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.

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