Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Second Best: National League West Edition

Building on the earlier run down of the American League's, and in the spirit of not biting off more than I can chew, here's my take on the second best batter on each team in the N.L. West. As before, the goal is to see who has elite-level depth, and what great performances are hiding in the shadows.

Arizona: Orlando Hudson
Line: .294/.376/.441
Sigh. This is a sad story, and a big reason that the odds are in favour of the Cubs in the first round of the playoffs. The All Star's season came to an end at the start of September when he tore a ligament in his thumb sliding into third base. It makes his ranking all the more impressive -- he might have finished ahead of Eric Byrnes (35.2) absent the collision. Instead, the Diamondbacks are left with the Alberto & Augie combination. Alberto Callaspo is particularly disastrous: in just 156 plate appearances he managed an OPS of .536 and a VORP of -10.8. The other notable fact is that Hudson is usually seen first as a defensive specialist. This ranking reminds us that he was a key driver for the D'backs' run production, albeit on a team that scored only 712 runs. In fact, Hudson's run production has been at or above league average since coming to desert, and the team is paying just $3.9 million a year for his services.

Colorado: Todd Helton
Line: .320/.434/.494
Forget the mystery plate tag. This is why the Rockies are in the playoffs: they have elite-level depth. Towering above Helton this year is outfielder Matt Holliday who has an NL West-leading 75 VORP. Backing them up are the three Rockies' hitters with VORPs over 30 (Tulowitzki, Hawpe and Atkins). The young hitters bring some much-needed financial discipline to the club, who are using 30% of their payroll for Helton. The Rockies paid him $16.6 million this year and are on the hook for a minimum $73.5 million through 2011 assuming they choose not to exercise a fantastical $23 million option for the 2012 season when he'll be 39. While Helton is still producing for the club, it's no longer in the same way they imagined. In the four seasons before Helton signed his nine-year deal he hit an average of 39 homeruns a year; in the last three seasons he's averaged just 17. And he's grown a goatee. "I have my reasons for having it on there," he said this pre-season. In my books, that means he's got something to hide.

San Diego: Khalil Greene
VORP: 23.0
Line: .254/.291/.468
This wasn't the answer I wanted -- I was hoping for an old favourite of mine, Brian Giles. Instead, I've got the mopiest looking Padre of them all. At least he's a former Golden Spikes winner, and the Padres homerun leader at the position (it doesn't take much). Greene is the shortstop for one of the cheapest infields in baseball. It's remarkable. Josh Bard (C - $1.05M), Adrian Gonzalez (1B - $500K), Marcus Giles (2B - $3.25M), Kevin Kouzmanoff(3B - $380K), and Greene ($2.25 M) combine to make just $7 million, while delivering a VORP of 94.2 (yes, this subtracts Giles' negative contribution).

Los Angeles: Jeff Kent
Line: .302/.375/.500
Does Kent lack leadership and have a tough time dealing with black players? Don't know. But he can still slug the ball. This year Kent is in the shadow of breakout star Russell Martin, and the troublesome Loney has got his back. He hit 20 homeruns -- quite something for a 39-year-old second baseman -- and recorded his 16th straight year of above-average adjusted OPS. The Dodgers have a $9 million option on Kent for next year, and you can be they're going to exercise it.

San Francisco: Randy Winn
Line: .300/.353/.445
It's a very, very bad sign when this is your second-best. Winn's production was worth less than half of the Giant's leading slugger, Barry Bonds (55.2 VORP). And with Bonds not invited back to San Francisco, the club's going to lose a lot of baseball games next year. Winn will make $16 million over the next two years to watch it happen -- and he may well be the club's batting leader. Who'd be second best to Winn? Bengie the Molina.

Final Thoughts. The NL West's second bests are giants and dwarves. The veterans Helton and Kent are far ahead of the pack, and part of teams with considerable high-end depth. Hudson is in the middle, and will hopefully see Arizona's youngsters blossom around him in future seasons. As for Winn and Greene, there is not much nice to be said. San Francisco was a one-man show and the show's leaving town. San Diego was a team whose success was driven by pitching, not batting.

NL West Second Best
51.9 Todd Helton (1B)
40.3 Jeff Kent (2B)
32.8 Orlando Hudson (2B)
26.4 Randy Winn (OF)
23.0 Khalil Greene (SS)

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