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Dodgers Grades at the 2014 Three-Quarter Mark

Nick OstillerContributor IIAugust 13, 2014

Dodgers Grades at the 2014 Three-Quarter Mark

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    Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images

    Three quarters of the 2014 MLB season are in the books, and the Los Angeles Dodgers find themselves in a comfortable position.

    After scuffling out of the gates and being unable to win more than three games in a row until the end of July, the Boys in Blue have seemingly hit their stride at long last.

    The team with the highest payroll in baseball owns the best record in the National League and leads the San Francisco Giants by a season-high six games in the NL West entering Wednesday.

    A balanced lineup and dominant starting rotation have been the main factors behind the Dodgers' success so far. However, Los Angeles still has cause for concern as the team enters the home stretch of the regular season.

    The following slides evaluate the Dodgers from a variety of perspectives based on the club's performance through the first 75 percent of the schedule.

     

Offense

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Hits: 1,052 (8th)

    Team Batting Average: .258 (8th)

    Team OPS: .724 (7th)

    Grade: A-

     

    When healthy, the Dodgers boast one of the most potent lineups in baseball.

    And it starts at the top.

    Leadoff man Dee Gordon has been a revelation this season. The lanky shortstop-turned-second baseman went from battling for a roster spot during spring training to making the All-Star team for the first time in his career.

    The knock on Gordon in recent years was his bat. Everyone knew he could run, but you're not allowed to steal first base.

    After working on his swing with Cincinnati Reds' Hall of Famer Barry Larkin during the offseason, Gordon has transformed into a multidimensional threat, as evidenced by a solid .286 batting average this season. He leads the world with 51 stolen bases in 64 attempts.

    Yasiel Puig continues to progress smoothly at the plate behind Gordon. Although the Dodgers may have expected more from Puig in the power department (13 home runs), they have enjoyed his improved plate discipline, per FanGraphs. It's also difficult to complain about a .309 batting average and .393 on-base percentage.

    The steady cog in the middle of the lineup is Adrian Gonzalez, whose 80 RBI are second in the National League behind Giancarlo Stanton's 82.

    While his .271 average is still recovering from a major June slump, it hasn't stopped Gonzalez from producing runs at the plate.

    Dodgers manager Don Mattingly explained his first baseman's offensive approach to Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times.

    He's taking his money when there are guys on third base. He's not getting greedy. He's taking that sac fly, kind of early in the count when they leave a ball out over the plate. That's really what RBI guys do. You leave it for them, they take it and that's what Adrian's been doing.

    Hanley Ramirez and Matt Kemp have been solid this season, but their offensive performance can also be considered an underachievement considering their track record.

    Ramirez has regressed from last year, when he was a legitimate MVP candidate. His .277 average and 12 home runs aren't terrible, but most Dodgers fans would agree that they were expecting more from the shortstop after his 2013 campaign in which he batted .345 and smacked 20 home runs in just 86 games.

    Kemp is just now starting to rediscover his timing and power stroke at the plate after two injury-plagued seasons.

    Juan Uribe, Carl Crawford and A.J. Ellis round out the back end of the starting lineup. While Uribe is making good on his new two-year contract with a .297 average, Ellis is hitting below the Mendoza Line. Crawford has been largely inconsistent at the plate as he tries to fight off the injury bug that has so often latched on to him throughout his career.

Defense

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    Associated Press

    Errors: 69 (T-13th most)

    Team Fielding Percentage: .985 (13th)

    Team Defensive Efficiency: .693 (15th)

    Grade: B

     

    One of the Dodgers' main problems in the earlier part of the season was defense. The team committed 22 errors in their first 21 games.

    Since then, Los Angeles has cleaned up most of the defensive issues. But the Boys in Blue have some noticeable flaws with the leather, which is why they receive a B grade.

    The most noticeable of the red flags is Hanley Ramirez's decreased range at shortstop. When it comes to the advanced defensive metric called Defensive Runs Saved, Ramirez has already cost the Dodgers 12 runs this season, per FanGraphs.

    After all, it was a Ramirez throwing error on June 18 that meant the difference between a no-hitter and perfect game for Clayton Kershaw against the Colorado Rockies. Manager Don Mattingly often subs out Ramirez for a defensive replacement late in games.

    Ramirez's teammates on the infield, however, have been sure-handed with the glove. Dee Gordon has handled second base so well that the casual fan would probably never guess that it's his first season at the position.

    Third baseman Juan Uribe and first baseman Adrian Gonzalez have been trusty corner infielders throughout their careers, both especially talented at reading quirky hops off the dirt.

    The outfield is another story.

    The alignment during the first week of the season featured Yasiel Puig in right field, Matt Kemp in center field and Andre Ethier in left field.

    Heading into the final quarter of the schedule, Puig has supplanted Kemp in center, Kemp has moved to right after being banished from center and left, and Ethier is now mainly a bench player in favor of regular left fielder Carl Crawford.

    Kemp's disastrous defensive metrics early in the year caused Mattingly to shift him out of center field, but he has looked much more comfortable in right field—the position he played as a rookie.

    The decision to let the Puig—aptly nicknamed the "Wild Horse" by legendary Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully—roam free in center has paid off despite initial some hesitation by Mattingly that stemmed from safety concerns for his corner outfielders.

    While Puig's nine outfield assists lead the National League, Crawford's throwing arm in left field could not be more of a polar opposite.

Rotation

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    Associated Press

    Win-Loss Record: 57-34 (1st)

    Team ERA: 3.15 (1st)

    Complete Games: 6 (T-1st)

    Grade: A

     

    The numbers above seem to indicate that the Dodgers have the best starting rotation in baseball.

    It's hard to argue when the top three Los Angeles pitchers are Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu.

    For starters (no pun intended), Kershaw is undeniably the creme de la creme when it comes to MLB pitching. To give some perspective, the Dodgers have won the last 13 games Kershaw has pitched—a span in which the southpaw has personally gone 11-0 with a 1.16 ERA.

    His 1.78 ERA and 0.86 WHIP on the season are both tops in baseball, and he's averaging nearly 11 strikeouts per nine innings. There was also that no-hitter he threw two months back.

    If that's not enough, the Dodgers' No. 2 starter, Zack Greinke, is good enough to be a No. 1 on most other teams.

    Although Greinke has lost four of his last six starts, the Dodgers should be very confident whenever the veteran right-hander takes the mound. The 2009 Cy Young Award winner owns a 27-12 record with an ERA below 2.80 while wearing Dodger blue.

    Even Los Angeles' No. 3 starter, Hyun-Jin Ryu, could pass as a No. 1 on some teams. The wide left-hander from Korea has transitioned seamlessly to the American game. A win this week will give Ryu 14 on the year, tying him with Kershaw for the team lead.

    The back end of the starting rotation was in flux recently after Dan Haren struggled mightily in July and Josh Beckett unsuccessfully tried to pitch through a hip injury.

    All Haren did was rebound with two impressive wins on the road in Anaheim and Atlanta to salvage his spot in the rotation. To counter the loss of Beckett, general manager Ned Colletti made waiver-wire deals to bring in Roberto Hernandez and Kevin Correia—both of whom put together quality starts in their respective Dodgers debuts.

Bullpen

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Win-Loss Record: 12-18

    Team ERA: 3.64 (20th)

    Team WHIP: 1.32 (21st)

    Grade: B-

     

    Who knows how much more breathing room the Dodgers would have in the NL West right now had their bullpen been more reliable for the first three quarters of the season?

    Chances are Los Angeles' division lead might currently be in double figures if that were the case.

    Instead, the bridge between the team's dominant starting rotation and closer Kenley Jansen has been a shaky one at best. Even Jansen has faced struggles by his standards this season, just this week lowering his ERA below 3.00 for the first time since early April.

    But the main culprits for the disappointment have been Brian Wilson and Chris Perez. The plan out of spring training was for them to work the seventh and eighth innings, respectively, in advance of Jansen.

    Instead, both right-handers have ERAs north of 4.50 and have given up a combined 74 hits in 78 innings. Perez just landed on the disabled list with a sore ankle.

    To makes matters worse, the Dodgers lost one of their better relievers in Chris Withrow to Tommy John surgery in May and their long reliever Paul Maholm to a torn ACL two weeks ago.

    The only semblance of consistency in Los Angeles' relief corps has been personified by J.P. Howell. The left-hander leads the team with 23 holds and boasts a pristine 1.37 ERA in 39 innings pitched this season. Long man Jamey Wright has also been serviceable, posting a 3.19 ERA in 53 innings.

    The Dodgers have to hope that the bullpen can tighten things up over the next two months as the postseason draws near. Starting pitching only goes so far in the playoffs. True contenders possess lockdown relievers who can navigate their way through those all-important seventh and eighth innings en route to the closer.

Manager/GM

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    Associated Press

    Manager: Don Mattingly (fourth season)

    General Manager: Ned Colletti (ninth season)

    Grade: A-

     

    Managing the 2014 Dodgers could be a blessing and a curse for any skipper.

    One one hand, the team is loaded on paper. There's the defending NL Cy Young Award winner on the mound twice a week and a five-tool talent like Yasiel Puig in the lineup every day.

    On the other hand, somebody has to deal with the high-priced egos, the extra outfielder situation and the overwhelming media scrutiny in a city like Los Angeles.

    Considering the circumstances, Don Mattingly has done an exceptional job with his ballclub, and he receives an A- grade so far this season.

    Although his in-game tactics are sometimes called into question, the bottom line is that Mattingly led the Dodgers to within two wins of the World Series last season and has an excellent opportunity to advance even further this year.

    This season, he successfully navigated the dilemma of having four—and sometimes five— outfielders for three spots. Matt Kemp wasn't getting the job done in center field, so Mattingly booted him to left field and then to right. When Andre Ethier wasn't producing like he had in years past, Mattingly sent the $15.5 million outfielder to the bench.

    Mattingly gave starter Dan Haren one more chance to prove himself after a disastrous July, and the right-hander answered the bell, turning in two straight victories since.

    As for general manager Ned Colletti, he too receives an A- rating.

    The Dodgers' record sale a few years ago immediately infused the franchise with enough money to spend unabashedly.

    Colletti was able to dive deep into his suddenly vast pocketbook and came up with the likes of Adrian Gonzalez, Zack Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Yasiel Puig. Of course, when a team has that much money, the tendency is to throw it at any and all players in order to woo them aboard.

    Although Colletti has done so at times, he has also strategically held back on other occasions—most notably during the recent David Price sweepstakes.

    Colletti understood where his first-place team sat at the trade deadline and did not feel the need to make a deal. Of course, Price would have been a flashy prize. But at what cost?

    Teams really only need three starting pitchers in the postseason, and Los Angeles already had Kershaw, Greinke and Ryu to fit that bill. Plus, the Dodgers kept all of their prized prospects as the organization attempts to foster the resurgence of a promising farm system.

     

    All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference unless otherwise noted.


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