
Shuffling Valverde out at his likely peak was aggressive, the kind of year-too-early move that Branch Rickey would admire.
The oddest part about this is why Sheehan decides to link to Rickey’s playing career, but that’s beside the point; the fact of the matter is that the Valverde deal potentially ruins the 2008 Arizona Diamondbacks’ chance at a repeat division title and it has gone unnoticed by not only BP, but multiple sporting news sources who fail to recognize the importance of the bullpen at a time when you’re overcoming a negative run-differential.
Bob Melvin anointed Brandon Lyon as his closer heading into camp, as much to spike a potential controversy as anything else. In the long term, it’s Juan Cruz who has the power stuff to fit best in the role. Tony Pena and Chad Qualls may also make bids if and when Lyon falters.
Every single one of these pitchers had either a career year or above-average production last season. Valverde converted 47 of 52 saves, meaning that more than half of the team’s victories were determined by a player who is no longer on the team. Not necessarily a good omen for a team that values every single run it can get.
I am not going to make a prediction regarding who finishes on top of the NL West before Spring Training has gotten beyond player conditioning drills (is it safe to say Giants, dead last?), but I’m betting that I might come forth with more factual evidence and far less fiction when making such bold statements. Besides, I’ll let you do that for me.
Melvin Update (2/25/08): Preston Gomez is a special guest writer for The Sacrifice Bunt. Ray and I would like to thank Preston for his contribution to our community.