Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Atlanta Braves: NLDS 2013 Position-by-Position Breakdown

Ely SussmanCorrespondent IOctober 3, 2013

Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Atlanta Braves: NLDS 2013 Position-by-Position Breakdown

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    Hanley Ramirez was virtually unstoppable at the plate when healthy.
    Hanley Ramirez was virtually unstoppable at the plate when healthy.Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    The outcome of the 2013 NLDS between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Atlanta Braves could be decided by a player at any position. Just so that there are no surprises, we've created this breakdown of who each team uses around the diamond, and how they match up with their counterparts on the opposition.

    Both the Dodgers and Braves have the talent to make deep playoff runs, as we can infer from some of their hot streaks during the regular season. The former won 42 of 50 games at one point, while Atlanta had two double-digit winning streaks this summer.

    None of that matters at this point, however. The prediction for this matchup—which we reveal at the end of this article—only considered the individuals who were chosen for their teams' NLDS rosters and how they should be expected to perform in the coming days.

    The Braves have decided on their best 25. Mike Petriello of Mike Scioscia's Tragic Illness reveals the Dodgers' choices.

    Now, let's discuss who you would rather have.

     

    *Stats provided by Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

    **Reserves only listed if likely to see significant playing time.

Catcher

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    Brian McCann, Braves.
    Brian McCann, Braves.Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    Starter Comparison

    A.J. Ellis (.238 BA, .682 OPS, 2.3 WAR in 115 G) received his first everyday opportunity for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2012. Ever since the second half of last season, he's been regressing from an on-base machine to someone who's closer to league average with the bat.

    However, with help from a pitching staff that's mindful of baserunners, Ellis prevents the opposition from stealing. He threw out more than 44 percent of would-be base stealers in 2013 (average is 28 percent). In his 109 starts behind the plate, only 63 guys even tested him.

    By comparison, Brian McCann (.256 BA, .796 OPS, 2.2 WAR in 102 G) is a much more legitimate power source. This was the sixth straight year in which he contributed at least 20 home runs, and he consistently reaches those totals with solid contact rates.

    Unfortunately, McCann saw his production plummet as this summer wore on. After batting .291/.374/.536 in 53 games before the All-Star break, he was only at .220/.296/.384 during his final 49 contests. September was particularly disappointing (.554 OPS in 62 PA).

    The 29-year-old doesn't gun down baserunners at a high percentage, although he helps the Atlanta Braves pitching staff with his pitch-framing skills.

     

    Reserves

    Rookie backstop Tim Federowicz (.356 SLG in 56 G) is as much of a home run threat as Ellis but not nearly as disciplined. He gradually improved at the plate as the season progressed. Putting balls in play is still a struggle, however (56 K in 173 PA).

    FedEx allowed only two passed balls in his 374 innings caught.

    The Braves basically benched B.J. Upton during the past couple weeks of the regular season, which resulted in an outfield realignment and more playing time for Evan Gattis in left. That means Gerald Laird (.281 BA, .739 OPS, 0.5 WAR in 47 G) is more likely to receive opportunities in case McCann gets injured or fatigued.

    Laird has played parts of 11 major league seasons and surprisingly posted a career-best .367 on-base percentage at age 33.

     

    Advantage Braves

First Base

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    Freddie Freeman, Braves.
    Freddie Freeman, Braves.David Banks/Getty Images

    Starter Comparison

    Adrian Gonzalez (.293 BA, .803 OPS, 3.9 WAR in 157 G) is seemingly past his prime. The first baseman's power has faded since his glory years of 2008-2011, as his .461 slugging percentage this season was his worst as an everyday player.

    Gonzalez nonetheless remains a valuable player thanks to his glove work. He possesses great range at his position and demonstrates the ability to make accurate throws when necessary.

    Nobody on the Atlanta Braves is a great candidate in the NL MVP race, but Freddie Freeman (.319 BA, .897 OPS, 5.4 WAR in 147 G) comes closest to stacking up with the league's most dominant individuals.

    The 24-year-old continued to refine his plate approach, particularly with runners in scoring position. Freeman batted .443/.541/.695 in such situations, with only 28 strikeouts in 170 plate appearances. If not for a stint on the disabled list, he would've had an outside shot of leading the Senior Circuit in runs batted in.

    Aside from a strong throwing arm, Freeman also received high marks from FanGraphs for his scooping ability.

     

    Reserves

    Coming off a miserable 2012 campaign, Michael Young marginally improved in his National League debut with a 102 adjusted OPS. The Los Angeles Dodgers acquired him for only the final month of the regular season, during which he played 21 games and batted .314/.321/.392.

    Although undersized for first base, the California native is athletic enough for the position. Young has spent the past three seasons gaining experience there after many years stationed elsewhere in the infield.

    Overall, he's basically a replacement-level player.

     

    Advantage Braves

Second Base

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    Mark Ellis, Dodgers.
    Mark Ellis, Dodgers.Norm Hall/Getty Images

    Starter Comparison

    Mark Ellis (.270 BA, .674 OPS, 3.0 WAR in 126 G) pretty much replicated his 2012 season, just without the threat of leg amputation.

    Because his fielding isn't flashy, the 36-year-old seldom gets mentioned as an elite defensive second baseman. Yet according to FanGraphs, he ranked fifth at the position in Ultimate Zone Rating this season and second in Defensive Runs Saved (behind only Dustin Pedroia).

    With Dan Uggla left off the NLDS roster, get ready for a lot of Elliot Johnson (.209 BA, .538 OPS, 1.1 WAR in 111 G).

    He's close behind Ellis in the aforementioned defensive categories despite a fraction of the playing time. Although his 2013 numbers seem hideous, keep in mind that Johnson has posted a .676 OPS in the 32 games played for the Atlanta Braves (previously with Kansas City Royals). Still unimpressive, but at least more tolerable than Uggla was in recent weeks.

    Johnson also adds value as a baserunner. He has succeeded in 22 of 24 stolen-base attempts in 2013.

     

    Reserves

    After spending much of his major league career at shortstop, Paul Janish is certainly qualified to play the right side of the infield.

    However, his offensive ability pales in comparison to Johnson's. The soon-to-be 31-year-old is only likely to see the field in a kooky, extra-inning (.442 OPS in 52 G) game.

     

    Advantage Dodgers

Shortstop

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Starter Comparison

    Hanley Ramirez's brilliance in 2013 (.345 BA, 1.040 OPS, 5.4 WAR in 86 G) transcended the traditional/sabermetric interpretation of statistics. Everybody agrees that he was practically unstoppable when healthy.

    The 30-year-old is very average defensively, however, and a nagging nerve irritation in his back has limited Ramirez's ability to influence games as a baserunner.

    Andrelton Simmons (.248 BA, .692 OPS, 6.7 WAR in 157 G) flashed more power as the season progressed, as he slugged .472 after the All-Star break. According to FanGraphs, he also posted one of the best swinging-strike percentages among MLB shortstops.

    The second-year stud has the best range at his position of anybody in this generation. The same could be said of his arm strength. Simmons shattered the major league record for Defensive Runs Saved in a season—dates back to 2003—and passed the eye test with countless highlight-reel plays.

    This is easily the most intriguing matchup of the Los Angeles Dodgers-Atlanta Braves series, and it goes to Han-Ram. His potential to clobber a three-run home run is slightly more important than Simmons' knack for turning sensational double plays.

     

    Advantage Dodgers

Third Base

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    Chris Johnson, Braves.
    Chris Johnson, Braves.Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Starter Comparison

    After being horribly unproductive in 2011 and 2012, Juan Uribe (.278 BA, .769 OPS, 4.1 WAR in 132 G) has spent this season justifying his expiring $21 million contract. His .331 on-base percentage and 117 adjusted OPS were career bests. Pleasant surprises from someone in his age-33 campaign.

    Committing only five errors in about 900 innings made Uribe a great asset at the hot corner. He also uses fast reflexes to compensate for limited athleticism.

    Meanwhile, Chris Johnson (.321 BA, .816 OPS, 2.0 WAR in 142 G) totally revamped his reputation in 2013.

    The Atlanta Braves began this summer with a third-base platoon of Johnson and Juan Francisco. That only lasted a few weeks, as the former proved he could mash right-handed pitching. Johnson spent significant chunks of the year leading the NL batting race, ultimately finishing second behind Michael Cuddyer.

    With that said, the 29-year-old doesn't distinguish himself with the glove, nor in other offensive departments. He even strikes out more frequently than Uribe.

    Johnson frankly doesn't contribute much besides singles and the enforcement of unwritten rules. Couple that with the fact that his production at the plate faded in August and September, and his L.A. counterpart clearly has the edge.

     

    Reserves

    Nick Punto mostly played shortstop down the stretch, but we're going to assume that Los Angeles Dodgers manager Don Mattingly exclusively uses Hanley Ramirez at that position in the NLDS.

    The utility man reaches base as often as Uribe, although he possesses less power.

     

    Advantage Dodgers

Left Field

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    Evan Gattis, Braves.
    Evan Gattis, Braves.Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Starter Comparison

    Carl Crawford wasn't particularly dynamic with the bat this season (.283 BA, .736 OPS, 1.7 WAR in 116 G), nor on the base paths. Moreover, he has not drawn a walk in his past 18 games.

    Overall, Crawford is a respectable defensive left fielder, but the opposition takes advantage of his limited arm strength.

    Evan Gattis (.243 BA, .771 OPS, 0.6 WAR in 105 G) bears zero resemblance to Crawford in terms of body type or style of play.

    After slumping for most of June, July and August, El Oso Blanco tallied 13 extra-base hits last month to prove himself worthy of regular playing time. Atlanta Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez had to bench B.J. Upton and shuffle around the other outfielders to accommodate him.

    The popular rookie is clearly miscast at this position. So many of his offensive contributions come in high-leverage situations; otherwise they would be entirely negated by his poor fielding.

    For all the Crawford critiques mentioned above, there's still plenty of value in someone who can turn soft grounders into infield hits—25 of those in 2013—and camp under most fly balls. Gattis, on the other hand, is too one-dimensional.

     

    Reserves

    We may see Jordan Schafer pinch-run for Gattis at some point in this NLDS. He stole 22 bases for the Braves.

    However, Gonzalez might be hesitant to insert Schafer at all considering his absymal .170/.248/.208 batting line since returning from the disabled list in August.

     

    Advantage Dodgers

Center Field

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    Andre Ethier, Dodgers.
    Andre Ethier, Dodgers.Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    Starter Comparison

    The Los Angeles Dodgers are paying Matt Kemp $20 million this season to start games like this in center field, but a bum ankle has sidelined him throughout the playoffs. Andre Ethier's injury isn't as severe. For now, though, he'll serve as a pinch-hitter and hold out hope of returning to the field later on in this series.

    So Skip Schumaker (.263 BA, .655 OPS, -1.4 WAR in 125 G) will fill the void in the interim.

    He hardly spent any time in center from 2009-2012, and his defensive performance there has been predictably below average with L.A. Schumaker continues to reach base with decent frequency, but his .332 OBP is very hollow. Most of that comes from singles.

    There was initially some concern that Jason Heyward (.254 OPS, .776 OPS, 3.6 WAR in 104 G) might not return for the Atlanta Braves in time for October after suffering a fractured jaw. Fortunately for them, he got back into the lineup on Sept. 20, which afforded him 35 plate appearances to regain his timing. That included a 5-for-5 performance against the Philadelphia Phillies.

    The 6'5" Heyward has terrific defensive skills and plate discipline. It's not reflected in his 2013 stats, but he's also a decent baserunner.

     

    Reserves

    Ethier recovered from an unproductive start to the season to post a .783 OPS. As always, his platoon splits are quite severe (.854 OPS vs. RHP, .613 OPS vs. LHP), but there's also an odd discrepancy between his home and road numbers.

    Ultimately, Ethier is much better than Schumaker if healthy enough to play, yet he still doesn't stack up to Heyward's well-roundedness.

    Considering that Gonzalez kept Dan Uggla off the NLDS roster, B.J. Upton should be thankful that his .184 batting average was tolerated. At least he makes a positive impact defensively. Inserting him into the game at any point would likely cause Heyward to shift to right field and brother Justin Upton to boot Gattis from left.

    Atlanta paid the elder Upton $75.25 million in free agency last winter with the understanding that he would be vulnerable to strikeouts. However, he took his whiffing to a new level of futility this year (151 K in 446 PA).

     

    Advantage Braves

Right Field

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    Yasiel Puig, Dodgers.
    Yasiel Puig, Dodgers.Denis Poroy/Getty Images

    Starter Comparison

    Yasiel Puig (.319 BA, .925 OPS, 5.0 WAR in 104 G) has had two unbelievable months in the big leagues and two that there were not-so-stellar, but he's always valuable to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

    Despite all the missed cutoff men, he grades out as a great right fielder. Puig's throws have eliminated eight baserunners and deterred dozens of others from trying for an extra base. Overly confident in his blinding speed, the Cuban phenom has a tendency to run into unnecessary outs on the basepaths. Then again, that tool also enables him to beat out routine grounders and score more easily from his teammates' hits.

    Justin Upton (.263 BA, .818 OPS, 2.6 WAR in 149 G) is similar in terms of raw power and he doesn't swing and miss as often. Of course, he takes much longer getting down the first-base line, and there's no comparison between their defensive reputations and results.

    Also, the opposing pitching staff is more familiar with him. The Atlanta Braves, on the other hand, have only faced Puig four times.

    Upton was thought to be among the league's best all-around athletes earlier this decade, whereas Puig is currently in that discussion. Obviously, you'd want the latter on your side for this series.

     

    Advantage Dodgers

Starting Rotation

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    Ace Comparison

    No starting pitcher in these MLB playoffs stacks up to Clayton Kershaw (1.83 ERA, 8.8 K/9, 8.4 WAR in 236.0 IP). He has durability, command, velocity and outstanding off-speed offerings, a lethal combination that every rotation leader aspires for.

    Despite his right-handedness, Kris Medlen (3.11 ERA, 7.2 K/9, 3.6 WAR in 197.0 IP) is likewise effective at holding on opposing baserunners. He also experienced comparable success to Kershaw in August and September, posting a 2.00 earned run average and making nine quality starts in 10 opportunities.

    Ultimately, let's be clear that the Los Angeles Dodgers' lefty is superior. Kershaw relies less on the randomness of balls in play and has a much longer track record of dominance.

     

    The Rest

    Zack Greinke isn't racking up strikeouts as he did in previous seasons, but inducing weak contact is the next-best thing. The .284 BABIP against Greinke in 2013 (league average is .297) reflects his ability to diversify his pitch selection and work low in the zone.

    Between Hyun-jin Ryu and Ricky Nolasco, the Dodgers get great pitch efficiency from their No. 3 and No. 4 starters. Although not adept at generating swings-and-misses, they still match up well with an Atlanta Braves lineup that—outside of Freddie Freeman and Jason Heyward—often gets over-anxious at the plate.

    This summer, homegrown Braves starters Julio Teheran and Mike Minor posted a 8.2 K/9 and 8.0 K/9, respectively. However, one red flag for Minor is the fact that right-handed batters slugged .400 against him.

    Regardless of how competent Freddy Garcia looked in his half-dozen appearances with Atlanta during the regular season, it's discouraging to see him penciled in for Game 4. There's a reason the journeyman wasn't offered a guaranteed contract last winter.

    Garcia only manages 87.5 miles per hour on his fastball, according to FanGraphs, which explains why his mistake pitches so often get deposited into the bleachers.

     

    Advantage Dodgers

    *WAR calculations include pitcher and batter values.

Bullpen

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    Craig Kimbrel, Braves.
    Craig Kimbrel, Braves.Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

    Closer Comparison

    Don Mattingly should be kicking himself for not acclimating Kenley Jansen (1.88 ERA, 13.0 K/9, 2.6 WAR in 76.2 IP) to the closer's role sooner. If he had, perhaps the Los Angeles Dodgers would have won several more games and been the ones hosting this series.

    Anyway, Jansen is a menacing presence on the mound who posted a 2.1 BB/9 in 2013, the best of his major league career. What he lacks in raw stuff, he makes up for with devastating, late movement on his fastball.

    Craig Kimbrel (1.21 ERA, 13.2 K/9, 3.3 WAR in 67.0 IP) is essentially Clayton Kershaw in relief form.

    That's a figurative comparison, of course. Kimbrel throws with the opposite hand, stands about half a foot shorter and uses a fastball-slider combination to vanquish his opposition.

    Even so, he is a fellow 25-year-old who's established as the best at what he does.

     

    The Rest 

    Since signing with L.A., Brian Wilson has pitched to a tidy 0.66 earned run average. Paco Rodriguez (2.32 ERA, 10.4 K/9) is another right-hander in that bullpen who can make batters flail foolishly.

    J.P. Howell has quietly enjoyed an excellent season. He limited lefties to a .164/.225/.227 batting line, and even held his own when at a platoon disadvantage (.222/.312/.296). Chris Capuano could also bolster the bullpen, although he should be reserved for only left-on-left situations.

    Atlanta trusts Luis Avilan and Anthony Varvaro in high-leverage spots, even though neither misses many bats. However, their solid ground-ball rates properly utilize the defense behind them. Rookie Alex Wood has also excelled in relief (2.03 ERA, 9.6 K/9 in 21.2 IP).

    David Carpenter deserves his own paragraph (1.78 ERA, 10.1 K/9, 2.0 WAR in 65.2 IP). He doesn't shut down lefties like Eric O'Flaherty or Jonny Venters did before their injuries, but he has emerged from obscurity to give the Braves a slight edge in bullpen depth.

     

    Advantage Braves

NLDS Prediction

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    No pool to jump in at Dodger Stadium, but you get the idea. L.A. will come up on top.
    No pool to jump in at Dodger Stadium, but you get the idea. L.A. will come up on top.Norm Hall/Getty Images

    The Atlanta Braves have dramatically reduced the roles of Dan Uggla and B.J. Upton, but the lineup still struggles to consistently make contact from game to game. Between Clayton Kershaw and the Los Angeles Dodgers' bullpen, it's very possible that they'll be shut out at some point during the NLDS.

    Freddy Garcia's inclusion in the Braves rotation speaks more to their back-end concerns than it does to his diminished ability. If he takes the mound with the club trailing two games to one, don't bet on the series returning to Turner Field.

    In 2012, three of the four Division Series winners were lower-seeded teams. Dating back to 2010, seven of the 12 ALDS/NLDS matchups have ended in upsets.

    Expect the trend to continue, at least when it comes to this matchup.

     

    Prediction: Dodgers in four games

    NLDS MVP (if there was such a thing): Yasiel Puig

     

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