It’s that time of year again, time for the 500 Level Fan to start embarrassing himself with futile, sad, and mind-blowingly awful predictions. This year I thought I’d shake things up a bit, and do a preview of each of baseball’s six divisions first, ultimately leading up to my prediction columns. These preview posts should be seen as a division primer, so we can get to know the best players and teams, along with some interesting storylines, in each. These won’t have my actual predicted order of finish – just a quick snapshot.
We’ll begin today with the NL West.
Past Five Champions
2011 – Arizona
2010 – San Francisco
2009 – Los Angeles
2008 – Los Angeles
2007 – Arizona
Average Wins of Past Five Champions: 91
Matt Kemp, Dodgers
Kemp put up a 10.0 bWAR last year and (at least in my opinion) should have won the NL MVP award. He fell one HR shy of a 40/40 season, put up a .986 OPS and a tremendously high 171 OPS+. He also plays a solid CF as shown by advanced metrics (a +8 Total Zone Fielding Runs Above Average) and conventional ones (winner of a 2011 Gold Glove). He is such a dynamic player that there has even been whispers of him becoming baseball’s first ever 50/50 player in 2012.
Honourable Mention: Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies; Justin Upton, Diamondbacks
Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
You know it would take a truly special season to knock Roy Halladay off the Cy Young perch, and that is exactly what Kershaw produced last year. He won the pitching triple crown with 21 wins, 248 strikeouts, and a 2.28 ERA, and just for kicks also lead the league in WHIP at 0.977. The stellar season won him his first Cy Young, his first Gold Glove, and even a top-15 finish in NL MVP voting. Expect more of the same in 2012.
Honourable Mention: Tim Lincecum, Giants; Matt Cain, Giants
Three Storylines For 2012
1. Can Arizona Repeat?
The D-Backs came out of nowhere last year to win the division, surprising most of baseball. In 2012 they become the hunted, a team with a target on their back – always a more difficult task. But Arizona returns virtually the exact same team as last year, lead by MVP candidate Justin Upton, ace Ian Kennedy, and former Blue Jays Aaron Hill and John McDonald. A trade to bring in former Oakland A Trevor Cahill will strengthen the rotation, and full seasons by rookie slugger Paul Goldschmidt and free agent import Jason Kubel will help the offense. They look to be for real.
2. San Francisco and the Non-Existent Offense
Entering 2011 the Giants were defending World Series Champions, had one of the greatest pitching staffs in the game, and were only concerned about their offense. Except for the champion part, the same still rings true. San Fran was horrendous last year, scoring only 570 runs – 124 below the league average. Only Seattle was worse in all of baseball. Losing Buster Posey for most of the season hurt, but so did playing a bunch of old, over-the-hill players instead of stud rookie Brandon Belt. With Posey back, they should be better. Key word = should…
3. Jamie Moyer – Ageless Wonder
Moyer is 49 years old. He made his major league debut in 1986. After missing all of 2011, he is back with the Rockies and looking to make the rotation. As of right now, he is still on the team. If he makes it, Colorado will be very fun to watch.
Last year, 29 players in MLB finished with a bWAR of -1.0 or worse. Five of them ended the season with the Colorado Rockies. The Rockies cleaned themselves up in the offseason by getting rid of four of them: Ty Wigginton (-1.1, Phillies), Ryan Spilborghs (-1.8, Indians), Ian Stewart (-1.2, Cubs), and Kevin Kouzmanoff (-1.0, Royals). Only rookie Charlie Blackmon (-1.3) remains, but he is targeted for the minors. Does that make Colorado five wins better automatically?
Who Should Win
Will they? Find out in my season prediction column.