Wednesday, March 2, 2011

MLB Preview, Key to success: Minnesota Twins and Los Angeles Dodgers

My complete preview for the MLB season is here, today I will continue my team by team analysis of the player that is the most important to watch in the upcoming season. This isn't necessarily the best player, rather someone who's season is important for the team, or their growth as a player.

Minnesota Twins: Francisco Liriano
Just a few years back, Liriano burst onto the scene for the Twins with some ridiculous numbers. In his first full season he struck out well over a batter an inning, had a WHIP of exactly 1, and his ERA was 2.16 over 121 innings. He was supposed to become one of the best in baseball, and supplant Johan Santana as the ace of the team.

Thats when his career took a turn for the worst after an elbow injury. He needed Tommy John surgery before the 2007 season, which forced him to miss the entire year. He started the 2009 season at the majors, but was awful, he was sent down after posting an 11.32 era in 3 starts. He dominated in the minors and came back up and pitched well in the end of the 2009 season.

Last season Liriano pitched well, but didn't dominate like he did when he first came into the league. He struck out over a batter per inning, but his ERA was 3.62 and his whip 1.26, good numbers but sabermetrics tell the whole story.

Liriano was the 8th best pitcher based on WAR. He was a 6 win player, just below Adam Wainwright, and ahead of stars such as Zack Greinke and CC Sabathia.

It is clear that Liriano has the stuff to be one of the best pitchers in baseball, but coming off the injury he has been wildly inconsistent. This season is his second full year at the Majors since the surgery and he should be one hundred percent, and pitching at his highest level. That is assuming that he can get back to his old form, something that may never happen.

The Twins have several innings eaters in their rotation, but no one who can win a game on his own, except for Liriano. He should be going out every 5 days and giving the twins a good shot to win the game. If he can do that, the Twins have a decent shot at winning the division.

Liriano has the upside of being the best pitcher in the division, last year he was second behind the Detroit Tigers Justin Verlander. While Verlander has a better history of being great, I see Liriano with more potential. These two could be difference makers in a wide open division race.

If Liriano can post numbers like last season, or better even, I think the Twins will be contending for the division. If he is hurt, or pitches poorly, the Twins have no show this year.

Others considered: Joe Mauer: He has had injury problems in the past, but when he is healthy he is the best hitting catcher in baseball. He is the key to this teams lineup which is evident by his 2009 MVP award...Justin Morneau: his balky back caused him to miss half of the 2010 season, and in previous years he's missed some time as well. When he is in the lineup he's a great asset, but I question his ability to come back and produce this season.

Los Angeles Dodgers: Matt Kemp
This time last year Kemp was being talked up as a potential 40-40 guy and someone who could turn into of the best hitters in baseball. He couldn't have been the complete opposite...

He hit 28 home runs, which was a career high, but his average was a pitiful .249. He also stole only 19 bases, getting caught 15 times, he also struck out 30 times more than in 2009. His struggles were a big reason that the Dodgers weren't able to compete in the NL west. They were just 2 games under .500, but finished in 4th place in their division.

Kemp put on a lot of weight going into last year, which was supposed to add to his power. Instead it took away his speed, killed his contact and added just 2 home runs. Not the results he or the Dodgers were hoping for.

This season he comes in and needs to focus on hitting for a better average, and let his natural power get the ball out of the park. He has the skill set to be a high average player, which is evident in his .342 average over 98 games in 2007. His power numbers weren't great, but he was just 22 years old at the time.

As a 26 year old, and the likely 3 hitter, this is the year where Kemp needs to shine for the Dodgers. They lack any other true power hitter in their lineup, yet they have several very good bats. Andre Ethier is a potential for more power, but he's only hit more than 23 home runs one time in his career.

The Dodgers are a solid team as a whole, but unless they have some star power they won't be winning any titles this year. Kemp is that possible superstar, he just needs to figure it all out.

Rumors swirled that he wasn't working hard last year and that he didn't seem to care too much. I wonder if that was Manny Ramirez rubbing off on him. Manny could do it, Matt apparently could not. This season Kemp is the big dog on the team, and he is the difference between the Dodgers being a decent team, or them challenging for the NL West crown.

Others considered: Jonathan Broxton: He was supposed to be a sure-thing, lock down closer last year. But he had problems all year long and was removed from the closer role several times. He is back in as the closer, but the question remains if he can be a top level closer...Rafael Furcal: He's battled injuries for the majority of the last 4 years, but when he has played he has been one of the best lead-off men in baseball. He looks to be healthy, but he is getting older and the chances of him being on the DL seem high, if that happens the Dodgers may struggle...Chad Billingsley and Clayton Kershaw: The two young pitchers could become one of the better 1-2 punches in baseball. While Kershaw has developed into a true ace, Billingsley has taken a step back, he needs to rebound this year to help anchor the staff.

Previous keys to their teams: Diamondbacks and OriolesRed Sox and Braves Chicago White Sox and Chicago Cubs  Cincinnati Reds and Cleveland Indians  Colorado Rockies and Detroit Tigers  Florida Marlins and Kansas City Royals Los Angeles Angels and Kansas City Royals


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