Saturday, February 21, 2015

Dodgers add Beachy with an eye towards the 2nd half

The Dodgers continued adding new pieces to their starting rotation today by signing Brandon Beachy to a one-year, $2.75 million deal with a club option for 2016.  He won't be needed until later in the season as he continues his rehabilitation from Tommy John surgery last March.

On paper, this looks like a good move, as the Dodgers can only hope he can give them an added boost later on in the season.  In a way, it reminds me of when they signed Brian Wilson at the trade deadline in 2013, who then went on to be a huge piece of the bullpen down the stretch.  Of course, he completely fell apart in 2014, but for a brief run, he was great.

Beachy certainly has some good numbers in his past appearances with the Braves, albeit in only 46 starts thanks to two TJ surgeries already.  For his career, he's 14-11 with a 3.23 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, and 275 strikeouts in 267 2/3 innings pitched.

Now he can rest and rehab with his surgeon Dr. Neal ElAttrache, who just happens to be based in LA.  That turned out to be a key factor in Beachy's decision in coming to the West Coast, so hey, sometimes it's better to be lucky than good.

If Beachy can come back at full strength, then based on his past success in the National League, this move could turn out be like a deadline deal, only without needing to give anyone up to get him.  Also, he gives added insurance in case Brett Anderson can't shake the injury bug himself.  Beachy could very well end up trading off with Anderson in the second half of the season.

Keep Beachy's name in mind as the summer months of June and July begin heating up.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

With Jansen out, who steps up to close?

Bad news coming out of LA yesterday, as Kenley Jansen will need 8-12 weeks to recover from left foot surgery.  Jansen was recently working out at Dodger Stadium when he reported discomfort in that foot.  Lo and behold, he has a growth on his fifth metatarsal, so he immediately when under the knife.

The news is bad, but not devastating only because of the timeframe it occurred.  Yes, it would have been nice to get this over with all during the offseason, but Jansen had no control over that.  Instead, he'll be looking at a mid-May return, which puts him out around a month and a half.  That's much better than this happening smack dab in the middle of the season, at least.

So now, the Dodgers have a giant closer role to fill, which won't be easy considering Jansen had 44 saves last season.  Let's take a look at potential options, both on the inside and out.

Current Bullpen - Joel Peralta, Pedro Baez, Chris Hatcher, Brandon League
The first guy to jump out would be Peralta, who's been pitching in the Bigs since 2005, but only has 12 career saves.  He does get his fair share of strikeouts, though, so that could be a good sign that he can translate it to the ninth.

Baez is someone to keep an eye on.  He only has 20 games of experience last season, but throws very hard and got in some action in the NLDS.  He's also virtually unknown to people outside of big Dodger fans, which could help him against batters who are unfamiliar with him.  Hey, that's how Eric Gagne got his start years ago, so you never know.

Hatcher is very much like Baez in that he doesn't have much experience, but throws hard and keeps his walks down, so he could emerge.  I only included League because of his past experience closing, but it's a longshot.  And quite frankly, if the Dodgers have him going in the ninth, it's because everyone else has flopped so miserably, they had to resort to him.

Minor League Invites to Spring Training - Sergio Santos, David Aardsma
Santos could be an intriguing option if he can get things together in the spring.  He saved 30 games with the White Sox in 2011, but hasn't come anywhere close to that since then.  Last season was a complete disaster with the Blue Jays, compiling an 8.57 ERA in 28 games.  It's no wonder his stock is way down, but if his arm is right, the history of brief success is there.

Aardsma had two excellent seasons as the Mariners' closer in 2009-10, collecting 38 and 31 saves, respectively.  After injuries set in, he had a very good season pitching for the Cardinals' Triple-A affiliate last year, and went to the Dodgers after attracting interest from quite a few teams in the offseason.  Like Santos, if the injuries are behind him, then he could be a sleeper.

Free Agents - Francisco Rodriguez, Rafael Soriano
K-Rod came out of nowhere for an excellent 2014 campaign, saving 44 games for the Brewers.  He's still unsigned, and latest word is that he's seeking a two-year deal, or a $10 million deal for a season.  There's obvious hesitancy in giving him so much money, as he's about to enter his 14th season.  Plus, it's hard to know if he can come anywhere close to last season's types of numbers again.

Soriano has saved 40+ games three times since 2010, and 32 last season, albeit with seven blown saves.  So, it's a bit surprising that he still hasn't signed with any club, as he has a career 2.85 ERA and 1.07 WHIP.  It could be a money thing like K-Rod, as he views himself as a top-tier closer who will only sign for what he wants.

Trade Candidate - Jonathan Papelbon
With the Phillies practically a sinking ship, you would think they'll finally be serious about rebuilding this season.  Cole Hamels is the hottest name in trade talks, but Papelbon could be right behind.  As this great article from John Stolnis points out, Papelbon is probably a better option than K-Rod, and if the Phillies eat some of his money, could be less expensive as well.

My Take:
I don't see the Dodgers reaching out for either of the big two free agents, or a trade for Paps.  The only way a trade occurs is if the Phillies really want to move on from him, but that probably wouldn't happen until later in the season. 

I do see someone from the Santos/Aardsma combination making the big club, then getting thrown into the fire.  There's no real competition in LA right now, as every other option is not a true closer.  Peralta is better suited for a setup role, and who knows if Baez and Hatcher are ready for such a role.

Spring Training just got a whole lot more interesting, as it will be fun to watch these many options duke it out and step up into that role for the first few weeks of the season.  I just hope someone can hold the fort down for the time being so Jansen doesn't feel the need to rush back too soon.  The last thing the Dodgers need is for Jansen's injury to linger all season long.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

2015 Season Preview: Outfield

Here is the last installment of my season preview series.  The outfield went through a big change by trading away Matt Kemp, and seemingly will now rely on Joc Pederson to be the next big thing in center.  Will it work?  Let's take a look.

LF - Carl Crawford
CF - Yasiel Puig
RF - Matt Kemp
Bench - Andre Ethier, Scott Van Slyke, Joc Pederson

LF - Carl Crawford
CF - Joc Pederson
RF - Yasiel Puig
Bench - Andre Ethier, Scott Van Slyke, Chris Heisey

Then Compared to Now:
Obviously, it's Kemp being gone.  After starting off 2014 so poorly in center that he mercifully was replaced by Ethier in late May, he turned things around to be a monster in the second half.  He even was responsible for leading the Dodgers to their only playoff win with a tiebreaking solo shot in the eighth.  He went from hitting .269 with 8 homers and 35 RBIs before the break, to .309/17/54 after, and that was with about 70 less at-bats.

Now the attention turns to a guy who was called up in September, someone who's absolutely torn up the minor leagues.  That guy is Pederson, and the Dodgers both before and during the Friedman Era have protected him from numerous trade inquiries.  Pederson struggled in September, going only 4-for-28, all singles.  That's a small sample size, but who knows if it's still something to be concerned about.

The rest of the faces stay the same, as Ethier appears to be on the outside looking in again.  About his only chance of getting regular playing time is if Crawford struggles or Pederson falls flat on his face in Spring Training.  Van Slyke is still a super sub off the bench with some power, and Heisey will look to play all three outfield positions if needed.

Individual Breakdown:
Crawford (2014 stats): .300 AVG, .339 OBP, 14 2B, 3 3B, 8 HR, 46 RBI, 23 SB
Boy, .300 looks a lot better than .299, doesn't it?  Anyway, when he was on the field, he showed that there was still some life in his bat with a good average.  Injuries and being on the wrong side of 30 have taken away his ability to relive his glory days from Tampa, but it was good to see him get on base and gather his most steals since his final year in Florida, 2010.  Defensively he won't give you much, so if he stops hitting, he'll find himself riding the pine in no time.

Pederson: .143 AVG, .351 OBP, no other stats to speak of
Much like Alex Guerrero found out, the young guy with tons of potential at the plate didn't make the most of his brief opportunity.  Unlike Guerrero, it appears as if a starting position is Pederson's to lose, as his terrific glove is center has already given him a leg up on the competition.  He's a major reason why Kemp was moved, as it opens up a logjam of outfielders, and will hopefully allow him to relax and show off the talent that made him one of the best players in the minors last year.  If he can shorten that swing a bit and not try to hit the ball to the Dodger Stadium parking lot with each hack, he could be in for a big season.

Puig: .296 AVG, .382 OBP, 37 2B, 9 3B, 16 HR, 69 RBI, 11 SB
What an interesting season it was for him, as he went from starting in the All-Star Game (and striking out all three times), to enduring a huge power outage in the second half.  He played center field for most of the year when Kemp and Ethier couldn't get the job done, and through it all seemed to stay out of trouble.  Now with Kemp and Hanley Ramirez gone, all eyes are on him to step up even more in his second full season (third overall).  Can he focus on the game and get it done?  If he can regain some power while taking the walks that are there, then he can definitely be back in the ASG.  If he goes back to his immature ways, then maybe the Dodgers will miss Kemp more than they thought.

Ethier: .249 AVG, .322 OBP, 17 2B, 6 3B, 4 HR, 42 RBI, 2 SB
What a disappointing seasons it was for him, and I'm sure just as frustrating for him.  He basically was in and out of the starting lineup like a yo-yo for much of the season before Don Mattingly made him strictly a pinch-hitter down the stretch.  Unfortunately for him, his lifeless bat didn't give Mattingly much of a reason to change his mind.  It's pretty surprising to see that he only had four long balls, the first time in his career he's been under double-digits.  I don't see playing time getting much better for him, so I fully expect to see him traded during the season at some point.  He above most others would probably benefit from the change of scenery.

Van Slyke: .297 AVG, .386 OBP, 13 2B, 1 3B, 11 HR, 29 RBI, 4 SB
His best moment came in the season's first game Down Under, as his homer, double, and two RBIs helped the Dodgers to a win over the Diamondbacks.  From there, he was mostly used as a spot starter all over the outfield, and would occasionally spell Adrian Gonzalez at first.  I can see him having a carbon copy of 2014 this season, as his pop off the bench late in the game is a good weapon to have.

Heisey (with Reds): .222 AVG, .265 OBP, 15 2B, 2 3B, 8 HR, 22 RBI, 9 SB
As far as utility players go, the Dodgers appear to have a good one in him.  He's shown a good amount of pop in limited playing time in the past, peaking at 18 homers and 50 RBIs in 120 games in 2011.  He's not one who will take a walk and just accept getting to first, as he wants the big hit instead.  Defensively, he's been on the plus side of the DWAR battle the last two seasons, so I can see him replacing Crawford in left late in games, as Pederson and Puig wouldn't come out.  That's probably the best he can offer the Dodgers right now.

Is Now Better Than Then?
On paper, no.  That's a credit to what Kemp did in the second half of last season, as he finally found some good health and was able to return to the superstar he was from a few years back.  Whether or not he can continue that good string in San Diego remains to be seen.

With Kemp out and Pederson in for this season, expect to see a lot of stat comparisons between the two as the season progresses.  Fair or not, that's the matchup that will go a long way in determining if the Dodgers made a smart more in trading away Kemp.  Let's also remember that Pederson turns 23 in April, so his progress will be measured in the years to come.  If he is the real deal and Kemp's best seasons are clearly behind him, then it's a great tradeoff.

As for this season, it's hard to take Kemp's bat away from the lineup and say that the Dodgers will be better.  They'll have less drama by not having to worry about Kemp's ego, so that could be a huge plus.  But still, 25 homers and 89 RBIs is 25 homers and 89 RBIs, so replacing his numbers won't be easy.  If Puig can keep building his resume and Young Joc shows everyone what he's made of, then Kemp's departure won't be as difficult.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

2015 Season Preview: Infield

I've already gone through the pitching staff, so now let's focus on the guys behind them.  Today will be all about the infield.

C - A.J. Ellis
1B - Adrian Gonzalez
2B - Dee Gordon
SS - Hanley Ramirez
3B - Juan Uribe
Bench - Drew Butera, Tim Federowicz, Justin Turner, Miguel Rojas, Chone Figgins, Erisbel Arruebarrena, Darwin Barney

C - A.J. Ellis/Yasmani Grandal
1B - Adrian Gonzalez
2B - Howie Kendrick
SS - Jimmy Rollins
3B - Juan Uribe
Bench - Ellis or Grandal, Justin Turner, Darwin Barney, Alex Guerrero

Then Compared to Now:
Obviously, there's a big change in the middle, as out go Hanley and Gordon, and in come Kendrick and Rollins.  Other than Matt Kemp being traded to San Diego, the infield is the biggest story.  Since A-Gon and Uribe stay the same, the major question will be whether or not the new is better than the old.

Let's not forget that Gordon started off the year as an afterthought, and barely even worth drafting in fantasy leagues.  He then turned himself into an All-Star who led the league in stolen bases pretty easily.  Hanley had a rough year for his standards by only playing in 128 games, but did hit .429 in the Division Series without a strikeout.

The other change is the addition of Grandal, who was part of the Kemp deal.  There's no doubt he brings much more offense than Ellis.  But defensively, he still has to prove he can handle a staff like Ellis can.

Individual Breakdown:
Ellis (2014 stats): .191 AVG, .323 OBP, 9 2B, 0 3B, 3 HR, 25 RBI, 0 SB
He's never been a star with the lumber, but even with that said, he really struggled to generate anything on offense.  About all he could give was a walk, which is why his OBP is so much higher.  There's no doubt, however, that the Dodgers did the right thing in bringing in an offensive catcher in Grandal.  As valuable as Ellis is behind the plate, especially with Clayton Kershaw, the offense just comes to a halt when he's up.

Grandal (with Padres): .225 AVG, .327 OBP, 19 2B, 1 3B, 15 HR, 49 RBI, 3 SB
He's been busted for PED use, he's torn up his knee, and he's not even considered that great of a defensive catcher.  But he is still young (26), and he's clearly shown good pop from behind the plate when he can stay on the field.  Plus, he appeared in 37 games last season at first base, which is great since he hits right-handed and can spell Gonzalez if need be.  There's a lot to like about him, but as I said before, he'll have to show he can stay on the field to really be worth the while.

Gonzalez: .276 AVG, .335 OBP, 41 2B, 0 3B, 27 HR, 116 RBI, 1 SB
I'll bet very few people, outside of Dodger fans, would be able to tell you that A-Gon led all of baseball in RBIs last season, even ahead of the mighty Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera.  That's because he played in 159 games last season, and hit .333 with runners in scoring position.  Plus, his defense improved, cutting down on his errors from 11 to 6.  All in all, he's Mr. Reliable, and even as he turns 33 in May, has proven to be the rock in the Dodgers' lineup.

Kendrick (with Angels): .293 AVG, .347 OBP, 33 2B, 5 3B, 7 HR, 75 RBI, 14 SB
Two big reasons why the Dodgers preferred him over Gordon: he's consistently put up numbers at the plate since his debut in 2006, and the brass feels as though Gordon has already peaked with his best season in 2014.  Time will only tell about that last statement, as Gordon will have lots of chances to show his worth in Miami.  As for Kendrick, he's a clutch hitter who also brings the goods in the field, rating at an excellent 1.4 DWAR.  He'll be playing for a new contract this year, so there's even more motivation for him to show his addition was a smart move.

Rollins: .243 AVG, .323 OBP, 22 2B, 4 3B, 17 HR, 55 RBI, 28 SB
Boy will this be weird seeing him in Dodger blue this season.  It will be an adjustment for everybody, but after Hanley bolted for Boston, the addition of Rollins looks like a great move.  He's won a ring once, lost in the World Series to the Yankees another time, and will be looking to provide the leadership the Dodgers need to bring them their first title since 1988.  He looked completely washed up in 2013, but fought back for a much better 2014.  He won't be the same hitter Hanley was, but defensively, he's light years better, and that's what the Dodgers want the most.

Uribe: .311 AVG, .337 OBP, 23 2B, 0 3B, 9 HR, 54 RBI, 0 SB
Entering the last year of his contract, he backed up his resurgent (and that's an understatement) 2013 with another good year at the plate.  Most importantly, he gave Gold Glove caliber defense at the hot corner, barely losing out on the award again.  He'll be 36 when the season begins in April, making him a little long in the tooth, so you have to wonder if this is his last year in LA.  He needs to show that he can stay on the field more as well, playing in a low 103 games last season.

Turner: .340 AVG, .404 OBP, 21 2B, 1 3B, 7 HR, 43 RBI, 6 SB
What an addition he turned out to be, as he constantly gave bit hits off the bench (.400 as a PH), and played all four infield positions.  Heck, he could've probably been a better option out of the bullpen than the bums the Dodgers had last year as well.  While it would be very hard to expect those types of offensive numbers again, they can expect him to provide a lift when needed, and play the role of late-inning sparkplug.

Barney (with Cubs and Dodgers): .241 AVG, .300 OBP, 11 2B, 2 3B, 3 HR, 23 RBI, 1 SB
A deadline addition by the Dodgers last season, he only got 33 at-bats in LA, and was mostly brought in for insurance with Hanley constantly in and out of the lineup, and Gordon fading some in the second half.  He'll probably resume that role this season, as he can spot Kendrick a day off here and there if needed.

Guerrero: .077 AVG, .077 OBP, no other stats to speak of
Who knows if he'll even be on the roster Opening Day, but considering his potential to be a good hitter, he's someone to remember.  He only appeared in the beginning of the season and at the end with September call-ups, in between getting into a fight with Miguel Olivo and getting part of his ear bitten off.  Let's just hope he avoids the drama this season and give the Dodgers a lift off the bench.

Is Now Better Than Then?
Defensively, absolutely.  There's no question about that.  Rollins and Kendrick are a huge upgrade over Hanley and Gordon as a double play combination.  While Gordon I believe was a bit underrated for his improvements made with the glove, Hanley became a big liability at short.  Perhaps we remember his error that cost Kershaw a chance at a perfect game?  That's just one example of how bad he became, and now he's in left field for the Red Sox.

At the plate, it will remain to be seen mostly because of Gordon.  If he shows that he's not a one-year wonder, then losing his speed at the top will definitely hurt.  However, Rollins and Kendrick both stole their share of bases as well, and combined hit for more power.  In the end, if those numbers stay the same, then the Dodgers are not only an upgrade in the field, but at the plate as well.

Grandal will be given plenty of chances to stay in the lineup if he can get his bat going.  The Dodgers don't have that instant pop that Kemp and Hanley provided when healthy, so they'll be relying on a few guys do pull their weight instead.  A power hitting catcher is one way of picking up the slack.  I fully expect Ellis to be Kershaw's personal catcher, but after that, it should be Grandal's job to lose.

With two great, albeit older, fielders at the corners, the Dodgers are a more well-rounded, better team all across the infield for 2015.

Monday, February 9, 2015

2015 Season Preview: Bullpen

Here is the second installment in my season preview series.  Last season, the bullpen was a huge weak spot on a division winning team, as the Dodgers had a very difficult time getting the ball to their dominant closer, Kenley Jansen.  It ended up being one of the big reasons they Dodgers went four and out in the playoffs.

So, have the flurry of moves made this unit stronger heading in '15?  Let's take a look.

Closer - Kenley Jansen
Setup - Brian Wilson
J.P. Howell
Brandon League
Chris Perez
Jamey Wright
Pedro Baez

Closer - Kenley Jansen
Setup - Joel Peralta
J.P. Howell
Pedro Baez
Brandon League
Juan Nicasio
Chris Hatcher

Then Compared to Now:
Right off the bat, what jumps out is the addition by subtraction.  That is, getting rid of dead weight in Wilson and Perez.  They both were so horrendous last season, it's hard to imagine those two signings going any worse.  Wilson had a 4.66 ERA in 61 games, and Perez collected a 4.27 in 49.  Awful, just awful.  Good riddance!

In their places come Peralta, Nicasio, and Hatcher.  The biggest name is Peralta, who's coming off of three straight seasons of more strikeouts than innings pitched.  But, he's also seen his ERA creep up the last few seasons as well.  Like Peralta, Hatcher relies on his fastball to blow hitters away, so the strikeout is always a possibility.

Howell will look to pitch more like the guy the first few months of the season, and less like the one who was knocked around at the end.  Baez will look to step up into a bigger role, and Nicasio will look to play the swingman role of long reliever and spot starter.

Individual Breakdown:
Jansen (2014 stats): 2-3, 44 SV, 2.76 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 101 K's in 65 1/2 IP
After some bumps in the road to start the season, he really turned it on as the summer months got hotter and hotter.  The result was another terrific season in which he by far posted his most career saves.  He's in love with the cutter, and when it has a sharp bite, it's practically unhittable.  When he mixes in softer stuff like a slider, he's even more effective.  He's only 27 with not much mileage, so the Dodgers have very little worry that he'll continue that success.

Peralta (with Rays): 3-4, 1 SV, 18 HLD, 4.41 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 74 K's in 63 1/3 IP
The good news is that he can't possibly be worse than Wilson in the setup role (right?).  The bad news is that he appears to be going in the same direction as Wilson.  Of course, that's not to say he'll completely fall off the map too, as I can't imagine he'll get roughed up nearly as bad as The Beard did.  The strikeouts are still there, and he only walked 15 last season in 69 appearances, which is very good.  With an improved defense behind him, those are reasons to believe he'll be effective.  Is he an everyday setup man?  That might be a stretch, but we shall see.

Howell: 3-3, 27 HLD, 2.39 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 48 K's in 49 IP
It's a shame he started getting shelled in September, because before that, he was really, really good.  And what do you know, he's once again the only lefty in the bullpen.  Like it or not, he's the man to face tough lefties.  He's not going to blow you away, as he's a location and breaking ball type of guy.  When it's working, it's good.  When it's not, it's practically batting practice.  Maybe he just ran out of steam last season, so hopefully he can be fresher down the stretch, because he'll be needed.

Baez: 0-0, 5 HLD, 2.63 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 18 K's in 24 IP
In his first season, he only appeared in 20 games, so the sample size is small.  Even with that, he was thrust right into the spotlight of the postseason, giving up a huge three-run shot to Matt Holliday in that epic meltdown in Game 1 against the Cardinals.  Still, I like what he offers, as he throws hard and seems to have good composure on the mound.  With Chris Withrow most likely out for all of 2015, his role will be increased even more.

League: 2-3, 11 HLD, 2.57 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, 38 K's in 63 IP
What a roller coaster ride it's been for him since being traded to the Dodgers from the Mariners in 2012.  He went from closer of the future to a complete waste of a big money deal.  Then he posted a fantastic ERA last season, but a very high WHIP showed just how often he was playing with fire.  At this point, he is what he is - a guy who will fool some with his breaking stuff, and will go through awful stretches where he lets everyone on base.  He survived the offseason without getting canned, but if he falters once again, he'll be sent packing.

Nicasio (with Rockies): 6-6, 1 HLD, 5.38 ERA, 1.47 WHIP, 63 K's in 93 2/3 IP
The best thing for any young pitcher is to finally get out of Coors Field, as he owns a 5.24 career ERA at home.  It's not like he lit it up on the road, though, with a 4.81 ERA.  Still, he has to feel great about coming to the Dodgers and taking the ball in a much friendlier ballpark.  If there's a silver lining, he's made six career starts in LA (seven games overall), and owns a 3.63 ERA.  That's something to build on.

Hatcher (with Marlins): 0-3, 6 HLD, 3.38 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 60 K's in 56 IP
Like Jansen, he was once a catcher who converted to a hard throwing reliever.  His first few seasons weren't so hot, but after getting called up in late May with the Marlins last season, put together a good season.  He throws hard and keeps his walks low, which is always a good combination.  Right now he's a young, power arm on the rise, so if he can keep missing bats and avoid the free passes, he'll be a good weapon.

Other Names to Remember: Daniel Coulombe, Carlos Frias, Yimi Garcia, Paco Rodriguez

Is Now Better Than Then?
The Dodgers could pair just about anyone up with Jansen and be considered better this season.  They absolutely needed to dump Wilson, even if it cost them $10 million in dead salary.  Big deal, it needed to be done.  And thank the Lord that it did.

The guys who were brought in - Peralta, Hatcher, and Nicasio - aren't names that will jump off the page, and will have to prove that they can be the answer.  Peralta appears to be the first in line to pitch the eighth, and finally give a reliable bridge to Jansen in the ninth.  That, in my opinion, was the biggest Achilles' heel of the Dodgers last year, so that's something that absolutely needs to get better if they want to take the next step in the playoffs.  If not Peralta, then maybe a surprise name such as Baez or Hatcher can be that guy.

Two other guys who are gone from last year are Wright and Perez, as their best days are clearly behind them.  Because of those subtractions, I'll easily take this year's squad as an upgrade over last year's.  But, does that mean this year's group is good?  There's always a huge plus with Jansen at the end, but the newcomers and young guys like Baez will have to show they can put up consistent numbers all season long to be one of the better bullpens in baseball.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

2015 Season Preview: Starting Pitching

Here is the first installment in my season preview series.  The Dodgers have gone through a whole lot of changes in the offseason, one of the biggest turnovers between the front office and on the field in their storied history.

Up first is the strength of the club, starting pitching.

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

1. Clayton Kershaw
2. Zack Greinke
3. Hyun-Jin Ryu
4. Brandon McCarthy
5. Brett Anderson

Then Compared to Now:
The top three in the rotation stay the same, and that's a good thing.  You won't find many better threesomes at the top of any pitching staff than Kershaw, Greinke, and Ryu.  It's a good mix of power and craftiness coming at you from both sides of the pitching rubber.

That leaves the biggest question mark to the final two slots.  Last year, Beckett gave the Dodgers many terrific starts to the tune of a 2.88 ERA, including that fantastic no-hitter in Philadelphia.  Unfortunately, 20 starts was all he could give, as a hip injury forced him into retirement.

Then there was Haren, who went through the roller coaster of great to start, awful for much of the summer, then reliable again down the stretch.  Through it all he had a 4.02 ERA, which was good for a guy at the bottom of the rotation.

Individual Breakdown:
Kershaw (2014 stats): 21-3, 1.77 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 239 K's in 198 1/3 IP
Oh ya, and an MVP and another Cy Young Award, his third overall.  You really couldn't ask for much of anything else, as he completely dominated in just about every start.  About the only thing that didn't go right was in the playoffs against the Cardinals, as he took two losses and got hammered for a 7.82 ERA.  He'll just have to be patient and hope he gets another chance at redemption, as that's the next step in his evolution.

Greinke: 17-8, 2.71 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 207 K's in 202 1/3 IP
After another terrific season from him, the question he'll be facing all season long is if this will be his final year in Dodger blue.  He's eligible to opt out of his current six-year deal, which is now entering the third year.  Who knows how that will play out, but posting another sub-3.00 ERA and All-Star berth will only increase the odds of him looking for more money.  So, in a strange way, the better he does, the more likely he'll be gone.  But the Dodgers will gladly take the quality starts, and then worry about the contract situation in October, hopefully after a parade in downtown LA.

Ryu: 14-7, 3.38 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 139 K's in 152 IP
The third part of the Big 3 put up great numbers in his second season, yet it was a bumpier ride thanks to a couple of injuries that limited him to 26 starts.  He nearly missed the playoffs because of a sore shoulder, though was able to recover and pitch very well in Game 3 against the Cardinals.  He also had a sore butt muscle at one point.  Um, I'm guessing that's not much fun.  Let's hope those injuries don't pop up again, as he quietly is a really good starter.

McCarthy (with Diamondbacks and Yankees): 10-15, 4.05 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 175 K's in 200 IP
Those numbers don't jump off the page, but his 14 starts after being traded to the Yankees should: 7-5, 2.89 ERA, 1.15 WHIP.  I don't think anybody anticipated numbers like that.  As a result, the Dodgers gave him a shiny, new four-year, $48 million contract.  We know that he's tough, as he's more than bounced back from taking a horrible line drive to the head in 2012 with the A's, then suffered a seizure the following year in what was related to that seizure.  We also know that he's had a long history of injuries, only making 30 starts once.  The Dodgers believe he'll be good to go every fifth day, as he can be a great addition in the bottom part of the rotation if that's indeed the case.

Anderson (with Rockies): 1-3, 2.91 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 29 K's in 43 1/3 IP
Yup, those numbers are tiny, all because he only made eight starts.  In fact, after making 30 starts in his rookie season with the A's in 2009, he's made 19, 13, 6, 5 (16 appearances), and 8 starts since.  Last year he dealt with a broken left finger and lower back injury.  The Dodgers only signed him for one year, so they're hoping to find that guy who has fantastic stuff when healthy, and not the guy whose name you forget about when he's buried on the DL.

Is Now Better Than Then?
On paper, I would take this year's rotation, mostly because of McCarthy.  If he can pitch anywhere close to the guy who went over the AL East last season and dominated, then the Dodgers have a terrific top four.  If he reverts back to the guy the DBacks were more than willing to get rid of, then that's a pretty back signing.

Let's not forget about all those great starts Beckett gave before the All-Star break last season, as he was one of the top pitchers in the National League for quite some time.  Haren probably won't be missed because of his inconsistency, but when it was all said and done, a 4.02 ERA in 32 starts isn't too shabby.

I also should point out that we all need to temper our expectations for Kershaw, who's set such a high standard for himself, there's not much else he can do.  Let's not just assume he can throw up zeroes every start.  As we saw in the NLDS against the Cardinals, even the MVP can be human, and shaky starts happen to the best of them.

With all of that said, with some good health, the Dodgers have to like their chances in every game with the guy they send to the hill.  You know what you'll get from the top three, but if McCarthy and Anderson can pitch as well as they're capable of, this is a very strong rotation, and an upgrade from last year.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Greinke's cleats could be made for walkin'

After a flurry of activities during the Winter Meetings in December, not much was happening on the Dodger front in the first month of 2015.  There were minor things here and there, like Chad Billingsley officially leaving for the Phillies, and a bit of Andre Ethier trade talk, but nothing much.

Then Zack Greinke was asked to give his honest thoughts about the offseason.  He didn't mince any words:
"Going into the playoffs, I thought we were the best team in baseball. Obviously we didn't prove it. The year before, I wasn't that confident. This time, I thought it was our series to lose. To say we're better than that, I don't know if you can say that without seeing us play."
Well, that's interesting.

It's not like he flat out said, "We were good last year, but this year we suck," but it's still a bit surprising to see someone not give the cliché answers about change being for the better, and he's excited about the new players who've arrived.

Then again, maybe it's a bit refreshing that he didn't go that route, and instead showed some support to guys who've walked like Hanley Ramirez, Matt Kemp, and Dee Gordon.

Speaking of walking, the bigger story of this could be Greinke's contract situation after this season.  If you recall, he put pen to paper on a six-year, $147 million contract two years ago, and he's been fantastic with the Dodgers ever since, easily teaming with Clayton Kershaw as baseball's top 1-2 punch.

But like every other professional sport, the business side comes into play, and even though he has three years and $77 million left after 2015, it looks like it's 50/50 right now about staying or opting out.  If you think he's crazy, look no further than Max Scherzer's recent seven-year, $210 million deal with the Nationals as proof that big paydays could always be right around the corner.

Obviously, the Dodgers have to hope that Greinke doesn't actually follow through with this and stays with them through 2018.  The top three of the rotation in Kershaw, Greinke, and Hyun-Jin Ryu are as good or better than anyone in baseball, and Greinke has four excellent postseason starts in two years.  While the Dodgers have boatloads of money to sign other pitchers, Greinke has proven to be the real deal, hence his All-Star selection this past season.

Then again, if Greinke regresses a bit in 2015, then there's no way he'll opt out and leave nearly $26 million for each of the next three seasons on the table.  I don't think anyone would do something like that.