MLB Coverage: The NL West Race

This past week’s MLB coverage at TheSportsNotebook has been focused on basic statistical snapshots of each division as we go into the All-Star break after Sunday’s games. That process concludes today with a look at the NL West.

As with the other divisional summaries—the American League ran in the first part of the week, and the last two days have covered the National League’s East & Central divisions—we sum up each team according to six core stats. On offense, it’s runs scored, and the two key components of that, in on-base percentage and slugging percentage. Pitching is broken down into both starters’ ERA and bullpen ERA, and also includes the percentage of save opportunities each team has cashed in.

We then  list a couple notable individual performances, be they good or bad, and conclude with some general thoughts on each team.

Arizona Diamondbacks (49-44)
Runs: 5th
OBP: 7th
Slugging: 9th
Starters’ ERA: 11th
Bullpen ERA: 5th
Save Chances: 26/45
Notable: Paul Goldschmidt is putting together a run at the NL MVP, with his stat line of .398 OBP/.564 slugging and 23 home runs. We can’t go positive on the pitching side—Heath Bell and J.J. Putz have combined to go just 20-for-30 on their save chances.

Comments: The dichotomy between bullpen ERA and the ability to close saves is striking, and a reason I chose to look at these two stats separately. Arizona clearly has relievers who can pitch, and either get them in a position to win, or keep them close if they fall behind early.  But in a world where an average team will close about two-thirds of their save chances—with closers being at 90 percent or higher—Arizona is trying to win a division with a 57% save rate.

Los Angeles Dodgers (46-46)
Runs: 12th
OBP: 3rd
Slugging: 8th
Starters’ ERA: 4th
Bullpen ERA: 13th
Save Chances: 25/41
Notable: Andre Ethier’s .352 on-base percentage is pretty good, but his .388 slugging percentage is a big problem for a team that needs power. There’s no problem with anything about Clayton Kershaw, and his 1.98 ERA in 19 starts. Other than the fact he’s only 8-6. Get the guy some run support.

Comments: We’ve got another team with a strange statistical anomaly. Normally, on-base percentage is the stat that tracks the closest with runs scored. Yet the Dodgers are one of the best in the NL and putting runners aboard, while being the worst at the only thing that ultimately matters and that’s bring them in. That’s why I felt Ethier’s numbers, which sum up the team-wide dilemma, were the most notable. An optimist would argue—with considerable justification—that if you give it the entire season, the runs scored will eventually start to move closer to OBP and the Dodgers just need to keep doing what they’re doing.

Colorado Rockies (45-49)
Runs: 2nd
OBP: 5th
Slugging: 1st
Starters’ ERA: 12th
Bullpen ERA: 11th
Save Chances: 18/28
Notable: Even with Troy Tulowitzki pulling a DL stint, he and Carlos Gonzalez have combined to hit 41 home runs and both are slugging over .600. On the pitching side, we know the Rockies aren’t very good, but at least in Tyler Chatwood—2.74 ERA in eleven starts—they have a piece to build around.

Comments: I give Colorado credit for hanging this close to .500, but with this pitching, a 75-win season would still be a significant accomplishment.

San Francisco Giants (42-50)
Runs: 9th
OBP: 6th
Slugging: 11th
Starters’ ERA: 13th
Bullpen ERA: 4th
Save Chances: 22/31
Notable: Pin the problems with power on Pablo Sandoval and his miserable .312/.390 stat line. And pin the problems in the starting rotation a lot of places, but nowhere more than Matt Cain, with his 5.06 ERA in 19 starts.

Comments: What kind of odds could you have gotten that, at the All-Star break, the Giants’ starting rotation would have a worse collective ERA than their counterparts in Colorado? It doesn’t even require any adjustment for park effects—the San Francisco rotation is worse than Colorado’s strictly on its face. I don’t think too many people thought this was an unbeatable World Series champion, but who expected this?

San Diego Padres (41-53)
Runs: 8th
OBP: 11th
Slugging: 13th
Starters’ ERA: 14th
Bullpen ERA: 6th
Save Chances: 21/31
Notable: I’ve got to go negative here. Chase Headley, after a great year in 2012, has a stat line of .326/.364. And Edinson Vasquez has been a train wreck in the rotation, with a 5.33 ERA in 19 starts. I’m emphasizing the negative, because there have been some nice developments in San Diego this year and if core veterans like this could even be mediocre, the Padres could be in contention.

Comments: Just as we’re shocked that Colorado’s starting pitching is a little bit better than San Francisco’s, we can also be stunned that the Padres’ offense is slightly more productive than that of the Giants. And once again, it doesn’t require any sabermetricky stuff about how hard Petco Field is to hit in and adjusting for that. The Pads are just flat-out scoring more runs than the Giants.


The emergence of Yasiel Puig and the steady rise of the Dodgers through the standings make it unsurprising that the betting world is back in love with Los Angeles. They are a 4-5 favorite to win the West, with Arizona at 3-2. If you still believe San Francisco can turn it around, you can get a 7-1 price tag on their chances of finishing first and Colorado is 12-1. The Padres are a 25-1 longshot.