It’s no longer breaking news that the NL West this season is the paltriest of divisions. The West, at this juncture, is a cumulative 58 games under .500 (which, of course, means they’re 58 games under .500 against teams from outside the division) and has an aggregate run differential of -479. Thanks to the folly of the unbalanced schedule, it’s likely that eventual division champ will manage a winning record, but that’s a contrived merit.
Anyhow, that this year’s NL West is among the worst divisions since divisional play began in 1969 is beyond dispute, and I’m hardly the first one to point this out. So let’s delve a little more deeply into the “rolling brownout” that is the NL West.
What we’ll do is construct an NL West VORP All-Star team and compare it to the leaders of the remaining five divisions with this question in mind: Could the best of the West possibly be worse than a single team in another division? These ad hoc teams will comprise the VORP leaders at each of the eight positions, a DH (or, in the NL, the top offensive VORP not among the best at each position), the top five starting pitchers and the highest relief VORP. Obviously, this is a frontline, offensive comparison, so bench strength, bullpen depth and team defense won’t be accounted for. Still, this will provide us with a snapshot of how the West compares. So here’s how the NL West All-VORP team fares against the likes of the Red Sox, White Sox, Angels, Braves and Cardinals:
NL West Position/Role - Player VORP C - Ramon Hernandez, Padres 14.0 1B - Todd Helton, Rockies 45.7 2B - Jeff Kent, Dodgers 58.6 3B - Troy Glaus, Diamondbacks 46.6 SS - Omar Vizquel, Giants 17.7 LF - Moises Alou, Giants 39.4 CF - Milton Bradley, Dodgers 23.8 RF - Brian Giles, Padres 59.0 DH - Shawn Green, Diamondbacks 41.3 SP - Jake Peavy, Padres 50.2 SP - Brandon Webb, Diamondbacks 32.5 SP - Noah Lowry, Giants 32.2 SP - Brad Penny, Dodgers 31.3 SP - Derek Lowe, Dodgers 20.1 RP - Scott Linebrink, Padres 22.5 VORP Total 534.9 Red Sox Position/Role - Player VORP C - Jason Varitek 45.1 1B - Kevin Millar 13.6 2B - Tony Graffanino 8.8 3B - Bill Mueller 28.3 SS - Edgar Renteria 24.8 LF - Manny Ramirez 49.1 CF - Johnny Damon 43.9 RF - Trot Nixon 20.4 DH - David Ortiz 66.3 SP - Tim Wakefield 28.5 SP - Matt Clement 26.9 SP - David Wells 22.2 SP - Bronson Arroyo 15.5 SP - Wade Miller 6.0 RP - Mike Timlin 27.7 VORP Total 427.1 White Sox Position/Role - Player VORP C - A.J. Pierzynski 15.2 1B - Paul Konerko 45.9 2B - Tadahito Iguchi 25.4 3B - Joe Crede 1.7 SS - Juan Uribe 13.0 LF - Scott Podsednik 10.3 CF - Aaron Rowand 18.6 RF - Jermaine Dye 25.2 DH - Carl Everett 10.9 SP - Mark Buehrle 45.9 SP - Jon Garland 42.7 SP - Freddy Garcia 42.5 SP - Jose Contreras 29.8 SP - Orlando Hernandez 5.9 RP - Cliff Politte 24.4 VORP Total 357.4 Angels Position/Role - Player VORP C - Ben Molina 21.4 1B - Darin Erstad 11.6 2B - Adam Kennedy 19.5 3B - Chone Figgins 28.6 SS - Orlando Cabrera 16.6 LF - Garret Anderson 18.7 CF - Steve Finley -3.7 RF - Vladimir Guerrero 60.1 DH - Casey Kotchman 6.5 SP - Bartolo Colon 53.1 SP - John Lackey 47.1 SP - Jarrod Washburn 45.8 SP - Paul Byrd 34.3 SP - Kelvim Escobar 12.4 RP - Scott Shields 21.7 VORP Total 393.7 Braves Position/Role - Player VORP C - Johnny Estrada 6.9 1B - Julio Franco 14.4 2B - Marcus Giles 45.1 3B - Chipper Jones 44.6 SS - Rafael Furcal 42.5 LF - Kelly Johnson 5.2 CF - Andruw Jones 65.4 RF - Jeff Francoeur 23.3 DH - Wilson Betemit 15.4 SP - John Smoltz 59.3 SP - Tim Hudson 39.3 SP - Jorge Sosa 35.4 SP - Horacio Ramirez 22.2 SP - Mike Hampton 15.3 RP - Blaine Boyer 13.3 VORP Total 447.6 Cardinals Position/Role - Player VORP C - Yadier Molina 7.8 1B - Albert Pujols 96.1 2B - Mark Grudzielanek 22.2 3B - Abraham Nunez 15.8 SS - David Eckstein 34.7 LF - Reggie Sanders 26.2 CF - Jim Edmonds 45.9 RF - Larry Walker 21.5 DH - So Taguchi 17.3 SP - Chris Carpenter 78.4 SP - Mark Mulder 38.7 SP - Jeff Suppan 21.3 SP - Matt Morris 18.2 SP - Jason Marquis 17.2 RP - Al Reyes 19.0 VORP Total 480.3
Okay, so the NL West All-VORP team shakes out better than any other single team in baseball, and this column would’ve been a lot cooler if that weren’t the case. Still, they’re only about five wins better than the Cardinals, and that’s semi-damning stuff. The best of an entire division is only a handful of games better than a single team, at least in terms of the VORP of the core contributors. Add a healthy Scott Rolen into the mix and give Taguchi a full season’s worth of plate appearances (which he would have were he an actual DH), and that margin might dissipate.
- Think the Yankees have center-field problems? Observe …
Player VORP FRAA Bernie Williams 11.9 -2 Steve Finley -3.7 -2
Finley has been squarely worse at the plate and just as lamentable with the glove. The Angels have the bench strength to keep Finley off the field for the balance of the season, and that’s just what they should do.
- Jason Marquis, who’s hitting .329/.337/.494 in 83 plate appearances this season, came within one VORP run of tying Taguchi for Cardinal DH dibs. So that’s something.
- Pardon the following “fan boy” rumination of sorts … Recently, Albert Pujols and Chris Carpenter passed Derrek Lee and Roger Clemens, respectively, in the VORP rankings. We now have legitimate, nuanced debates before us for the NL MVP and Cy Young awards. That wasn’t the case two weeks ago. What does this have to do with the prevailing theme of this column? Not bloody much …
That’s all for this time around. Since I came reasonably close to predicting the exact score of the Texas/Ohio State game last week, I figure I should take another whack at it: UCLA 31, Oklahoma 27.