Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Things I Didn't Know: NL West

In coming weeks, you will have innumerable opportunities to read previews of the upcoming season. I dug through last year's results and came up with items for each team that you probably won't see in the previews but that I thought were interesting.

National League first, going left to right, so starting with the NL West.

Los Angeles Dodgers, 92-70: There were only four teams in the National League with winning records on the road. Of them, the Dodgers had the best record, 45-36, even though their overall record was only third best in the league. Often teams that play in idiosyncratic ballparks (Dodger Stadium is one of the league's more extreme pitchers' parks) have a hard time on the road. Not the Dodgers.

Arizona Diamondbacks, 81-81: The Diamondbacks had the best record in the league in one-run games, 34-21. Despite what you hear about that indicating tenaciousness, clutch ability, or a strong bullpen, a lot of it's luck. Arizona led the league in one-run wining percentage in 2011, with a 28-16 record. In 2012 they finished 13 games lower in the standings as their one-run game record cratered to 15-27. The best teams in one-run games in 2012 were the Reds (31-21) and Giants (30-20), who lost 7 and 18 more games in 2013, respectively. Winning one-run games is generally not a repeatable skill, so doing well at it one year often results in a slide in the next.

As an aside, remember the big trade before last season in which the Braves sent Martin Prado and four others to the Diamondbacks for Justin Upton and Chris Johnson? Everybody laughed that one off after Upton had a huge April, with a .298/.402/.734 slash line and 12 homers, while Prado struggled to .217/.266/.348. Well, for the rest of the season, Upton hit .256/.343/.409 while Prado hit .298/.348/.433. Take away April and Prado was the better hitter! But Johnson, who was viewed as almost a throw-in in accounts highlighting Prado and Upton, was as good or better: .321/.358/.457 for the season, tipping the trade, so far, in Atlanta's favor.

San Diego Padres, 76-86: San Diego had a disappointing team ERA of 3.98 last year. The league average was 3.74. It's tempting to blame that on Petco Park, as the fences were brought in last year and the Padres hurlers gave up 80 home runs compared to 62 the year before. But the problem wasn't Petco, it was the pitchers. Away from Petco, Padres pitchers had a 4.78 ERA, the worst in the NL. Petco's still a pitchers' park, and it helped mask the pitching staff's shortcomings.

San Francisco Giants, 76-86: Giants pitchers were fourth in the league in strikeouts with 1,256. Cain, Lincecum and others throwing heat? Hardly. The team threw fewer fastballs (four-seam and two-seam combined) in the league, 50% of pitches thrown, at the lowest average speed, 90.0 MPH. The Giants threw a ton of sliders, 26% of pitches thrown, easily the most in the league.

Colorado Rockies, 74-88: As I noted, there is evidence that the best pitches for Coors Field, the Rockies' hitter-favoring thin-air home park, are sliders and cut fastballs. The Rockies apparently didn't read the whole article I referenced. They threw 19% sliders, tied with the Brewers for the third most in the league, but only a little over 1% cutters. Then again, their only pitchers who used a cutter much were Chad Bettis (5.64 ERA), Jon Garland (5.82), and Jeff Francis (6.27), so maybe we need more evidence that the pitch can work at Coors. In the meantime, perhaps they should talk to the Giants' pitching coaches about slider proliferation.

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