Other than trying to sort out which two teams will come out of the gauntlet otherwise known as the AL East, there is no division tougher to figure out this February than the NL West. The Dodgers are the reigning champions, but they won just 84 games last year and Manny Ramirez and Derek Lowe are merely the highest profile departures from the team this winter.
Baseball Prospectus released its renowned PECOTA projections this week -- keep in mind this is the same system that pegged the lowly Rays for greatness last year, masterminded by the same man who had one of the most accurate projections of last year's presidential election -- and it has the Diamondbacks atop the West with 90 wins, six games ahead of Los Angeles.
Aside from the usual problems with statistical modeling, the projections feel especially incomplete with Ramirez and close to 100 other free agents still looking for a job with reporting dates fast approaching.
Enter Scott Bordow of the East Valley Tribune, who is speculating that the Dodgers could sign Ramirez and free-agent second baseman Orlando Hudson in the next 72 hours. Well that would certainly change things in the West wouldn't it?
Signing Hudson and Ramirez -- arguably the two best players left on the open market -- would, at first blush, install Los Angeles as favorites to repeat in the division. But hold on a second. If we go back to PECOTA, the Dodgers have a six-win gap to close to catch up with Arizona. As good as Ramirez and Hudson are, would they bring six wins of value to Chavez Ravine?
Luckily, there are a number of tools in the sabermetric world that can help us answer that question. In this case, let's use Dave Cameron's Win Values. (Read the explanation.) This gives us a player's value above replacement expressed simply in wins. If we look at recent performance and then try to establish a rough value for the next season, we can get an (again very rough) approximation of worth going forward.
Ramirez's win value has oscillated wildly over the last three seasons. He was worth 1.2 wins in 2007, 3.8 the year before that and a whopping 6.3 last year. That makes it awfully hard to approximate a value for Ramirez, but if we try to find a middle point and give him a slight boost for playing in the weaker National League, four wins seems appropriate. Hudson's performance has been much steadier lately. He's been a two- or three-win player the last three years, so let's split the difference and project him to be worth 2.5 wins this season. The final step is to subtract the win values of the players Hudson and Ramirez would replace in the lineup. Those players -- Blake DeWitt and Juan Pierre -- figure to be worth a combined two or three wins next year, meaning the additions of Ramirez and Hudson would provide a boost in the three-to-five-win range.
That's not quite enough to close the gap in PECOTA, but it'd be more than enough to make things awfully close, and, of course, when teams are that close, a little good luck can go a long way.
The Diamondbacks will need big seasons from Justin Upton and Chris Young to be as successful as PECOTA thinks they will be, and the Rockies and Giants will certainly have a say in the division as well. All we really know for sure about the West is that the Padres aren't going to be very good. Arizona might look like the favorite right now, but even with pitchers and catchers just days away, there's plenty of unfinished offseason business.
Nowhere is that more true than Los Angeles. Manny and the O-Dawg? Could be. But even if things break down with Ramirez and Hudson, the Dodgers could always turn to Adam Dunn or one of the other quality players still looking for work to close in on the Diamondbacks.
Daily Jolt: How Much Would Manny, O-Dawg Help Dodgers? originally appeared on MLB FanHouse on Wed, 11 Feb 2009 08:30:00 EST . Please see our terms for use of feeds.