By Eno Sarris
It’s no surprise that a team with big strikeout men Mark Reynolds and Chris Young in the lineup has above-average power and a below-average batting average. A little more development from their best hitter, Justin Upton, and some steps forward from their post-hype sleepers Stephen Drew and Miguel Montero, and this team could actually develop the best offense in their division. They certainly have a nice young core.
The staff is well above average, with sneaky ace Dan Haren leading the way. If Brandon Webb can recover his health, they’ll form a potent one-two duo once again. Newcomers Edwin Jackson and Ian Kennedy can make for decent NL middle-of-the-rotation guys, too, even if their pasts have been checkered. They’ll enjoy striking out pitchers this year, after spending the past few years in the American League. Chad Qualls and Juan Gutierrez are different pitchers – Qualls has a little more control, Gutierrez a little more gas – but they are a good combo at the end of the pen. Qualls in particular is a very good closer who’s being priced like a bargain-basement guy right now. Don’t be afraid to draft him a round or two above his ADP.
It’s not surprising that the Bloomberg Sports team spider graph identifies Troy Tulowitzki as the best player on the Rockies. His power from a premium defensive position makes this offense hum. Young Ian Stewart has the potential to be a poor man’s Mark Reynolds, and the team has buckets of upside hanging out in the outfield – Seth Smith, Dexter Fowler, and Carlos Gonzalez comprise one of the best collections of young outfielders in the game. Veterans Brad Hawpe and Todd Helton are still there to provide a bridge to all the young talent.
The rotation is led by underrated ace Ubaldo Jimenez. Jorge De La Rosa is searching for a breakout season: He strikes batter out, but also gives up too many walks. It’s a good thing that the Rockies still have young lefty Franklin Morales around, since Huston Street signed a contract extension and promptly hit the DL with shoulder trouble.
Los Angeles Dodgers
The oufield boasts fantasy first-rounder Matt Kemp, solid young player Andre Ethier, and venerable slugger Manny Ramirez. If this above-average offense is going to get any better, though, it’ll because James Loney finally takes a step forward. Young Blake DeWitt gets another chance to prove his mettle, this time at second base, with a little more seasoning under his belt. Even Casey Blake is quietly effective.
For all of the belly-aching about the lack of a true ace in Los Angeles, Clayton Kershaw certainly has the strikeout rate and wipeout stuff of a number-one starter, and Chad Billingsley is a solid number-two. Their pen is also pretty exciting with stud Jon Broxton anchoring the team on his massive quads alone. The back of the rotation won’t produce as much value as last year, though, with Randy Wolf shipped off to Milwaukee after a strong 2009 season.
San Diego Padres
The book says that the Padres have a bad offense and a good staff, but is the book right? Maybe it’s just run-supressing Petco Park that gives fans that impression. The Bloomberg Sports team Spider Graph suggest that the team stacks up rather differently. Instead, it’s the staff falling behind the average team in ERA, WHIP and strikeouts, despite those pitcher-friendly park effects. Perhaps young fireballer Mat Latos can help them turn that rotation around. He had an impressive showing in his rookie season last year.
On the offensive side of the ball, Adrian Gonzalez and Chase Headley provide good power without the aid of the greatest batting averages. Young players Kyle Blanks and Everth Cabrera also provide run creation with low batting averages coupled with on-base ability and a blend of power (Blanks) and speed (Cabrera). There’s reason for hope here, even if it comes with a .242 team batting average.
San Francisco Giants
The average age of the Giants pitching staff is 26.8 years old. The starting lineup? 28.4. Take Pablo “Kung Fu Panda” Sandoval out of that lineup, and the other geezers pull the offense to an average age of over 30. Fittingly, the team has an exciting young staff that keeps their boring old offense in just enough games to matter for most of the year. Will the offense do any better this year?
The Panda needs a robin, but will that be one of the new veterans, Aubrey Huff, Freddy Sanchez or Mark DeRosa? Each has had a nice season in the last two years, and each is basically coming off an average or below-average season. GM Brian Sabean was probably looking at those career seasons when he signed each of them. Without some repeats of those career seasons, though, this will be a roster full of guys with .280 batting averages and 20-home run power. Opposing pitchers are already circling their scheduled starts against the Giants as we speak.
Meanwhile, the pitching staff will remain elite. All Tim Lincecum has going for him are two straight Cy Young awards. Matt Cain is one of the best number-two starters in the game. Barry Zito is a reliable, above-average innings eater who’s a valuable commodity, monster contract aside. Jonathan Sanchez is a dynamic young lefty with the ability to post annual 200-strikeout seasons. Brian Wilson has quietly emerged as one of the best closers in the game. Even the top set-up men, Sergio Romo and Jeremy Affeldt, are worth a look in deep leagues.