Some pretty bad vibes surrounded the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2011.
The franchise was cast in a negative light when two Dodgers fans attacked San Francisco Giants fan Bryan Stow in the Dodger Stadium parking lot; owner Frank McCourt basically ran out of money and was soon squabbling with Major League Baseball for control of his own team, and the team itself didn't get on track until the final month of the season.
It wasn't all bad, though. Dodgers fans were treated to some spectacular pitching from NL Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw and a near-MVP season from Matt Kemp. And given the negative buzz that surrounded the team all season, managing to finish with 82 wins is actually pretty impressive.
Things are looking up in 2012. The Dodgers didn't make any huge moves in the offseason, but they brought in some solid players, and they're returning virtually all of the players who had a hand in the team's strong finish in 2011.
Let's take a look at what's in store for the Dodgers in 2012.
2011 Record: 82-79
Key Arrivals (Courtesy of Yahoo! Sports)
LHP Chris Capuano (FA), RHP Aaron Harang (FA), UT Jerry Hairston Jr. (FA), INF Adam Kennedy (FA), C Matt Treanor (FA), 2B Mark Ellis (FA), C Josh Bard (minor league FA), LHP John Grabow (minor league FA), RHP Todd Coffey (FA) and RHP Jamey Wright (minor league FA).
3B Casey Blake (FA), RHP Jonathan Broxton (FA), INF Jamey Carroll (FA), C Rod Barajas (FA), LHP Dana Eveland (to Baltimore), RHP Hiroki Kuroda (FA), RHP Vicente Padilla (FA), LHP Hong-Chih Kuo (non-tendered) and RHP Jon Garland (FA).
Projected Rotation (Per Official Site)
- Clayton Kershaw (21-5, 2.28 ERA, 0.98 WHIP)
- Ted Lilly (12-14, 3.97, 1.16)
- Chad Billingsley (11-11, 4.21, 1.45)
- Chris Capuano (11-12, 4.55, 1.35)
- Aaron Harang (14-7, 3.64, 1.37)
- Nathan Eovaldi (1-2, 3.63, 1.38)
C: A.J. Ellis (.271/.392/.376)
1B: James Loney (.288/.339/.416)
2B: Mark Ellis (.248/.288/.346)
3B: Juan Uribe (.204/.264/.293)
SS: Dee Gordon (.304/.325/.362)
LF: Juan Rivera (.258/.319/.382)
CF: Matt Kemp (.324/.399/.586)
RF: Andre Ethier (.292/.368/.421)
Closer: Javy Guerra (R) (2-2, 21 SV, 2 BLSV, 2.31 ERA, 1.18 WHIP)
Kenley Jansen (R) (2-1, 5 SV, 9 HLD, 1 BLSV, 2.85, 1.04)
Matt Guerrier (R) (4-3, 1 SV, 13 HLD, 1 BLSV, 4.07, 1.27)
Todd Coffey (R) (5-1, 10 HLD, 2 BLSV, 3.62, 1.26)
Mike MacDougal (R) (3-1, 1 SV, 14 HLD, 1 BLSV, 2.05, 1.46)
Scott Elbert (L) (0-1, 2 SV, 7 HLD, 2.43, 1.23)
Josh Lingblom (R) (1-0, 3 HLD, 1 BLSV, 2.73, 1.04)
Scouting the Starting Pitching
You may be surprised to hear that the Dodgers starting staff was actually one of the more effective rotations in baseball last season. Dodgers starters logged 94 quality starts, tied for fifth-most in the majors. Dodgers starters posted a 3.41 ERA, third-best in the National League.
Good news, Dodgers fans. The team lost Hiroki Kuroda over the offseason, but this rotation is still solid.
The Dodgers don't have to worry about a thing at the top of their rotation. Clayton Kershaw is an absolute stud. Even if he regresses in 2012, he's still going to be the kind of ace that pretty much every other team in the league would love to have.
Behind Kershaw, the Dodgers can rest easy knowing that they're going to get solid work out of Ted Lilly. He's rarely spectacular, but in the last five seasons, he's generally been good for 195 innings, a 3.74 ERA and a sneaky-low 1.13 WHIP. Lilly doesn't have the kind of stuff that allows him to get away with mistakes (142 home runs allowed in the last five seasons), but he's going to keep guys off the bases and give the Dodgers a chance to win every game he starts.
Can't ask for much more than that.
As for Chad Billingsley...well, all I can really say is that he should be better. His stuff is great, but he walks too many guys and makes too many mistakes within the strike zone. He just seems intent on not living up to his potential.
Then again, Billingsley is a little snakebit. In each of the last three seasons, his FIP has been significantly lower than his ERA. It would seem he has a habit of being among the league leaders in bad luck.
The back end of the Dodgers rotation is solid. Aaron Harang puts a few too many guys on base, but he'll at least provide innings. And it's a good bet he'll keep his ERA in the low 4.00s or even the high 3.00s, as he did last year with the San Diego Padres. Behind him, the Dodgers could ask for a much worse No. 5 starter than Chris Capuano. Health permitting, he'll give the Dodgers roughly 180 innings. They won't be great innings, but any team should be happy with 180 innings out of its No. 5 starter.
Now, things could be pretty messy if (okay, when) somebody gets hurt, but on paper, this looks like a solid starting staff.
Scouting the Bullpen
The Dodgers starting staff was pretty good last season, but the bullpen had more than its fair share of issues. Dodgers relievers were only tasked with pitching 439 innings, but they compiled a 17-18 record and a 3.92 ERA, third-highest in the NL.
The key problem was walks, as Dodgers relievers posted a 3.96 BB/9, the fourth-highest mark in the NL. The Dodgers also had problems with stability, as Don Mattingly was forced to use a closer-by-committee approach with Jonathan Broxton hurt for much of the season.
Well, Broxton is gone now. With him out of the picture, Javy Guerra is pretty much a lock to take over the team's closer role.
Why the heck not, right?
Guerra nailed down 21 of 23 save opportunities last season, holding opponents to a .218 average and allowing just two home runs in 46.2 innings. There's some concern about whether or not he can do it again, as he posted a FIP of 4.07, but I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, seeing as how that was just year one.
Assuming he does start the year as the team's closer, Guerra is going to have some solid arms setting up for him. Kenley Jansen has proven to be a very effective reliever, and both Matt Guerrier and Mike MacDougal are good guys to have in a pinch.
We're probably not going to see any kind of drastic improvement from this bullpen over last year's performance. One thing that does intrigue me, though, is how things will pan out if the Dodgers need to dip into their farm system for bullpen help. Their system is light on the bats, but it is absolutely stacked with arms.
Because of that, I'm willing to believe that this bullpen will be able to keep from blowing up in 2012. Numerous other teams around the league would love to have that kind of assurance.
Scouting the Hitting
The Dodgers were a true middle-of-the-road offensive club last season. They finished ninth in the NL with 644 runs scored, eighth in on-base percentage at .322 and 10th in OPS at .697. They were somewhere between bad and good enough when it came to swinging the bats.
On the bright side, the Dodgers got to rely on Matt Kemp's bat all season. He rebounded from a disappointing 2010 season to hit .324 with 39 homers and 126 RBI. He also stole 40 bases. We'd known for a couple seasons that Kemp had a season like that in him, and, well, there it was.
Andre Ethier was not so good. He was limited to 135 games, in which he saw his power numbers take a significant dip. He slugged just .421 a year after slugging .492, and his OPS sagged to .789. The Dodgers are counting on him to be better.
He should be better in 2012. His power numbers took a dip, but Ethier's batting average and OBP stayed on par with his career averages. He battled a knee problem in 2011, so perhaps better health will bring better power in 2012.
The rest of the Dodgers lineup is kind of a mixed bag. James Loney seems to have reached his peak as a player; Juan Uribe will provide some pop if he stays healthy; Juan Rivera is merely decent, and Mark Ellis hasn't been worth a darn as a hitter in years.
Ideally, youngsters Dee Gordon and A.J. Ellis will play well and overshadow the weak spots in this lineup. Even if they do, I don't think this lineup is going to hit significantly better than it did last season.
We've come to the part of our program in which I geek out over Clayton Kershaw.
In the first couple seasons of Kershaw's career, we kept talking about how great he could be if he were to cut down on his walks. Well, he did that in 2011, lowering his BB/9 to 2.08. Sure enough, he transformed from being a great prospect to being a great pitcher.
Kershaw won the NL triple crown last season, leading the league with 21 wins, a 2.28 ERA and 248 strikeouts. He wasn't just good. He was filthy.
It wasn't all about blowing hitters away. Kershaw was third in the majors with a 9.57 K/9, to be sure, but his BABIP was a rock-solid .269. Hitters just couldn't square anything up on him, and there was nothing fluky about his routine dominance. Kershaw's FIP of 2.47 was very close to his actual ERA.
I'm a little concerned that Kershaw could come back to earth a little after pitching 233.1 innings last season. If he does, it will be because he's walking guys again and leaving too many pitches over the plate.
But like I said, Kershaw is still going to be a great pitcher even if he does regress. He has an outstanding arm and outstanding stuff, and we saw last year that he knows how to pitch. I'd be surprised if he didn't compete for the Cy Young again in 2012.
Matt Kemp was just plain fun to watch in 2011. To say that he came into his own would be an understatement.
I wish there was a scientific way to explain why Kemp was so much better last season than he was in 2010, but I think it had everything to do with him being focused. Most notably, he didn't have to deal with the distraction of having a celebrity girlfriend in 2011. Quite a few Dodgers fans blame Rihanna for Kemp's subpar season in 2010.
You can't argue with results. Kemp's numbers jumped up across the board, for a couple of different reasons. He took more walks, for one, but he also saw his ISO jump up from .201 to .262, and his BABIP was an astonishing .380. When he hit the ball, he hit it where they weren't. In the majors, only Adrian Gonzalez had a BABIP as high as .380.
Was Kemp a little too good in 2011? I'm inclined to say that the answer is yes. He had a season for the ages, and things like that should not be expected to become routine occurrences.
But is Kemp one of the elite players in all of baseball? You better believe it. He's on his way to having a great career.
It's Dee Gordon. He began last season as the club's top position-player prospect. He begins this season as a potential star waiting in the wings.
Gordon put up modest numbers in his rookie campaign, but he showed in September that he has the ability to be a difference-maker at the top of the Dodgers lineup. He hit .372 and posted an OBP of .398 in September. Since he was on base so much, he was able to steal 12 bases.
One can only fathom how dangerous Gordon will be if he could stay consistent throughout an entire season. He has virtually no power, but his speed makes him a big-time threat for cheap doubles and cheap triples, and it wouldn't be at all surprising if he established himself as one of the top base stealers in all of baseball.
The Dodgers are hoping that Gordon will establish himself this season. All he has to do is get on base consistently. The rest will take care of itself.
Prospect to Watch
I'm trying to shy away from prospects who have logged time in the show when I do these previews, but I have to make an exception in this case so I can talk about Nate Eovaldi.
Eovaldi came up and made six starts for the Dodgers at the end of last season. Predictably, he struggled with his control, walking 17 hitters in just 32 innings as a starter. In 34.2 innings overall, Eovaldi's BB/9 was 5.19. That's way too high to cut it in the majors.
But you have to love Eovaldi's stuff. He throws in the mid-90s, and he features a sharp slider that he can throw as hard as 90 miles per hour. Very few big leaguers can throw a slider that hard, and my mind came up blank when I tried to think of starters who can.
Eovaldi is going to have to prove he deserves a rotation spot, but he's going to get a few starts this season one way or the other. There will be injuries and the like, and Eovaldi may be lucky enough to inherit a starting job this season.
Either that, or he could earn one in spring training. If he does, look out.
What the Dodgers Will Do Well
This Dodgers team should pitch just fine. They have some good arms in their rotation and a few more good arms in their bullpen. It helps that they'll play half their games in Dodger Stadium, one of the best pitchers' parks in baseball.
Let's not underestimate this team's defense, either. The Dodgers are strong up the middle with Gordon at short and Ellis at second, and Kemp just won his second Gold Glove this past season (he didn't deserve it, but oh well).
So in a nutshell, pitching and defense won't be a problem for this team in 2010. In theory, anyway.
What the Dodgers Won’t Do Well
I love Kemp, and I'm looking for a good year from Ethier, but there are much better lineups than this one out there. The Dodgers won't be as hopeless swinging the bats as, say, the Oakland A's, but they're not about to challenge the 1927 Yankees for all-time hitting supremacy.
The Dodgers will score their fair share of runs, but things are going to be rough on nights and days when Kemp and Either are held in check.
The Dodgers are not a bad team. In fact, I think this is a better team than people realize. They merely have to look past the team's ownership situation.
However, I don't think the Dodgers are ready to contend for the NL West quite yet. The Giants and Diamondbacks are both better teams, and I fully expect them to duke it out for the division crown in 2012.
The Dodgers won't finish in last, mind you. They'll just be an "also-ran."
Projected Record: 85-77
National League West
American League West
Zachary D. Rymer is a lifelong baseball junkie with an impressive collection of Nomar Garciaparra rookie cards and a knuckleball that is coming along. He loves the Red Sox and hates the Yankees, but he has a huge mancrush on Derek Jeter and he would like nothing more than to have a few beers with Nick Swisher. He's always down to talk some baseball, so feel free to hit him up on Twitter:
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