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April 9, 1999

NL West Notebook

Divisional defensive outlook for 1999

by Dave Pease

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS (1998: 812 runs allowed, T-13th in NL)

Rotation
Randy Johnson, L
Todd Stottlemyre, R
Andy Benes, R
Omar Daal, L
Armando Reynoso, R

Bullpen
Gregg Olson, R
Amaury Telemaco, R (DL)
John Frascatore, R
Brian Anderson, L
Greg Swindell, L
Darren Holmes, R

Alternatives
Vlad Nunez, R

Here's where all the money went during the offseason, and the payoff for the Diamondbacks should be immediate: they won't rank nearly this low in runs allowed in 1999. All the newcomers are likely to perform well, with the caveat that Armando Reynoso is as fragile as they come, and was probably an extraneous pickup, since it forced Brian Anderson into the pen. Buck Showalter has gotten into the habit of sticking with his starting pitchers for as long as possible, and after last winter's shopping spree, that should be even more noticeable in 1999.

That's good news for the bullpen, which has also been improved. I don't buy the Gregg Olson Comeback quite yet, so one of the newcomers (John Frascatore? Darren Holmes?) could be the closer soon. Anderson will be a wasted talent in long relief, Swindell has fashioned a new career for himself as a lefty out of the pen who can pitch consecutive innings, and Amaury Telemaco was successful as both a starter and a reliever last year.

The Diamondbacks replaced Devon White, their major defensive offseason defector, with Steve Finley, an excellent center fielder in his own right. Jay Bell has taken well to the move to second base, and Matt Williams is solid. Travis Lee is an outfield-quality defensive player playing at first base. On the down side, Luis Gonzalez is not the player he once was, and who knows what "outfielder" Tony Womack is going to do when he comes off the DL?

COLORADO ROCKIES (1998: 855 runs allowed, 15th in NL)

Rotation
Darryl Kile, R
Pedro Astacio, R
John Thomson, R
Jamey Wright, R
Brian Bohanon, L

Bullpen
Curtis Leskanic, R
Mike DeJean, R
Jerry Dipoto, R
Dave Veres, R
Chuck McElroy, L
Bobby Jones, L

Alternatives
Jimmy Stoops, R
Mark Brownson, L

The Rox' starting pitching was again unterrible in 1998 when you get that home field factor out of the numbers. Hopefully, new manager Jimmy Leyland will go easier on Jamey Wright and John Thompson's arms than he did with his young charges in Florida. Wright especially needs to take a big step up this year for the Rockies to have a chance at the division. Kile's season was fairly predictable, and not really bad, in 1998; look for more of the same from him. The big question mark in the rotation is import Brian Bohanon; coming off a career year in a couple of pitcher's parks, he's an early candidate for Biggest Flop Signing in 1999.

The bullpen remains the cornerstone of this team. Leyland is comfortable with the closer-by-committee setup that the team is obviously suited for; Dave Veres is probably their best reliever and is coming off a strong 1998, but look for the saves to be spread around. Expect Leyland to use the pen less than Don Baylor did last year; Curt Leskanic, in particular, may benefit from working fewer innings. Overall, an excellent group.

The defense isn't as good as you'd like in a park as unforgiving as Coors Field, but it could be worse. At his best, Fonzie Bichette was a DH with a strong arm, and he's years and pounds away from that. Walker remains strong, and Darryl Hamilton still covers ground in center. Infield defense is solid enough with Neifi Perez at short, Vinny Castilla at third, and Todd Helton at first. Mike Lansing, who had problems with his back last year, appears to be healthy again.

LOS ANGELES DODGERS

Rotation
Kevin Brown, R
Chan Ho Park, R
Ismael Valdes, R
Carlos Perez, L
Darren Driefort, R

Bullpen
Jeff Shaw, R
Dave Mlicki, R
Mel Rojas, R
Antonio Osuna, R (DL)
Onan Masaoka, L
Alan Mills, R
Pedro Borbon, L

Alternatives
Jeff Kubenka, L
Mike Judd, R

Peter Gammons is right in noting that the Dodgers have six starters, but are they really six good starters? For the most part, yes. The rotation benefits from pitching in Chavez Ravine, but they are the best in the division top to bottom no matter where they pitch. If Davey Johnson is careful with Darren Driefort, he'll be rewarded in spades, provided that Johnson sticks around longer than a couple of years.

Jeff Shaw's a good closer, Rojas and Osuna should have fine years themselves, and Dave Mlicki has the potential to be one of the best long relievers in the league (if he isn't starting). The Dodgers picked some interesting lefties for the pen; Borbon is coming off a major elbow operation, and Masaoka is a converted minor-league starter. It's heartening that Greg Cadaret and Chris Haney were deep-sixed; less so that Jeff Kubenka failed to make the team, and that's not just because I own him in Scoresheet.

The Dodgers are another team with strengths that effectively cancel out their weaknesses defensively. Devon White remains great in center, and helps make up for Gary Sheffield's borderline incredible indifference. Adrian Beltre should develop into a fine third baseman, but he's not there yet. If Mark Grudzielanek starts at short, prepare for some errant throws and 5.5 grounders this season. Eric Young doesn't have great range but is solid on the pivot, and Karros is of similar quality at first.

SAN DIEGO PADRES

Rotation
Andy Ashby, R
Sterling Hitchcock, L
Woody Williams, R
Stan Spencer, R
Matt Clement, R

Bullpen
Trevor Hoffman, R
Dan Miceli, R
Donne Wall, R
Brian Boehringer, R
Randy Myers, L (DL)
Carlos Reyes, R

Alternates
Ed Vosberg, L (DL)

You can't take much more of a hit to your starting five than to lose someone like Kevin Brown. The Padres sport a rotation that could be potentially very solid, but has question marks throughout. Was Andy Ashby's 1998 for real? (Probably.) How about Sterling Hitchcock? (He's likely going to take a big step forward; he was on cruise control in the playoffs.) Woody Williams doesn't have the tools Joey Hamilton does, but he pitches less indifferently than Hamilton, so that's a plus. Clement is a great prospect, while Spencer is an interesting experiment. Nevertheless, with the loss of Brown, the Padres rotation obviously won't be as good as it was last year.

Trevor Hoffman is as steady as they come in the bullpen, but both Donne Wall and Dan Miceli stand to slide from their excellent 1998 campaigns. Randy Myers probably is not long for San Diego, and leaves the Padres without an experienced lefty in the bullpen while he's on the DL. Look for Brian Boehringer to get more work from Bruce Bochy this year; his control can't get much worse, and he should respond well.

The defense in San Diego improved with the offseason moves the team made. New third baseman George Arias exhibits the range, if not the arm, of Ken Caminiti in his prime. Gomez, Veras and Joyner round out a capable infield. Tony Gwynn's range is worse than Silverchair's music at this point in his career, but at least he was good once. Ruben Rivera and Reggie Sanders are fine defenders at the other outfield spots.

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS

Rotation
Shawn Estes, R
Kirk Rueter, L
Mark Gardner, R
Russ Ortiz, R
Chris Brock, R

Bullpen
Robb Nen, R
Alan Embree, L
Rich Rodriguez, L
Julian Tavarez, R
Felix Rodriguez, R
Miguel Del Toro, R
John Johnstone, R

Alternates
Jason Grilli, R

It could turn into a firestorm of runs scored by opposing teams in the Bay Area this season, with the Giants' staff battling age and ineffectiveness. Shawn Estes has excellent stuff, but his control was a joke last year after being solid in 1997. Since 1997 was the outlier, he may be in for another long season. Rueter is underpowering but solid, and Gardner had a good year last year. Unfortunately, he's 37. Russ Ortiz has a future, but he wasn't compatible with major league pitching in his trial last season; we may have to wait for version 2.0. Opposing batters lick their chops when Chris Brock is scheduled to start, so look for the Giants to make a move for a starter or take a look at prospect Jason Grilli before too long.

Dusty Baker works his pen hard, and they respond well, year after year, although some of their guys wear out by August. This year's model shouldn't be any different. Closer Robb Nen probably can't do what he did last year, but he's an excellent nonetheless. Alan Embree will probably grab most of Julian Tavarez' innings after the latter's subpar season in 1998. Newcomer Felix Rodriguez is all bark and no bite, and Baker won't put up with his wild ways for long.

Defensively, the Giants have a very strong team, with only second baseman Jeff Kent perceptibly below average. Third baseman Bill Mueller is very smooth around the bag when his toe isn't broken, and the outfield of Bonds, Benard and Burks should cover a lot of ground.

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

Related Content:  Starting Rotation,  Rotation,  Jeff Clement

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