As we near the halfway point of the 2013 baseball season, the Dodgers have undoubtedly been a disappointment at 33-42. They are 28th in the majors in runs scored but ninth in team ERA, so clearly the offense has been more of the problem.
One of the defining characteristics of a team with this many underachieving players is that they should regress back towards their career levels. Indeed, Baseball Prospectus’ rest-of-season predictions project the Dodgers to have the best record in the NL West from this point forward.
Whether that is enough to claim a playoff spot, though, remains to be seen.
Gonzalez has had a great first half, posting a .297/.353/.471 line while being one of the team’s most valuable position players.
He has been on a hot streak recently, with two home runs in his last four games, but the big concern with him remains his power. Gonzalez’s .175 ISO ranks 18th among qualified first basemen—and is below his career mark of .210—and shows no signs of returning.
However, his on-base skills have been so valuable that the Dodgers don’t need the power. His second half should look much like his first half.
Ellis is an interesting case that is difficult to project because he’s a 32-year-old catcher with fewer than 1000 big league plate appearances. In his short career, he’s made a name for himself based on his ability to get on base, and that has certainly continued this year, to the tune of a .347 OBP.
On-base percentage is partly batting average and partly walks, and neither of Ellis’s numbers in either of those categories is out of line with his career norms. He’s hitting .248, which is only slightly below his career level of .264—and his BABIP is right in line with his career line as well. His walk rate is also static, as he’s walking 12.8% of the time as compared to 12.5% of his career plate appearances.
We shouldn’t expect any power from him, though, as he’s never shown the ability to really drive the ball consistently (career .380 SLG), and that continues to be the case this year (.358 SLG).
Ethier has been maddeningly bad this year, posting numbers across the board that are below his career norms.
His batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage are all the lowest of his career, and he has only five home runs thus far, which is 16th among qualified right fielders.
Given what we know about regression, Ethier should theoretically be expected to return to form; however, his underlying numbers paint a worrying picture. He’s actually walking more and striking out less; his BABIP, while below his career mark, isn’t shockingly low (.288 versus career mark of .322). The main difference is that his power is simply nonexistent (.374 SLG compared to career .469).
Ethier has a lengthy track record of big league success, so it’s foolish to write him off entirely. But to expect him to all of a sudden return to his prior levels of performance might also be overly optimistic.
League has struggled mightily this year, posting a 5.08 ERA in 28.1 innings and losing the closer job to Kenley Jansen in the process. The key to his failure has been his complete inability to strike anyone out; he’s struck out only 10.3% of the batters he’s faced, which is well below his career mark of 17.2%.
His walk rate is actually below his career level, and his BABIP is higher than normal, but not outrageous; so the main problem is simply that he’s allowing too many balls to be put in play.
His performance going forward will be based on whether or not he can improve his strikeout rate, as his ground-ball rate (his trademark as a sinkerballer) is at his career level. Given that his contact percentage has gone up as his velocity has declined, the future does not look bright for League.
After struggling through two injury-riddled seasons in Boston, Crawford has been incredible thus far for the Dodgers. His two big adjustments have been a higher walk rate and more power.
His walk rate is interesting, because he’s seeing fewer pitches in the zone (as tracked by Baseball Info Solutions) and is consequently swinging less as well. With no way to really tell how pitchers will pitch him the rest of the way, it should suffice to say that his improved batting eye is a good sign for his prospects going forward.
Meanwhile, his power is likely to slide backwards at least a little, but many of his batted ball numbers are quite similar to those he’s put up over the rest of his career, so it’s not like he’s getting obscenely lucky. That regression might be worth a couple of extra-base hits here or there and could cost him around 15 points in slugging.
Capuano has been good since returning from the DL, having not allowed a run in 11 innings. With the injuries to Chad Billingsley and Ted Lilly, Capuano has been called upon more than the Dodgers would have liked, but he has stepped up.
His peripherals this season are basically exactly what he’s done throughout his career, so there’s no reason to expect anything different for the rest of this season. Capuano is roughly a league-average starter, and that is likely what he’ll be the rest of the year.
It’s easy to project dominance for Kershaw, but it wouldn’t be wrong. This Jeff Sullivan piece on FanGraphs gets into Kershaw’s excellent curveball, but my favorite statistic is about the lack of home runs he’s allowed with it:
He’s allowed one home run off of his curveball, ever. He’s thrown almost 2,000 of them. It came in the 2009 playoffs, meaning Kershaw has never allowed a curveball home run in the regular season.
Kershaw continues to post both walk and strikeout rates far better than the league average, and he remains extremely difficult to hit, posting a .194 batting average against.
Herrera was just recently called up again, although his stay may not be long, as he has tallied just seven plate appearances this year. He’s a journeyman utility player who has value because of his multi-positional flexibility, but he isn’t likely to stay with the big league club for long.
Presumably, once Crawford and Kemp return from the DL, Herrera will be sent back down.
Ramirez has been on fire since his June 4 return from the disabled list, with a .947 OPS and three home runs in 16 games.
He’s unlikely to continue this pace, as his power and batted ball numbers are well above his career norms. His ISO (SLG-AVG) is 100 points above his career average, so simple regression to the mean indicates that he is likely to hit for less power over the rest of the season. It is important to remember, though, that a .198 ISO (his career average) would still be good for fourth in the majors among shortstops.
The source of that regression may be in his HR/FB rate, which is at an ungodly 33.3%. With a career rate of 13.6%, there’s no way he continues that pace.
Ryu has been a godsend for the Dodgers this year, eating valuable innings and posting a 2.85 ERA. He doesn’t have a big league track record so it’s difficult to know exactly what his true talent level suggests he should be able to do, but his BABIP (the general measure of batted-ball luck) is basically league-average.
His strikeout and walk percentages are also better than league average, which bodes well for the future. While he isn’t this good—his ERA is nearly half a run lower than his FIP—he will remain a productive and above-average member of the Dodgers’ rotation.
Hairston is a utility man from whom not much was expected with the bat, and that’s about what has happened. He has a .625 OPS, which, at this point in his career and in this role, is about what he should do.
Beckett’s mysterious injury makes it difficult to figure out what he’ll be able to do the rest of 2013, but seeing as how there are rumors that his career might be over, it’s hard to imagine him coming back in any significant role.
In addition, he was pitching so badly (5.19 ERA) that the Dodgers wouldn’t want to rush him back even if they could.
Howell’s been good thus far, and looking at his performance from the last few years makes it seem likely he’ll be able to continue his performance.
His first few bad years in the majors contributed to his mediocre career numbers, but what he’s done this year—.250 BABIP and 20 percent strikeout rate—are similar to his 2009-2012 lines. The only concern is a slightly lower walk rate which could climb back up as the season progresses.
Uribe’s been an odd case to figure out this year, as his walk rate and power have spiked.
Either number could go right back to where they’ve been the last couple years, but they could also stay consistent with his career averages. He looks more comfortable at the plate and is swinging at fewer pitches than he has since 2003, so if this is a legitimate skill change, then the Dodgers will be able to count on a productive Juan Uribe.
Jansen is an excellent pitcher and should remain that way. He strikes out nearly 40% of the batters he faces and is allowing walks less than five percent of the time.
In fact, Jansen might even improve in the second half as his batted ball luck improves. His BABIP is .312, a whopping fifty points above his career average, and his HR/FB ratio is 15.6%, which is nearly double his career total. Both those numbers should regress back to where they have consistently been, enabling Jansen to remain the dominant closer he has been.
Cruz is terrible; he’s been bad all year and will remain that way. His shocking 296 plate-appearance sample in 2012 notwithstanding, he’s never been a particularly good hitter at any level (career .690 OPS in the minors) and his .127/.157/.169 line represents about what to expect from a journeyman minor leaguer who’s not big-league quality.
If one is looking for some encouragement, he likely isn’t this bad. His career OPS is .605, and this year it’s a horrific .344—so there will likely be some improvement, but it won’t be enough to make a difference.
Ellis has struggled this year, posting just an 85 ISO.
Unfortunately, this level of performance is likely what he is at this point in his career. He hasn’t had an ISO above .140 since 2009, he’s hit above .266 one since 2007, and his strikeout rate has climbed three years in a row.
Ellis will likely lose playing time as the season goes on, whether it be to an internal option like Nick Punto or to an as-yet-undetermined trade candidate. Second base is one of the few spots the Dodgers don’t have a lot of money tied up, so it is a prime candidate for a midseason upgrade.
Guerrier is a slightly-below league average reliever, and that’s how he’s likely to continue performing. His ERA and FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching, an ERA-style statistic based on strikeouts, walks, and home runs) are nearly identical, suggesting that he has gotten the results he’s deserved.
Kemp is the Dodger with the widest error bars in his projection, as he could be anywhere from the MVP candidate he was in 2011 to the absolute mess of a hitter he was prior to hitting the DL this year (.640 OPS).
Part of his struggles can be traced back to the offseason shoulder surgery he had, as ESPN.com’s Stephania Bell mentions. If the additional rest has helped his shoulder, then we may see a version of the old Matt Kemp (a .900 OPS). On the other hand, if he hasn’t found his swing yet, he will continue to struggle.
To be safe, he’ll probably do something in between, but know that he could match either extreme and it wouldn’t be a huge surprise.
Magill has been yo-yoed back and forth between the majors and the minors this year, and he will continue to be as long as the Dodgers’ rotation remains in tatters. He hasn’t performed particularly well, but he’s still young. However, unless he gets his walks and home runs under control, he will continue to struggle.
Hopefully he can refine his command as his career progresses, but the expectations on a 23-year-old shouldn’t be too high.
After a hot start, Punto’s overall numbers have come back to earth. He was never going to hit .400, and this .262/.333/.326 line is more reflective of his true talent. Given how close it is to his career numbers, it’s likely that he will continue this level of performance.
Rodriguez has been a pleasant surprise as a left-handed option out of the bullpen. Throughout his career, Rodriguez has proven remarkably capable of getting both left-handed and right-handed hitters out.
As the season wears on, Rodriguez has been getting more use in high-leverage situations, and that should continue given the Dodgers’ lack of alternatives.
Despite throwing just 9.1 innings in the big leagues this year, Moylan has acquitted himself well and allowed just three runs.
He’s not a particularly great pitcher, so he will go through some ups and downs in the way that middle relievers do, but he’ll probably remain on the active roster for as long as he’s effective. While Javy Guerra, Josh Wall, and Chris Withrow figure things out in the minors, Moylan will get the chance to prove he belongs.
Belisario has been a disappointment this year, as his strikeout rate has dropped considerably from last season. While he doesn’t have a long track record, he has always been able to induce ground balls at a high rate, and that skill has continued.
Combining that with the fact that his FIP is about three-quarters of a run lower than his ERA means that he should improve over the course of the year, but he’ll never return to the lofty heights of his 2009 season (2.04 ERA).
Van Slyke will be coming off the DL soon, but he isn’t likely to have a prominent role. There is a logjam in the outfield with Kemp, Crawford, Puig, and Ethier already there, and Hairston and Schumaker capable of playing there in a pinch. In addition, Gonzalez rarely misses a day at first base, so Van Slyke will probably be squeezed off the roster.
Schumaker has been a valuable piece for the Dodgers, filling in at second base, center field, and left field when the starters in those various spots got hurt.
He’s been adequate offensively for a bench bat, but he’s actually underperformed his career numbers, so a bit of positive regression might be in order. He’s still just 33, so he shouldn’t be declining at this rate just yet. We can expect some batted ball luck to go his way, as this would be the second-lowest BABIP of his career (minimum 75 plate appearances).
Fife has been called upon to be the fifth starter, and he has not disappointed. He’s been a bit better than league-average, which is more than the Dodgers could have asked for from a 26-year-old with ten career starts.
Considering that his career minor league ERA is 4.16, he probably should be expected to regress. Players tend not to be better major leaguers than they were minor leaguers.
Lilly has made only five starts and is likely nearing the end of his career. Although the Dodgers expect him to return from the DL soon, this is already his third trip there this season (and his fifth in the last two).
His walk rate has climbed over the last few years, and as his fastball usage has declined, he’s allowed a higher batting average, which is (obviously) a bad sign for a pitcher’s effectiveness. Lilly, unfortunately, doesn’t look to have too much left in the tank.
The Dodger backup catcher, known affectionately as FedEx, has been a below-average offensive option—although he has delivered a few key hits. However, backup catchers don’t carry the highest ceilings, so it’s not as if he’s been underperforming relative to expectations.
We shouldn’t expect much from Federowicz the rest of the way, as he was never a highly-ranked prospect and derives much of his value from simply being an adequate defensive catcher.
Anyone who claims to know what Puig will do the rest of the way is kidding himself, as the 22-year-old Cuban has posted a .442/.476/.753 line since making his major league debut on June 3.
The young phenom has been fantastic, but he shouldn’t be expected to keep this up. His walk rate is famously low (3.7%) but his proven ability to get his barrel on the ball might mitigate that. He is an enigma that Dodger fans should simply enjoy watching.
Greinke has been a disappointment so far, as his ERA this season is 3.79. He has long had a track record of posting an ERA worse than his peripherals might suggest they should be, but this year his strikeout rate is down and his walk rate is slightly up.
The lack of strikeouts is concerning because this is the lowest strikeout percentage of his career, but there’s nothing the Dodgers can do except wait it out and hope he improves.
Whether or not he will is a concern, though: his fastball velocity is down almost two miles an hour from last year, and while fastballs tend to increase in velocity as the weather warms up, that is a large gap to bridge.