Monday, March 30, 2015

Pederson vs. Ethier: Who has the edge?

Don Mattingly is not ready to declare Joc Pederson or Andre Ethier as his starting center fielder come one week from today.  But that won't stop me from comparing how each has done this Spring Training, along with my pick.  Here goes...

Pederson: 22 G, .389 AVG, .421 OBP, 4 2B, 6 HR, 12 RBI, 2 SB

If Pederson was looking to leave his mark, he most certainly has this spring.  He leads the team in home runs, and is one behind Yasiel Puig in RBIs.  His 1.217 OPS is highest among potential starters, so he's showing everything he can do with the lumber.  That includes a team high 12 strikeouts, though that's not preventing him from getting on base.  His defensive abilities are rated as top notch, and he got at least some playing time there during his cup of coffee last September.  Add it all up, and he's doing everything possible to be the man in center.

Ethier: 18 G, .313 AVG, .389 OBP, 4 HR, 1 HR, 10 RBI, 0 SB

On the other hand, old dog Ethier is not ready to concede a starting spot just yet.  Well, I should say he's ready to prove why he should start again considering he was kicked to the curb by Mattingly last season (and justifiably so).  Let's not forget that just three years ago, he hit 36 doubles, 20 homers, and 89 RBIs.  Those numbers have gone way down since then, as injuries and poor play have made him almost a forgotten man.  To his credit, the numbers he's put up this spring show that he's all business and ready to show what he can do.  Maybe not for this team, but some other one.


With all of that said, it's just hard to picture Ethier being named the starting center fielder while Pederson is riding the pine.  This is actually eerily similar to a few seasons ago when Ethier was the fresh, new player, and Juan Pierre the old dog.  Joe Torre went with Ethier to start the season because the new guy gave him every reason why he's ready.  That's exactly what Pederson is doing right now.

Both men would hit closer to the bottom of the order, so the pressure is off to produce in the middle.  The Dodgers have plenty of guys who can reach base, and I can definitely see Pederson getting his chances to successfully drive in runs.  That's how he can build himself up to a future with a bigger role.

Ethier did a good job taking over for Matt Kemp in center last season, but it's not like he was out-of-this-world good, leading to Mattingly placing Puig there for the rest of the season.  Now Puig will be back in right because Pederson is looked at as the next big thing in center.  He already has the glove, and now that he's showing a relaxed approach at the plate, Mattingly needs to roll with him from here on out.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

With just over a week to go, bullpen battles are heating up

Curious about just what the Dodgers' bullpen will look like once Opening Day comes on Monday, April 6?  Well, join the club, because it's anyone's guess.

Eric Stephen over at True Blue LA has been analyzing this during Spring Training, and he recently put together this handy bullpen flowchart to help track just who's out of options and who's not.

It's an interesting read, as there are a bunch of veterans fighting to get into the mix once the games count for real.  With news that Brandon League will be joining Kenley Jansen on the DL come April 6, that opens up yet another spot for someone.

If you're a newcomer to what a player having "options" is all about, think of it as a way to prevent clubs from constantly sending people up and down whenever they feel like it.  For young players, they have more "options" since they are, in fact, young and don't have many years in the Majors.  Older veterans will likely be out of "options."

If you no longer have that magic word, "options," then you can't be sent back down to the Minors.  You either make the big league club, or you can be released to sign with another team.  Often you will also see veterans accepting Minor League deals, but with clauses in the contracts that they must be called up by a certain date, or they will receive their release to sign elsewhere.

Got all of that?

There's a bunch of fancy language that explains it even further, but that's the best I can come up with to sum it all up.  So, Andrew Friedman will certainly be busy making decisions both before the regular season begins, and when Jansen is ready to come off the DL.  In other words, it's a never ending process.

A-Gon likes what he sees defensively

"We have guys with really high baseball IQs."

That's what Adrian Gonzalez recently told Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times.  He was referring to his new infield of Juan Uribe at third, Jimmy Rollins at short, and Howie Kendrick at second, in addition to the current Gold Glover at first.

It's not hard to see why A-Gon is this excited, because those names listed above are about as good an infield as it gets in baseball.

As Hernandez wrote, the new-look Dodgers' infield has a whole lot of experience and runs saved in comparison to last year.  Gone are Hanley Ramirez and Dee Gordon playing up the middle.  Hanley was clearly hanging onto his last breathe as an everyday shortstop (in fact, he's now the Red Sox left fielder).  Gordon was underrated as an improving second basemen, with plenty of room to still grow.  But he's no Kendrick with the leather.

Keeping those four guys healthy and in the everyday lineup will be huge, because the pitching staff is already getting hammered with one injury after another.  Hyun-Jin Ryu, Kenley Jansen, and Brandon League are already out for various periods of time.  Brett Anderson is always one misstep away from going to his second home, the DL.  The depth is being tested right away.

Knowing that four slick fielders are right behind the pitching rubber at least puts Don Mattingly's mind somewhat at ease as he runs out a bunch of pitchers he didn't think he'd have to use already in April.  Granted, guys like Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke won't need even average fielders to put up terrific numbers, but it certainly doesn't hurt either.

As Yasmani Grandal continues to get used to his new club, Yasiel Puig returns to his natural position of right field, and Joc Pederson hopefully gets the call to be the starting center fielder, nearly every part of the Dodgers' defense will be top notch and ready to win plenty of games of small ball.

About the only weak spot in the field belongs to Carl Crawford.  You know, the guy who dropped a fly ball and cost his team two runs last night against the Giants...

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Puig's bringing pop this spring

One of the concerns of Dodger fans coming into 2015 was if Yasiel Puig could handle hitting in the heart of the order.  Hanley Ramirez and Matt Kemp are gone, and Puig went through quite the power outage after the All-Star break last season.

If Spring Training is any indication, then the answer is a resounding YES.

Granted, the circumstances are different than the regular season, but Puig just clocked his fifth homer of the spring today against the White Sox.  He's now hitting .263 with five homers and 12 RBIs, both tops on the team.  Say what you want about Spring Training, but that's very encouraging to see.

Then again, Puig started last year putting up monster numbers, earned himself a spot in the All-Star Game and Home Run Derby, then became a singles hitter at the end of the season.  So when Hanley and Kemp were shown the door, naturally, people wondered where the pop would come from.

Puig is helping put many people at ease, as is Joc Pederson, who has four homers this spring.  Put those two with Adrian Gonzalez, and the decent pop of Howie Kendrick, Jimmy Rollins, and Yasmani Grandal, and there's more production up and down the lineup that can pick up the missing slack.

The regular season is just over a week away, and I can't wait.  Dodgers vs. Padres, Kershaw vs. Kemp on Opening Day.  That's pretty sweet!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Olivera's signing could mean a whole new infield in 2016

If Yasiel Puig didn't exist, who knows if the Dodgers would ever aggressively pursue international talent like they have the last couple of years.

But he does, so they do.

Today it was the signing of Cuban infielder Hector Olivera, who reportedly has a six-year, $62.5 million deal signed, sealed, and delivered.  Oh ya, and a nice $28 million bonus to boot.

That's some serious cash for a team that already has the names Howie Kendrick, Jimmy Rollins, and Juan Uribe manning the positions that Olivera plays in second base, shortstop, and third base.  Let's not forget that Alex Guerrero is another international star who's making big bucks.

What does all of this tell me?  Expect to see some big changes in the Dodgers' infield for 2016.

Yes, I know Olivera will soon be 30 and is ready to help right now, and he very well could be a factor this year.  But there's no doubt Andrew Friedman is already planning for the next wave of Dodgers' stars, and Olivera, Guerrero, and Corey Seager teaming up with Adrian Gonzalez could be the fresh, new look he's envisioning next season and beyond.

It only makes sense, as Rollins is considered a one-year stop gap, and Uribe appears to be on his last contract with LA.  About the only other thing I would consider is re-signing Kendrick, putting Olivera at third, Seager at short, and looking to trade Guerrero.

All of this is obviously looking into the future, so let's take a look at what Olivera brings to the table right now.  As the link above states, he is a fantastic hitter who is capable of hitting 15-20 dingers and driving in 75 runs in the middle of a lineup.  Not bad for an infielder with no MLB experience, but that's how highly he's rated by scouts.

What's a reason for concern?  He supposedly has a damaged ulnar collateral ligament in his throwing arm, but he's vigorously disputed that by passing physicals with four other teams.  So go figure.

If you're a fan of finding the next big star from all over the globe, like Puig, then this signing appeals to you.  Who knows what kind of impact he'll make this year, but as I've stated before, I firmly believe this was made with 2016 and beyond in mind.  That's some serious talent on the Dodgers' infield if all works out.

If you don't believe in throwing out that kind of money to someone without even Minor League experience, then this might make you cringe a bit.  But let's give Friedman and his boys the benefit of the doubt: they turned around Tampa Bay by uncovering hidden talent, and with a much bigger wallet in LA, he can definitely do the same again.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Key games in the Dodgers' 2015 season

Spring Training is humming along without much news to report of.  About the only exciting things to have happened were Will Farrell pitching a perfect 1/3 of an inning, and Aroldis Chapman throwing behind Justin Turner for God knows what reason.  Other than that, not much going on.

So, let's get ourselves excited for when the games count for good.  Here's a look at some key/big/fun games in the Dodgers' 2015 schedule.

Monday, April 6 vs. Padres - Home opener, and the return of Matt Kemp
Monday, April 13 vs. Mariners - First Interleague set
Tuesday, April 21 at Giants - First tilt against the defending World Series champs
Monday, May 11 at Marlins - First matchup with old friends Dee Gordon and Dan Haren
Friday, May 29 at Cardinals - First matchup with the team that knocked the Dodgers out of the playoffs... again
Monday, June 22 at Cubs - Four-game set again Jon Lester, Joe Maddon, and a suddenly relevant Cubs team
Friday, July 17 at Nationals - First game after the All-Star break against a preseason World Series contender
Friday, July 31 vs. Angels - Freeway Series begins
Thursday, August 13 vs. Reds - First time seeing Chapman since Spring Training...
Monday, September 14 vs. Rockies - Last big homestand of the season, a 10-game set with the Rockies, Pirates, and Diamondbacks
Sunday, October 4 vs. Padres - Final game of the regular season, coming full circle

There you have it.  In examining the schedule, there are a heck of a lot of division games to start the season, and of course the last couple of weeks as well.  Then they have this quirk: they start July by playing the DBacks, end August with the Giants, and have no other division games in between.  That's right - there's virtually no games within the NL West for two straight months.  That seems very unusual.

The Interleague games are with the AL West.  The Freeway Series is always fun, and a bit more so this year with Howie Kendrick in Dodger blue.  Who knows what the A's will look like, but they always find a way.  The Mariners have two stars in Robinson Cano and King Felix.  The Rangers were just dealt a huge blow by losing Yu Darvish for the season.  And the Astros?  Well, they do have young talent, so we'll see.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Rollins to hit leadoff, but is he the best choice?

Don Mattingly and his boys are getting ready for their first Spring Training game of the season, which is tomorrow (Wednesday) against the White Sox.  One move he made was putting Jimmy Rollins in the leadoff slot, where he will probably stay for the season.

The reasoning?  Well, it's pretty simple: he's spent the majority of his career in that slot, and the Dodgers don't really have anyone else to do it.  So that's that.

With all of that said, I still have to wonder if Rollins is best utilized in that role at this point in his career.  For his career in the #1 spot, he's hit .272 with a .331 OBP.  The last couple of seasons, however, he's started to switch away from being exclusively a leadoff hitter, and started many more games in the #2 hole last season.

Dee Gordon was an obvious choice last season to hit leadoff.  He has blazing speed and was an emerging threat at the plate, even though his .326 OBP wasn't exactly through the roof.  This season, there's just not that one guy who plainly sticks out to set the table.  So you can understand why Mattingly wants to plug Rollins there based on his experience there.

Still, I look at a couple of other guys who could possibly fill this spot at times this upcoming season.  The first one is Carl Crawford, who is the early leader to start in left field.  Like Rollins, he's on the downside of his career and is looking to give that one last push towards a ring.  Last season in 105 games, he had a resurgence at the plate with a .300/.339 line, so he found ways to get on base.  He also swiped 23 bases with only six times being caught.  That's pretty good.

The other guy in my mind, believe it or not, is Yasiel Puig.  The Dodgers definitely want him to be that thumper in the heart of the order, especially with Matt Kemp and Hanley Ramirez gone.  But, because this is Puig we're talking about, nothing is a guarantee.  Despite having all the tools in the world to be a terrific run producer, he does have a .301/.389 line hitting leadoff, and has a high slugging % at .527 over the last two years.  Maybe he's just more comfortable there than the other spots.

Let's not forget that Rollins had 17 homers and 55 RBIs last season, and three years ago it was 23 and 68.  While he'll never be confused with the biggest ballplayer in the park, he still can hit for power, which could cause him to be moved to the middle of the order if the Dodgers are struggling in this regard.

It's just over a month away until the games start for real, so let's see if Mattingly is happy with Rollins taking that first at-bat of the game, or if someone else like Crawford or Puig is called upon.