Friday, February 8, 2013

2013 Los Angeles Dodgers Preview

The Dodgers have spent vast piles of money over the past year, and at least they can be happy that their $217.5-million payroll got them a preview amongst my other National League contenders.  Whether their approach of spending like my friend Logan home from a month-long hitch on the North Slope is wise is still up for debate.  None of the players that they acquired from the Red Sox in last summer's blockbuster are still in their primes, a distinction that really only applies to one regular position player (Matt Kemp) and two starting pitchers (Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke).  This is a team that needs to win now, but do they have the juice?

3B   Hanley Ramirez (R): .281/.356/.470, 22 HR, 23 SB, 3.9 WAR
LF   Carl Crawford (L): .274/.318/.413, 16 HR, 36 SB, 2.4 WAR
CF   Matt Kemp (R): .298/.363/.521, 31 HR, 21 SB, 5.4 WAR
1B   Adrian Gonzalez (L): .303/.377/.502, 27 HR, 4.5 WAR
RF   Andre Ethier (L): .284/.359/.465, 20 HR, 2.8 WAR
C     A.J. Ellis (R): .261/.368/.375, 7 HR, 3.8 WAR
SS   Skip Schumaker (R): .277/.337/.358, 3 HR, 1.8 WAR
2B   Mark Ellis (L): .252/.317/.361, 8 HR, 1.8 WAR

The bright spot here is of course Kemp, who if healthy should cover for a multitude of question marks up and down the lineup.  He is a legitimate 40-40 threat over the course of a full season, and I would expect that if does indeed stay healthy throughout the year, he will blow those projections out of the water (particularly the counting stats).  As for the rest of the lineup, there are concerns aplenty.  Ramirez would prefer to play shortstop, but his shaky glove plays better at third.  Unfortunately, he has a history of petulance that suggests he will not perform as well if he is forced to play the hot corner.  Despite declining numbers over the past couple of years, Ramirez is still just 29, and easily stands the best chance of reversing his slide among this aging lineup.

Any reliance on Crawford, for example, is a major gamble.  As an injury-prone 31-year-old coming off of Tommy John surgery for whom speed is his primary calling card, he might as well have "REGRESSION" tattooed on his forehead.  It's a good thing he's not owed $101.5 million over the next five seasons.  Whoops.  Gonzalez hit a home run in his first game in a Dodger uniform, and then only hit two more over his remaining 35 games.  He has been a consistent hitter throughout his career, and has the power to handle Chavez Ravine; after all, he hit 161 home runs over five seasons with the Padres playing half his games in the Petco Park graveyard.  He should be fine this year.  Ethier, on the other hand, should be a platoon player at this point, but that's an impossibility given that he's owed somewhere between $82.5 million and $100 million over the next 5-6 years (he has a vesting option for 2018).  Ethier terrorizes righties (.325/.398/.546 a year ago) and is useless against lefties (.222/.276/.330), but he will be in the lineup every day if healthy.  Schumaker and the two Ellii are fairly negligible offensively, although A.J. Ellis provides above-average offense for his position.

Defensively, at least, the team looks a little more solid.  Kemp and Gonzalez are superlative defenders, Crawford covers a ton of ground even if his arm is only average, the middle infield will be solid if Schumaker is the regular shortstop, and A.J. Ellis is a quality catcher.  Nick Punto provides good glovework and nothing else off the bench.  That leaves Ethier (slightly below average, decent arm) and Ramirez (yikes).  The other options from the bench include Juan Uribe (over the hill), Jerry Hairston (useful at a few positions) and Dee Gordon (he's fast).

LHP   Clayton Kershaw: 221.0 IP, 227 K, 60 BB, 2.65 ERA, 2.67 FIP, 6.2 WAR
RHP   Zack Greinke: 222.0 IP, 209 K, 57 BB, 3.45 REA, 3.16 FIP, 4.9 WAR
RHP   Josh Beckett: 174.0 IP, 153 K, 51 BB, 3.26 ERA, 3.62 FIP, 2.6 WAR
RHP   Chris Capuano: 194.0 IP, 160 K, 54 BB, 3.90 ERA, 3.97 FIP, 2.1 WAR
RHP   Aaron Harang: 173.0 IP, 138 K, 73 BB, 4.53 ERA, 4.35 FIP, 1.9 WAR

This projected rotation doesn't even account for Korean import Hyun-Jin Ryu, whom the Dodgers signed for six years and $36 million in addition to their $25 million-plus posting bid.  Ryu pitched seven seasons in the KBO and put up the following impressive numbers through his age-25 season: 1269.0 IP, 1238 K, 383 BB, a 2.80 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, and .234 batting average against.  I would imagine that he bumps Capuano down and Harang out, but there were no projections available for him, and precious little information about the quality of the KBO as compared to the majors (probably similar to AAA was the one note I could find).  So even if Ryu puts up 75% of his average numbers for the Dodgers (very possible in a pitcher-friendly division), he should at least be a league-average starter.  This rotation also doesn't include Chad Billingsley, a quality innings eater, but also attempting to pitch through a partially injured UCL.  I don't have faith that he lasts half the season.

Fortunately for the Dodgers, they have a couple of pretty sure things in Kershaw and Greinke.  Kershaw is the best southpaw in baseball, a perennial Cy Young threat with top-notch command and an absolutely terrifying curve.  And he won't turn 25 until March; he and Stephen Strasburg should duke it out this year for the strikeout and ERA crowns.  Greinke, meanwhile, is an excellent #2 starter with the potential to be an ace (his 2009 Cy Young campaign netted 9.3 WAR), and despite seemingly being around forever is just 29.  He will benefit from the move to Dodger Stadium, plus getting a couple starts a year in the other California parks.  One of the many interesting storylines to watch with the Dodgers is whether Josh Beckett becomes a smarter 33-year-old pitcher in order to retain effectiveness.  His strikeout rate declined sharply last season after three years of much more gradual decline, and it's clear that he no longer possesses the ability to blow hitters away with high heat.  If he makes some adjustments (which he is eminently capable of making, given his history of excellent command), he will become a formidable third starter.  But the jury is still out on whether or not that will happen.

Behind their deep stable of starters, the Dodger bullpen is at least decent, with Ronald Belisario, J.P. Howell, Matt Guerrier, and whoever doesn't make the rotation in front of the wildly overpaid Brandon League (owed $19.5 million for the next three years with a $7.5 million vesting option for 2016; he's no more than an average closer).  Can this expensive, aging team fulfill the new owners' dreams of winning a title now? I think that they will make it close, but there are probably too many health and regression concerns for them to win the division; they should contend for a wild card spot, but will have to top the Cardinals and Braves to get one.