2010 Season Preview: Los Angeles DodgersChristopher Reina. 5th April, 2010 - 3:12 pm
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The Dodgers won the NL West for the second consecutive season and also advanced to the NLCS where they were eliminated by Philadelphia for the second consecutive season. They won 95 games, but their Pythagorean record had them at 99, meaning they were even better than advertised. The Dodgers cliched their playoffs very early on with a 56-32 record and they kind of coasted into the playoffs with a 39-35 second half mark.
2009 Opsera Finish: 1st
What Happened In The Winter
The Dodgers had one real need in the offseason and that was to acquire a legitimate veteran front end starter, but they failed to acquire Roy Halladay via trade from Toronto, let Randy Wolf go to Milwaukee without even offering arbitration, but did re-sign Vicente Padilla.
With the Dodgers extending Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier and Jonathan Broxton on top of a big payroll and amidst a divorce of the owners, it is easy to understand GM Ned Colletti's necessary frugality.
Colletti also let Orlando Hudson walk, feeling comfortable with Blake DeWitt and Ronnie Belliard, the latter was re-signed after a 1.034 OPS with the Dodgers in 83 plate appearances for a price under $1M.
Further savings came in the way of finally dealing Juan Pierre, who was shipped to the White Sox for John Ely and Jon Link. The Dodgers did have to send $10.5M of Pierre's $18.5M remaining salary, but it was a net gain for the club.
Dodgers Offensive Preview
The Dodgers were 11th in baseball in OPS and runs scored in 2009, even without Manny Ramirez for 50+ games. Ramirez's production predictably dropped from his outrageous 2008 when he came over to the Dodgers, but he still finished the season with a .949 OPS. But to be fair, the majority of those good numbers came pre-suspension, hitting for an OPS of 1.154 in April and a second half OPS of .838 while his homer rate and BAbip dropped significantly. This lineup goes from excellent to slightly above average depending on how Manny is hitting and how fearsome he is for opposing pitchers when he's parked right in the middle of it. At the very least, Manny should have an OPS above .850 with a real possibility of being over .950 again.
The other two strengths of Joe Torre's lineup are also in the outfield in Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp. They had OPS of .869 and .842 respectively while playing nearly every single day. They are each reaching their prime, so it begs the question of whether they can take one more step and get their OBP closer to .400 than to .350 to become legitimate middle of the order All-Stars.
Casey Blake had arguably the best offensive season of his career, posting a 123 OPS+ (.832). But he's 36 now and will only go downwards, even if it is incremental.
Beyond those four hitters, the remaining lineup was fairly average (Orlando Hudson) to disappointing (Rafael Furcal, James Loney and Russell Martin).
DeWitt had a .775 OPS in Triple-A, but he has hit well in Spring. Regardless, second base won't be an area of offensive strength regardless of who is going out there, unless Belliard hits like he did at the end of 2008.
Furcal will make $8.5M this season, $12M in 2011 and $12M again in 2012 if he reaches 600 plate appearances in 2011. That is a lot of money to be paying a guy with an OBP of .335 in 2009. Colleti was bamboozled by Furcal's production on the field in 2008 while ignoring his injury and the flukish nature of his production. He had a 1.012 OPS in those 164 plate appearances and he clearly was never that kind of hitter, nor was he even the hitter he was during his first year with the Dodgers in 2006. At this point, the Dodgers would be happy if he simply stays healthy and gets his legs back a little bit. Chin-lung Hu is the backup shortstop, but has yet to prove he can hit at this level.
Loney looked like a budding star after his first two cups of coffee in 2006 and 2007 when he had an OPS of .901 and .919 with excellent power numbers. Looking at his splits, he still can't hit very well at Chavez Ravine with home/away numbers of .709/.900. He finished 2009 with an OPS of .756, which was down from his 2008 of .772. Even though they would be dealing from a position of weakness, if Loney can't improve his numbers in 2010, a trade would clearly help both parties.
Speaking of trades to help both parties, Martin's career with the Dodgers could be winding down. His OPS has dropped from .843 to .781 to .680 over the past three seasons. He's gained weight/bulk and will be sidelined for the early part of the season, leaving catching duties to the very unproven A.J. Ellis and the over 40 Brad Ausmus. I was really surprised when we first began to hear the Martin trade rumors during the offseason before last and it is now easy to see what the Dodgers were forecasting.
Garret Anderson will play the role filled by Jim Thome as the lefty pinch hitter off the bench.
Despite some of these obvious flaws, the Dodgers should still score plenty of runs. They have a ton of depth to their lineup, especially considering Kemp batted seventh for a good part of the season. If Kemp and Ethier inch forward, Manny and Martin rebound and the combo of Furcal and Loney hit the way we once thought they would, they have a lineup that can compare to the Phillies in terms of NL offensive supremacy.
Dodgers Pitching Preview
While Clayton Kershaw fully emerged as a front end young starter with a 2.79 ERA and 9.7 K/9 rate, Chad Billingsley had a very disappointing 4.03 ERA with a 5.20 in the second half where people began to question his mental toughness.
Kershaw seems to be a legit southpaw ace that won't go anytime soon. Lefties couldn't hit him at all and he also had home/away ERA splits of 1.83/3.81, something we'll need to watch. He just turned 22 and though he was far from stellar in the postseason against the Phillies, he had a second half ERA of 2.27.
Billingsley's issues appeared to be more physical (hamstring) and mechanical than mental, which came later. He's looked solid in his Spring innings and should fully bounce back, especially since he's never been a product of pitcher friendly Dodger Stadium with career home/away splits of 3.71/.3.40.
Padilla was of course retained and will start their opener following his excellent second half after coming over from Texas. His 3.20 ERA and 8.7 K/9 rate is absolutely unsustainable, though he has always been much better in the NL (3.92) than in the AL (4.90). He will gobble up innings, but I don't see an ERA under 4.00 again.
The health of Hiroki Kuroda, who started last year's opener, is a prime concern for the depth of the Dodgers staff. He's been consistent whenever on the mound and is a reliable middle of the rotation guy.
As far as the fifth starter, we know it won't be Eric Stults who was sold to Japan. There is a good chance it will be Charlie Haeger, who had a 3.32 ERA in 19 innings with the Dodgers in 2009. He's bounced around a little bit despite still being young, but he could still pan out as a temporary fifth starter/long relief man.
The Dodgers have a clear strength in the bullpen with the hard-throwing Jonathon Broxton closing, supported by a former closer in George Sherill along with Hong-Chih Kuo, Ronald Belisario, Ramon Ortiz, Ramon Troncoso and Jeff Weaver.
Josh Lindblom is a wildcard, who was a second round pick in 2008 and fared much better in Triple-A than Double-A in 2009. He has had better success in relief work, though he isn't out of the running for eventual starting duty. Lindblom was named the Dodgers' best spring training rookie.
What Are Their 2010 Chances?
The NL West is four teams deep with the Dodgers, Rockies, D-Backs and Giants all possessing enough talent to win the division. Things have gone Torre's way in each of his first two seasons in Los Angeles, but I think some of that luck runs out in 2010. From top to bottom, they are clearly the most well-balanced team in the division, but their starting pitching is dangerously thin and I think the offense will regress from where they were in 2009.
I'm playing the law of averages as much as anything in betting against it, but I would of course not be surprised if the Dodgers do make the playoffs for the third consecutive time for the first time in franchise history.
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