A Different Perspective on the NL West

A Different Perspective on the NL West

It is easy to get stuck looking at a season as 162 games and nothing else. In reality, we know that how a team performed in September of 2008 is more predicative for 2009 than how it performed in April of 2008. So how did the 2008 National League West Standings look from May onwards? Or from July onwards? Let's take a look.

Last year, Stephen Drew hit .291, but .326 after the All-Star break.  Dan Haren had a 3.33 ERA, but it was 4.87 over the final two months of the season.  Conor Jackson hit a dozen home runs, but none after July 27th.  Randy Johnson went 10-11 with a 3.91 ERA, but 7-3 with a 2.56 ERA after July 1st.

On the one hand, the larger sample size is a better indicator of talent level.  On the other, the more recent the performance, the more applicable it is.  Clearly, to get the best overall picture of a player, you need to look at not just what he did last season, but how he performed in the later months of the season and also how he performed in previous seasons.

The same goes for team evaluations, although in their case, looking at recent performance can be an even better indication of their true ability due to personnel changes.  Obviously, we know that the Los Angeles Dodgers performed much better after they acquired Manny Ramirez.  It is also important to note that the San Francisco Giants were more successful after their young players received more playing time and the Colorado Rockies improved as Troy Tulowitzki got healthy and Chris Iannetta's playing time increased.

Here are the records by month for each of the NL West teams:

Team April W Losses May W Losses June W Losses
Dodgers 14 13 13 15 11 16
D-backs 20 8 11 17 11 16
Rockies 11 17 9 19 12 15
Giants 13 16 10 17 13 14
Padres 11 17 12 17 10 17
Team July W Losses Aug W Losses Sept W Losses
Dodgers 16 10 13 16 17 8
D-backs 14 11 13 15 13 13
Rockies 17 10 15 13 10 14
Giants 8 16 15 14 13 13
Padres 9 16 11 16 10 16

We also know that the Arizona Diamondbacks did not perform nearly as well after the month of April as they did during that premiere month.  In fact, the D-backs might be upset that there are no games in the first five days of this April due to the World Baseball Classic.  In the first month of 2008, 20-year old Justin Upton batted .327, 25-year old Micah Owings was 4-0 with a 3.28 ERA, and 24-year old Mark Reynolds was among the NL leaders with seven homers and 24 RBI.  It didn't take Nostradamus to portend that the league would adjust to these guys and that their performance would level off, but it was a bit of a shock just how far the entire Diamondbacks team would fall off that initial torrid pace.

Here, then, is how the 2008 NL West looked using different monthly benchmarks:

Team May on June on July on Aug on Season
Dodgers .519 .533 .575 .556 .519
D-backs .463 .481 .506 .481 .506
Rockies .470 .509 .532 .481 .457
Giants .444 .462 .456 .509 .444
Padres .388 .381 .385 .396 .389

The Arizona Diamondbacks were 5.5 games ahead of the LA Dodgers at the end of April and 2 games behind them at the end of September.  But viewed from any other month as a starting point, the Diamondbacks were the third best team in the division.  From May, June, and July going forward, the Colorado Rockies had a better winning percentage than the D-backs did.  From August going forward, the Giants were the second best team in the division, with the Rockies practically tied with the D-backs for third place.  In September, the Giants and the Diamondbacks were exactly tied for the second best NL record for the month at .500.

Before Diamondbacks fans despair too much, remember that Arizona has the best record in the NL West dating back to the start of 2007 by 6 games over the Dodgers and 8.5 over the Rockies.  The point of this exercise is to give a wakeup call to the prognosticators who believe that the National League West will be a two-team race between the Dodgers and the Diamondbacks.  The Giants have an outside shot at contending and the Rockies have a terrific shot at contending just based on recent performance.  Add in their youth, and both teams' chances are even better.

Then there are the San Diego Padres.  They finished with no more than a dozen wins in any month and with no better than a .400 winning percentage from any of our monthly benchmarks.  However, they won 89 games in 2007, had an expected winning percentage (based on runs scored and runs allowed) equal to the Giants' .423 mark last year, and have some good young players of their own.  They probably won't finish over .500 this year, but they most certainly will not be the laughingstock of the league that many are predicting.

You can't just look at last year's final standings to predict what's going to happen this year; you need to look at it in multiple ways.    

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