Los Angeles Dodgers

Posted by Baseball Bob at 15:56
Jan 302011

As I try to describe the odyssey that was the Dodgers 2010 season, let us please remember what now seems like ancient history: The Dodgers were 2-time defending NL West Champs, and had played in (and lost to the Phillies) back-to-back NLCS series. Mark, after moving to the West Coast (and with some push from me, it is true), had compared the young Dodgers to the Boys of Summer, an exciting team of young players full of potential: Ethier, Kemp, Loney, Martin, DeWitt, Kershaw, Billingsley. With Furcal playing the part of Pee Wee Reese (the aging, veteran, future HOF shortstop) and a rotating cast of characters, the Dodgers were the team to beat.

They didn’t start out playing like it. Opening the year by dropping 2 straight in Pittsburgh (2 of 3), then losing 2 of 3 in Florida they climbed back to .500 by taking series from Arizona and San Francisco. Continuing the pattern, they lost 2 of 3 in Cincinnati and Washington, then broke the pattern (the wrong way) when they were swept by the Mets. A loss to the Pirates to start a homestand, and they stood 8-14 and dead last in the West. April ended the next day at 9-14.

They won 3 straight from Pittsburgh, though, to climb to fourth place, but lost 2 of 3 to the Brewers to sink back to last. Winning 2 of 3 from the Rockies put them back in fourth at 14-17. Traveling to Arizona they swept the Diamondbacks to get back to .500 at 17-17 and claim 3rd place. They trailed the first-place Padres by 5, the Giants by 2, and led the Rockies by only ½ game, and they were due to go into San Diego to battle the surprise division leaders. This was the moment when we “knew” the Dodgers would be all right: Ramon Ortiz started the first game (!) and was Bad (GS 39) allowing 3 runs in 4 innings but Sherrill, Weaver, Belisario, Kuo and Broxton were all effective and the Dodgers got to Gregerson in relief of Garland to win 4-3. Kershaw shut down the Padres to win 4-1 and Billingsley outdueled LeBlanc to win 1-0. Now they were only 2 back, still 1½ behind SF and on a 7-game win streak. Go Dodgers!

Houston came to LA and the streak went to 9 as the Dodgers swept a 2-game set. They split 2 games with the Padres (Ortiz losing) but claimed a share of first place with 2 wins against the Tigers. On May 22 they stood 25-18, tied with SD and 2 ½ ahead of the Giants. Short-lived: they went on the road and lost 2 of 3 in Chicago, won 2 of 3 in Colorado, and returned home 2 back. They swept Arizona to close within 1, split 4 with the Braves, closing to ½, and a sweep of the Cardinals put them up a full game at 36-24, after an 8-2 homestand. Cool standings had them figured out, though: even though they led the Padres by a game and SF by 3, they had the Dodgers playoff chances at only 24.5% compared to 63.7% for the Padres and 38.3% for the Giants. How right they were!

The Dodgers hosted the woeful Angels, and we thought this might be the year to break the jinx against the suburb, but no: 3 straight losses put LA back in second. Two of 3 wins in Cincinnati put them back in a first-place tie, but they had to go into Boston where they were swept, and two losses in Anaheim put the losing streak at 6, the team in 3rd 4 games back and hopes fading. They salvaged the final Angels game, but lost 2 of 3 at home to the Yankees (tough interleague schedule) and traveled into SF now 5 back at 40-35, though only ½ behind the also-struggling Giants. And darned if the Dodgers didn’t sweep the Giants, to finish June at 43-35, just 3 back of San Diego. All hope was not gone. They won 2 of 3 in Arizona (though dropping ½ game in the standings) and came home to make their run, facing Florida and Chicago. Unfortunately they split the 6 games, though gaining 1½ in the standings (a 4-2 record and they are tied for first), and interrupted the homestand with one four-game set in St. Louis. The Cardinals beat them in all 4 games and they hosted SF and lost both in a 2-game set, the losing streak was 6 games, they were 6 back and passed by the Rockies, so they now were in 4th place.

Rallying to win 3 of 4 from the Mets they went into SD still 6 back, won the first game but lost 2 straight, were swept again in SF and lost the home opener to the Padres, for ANOTHER 6-game losing streak that pushed them 9 back, only 2 over .500, and done for the year, for all intents and purposes, with 2 months to play. Cool standings gave them a 2.3% chance for the postseason, which is if anything optimistic. For the rest of the year they would play just under .500 ball, never more than 5 games over or under .500, and finishing 80-82. They rose to tie for third on two different dates, but were never again closer to first than 8 games, and finished 12 out.

Kind of like a reverse-Orioles analysis, I think I will look at the Dodgers as two half-seasons. While there is not a true seminal event (or even moment) that compares with the arrival of Buck Showalter in Baltimore, i was tempted use the arrival of the suburb of Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim on June 11. The Dodgers were 36-24 (their most over .500 all year) and alone in first place. The wipeout by the Angels began a slide that was 2-9. But they did rally somewhat, and I could use instead July 11, when at 49-39 they were just 2 back, and about to embark on the disastrous trip to St. Louis. The advantage of the second date is that it exactly coincides with the all-star break, and many sites give before and after data for that moment, so I will use it, instead. In point of fact, Cool standings has them as 19% for the playoffs on June 11, and 24% on July 11, so the latter date actually represents a high point in that sense, as well.

The Dodgers are no longer a young, exciting team. Their average age for position players, by B-R’s calculation, was 30.3 and for pitchers 28.0, making them one of the oldest teams in the majors. Kemp is only 25 and Loney 26, but Martin is 27 and Ethier 28, and add Blake (36) and Manny (38), and along with Furcal (32) and Carroll (36), with subs Johnson (33) and Belliard (35) and (ugh) Garret Anderson (38) and 30.3 is what you get.

Where did the wheels come off? How did they go from Champs to Chumps in the course of one disappointing season? Can they come back and be a threat in the West in 2011? I will, of course, not be able to really answer any of these questions, but I plan to try anyway. Thanks for listening.

Overall 80-82 C

The Dodgers on the year scored 667 runs (2 more than the Padres) while allowing 692 (8th in the league) while playing in a pitcher’s park. This record suggests they actually deserved a record of 78-84, within the statistical norm, but perhaps slightly lucky. The were an ordinary team, and deserved an ordinary record.

In the first half, though, they scored 423 (4.81/G) which was a half-run above league average, and allowed 393 (4.46/G) which was also a bit above average. They had a 49-39 record, and their RS/RA suggests they deserved a 47-41 record.

In the second half they scored only 244 (3.3/G) which is REALLY awful. They allowed 299 (4.04/G) which is well below league. They went 31-43 in the second half, and deserved 30-44, according to the Pythagorean theorem.

So first cut suggests that they just stopped hitting – the pitching was actually BETTER by this crude measurement. Odd: the Padres did much the same thing (what went on in Southern California?) – they stopped hitting late in the year.

The Dodgers were buried (4-11) in interleague play, which of course all took place before the all-star break. If we subtract out those games, against the NL in the first half the Dodgers were 45-28, a .616 winning percentage that translates to 100 wins (!) over a full season, so the disparity against their rivals is even more striking that the initial numbers would suggest: 45-28 versus 31-43 in nearly exactly the same number of games. Wow.

Hitters 65.25-96.75 F First Half 45.25-42.75 C Second Half 20-53 F—- (!)

Runs Times First Second
<3 57 23 34
3 21 9 12
4 18 10 8
5 21 13 8
6 14 11 3
>6 31 22 9

It is actually worse than it looks, believe it or not. The Dodger hitters started out hot, and it made the first half look decent (remember, C is average, and not park-adjusted) but their trend downward started early. Here is their month-by-month record, including runs scored and allowed, and hitter’s record by my metric.

Month RS RA Actual Hitters
Apr 117 129 9-14 13.25-8.75
May 132 113 20-8 15.25-12.75
Jun 118 108 14-13 11.25-16.75
Jul 92 102 11-15 7.5-18.5
Aug 119 118 14-15 11.25-18.75
Sep 89 122 12-17 6.75-20.25

The hitters were worse than the team every month except April. Even when they did score a reasonable amount of runs (June), they did it with a few big games, rather than by putting up a decent number in most games.

The OPS+ numbers of the Dodger regulars don’t look too bad – everyone is league average or better except their catcher, Russell Martin, who was sub-par again at 89 (OK, maybe this IS par for him – when do off-years just become years? But we EXPECT better of him. Plus he managed only 387 PA, so AJ Ellis (OPS+ 92 in 128), Rod Barajas (154 in 72) and Brad Ausmus (58 in 71) accounted for 272 PAs (and in the aggregate hit as well as he did).

Loney played every day at first base and had an OPS+ of 99. Of course, that is awful for a first-baseman; he really hasn’t developed any power (10 HRs in 648 PA) and is essentially a glove man at a hitter’s position. Casey Blake at third was also OPS+ 99, with a little less on-base and a little more power than Loney, but a league-average bat at third is also not what you are really looking for. He also played nearly a full season (571 PAs in 146 games).

Furcal at shortstop was great, except that he spent a lot of the season hurt, ultimately playing only 97 games (428 PAs) which somewhat muted the value of his .300/.366/.460/826 (OPS+ 126) season. 36-year-old utility man Jamey Carroll filled in decently, compiling a .291/.379/.339/718 OPS+ 101 line for himself, and fielding solidly wherever he played.

24-year-old Blake DeWitt started the year at second base, and his fielding was around average (above or below depending on whom you believe) and he had no power but was still a league-average hitter (park-adjusted, and with runs scored down across the league) at .270/.352/.371/723 OPS+ 100. He was shipped to Chicago in the Manny deal at the deadline, the price the Dodgers had to pay to get Manny off their hands. Coming over in the deal was Ryan Theriot, six years older than DeWitt and he was awful, compiling a .242/.323/.283/606 OPS+ 69 line in 228 PAs for the Dodgers. The Dodger hitting had already declined before he came, but he accelerated the process.

Andre Ethier, the Dodger’s best young hitter for years now, had another solid season with the bat, posting a .292/.364/.493/857 OPS+ 134 season, though his glove was so bad by all accounts that it blunted his value. He can throw but he can’t run, takes strange routes to the ball, and often throws to the wrong place. Ethier had some injury issues and was limited to 139 games, though he did post 585 PAs.

Matt Kemp, younger and with a lot more promise than accomplishment, again treaded water, posting a very disappointing .249/.310/.450/760 (OPS+ 107) line while playing in every game (668 PAs). And, again by all reports, his defense took a step backward (UZR has him worse than Ethier).

Until he was traded, Manny teamed with Kemp and Ethier in what HAD to be the worst defensive outfield in baseball, and possibly one of the worst in baseball history. Manny “every fly ball a heart attack” Ramirez patrolled left field with the grace of a bull elephant and the instincts of a 7-year-old. It was comical, as long as you didn’t care about winning. I watched maybe 10 Dodger games in which he played, and he made at least one appalling play in every one of them, often 2 or 3. On the other hand, even at 38 the man could hit, when not injured: in 66 games (232 PAs) for the Dodgers his line read .311/.405/.510/915 (OPS+ 151) which is really remarkable in this run environment. Of course, he was being paid $25M to do that, which blunts your admiration just a tad. And he did NOTHING for Chicago once he got there.

Here is the list of all Dodger “hitters” (I use the term advisedly in many cases) who got more than 100 PAs in 2010. It shows their position, PAs, OPS+ and then the same two again pre and post all-star game. It is quite enlightening:

Pos Name Tot PA Tot OPS+ 1st PA 1st OPS+ 2nd PA 2nd OPS+
C Martin 387 89 333 87 54 93
Ellis 128 92 51 52 77 119
1B Loney 648 99 371 119 277 72
2B DeWitt 292 100 253 100 39 100
Theriot 228 69 0 228 69
3B Blake 571 99 313 108 258 88
Belliard 185 72 126 86 59 40
SS Furcal 428 126 267 143 161 96
Carroll 414 101 219 100 195 101
LF Ramirez 232 151 216 154 16 80
Johnson 215 80 135 91 80 61
Anderson 163 30 140 27 23 41
Posednik 160 79 0 160 79
Paul 133 63 94 78 39 26
CF Kemp 668 107 387 112 281 99
RF Ethier 585 134 306 151 279 115

EVERY Dodger hitter did worse as the season progressed, except Jamey Carroll, who was consistently league average in both halves. And the fall-off when Manny was unavailable (or not a Dodger) was pretty dramatic, indeed.

What started out as a decent offense in a pitcher’s park, wound up with NO offense that was being carried by their pitching. And remember, further, that defense is included on the pitcher’s side, and this was NOT a quality defense. It had an OK infield and a horrible outfield. So the pitchers did even MORE than the stats suggest.

So part of the second-half story is that Furcal was great, got hurt, his subs were OK but couldn’t hit like him, and neither could he when he got back. Manny was great (hitting) when in there, but he missed a lot, and his subs couldn’t hit at all. Belliard absorbed too many PAs and didn’t hit, and then the swap of DeWitt for Theriot cost some more runs. Plus Ethier tailed off, Kemp tailed off, and Martin was hurt. Wow, what an accumulation of stuff to go wrong all at once.

Starters 97-65 A First Half 54.5-43.5 A+ Second Half 42.5-30.5 A-

Starter GS IP ERA W-L Deserves First Second
Clayton Kershaw 32 204.1 2.91 13-10 25-7 15.5-2.5 9.5-4.5
Hiroki Kuroda 31 196.1 3.39 11-13 20.75-10.25 10-7 10.75-3.25
Chad Billingsley 31 191.2 3.57 12-11 19.25-11.75 10.5-5.5 8.75-6.25
John Ely 18 100.0 5.49 4-10 8.5-9.5 7.75-6.25 0.75-3.25
Vicente Padilla 16 95.0 4.07 6-5 9.5-6.5 6.25-2.75 3.25-3.75
Carlos Monasterios 13 88.1 4.38 3-5 4.25-8.75 2.25-3.75 2-5
Ted Lilly 12 76.2 3.52 7-4 8.5-3.5 1–1 7.5-4.5
Charlie Haeger 6 30.0 8.40 0-4 1.25-4.75 1.25-4.75 0-0
Ramon Ortiz 2 30.0 6.30 1-2 0-2 0-2 0-0
James McDonald 1 7.2 8.22 0-1 0-1 0-0 0-1

The Dodger rotation was great, and it was great all year. The top 3 didn’t miss a start between them, and compare pretty well with anyone. Of course, this isn’t park-adjusted and Dodger Stadium played as a serious pitcher’s park this year – Billingsley’s 3.57 ERA was only an ERA+ 107 after park-and-league adjustments. But he went out and got the job done game after game, as reflected in his deserved W-L record. And Kershaw was one of the top starters in baseball.

Clayton Kershaw, who is not yet 23 (his birthday is in March), had his second terrific season in a row (last year he was only 8-8 but with an ERA of 2.79, ERA+ 143), and a more consistent pitcher you would be hard-pressed to find, as reflected in his deserved 25-7 record. He has played for basically league minimum for all three seasons of his ML career, and is eligible for arbitration for the first time. I hope the Dodgers try to tie him up for the long-haul; he has had ZERO indication of arm problems, or fatigue, and was just as good at the end of 2010 as at the start, which was very good, indeed.

Chad Billingsley, an ancient 25 himself, has the tag of “former #1 starter” hung around his neck at a pretty early age, but he was very solid himself. This was his 5th ML season (so he started at 21) and after two really terrific seasons in 2007-8 he had a disappointment last year, and some might say another this season. I thought, actually, that he was pitching very well, especially early in the season, and that he showed pretty well all season. I go into 2011 with high hopes for the dynamic duo Kershaw/Billingsley.

Hiroki Kuroda is a Japanese League import, who appeared in LA in 2008 at age 33. He has been a consistent and reliable starter, though he missed a couple of months in 2009 due to injury, and his ERA+ for the three years are 112, 106, 113. He consistently strikes out 8-9 per 9 IP, and his walk rates are very low (2.1, 1.8, 2.2). It is hard to guess the age at which he will begin to lose it, but there is no real sign of it so far.

All three Dodger pitchers come out between 4 and 5 fWAR (based on FIP rather than ERA) but bWAR is a different story: Kershaw 4.4, Billingsley 2.5, Kuroda 2.4. My little study suggests that when your ERA is higher than your FIP (both Billingsley and Kuroda) you will regress to your FIP. Good news for the Dodgers, if true.

The Dodger rotation started off being these three plus former Phillie great Vicente Padilla and 26-year-old journeyman Charlie Haeger. Haeger had pitched briefly and well down the stretch for the Dodgers at the end of 2009 (3 starts of GS 57, 74, 37 deserved 1.75-1.25 and 3 effective relief appearances), and earned the fifth starter spot. He got off to a good start, recording a GS 60 (Good) on April 11, but it was all downhill: a relief appearance on April 14 was effective, but his start on April 17 was a disaster (GS 19, Horrible). Six days later he was Mediocre (GS 45) and four days after that (one game early) he was Awful (GS 29). A week later he appeared for 4 innings in relief and allowed 5 ER (yikes, and that is hard to do in 4 innings of work) and on a May 8 start he did not retire a batter (GS 23, another Awful). He had one more relief outing (Ineffective) and one more start (Bad) and was shipped off for the year.

24-year-old John Ely was the replacement for Haeger. Ely started for the first time on April 28 and gave up 5 ER in 6 IP (GS 41 Mediocre). 8 games later he got another try and was great, a GS 69 (Good, almost Excellent) against the Brewers, allowing 1 run on 4 hits and no walks in 6 2/3 IP, with 7K. That put him in the rotation to stay, and his GS from there read 58, 67, 50, 68, 76, 33, 38, 20, 69, 65. He was rolling along until he hit a 3-game skid in which he couldn’t get anyone out (Bad, Bad, Awful almost Horrible). He righted the ship and had two more Good games, but at this point he had back-to-back Awful games (21 and 20) on July 5 and 10, the Dodgers sent him back to the minors, and a couple of weeks later traded for Ted Lilly. Ely didn’t blow away AAA (but Albuquerque plays in an EXTREME hitter’s park) and he was back in September, after LA was out of the race, and he hadn’t found the magic he had had: 51, 27, 39, 22 in his final 4 starts. Still, he was pretty good for a while there, and overall didn’t really drag down the Dodger rotation (many a team would accept a young #5 who deserves an 8.5-9.5 record in 17 starts).

Lilly pitched very well for the Dodgers after coming over from the Cubs, recording game scores of 74, 56, 68, 92 (2-hit shutout with 11K), 48, 23, 68, 50, 25, 56, 76, 72 and was rewarded with a 3-year contract from the Dodgers based on these 12 starts. He showed the same on-or-off tendency with the Cubs, where he had 2 Awful and 1 Horrible start, but only 1 Bad one and 1 Mediocre one.

The other starter that Torre tried was Carlos Monasterios, another 24-year-old rookie. Monasterios made the club out of spring training, pitching out of the bullpen. In April he had 5 Effective outings, 1 Ineffective and 1 yikes (score 2 out of 7) and was given a start on May 1 (after Ely’s unimpressive first game). He recorded a Decent start (GS 52) but Ely took off and he went back to the pen. Four more Effective relief outings earned him another start, in Colorado (lucky he!) where he was Mediocre (GS 45) which is not bad in that park. He started four more times, with GS of 66 (Good), 49 (Mediocre), 27 and 22 (both Awful) and was sent to the minors. Back with the club he made 2 more relief appearances (all Effective) and two late July starts (57 Good and 40 Mediocre). 3 more relief appearances (Effective, yikes, Ineffective) and, with the season unraveling, four more starts in late August and early September (44 Mediocre, 57 Good, 26 Awful, 30 Bad). In the very definition of swing man he had two more relief appearances (both 2 IP both Effective) and a final start (30 Bad). As a starter he was pretty bad, not nearly as effective as Ely, but as a reliever he was quite good, and of course he is still very young.

Unfortunately, opening day starter Vicente Padilla, 32, made only 4 starts in April (Gs 22 Awful, 36 Bad, 62 Good and 54 Decent) and was rounding into form when he went on the DL April 22. He came off two months later and helped hold off the demise, recording GS from June 19 to August 4 of 45, 63, 71, 63, 83, 66, 65, 49, 90 – 2 Mediocre, 4 Good, 1 Excellent and 2 Outstanding. He was (apparently) reinjured, tried twice to pitch through it (GS 39 and 15), went back on the DL, came off for one last start on Sep 6 (GS 44) and was done for the year. Except for that final 3-game stretch when it didn’t matter, he was great when available, but made only 16 starts all season.

Relievers 81/464 C+ 1st Half 56/260 B 2nd Half 33/203 C+

1st Half 2nd Half
Reliever G IP ERA Val Gr G Val Gr G Val Gr
George Sherrill 65 36.1 6.69 -7 F 34 -10 F 31 3 C-
Jonathan Broxton 64 62.1 4.04 13 B- 39 21 A+ 25 -8 F
Ronald Belisario 59 55.1 5.04 9 C+ 35 10 A- 24 -1 F
Hong-Chih Kuo 56 60.0 1.20 42 A+ 26 21 A+ 30 21 A+
Ramon Troncoso 52 54.0 4.33 6 C 39 0 D- 13 6 A+
Jeff Weaver 43 44.1 6.09 3 D+ 29 9 A 14 -6 F
Kenley Jansen 25 27.0 0.67 16 A+ 0 0 25 16 A+
Carlos Monasterios 19 88.1 4.38 11 A+ 12 7 A+ 7 4 A+
Justin Miller 19 24.1 4.44 1 D+ 16 1 D+ 2 0 D-
Octavio Dotel† 19 18.2 3.38 4 B 0 0 19 4 B
Ramon Ortiz 14 30.0 6.30 0 D- 14 0 D- 0 0
Travis Schlichting 14 22.2 3.57 2 C 6 6 A+ 8 -4 F
Jon Link 9 8.2 4.15 -5 F 4 -3 F 5 -2 F
Russ Ortiz 6 7.0 10.29 -6 F 6 -6 F 0 0
Charlie Haeger 3 30.0 8.40 0 D- 3 0 D- 0 0
James McDonald 3 7.2 8.22 -3 F 0 0 3 -3 F
Jack Taschner† 3 0.1 27.00 -3 F 0 0 3 -3 F
Scott Elbert 1 0.2 13.50 -2 F 1 -2 F 0 0

The Dodger bullpen, like the starters, were pretty consistent between the (decent) first half and the (bad) second half, though consistent at a much lower level – slightly above average. Given the extreme nature of Dodger Stadium, this is a very ordinary bullpen. And unlike other pens, this one did have its share of non-contributors. I particularly like the example of Russ Ortiz, a 37-year-old former starter, hanging on for one last payday. He pitched in 6 games (all in April), recorded a relief score of -6 and was released. Now you might think that -6 means he was ineffective (-1) in each game. But, in fact, 3 of his 6 outings were effective – the trouble is that the other three were YIKES! So +3 and -9 gives -6. Similarly Charlie Haeger, in his relief outings, had 2 of 3 effective, but one yikes for a total of 0. If you are effective 2 times in 3, you only have to hold your bad outings to ineffective to be rated A+, but if they are all yikes, you are rated D-.

I knew that this bullpen would not rate high when I saw that left-handed no-out specialist George Sherrill had the most appearances on the team. I remember from his days in NY that Torre is OBSESSED with creating lefty-lefty matchups, even when 1) the lefty batter in question has no discernable platoon split and 2) the lefty pitcher can’t really pitch. One year Felix Heredia faced David Ortiz 8 times, and Ortiz slugged 2.500 against him. Well, Sherrill was this year’s Heredia: he pitched 65 times with a 6.69 ERA and a rating of -7. It is unconscionable for a manager to keep sending his lefty out there when he is obviously NOT getting lefties out with enough regularity, to the point where he is your most frequently-used pitcher. And look at the split: he was WORSE in the first half, truly horrible, so it is not as if he pitched well and then lost it down the stretch, and you kept hoping he would get it back (kind of like the Brad Lidge pattern) – he was bad from the start. To be fair, he WAS solid in 2009, but at some point you have to say “let’s go with a righty that can pitch”. Torre NEVER gets to that point. It is the job of management to solve this problem, which can be done in one of two ways: fire Torre, or find him a lefty who CAN pitch 75 times and retire left-handers.

Jonathan Broxton, the flame-throwing righty closer, lost his job to Kuo (pronounced as one-syllable Kwo), and Kuo actually had more K/9 (and many fewer BB/9) though he doesn’t throw as hard (Broxton routinely hits 100 on the radar). Broxton had a fine first half but struggled (and was replaced) in the second half. He has the misfortune to be right-handed, and Torre IS willing to replace righties. Kuo was truly amazing, and his ERA+  of 321 ranks with the great relief seasons, even though for most of the year he was “only” a setup man. His score of 42 in 56 appearances is off the charts – 20 would be A+. Again, for comparison, Mariano was 44 in 61, not quite as high a percentage.

The problem with the Dodger pen is that they had NO reliable third man, and a 2-man bullpen is not viable, given the way teams use the pen in this era. If Torre were an innovator, and/or a deep thinker, he would have seen that this team was the perfect team to try the Nolan Ryan approach: try to get extra innings out of your extraordinary rotation, handing the game directly to your two stars at the end of the pen, and using the rest of the pen only when the starters blow up, and the game is probably lost anyway. But Torre’s undoubted strengths lie elsewhere (he is a fine handler of PLAYERS as well as management, just not a great in-game strategist) and so the Dodgers had the split that most everyone has: Starters 1000 IP Relievers 800. This means that he gave almost 700 IP to relievers other than Broxton and Kuo. If each of his top 3 starters had pitched an extra inning in his starts, 100 of these innings would have been taken from a group with an ERA around 5 and given to a group with an ERA around 3. THIS year it wouldn’t have mattered (they finished a dozen games out) but it would have been worth 2-3 wins easily, perhaps more as they would have tended to be high-leverage situations. And if the pitcher that lost the innings were Sherrill (say, reduced to 8 IP and sent down) it might be 4-5.

Summary

When you have a great rotation, but backed up by an ordinary bullpen and a very poor offense, what you get is an average team, and by gum, that’s what the Dodgers turned out to be. And when your offense is OK in the first half, but horrible in the second half, while your pitching is pretty consistent all year, then what you get is a team that is in contention until the break, and then collapses to wind up in fourth place, just below .500. So, in this case at least, the statistics DO tell the story (and a sad story it is), and point the finger squarely where it belongs: the hitter’s were not getting it done.

The good news, if there is any, is that most of the hitter’s should bounce back; the younger hitters returning to their norm or improving, and Furcal recovering from his injury. And the rotation seems to be set for the future.

It was a lost season in LA, and it is not clear that next year will be better, but hope springs eternal.

On to 2011

Overall

This division produced 2 90+ winners this year, and a third (Colorado) who competed but fell back at the end, so the Dodger’s 4th place finish was legitimate and should be worrisome, but the Padres don’t really look at all formidable (more of a fluke) and the Rockies really had only one hot streak, so the competition looks to be the World Champion Giants. I haven’t done my analysis of SF yet, but that is the team to beat.

The Dodgers need to do something that is historically hard to do, though to be fair they have done it pretty well in the past: they have to remember that pitcher’s whose stats look good in LA may not be that good – their stats have to be GREAT (see: Clayton Kershaw) to be really good. Similarly, hitters whose stats look somewhat ordinary in LA are not that bad – to be really good in LA you may have less than super stats (Ethier is a really good hitter). The park suppresses all kinds of offense, and always has.

Manny Ramirez is a flake, who doesn’t always play hard, can be a joke in the outfield, and was way overpaid. That said, he earned 1.4 fWAR or 1.3 bWAR in just 66 games, which is all-star rate production, and of course INCLUDES his atrocious defense (if there were a DH in the NL, and if he played at this rate all year, his WAR would be about 6) – you have an extra $25M to play with, but you have to try to replace this offensive contribution. Xavier Paul is probably not going to get it done. There are holes to be filled, and it remains to be seen how the Dodgers will succeed in filling them, and that could be the key to their 2011.

The Dodgers made the decision to non-tender Russell Martin, ending his 5-year reign as their starting catcher, as he was eligible for arbitration and would likely have earned a raise on his $5M from 2010. They signed 35-year-old Rod Barajas to be their starter, part of the end of Boys of Summer Part 2.

Here is the Dodgers projected roster, from espn.com and Cot’s:

Name Pos Salary Age
Rod Barajas C $3.25M 35
Dioner Navarro C $1M 27
AJ Ellis C Pre-Arb 30
James Loney 1B $3.1M 27
Juan Uribe 2B $5M 31
Casey Blake 3B $5.25M 37
Rafael Furcal SS $12M 33
Jamey Carroll UT $1.8M 37
Jay  Gibbons LF $0.65M 34
Matt Kemp CF $6.95M 26
Andre Ethier RF $9.25M 29
Tony Gwynn, Jr OF $0.675M 28
Xavier Paul OF Pre-Arb 26
Marcus Thames OF $1M 34
Clayton Kershaw SP Pre-Arb 23
Chad Billingsley SP $6.275M 26
Ted Lilly SP $7M 35
Hiroki Kuroda SP $12M 36
Jon Garland SP $5M 31
Vicente Padilla SP $2M 33
Jonathan Broxton CL $7M 27
Hong-Chih Kuo RP $0.95M 29
Matt Guerrier RP $1.5M 32
Kenley Jansen RP Pre-Arb 23
Ronald Belisario RP Pre-Arb 28
Carlos Monasterios RP Pre-Arb 25

Too many players, so some adjustment will be made, plus there are some young pitchers (Ely for example) who may make the squad but are not listed here.

New Manager Don Mattingly may well have the opportunity to make an early impact on this team: choosing the actual roster may not be all that easy. He will (as you can see from the detailed analysis below) get to choose a left-fielder, get to decide which starter goes to the bullpen, and get to create a bullpen out of a dozen or so choices, with only a couple of givens.

Hitters

The currently projected starting 8 are listed below, along with my projected WAR (based on bWAR), bWAR in 2010 at the position, the player who earned it if not the same, and the best bWAR of the player projected, in any of the last 3 years.

Name Pos 2011 2010 Best
Rod Barajas C 1.0 1.9 Martin 1.5
James Loney 1B 1.2 1.1 1.7
Juan Uribe 2B 2.2 1.1 DeWitt 3.3
Casey Blake 3B 3.5 3.1 6.1
Rafael Furcal SS 2.7 3.4 3.4
Jay  Gibbons LF 0.0 1.8 Ramirez 1
Matt Kemp CF 3.8 2.3 5.3
Andre Ethier RF 2.6 2.0 3.5

This lineup projects to produce just as well as 2010, which is to say not hit very much.

Barajas appears to be a downgrade at catcher (ask Met fans) though his 2010 was 1.4 – if he were to match that it would help by ½ game.

Uribe should be an upgrade over DeWitt, and a huge upgrade over Theriot. Blake, Kemp and Ethier should all bounce back toward their 2009 numbers, and of course if they hit those numbers you get the Best column.

Furcal projects to further regress to the mean, even though he was hurt part of 2010 – obviously if he could hit like he did in 2010, and stay healthy all year, he would be great, but of course he has NEVER done this – either he got hurt or he tailed off. So projecting more than I do is an exercise in optimism: his 2010 was his best in several seasons, as it is.

Clearly there is a hole in left field – Jay Gibbons projects to play there, but he hadn’t played in the majors AT ALL since 2007 (until his Dodger appearance in 2010, described above) so he has no stats to project. He was solid for the Orioles (all his ML experience prior to 2010 was with Baltimore) with a 2.3 bWAR but his 5-year stretch (ages 26 to 30) is 0.6, 0.5, 2.3, 0.2, 1.8 and he is now 33, so what are you going to project. Projecting him at replacement level is possibly kind. This means, though, that the Dodgers can look for an option – even Marcus Thames (horrible fielder and all) would give more than zero value. And maybe one of the myriad options (Xavier Paul, for example) could provide a solid 2.0 or so. ANY value there goes directly to the win column.

I expect the Dodger hitters to improve by 2-3 wins.

Starters

A rotation of Kershaw, Billingsley, Kuroda, Garland, Lilly and Padilla has one too many starters. But the last four named are all in their 30s, so the chance of all four making it out of Spring Training without ANY of them being hurt is not that high, so there may be no decision to make.

If there IS a decision to be made (all six good to go) Mattingly will have to choose from among these options:

Kershaw is a given, clearly the class of this group.

Billingsley is young, cheap, and good, and should also be a given.

Garland was signed as a free agent, one year at $5M, coming off of 1.8 bWAR season with division-rival San Diego. He is only 30, but his years as a top-of-the-rotation guy are well behind him (last time over 2.0 bWAR was 2007) but obviously management intends for him to play.

Lilly came over to Los Angeles from the Cubs in time to make 12 starts and pitch very well for LA (actually, his ERA was even better, park-adjusted, for the Cubs)and be signed to a 3-year, $33M deal, making him the Dodger’s highest-paid pitcher, though the deal is back-loaded so he makes “only” $7M in 2011. Clearly the Dodger management expects him to pitch.

Hiroki Kuroda took from Lilly the title of highest-paid Dodger pitcher less than a month after the Lilly deal was signed, signing a 1-year, $12M deal, based on his fine 2010 season. Obviously management intends for him to be in the rotation.

Padilla was the Dodger’s opening day starter in 2010, and was great when he could pitch, but struggled at the end of the year. He signed a 1-year, $2M “gift” contract – a gift from the Dodgers, perhaps, as it was not clear if he would be able to pitch. But ALSO a gift TO the Dodgers, because current reports are that he will be ready for Spring Training. And HE could well be the odd man out, if all the pitchers survive the spring – it is hard to see him bumping one of the 3 free agent signees (technically he is one himself, of course) or one of the 2 young studs.

Still, looking at the Dodger’s pitchers deserved winning percentage, you have Kershaw at .781, Kuroda at .694 and Billingsley at .669, monsters all. But Padilla pre-injury deserved a record of 9.5-3.5 (he finished the year with three terrible games, but only after his first DL stint) which comes out .731! Jon Garland comes in at .598 and Ted Lilly at .692. So if Padilla is healthy, one could certainly make a case for putting Garland in the pen, instead. Not going to happen, of course!

The Dodger rotation looks better than last year, perhaps much better, on paper. The real question, oddly, is at the top: Is Kershaw for real? Watching him pitch, I am inclined to say that he is, but it IS a hard season to top! Overall, the rotation is clearly better at the back end, and if the kids can hold up the front end, it could be formidable indeed. I see the rotation as perhaps 2-3 games better than last year, as well.

Bullpen

Broxton had an off-year, but one would expect him to bounce back. Kuo was phenomenal – you can’t really expect him to be quite that good again. In Dodgerville, though, they were the ONLY two effective relief pitchers with any significant playing time in 2010.

Jansen and Monasterios both pitched well in very small samples (under 30 IP each) in 2010, and could well surprise (they are 25 and 23 respectively). Both are on the current espn depth chart.

Matt Guerrier was signed as a free agent for 3 years $12M (but it goes 2011 $1.5M, 2012 $3.75M, 2013 $3.75M, $3M signing bonus paid $0.75M per year for four years. He is 32 this season, and is coming off a solid (1.4 bWAR 131 ERA+) but not spectacular season at Detroit.

The only other pitcher listed in the Dodger pen by ESPN is Ronald Belisario, who was solid in 2009 but useless in 2010.

None of these relievers is left-handed. This may be a GOOD thing – perhaps Mattingly can be weaned from Torre knee-jerk style if there IS no lefty no-out specialist to call on; you have then to learn who can actually get people out.

Other relievers under contract with some ML experience:

Ramon Troncoso (RHP)

Cory Wade (RHP)

Blake Hawksworth (RHP)

Scott Elbert (LHP)

John Ely (RHP)

Travis Schlichting (RHP)

So Elbert, whose ML experience consists of 30 outings over 3 seasons, with an ERA+ of 61 and an actual ERA of 6.84, may get the call, as the only “experienced” lefty in the system. He has pitched 26 1/3 innings, and will be 25 next season.

Choosing among the bullpen options may be Mattingly’s biggest task, or at least the place he can make the most impact.

I expect the bullpen to be just about where it was last year.

Summary

Sadly, as I am a Dodger fan, I don’t see the Dodgers improving enough to compete with the Giants and Rockies for the division in 2011. If they go up 4-6 games then they will win 84-86 games, enough to tease but not enough to deliver.

I am, as always, prepared to be delighted to be proven wrong.

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