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Saturday, March 3, 2012

Season Previews, Part Eighteen: Los Angeles Dodgers

2011 Record: 82-79
Pythag Record: 84-77
Games Out of First: 11.5
2011 Recap:
The Dodgers in 2011 were very much a top heavy team.  Two players accounted for nearly 17 wins (16.8), which is relatively insane.  Clayton Kershaw wrapped up the NL Cy Young with a great pitching performance, but Matt Kemp absolutely stole the show with his massive 10 win season.  A 171 OPS+ was among the highest in the league, and since Kemp plays center field, that offense generated 9 offensive wins.  Kemp actually missed a 40/40 season by one home run, which he could have gotten had the Dodgers not been limited to 161 games.  Outside of those two guys, however, the Dodgers found themselves to be a rather mediocre team.  Kemp was on an island offensively, with only two of his teammates generating two or more wins on offense (and they were very narrowly just over two wins).  The Dodgers did find themselves with a rather strong bullpen, and it seems the club is ready to move on completely from Jonathan Broxton as young fireballer Kenley Jansen looks to be ready to take over the closer's role for the long term.  One thing that probably frustrated Dodger fans to no end was the performance of Chad Billingsley.  At one point, Billingsley looked as if he was going to develop into one of the game's elite starters.  However, after three years where he averaged nearly 4.0 fWAR, he fell down to 2.1 fWAR in 188 innings.  At age 26, Billingsley is at the point in his career where he should be making positive strides, not negative ones.
Top 5 Hitters by WAR:
1. Matt Kemp: 10.0
2. Jamey Carroll: 1.8
3. Rod Barajas: 1.4
4. Andre Ethier: 1.3
5. Tony Gwynn and James Loney: 1.1
Top 5 Pitchers by WAR:
1. Clayton Kershaw: 6.8
2. Hiroki Kuroda: 2.4
3. Chad Billingsley: 2.1
4. Kenley Jansen: 1.5
5. Ted Lilly: 1.3
Off Season Overview:
You probably noticed a bit of a problem after looking at the lists for top hitters and pitchers: the Dodgers don't have a lot of talent.  Well, this problem only got worse over the off season as Jamey Carroll left for Minnesota and Hiroki Kuroda decided to try to go win in New York with the Yankees.  Now, to be fair, nobody can truly blame Colletti for not being able to do much this off season.  As you probably heard, Frank McCourt's divorce case got a bit heated and now Bud Selig has essentially issued an ultimatum forcing McCourt to sell the team.  Because of that fact, the sale of the team has dominated the news for the Dodgers this off season, and it has completely overshadowed all of the transactions that have gone down this off season.  Undoubtedly the second biggest move the Dodgers made this off season was reaching a new deal with ace pitcher Clayton Kershaw, who agreed to a 2 year/ $19 million extension to avoid the issue of arbitration.  Outside of that, the Dodgers merely filled some roster spots.  They agreed to two year deals with Aaron Harang, Jerry Hairston, Chris Capuano, and Mark Ellis.  Outside of that, however...
Oh wait!  Let's not forget one of the biggest deals of the entire off season (both literally and figuratively): Matt Kemp's 8 year/ $160 million extension that will keep him in Dodger Blue for all of his prime.  There's very little chance of it happening, but if Kemp were to repeat a 10 win season, the Dodgers would be paying him 2 million dollars per win, which is fantastic.  The Dodgers may not have much front line talent, but they made sure to lock it up this off season.
Notable Additions:
SP Aaron Harang
INF/OF Jerry Hairston, Jr.
SP Chris Capuano
INF Mark Ellis
Notable Subtractions:
SS Jamey Carroll
SP Hiroki Kuroda
Projected Lineup:

1. Dee Gordon, SS
2. Mark Ellis, 2B
3. Matt Kemp, CF
4. Andre Ethier, RF
5. James Loney, 1B
6. Jerry Sands, LF
7. Juan Uribe, 3B
8. A.J. Ellis, C
9. Pitcher
Oh boy, this offense could be in a lot of trouble.  In fact, this offense is going to be one of the worst in the majors in 2012 by the looks of it.  Since I am not high on Matt Kemp being able to perform anywhere near what he did in 2011 (he'll still be really good, just not 9 oWAR good), the outlook is bleak here.  There isn't much power or patience in this lineup at all.  Contact ability and speed will be great strengths, so perhaps the Dodgers would be best off trying to utilize a bit of small ball in front of Kemp and Ethier.  The team was 9th in runs in the NL in 2012, but that was with the monstrosity of a season Kemp had.  I think this team is staring down the barrel of the 12-13 range in terms of runs scored as far as their rank in the National League.
Projected Rotation:

LH Clayton Kershaw
RH Chad Billingsley
LH Ted Lilly
RH Aaron Harang
LH Chris Capuano (open spot I think)
It's hard to believe, but the outlook for the starting rotation could be much worse than it was last year.  Kershaw at the top will still be one of the best pitchers in baseball, and I think it's safe to give him 6.5 to 7 wins for the 2012 season.  Then, Chad Billingsley could bounce back to the 4 win player he was before.  However, the last three spots in the rotation could be very rough.  The Dodgers might struggle a lot to prevent runs when the top two aren't on the mound.
Significant Relievers:
Kenley Jansen
Javy Guerra
Mike MacDougal
Roster Strengths:
Two things stand out the most with this team: 1) They have the front-line talent of an elite team and 2) They have a really good bullpen.  When Kershaw is on the mound, the Dodgers can be a very formidable team with Kemp and Ethier backing the offense.  However, over a full season, that top tier talent can't play every game.  This forces the average players to step up, and if they do, the Dodgers feature a lock down bullpen that should be able to protect the vast majority of leads.
Roster Weaknesses:
The offense is not very good and the rotation is not very deep at all.  In short, this team is not very good overall.  It's nice to have the top tier talent of an elite team, but when you have nothing supporting it, you can't be expected to win a lot of games.  That isn't to say the Dodgers have no other good players (because they do).  What it means, however, is that the Dodgers have to rely on completely average players to back up their only two stars.  Doing this simply isn't a recipe for success in MLB anymore.
2012 Outlook:
When I started this write up, I really thought I would get to talk more about a positive outlook for the Dodgers.  However, I really just can't say that right now.  The team is clearly more concerned about its future than 2012 (they showed that with stopgap signings and massive extensions this off season).  I think Colletti wanted to build a strong base for the franchise to provide a more stable environment for potential owners.  The Dodgers didn't do much to get better in 2012, and I think they are going to look to ship out some talent at the deadline this year in order to better stock their farm system after such trade debacles as the trade for Casey Blake (how's Carlos Santana doing these days?).  Anyway, I don't think anyone should expect anything out of the Dodgers for at least another couple of years.  Kershaw and Kemp are going to be phenomenal to watch, but outside of that not much is going on.
Potential Breakout Player:
RP Kenley Jansen
This kid is absolute dynamite.  He has one of the most electric arms I've ever seen, and the ball explodes out of his hand.  He does have a tendency to rely too much on his fastball (he throws it 80+ percent of the time), and he can overthrow his slider with the best of them, but when he is on, opposing hitters have no chance at all.  He's averaged 15.3 strikeouts per nine innings in the first 81 innings of his career, which is incredible.  He does have a tendency to walk guys (a lot) with his 4.57 BB/9, but I love these kinds of relievers.  You never know whether they are going to strike out the side on nine pitches or walk the bases loaded and then find a way to record the last out.  He's an adventure to watch, and I think he's going to be all over highlight reels in 2012.
Potential Bust:
I really don't see one.  I would say Matt Kemp, but he'll probably be "busting" down to a 5 or 6 win player. Hard to call a guy a bust when he's still going to be competing at an elite level.  Outside of that, who is even a candidate to bust?  Nobody else besides Billingsley was a 2.0+ win player, and they didn't sign anyone significant enough to have great expectations.  I could suggest Kershaw, but that's just dumb.  Right now it looks like people shouldn't expect anyone on the club to bust in the truest sense of the word.
Top Ten Prospects with Potential to Contribute:
The Dodgers have a few guys with good potential, but nobody at the higher levels right now taht really could step up and contribute.  Now you can see why I'm even less optimistic about the Dodgers for 2012.
Record: 79-83
Finish: 3rd in NL West
MVP: Clayton Kershaw (7.3)
Final Thoughts:
Nobody associated with the Dodgers should be worrying about winning right now.  The franchise is in a major transition phase, and things will start to look a lot better after May or so when the team is sold.  Once the franchise gets a new owner, they can rebuild the franchise, spend the money they should be able to spend as a large market team, and then get back to their traditional ways of winning.  Don't expect much out of the 2012 Los Angeles Dodgers.

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