8 Reasons to Be Optimistic for the Los Angeles Dodgers' 2014 Season
With Opening Day finally in the books, the Los Angeles Dodgers have officially begun their NL West title defense. Whether or not they will be successful is obviously the big question of the season. As we look forward six months, there are certainly plenty of reasons to be hopeful.
Indeed, the season has actually gotten off to a good start: A two-game sweep of the Arizona Diamondbacks in Australia left the Dodgers in first place to start the season. There are many reasons to be confident for the upcoming season.
Note: All advanced statistics courtesy of FanGraphs unless otherwise stated.
PECOTA Is Optimistic
PECOTA is Baseball Prospectus’s projection system (subscription required to view data, but the definition is here), and, like most projection systems, is notoriously conservative. The very nature of these systems is that they project mean performances, so even elite teams are often only “expected” to have win totals in the low-90s.
The Dodgers, however, are projected for an unbelievable 99 wins. This is primarily a consequence of many of the items to follow, but a quick summary is essentially that the team has no real weak links. Every regular aside from the second base quagmire is projected for at least 1.5 WARP (BP’s version of WAR), and there is legitimate depth in most spots.
Hanley Ramirez Is Healthy
On a per-plate-appearance basis, Dodger shortstop Hanley Ramirez was probably the National League’s best player. According to FanGraphs’ Wins Above Replacement, Ramirez was worth 5 wins last season—despite playing in only 86 games.
The obvious concern here is that while Ramirez is currently healthy, there’s no guarantee he will be all season. This is another benefit to the incredible depth on the Dodger roster. Players such as Justin Turner or Dee Gordon can fill in to give Ramirez extra days off—and manager Don Mattingly has a wealth of talented hitters to choose from in the top-half of the lineup.
In the meantime, Ramirez is healthy and capable of putting up a monster year. The extent to which he can carry the team is dependent on his health, but he will have to be a force in the middle of the diamond and the lineup.
The Outfield Is Loaded
Whether or not the Dodgers would trade Matt Kemp was one of the offseason’s most enduring storylines, and it will likely continue into the season should the team have all four outfielders healthy.
As of right now, they don’t (Kemp is on the DL). That means that Kemp, Andre Ethier, Yasiel Puig, and Carl Crawford are all available for Mattingly to call on (or they will be, as soon as Kemp returns). While this has the potential to create personal issues in the locker room, it means that the on-field product won’t suffer should one of the four need a day off or miss some time. This is a huge advantage in the fourth outfielder role that no other team in baseball can match.
The Rotation Is Stacked
The top of the Dodger pitching rotation is justifiably famous (we’ll get to that later), but the back of the rotation is equally valuable over the long haul of the 162-game MLB season.
Offseason acquisitions Dan Haren and Paul Maholm will augment an existing core that should feature Josh Beckett, Matt Magill and (hopefully soon) Chad Billingsley. The old baseball adage “you can never have too much pitching” certainly holds true for Los Angeles, and general manager Ned Colletti has done a good job getting Mattingly options.
The Bullpen Is Deep
In what is partially a result of good talent development and partially a byproduct of the team’s deep pockets, the Dodger bullpen is also loaded.
Kenley Jansen is the big name at the back, but they are far from the only valuable members. Holdover Paco Rodriguez had a 2.32 ERA in 54.1 innings last year, and new addition Chris Perez appears to have been signed just because the Dodgers felt they could afford to. This will all come in handy now that Brian Wilson has been placed on the disabled list.
Finally, the addition of Paul Maholm enables Mattingly to fill the role held in 2013 by Chris Capuano. Maholm can start if injuries necessitate it, but he can also provide a couple innings of long relief if necessary.
Will We See Joc Pederson and Zach Lee?
The Dodgers’ farm system is slightly top-heavy, in that many of the relevant names are close to the big leagues. It makes sense that two of their top prospects will likely debut in 2014: Joc Pederson and Zach Lee.
Lee has been famous for longer, as he signed for over $5 million after being drafted in 2010. Pederson, though, played in last year’s Futures Game and ranked 34th on Baseball America’s preseason Top 100.
With the stacked big league roster, there is little room for Lee or Pederson to make a substantial impact. However, as the season moves along and injuries take their toll or rosters expand in September, we may see the future as the Dodgers’ top prospects step up.
The Top of the Rotation Is Elite
I mentioned the rotation depth earlier, but the real strength of the pitching staff is the top. Kershaw has been baseball’s best pitcher over the past three seasons, and Greinke is one of the premier second bananas: He finished fifth in baseball in ERA in 2013. Ryu, who has already gotten off to a hot start in 2014, was excellent last year in his first season away from Korea.
The top three in the Dodger rotation combined for 605.2 innings and an ERA of 2.44. That is unbelievable, and it is what enables pitchers such as Dan Haren and Josh Beckett to make up the back of the rotation instead of the middle.
The Rest of the Division Is Lacking
I have laid out seven major reasons for optimism for the 2014 Los Angeles Dodgers. If all else fails, they can fall back on the fact that their division simply isn't very good.
In 2013, the second-place team in the National League West finished with an 81-81 record. Even if we assume that the Giants likely aren't as bad as they were last year (as many analysts have done), it still gives the Dodgers a nice cushion to work with.