We’re partway into spring training, and rosters are beginning to take shape. The Los Angeles Dodgers fancy themselves World Series contenders, and their lineup will go a long way to determining whether or not they can in fact challenge Cincinnati, San Francisco and Washington at the top of the National League.
The Dodgers have a lineup chock-full of question marks, be it performance or health. With that being said, let’s look at what the lineup projects as right now.
Crawford is a question mark for Opening Day, as his recovery from Tommy John surgery has stalled. However, he has not been ruled out yet, so he’s still penciled in as the leadoff man. In his most recent productive season (2010), Crawford was a very good base stealer, swiping 47 and only getting caught 10 times. He also has a career .332 OBP, which isn’t elite, but is certainly good enough to be a passable leadoff hitter.
Manager Don Mattingly is a traditionalist, and he likes to have a contact hitter in the No. 2 hole. Ellis certainly fits that bill, as he has had strikeout rates below the league average every season of his career. He is also a consistent presence on base, as he has posted an OBP over .300 every year except 2011. He is unspectacular but is a steadying presence that will provide plenty of opportunities for RBIs for the middle of the lineup.
Gonzalez came over from the Boston Red Sox in August of last season and continued his worrying lack of power. In every full season of his career through 2011, he had a SLG% of at least. .500. But last year, he had a cumulative SLG% of .463, and it was even lower during his month in Los Angeles. He is expected to be a left-handed power bat in the middle of the lineup, though, so the Dodgers are hoping that his lack of power was just a fluke season.
Kemp is the surest thing in the Dodger lineup. He finished second in the MVP voting in 2011, and he was having a tremendous year until injuries derailed it. He played only 106 games but still finished the year with a .906 OPS and 23 home runs. He is an elite athlete who had never had injury issues before last season, so the Dodgers will assume that with the full offseason to heal, Kemp will be back to the player he was in 2011 and prior to his injuries in 2012.
Ethier will occupy the same right field slot he’s been in since 2007. He’s a streaky player who has gone on tears for months at a time (such as May 2012, when he posted a 1.016 OPS). He can get ice-cold also, exemplified in his June, when he had a .628 OPS.
Overall though, he is an above-average player who consistently hits around .280 with 20 home runs. As a lefty bat sandwiched by the right-handed sticks of Kemp and Hanley Ramirez, Ethier’s standard production will be a valuable asset in the 2013 Dodgers lineup.
Question marks surround Ramirez, as no one is quite sure what sort of numbers he will put up. He is only a couple years removed from a monstrous 2009, when he hit .342 with 24 home runs and 27 stolen bases. However, since then, he has been on a steady decline, particularly in batting average.
Last season, after his trade from Miami, his AVG saw an uptick from .246 to .271, but that is still well below his previous career levels. His defense at shortstop is questionable as well, as he is prone to bouts of lost concentration (as evidenced by his average of 15 errors per season over the last three years). In addition, fangraphs.com’s defensive metrics do not like him, as evidenced by his negative UZR in every season except 2008.
Cruz is an interesting study in sample size and minor league performance. Until last season, Cruz had never had more than 78 plate appearances in a season. In 2012, though, he hit .297/.322/.431 (AVG/OBP/SLG) in 78 games. The questions, though, lie in whether or not he is capable of duplicating that production.
In 12 years in the minor leagues, Cruz posted just a .261/.296/.394 line. Thus, it is a legitimate worry that a 29-year-old journeyman who had a career year in the major leagues is occupying such a premier offensive spot. The Dodgers will give Cruz every opportunity to prove he deserves to play, however.
Ellis’ walking ways made him a fan favorite in the first half of last year, but he cooled off after the All Star Break. He had a .404 OBP in the first half, but that dropped all the way to .336 in the second half.
However, he is a solid defensive catcher who threw out nearly one-third of prospective base stealers in 2012. And given that he is likely to hit eighth and not be relied on as much of an offensive threat, even his .737 OPS that he posted in the second half of last year will be good enough production.