Los Angeles Dodgers Roster Battles: 3 Most Intriguing Spring Position Battles

Douglas MayberryContributor IIIMarch 14, 2012

Los Angeles Dodgers Roster Battles: 3 Most Intriguing Spring Position Battles

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    With Opening Day 2012 soon approaching, the Los Angeles Dodgers still have a few gaps in their 25-man roster.

    Since their 95-win 2009 season, the Dodgers haven't been the same. Manny Ramirez is gone from the middle of the order, Andre Ethier hasn't been able to stay healthy and Chad Billingsley is trending in the wrong direction.

    Although the Dodgers have a few problems, some things are looking good for the boys of summer. Matt Kemp has finally established himself among the game's elite, and Clayton Kershaw won a Cy Young award in 2011. 

    On paper, the Dodgers don't seem to have a fearsome lineup, but they have a few prospects that should get ample playing time this season. Both Dee Gordon and Jerry Sands should get enough playing time to establish themselves this season, and if both live up to the hype, the Dodgers could have one of the better lineups in the National League. 

    Gordon has the ability to swipe 60 bags, and Sands could hit 30 homers this season if they each get 600 at-bats. 

    Although they have the hype, they still have to produce at an All-Star level for the Dodgers to advance to the playoffs. 

    The following slides will describe the position battles that the Dodgers face for their Opening Day lineup.

    With all my heart, I hope that this season breaks the residents of Chavez Ravine's two-year drought from the playoffs.

    But they will have to overcome the following:


Left Field: Who Gets the Most at-Bats?

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    Who should be the Dodgers' starting left fielder?

    Well, this is a complicated answer. 

     

    The Candidates (as per their current 40-man roster)

    Juan Rivera

    Jerry Sands

    Trent Oeltjen

    Tony Gwynn, Jr. 

    Scott Van Slyke

    Alfredo Silverio

     

    Because all of these candidates are on the 40-man roster, they all have to be considered. However, Van Slyke and Silverio don't figure to get playing time early in the season, although they could steal some at-bats in September when the dugouts get crowded.

    The true candidates are Rivera, Sands, Oeltjen and Gwynn.

    Based on playing time in 2011, the games started splits come out to be like this: 

    Rivera: 54 G, 214 PA, 5 HR, 33 RBI, .258 AVG, .327 OBP, .384 SLG, .711 OPS

    Sands: 39 G, 138 PA, 1 HR, 14 RBI, .248 AVG, .328 OBP, .355 SLG, .684 OPS

    Oeltjen: 10 G, 26 PA, 1 HR, 1 RBI, .136 AVG, .240 OBP, .273 SLG, .513 OPS

    Gwynn: 89 G, 291 PA, 2 HR, 16 RBI, .255 AVG, .304 OBP, .352 SLG, .657 OPS

    These are awful statistics. According to Baseball Prospectus' Kevin Goldstein, the average OPS for a corner outfielder is .819. The only one that has a shot at meeting this kind of production is Sands, but in order for him to gain regular playing time, he will have to prove that he is the left fielder of the future and also that his defense will be a positive contribution to the Dodgers, not a negative one.

    If Sands gets 500-600 AB's (considered a full-time player) and his numbers stay fairly in line with his minor league numbers, he should post something like this:

    29 HR, 88 RBI, .278 AVG, .344 AVG, .586 SLG, .931 OPS

    And hypothetically, the Dodgers have a star in the waiting. If he slugs .586 like he did at Triple-A, he would tie for third in the majors (with Matt Kemp and Miguel Cabrera) and above such players as Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton and Carlos Gonzalez. Crazy stuff, right?

    The major problem with this theory is Juan Rivera. He is making $4 million this season, with a $4 million team option for the '13 season with a $500,000 buyout. Compared to Sands' salary of the league minimum $480,000.

    With such a price increase between the two players, Rivera is practically guaranteed playing time. Whether it may be at first base or left field, he is going to get at least 250 AB. Hopefully, these all come at the expense of James Loney, particularly against left-handed pitchers. Rivera hit .289 with a .805 OPS against lefties, whereas Loney hit a paltry .213 with a .561 OPS against lefties.

    This is a direct platoon situation that Mattingly should be facing, but of course, with the two combined to make $10.375 million, he will have to get both into the lineup as much as possible. Concurrently, if the Dodgers were able to spend that cool $10.375 million on any first baseman in the league, they would be able to (hypothetically) afford Joey Votto, Adrian Gonzalez or Carlos Pena and would still have enough money to employ someone of the likes of Freddie Freeman.

    Too bad that situation will never arise. Just a thought... 

5th Starter

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    Basically, my argument for Nathan Eovaldi is based on the principal that Chris Capuano has never had an ERA under 3.95. Lest the Dodgers front office actually make a beneficial transaction, they decided that it was best for a cash-strapped franchise to give $10 million to an innings-eater over two years with a whole bunch of studs waiting in the wings.

    Keith Law recently rated the Dodgers farm system the 12th-best in baseball, with eight of their top 10 prospects being pitchers. 

    Right. Give the money to the 33-year-old.

    By no means is Capuano a poor pitcher; in fact, I projected him to have an ERA under 3.50 for the 2012 season.

    But he isn't cost-effective for a franchise that has young talent waiting in the wings.

    Eovaldi did well at the end of last season, posting a 3.63 ERA in 34.2 innings. His walk rate is too high and his K rate isn't high enough, but he is only 22 years old and barely scraped the surface of his talent last season. 

    But for $480,000, he is much better than Capuano is for $5 million for the 2012 season.

Closer

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    This is probably the best problem that the Dodgers have.

    Simply put, they have two relievers that could get the job done in the ninth with the game on the line.

    Both Javy Guerra and Kenley Jansen could be the Dodgers closer, but Eric Stephen says that Guerra is Mattingly's first choice in the ninth.

    Last season, Guerra logged 21 saves in 47 games in his rookie season, recording a 2.31 ERA.

    However, Guerra's peripherals don't suggest that he should stay the closer in the Ravine. 

    He walked 18 in 46.2 innings for a 3.5 BB/9, and he struck out 38 for a 7.9 K/9. 

    These are decent numbers, but not for a high-leverage situation like a closer. 

    Taking a closer look, he had a .231 BABIP (batting average of balls in play), which is well below the league average of .300. He also had a 83.3 percent LOB (left on base), well above the league average of 70 percent. He recorded a 4.07 xFIP (fielding independent pitching), which is an indicator that the Dodger defense greatly helped his ERA.

    He also recorded a 42.2 percent ground-ball rate, below the league average of 44 percent, according to Fangraphs.

    I am not one to harp on Guerra because he gets the job done, but simply, Jansen is the better choice.

    Jansen set a record 16.1 K/9 last season, partially because of his cutter/slider hybrid. Simply put, it's filthy.

    Furthermore, he posted a nearly league-average .297 BABIP and 76.2 percent LOB, which is a little above league-average, but not too far from the median.

    Bill James' projection system projects the converted catcher to have a 1.72 ERA for 2012, as well as a 1.68 xFIP.

    The one knock on Jansen is his control. He walked 4.36 batters per nine last season, and James projects him to walk even more this season. Walks can be a downfall for a pitcher, especially a closer.

    My personal opinion is that Guerra starts with the job and stays with it until he starts struggling, then Jansen takes it over and runs with it. I project 40 saves combined between the two, with a 15/25 split between Guerra/Jansen.

    As long as the duo can shut opposing offenses down, I don't really mind who gets the save, as long as the Dodgers get the win.

    Saves can be a tricky statistic to project, but hopefully, the two can stay healthy for all 162 games and get the job done all season.