2014 Division Preview – National League West

NL West

It’s that time of year again, time for 500 Level Fan to start embarrassing himself with futile, sad, and mind-blowingly awful predictions.  For this year’s divisional preview series,  I have reached out to a blogger from each of baseball’s six divisions to get his take on what 2014 may bring.  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.  The predictions come later.

We’ll begin today with the NL West.

Defending Champion

Los Angeles Dodgers

Past Five Champions

2013 – Los Angeles

2012 – San Francisco

2011 – Arizona

2010 – San Francisco

2009 – Los Angeles

Average Wins of Past Five Champions: 93.4

Best Player

Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks

2013 was a breakout year for Goldschmidt.  He topped the NL in HR (36), RBI (125), SLG (.551), OPS (.952), OPS+ (160), and total bases (332), and finished in the top-5 in WAR (7.1), R (103), Hits (182), and XBH (75).  He also won a Gold Glove award, a Silver Slugger, and finished second in the NL MVP voting.  It marked the third straight year that his rate numbers have gone up (though 2011 was only a partial season for him).  In short, he is a beast of a player who only seems to be getting better. 

Honourable Mention: Buster Posey, Giants; Adrian Gonzalez, Dodgers

Best Pitcher

Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers

The NL West is a division stocked with great pitchers, but Kershaw overshadows them all – just as he overshadows the rest of the league.  After a truly dominating 2011 and 2012, Kershaw was ridiculous in 2013: 16-9, 1.83 ERA, 232 K, 0.92 WHIP, 194 ERA+, 4.46 K/BB.  Those numbers were good enough for his second Cy Young award in three years, a top-10 finish in NL MVP voting, and a massive 7-year / $215-million contract.  The truly scary part is that he will only be 26 years old this season, meaning he is just now entering his prime years.    

Honourable Mention: Matt Cain, Giants; Zack Greinke, Dodgers

Three Storylines For 2014

1. Kershaw the Great

After his spectacular 2013, what can Clayton Kershaw do for an encore?  A sub-1.50 ERA? 300 strikeouts?  30 wins?  Not since Pedro Martinez of the early 2000’s has there been such talk of a pitcher dominating.  The thing with Kershaw, however, is that he might just walk the walk.  He is the staff ace on a team with seemingly unlimited resources, a team that has the potential to run away from the rest of the division.  How good will he be?

2. It’s an Even Year…

…And that means that the Giants must be primed to win the World Series.  Seriously – look it up.  In 2010 San Francisco won 92 games then ripped through the playoffs to claim their first title since 1954.  In 2011 they faded down the stretch and missed the playoffs.  In 2012 they rebounded with a 94-win campaign and won the World Series again, only to fall back in 2013 with 76 wins and a third place finish.  Will the trend hold in 2014?  With the addition of Tim Hudson to a rotation that already includes Cain, Lincecum, and Bumgarner, the Giants are once again pitching rich, so glory isn’t out of the realm of possibility.

3. Arizona Rebuild – Part Two

Last offseason the D-Backs traded top pitching prospect Trevor Bauer to Cleveland and top player Justin Upton to the Braves, hoping that an improved team chemistry would lead them back to the playoffs.  Instead they posted an identical 81-81 record to the year before.  This year they once again emptied the cupboard of many of their top prospects, sending Adam Eaton, Tyler Skaggs, and Matt Davidson packing in trades that addressed key team needs: power (Mark Trumbo) and bullpen help (Addison Reed).  They still have MLB’s top pitching prospect waiting in the wings, but it will be interesting to see if he makes an appearance in Arizona, or is used as trade bait like the others.

Interesting Stat

In 2013 Josh Johnson was supposed to a difference maker for the Toronto Blue Jays, part of a revamped rotation that would lead Toronto back to the playoffs.  He was definitely a difference maker – but unfortunately for the Jays it was a negative one.  Of all AL pitchers with at least 80 IP, Johnson’s 6.20 ERA ranked 82nd (out of 84), and his -1.6 WAR was T-80th.  But in 2013 the Rogers Centre carried a Park Factor of 1.118, making it the fourth hitter-friendliest park in baseball.  This season he returns to the NL with the Padres, where Petco Park ranks as the most pitcher friendly stadium with a Park Factor of 0.831.  If Johnson can revert back to his old ways in an easier stadium, the Padres might be able to make some noise.

What the Bloggers are Saying

I reached out to Ryan P Morrison an Arizona Diamondbacks blogger who runs the excellent Inside The ‘Zona.  

Biggest Storyline

The biggest storyline out of the NL West this year will be the Dodgers, in all likelihood. What Yasiel Puig ate for breakfast, Carl Crawford and Matt Kemp injury rehabs, and how the veteran-laden roster will mesh. For my money, though, I’m more interested in the Rockies’ season, as they’re stuck in the middle between contending and rebuilding. If they stay healthy and Jon Gray and Eddie Butler come up this season, we might see a big turnaround there.

Most Interesting Player

As a baseball fan, one of the most interesting things for me tends to be when a dominant young pitcher makes the leap to the majors. Call me a homer, but I’m sticking with Archie Bradley as my player I’m most interested to see — of the very best pitching prospects on the cusp of the majors, Bradley is the only one from the NL West likely to see more than a half-season’s playing time this year.

Who Wins?

The Dodgers will most likely win the division, but the race for second place (and a probable wild card) will be an interesting wire-to-wire race between all four of the other NL West clubs.

Who Should Win

Los Angeles 

Who Will Win

Find out in my season prediction column on March 27th.

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