Clayton Kershaw. Image Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

2014 MLB Team Previews: Los Angeles Dodgers


Los Angeles Dodgers

2013 Record: 92-70 (1st in NL West)

2013 in Review

The Dodgers tried to prove that you can buy your way into the playoffs. They threw good money after bad at big name players in hope that there would be enough good to carry them to glory.  As it turned out, their plan worked.

Things didn’t look so promising early on. As of June 21, the Dodgers were 12 games under .500. They didn’t get over the .500 mark until July 19th. But from that point on, they went on a tear, eventually finishing with 92 wins, which was 11 games better than their nearest competitor in the National League West.

How did the Dodgers dominate the West (or at least, how did they dominate in the second half of the season)? Mostly behind a strong starting rotation and a precocious rookie outfielder from Cuba. It wasn’t much of a surprise that Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke were strong at the front of the rotation, but Japanese import Hyun-jin Ryu was as good – if not better – than the Dodgers had hoped, giving the team an excellent “big three.”

Offensively, the Dodgers paid quite a bit of money to Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, and Hanley Ramirez, and their offensive outputs might not have quite lived up to their salaries. However, that didn’t mean that they weren’t solid contributors.

The biggest star was Yasiel Puig. The young Cuban might have rubbed some people the wrong way with his antics, but he was positively electric on the field. In 102 games, Puig recorded a .925 OPS and was runner-up for the National League’s Rookie of the Year award.

2014 Preview

Offense

Yasiel Puig. Image Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The Dodgers could potentially have four excellent outfielders. Obviously, this would cause a problem since there are only three outfield spots, but based on the potential outfielders’ injury histories, I don’t see this being a huge problem. Carl Crawford and Matt Kemp have had trouble staying healthy in recent seasons, and it doesn’t appear likely that Kemp will even be ready to start the season.

It would provide a huge boost if either Kemp or Crawford could stay healthy and play up to their salaries, but I don’t envision that happening. Kemp’s outstanding 2011 season is looking more and more like an outlier, and Crawford – despite being paid like a superstar – doesn’t appear to actually be one. If healthy, his speed would be a definite asset, but his days of being an All-Star are probably behind him.

Andre Ethier usually stays healthy, but he hasn’t come close to matching the potential he once showed with a 31 homer season in 2009. That isn’t to say that he isn’t a useful player. He’s just more of a table setter, rather than a power guy as evidenced by his .360 OBP and .423 SLG in 2013.

The final outfield spot will be manned by Yasiel Puig. Last year’s rookie sensation has talent that is surpassed only by his ability to frustrate his coaches.

It appears that Puig is already in the doghouse. He showed up to camp overweight, and reportedly looked disinterested through most of Spring Training. Now, he’s dealing with a bad back, and it seems entirely possible that Puig ends up on the bench for an extended stretch of the season.

In the infield, there are a couple more highly paid players who have been somewhat disappointing in recent years. Hanley Ramirez has only played one full season out of the last four. His 5.4 WAR in 86 games in 2013 indicate the immense amount of talent he has, but it doesn’t do the Dodgers much good if he can’t stay on the field. It’s notable that last year was the only season where his WAR has been over 3 since 2009.

Adrian Gonzalez is yet another example of why it is unwise to give a large contract to power hitting first basemen. People thought that when he left San Diego and their notorious pitchers’ park, his numbers would skyrocket. But in the three seasons since becoming an ex-Padre, his highest home run total was last year’s 22. He’s still a solid offensive player, just not a lineup carrying star.

Third base will be manned by longtime veteran Juan Uribe. Uribe had somewhat of a resurgence last year with 12 homers, but it would be tough to count on him repeating that.

Dee Gordon will start off the season at second base. A few years ago, the Dodgers had high hopes for Gordon, but it seems clear that the team sees Alex Guerrero as the future at second. For the time being, Gordon will have a chance to prove them wrong, but he needs to show more than he did in 2013.

At catcher, A.J. Ellis is a decent hitter who is in the lineup more for his handling of the pitching staff. Any offense they receive out of him is a plus.

Projected Lineup

  1. Yasiel Puig – RF
  2. Carl Crawford – LF
  3. Hanley Ramirez – SS
  4. Adrian Gonzalez – 1B
  5. Andre Ethier – CF
  6. Juan Uribe – 3B
  7. A. J. Ellis – C
  8. Dee Gordon – 2B

Defense

There are some concerns about the Dodgers’ defense. None of their players save Adrian Gonzalez is considered to be an elite defender, and it is rarely a good sign when a team’s best defender plays at first base.

The corner outfield spots might be particularly troublesome. Age and injuries have lessened Carl Crawford’s ability to defend, and Yasiel Puig wasn’t playing well in the field when he wasn’t overweight.

Pitching

Zack Greinke. Image Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

The starting rotation is the Dodgers’ strength. Clayton Kershaw is on the short list of the best pitchers in baseball, and Zack Greinke is as good of a #2 man as you’ll find. Japanese import Hyun-jin Ryu was outstanding in his major league debut in 2013, giving the Dodgers a top three that is the envy of just about every team in baseball.

After them comes a couple of veterans looking to have bounceback years. Dan Haren got off to an awful start with the Nationals in 2013, but improved in the second half. The Dodgers are hoping that success carries over.

Josh Beckett is recovering from surgery and will start the season on the disabled list,but the team hopes he’ll be ready to join the team in April. If he looks anything close to what he used to, he’ll be a huge asset in the fifth slot.

After trying out a variety of bullpen configurations, the Dodgers eventually settled on Kenley Jansen as their closer last year. He performed well, and looks like he could be one of the best closers in the National League for the next few years.

The rest of the bullpen is filled with experienced veterans, and the team expected it to be a strength. However, most of their relievers didn’t have strong springs, and there were notable struggles during the team’s two game series in Australia. The most prominent names are two former closers. Former All-Star Brian Wilson came back from an career-threatening injury in 2013, and he and Brandon League are expected to provide a strong setup tandem.

Projected Rotation

  1. Clayton Kershaw
  2. Zack Greinke
  3. Hyun-jin Ryu
  4. Dan Haren
  5. Josh Beckett

Closer: Kenly Jansen

Best Case Scenario

The Dodgers big name talent lives up to its billing and they win the World Series.

Worst Case Scenario

Despite all the talent, there are still a lot of question marks. The injury prone players can’t make it through the season healthy, and Beckett and Haren aren’t able to bounce back, giving the Dodgers a huge hole at the back of their rotation. The Dodgers finish out of the playoffs.

Prediction

I think the Dodgers are easily the most talented team in the division. Some of their question marks might not work out, but I think enough of them do to give the Dodgers their second straight division title.

Projection: First Place

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