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.

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