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May 8, 2000

NL West Notebook

All Hail The Unit, Fun At Altitude

by Dave Pease

All Hail The Unit

Early on, the divisional race looks to be between the Diamondbacks (21-10 as this is written) and the Dodgers (17-13, 3 1/2 games back).

If there's a dominant force that created this situation, his name is Randy Johnson, who is 7-0 with an ERA lower than Mickey Mantle's blood alcohol count. Johnson easily occupies the top spot in Michael Wolverton's Support-Neutral Win/Loss metric, and he gets the nod over Pedro Martinez by being every bit as good as Martinez, but pitching even more innings and giving the bullpen a rest every time he takes the mound. Johnson is a different physical specimen than any other pitcher in baseball, and he's shown he can absorb huge pitch counts without a hitch. He is the best pitcher in the National League, the best free-agent signing the division has seen in years and the reason I expect the Diamondbacks to edge the Dodgers at the wire.

As if Johnson needed any more help, the Diamondbacks are scheduled to welcome back third baseman Matt Williams sometime around Memorial Day. His replacements (Lenny Harris, Andy Fox and Danny Klassen) have been decidedly suboptimal. They've posted a composite OPS under 600 with defense best described as "interesting".

Fun At Altitude

Todd Helton is having the season we thought he'd have last year. Think his numbers are the Coors Effect in action? Let's take a look at the first basemen around the division (all stats through May 5, DTs courtesy of Clay Davenport's EQA report):

Name                   OBP   SLG  EPEQA  EPEQR
Erubiel Durazo        .456  .616   .345   16.8
Todd Helton           .477  .743   .342   22.3
Ryan Klesko           .349  .547   .294   16.0
J.T. Snow             .321  .365   .236    9.6
Eric Karros           .312  .441   .232    9.6

Jeff Cirillo is starting to heat up as well. It would be a mild surprise if Helton and Cirillo don't each end up with a top five batting average this season.

After five horrendous starts, Brian Bohanon has been banished to the bullpen. With Rolando Arrojo back, Bohanon may not start another game for the Rockies.

David Lee went from the closer role to the minor leagues in record time, so less than a year after throwing a no-hitter, Jose Jimenez is getting the saves for the Rockies. Jimenez is certainly as good a bet to crash and burn as Lee was, so who knows who the closer is going to be next month?

And in our Rockies Outfielder Watch (Past and Present):

Name             OBP   SLG  EPEQA  EPEQR
Bichette        .274  .324   .181    5.9
Hammonds        .413  .625   .290    6.1


  • After their horrific one-year hiatus in 1999, the Dodgers again sport one of the better pitching staffs in the league. Kevin Brown has been excellent and shows no sign of his broken pinky troubling him, and Eric Gagne and Darren Dreifort have been solid. Chan Ho Park and, in a surprise, Carlos Perez have given the Dodgers a chance during their starts.

  • Meanwhile, though Todd Hundley is again having well-documented problems with the running game (18-2 SB/CS through June 5), he's swatting the ball with the authority he hasn't had since his shoulder surgery in 1997. That's a complete package you can win with.

  • Do the Padres have the worst bullpen in the league? The team could be at .500 or better with a league-average relief corps. Carlos Almanzar has been the prime culprit, displaying a penchant for giving up the three-run homer that Padres fans haven't seen since Calvin "The Mad Bomber" Schiraldi left town. The problem? Obviously, lack of depth; Steve Montgomery's stint on the disabled list, Donne Wall's short bout with tendinitis and Dan Miceli (the team's appearances leader in 1998-99) being traded to Florida left the team depending on Almanzar and Will Cunnane more heavily than they would have liked. Bruce Bochy's insistance on keeping Trevor Hoffman a one-inning closer isn't helping, either.

  • San Francisco fans are having fun watching the best offense in the league, but consider this: they aren't close to hitting on all cylinders. Barry Bonds, Ellis Burks and Jeff Kent have been outstanding, but Bobby Estalella hasn't been able to shake Doug Mirabelli yet. More importantly, Bill Mueller, Marvin Benard, Rich Aurilia and J.T. Snow are all off their game.

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

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