Monday, March 25, 2013

2013 MLB Preview #8: Los Angeles Dodgers

Greetings! Sometimes, throwing money at the problem actually works...

Projected Starters - AJ Ellis (C), Adrian Gonzalez (1B), Mark Ellis (2B), Hanley Ramirez* (injured) (SS), Luis Cruz (3B), Carl Crawford (LF), Matt Kemp (CF), Andre Ethier (RF)

Before we get to the massive lineup that this could be, I have a trivia question. Who led the Dodgers in Fangraphs WAR in 2012?... Waiting... Waiting... AJ Ellis! We'll come back to him, but I thought that was fantastic. Los Angeles made many, many waves after their ownership change, and the resulting lineup includes four guys who have been (or still are) legitimate superstars, and a 5th (Andre Ethier) who has put up solid production for a significant amount of time. The lineup is led by the one "incumbent" in the form of former MVP Matt Kemp. Kemp only got 449 PA's last season (due to injury), but still managed a .905 OPS and 23 homers. Those are exceptional numbers, but we can't forget that, in 2011, Kemp went insane with a line of 40 homers, 39(!) steals, 115 runs, and a .324/.399/.586 slash line that was good for a WAR of 8.8. He's that kind of signature talent, and while he'll probably never duplicate that, he's an exceptional player. After Kemp comes the Gonzalez/Ramirez/Crawford combination of imports. Adrian Gonzalez is easily the best player of the three (for me), and in a "down" year in 2012, he hit .299 with 18 homers and plus-defense at 1st base. The power outage is concerning, but I don't think it'll remain, and if he hits between 25-30 this season, they'll be happy with that. Hanley Ramirez hasn't been the same player in recent years, and he hasn't hit even .260 (batting average) in the last two seasons. Even with that, however, he had a better year in 2012, as he hit 24 homers and stole 21 bases between Miami and LA. The big question for Hanley is now health, as he'll miss about 8 weeks with a thumb injury, and there isn't a whole lot behind him. Carl Crawford is the great unknown, as he's virtually disappeared with injury/performance concerns since signing the massive FA deal in Boston, and he's already hurt this year. I haven't given up hope, but does he still run when he comes back? Andre Ethier is the second returning player (with Kemp), and one of the most interesting case studies in the league. He's an awful defender and an abject disaster against left-handed pitching, but he kills righties (lifetime OPS of .915) and since that is the "better" half of the platoon, his numbers end up looking good. Behind the plate, the aforementioned Ellis took walks at an absurd 12.9% rate last year, resulting in a very good OBP of .373 with 13 homers. He's a nice player and probably an above-average option at catcher.

Projected - Clayton Kershaw, Zach Greinke, Josh Beckett, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Chad Billingsley/Aaron Harang/Ted Lilly/Chris Capuano

Yes, you read that right. They have eight major-league-ready starters. Kershaw is one of the best 5 pitchers in the world, and has four straight seasons of sub-3.00 ERA on his resume with a career K/9 of 9.29. Frankly, those numbers are insane, and at age 25, he's in his prime. Greinke was the big-ticket acquisition who was a violent overpay, but he's still a very good pitcher. He has four straight seasons with 4.0+ WAR, and he's capable of the 9.3 WAR (229 innings, 2.16 ERA) season he put up in 2009 with Kansas City. He's got an elbow twinge in the Spring, so that's concerning, but as the #2, there aren't many better. Beckett has been good for a very long time (over 40 career WAR), but had a terrible 2012. He finished the year with a 4.65 ERA overall, but, on the bright side, he pitched much better in LA with a 2.93 ERA over a small sample size of 7 starts. I think Dodger Stadium (and the NL West) will be kind to him, but he's not particularly "safe" anymore. The last two spots are wide open, and there is an embarrassment of depth here. We know nothing about Ryu, but the scouting reports are very positive, and he looks to be virtually assured of a spot. As far as the other four, Billingsley probably has the inside track with his strikeout upside, but Harang is ultra-safe, Lilly has pitched at a high-level for years, and Capuano was fantastic in 2012 (3.72 ERA in 198 innings). It's really, really strong.

Projected - Brandon League (closer), Kenley Jansen, Ronald Belisario, Javy Guerra, Matt Guerrier, JP Howell

I can't fathom why they a) signed Brandon League to a huge contract, and b) have placed him in the almighty closer role ahead of Jansen. That said, League isn't a terrible pitcher (3.50 ERA or less in each of the last 3 years) and I think Don Mattingly will make the right choice... eventually. Jansen's numbers are cartoon-ish and his career K/9 is 14.58. That's not a misprint. Throw in the career 2.22 ERA and 2.05 FIP, and why isn't he the closer? At any rate, I like the rest of the 'pen as well, with former closer Guerra joining Belisario (2.54 ERA in 68 innings last year) and company.


There seems to be a lot of skepticism around LA, but not from me. The mistake that everyone is making revolves around the lineup's uncertainty, and while I don't question it, the worst case scenario leaves them with a mediocre offense, while the best case (A-Gon bounces back, Hanley goes 25/25, Kemp goes 30/30, Crawford plays and is effective) makes them elite. If you find the mid-point and then remember that the rotation is going to be outstanding, they are winning the division unless disaster strikes. It is a huge advantage to have two #1 starters, and if you add incredible depth to that, it's tremendous.


90-72, 1st in NL West

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