Money can buy a lot of things. Championships don’t appear to be one of them. The Los Angeles Dodgers head into this season with a payroll in the $240 million range in their quest for the first World Series title since 1988. Back-to-back NLDS exits aren’t going to sit well with the team and some changes were made this offseason. Don Mattingly exited stage right after the playoffs and took his talents to South Beach to manage the Marlins. Dave Roberts gets a crack now and inherits one of the deepest teams in baseball.
The Dodgers have this luxury of being able to spend a ton of money to cover up their holes. It wasn’t a great offseason for the Dodgers by any means. Their deal with the Cincinnati Reds for Aroldis Chapman hit a major snag when reports of his domestic assault allegations came to light, so they put the kibosh on the trade. Hisashi Iwakuma failed his physical and then re-signed with Seattle the next day. Zack Greinke opted out of his contract after a career year in 2015.
Fortunately, money is not an option, so the Dodgers were still very active and are projected to be one of the best teams in the NL West again. Nothing stands out significantly from last season’s stats. The Dodgers were 23-26 in one-run games and finished three games better than their Pythagorean win-loss record. BaseRuns, however, had the Dodgers with a 95-67 record. That’s the biggest discrepancy I recall seeing between Pyth W-L and BaseRuns so far.
The Dodgers were fifth in wOBA with the bases empty at .320 and 16th in wOBA with men in scoring position at .313. That explains some of the BaseRuns discrepancy. Chavez Ravine was very kind to the home team, as Los Angeles was 55-26 at home and just 37-44 on the road. As expected, the Dodgers beat up on division foes with a 46-30 record. Sixteen different pitchers made a start, with some trade acquisitions, demotions, and other moves throughout the season.
All in all, it was another successful regular season and a playoff disappointment, which has become the norm. Is this the season that the Dodgers can find a way to get over the hump? They’re going to have to contend with two teams for the top spot in the NL West, as the San Francisco Giants and Arizona Diamondbacks look like formidable foes. With a rookie manager that has already garnered a ton of respect in the clubhouse, a creative front office, and an ownership group that spends money like an entitled teenager with Daddy’s credit card, everything should fall in line for the Dodgers soon, right? Right???
Season win total odds:
BetOnline: 90.5 (-115/-115)
5Dimes: 89.5 (-125/-105)
Bovada: 88.5 (-130/100)
Key additions: Joe Blanton, Kenta Maeda, Yasiel Sierra, Scott Kazmir, Trayce Thompson, Yusniel Diaz
Key losses: Zack Greinke, Joel Peralta, Jose Peraza, Scott Schebler
Not included in the key additions are the handful of players the Dodgers re-signed, like Brett Anderson, Howie Kendrick, and Chase Utley. Anderson is already out yet again with a discectomy procedure on his back. Kenta Maeda was quite a saga, which you will read more about later. Scott Kazmir picked up a three-year deal from the Dodgers. Trayce Thompson was a piece in the three-team deal with the White Sox and Reds for Todd Frazier.
Yasiel Sierra and Yusniel Diaz won’t have much of an impact this season, but the Dodgers have no issues going the international free agent route because they can absorb that financial loss if the players don’t pan out.
Zack Greinke is the only really notable loss for the Dodgers. Greinke opted out and pulls a stunner by signing with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Joel Peralta caught a minor league deal with Seattle. Jose Peraza and Scott Schebler were the two main pieces the Dodgers gave up in the Frazier deal.
Why bet the over?
Can you really begin with anybody other than Clayton Kershaw? The game’s best pitcher is an ace in every sense of the word. He’s durable. He led the league in SIERA, FIP, xFIP, and fWAR, along with leading in strikeouts, K%-BB%, and other categories. By fWAR, 2015 was actually Kershaw’s best season. He had 301 strikeouts in 232.2 innings of work and only walked 42 batters. He didn’t match his 2014 FIP or xFIP, but he also worked 34 more innings than he did the previous season. He’s elite. He’s reliable. He’s awesome.
We’ll stay on the pitching side of things here as we look down the list of names that will be in the mix for rotation spots. Kenta Maeda will get one. The Japanese import had agreed in principle to a bigger contract, but the Dodgers saw some medicals that they were worried about. Maeda has a lot of upside because he has really good control and his pitches move a lot. He doesn’t have Masahiro Tanaka or Yu Darvish upside, but hitters could have some issues adjusting to him in the first season.
Scott Kazmir had a bit of a home run issue in Houston, which isn’t a big surprise because it’s a bit of a launching pad. Now he goes to an easier league and will pitch in a much friendlier park. Since coming back to the big leagues in 2013, Kazmir has battled triceps soreness off and on, but he has made at least 29 starts in each of the last three seasons and is a good middle of the rotation starter whose strikeout upside should return in the NL. His 3.55/3.35/3.59 pitcher slash from his full 2014 season in Oakland isn’t that bad of a projection for this season and that’s a three-win pitcher.
A lot of the rest of these guys can be grouped together as a bunch of pitchers with two-win upside, but health concerns. Alex Wood doesn’t have the health concerns, but a declining strikeout rate and some velocity losses suggest that there could have been an underlying issue last season. Hyun-jin Ryu is a really terrific pitcher when healthy, but he missed all of last season with a shoulder injury. Ryu has a 3.17/2.97/3.27 pitcher slash in his two seasons, so the stuff is definitely there when the arm health is. Brett Anderson should return around mid-July after undergoing back surgery. He finally stayed healthy enough to make 31 pretty good starts as an extreme ground ball guy and this is a rough setback. Brandon McCarthy will return from Tommy John surgery later this season. Mike Bolsinger should get Anderson’s vacant rotation spot. He was really good in 21 starts with an above average strikeout rate and a 3.62 ERA, 3.91 FIP, and 3.82 xFIP. He was trending towards being a two-win guy.
There’s a lot of depth here, so the Dodgers should be just fine from a starting pitching standpoint with Kershaw as the best pitcher in the game and a lot of other guys with promising potential.
Corey Seager is the place to start with the offense. The shortstop will turn 22 in late April and hit .337/.425/.561 in his first taste of Major League Baseball last season. Seager has hit at every level of the minor leagues and there’s no reason he won’t hit at this level. He also had a terrific walk rate in his 113 PA last season. The sky is the limit for this kid, who is projected to be a three-win player with relative ease in his first full season in The Show. With his skill set, barrel skills, and contact quality, that may be a low projection.
Injuries took a chunk out of Yasiel Puig’s season and he struggled to the tune of a .328 wOBA and a 111 wRC+. When he’s healthy, he’s a feared hitter that makes exceptional contact with enough speed to add 10+ stolen bases. He also has one of the best outfield arms in baseball. The only knock against Puig is that his teammates aren’t a big fan of him by all accounts. When he goes back to hitting everything in sight, his teammates will leave him alone.
Joc Pederson is a really interesting player. He’s a three true outcomes guy, with a lot of holes in his swing, but good plate discipline and booming power. He hit 26 home runs last season, with a 15.7 percent BB% and a 29.1 percent K%. He was also right around league average in center field. Power and walks are good things. He was more of a base stealer in the minor leagues and I believe Dave Roberts will green light players on the bags more than Don Mattingly did. Pederson stole 30 bags twice in his MiLB career, so he’ll add more value there this season.
Adrian Gonzalez is about as safe of a player as you can get. His days of being a 40-homer threat are gone, but he’ll hit around 25 home runs with a batting average in the .275-.280 range, an above average walk rate, and wind up between 25 and 30 percent above league average. When it comes to season win totals, you want consistency, on a team level and on an individual level. Gonzalez is definitely consistent.
Batted ball luck was not on Yasmani Grandal’s side, but a 15.3 percent walk rate and 16 home runs in 426 plate appearances is an exciting set of stats. He was banged up late in the year and that prevented him from reaching his full offensive potential. There’s one other thing I love about Grandal and that’s his framing skills. Grandal was worth nearly three wins per Baseball Prospectus’s framing stats. I will say that pitchers probably give guys like Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke more of the benefit of the doubt than others, but Grandal is still a great framer.
Andre Ethier carries a lot of offensive value on the big side of the platoon. Justin Turner is going to be a valuable player throughout the season for the Dodgers after offensive breakouts the last two seasons. He’ll play third base with Corey Seager at short, so the Dodgers could get a ton of surplus offensive value from two rather weak offensive positions.
Kenley Jansen is an elite reliever in this closer role here and has a lot of good company with guys like Chris Hatcher, Yimi Garcia, reliable southpaw JP Howell, and Joe Blanton, who really excelled in a relief role. As long as Jansen stays healthy, this is a group that should be among the National League’s top bullpens throughout the year. The Dodgers were one of the best teams in run prevention last season and that overshadowed some of the offensive issues and injuries.
Why bet the under?
How much do we really like this rotation? Clayton Kershaw is Clayton Kershaw, so we don’t worry about him. Beyond him, however, it’s going to be hard to replace the 222.2 outstanding innings that Zack Greinke threw last season. Brett Anderson is already hurt for half of the season as a best-case scenario. Scott Kazmir has battled chronic triceps soreness and was out of pro baseball four years ago. Hyun-jin Ryu is trying to battle back from a torn labrum and, as of the first week of March, had not even really thrown pitches yet. Brandon McCarthy is on the comeback trail from his Tommy John surgery. Alex Wood’s declining velocity from last season is a big issue.
That last paragraph doesn’t even include Kenta Maeda. The Dodgers basically admitted that Maeda’s ulnar collateral ligament, the Tommy John ligament, is going to tear at some point and it seems like there may already be some signs of tearing. Essentially, the Dodgers have said that Maeda will miss 15 months at some point over the life of this eight-year deal. They seemed confident enough that it will down the line, but we truly never know. Depth charts projections at Fangraphs have Maeda down for 185 innings. I’d be shocked if we see him throw that many. With a similar UCL situation, Masahiro Tanaka has worked 136.1 and 154 innings in his first two seasons with the Yankees. Keep in mind that Tanaka had better stuff and better results in Japan, so Tanaka’s 20-25 starts should exceed Maeda’s 20-25 in terms of production and value.
The deeper we get into trying to replace Greinke’s work, the harder it’s getting. If this rotation is Kershaw-Ryu-Maeda-Kazmir-Bolsinger/Wood, it’s really, really strong. If these guys don’t stay healthy, we start tapping into the depth in an uncomfortable way. You can’t really predict health. Mike Trout could get hurt. Clayton Kershaw could get hurt. Paul Goldschmidt could get hurt. The difference with those three guys is that there are not any clear injury indicators. That’s hardly the case here. Over 162 games, injuries happen. When a team starts the season with a lot of them, that makes it really difficult to invest in that team. The Dodgers are that team right now.
A lot of similar offensive projections were available for the current Dodgers roster last season. They were right at league average in runs scored. They were also right around league average defensively. Truthfully, there aren’t a ton of worries about the position players because they have all been pretty consistent. Of course, we don’t know about Corey Seager, who begins his first full season in the big leagues, but all of the tools are there for him to be a good player.
We can talk about guys like Adrian Gonzalez, Howie Kendrick, and Andre Ethier, who are all on the wrong side of 30. Second basemen age worse than any other position, so Kendrick could start to regress in more noticeable fashion this season. The other two guys are in pretty good shape, though.
The Yasiel Puig factor is like the elephant in the room for this team. Players are rarely a clubhouse problem when they produce. Puig did not produce last season with the injury issues. Maybe his teammates questioned his fortitude for not playing through hamstring problems. Maybe he’s just an unlikeable guy. There are a lot of veterans here to keep Puig in line and a guy that approaches things the way Dave Roberts does is probably going to help more than the way that Don Mattingly went about things. If things are going south for the Dodgers, this Puig situation won’t get any better anytime soon. The players may pressure the front office into doing something. That would be interesting to watch.
Pick: Los Angeles Dodgers Over 88.5 (-130 – Bovada)
I’ll pay the extra five cents to get the extra win in this situation. I had a hard time writing up the reasons to take the under. The starting pitching injury problems are really the only reason. Most of the regulars in the lineup have a very high floor from a production standpoint. There are no guys with wide ranges of production possibilities. Some may regress slightly, but others will see some positive regression and improve.
I think there’s enough here in the starting rotation to get by. Any innings that the Dodgers get from Maeda, Ryu, Anderson, etc. are going to be a plus and there’s a lot of depth at this position. The Dodgers are set up pretty nicely to absorb injuries in all facets, really, as there are guys capable of filling in for Kenley Jansen for a few weeks and the position player depth is pretty solid.
Depth is my major deciding factor in most of these season win totals. Rarely will I take a team without depth to win a lot of games. In this case, the Dodgers are arguably the deepest team in the National League and I need to respect that. This isn’t the strongest of plays, but I feel pretty confident that this team will win 90+. But, I wouldn’t touch them for World Series futures or anything like that.
-END OF 2016 PREVIEW-
Having the highest payroll in Major League Baseball was not enough for the Los Angeles Dodgers to win a World Series, or even a playoff series for that matter. The Dodgers were knocked out of the playoffs in the National League Division Series by the St. Louis Cardinals. Failing when expectations require perfection didn’t sit well with the Dodgers organization. Andrew Friedman came over from the Tampa Bay Rays and the transactions started shortly thereafter.
The Dodgers won the NL West by just six games, even though they posted a 50-26 record against division competition last season. The Dodgers were far and away the best road team in the Senior Circuit with a 49-32 record. As good as the team was, however, when they stepped up in class and played good teams, they were just 26-33, which could be part of the reason why they exited the 2014 playoffs so early.
Over the last 15 seasons, the Dodgers have posted a winning record in 13 of them and they have three playoff series wins for their regular season efforts. At some point, the Dodgers need to take that next step and that could come this season. With the second-highest win total line in baseball, big things are expected in Chavez Ravine once again this season and Friedman and GM Farhan Zaidi feel like they have put all the pieces in place for that World Series run.
Another piece may come shortly given an early season injury for the Dodgers with closer Kenley Jansen off to a delayed start this season because of foot surgery, so another bullpen arm could be added soon. The Dodgers are projected to have a payroll in the $264M range, which is nearly $50M higher than that of the New York Yankees. Will it pay off?
Oddsmakers are expecting another big season from the Dodgers with a win total in the low 90s. BetOnline is sitting at 92 with standard juice on both sides. 5Dimes is at 92.5 with slight juice on the under. Bovada is at 92.5 with juice on the over. Only the Washington Nationals have to win more games to go over their win total.
Key additions: Howie Kendrick, Jimmy Rollins, Brandon McCarthy, Yasmani Grandal, Sergio Santos, Brett Anderson, Darwin Barney, Chris Heisey, Joel Peralta, Juan Nicasio
Key losses: Josh Beckett, Hanley Ramirez, Dee Gordon, Matt Kemp, Dan Haren, Brian Wilson, Roberto Hernandez, Kevin Correia, Paul Maholm, Chris Perez, Jamey Wright
You knew that Andrew Friedman would go crazy like a kid in Toys ‘R Us with a $500 gift card. Friedman operated under tight financial constraints in Tampa for so long that he went crazy when he got to a team with a blank check book waiting on his desk. Farhan Zaidi had a lot to do with the moves as well and Zaidi is an economist by trade, so you know that there are a lot of numbers in this front office.
It’s hard to figure out where to begin, but we’ll start up the middle where Howie Kendrick and Jimmy Rollins former a new double play duo. Dee Gordon was traded to the Marlins for Andrew Heaney, who turned into Howie Kendrick. Yasmani Grandal was acquired in the Matt Kemp trade with the San Diego Padres, another team that went crazy this past offseason.
Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson are some high upside gambles with a very good defensive infield. They’ll replace Josh Beckett, Roberto Hernandez, and journeymen like Kevin Correia and Paul Maholm. Hanley Ramirez signed with the Boston Red Sox as a free agent. Dan Haren was also traded to the Marlins in the Gordon deal.
One thing that you’ll notice about the Dodger dealings this offseason is that depth was a big point of emphasis. Players like Darwin Barney and Chris Heisey are limited, but they are Major League bench players. Joel Peralta was likely a favorite of Friedman’s in Tampa and he’ll be more than a depth guy, but he can be grouped in here. Sergio Santos and Juan Nicasio are more depth arms.
Why bet the over?
If you like to bet on talent, the Dodgers certainly have plenty of that. We’ll start with Clayton Kershaw, who won the Cy Young running away last season and missed the first month of the season. Kershaw was 21-3 with a sterling 1.81 FIP. He racked up 7.2 wins above replacement player and unknowingly got women all over Los Angeles pregnant with his performance on the mound. He was absolutely incredible and there’s never any reason to expect anything less from Kershaw. He is elite in every sense of the word and the scary thing is that he seems to keep getting better.
He’s got plenty of help in that starting rotation. Zack Greinke posted a 2.71 ERA, 2.97 FIP, and a 2.72 xFIP to rack up almost four wins of value. Like Kershaw, Greinke had excellent strikeout-to-walk rates. Unlike Kershaw, Greinke gave up a few too many home runs (in a relative sense), but you can pencil him in for another 180+ innings with a sub-3.00 ERA and a FIP in the low threes. He’s also really good.
Hyun-Jin Ryu has been excellent since he arrived in the U.S. two seasons ago. He’s 28-15 with a 3.17 ERA, a 2.97 FIP, and a 3.27 xFIP. His performance is not only sustainable, but it seems to be getting better. Some bad batted luck elevated his ERA by 0.38 runs last season, but his FIP dropped by nearly 0.80 runs, which suggests that Ryu has a shot at posting a sub-3.00 ERA like his rotation mates. He struck out more hitters, walked fewer, and gave up less home runs in his second season, so he’s improving as well.
Brandon McCarthy is the dictionary definition of why sabermetrics are important. Not only did sabermetrics predict McCarthy’s terrific post-trade performance with the Yankees, but they allowed McCarthy to reinvent himself as a pitcher. He began to focus more on ground balls and limiting walks and he’s done both of those things. The end result was a pitcher worth three wins last season. He’s dependent on his defense to make plays, which is why the Dodgers are a good fit for his skill set. There’s no reason McCarthy can’t post a 3.50 ERA with a FIP in the same range this season.
Brett Anderson was given a $10M lottery ticket by the Dodgers this past offseason. If he’s healthy, he’ll be worth it. If he’s not, what’s $10M to a team with a $260M payroll? Anderson has tremendous stuff and great upside, assuming he doesn’t get hit by an asteroid or trip and fall into hot magma. Anderson has faced bad luck injuries seeming season after season. He hasn’t thrown more than 85 Major League innings since 2010. The risk is high, but so is the reward.
Now that we’ve toweled off from looking at that rotation, the offense is pretty good too. Yasiel Puig was very solid last season in his first full season as a Major Leaguer. Over 1,072 MLB plate appearances, Puig has a .305/.386/.502 slash with 9.1 wins worth of value. He improved his walk rate and decreased his strikeouts last season with more familiarity with the pitchers. The high average dropped a tick and the power evened out over a bigger sample size, but that season from Puig was 47 percent above league average. He can play and he should come close to the five-win plateau again this season.
On a team with all this high-priced talent, would you believe me that Juan Uribe was the second-most valuable position player by WAR? Believe it. Uribe was excellent defensively and posted a .311/.337/.440 slash line that was 20 percent above league average. His defensive value dropped a little bit from 2013, but that’s not a huge surprise with a player that will turn 36 prior to the season of the 2015 season.
Adrian Gonzalez has become an overlooked commodity because he’s not a flashy 40 home run hitter anymore. He is a solid, professional hitter. Gonzalez got some of the power back that had evaded him in 2012 and 2013 to hit 27 home runs, but he drove in over 100 runs for the sixth time in seven seasons. His BABIP dropped to .294 to snap his four-year streak of hitting .293 or better, so a return to normal for that stat will raise his batting average a few more points.
Howie Kendrick was a five-win player for the Angels last season because he’s a well above average performer offensively and a very good defender. I was really surprised to see the Angels trade away such a key part of their team. Kendrick is an impending free agent and six years of Andrew Heaney is a nice perk, but Kendrick will be very good for the Dodgers.
Versatility is a big part of the Dodgers’ framework and that includes a player like Scott Van Slyke. Van Slyke has some pop in his bat, but also some big platoon splits. As a right-handed complement to either Carl Crawford or Joc Pederson, it will be easy to see Van Slyke in the lineup two or three times a week. Versatility is a good thing and one of the qualities that Friedman likes best.
Kenley Jansen is dealing with a foot injury, so he will miss the first month or two of the season while he tries to build up his arm strength. When he returns, however, the Dodgers will have back one of the top closers in the game. Jansen misses a lot of bats with his dynamite cutter and could be in line for improvement this season. His 2.76 ERA included a 1.91 FIP and a 1.93 xFIP after batters hit .350 on balls in play.
This has the makings of a pretty good bullpen with reliable Joel Peralta added to the mix. JP Howell is another highly dependable southpaw. Brandon League faced 273 batters and did not give up a single home run last season. Only Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera faced more without giving up a round tripper.
Why bet the under?
The Dodgers got an elite performance from Clayton Kershaw, great stuff from Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu, several terrific offensive performances, went 50-26 against their own division, and still won only 94 games last season. It’s really hard to sustain a high level of performance throughout the season to go over a big win total number like that.
Juan Uribe is a huge regression candidate. As mentioned above, he’s 36, so you really have to worry about how sustainable the defensive performance is. More importantly, the offensive performance looks like a mirage. Uribe’s .311/.337/.440 slash line was well above his .257/.302/.422 career mark, which gives him a wRC+ of 85, or 15 percent below league average. He’s still the free swinger that he has always been and he benefited from a .368 BABIP this season. That will not happen again. The oft-injured third baseman also had a .322 BABIP in 2013. It could be sustainable if he had speed. He doesn’t. He could drop off in a big way this season, not just offensively, but all around.
I’m worried about the Dodgers offense in general. Dee Gordon’s BABIP-driven year will be hard to replace because of the extra value of 64 stolen bases. Without Hanley Ramirez’s .283/.369/.448 slash line, that’s a big chunk of offense and some more stolen bases for the Dodgers to lose. The success rate on stolen bases needs to be really high to offset the risk of getting thrown out, but the Dodgers are losing a big speed element.
Left field and center field are shaky. Matt Kemp was awful defensively, but he was 40 percent above league average as a hitter with 25 home runs and a .346 OBP. Are Scott Van Slyke and Carl Crawford enough to replace that? What is Joc Pederson going to do in center field? The Dodgers have the pitching to go a long way, but this team’s offense is incredibly shaky.
What kind of production is left in the 36-year-old body of Jimmy Rollins? If he stays healthy, he will eclipse 10,000 regular season plate appearances this season. He was a tick above league average offensively last season with 17 home runs, but he’s going to a far worse park to hit in. His BABIPs have been dwindling as his contact has become less solid and regression is going to keep coming.
Without Kenley Jansen, a solid bullpen becomes a question mark. Brandon League was a shaky closer both in Seattle and in Los Angeles because he doesn’t miss enough bats and contact is scary. Joel Peralta isn’t really a closer either. JP Howell is a matchup lefty. Without Jansen, this could be a below average bullpen. Plenty of free agents are still out there and money is no object for the Dodgers, but there has to be a lot of worry about Jansen.
It may not be an arm injury, but an injury prior to Spring Training prevents a pitcher from preparing for the season in the manner that he needs to. It’s easier for Jansen as a reliever, but building arm strength is important that means that Jansen could lag in the velocity department when he comes back. With a lot of hard contact against him given that .350 BABIP last season, it’s clear that he needs both velocity and command to stay out of the middle of the plate. Jansen will be back, but his dominance is in question.
Pick: Over 92
I hate this pick, but I have to do it. The offense and the bullpen worry me so much, but six-to-eight additional starts from Clayton Kershaw and Hyun-Jin Ryu are enough to push me over the edge. Kershaw missed the first month and Ryu had some nagging injuries that caused him to miss some starts. That’s the difference for me. Add in those eight starts from Kershaw and Ryu and we’re probably looking at a 96 or 97-win team. I don’t think that they’re worse this season because of the starting pitching depth.
Brandon McCarthy is a big upgrade to Dan Haren. I hope Brett Anderson stays healthy because he’s exciting to watch and because he’s an upgrade to what the Dodgers trotted out last season. The Dodgers rotation is the only one that can rival the Washington Nationals. The Dodgers don’t have the lineup that the Nationals have, but there’s enough talent to push this team to 93 or more wins. What they lose offensively, they pick up defensively.
The Padres aren’t as good as their preseason projections make them out to be and while I think Colorado will be better, the Giants are probably in the same range as their win total and that should set the division up nicely for the Dodgers. They could also be players at the trade deadline for some big money contracts to push them over the brink and that’s always an attractive fallback plan for a win total.
-END OF 2015 PREDICTION-
The Dodgers and their payroll approaching $220M are projected to be one of the top teams in baseball this season. It was a tale of two seasons for the Dodgers in 2013, beginning the year just 38-43 through the month of June. In July and August, nobody could slow down the Dodgers, who rattled off 42 wins in 54 games. With the division in hand by the end of August, the Dodgers coasted through a 12-15 September and fell to the Cardinals in the National League Championship Series.
From June 21 to the end of the season, the Dodgers were 62-28. Seeing what the club was capable of has given the Dodgers huge expectations entering 2013. It’s rather incredible given that the Dodgers were just 37-39 against division foes in a division where they were the only team to finish above .500. The Dodgers feasted on the teams below .500 in the National League outside of their division with a 25-8 mark against those teams.
The biggest reason for the Dodgers success was the pitching staff. The Dodgers allowed 582 runs, the third-best mark in the league. Over 54 games in July and August, the Dodgers allowed just 2.74 runs per game and exactly three runs per game following the All-Star Break. The Dodgers have a nice home-field advantage for pitchers, but their offense also suffered at home. The Dodgers scored just 3.5 runs per game at home, but 4.5 per game on the road.
For a team that was 42-12 over two months and 50-60 over the other four, oddsmakers are certainly high on the Dodgers. Currently, 5Dimes.eu, Bovada.lv, and BetOnline.ag are showing 92.5 and juice ranging from -115 to -125 on the over. BetDSI.eu is at 93.5 with both sides at standard juice.
Key additions: Dan Haren, Brian Wilson, Chris Perez, Jamey Wright, Paul Maholm
Key losses: Chris Capuano, Ricky Nolasco, Mark Ellis, Ronald Belisario
Two things held the Dodgers back last season, their starting pitching and middle relief. Both areas were addressed this offseason. The Dodgers got great production from Ricky Nolasco after they traded for him and Chris Capuano when he was healthy enough to pitch. With both guys moving on as free agents, Dan Haren and Paul Maholm will be called upon to fill those holes.
Haren’s main problem over the last couple of seasons has been allowing home runs, something that the marine air and deep dimensions at Chavez Ravine will suppress. He remains a very good control pitcher. Maholm has also been victimized by a high home run per fly ball rate, in part because he’s a ground ball pitcher. The Dodgers had one of the top defenses in the National League last season, including great defense at the infield corners.
Brian Wilson, Chris Perez, and Jamey Wright will slot into a bullpen that was top-heavy with talent and lacking depth. Wilson and Perez, two former closers, and the rubber-armed Wright will strengthen this bullpen from top to bottom. Even though the Dodgers let 2013 leader in appearances Ronald Belisario walk, this unit looks much deeper than last season.
The only question left unanswered for the Dodgers is at second base where Cuban import Alexander Guerrero will take over for Mark Ellis. Ellis was a more valuable player than his stat line would indicate, as he was a well above average defender and put up pretty decent numbers for a second baseman in a bad hitter’s park. Scouts and statisticians aren’t sold on Guerrero’s numbers in Cuba, nor are they sold on his defense, even with a move from shortstop to second base.
Why bet the over?
In terms of talent, this may be the most loaded roster in the Major Leagues. Money will buy you a lot of talent and that’s what the Dodgers and their ridiculously-lucrative television deal have done. With Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez, Matt Kemp, and the ability to make financial commitments and take chances with guys like Yasiel Puig, Hyun-Jin Ryu, and Alexander Guerrero, the sky is the limit for this team.
It starts with the pitching. With a rotation of Kershaw-Greinke-Ryu-Haren-Maholm/Beckett, this rotation has a little bit of everything. Kershaw is an elite talent that you can pencil in for a great season like clockwork. Since his second full season in the Majors, Kershaw has accumulated 4.1 or more fWAR per season. He’s averaged just over six fWAR over the last three seasons. He’s an elite, number one star. He’s also durable, with 161 starts over the last five seasons. Kershaw’s 2.39 FIP trailed only Matt Harvey’s 2.00 and tied with Anibal Sanchez for the second-best in baseball. Nobody came close to his 1.83 FIP. Over the last three seasons, the Dodgers are 63-36 when Kershaw starts.
The Dodgers’ ridiculous run in 2013 coincided with Zack Greinke’s performance. From June 22 to September 28, Greinke’s stat line looked like this: 12-2, 2.03 ERA, 113 K, 31 BB, and a .589 OPS against. The Dodgers were 16-3 in Greinke’s 19 starts during that span. Greinke missed a month due to a broken collarbone from a bench-clearing brawl that he instigated from April 11 to May 15. Also missing time in that span was Chris Capuano. It’s no surprise that the Dodgers struggled early on without two key contributors of their starting rotation and it was before they added Ricky Nolasco via trade. A healthy Greinke gives the Dodgers one of, if not the best, 1-2 punches in the National League.
Hyun-Jin Ryu was great in his first season in the Majors. The South Korea native came as advertised with great control and a terrific change-up. That change-up neutralized right-handed hitters and Ryu posted a 3.1 fWAR season with a 3.00 ERA and a 3.24 FIP. Ryu’s numbers were even better in the second half and his 61/10 strikeout-to-walk ratio proved that he could withstand the rigors of a full MLB season. Ryu did benefit a lot from pitching at home, as his home ERA was 1.37 points better than his road mark, but a 3.69 ERA on the road is still above average.
Dan Haren just might be what the Dodgers need to get to the next level. As mentioned above, the big problem for Haren has been the long ball over the last couple of seasons and he’s got a very friendly ballpark to pitch in now. With road starts in San Diego and San Francisco as well, Haren’s benefits from moving to the NL West should continue on the road. His velocity has dwindled but he has varied his fastball looks with more splitters and cutters to stay away from the barrel of the bat. If he stays healthy, he has a lot of upside in Dodger Stadium with this offense.
Whoever wins the rotation battle between Josh Beckett and Paul Maholm won’t be asked to do a whole lot with the other four guys pulling the bulk of the weight. Whoever doesn’t win the rotation battle should add depth in one way or another. Stephen Fife looked serviceable in 10 starts, giving the Dodgers some quality depth.
Kenley Jansen has some of the best swing-and-miss stuff among NL closers. His 38 percent strikeout rate tied Craig Kimbrel and trailed only Aroldis Chapman. His 6.17 strikeout-to-walk rate was the fourth-best in baseball. When he gets a save opportunity, he finishes it off. After Don Mattingly inexplicably tried to use Brandon League in the closer’s role, Jansen took the job in June and thrived. He is the anchor of a very intriguing bullpen.
Behind Jansen are former closers Brian Wilson and Chris Perez. Wilson was dominant in 18 regular season appearances following his return from Tommy John surgery number two. Perez lost his closer’s job with the Indians and was subject to the wrath of many Tribe fans. Perez was arrested for having weed shipped to his dog in June and had been a ticking time bomb in the clubhouse for the better part of two years. He gets a fresh start in Los Angeles, a place where his tendency to give up home runs should be lessened and where weed is pretty plentiful. These two are no sure bets, but live arms once propelled them to the closer’s role, so there’s a lot of potential in a setup capacity.
JP Howell will be the primary matchup lefty and could be joined by Paco Rodriguez, who was second on the Dodgers with 76 appearances last season. The rest of the depth, including Brandon League, has some strikeout ability but also some control issues. The bullpen, overall, has a lot of talent, but also some red flags with injuries and former closers not accustomed to setup roles.
The Dodgers lineup was in the middle of the pack in wOBA last season without Matt Kemp. Adrian Gonzalez and Andre Ethier were the only guys to play over 140 games. Yasiel Puig had a huge impact on the Dodgers offense when he was called up in early June. Puig certainly comes with his share of concerns, but hitting is not one of them. Puig posted a .319/.391/.534 slash line and a .398 wOBA in his first season in the bigs. In just 104 games, Puig compiled a 4.0 fWAR, despite some shaky defensive decisions saved by his howitzer of an arm. A full season of Puig certainly makes this offense better.
What will Matt Kemp give the Dodgers in 2014? He had just 290 plate appearances last season and missed time in 2012 as well. In the same boat is Carl Crawford, who hasn’t been healthy since 2010. Kemp is just 29 and could definitely have a bounce back year if he can stay in the lineup and his power hasn’t left him. Crawford was still above average last season, especially for production from left field, and a similar season of around 15 steals and a .280 or better batting average will deepen the Dodgers lineup.
Hanley Ramirez also played just 86 games last season, yet was able to put together a monster offensive season. In those 86 games, Ramirez amassed 5.1 fWAR and a slash line of .345/.402/.638. His 191 wRC+ was second among all players with 300 or more plate appearances, trailing only Miguel Cabrera by one. Hanley improved in every offensive category except for walk rate. It will be Ramirez’s age 30 season, so he’s still within his prime. The production from last season is probably unsustainable, but a full season of Hanley performing remotely close to that production will add a lot to the Dodgers offensively.
AJ Ellis is due for a bounce back, making him a very valuable player, both offensively and defensively for the Dodgers. His .269 BABIP from last season was 60 points below last season’s .329 and lowered his career BABIP to .301. That appears to be an anomaly and it led to a 32-point drop in batting average. Already a strong defensive catcher, any offense the Dodgers get is gravy, but Ellis’s contributions should improve in 2014.
If this group can stay healthy, there really aren’t any holes.
Why bet the under?
If this group can’t stay healthy, there are plenty of holes. The Dodgers spent so much money creating a starting nine that the team’s depth is very poor. Outside of injuries, some guys will definitely regress in their offensive performance. Hanley Ramirez probably leads the list. His .363 BABIP was the second-highest of his career and highest since 2009, when he was in his prime. His power spike to 21.1 percent of fly balls leaving the yard was an unsustainable jump in power. He’s always been above average in that category, but 21.1 percent is up there with guys like Mark Trumbo, Nelson Cruz, and Giancarlo Stanton. Guys that are known as power hitters. Hanley isn’t a power hitter. He’s a good hitter, but expect the power numbers to come down. His ISO, which is slugging percentage minus batting average, was .293. His career high prior to last season was .239 in 2008. That was a long time and many injuries ago. He’s still a quality player, but his 2013 performance is not going to be replicated.
Yasiel Puig put over 50 percent of balls in play on the ground, yet managed a .383 BABIP. BABIP is a measure of luck and Puig’s was certainly good. He hits the ball hard for sure, but it would be very reasonable to expect Puig’s batting average and on-base percentage come down. Puig does swing and miss quite a bit and the pitchers around the league will adjust to him. Like Ramirez, Puig will continue to be a good offensive contributor, but expect his numbers to come down.
Along with the injury concerns to Ramirez, Matt Kemp and Carl Crawford are probably going to miss significant time at some point. Another question mark is Juan Uribe. Uribe was a horrible hitter for two seasons before suddenly turning it around last season to post a wRC+ of 116. Most of Uribe’s value has come defensively over the last few seasons. He’ll turn 34 while the Dodgers are opening the season in Australia, so it’s about that time where age starts to catch up with a lot of guys. That’s especially true of Uribe who has never really been lauded as somebody who keeps himself in great shape. He posted a 5.1 fWAR season last year, the best of his career by far. Don’t expect that again.
Alexander Guerrero is a pretty big question mark. While Mark Ellis didn’t put up huge numbers or anything earth-shattering, Guerrero joins Puig as a guy who hopes that his Cuban success will translate to the Majors. Scouts aren’t sure that his free-swinging approach will work favorably in the Majors. Unlike Puig, who spent time in the minor leagues, Guerrero is the favorite to start at second base. With limited middle infield depth behind him, there’s a lot of pressure on Guerrero to succeed. His Spring Training appearances suggest that he will start the season in the minors, so the Dodgers will definitely be below average at second base to start the year.
There’s the chance that the back-end of the rotation for the Dodgers could be a lot more exciting on paper than it is on the field. Dan Haren, Paul Maholm, and Josh Beckett are all dealt with various ailments of late. Haren and Beckett have seen velocity drops in recent years. There is nearly 5,500 innings worth of pitches weighing on those three arms. The Dodgers are built as a team that needs to stay healthy. The depth behind Haren, Maholm, and Beckett is very shaky and very inexperienced.
Pick: Under 93.5 (BetDSI)
Ninety-four games is a hell of a lot to win. The Dodgers are in a much-improved division that they didn’t have much success in last season and a lot of money and a lot of expectations are riding on this team. They’re clearly the most talented team in the division, if not the entire National League, but there are so many injury concerns that picking them to win 94 games is probably not a good bet.
The Dodgers put together two incredible months to take charge of a mediocre division and were 10 games under .500 in the other four. Things changed and the personnel was drastically better when Puig came up, Greinke got healthy, and Jansen took over the closer’s role, but the pace is simply unsustainable. Ninety-four wins is a .580 winning percentage and that takes a ton of consistency to achieve. Consistency generally comes in the form of staying healthy.
While this team undoubtedly has the talent to win 94 or more games and possibly go on to the World Series, the grind of 162 games with a team chock full of injury-prone players is probably not going to be friendly to the Dodgers.