03 February 2011
Each day this week, a member of the Bloguin family will preview the upcoming 2011 season for each of the NL West Teams. The Giants Cove (Giants), RJ's Fro (Padres), The Rockie Mountain Way (Rockies), TetreaultVision (filling in for the Dodgers) and D'Backs Venom (Diamondbacks), will all give their 2 cents for their respective teams. It's my turn to pinch hit and tackle the open inquiries about the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Due up next are the Diamondbacks.
1. 2010 Record
80-82 (4th in NL West)
4. Strengths going into 2011
Rotation, Rotation, Rotation. The Dodgers's strength lies with their collection of starting pitching. Clayton Kershaw solidified his position as the staff ace last year with a sparkling campaign. They retained Ted Lilly who was acquired in July from the Cubs as well as Hiroki Kuroda, whose eerie seasonal consistency has been an unheralded strength for the Dodgers. They grabbed Jon Garland from the Padres via free agency for an encore in Dodgertown. And then there is Chad Billingsley, whose great start in 2009 had people talking Cy Young Award contender. He faded that summer, but came back in 2010 with another solid year. Billingsley (26) and Kershaw (23) are the only Dodgers starting pitchers under the age of thirty in 2010. How long they remain a strength is a very good question.
5. Weaknesses going into 2011
Hitting. Not a single projected starter escapes without a major question. The most prominent four belong to the four best hitters in the Dodger lineup. Can Rafael Furcal stay healthy? Will James Loney ever hit for serious power? What's up with Matt Kemp? Is Andre Ethier recovered from the broken finger that sapped his power in 2010? New addition, Juan Uribe shined with the Giants, but even with San Francisco his original role was that of utility player, pressed into full-time play when Freddy Sanchez was hurt and Pablo Sandoval and Edgar Renteria struggled. Jay Gibbons is a reclamation project, Rod Barajas was the Mets reclamation project last year, and Casey Blake's .707 OPS leaves much to be desired at third.
6. After being one of the elite closers in the league, Jonathan Broxton fell apart in the second half of 2010 and lost his job. Do you see a bounce back or is he in for another long season? If he's not the closer in 2011, who is? Someone internal or will Ned Coletti deal Dee Gordon to the Mariners for David Aardsma in mid-May? (RJ's Fro)
Broxton's 2010 failures are another data point in the ever growing table of reliever unpredictability. Though we can say he lost it, his successes were all seen through the prism of small sample size. How many innings does it take before a closer attains the Mariano Rivera good closing seal of approval? A lot more than the 317 innings Broxton had entering 2010.
It would be foolish to discount the possibility of a bounce back, but without something solid pointing to his struggles (injury, off-field distractions, etc.) we have to qualify our expectation that he will regress to his previously established mean.
Case in point, Eric Gagne. He was dominant, then he wasn't, then he was toast. Plenty of people blame that on the steroids he is alleged to have used, but without more than a thin correlation between use and precipitous decline (no one saw Barry Bonds fall off the map, nor Roger Clemens and they are the poster kids for alleged steroid use) we cannot entirely blame Gagne's disappearing act entirely on post-steroidal implosion.
Relievers just sometimes lose it. This year will be telling, and with pressure on Mattingly to win immediately in his debut season, he won't get a chance to figure it out and right himself. He has Kuo and the pricey free agent signee Matt Guerrier competing for the job , and rookie sensation Kenley Jansen can't be discounted, either.
I see a progression where the annoited closer holds the job for a few weeks after spring training, gets put on a short leash after his first blown save, then loses the job after another. I fully expect Coletti to deal for an established closer like he did last summer (the short-lived Dodger career of Octavio Dotel) and to again overpay for that privilege.
7. What do you think of Don Mattingly taking over for Joe Torre? Is he really ready to take over with only a stint in the Arizona Fall League on his resume as a manager? (RJ's Fro)
Mattingly is in one of the worst situations in baseball. He inherits a club from a certified managerial legend, who's last season at the helm of the Dodgers has the excuse of the McCourt's time in divorce court to cover for the losing record. Mattingly's mentor gets those graces. He won't. The ownership turmoil remains. The roster has depth questions, that won't be addressed without a resolution of the ownership woes. So what he has opening day is pretty much it.
He's taking on this job without any real experience. The AFL time is in many ways a joke. Players are thrown together from different organizations for brief periods. Pitchers are there to get in work, not to really play to win. Hitters frequently are acclamating themselves to wood bats if they signed too late to play in the summer in the minors. Plus they are minor leaguers, eager to get to the show. Not established big leaguers.
If Mattingly looks weak at any point, he'll be tested by his own players. Someone's ego will be bruised with when a closer is selected, and that decision will be second-guessed far longer than it reasonably should be. Excedrin alert 2: Vincente Padilla is going to want to start again, which won't happen with LA's starting pitching depth. Remember, he got himself cut from the Rangers for having a bad attitude. Not a good pair of problems to have with the nominal strength of the Dodgers.
And then there is the lineup. It's okay. But it lacks depth and power and there are, as noted above, way too many questions. Injuries and ineffectiveness could easily turn an acceptable offense into an anemic one. Mattingly came up as a hitting coach, after a career as an MVP winning first baseman. Any failures at ther plate will be blamed on him, fairly or not.
8. Who is on the verge of coming up from the minors for the Dodgers, and can we expect to see any impact players emerging from their farm system over the next several seasons? (The Giants Cove)
The consensus number one in the Dodgers system is Dee Gordon But more qualification has slipped into the evaluations of the speedy shortstop. John Sickels questioned Gordon's stolen base judgement and his mental lapses in the field. Gordon should stay at shortstop, but he's in danger of falling into the shortstop prospect trap that has previously claimed Ivan DeJesus Jr. and Chin-lung Hu.
LA's system has decent depth, but there are many questions surrounding their top prospects. Is Gordon's speed just sizzle or can he put those tools together to make steak. Jerry Sands has great power, but his defensive defficiency limits his utility to an NL club. Top pitching prospects from last year, Chris Withrow, Scott Elbert and Ethan Martin suffered serious regression in 2010.
All hope is not lost. Last year's top pick, Zach Lee signed for a huge bonus, and has big league talent. Unfortunately, he signed late and still has no pro experience. He also needs to overcome a farm system that despite some highly regarded right handers in the pipeline, hasn't developed a quality right starter since Chad Billingsley came up.
Further limiting the Dodgers system have been ill-advised trades like the Octavio Dotel acquisition that cost former top prospect Andrew Lambo as well as James McDonald. Another high cost, low-reward deal sent Josh Bell to the Orioles for George Sherrill. Top prospects should never be traded for relievers. As the Dodgers saw last year with Kenley Jansen, there are frequently better options on the farm.
9. What's the Story with Matt Kemp? Was last year a blip or has he already peaked?
Like Broxton no one was able to definitively determine what caused Kemp's lack of effectiveness. And as such, it is tempting to deferr when assessing his ability to bounce back. Unlike B.J. Upton, whose struggles could be dirtectly tied to a shoulder injury, Kemp played every game in 2010, and has only missed 10 in the last three years. So he's not hurt.
So consider off-field distractions. The young star was in a much-publicized relationship with pop star Rihanna. But no one has ever built a metric that determines what if any decline is inherent in dating beautiful music or movie stars. Yankee fans (incorrectly, IMO) lauded Kate Hudson with Alex Rodriguez's successes in 2009. So the jury is out on that as a causal factor.
Striving for objectivity, let's look year by year. Kemp increased his total number of extra base hits in 2010 from 2009, while shedding 30 base hits. That loss was reflected in his BAbip which tumbled from an exceptional .345 in 2009 to .295 in 2010. That tumble is compounded by an extra 31 strikeouts on his ledger in 2010. But a .295 is within the expected range of league average BAbip, and .345 is way above normal. But for his career, even with last year's .295, Kemp has a .344 BAbip. Was last year regression or would a bounce back this year be regression?
The data are hardly conclusive, in fact, drawing conclusions from thinly sourced data is a fool's errand, or this blogger's raison d'etre. So here we go. What seems plausible is that Kemp's initial struggles were largely the result of bad luck. He took flak from both the field management (in the form of Larry Bowa) and from the front office. Giving the benefit of the doubt to Kemp, he started pressing to prove himself, which would tend to explain the extra whiffs and the complete erosion of what had been a fairly good stolen base success rate. Smart money says he bounces back strong.
10. Will McCourt v. McCourt finally conclude peacefully and soon or can we expect another season of a paralyzed front office due to the financial uncertainty in Chavez Ravine?
The legal battle that dims my view of the Dodgers has no end in sight. Frank and Jamie will be haggling over the division of their marital assets for awhile. Neither has a limit to the expense they will spare toward success nor is there a limit on their egos that nurture each's need to trump the other. We may not have evidence that relationships and breakups imperil a player's on-field performance, we do see, clearly that divorces cripple ownership. Padres fans know all too well how devasting an owner getting divorced can be.
The Dodgers situation has been worse because Jamie was the club CEO and not just the owner's wife. With the Padres, John Moores merely divested much of his interest in the club, selling to former agent Jeff Moorad, in order to settle the legal proceedings. The McCourts entanglements with the Dodgers are much harder to seperate.
As a result, the issue will persist, and the Dodgers will continue to suffer from an inability to set long term organizational goals.
Projected 2011 Lineup
1. SS Rafael Furcal
2. 1B James Loney
3. CF Matt Kemp
4. RF Andre Ethier
5. 3B Casey Blake
6. 2B Juan Uribe
7. LF Jay Gibbons
8. C Rod Barajas
SP -Clayton Kershaw, Hiroki Kuroda, Ted Lilly, Jon Garland, Chad Billingsley
CL- Unclear at the moment who closes. Jonathan Broxton lost the job to Hong-Chih Kuo last summer, and rookie Kenley Jansen saved a few games after being called up. This is the first big question new skipper Don Mattingly has to address.
Projected 2011 NL West Standings
1. San Francisco Giants
2. Colorado Rockies
3. San Diego Padres
4. Arizona Diamondbacks
5. Los Angeles Dodgers
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