This is one of a series of posts in which I will be breaking down every team in baseball. I am by no means a credible source—merely a casual fan who knows a little about baseball and would like to share my observations.
Today we look at the Dodgers, who hired a bunch of trigger-happy GM’s last November, which led to a historic winter of wheeling and dealing. Such a major overhaul seems counter-intuitive for a team coming off a 94-win season, but some experts say that this year’s Dodgers team looks to be the strongest they’ve had in years.
Projected Lineup: SS Jimmy Rollins*, RF Yasiel Puig, 1B Adrian Gonzalez, 2B Howie Kendrick*, LF Carl Crawford, C Yasmani Grandal*, CF Joc Pederson, 3B Justin Turner
Projected Rotation: LHP Clayton Kershaw, RHP Zack Greinke, LHP Hyun-jin Ryu, RHP Brandon McCarthy*, LHP Brett Anderson*
* new additions
The Dodgers failed once again last year in their quest for the elusive pennant they’ve been seeking, a drought that is getting pretty impressive. It isn’t in Cubs territory yet, but for the highest-spending team in baseball, a drought like that can’t be ignored.
In fact, the Giants fan in me wants to just turn this post into a list of things that have happened since the Dodgers last won a pennant. Things like Taylor Swift being born, the dissolution of the Soviet Union, or Bon Jovi’s “Bad Medicine” topping the Billboard Charts.
But alas, the objective sportswriter in me says I should at least attempt to honestly evaluate this team. I’ve got to get rid of that guy.
The Dodgers enter 2015 with the same core group, headlined by the consensus greatest pitcher on the planet, Clayton Kershaw. The Dodgers simply don’t lose when Kershaw is on the mound: the team’s record in his last 21 starts is an astonishing 20-1. Although, to be fair, it’s hard to lose when your pitcher literally gives up no runs. Anyone familiar with the basic rules of baseball will tell you that.
So that leaves it to numbers 2-5 in the rotation to try and cobble together enough wins to back Kershaw. Seems like an easy enough feat when you’ve got Zack Greinke around, the greatest human pitcher on the team, and Hyun-jin Ryu, one of the most unfairly overshadowed pitchers ever.
Yes, Hyun-jin Ryu. Calling this guy a #3 starter is akin to referring to “Human Nature” as the third-best song on Thriller. You wouldn’t be wrong, but at a certain point things transcend the notions of “better” or “worse” and you shouldn’t be ranking them.
Ryu could win the Cy Young this year, and none of you should be surprised when it happens. He had an up-and-down 2014, partly due to injuries, with a 3.38 ERA—decent, but worse than his career mark. But if you look between the numbers, last year was actually Ryu’s best season in the majors by a lot of measures. His strikeout rate and walk rate were career bests. His inflated ERA last season was due to a couple isolated blowups (which pretty closely corresponded to games in which he got hurt), but when healthy, he pitched at an elite level.
What does this mean for the coming season? I believe Ryu is the linchpin. We know that Kershaw and Greinke will be awesome, but it’s the 20+ quality starts the Dodgers could potentially get from Ryu that will be the difference between the playoffs or another disappointing end to the season.
Offensively, the Dodgers have lost some power, and look to be more of a station-to-station team this year. Matt Kemp and Hanley Ramirez are gone, so the Dodgers will need multiple people to step up if they want to come close to matching last year’s level of production.
Howie Kendrick should prove to be a valuable addition. He posted a career-high .347 OBP last year, and the Dodgers will rely on him as one of their middle-of-the-order hitters to help offset the losses of Kemp and Ramirez.
Also keep an eye on rookie Joc Pederson, who is coming off a 30-30 season in Triple-A for which he was named the Pacific Coast League MVP. If he hits well enough to stay in the lineup, he’ll be a 10-15 homer guy and a threat on the basepaths. And that’s not to mention the value he’ll provide on defense, where he’ll be the first actual center fielder the Dodgers have had since Steve Finley’s NL West farewell tour.
And don’t overlook Scott Van Slyke, who will split time at all three outfield spots. His slash line of .297/.386/.524 in 2014 made the decision easier for the Dodgers to trade Matt Kemp. Van Slyke has yet to perform to his full potential, and maybe what he needs is an everyday role in order to do that. The Dodgers should be willing to give him a shot.
Overall, if the pitching holds tight, the Dodgers will be worse than a year ago, but not much worse. I predict a first-place finish in this weak division, but they’ll need some real luck to advance in October.
Projected Finish: 91-71, First place in NL West