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March 14, 1999

NL West Notebook

Divisional offense outlook for 1999

by Dave Pease

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS (1998: 665 runs, .245 Equivalent Average)

Lineup (with projected Equivalent Average)
LF Tony Womack .251
CF Steve Finley .267
1B Travis Lee .307
3B Matt Williams .268
RF Luis Gonzalez .269
2B Jay Bell .276
SS Tony Batista .273
C Kelly Stinnett .273

There's nothing rosy about this team's future offensively; they'll be poisonous, but only to their pitching staff, which stands to lose lots of 3-2 contests this season. Organizational Dictator Buck Showalter gets lots of adoring press, and sometimes his no-nonsense manner is refreshing, but since arriving in Arizona he has shown no sign that he can fix what is broken with an offense that ranked as the league's worst in 1998. The offseason additions to an already old and bad team show how the D-Backs are taking two steps back for every one they take forward: new CF Steve Finley wasn't even a plus player last year, and he probably won't be during the four years of his new contract. "Leadoff hitter" Tony Womack is the NL's equivalent to Detroit's Brian Hunter--speed to burn and little ability to steal first. Look for Showalter to play lots of one-run strategies with this bunch this year. Actually, with the talent Arizona has assembled at the plate (their worst hitters may actually be batting leadoff, second, and cleanup), and with reasonable speed on the basepaths, that's actually a good idea.

Projected offensive rank in NL West: fifth

COLORADO ROCKIES (1998: 826 runs, .261 EqA)

CF Darryl Hamilton .261
1B Todd Helton .297
RF Larry Walker .331
LF Dante Bichette .265
3B Vinny Castilla .278
C Jeff Reed .281
2B Mike Lansing .254
SS Neifi Perez .245

Things may be looking up for this team's offense. Jim Leyland is less likely to screw around with bunting runners over and double steals and all the other managerial hijinks that Don Baylor found so fascinating, so the Rockies could see something of a watershed year. As an offense, the team is obviously old/experienced and somewhat impatient at the plate, and that probably isn't going to change. Leyland may very well try to exploit his "platoon" of Jeff Reed and Kirt "The Human Out Machine" Manwaring at catcher by giving both similar playing time, in a throwback to the Spanky/Sluggo days in Pittsburgh. In this case, that'd be a major mistake. Look for the team to again put up gaudy thin-air numbers that mask the fact that only Larry Walker is appreciably above-average at his position. If the team gets a clue and bats Hamilton first and Helton second, Walker could easily put up 150 RBI.

Projected offensive rank in NL West: third

LOS ANGELES DODGERS (1998: 669 runs, .255 EqA)

2B Eric Young .265
CF Devon White .260
LF Gary Sheffield .338
1B Eric Karros .281
RF Raul Mondesi .290
C Todd Hundley .298
3B Adrian Beltre .294
SS Mark Grudzielanek .241

Davey Johnson inherits a team that actually has quite a few similarities to the Rockies: one bankable superstar in Gary Sheffield, a potentially awesome corner infielder in Adrian Beltre, and a team with few other major positives offensively. Probably 90% of the difference between the two teams is Todd Hundley at catcher, who could easily make the Dodger faithful forget Mike Piazza if his elbow is sound. Unfortunately, he's already missing time this spring due to the elbow, and if he hits like he did last year, I'd rather have Jeff Reed. The top of the Dodger lineup could give the Diamondbacks a run for their money as worst in the division if the team insists on playing Eric Young and Devon White in the top two slots. This offense is one superstar away from being a positive, and if both Hundley and Beltre hit like they can, it could be one of the best in the NL.

Projected rank in NL West: second

SAN DIEGO PADRES (1998: 749 runs, .274 EqA)

2B Quilvio Veras .282
LF Reggie Sanders .273
RF Tony Gwynn .298
1B Wally Joyner .286
3B George Arias .270
C Carlos Hernandez .219
SS Chris Gomez .264
CF Ruben Rivera .230

The league champions have undergone major personnel changes in the offseason, and the new faces are bound to be jarring to San Diegans who were so familiar with last year's players. While the moves the team made were on the whole reasonable, they aren't likely to help the offense this season, because the replacements for Ken Caminiti, Steve Finley, and Greg Vaughn aren't top-notch players themselves. With Tony Gwynn likely to slide further, and Wally Joyner a part-time contributor at this point, the offensive outlook of this team is fairly bleak. To add to the unfortunate prognosis, not only did the team sign the wildly overrated Carlos Hernandez to a shiny new contract and anoit him the team's front line catcher, but there is talk about batting him fifth with regularity--a move that would be Zimmerian in its foolishness. The more time pinch hitter extraordinaire Jim Leyritz (projected for a .270 EqA) puts in behind the plate and platooning with Joyner at first, the better off this team is going to be.

Projected rank in NL West: fourth

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS (1998: 845, .278 EqA)

CF Marvin Benard .267
3B Bill Mueller .283
LF Barry Bonds .350
2B Jeff Kent .287
RF Ellis Burks .287
1B J.T. Snow .289
SS Rich Aurilia .252
C Brent Mayne .249

The perennially underrated Giants return largely intact for another "surprising" run at the division title. Their success in recent years has been almost completely the result of a consistent and occasionally excellent offense, and that's exactly what the team should bring to the table in 1999. The largely hands-off Dusty Baker is exactly what an offense like this needs: he doesn't go crazy for Pokey Reese-quality players, his lineups are reasonable (Bill Mueller, in particular, wouldn't be nearly as effective anywhere else in the lineup) and his players, to a man, love playing for him. There's plenty to quibble with regarding his in-game strategy, but he's going to get a good performance out of his team every season.

Projected rank in NL West: first

Dave Pease is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Dave's other articles. You can contact Dave by clicking here

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