Monday, February 19, 2007

VERSUS Part 3: San Diego Padres vs. Los Angeles Dodgers

Editor's Note: Most of my baseball-related posts here at "Solvent is So Yesterday" have thus far focused on comparing teams across specific dimensions of baseball talent (e.g. hitting, fielding, and pitching). This method of presenting the data provides a lot of utility in explicating exactly what a team does well or not so well, but it also limits our ability to view teams at a holistic level. For example, the numbers indicate that the Red Sox will be strong on offense and in the rotation, but weak on defense and in relief. How good a team does that make them?

Like any good analyst, we need an alternate window into the data, different ways to mix and match the data. With that in mind, I think it is interesting to compare two teams across all the dimensions we have thus far studied, to get an idea of relative strength. The compared teams have been linked to each other, either by related characteristics or because they have a direct competition with each other.

In this, the final of a planned three part series, I compare the fortunes of the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Diego Padres, who have generally been chosen by preseason analysts as the top two teams in the NL West.

The Dodgers and Padres finished 2006 tied atop the weak NL West, each team winning 88 games on their ways to the playoffs. These SoCal rivals have taken the last three division titles between them (the Dodgers of the magical 2004 DePodesta season, and the Padres both in 2005 and 2006), and both teams have made the playoffs two of the last three years. (a decent proxy for conventional wisdom) gives the Dodgers a 35% chance of winning the division and the Padres 25%, making these two teams the favorites for the division title in 2007. ESPN Sports Nation (another proxy for conventional wisdom) ranked the Dodgers as the 7th best MLB team, and the Padres the 15th best. In short, the conventional wisdom is that both of these teams will contend for the division crown, with many seeing the Dodgers as the superior team.

Competitive Landscape
In order to reach the playoffs, what types of hurdles will these teams have to clear? The road to the playoffs in the NL is much easier than the AL road. Beyond the Cardinals, there are no teams that look like extremely strong bets to make the playoffs. The wildcard could certainly come from the NL West, as it did in 2006. The Dodgers and Padres will also have to watch out for Arizona, who seem much improved and have a good chance to challenge for the wildcard or division.

Taking the projections from my NL Lineup Preview, the starting line-ups compare as follow:

Los Angeles Dodgers
: 4.59 RPG
San Diego Padres
: 5.04 RPG

I had to say I was amazed at the magnitude of the difference between these two teams. Did I somehow reverse the numbers? The Dodgers finished fourth in the NL in scoring last season (5.06 RPG) despite a pitching friendly park. The Padres, by contrast, finished 13th in the league with 4.51 RPG. What gives? Well, to first address the predicted collapse of the Dodger's offense, one has to consider a number of factors:

  1. The loss of J.D. Drew. Yes, he is injury prone. Yes, he believes in the healing power of crystals. Nonetheless, Drew appeared in 146 games with the Dodgers, last year, and put up a .980 OPS. Replacing him this year will be a rapidly aging Luis Gonzalez.
  2. The Dodgers got a number of surprisingly good performances from youngsters and vets in part-time roles last year, performances that are unlikely to be matched again this year. Andre Ethier, Jose Cruz Jr., Olmedo Saenz, Kenny Lofton, Bill Mueller, and James Loney all put up very good numbers in limited time. Certainly this speaks to the Dodgers unique depth last year. That sort of depth is difficult to retain on a long-term basis, and the Dodgers will likely suffer from the loss or regression of many of those players next year.
  3. Juan Pierre. The suckiness of Juan Pierre can not be overstated.
The 2006 Padres offense was in many ways the polar opposite of the Dodgers, in which they suffered injury (Khalil Greene) and poor performance (Vinny Castilla) of many starters, and got generally atrocious bench contributions (World Series hero Mark Bellhorn). Thus, despite the obvious superiority of the Dodgers' offense last year, I expect a role reversal this year.

Comparing the benches, while recognizing that bench composition is still a relative unknown at this point:

Los Angeles Dodgers
Mike Lieberthal
James Loney
Ramon Martinez
Matt Kemp
Jason Repko

San Diego Padres

Rob Bowen
Russell Branyan
Geoff Blum
Jose Cruz Jr.
Todd Walker

Both benches are amongst the best in the NL. A weighted average Runs Created (RC) gives the Dodgers bench 4.9 RC and the Padres 4.8 RC, a small win for Los Angeles. In addition, I would give the edge to Los Angeles for building depth at their most injury prone positions (Nomar at 1B and Luis Gonzalez at LF), while the Padres do not have strong backups for Khalil Green or Marcus Giles. It is certainly possible that injuries to starters could reverse the fortunes of these teams very quickly. Nevertheless, in th absence of injury, I have to say:

Edge: HUGE EDGE San Diego Padres (5+ wins)

Taking the projections from my NL Rotation Analysis, the rotations compare as follow:

Los Angeles Dodgers: 4.54 EqERA, 948 IP
San Diego Padres
: 4.36 EqERA, 980 IP

The Dodgers hype train this offseason seems to have been attached mostly to the "strong starting pitching" meme. The Dodgers certainly have a lot of depth (as is a trademark of the team since Ned Colletti took over). However, they don't appear to have a lot of quality. PECOTA does not think Jason Schmidt has the stuff to remain a staff ace, is hedging its bets on returning from injury Randy Wolf, and does not think much of Chad Billingsley (a viewpoint I share. Dude was mad lucky last year). Quietly, the Padres have put together a strong rotation with a true ace (Jake Peavy) and a number of quality innings eaters (Greg Maddux, David Wells, and Chris Young).

Edge: San Diego Padres (1-2 wins)

Taking the projections from my NL Bullpen Analysis, the bullpens compare as follow:

Los Angeles Dodgers: 3.97 EqERA
San Diego Padres: 3.90 EqERA

Two strong bullpens (by NL standards). PECOTA likes the front end of the San Diego bullpen better, but prefers the back end of LA's.

Edge: Push

Taking the projections from my Team Fielding Preview, the defenses compare as follow:

Los Angeles Dodgers: -6 Runs/150 Games
San Diego Padres: +5 Runs/150 Games

As a final nail in the "Dodgers in 2007" coffin, consider that the San Diego team defense is projected to be quite strong while the Dodgers will be trotting out a bunch of guys that used to be good at defense.

Edge: San Diego (1+ win)

Putting it all Together

The Dodgers are getting a lot of misguided positive hype in my opinion, stemming largely from an incredible amount of "name-brand" depth. No doubt the Dodgers have household names at nearly every position, and young players with upside available for the inevitable injury. They have more quantity depth than almost any other MLB team. However, a huge quantity of mediocre is still mediocre. At season's end, I expect the Dodgers to be fighting for a 0.500 record. The Padres are projected to be superior in every aspect of the game, and the above analysis indicates that San Diego is 8-10 wins better than the Dodgers.

I'll keep the summation as short as possible:
San Diego is going to challenge for the NL West title, and Los Angeles is going to be one of the biggest disappointments in all of baseball.

1 comment:

Pie said...

I completely agree with your asessment. Casual fans these days don't even research stuff, they just listen to ESPN.