2014 Season Preview: Los Angeles Dodgers

It may still be cold outside and snowing in some portions of the country, but spring is nonetheless in the air. 

With the baseball season just around the corner, Greg Kaplan and Alex Herd preview each of the 30 MLB teams and how they will fare in 2014, division-by-division. 

National League West

Arizona Diamondbacks / Colorado Rockies / Los Angeles Dodgers (92-70 last season)

Starting Line-Up

C: A.J. Ellis (32) – 115 games, .238/.318/.364, 10HR 52RBI, 43 runs, 17 doubles, 93 OPS+, 2.3 bWAR

1B: Adrian Gonzalez (31) – 157 games, .293/.342/.461, 22HR 100RBI, 69 runs, 32 doubles, 126 OPS+, 4.0 bWAR - 18th in NL MVP voting

2B: Dee Gordon (25) – 38 games, .234/.314/.298, 1HR 6RBI, 9 runs, 1 double, 10 stolen bases, 75 OPS+, -0.1 bWAR

3B: Juan Uribe (34) – 132 games, .278/.331/.438, 12HR 50RBI, 47 runs, 22 doubles, 117 OPS+, 4.1 bWAR

SS: Hanley Ramirez (30) – 86 games, .345/.402/.638, 20HR 57RBI, 62 runs, 25 doubles, 10 stolen bases, 190 OPS+, 5.4 bWAR - 8th in NL MVP voting

LF: Carl Crawford (32) – 116 games, .283/.329/.407, 6HR 31RBI, 62 runs, 30 doubles, 15 stolen bases, 108 OPS+, 1.7 bWAR

CF: Andre Ethier (31) – 142 games, .272/.360/.423, 12HR 52RBI, 54 runs, 33 doubles, 122 OPS+, 2.7 bWAR

RF: Yasiel Puig (23) – 104 games, .319/.391/.534, 19HR 42RBI, 66 runs, 21 doubles, 11 stolen bases, 160 OPS+, 5.0 bWAR - 2nd in NL ROY voting, 15th in NL MVP voting

Good News:

Matt KempWhat might stand out right away with the Dodgers lineup is the absence of superstar Matt Kemp.  Kemp has been rehabbing slowly from an ankle injury but has already seen some action this spring so it’s likely he won’t miss too much time.  The good news is outfield depth is something the Dodgers have.  Andre Ethier will get benefit and start in CF to begin the season.  Ethier is great at the plate, his career .288/.360/.470 line and 123 wRC+ are a thing of beauty and he’s a model of consistency.  Since 2008, Ethier’s only had 1 season with an OBP outside of the .360′s and has had a wRC+ between 120 and 134 in each year.  He’s also never played less than 135 games in any year since 2006, so yeah, he’s pretty good for a 4th outfielder.

The other members of the outfield, Carl Crawford and Yasiel Puig make the Dodgers outfield one of the best in the National League.  It’s no secret that Puig had an incredible rookie season, finishing 15th in MVP voting while only playing in 104 games.  His AVG will probably come down a bit but even with some regression, he’ll still provide strong power and speed plus good defense.

The infield has a lot of nice pieces as well.  Adrian Gonzalez and Hanley Ramirez both received MVP votes, especially impressive for Hanley who finished in the top 10 despite only playing half of the year.  Dee Gordon isn’t too reliable for anything other than stolen bases but he’s really just holding a spot for Alexander Guerrero who will probably take some more time to develop.  Then there’s Juan Uribe who had a career year at the age of 34.  While expecting a repeat of his hitting numbers may be foolish, Uribe has a simply ridiculous year defensively with a UZR/150 of 35.3 and a DRS of 15.

Bad News:

The biggest concerns for the Dodgers is making sure everyone is healthy.  Kemp’s injury issues have only allowed him to play in 179 games during the past two seasons.  Crawford and Hanley have also missed time recently.  Crawford played in only 147 games over the past 2 years and Hanley played in 86 games in 2013 and only 92 in 2011.

As with most teams, the bottom of the lineup doesn’t boast much talent at the plate.  I mentioned Uribe’s career year last season as being an anomaly; the most generous FanGraph projection has his wRC+ at 92.  Gordon only gets on base at a clip just over .300 and offers literally no power, making him a pinch runner who unfortunately needs to wield a bat.

Overall, the Dodgers lineup, if healthy, is strong and has a nice mix of veteran’s and youth.  Having a 4th outfielder is nice for a team with injury concerns and will provide some much needed rest but the lack of depth beyond that means injuries could really throw the season off.  Which brings me to…

Bench

Tim Federowicz (26) – 56 games, .231/.275/.356, 4HR 16RBI, 12 runs, 8 doubles, 78 OPS+, 0.3 bWAR

IF/OF Scott Van Slyke (27) – 53 games, .240/.342/.465, 7HR 19RBI, 13 runs, 8 doubles, 127 OPS+, 0.9 bWAR

IF Justin Turner (29) – 86 games, .280/.319/.385, 2 HR, 16 RBI, 12 R, 100 OPS+, 0.8 bWAR (w/ Mets)

OF Mike Baxter (29) – 74 games, .189/.303/.250, 0HR 4RBI, 14 runs, 6 doubles, 60 OPS+, 0.0 bWAR (w/ Mets)

UTIL Chone Figgins (36) – Did not play in MLB in 2013

Skinny:

The Dodgers bench is mostly worrisome outside of having Ethier on it once Kemp is healthy.  Scott Van Slyke is one of the interesting options as he has shown good defense and a knack for getting on base, though it’s in a very small sample size.  He got off to a great start in the first game of the season in Australia as well.  He’ll need to work on limiting strikeouts and hitting for a higher average but as a late sub, you could do a lot worse.

Justin Turner could be considered decent at the plate and can play anywhere in the infield, although his defensive metrics have been all over the place.  Mike Baxter and Chone Figgins are, well, replacement level players who don’t bring much to the table.

Starting Rotation

Ace: Clayton Kershaw (26) – 33 starts, 16-9, 1.83 ERA, 236.0 IP, 8.8 K/9, 4.46 K/BB, 0.92 WHIP, 194 ERA+, 7.8 bWAR - 2013 All-Star, NL Cy Young Winner, 7th in NL MVP voting

#2: Hyun-jin Ryu (27) – 30 starts, 14-8, 3.00 ERA, 192.0 IP, 7.2 K/9, 3.14 K/BB, 1.20 WHIP, 119 ERA+, 3.3 bWAR - 4th in NL ROY voting

#3: Dan Haren (33) – 30 starts, 10-14, 4.67 ERA, 169.2 IP, 8.0 K/9, 4.87 K/BB, 1.24 WHIP, 81  ERA+, 0.0 bWAR (w/ Washington Nationals)

#4: Zack Greinke (30) – 28 starts, 15-4, 2.63 ERA, 177.2 IP, 7.5 K/9, 3.22 K/BB, 1.11 WHIP, 135 ERA+, 3.9 bWAR - Silver Slugger, 8th in NL Cy Young voting

#5: Josh Beckett (33) – 8 games, 0-5, 5.19 ERA, 43.1 IP, 8.5 K/9, 2.73 K/BB, 1.50 WHIP, 69 ERA+, -0.8 bWAR

Good News:

Clayton KershawYou’ve heard of Clayton Kershaw I assume, I’m going to try to be rational when describing how talented he is.  During the past 3 seasons, Kershaw has won 2 Cy Youngs and finished 2nd in voting in 2012.  He led the league in ERA and WHIP all three years, was best in strikeouts and H/9 twice, had a combined bWAR of 20.5 and oh yeah, won a Gold Glove once.  What’s truly scary, is that since his rookie season, his ERA, FIP, xFIP, BB/9, and HR/9 have been trending downward and at 26 years old, Kershaw is just now entering the age when most players really reach their prime.  He may even get better. Terrifying.

Speaking of the Cy Young, Zack Greinke earned his own in 2009 and finished 8th in the voting last season (and won a silver slugger).  At some point after the 2009 season, people seemed to write Greinke off as a good pitcher but he fell out of the conversation for top guys.  Last season he came back into the discussion thanks to his 2.63 ERA.  Greinke may not be elite, but his FIP is routinely around 3.10, his K/9, BB/9 and HR/9 are all right around where you want them to be, and Greinke is a very good pitcher at worse.

The rest of the rotation is made up of veterans Josh Beckett and Dan Haren and the National League’s 4th best rookie last year, Hyun-jin Ryu.  Ryu, who pitched quite well in his 2014 debut, is an exciting player who has a real ability to get better as the game goes on.  If he repeats his numbers from last season, the Dodgers rotation will be one of the more competitive in the NL.

Bad News:

The bad news for the Dodgers rotation comes in the form of not knowing what to expect from Haren and Beckett.  Between 2007 and 2011, Haren only had one season with an ERA over 3.33 and never had an fWAR lower than 4.  During the past two seasons, Haren’s ERA has not been below 4.33, no fWAR over 1.8 and his K/9 has dipped a bit.  At 33 years old, it’s hard not to think this is a result of him hitting the back 9 of his career.  If he bounces back or even stays the same, he’s a more than adequate back end starter, but if he continues to trend in the wrong direction, it could make his starts a little more interesting.

For most of his career, Beckett was known for being good every other year.  In odd years, his ERA has been: 3.04, 3.37, 3.27, 3.86, 2.89.  In even years: 4.10, 3.79, 5.01, 4.03, 5.78, 4.65.  Last season, in only 8 starts, Beckett’s ERA was 5.19.  Small sample sizes and all but Beckett’s xFIP was 3.81 and his K/9 was above his career average meaning that the veteran could be due for a bounce back.  The problem is in the unknown because like Haren, Beckett is past his prime and will begin the year on the DL to add to everything.

Bullpen:

Closer: Kenley Jansen (26) – 75 games, 4-3, 1.88 ERA, 76.2 IP, 28 saves, 13.0 K/9, 6.17 K/BB, 0.86 WHIP, 190 ERA+

Set-Up Man: Brian Wilson (32) – 18 games, 2-1, 0.66 ERA, 13.2 IP, 3 holds, 8.6 K/9, 3.25 K/BB, 0.88 WHIP, 556 ERA+

MR: Chris Perez (28) – 54 games, 5-3, 4.33 ERA, 54.0 IP, 25 saves, 1 hold, 9.0 K/9, 2.57 K/BB, 1.43 WHIP, 87 ERA+ (w/ Cleveland Indians)

MR: Paco Rodriguez (22) – 76 games, 3-4, 2.32 ERA, 54.1 IP, 20 holds, 10.4 K/9, 3.32 K/BB, 0.90 WHIP, 154 ERA+

MR: Brandon League (31) – 58 games, 6-4, 5.30 ERA, 54.1 IP, 14 saves, 2 holds, 4.6 K/9, 1.87 K/BB, 1.55 WHIP, 68 ERA+

MR: J.P. Howell (30) – 67 games, 4-1, 2.03 ERA, 62.0 IP, 11 holds, 7.8 K/9, 2.35 K/BB, 1.05 WHIP, 176 ERA+

LR: Jamey Wright (39) – 66 games, 2-2, 3.09 ERA, 70.0 IP, 6 holds, 8.4 K/9, 2.83 K/BB, 1.20 WHIP, 124 ERA+ (w/ Tampa Bay Rays)

Skinny:

Kenley JansenKenley Jansen is probably one of the most underrated closers in the game right now.  In his 4 years in the league, Jansen has an ERA+ of 177 with a K/9 of 14 and a WHIP of 0.92.  Yeah, that’s pretty good.  In fact, the K/9 is right behind Kimbrel’s.  Behind Jansen is the more well known Brian Wilson.  Wilson pitched his way to fame with the Giants but has only made 20 appearances over the past 2 seasons due to injury.  What he has done in the time frame has been great so if he can stay healthy, it seems reasonable to expect one of the best 1-2 bullpen combos out there.

The rest of the bullpen, outside of Paco Rodriguez who has been brilliant in his first two seasons, is made up of experienced pitchers who have been around the block.  For a team making a playoff run, having a bullpen full of players who should be able to handle the pressures of a big game is important and the Dodgers have four players who have served in the closer role at some point in their career.

Top 10 Prospects (MLB.com)

1. SS Corey Seager

2. OF Joc Pederson

3. LHP Julio Urias

4. RHP Zach Lee

5. RHP Chris Anderson

6. LHP Chris Reed

7. LHP Tom Windle

8. LHP Onelki Garcia

9. RHP Ross Stripling

10. RHP Pedro Baez

Skinny: 

The Dodgers have a lot of interesting prospects but the two most likely to have an impact this season are Joc Pederson and Zach Lee.  Lee has the upside the be an ace and has shown great K/BB ratios throughout the minor leagues.  Although giving Lee another year in the minors might be the route the Dodgers take, if Beckett’s injury persists or someone struggles, we may get a chance to see Lee in 2014.

As for Pederson, it’s clear the Dodgers don’t have a spot in their outfield for him at the moment.  However, as mentioned earlier, the current set of outfielders aren’t exactly injury proof; Kemp is on the DL right now after all.  Should any of them go down with an injury, Pederson could get a chance to make an impact this year.

Season Prediction:

The Dodgers spent a ton of money and it seems to be worth it as they have a pretty talented baseball team.  It’s hard to imagine the team not making a playoff run as long as they can stay healthy.  The lineup is filled with talent, the rotation has a ton to like and the bullpen is comprised of experienced pitchers who can handle tough situations.  There are concerns about the amount of depth the team has and a long season could reveal some of the blemishes on their roster but with what the Dodgers bring to the table on opening day, projecting them for anything less than an NL West victory is selling them short.

Projected Record: 94-68, NL West Champions

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