National League West Preview

(AFP Photo/Harry How)

With the Dodgers coming off back-to-back National League Pennants, the NL West fully runs through Los Angeles. The Dodgers have the deepest roster in the National League and potentially the MLB; and they are projected by PECOTA to win the most games in the NL. The NL West offseason was headlined by the Padres surprise signing of Manny Machado and the Diamondbacks fully committing to a rebuild, trading star 1B Paul Goldschmidt to the St. Louis Cardinals and letting Patrick Corbin and AJ Pollock walk in Free Agency. The Rockies went all-in on their window of competition, extending Nolan Arenado for 8 years and $260MM, making him the highest paid position player in baseball by average value until Mike Trout signed his record extension. While the Rockies have the chance to push the Dodgers this year, it seems LA will win the division for the seventh straight year and look to finally break through and win the Fall Classic for the first time since 1988.

Dodgers

PECOTA: 93-69 (Playoff Odds: 72.2%)

Key Players: Clayton Kershaw, Justin Turner, Cody Bellinger, Walker Buehler, Chris Taylor

Offseason Acquisitions: AJ Pollock, Joe Kelly

Offseason Losses: Manny Machado, Yasmani Grandal, Yasiel Puig

Players to Watch: Walker Buehler, Alex Verdugo

Coming off two straight World Series losses, the Dodgers are knocking on the doorstep of a championship. When the Dodgers traded Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp to the Reds, it looked like they were going all in on the Bryce Harper sweepstakes. However, with an already high payroll, they were only prepared to offer a short-term, high AAV deal that clearly wasn’t what Harper wanted. Despite not signing Harper and bringing another star to Hollywood, the Dodgers still have a great mix of veteran and young talent up and down the roster, and they will again be one of the strongest teams in the National League.

Key Players:

Clayton Kershaw has reigned as the best, or one of the best, pitchers in baseball for years, but significant time missed due to injury since 2016 and decreased fastball velocity might be signaling the beginning of the decline for Kersh. Although he made only 26 starts last year, Kershaw still had a 3.3 fWAR and a 3.19 xFIP. Not as good as we are used to, but still very solid. If Kershaw can stay healthy, he gives the Dodgers a chance to win every game he pitches. The days of sub-2.00 ERAs may be over, but when healthy he is still the ace. Until…

Walker Buehler continues his rise as one of the premier arms in the game and becomes the ace of the staff. At points last year with Kershaw on the shelf, Buehler was the defacto ace, with a 3.1 WAR and 3.21 xFIP over 137 IP. He has an electric 4-seam with ride, a hard sinker, and a wipe-out curve. What separates Buehler is his command of this disgusting repertoire…he struck out 27.9% of the batters he faced while only walking 6.8%. The Vandy product’s workload spiked last year, but if he continues his maturation as a pitcher, we could be talking about Buehler in the Cy Young conversation sooner than people might think. Also, check out our interview with Walker HERE.

On the offensive side, the Dodgers are led by Justin Turner, Cody Bellinger and Chris Taylor. Turner posted a 4.2 WAR last season with an astounding 154 wRC+. He fractured his wrist in Spring Training last year, which limited him to 103 games, but had an out of this world second half (190 wRC+). At 34 years old, Turner is a veteran presence in the clubhouse and remains a top third baseman in all of baseball. One of the earliest proponents of the launch angle revolution, Turner is projected to hit over 20 homeruns with a 4.5 WAR in 2019 as well.

Bellinger was the 2017 NL Rookie of the Year after his 39 homerun campaign, and he saw some natural regression last year as his flyball rate declined and HR/FB was cut in half. However, in 2018, he had 3.6 WAR and played in all 162 games in both the outfield and first base, providing some defensive versatility in addition to his 120 wRC+. In his third full season, Bellinger should be able to make some adjustments and continue to cement himself as one of the best young players in the game.

Last, but certainly not least, is Chris Taylor (check out our interview with Chris HERE. Taylor, another Dodger who embraced the idea of hitting the ball in the air, had a breakout campaign in 2017 but saw some regression last year. His K% increased to 29.5%, and his wRC+ fell from 126 to 113. However, he still posted a 3.1 WAR last year and seems primed to continue his offensive production if he is given regular at bats. He may split some time with Kiké Hernández at 2B, but Taylor will serve as another important cog in this Dodgers lineup.

Offseason Acquisitions:

The Dodgers made some strategic moves in the offseason by signing talented, but often injured, AJ Pollock for 4 years, $55M and Joe Kelly for 3 years, $25MM to add some depth to the back of the bullpen. Pollock had a 2.5 WAR and 110 wRC+ last season and is projected to post 2.5 WAR again this year. He had a breakout year in 2015, posting 6.8 WAR, but missed almost all of 2016 and about 50 games in both 2017 and 2018 due to injury. If Pollock can stay healthy, he will add another weapon to the Dodgers outfield.

Kelly earned himself a nice payday after pitching well for the Red Sox at the end of the season and in the postseason. Despite his 4.04 xFIP, the Dodgers hope they will see more of the electric stuff and lights out set-up man versus the wild reliever that saw an ugly stretch of getting lit up last season. As an LA guy, he is returning home to Hollywood to provide another bridge to All-Star closer Kenley Jansen.

Players to Watch:

I already went in depth about him above, but I believe Walker Buehler is poised to continue his breakout and establish himself as one of the best pitchers in the game, period. His stuff and command is that good.

Despite missing most of last year recovering from Tommy John surgery, Corey Seager will provide a huge boon to the Dodgers lineup and middle infield. Seager posted a 6.9 WAR in his rookie season capped by a Rookie of the Year award, and he led all shortstops in WAR in 2016 and 2017. He is projected 5.4 WAR this season and will more than replace Manny Machado’s output at short. Look for Seager to make a strong comeback in 2019 and assert himself back in the middle of the Dodgers lineup.

One of the noteworthy moves out of Dodgers camp this spring was bringing prized prospect Alex Verdugo up for the start of the season. Verdugo got limited playing time last season, but he will break camp with the big club. The Dodgers have had breakout campaigns from young players the past four years (Seager, Bellinger, Taylor, Max Muncy), and if Verdugo can produce even close to what those guys did, the Dodgers will be very, very happy.

Rockies

PECOTA: 84-78 (Playoff Odds: 39.2%)

Key Players: Nolan Arenado, Kyle Freeland, Trevor Story, German Marquez, Charlie Blackmon

Offseason Acquisitions: Daniel Murphy

Offseason Losses: DJ LeMahieu, Adam Ottavino, Carlos Gonzalez

Players to Watch: Brendan Rodgers, Peter Lambert

The Rockies finished the 162-game season tied with the Dodgers last year and dropped Game 163 to take the second Wild Card spot. After beating the Cubs in the Wild Card game, the Rockies were swept by the Brewers in the NLDS. This was a step forward from their Wild Card loss in 2017, and the Rockies look to continue their progression this year carried by their big bats and solid, young rotation.

Key Players:

The current and future face of the franchise after he signed his $260MM extension is Nolan Arenado. Arenado is an absolute stud whatever way you look at him. He has averaged a 127 wRC+ over the last four years, his counting stats are insane, and he has won the Gold Glove at third each of his six years in the majors. He is incredibly deserving of his massive extension. He posted a 5.7 WAR last season, and with the Rockies committing to winning now, he should continue to see opportunities to hit nukes and drive in runs.

Arenado’s neighbor on the left side of the infield is shortstop Trevor Story, who posted a 5.0 WAR and 127 wRC+ last season in a big bounce back from his sophomore slump of 2017. Story has serious pop, with a .276 ISO (measure of extra bases per at bats), and he also has wheels on the bases. He is projected to regress slightly this year, but Story remains one of the only 30HR-30SB threats in the majors. He and Arenado make up one of the best left side combinations in the bigs, along with Alex Bregman and Carlos Correa in Houston and José Ramirez and Francisco Lindor in Cleveland.

Charlie Blackmon has one of the best beards in the game, and he is also a solid centerfielder. He regressed slightly last year after two years with a wRC+ above 130 (116 in 2018), but he should continue to produce at the top of the Rockies lineup. Steamer projects him to regress further to a 2.2 WAR, but if he can adjust after a slightly down year it would set the table even further for the big bats behind him.

For all the hitters that are knocked for playing in Coors Field, the pitchers should be equally praised for their performances at Mile High. Kyle Freeland had a breakout sophomore season with a 4.2 WAR and a 4.22 xFIP. He threw over 200IP and increased his K% to 20.5%. He is the Opening Day starter for the Rockies; and if he continues to progress, he will head this rotation for years to come.

Offseason Acquisitions:

Other than Arenado’s massive extension, the Rockies had a relatively quiet offseason. They lost DJ LeMahieu and Adam Ottavino to the New York Yankees, but signed Daniel Murphy in Free Agency on a 2 year, $24MM deal. Coming off an injury plagued season, Murphy could see a spike in production again moving to the expansive Coors Field. Don’t be surprised if he contends for a batting title once again.

Players to Watch:

The Rockies top prospect and a player to watch later this year or next year is Brendan Rodgers. Rodgers is the #10 overall prospect and had a 129 wRC+ in AA last year before moving up to AAA. A natural shortstop, he will likely move to 2B when he comes up to join Arenado and Story in the infield.

On the pitching side, Peter Lambert is one of the Rockies top prospects on the mound with a 3.47 xFIP in AA. Both Rodgers and Lambert struggled in AAA at the end of the year, but should start the year there. They could both make an impact in the bigs soon.

Padres

PECOTA: 81-81 (Playoff Odds: 23.0%)

Key Players: Manny Machado, Hunter Renfroe

Offseason Acquisitions: Manny Machado

Offseason Losses: Freddy Galvis

Players to Watch: Fernando Tatis, Jr., MacKenzie Gore, Luis Urias, Chris Paddack

The surprise of the offseason came when the San Diego Padres, of all teams, pulled the trigger and signed Manny Machado to a 10 year, $300MM deal. San Diego has one of the best farm systems in baseball and will have a strong young core to surround Machado. However, as Machado already stated in one of his first interviews, everyone knows they won’t win the division this year. The big question mark is the pitching staff, as two of their top three prospects are also middle infielders. They will need some young pitchers to step up and make an impact for this team to compete. For the Padres to compete in the West, they will need to add some pitching in the next few years to surround the young bats, headlined by Machado.

Key Players:

Whether he likes it or not, the new face of the team, Manny Machado, will have to put some of his antics to the side and become one of the leaders of this team. The $300MM man will have his teammates (especially Tatis, Jr. and Urias) looking up to him. He put up 6.2 WAR between the Orioles and Dodgers last season and a 141 wRC+. His power numbers may take a slight hit moving to Petco Park, but moving back to the hot corner should help him defensively. Machado is a stud, and he got his money after a long waiting period during Free Agency.

Another big bat in the lineup, and one of our own Jeff Adams’ personal favorites, is Hunter Renfroe. The Mississippi St. product had 1.6 WAR and 114 wRC+ last season and possesses light tower power. Renfroe cut down on his K% from a tough 2017 season, and if he can continue to limit the strikeouts, he has the potential to finally break out and hit 30+ bombs this year.

Offseason Acquisitions:

Manny Machado, ever heard of him?

Players to Watch:

The key to future success for the Padres, and a big draw for Machado signing with San Diego, is the farm system. The Padres have 10 of MLB’s Top 100 2019 prospects, headlined by #2 overall Fernando Tatis, Jr. Tatis, Jr. had a 133 wRC+ in AA last season, and he is projected 0.9 WAR this season with the Padres. While he may not make a major impact this season, he could take on a much greater role in 2020. He is not as complete a player as Vlad Jr., but not many 20 year olds have the offensive skills he possesses. This kid could be an absolute stud for years to come and could stick at shortstop next to Machado. He could also create a strong middle infield tandem with Luis Urias, the #23 prospect in baseball. Urias saw some time in the majors last season, and has a chance to make an impact this year. He was a doubles machine in AAA last year, and will gain valuable experience playing in the majors this year as a 21 year old.

The Padres top pitching prospect is MacKenzie Gore, the third overall pick of the 2017 draft. A LHP, Gore had his first taste of pro ball in A and pitched to a 3.16 xFIP. He should rise through the minors relatively quickly as he possesses four quality pitches (fastball, curveball, slider, changeup) and could be a top of the rotation arm in several years. On the other hand, Chris Paddack has a chance to make a name for himself this year. The #34 overall prospect, with a ridiculous 120-8 K/BB last year, just made the Opening Day roster and will make his Major League debut Sunday against the Giants. He has a plus fastball, a plus-plus changeup, and showcased a much improved curveball this Spring Training that propelled him into the rotation. Also, he’s got some great flow.

Diamondbacks

PECOTA: 81-81 (Playoff Odds: 20.8%)

Key Players: Zack Greinke, David Peralta, Ketel Marte

Offseason Acquisitions: Luke Weaver, Adam Jones

Offseason Losses: Paul Goldschmidt, Patrick Corbin, AJ Pollock

Players to Watch: Jazz Chisholm, Jon Duplantier

The Diamondbacks won the NL Wild Card game in 2017, but fell back to just 2 games over .500 last year. With both the Dodgers and Rockies above them, the Diamondbacks felt it was time to hit the reset button for a full rebuild. While their payroll did not fall much with Zack Greinke’s contract (still looks OK) and Yasmany Tomas’ contract (not looking too great), the Diamondbacks traded Paul Goldschmidt to the Cardinals and let Patrick Corbin and AJ Pollock walk. PECOTA projects them to play .500 baseball, but I would not be surprised if the DBacks underperform these projections with the loss of three players that combined for 12.7 WAR last year.

Key Players:

The Diamondbacks are the definition of a top-heavy team, with Zack Greinke being paid over 25% of the team’s payroll. While his performance with the Dodgers earned him his massive contract, he amassed a less than stellar 2.9 WAR last season with a 3.44 xFIP. Greinke should continue to be a solid pitcher for the next few years, but it would not surprise me if he was traded at the deadline if the Diamondbacks are struggling and can get some prospects in return.

On the offensive side, David Peralta is the best returning bat in the lineup. Peralta had a 130 wRC+ and 3.8 WAR last season. While his BABIP was relatively the same as 2017, he hit 16 more homeruns to reach the 30HR plateau. He will hit in the heart of the order but have much less protection than 2018 with the loss of Goldschmidt and Pollock. His power numbers may regress back to the midpoint of his 2017 and 2018 seasons, especially as the best bat in the lineup where teams will gameplan against him more.

Despite splitting time in the middle infield earlier in his career, Ketel Marte is slated to be the starting center fielder for the DBacks this year with the loss of Pollock.. He had a 104 wRC+ last season and a 2.5 WAR, his best in the bigs. His power numbers also jumped to his highest at any point in his career, both in the majors and in the minors. It will be interesting to see if he can continue this power production for the DBacks this year.

Offseason Acquisitions:

The best piece the Diamondbacks received in the Paul Goldschmidt trade was RHP Luke Weaver. Weaver threw 60IP for the Cardinals in 2017 and threw very well, but struggled in his first full season as a starter last year with a 4.46 xFIP. He will be given another chance with the Diamondbacks and is projected to contribute 1.7 WAR in 2019.

Adam Jones was an under the radar late acquisition, and while he may be past his prime (98 wRC+ and has lost a step in the OF), he will serve as a strong and respected veteran presence during the rebuild for the DBacks.

Players to Watch:

Arizona has two players in the MLB Top 100 Pipeline, #60 Jazz Chisholm and #73 Jon Duplantier. Chisholm is a young shortstop out of the Bahamas, and had a 131 wRC+ across both A and A+ ball last season. At just 20 years old, he is several years away from contributing to the big club but will be a player to watch as he progresses through the higher levels in the minors.

Duplantier has done very well across all levels so far since being drafted in 2016, and he made 14 starts with a 3.63 xFIP last season in AA. Expect Duplantier to start the year in AAA and get some time in the bigs late in the year if he performs well.

Giants

PECOTA: 70-92 (Playoff Odds: 5.8%)

Key Players: Buster Posey, Madison Bumgarner, Brandon Belt

Offseason Acquisitions: Farhan Zaidi and the Front Office

Offseason Losses:

Players to Watch: Joey Bart, Heliot Ramos

After a stretch of 3 World Series Championships in 5 years, the Giants have quickly fallen to the bottom of the NL West due to an aging roster on large contracts. In order to start the rebuilding process, Giants ownership brought in Farhan Zaidi, the former Dodgers GM, to be their head of baseball operations. After leading the Dodgers to back to back World Series appearances and integrating one of the most advanced sabermetrics, R&D, and player development departments in baseball, Giants fans are hopeful he can reconstruct the roster and bring the Giants back into contention sooner rather than later.

Key Players:

The Giants are still led by two homegrown players that are now on the decline, Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner. Posey had a 2.4 WAR and a 106 wRC+ last season, but he was not at full health. The key for Posey is his recovery from right hip surgery. If he stays healthy, he is projected to bounce back this season and post a 5.0 WAR. He has begun to get some playing time at first, similar to that of Joe Mauer as his career progressed. Posey will inevitably have some injury risk, but he has the potential to bounce back and become one of the best hitting catchers in a time when offensive production at the position as a whole has plummeted.

Bumgarner will forever go down in Giants lore for his postseason heroism and absolute dominance during their World Series runs. However, a freak ATV accident derailed the beginning of his season and limited him to only 21 starts, a 1.4 WAR and 4.32 xFIP. Bumgarner’s decline can be seen in his decreasing K% and lower velocity. He is failing to get as many swings and misses on his fastball and his curveball has lost some depth. It was not that long ago that Bumgarner was one of the premier arms in the game, but he will need to make some adjustments if he wants to remain an effective pitcher.

Offseason Acquisitions:

As mentioned above, the biggest move ownership made this offseason was bringing in Farhan Zaidi to lead baseball ops. Based on Bryce Harper’s interviews after signing with the Phillies, it seems like the Giants were #2 on his list. However, that means they missed out on Harper. This could end up being a good thing though. With aging players on large contracts, a long-term mega contract may not have been the best move to bring the Giants back into contention. As the contracts of Samardzija, Cueto, and Longoria come off the books, it will give Zaidi more flexibility to make moves in the future while he implements his new vision for the team analytically.

Players to Watch:

While Posey begins to make his shift to first base, it seems his heir apparent is #22 ranked Joey Bart. Bart was the second overall pick in last year’s draft, and put up great numbers in his first taste of pro ball. He had a 165 wRC+ in A- ball with 13 jacks in 45 games. There might be a new big swinging catcher behind the dish for the Giants in the next few years.

Another player to keep an eye on is Heliot Ramos, the #91 ranked prospect in baseball. Ramos had a 104 wRC+ in A last season. The 19 year old was the Giants’ first round pick in 2017 and is projected to get to the majors in 2023.

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