Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Season Preview: Rancho Carne Toros

While it’s not one of the better-known binary population divisions out there, it is nevertheless true that the world can be divided into spreadsheet people and non-spreadsheet people. I am a spreadsheet person. Because of this, and because I spend way too much time tracking this league, I have a bunch of league-related spreadsheets laying around.

One of those spreadsheets is the engine behind the All-Time League Standings we roll out after each season. That particular spreadsheet contains lots of interesting info about the league. Accidentally, though, it has also revealed that my colleague is not a spreadsheet person. How can I tell? Because he pretty much breaks the all-time standings spreadsheet.

I mean, what is a spreadsheet supposed to conclude about a guy whose sorted ordinal finishes go 2-3-4-5-6-7-T9-12-12. Does he think he has to assemble a complete set of every possible finish? How can someone hit the board twice but also come in last twice? How someone twice put up 19 points in a season when the theoretical minimum is 12 points?

I guess the takeaways are that (1) this is not the easiest guy to predict and (2) he is not constrained by the usual statistical norms of the league. I think that trend will continue this year, because the Toros offense has a chance to be flat stupid.

Infield

Free fantasy advice: where possible, try to start your roster with the two best players in baseball. And hey, look, they’re both here! Albert Pujols and Hanley Ramirez form a fantastic platform, giving production in all five categories (and in Hanley’s case, at a thin position). Victor Martinez should also provide elite production at catcher, at least for one year, although the switch from Fenway to Comerica will slow him down a touch.

Those three are so good that the ominous presence of looming prospect bust Gordon Beckham and proven mediocrity Casey McGehee don’t bring me down nearly as far as they ordinarily would. All in all, a more than capable outfit, especially if they can get a useful platoon going at 3B or 2B.

Outfield

The Toros reached a little bit and grabbed Justin Upton #2 overall in the draft. Ordinarily, when a team reaches for a guy like that, his performance ends up making or breaking the season. Here, though, I think that the team fulcrum is Matt Kemp, not Upton. Kemp was down across the board last year, and the L.A. media ascribed his setback to some combination of the Seven Dwarf Descriptives of Lazy Journalism: dogging, choking, preening, loafing, spacing, griping, and (indirectly, of course) being African-American. I think it’s more likely that he was going through a natural consolidation season, and will shred the league again in ’11. If that’s right, Kemp will combine with Upton and Jay Bruce to make a group with more tools than a Lake Havasu partyboat. There is the potential for a LOT of offense here.

Starting Pitching

Of course, you can only get 60 points from offense. The Toros entered the draft with an entirely empty rotation, which he ended up filling in the grab-as-much-as-you-can style of a suburban Virginia grocery shopper the night before a predicted blizzard. The team ended up with a bunch of young arms, most of whom don’t have much of a track record in the bigs.
Yo Gallardo is here as the ace. I feel like everybody only figured out how good Gallardo is during this offseason—while he’s a cut below the Felixes and Halladays of the world, he’s a legit #1 guy. After that things get a little squiggly. I actually love Gio Gonzalez, but he’s a threat to walk 5 guys per 9 again this year; Ricky Nolasco is much the same. Matt Garza gives up a lot of balls in the air for a guy who’s moving to Wrigley, though the drop in comp from the A.L. East might counterbalance that. And despite showing signs at the end of last year, as of this particular moment in time, Homer Bailey is the pitching version of Howie Kendrick.

Jeremy Guthrie is also somehow present, despite the fact that he has a worse arm than Woody Guthrie, and has fewer tools than the rakes and shovels and implements of destruction possessed by Arlo Guthrie. There’s work to be done, and as I noted in the draft summary, a lot of juggling will be needed to keep this staff competitive.

Bullpen

The good news is that (unlike in years past) this franchise has multiple closers. The bad news is that one (Drew Storen) is a National and the other (Jose Valverde) is a Valverde. But there’s value in not just punting the category.

Outlook

Don’t look now, but this team could actually do some things this year. Two years ago, El Ang fell just short after mortgaging his future. Last year, he acquired a whole new future by trading everything that wasn’t nailed down. This year, he’ll be hoping that he can somehow find 35 pitching points to go along with his 55-point offense. Don’t count him out.

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