Welcome to Marty's Musings, my weekly column of numbers summarizing the happenings across Major League Baseball. As part of our regular season preview at Beyond the Box Score, I will be your guide in discussing various numbers and metrics that will determine the fate of all 30 MLB teams.
Last week we dove into the American League West; this week, we take a look at the National League West. The Dodgers are once again projected to lead the division by a pretty sizable margin, but the Giants are within striking distance. The rest of the division will need to outperform their projections to get to .500. Here’s a look at some numbers that will help determine the success of the teams in the NL West.
All projected 2017 records are based on FanGraphs Depth Chart projected standings as of the weekend before publication.
Los Angeles Dodgers
2016 Record: 91-71
2016 Results: First place, lost in NLCS to Cubs (4-2)
2017 Projections: 94-68, first place
15 - Starting pitchers used by the Dodgers in 2016. Los Angeles won the West last year by four games despite the fact they could not find a handful of healthy pitchers. Clayton Kershaw missed time on the DL and only threw 149 innings, Brandon McCarthy (recovering from surgery) only pitched 40 innings, and Hyun-Jin Ryu’s career may very well be finished. The only qualified starter for the 2016 Dodgers was Kenta Maeda.
21 - Starts by Clayton Kershaw, who pitched the fewest innings since his 2008 rookie season. Kershaw was brilliant in most of his performances, including a dramatic performance as a closer to finish off the Nationals in the NLDS. Last season showed the Dodgers’ strength in depth in case he goes down midseason, but a healthy Kershaw is the key to any deep run the Dodgers will make in October.
9.35 - Strikeouts per nine innings for all Dodgers pitchers combined --- good for first in all of baseball. Despite the carousel of starting pitchers, Los Angeles still managed to league the league in both K/9 and total pitcher strikeouts (1510). Led by Kenley Jansen, the Dodgers’ bullpen finished 2016 first in ERA and third in bullpen fWAR (6.5).
1.186 - Yasmani Grandal’s 2016 OPS on first pitches. Grandal is an aggressive hitter who still manages to demonstrate plus plate discipline. Despite having an OBP 100 points higher than his batting average, Grandal teed off on most initial offerings he liked. At this point in his career, it looks like he’ll maintain a subpar batting average, but with a respectable OBP and close to 30-home-run power, he is a key cog to the Dodgers offense.
87.3 - Corey Seager’s combined hard-hit and medium-hit rate last season. The lefty-hitting Seager easily won the Rookie of the Year Award in 2016, earning 19 of 30 first place votes. The Dodgers have deeper pockets than nearly any other NL team, but Seager is a homegrown franchise player who can help drive the Dodgers to success. He hits the ball hard, rarely pops the ball up in the infield (a result about as useful as a strikeout), and plays quality defense at short. A repeat 7.5-fWAR performance by Seager can help the Dodgers win another NL West title.
1988 - The last time the Dodgers won the National League pennant. In the last 28 years, every NL West team has made it to the World Series, including two expansion teams. The Dodgers lack of success becomes even more glaring when you consider that their biggest rival has taken home five pennants and three World Series titles in that time.
San Francisco Giants
2016 Record: 87-75
2016 Results: Second place, lost in NLDS to Cubs (3-1)
2017 Projections: 87-75, second place
3.9 - Projected fWAR for newly-signed closer Mark Melancon, which would be an increase from an aggregate bullpen that posted only 2.1 wins in all of 2016. No team needed a stalwart in their relief corps like the Giants. Signed to a four-year deal, Melancon will have to maintain his status as an elite reliever despite suffering some velocity loss. His fastball has gone down about two MPH since 2014.
.474 - The Giants’ OPS against Clayton Kershaw, who shuts them down on a regular basis during the regular season. Look, it’s not surprising the best pitcher in baseball can handle a division rival’s lineup. What is amazing is how often that dominance occurs. Of Kershaw’s 21 regular season starts, five were against the Giants and in 36 innings, he posted a 2.00 ERA.
122 - Games played behind the dish by Buster Posey last season. (Posey benefits from getting some innings at first base, generally when the Giants face a lefty and Brandon Belt gets a day off.) Posey remains the best regular on the team. Last season, Posey’s wRC+ was the lowest of his career for a full season. Posey had lived between 136 and 142 for the last three seasons, so his dip in production was notiecable. For a team with few impact youngsters, Posey’s production and game-calling will be essential for the Giants to keep pace with LA.
240 2⁄3 - 2016 innings pitched by Madison Bumgarner, who went well over the 200-inning mark for the sixth consecutive season. Bumgarner seems to be at his best in the postseason; he shut down the Mets in a complete game-four hit shutout in the NL Wild Card game.
0.61 - Johnny Cueto’s home runs per nine innings. Cueto had the second-best home run rate (behind only Noah Syndergaard) and allowed only 15 home runs in over 219 innings. He had a career year by the Bay, posting a 1.84 BB/9 rate, also the lowest of his career. The Giants’ number-two starter will have to perform just as well in 2017 if the club wants to make noise in the senior circuit.
0 - Ninth-inning comebacks for the Giants in 2016. When they trailed in the ninth inning, the team lacked the firepower to come from behind and steal a victory. Grant Brisbee chronicled how rare this feat is in an article last September. After posting his piece, the Giants did win three games in which they were tied in the ninth inning, but still did not win a game where they trailed.
2016 Record: 75-87
2016 Results: Third place, missed playoffs
2017 Projections: 78-84, third place
7 - Starters for the Rockies who finished last season with a 106 wRC+ or greater. Sure, the Rockies benefit from playing in a thin-aired home stadium, but this team can hit. Led by Nolan Arenado, Trevor Story, and Carlos Gonzalez, the only real detriment in the lineup is the catcher position.
0 - Total career games played at first base by newly acquired “first baseman” Ian Desmond. Desmond posted a 106 wRC+ last year, en route to a 3.3-win season in Texas, per FanGraphs. Many pundits expected the next shoe to drop which would move Desmond off first, but here we are. Desmond is a good player and the transition to first should be fine, but the Rockies are missing out on defensive value in a vast Coors’ Field outfield.
4.49 / 3.97 - Projected earned run average and FIP for Colorado starters. Starting pitching was, is now, and probably always will be, the Rockies’ achilles heel. Jon Gray is entering a sophomore season after demonstrating that he can pitch well at home and on the road. With an even split in innings, he posted a 4.30 ERA at Coors and a 4.91 ERA away. He limited home runs by inducing soft or medium contact on nearly 70 percent of batted balls. For Gray to take a step forward, he’ll have to be more efficient, as the only way to increase his innings is for him to successfully go deeper into games. As expected, he suffered greatly the third time through the order last season, so efficiency in the early innings will be key.
2 - Relievers with projected K/9 over 10. Greg Holland and Adam Ottavino are 31-year-old veterans who can help the Rockies shorten games. Holland’s K/9 took a major step back from 12.99 in 2014 and 13.84 in 2013 to a good-not-great 9.87 in an injury-hampered 2015 campaign, before he went down to Tommy John surgery. In a park that allows lazy fly balls to leave the yard, limiting contact will be key in later innings. Ottavino posted a career high K/9 rate last season, which should help Colorado provided he can put up a full season after an injury-shortened 27 innings in 2016. Holland and Ottavino’s health could yet be an issue in the year to come.
19 - Games against each divisional opponent. This number is not unique to the Rockies, but if Colorado is to emerge as a wild card contender, they’ll have to hold their own against the Dodgers and Giants, and take advantage of the Diamondbacks and Padres. If they finish .500 against the Giants and Dodgers, but manage only a handful against either the Snakes or the Friars, they’re probably missing the playoffs. Colorado missed the playoffs by a large margin last year (12 games). They hovered around .500 against all their divisional rivals except the Dodgers (who beat them 12 out of 19). If they can pound the Padres and take advantage of a rebuilding DBacks team, they could surprise the NL.
2016 Record: 69-93
2016 Results: Fourth place, missed playoffs
2017 Projections: 76-86, fourth place
5.19 - Arizona starters’ ERA in 2016. The DBacks were uniformly unimpressive on the field last year, and they finished with the worst starter ERA in the National League. Robbie Ray led the staff with 3.0 fWAR. His 3.76 FIP was a full run lower than even the second-best starter on the team, though his ERA ended up an unpleasant 4.90.
6 - Average innings per start for Zack Greinke. Although he started 26 games, Greinke only totaled 158 2⁄3 innings. It simply was not a big enough workload to positively impact the team as much as a number-one starter on a $200+ million contract should. Greinke posted his lowest fWAR since 2007 (when he pitched fewer innings), his home run rate was his highest since 2006, and his K-BB% dropped more than five percentage points.
1.4 - Combined projected fWAR for both corner outfield spots going into 2017. The DBacks will have A.J. Pollock once again roaming center field after a brutal season-ending injury last year, but left and right field remain black holes. David Peralta is expected to be the starter in right field. Peralta had a career-year in 2014 but it looks at this point to be more of a blip than a breakout. The situation is even worse in left field where Yasmany Tomas’ defensive incompetence may make Diamondbacks fans yearn for Mark Trumbo’s glove.
74 - Strikeouts in 65 innings, as part of 25 saves for Fernando Rodney. Who cares about saves, you ask? Pretty often, contenders care about them! If Rodney is even a portion of his former self, there will be buyers who need bullpen help at the trade deadline. Whether or not Arizona truly admit it, they’re in rebuilding mode. The more assets they can trade, the better off this team will be in the long run.
San Diego Padres
2016 Record: 68-94
2016 Results: Fifth place, missed playoffs
2017 Projections: 65-97, fifth place
6 - Consecutive losing seasons in San Diego and eight out of the last nine years. The Padres have not won the West since 2006, when they were bounced in the NLDS by the 83-win Cardinals. It’s been a rough decade for baseball fans in SD.
56.4 - The Padres’ payroll (in millions), who are ahead of only the clearly rebuilding Brewers (and only just by $52,000). A decent chunk of that $56 million includes money owed to former Padres including Jedd Gyorko, Melvin Upton, and James Shields. Their ‘big’ acquisition this offseason was signing Jered Weaver for $3 million.
7.4 - Projected fWAR for the entire Padres pitching staff going into 2017. The projections are pretty ugly for the Pads starters. With minimal strikeout ceilings, a rotation headed by Luis Perdomo and Jarred Cosart looks pretty rough.
9 - Baseball America’s org ranking for San Diego, up from 25 in 2016. With years of frustration, futility, and failure, you would expect the Padres to have already put together a decent farm. Well, they were ranked in the bottom going into last season, but with the additions of Anderson Espinoza and Manuel Margot (both of whom were acquired from the Red Sox for an apparently injured Drew Pomeranz), and an emerging Hunter Renfroe (who excelled in his ‘cup of coffee’ at the bigs last year), the Padres are moving up the chain and looking towards the future.
157 - Games played last season by Wil Myers. Myers had never played more than 88 games in any season due to various injuries. He posted his highest isolated slugging (.202) and belted 28 homers en route to a near four-win season, per FanGraphs. Myers is young and cheap; he’s only 26, and is cost-controlled through 2019 (at $2-3 million per year). His salary then spikes to $20 million per year from 2020 through 2022. If he posts another season like 2016, the Padres might be compelled to trade him for a haul of prospects, considering the surplus value in the next few years. Their return will go down significantly if they wait much longer.
27 - Days to Opening Day!