2012 NL West Predicted Standings
1. Arizona Diamondbacks
2. San Francisco Giants
3. Colorado Rockies
4. Los Angeles Dodgers
5. San Diego Padres
2012 NL West Actual Standings
1. San Francisco Giants (94-68, +69)
2. Los Angeles Dodgers (86-76, +40)
3. Arizona Diamondbacks (81-81, +46)
4. San Diego Padres (76-86, -59)
5. Colorado Rockies (64-98, -132)
We had the Diamondbacks winning the NL West on the strength of their overall roster balance, but plenty of things went terribly wrong for this desert team. First and foremost, Justin Upton (who we had extremely yet reasonably high expectations for) hit rock bottom instead of hitting baseballs. Upton turned in a pithy .280/.355/.430 line, an OPS+ of 107 that was the worst of his career since becoming a regular, and was worth just 2.5 WAR per FanGraphs. Things got so bad for the talented outfielder that he even found himself the subject of trade rumors in July. Despite Upton’s ineptitude (inUptontude?), the Arizona offense was still eighth in all of baseball in runs scored and seventh in OBP. Miguel Montero had his usual solid season behind the plate, Paul Goldschmidt offered the power we predicted, Jason Kubel slugged .506, and Aaron Hill‘s season deserves down-ballot MVP consideration.
On the other side of the ball, Ian Kennedy and Trevor Cahill each had solid seasons atop the rotation, but Daniel Hudson battled severe injuries (again) and was among the worst pitchers in the league when he did get the ball. Hudson’s issues opened the door for Wade Miley, a finesse lefty who had a fantastic rookie season (1.7 BB/9, 3.15 FIP, 4.8 WAR) and made sure Arizona didn’t miss a beat. The back of the rotation was much less dependable, as Joe Saunders was just as lackluster as we thought and Patrick Corbin wound up logging 107 innings in which he got hit pretty hard. The bullpen benefited from the presence of J.J. Putz, David Hernandez, and Brad Ziegler to be sure, but the middle relief was less than spectacular.
Even looking back over the final results across the Arizona roster, it’s hard to definitively point at what exactly caused them to slide so far from glory. Honestly, rumors of the team’s demise have been greatly exaggerated; the Diamondbacks played fairly well, saw a slew of good performances from key players, and outscored their opponents by more than any non-Giant team in the division did. In a better world maybe the Diamondbacks would have won 90 games. In this one, they finished up at .500 and shattered our crystal ball.
San Francisco Giants
The Giants most certainly didn’t finish in second place in their division. They didn’t even finish in second place in the world. Vying for relevance with the newly-bought Dodgers for most of the season, the Giants wound up pulling away even after losing the red hot Melky Cabrera to the clutches of a PED suspension. Offensively, I think it’s fair to say the Giants outperformed what any reasonable analyst would have expected of them. Cabrera’s torrid, BABIP-driven start was just one of many instances of surprising production. Buster Posey, who is awesome, was just incredible (.336/.408/.549, 8.0 WAR), and there’s a good chance he deserves his first NL MVP award (we’ll get to that in about a week). Angel Pagan and Pablo Sandoval were above average for their positions, Brandon Belt flashed signs of decency when allowed to actually play baseball, and even Gregor Blanco started off the season on a tear. All in all, the Giant offense was somehow in the top half of baseball when it came to scoring runs.
This pitching staff was as excellent as expected, but not necessarily in the ways we guessed. Matt Cain was his usual dependable self; he posted the best K:BB ratio of his life, tossed a perfect game, and logged an ERA of 2.79. Behind him, two-time Cy Young award winner and all-time hair-having winner Tim Lincecum fell flat on his boyish face. The Freak’s struggles were covered up by Madison Bumgarner‘s excellent age-22 season (8.3 K/9, 2.1 BB/9, 3.50 FIP) and Ryan Vogelsong‘s continued post-Japan mastery (7.5 K/9, 2.9 BB/9, 3.70 FIP). Barry Zito still sucked no matter what Tim McCarver spent the last couple of weeks telling you. The San Francisco bullpen was also a wonderful asset, as not even a Brian Wilson season-ending injury could stop Sergio Romo and Santiago Casilla from holding down the fort.
We figured the Giants, who we did think had a shot at taking home the division crown even if we didn’t think they were the favorites, would succeed on the strength of their pitching staff. They did, but the offensive boost made quite a big difference. The team got batting title production from Marco Scutaro after acquiring him before the trade deadline, and performances were up across the board. The Giants were a good baseball team that mixed skill and luck at just the right time to win their second World Series title in three seasons.
I didn’t think there was any possible way the Rockies could be this bad, but in retrospect I guess I see the error of my ways. Even in March, it was obvious there were some glaring holes in the roster and things would have to break in the right direction for Colorado compete. None of that even happened a little bit. Troy Tulowitzki‘s groin caused him to receive only 203 PA, Todd Helton battled injuries of his own, no one told Michael Cuddyer he was playing at Coors Field, and Marco Scutaro left a hole at second once traded. At least Wilin Rosario offered a power-first approach at the plate, Carlos Gonzalez continued to exploit his home field advantage, and Dexter Fowler made the serious progress we have long seen coming (.300/.389/.474). Honestly, the offense was far from the malady that sunk this ship. Maybe I shouldn’t have used a ship metaphor for a team that plays in a mountainous region. Whatever.
In our season preview, we mentioned that quick development from Drew Pomeranz and a big return from Juan Nicasio could mean a performance spike for the rotation. Pomeranz, while not terrible, suffered plenty of growing pains, while Nicasio only completed 58 terrible innings before losing a battle with his left knee. The rest of the staff was such a pile of turds that the organization experimented with weird innings limits and allowed every pitcher on the roster to participate in a game-by-committee format. Special kudos go to Jeremy Guthrie for his 21 home runs allowed in just over 90 innings before being traded to the Royals. I guess we can take solace in correctly suggesting the success of Rafael Betancourt‘s slow-ass delivery and Rex Brothers‘ penchant for strikeouts.
The Rockies had to deal with a myriad of losses, and when one of those losses is among the best players in the game, that’s a big thing to overcome. Overcome it Colorado did not, and the pitching staff’s dismal season went a long way in damning the team to a cellar we didn’t anticipate them being in close proximity to.
Los Angeles Dodgers
We had the Dodgers finishing in fourth largely based on negative aspects of the team’s roster construction that did prove to be a huge hindrance. The offense, sans the stars, was putrid for much of the season until the new ownership group went into a rabid frenzy and tried to acquire every aging star in baseball, and even the acquisitions of Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez, and Shane Victorino only gave the team reduced versions of what the organization believed it was getting. Matt Kemp was excellent when not fussing with his legs, Andre Ethier was his usual boring but solid self, and A.J. Ellis got the hell on base (.373 OBP, 65 BB in 505 PA). Despite these positive showings, too many at-bats went to the incomparably flaccid Dee Gordon (.561 OPS!), the laughable James Loney (first basemen shouldn’t slug .344), and the feeble Juan Rivera.
The rotation held together better than most expected, as Clayton Kershaw has a good case to repeat as the league’s Cy Young award winner, Chris Capuano made good in first year in Los Angeles (7.4 K/9, 2.5 BB/9), and Aaron Harang didn’t embarrass himself. Chad Billingsley only logged 149 2/3 innings and wasn’t terribly consistent when on the mound, and Josh Beckett still wasn’t his old self after finding himself in a bigger ballpark against weaker competition. The bullpen was a respectable unit once again thanks to Kenley Jansen and his dancin’ cutter (99 K in 65 IP) and Ronald Belisario‘s workmanlike dependability. Javy Guerra, as predicted, didn’t hold down the closer’s mantle long, and somehow Jamey Wright found himself pitching in key situations during a playoff push.
The Dodgers finished the season 10 games over .500, but they relied on a series of one-run victories early and a series of maniacal trades late. The men behind the curtain still don’t understand how to build a team that will hold up over the long haul, and that’s going to hurt Los Angeles’s chances at fielding the team we all know they can. But hey, throwing money all over the place has worked before, and maybe it can buy short-term happiness.
San Diego Padres
Few teams were as good as the Padres in the second half of the season. The team moved their young guns up faster than expected, and the result was a dynamic mix of players that have quickly proven they aren’t as far from contention as we thought they were several months ago. The biggest story is Chase Headley, who may have turned a corner and transitioned from underrated sub-star to appropriately-considered All-Star. Headley posted an .875 OPS, clubbed 31 homers, and stole 17 bases while providing hot work at the hot corner once again. Carlos Quentin brought power and patience to a team that needed it (don’t all teams?), while Yasmani Grandal is undeniably a star catcher in the making. He hit .297/.394/.469 in 226 PA, and we’re excited to see more from him. These trades are already starting to pay off!
To the pitchers we go! Clayton Richard was a workhorse, as he pitched nearly 220 innings and rarely bothered to walk anyone. He also didn’t ever miss a bat, like seriously never, so his 3.99 ERA is largely a function of his home park. Edinson Volquez can still strike dudes out, but it’s hard to see him regaining the sheen that made him almost look like he was worth Josh Hamilton four years ago. Jason Marquis also was a pitcher on the San Diego Padres. The starting rotation may be wholly underwhelming, but there’s a lot to like about the bullpen. Huston Street was excellent when not making friends with the disabled list, while Luke Gregerson has proven himself a rare dependable reliever. Even Brad Brach, yes the Brad Brach, boasted a high strikeout rate (10.1/9) and didn’t let hitters make hard contact (6.8 H/9).
The Padres were probably fortunate to not finish in last again, but the pieces are in place and on the way to make this team one to watch in the coming years. San Diego had to hit rock bottom first, but it will all be worth it once the team is loaded with cheap prospect talent and all the money left over can be used appropriately to sign the kind of free agents a team should sign. See, Colletti, this is how you do it; quit letting your mustache do all the thinking for you.