1st-Quarter Grades for the Los Angeles Dodgers
The Los Angeles Dodgers entered their 43rd game of the season Wednesday night at 22-19, 3.5 games back of the NL West-leading San Francisco Giants. It's not exactly where they expected to be, but fans can take solace in the fact that the Giants have overachieved significantly, and the Dodgers have yet to hit their stride on offense or in the bullpen.
Remember, this time last year, the Giants were also leading the way, but the Dodgers were scuffling in last place, stuck there until mid-June. Despite some challenges and a couple of rough stretches, the Dodgers are a short winning streak away from first place.
With ace Clayton Kershaw and catcher A.J. Ellis back, the Dodgers are almost completely healthy (Hyun-Jin Ryu is still on the DL, but he's expected to return shortly, and Juan Uribe will return Friday). With the supreme rotation and big bats, such as Matt Kemp, finally starting to go, the Dodgers are almost ready to put the National League on notice.
But how have they fared in the first 42 games? Who was the most surprising player? The most disappointing? What kind of a grade will a bullpen that leads the majors in walks get? And how did oft-maligned skipper Don Mattingly score?
Read on to see the Dodgers' grades from the first quarter of the season.
Drew Butera: 16 G, .235 BA, 2 HR, 7 RBI, 5 BB, 17 K, .697 OPS
Tim Federowicz: 13 G, .109 BA, 0 HR, 1 RBI, 3 BB, 11 K, .315 OPS
Miguel Olivo: 8 G, .217 BA, 0 HR, 2 RBI, 1 BB, 12 K, .544 OPS
A.J. Ellis: 7 G, .167 BA, 0 HR, 0 RBI, 4 BB, 6 K, .477 OPS
Let's get this out of the way and try not to shudder. A lot of this awfulness you see above can be attributed to A.J. Ellis missing over a month with a knee injury, but he wasn't exactly tearing the cover off the ball before going under the knife.
His primary replacement, Drew Butera, has actually given the Dodgers more offense than anyone could expect. I mean, Butera's career high for extra-base hits in a month is four. FOUR.
Tim Federowicz broke camp as the presumed backup and did everything in his power to lose that job. As it stands now, barring injury or trades, "Fed-Ex" is probably Mattingly's third option as a backup. Miguel Olivo showed some pop in Triple-A and had a couple of good at-bats in his eight games at the big league level, but they mostly ended in strikeouts.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Dodgers can take comfort in the fact that Ellis is back. Despite Butera and Federowicz essentially being on the roster for their defensive abilities, they struggled. Butera allowed five passed balls, and Federowicz allowed 13 stolen bases (in 19 attempts).
Even more importantly than his defense is Ellis' rapport with the pitching staff. It'll be interesting to see if Ellis' return aids the shaky bullpen, too. But even slight improvements with the bat and a better arm behind the dish will pay dividends for the Dodgers' black hole of a catching position. Overall, it's been dismal so far, but it can't really get any worse. Ellis should help make sure of that.
Adrian Gonzalez (1B): 40 G, .261 BA, 9 HR, 28 RBI, 17 BB, 31 K, 1/1 SB, .839 OPS
Hanley Ramirez (SS): 40 G, .256 BA, 5 HR, 19 RBI, 17 BB, 30 K, 3/4 SB, .786 OPS
Dee Gordon (2B): 38 G, .322 BA, 1 HR, 11 RBI, 9 BB, 25 K, 24/27 SB, .796 OPS
Juan Uribe (3B): 35 G, .306 BA, 4 HR, 17 RBI, 7 BB, 27 K, 0/1 SB, .801 OPS
Justin Turner (UTIL): 25 G, .206 BA, 0 HR, 5 RBI, 6 BB, 16 K, 1/1 SB, .513 OPS
Alex Guerrero (2B): 2 G, .000 BA, 0 HR, 0 RBI, 0 BB, 1 K, 0/0 SB, .000 OPS
Don't let Adrian Gonzalez's big numbers fool you. Despite a scathing-hot start to the season, the first baseman has slumped terribly in the last few weeks and has been a non-factor in the cleanup spot. The true stars of the infield this year have been third baseman Juan Uribe and second baseman Dee Gordon. The latter has a world-leading 24 stolen bases this year and has yet to be thrown out stealing third.
Hanley Ramirez deserves his own pitiful paragraph. Besides playing some awful defense at a premium position, Ramirez hasn't done much of anything on offense, despite hitting in the all-important three-hole in this Dodgers lineup. While most don't doubt he'll snap out of this funk, it's unfortunate timing with the Dodgers scuffling and Ramirez in a walk-year on his contract.
As a whole, the infield has played pretty pitiful defense, though Gordon has shown improved confidence at second base and Uribe has done some stellar work at the hot corner, as usual. Justin Turner has been a pretty poor all-around player at whichever position he covers for, and Alex Guerrero got one at-bat in Sydney and has been ripping up Triple-A pitching ever since.
The real issue here is the lack of punch from Gonzalez and Ramirez. Arguably the Dodgers' two most important hitters in 2013, they've been slumping for extended periods and aren't rewarding Gordon and Yasiel Puig for constantly getting on base in front of them. Both sluggers seem to be pressing a bit, with Ramirez especially only trying to pull pitches when his approach should be to right and center.
When all is said and done, this will be a formidable infield. Gonzalez and Ramirez will likely have their standard numbers, and Gordon and Uribe will likely have regressed somewhat. The defense isn't going to get better, but the Dodgers will need some better utility work from Turner to supplement slumping and/or injured players. Behind Turner, the Dodgers' bench is extremely thin.
Andre Ethier: 36 G, .259 BA, 2 HR, 17 RBI, 10 BB, 26 K, 1/2 SB, .680 OPS
Matt Kemp: 35 G, .276 BA, 5 HR, 12 RBI, 14 BB, 40 K, 5/7 SB, .830 OPS
Yasiel Puig: 35 G, .326 BA, 7 HR, 30 RBI, 18 BB, 31 K, 4/7 SB, .980 OPS
Carl Crawford: 33 G, .264 BA, 1 HR, 9 RBI, 4 BB, 13 K, 5/7 SB, .642 OPS
Scott Van Slyke: 22 G, .267 BA, 3 HR, 5 RBI, 9 BB, 15 K, 2/3 SB, .989 OPS
Chone Figgins: 19 G, .176 BA, 0 HR, 0 RBI, 6 BB, 6 K, 2/3 SB, .593 OPS
Mike Baxter: 4 G, .000 BA, 0 HR, 0 RBI, 1 BB, 2 K, 0/0 SB, .125 OPS
That whole four-outfielder-for-three spots thing is working out so far—kind of. It's working out in the sense that Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp have played their way into everyday roles, while Carl Crawford and Andre Ethier have each been heating up a bit since being demoted to a platoon competition for left field. That said, Puig is the only one who has really been good.
And boy, has he been good. All those character concerns and plate-discipline concerns and mental concerns seem foolish now as Puig has visibly and dramatically improved in each area.
To top it off, he's been the best all-around hitter in the lineup and shows no sign of slowing down anytime soon. Kemp has rebounded from a slow start and multiple injuries in recent years to be a productive No. 5 hitter.
Crawford and Ethier have showed flashes here and there, but both are still performing awfully bad at the plate. Crawford has looked downright lost in the outfield sometimes, too. Kemp, who was never an elite fielder as far as range and route-running were concerned, has looked a little slow (as expected after ankle surgery) in and out of cuts so far, but he has played a decent center field.
Chone Figgins, who is just a roster-spot-waiting-to-be-taken, is on the team so the Dodgers can squeeze what little speed he has left out of him and to have an emergency option at multiple positions. Mike Baxter is playing in Triple-A after getting into a couple of games at the beginning of the year. He was never really an option for the big league club.
Scott Van Slyke has the potential to be a serviceable left fielder, but he remains a power bat off the bench and a backup outfielder and first baseman. While he's provided the Dodgers some occasional pop in big situations, he doesn't hit for a great average and strikes out quite a bit. He'll maintain his role for the rest of the year, but he won't crack the starting rotation unless there is a rash of injuries.
Overall, the Dodgers' outfield has been pretty good. Kemp needs to get his legs all the way back under him and start to hit with runners in scoring position (better lately, but .179 on the season). I wouldn't be surprised if Crawford or Ethier gets moved by the deadline, but for now, here's to hoping the competition keeps them both motivated and improves the team.
Zack Greinke: 8 GS, 6-1, 2.38 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 10 BB, 55 K, .240 BAA
Dan Haren: 8 GS, 5-1, 2.84 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 9 BB, 38 K, .258 BAA
Hyun-Jin Ryu: 7 GS, 3-2, 3.00 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 11 BB, 31 K, .245 BAA
Josh Beckett: 7 GS, 1-1, 2.38 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 15 BB, 40 K, .199 BAA
Paul Maholm: 6 GS, 1-3, 4.71 ERA, 1.51 WHIP, 15 BB, 14 K, .286 BAA
Clayton Kershaw: 3 GS, 2-0, 1.74 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 1 BB, 25 K, .263 BAA
Stephen Fife: 1 GS, 0-0, 6.00 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 1 BB, 5 K, .280 BAA
Red Patterson: 1 GS, 0-0, 1.93 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 3 BB, 1 K, .133 BAA
Let's qualify something here: Take away Paul Maholm, Stephen Fife and Red Patterson, and you have the Dodgers' regular starting five.
So far, minor injuries to Clayton Kershaw and Hyun-Jin Ryu (the former has returned; the latter is nearly back) have forced Maholm into six mostly painful starts and Fife and Patterson into decent call-up season debuts. But, just taking Kershaw, Greinke, Ryu, Dan Haren and Josh Beckett into consideration? Wow.
The five of them have combined to go 17-5, and the highest ERA is Ryu's at 3.00. It gets lost a little bit in the overall lackluster play from the Dodgers thus far, but if not for an inexplicable amount of blown saves by the bullpen, this team may very well be cruising in first place.
Even with an offense trying to find a foothold, those five starters have pitched so well that the Dodgers have been in most every game they started.
Not much needs to be said about Kershaw and Greinke. The co-aces both have Cy Young Awards on their mantles for good reason. Kershaw looks completely healed and just as dominant as ever, and Greinke may have even improved from last year. When healthy, it's hard to argue that those two don't form the best one-two punch in the game.
There were questions surrounding the rest of the rotation, including how Ryu would fare in his second big league season. Except for one error and blooper-marred bad start against the Giants and his final start before hitting the DL, Ryu looked exceptional.
Even if Ryu simply duplicates last year's numbers, the Dodgers have a frightening top three. The prospect of facing them in a playoff series only gets worse when you consider how well Dan Haren and Josh Beckett have pitched.
The Dodgers took a one-year flier on Haren after he had a much-forgotten but dominant second half of 2013 with the Washington Nationals. So far, it has paid off. Haren's devastating sinker has been mostly intact, and his famously good control is on point. Beckett, coming off multiple injuries, is finally pitching like his younger days and quietly giving the Dodgers great value in the fifth spot.
Overall, the rotation has been fantastic. It's been even better than anyone expected. Maholm will likely get pushed out of the rotation (and maybe off the team) with Ryu's return, but he wasn't expected to have already made half-a-dozen starts anyway.
If the rotation remains relatively healthy, the Dodgers could legitimately end up with the best group in baseball. And when the offense and bullpen come around, that spells trouble for opposing teams.
Kenley Jansen: 22 G, 0-2, 4.34 ERA, 1.61 WHIP, 12/14 SV, 9 BB, 31 K, .276 BAA
J.P. Howell: 22 G, 1-3, 2.40 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 0/0 SV, 9 BB, 17 K, .182 BAA
Jamey Wright: 19 G, 2-2, 2.95 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 0/0 SV, 12 BB, 16 K, .260 BAA
Chris Perez: 18 G, 0-1, 3.24 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 1/2 SV, 8 BB, 12 K, .182 BAA
Chris Withrow: 17 G, 0-0, 1.00 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 0/1 SV, 15 BB, 24 K, .073 BAA
Brian Wilson: 15 G, 0-2, 10.32 ERA, 2.38 WHIP, 0/1 SV, 11 BB, 14 K, .320 BAA
Brandon League: 14 G, 1-1, 1.66 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 0/0 SV, 5 BB, 14 K, .233 BAA
Paco Rodriguez: 10 G, 0-0, 6.43 ERA, 1.86 WHIP, 0/0 SV, 3 BB, 8 K, .370 BAA
Jose Dominguez: 5 G, 0-0, 11.37 ERA, 1.58 WHIP, 0/0 SV, 3 BB, 8 K, .269 BAA
Pedro Baez: 1 G, 0-0, 18.00 ERA, 2.00 WHIP, 0/0 SV, 0 BB, 2 K, .400 BAA
Many fans like to punish Don Mattingly via social media anytime the bullpen implodes, which has been often this year. We'll get into why the manager has made the right call more often than not on our next slide, but it hasn't really mattered in the sense that almost every reliever in the Dodgers' bullpen has gotten off to a poor start, which in turn has had a contagious effect.
Even Kenley Jansen, arguably one of the three best closers in all of baseball last year, has been bitten by the bug. After a horrid start, Jansen cooled off and posted a nice 11-game string that went relatively unnoticed, before crashing and burning in a huge momentum-swinging loss to the Giants this past Sunday.
With a team-leading 22 appearances, the workload might be taking a toll on Jansen, but there have been times where his dominant cutter just wasn't there.
For as pedestrian as Jansen has looked, the Dodgers' $10-million setup man, Brian Wilson, has been the worst of the bunch. The numbers speak for themselves, and his decreased velocity and lack of control and energy seem to have created rumblings among Dodgers fans of a hidden injury. After all, there can be no rational explanation for such a massive drop-off, can there?
Chris Perez, J.P. Howell, Chris Withrow and Jamey Wright have all had their rough patches, but they have pitched relatively well when called upon. Unfortunately when the rest of the bullpen is in chaos, "relatively good" won't cut it. We know Howell and Withrow will get those walk rates down and become go-to seventh-inning guys again, but they've been treading water in the first quarter of the season.
Jose Dominguez and Pedro Baez are both just getting tastes of big league action whenever the Dodgers need an extra arm. Neither has done well so far, but both have great potential. We saw that develop firsthand with Dominguez down the stretch last year. If they want to contribute in August and September, they're going to have to fix some mechanical flaws in the minors as the summer wears on.
The most curious case in the bullpen has been that of Paco Rodriguez, who quickly became a fan favorite last year as he blossomed into an unsung hero against left-handed batters.
While many still call for his promotion back to the majors, fans forget that he was struggling terribly in the early goings. Though he'd probably be an improvement over Wilson, Dodgers fans should trust the team to recall Rodriguez when he's ready so he can have maximum impact.
And of course, we saved the best for last. Shockingly enough, the "best" reliever in the bullpen through the first 42 games has been former bust Brandon League, whom fans mercilessly booed all last year.
Don't get me wrong—the man deserved it. He was god-awful over the last year and a half. But some combination of confidence and control has overcome him this season, and he's become a reliable option for Mattingly in tight games.
Overall, the Dodgers' bullpen has been bad, to put it nicely. It's hard to foresee a Jonathan Broxton-esque meltdown from Jansen and most of the names mentioned will probably have nice seasons, if healthy, based on their career and recent numbers. Wilson is a worry, and League will probably regress at some point, but it's only a matter of time before the whole group gets on track.
This is always a tough issue. We went through the months-long saga of Mattingly last summer, which was supposed to be extinguished after a record-breaking run through the dog days and a trip to the brink of the World Series in October. Of course, it's never that easy in L.A.
Given the team's early struggles, the fanbase has grown feisty again, and much of the anger is unfairly directed at Mattingly. Managing a baseball team (especially one in a celebrity-fueled, rumor-mongering, championship-starved city) with a large number of star players is no easy task, yet Mattingly calmly guided a sinking ship back to safe waters and nearly pirated away a National League pennant.
But, I digress. For while I believe Mattingly is severely undervalued as a leader, there are two sides to each coin. For each unappreciated (the curse of being a manager or head coach: credit to the players when things are going right; credit to the management when things are going wrong) in-game move Mattingly makes, he calls for an unnecessary bunt or head-scratching double switch.
So far, the team seems to be loose and focused, if not just in a funk. Any question concerning chemistry and leadership should be checked at the door, but there are some issues.
For example, Mattingly puts too much trust in Wilson and too little in Withrow. He leaves struggling relievers out too long and helps enhance the snowball effect that engulfs any others he brings in to clean up the mess. And his indifference to changing the middle of the order, despite Ramirez and Gonzalez's struggles, can be infuriating.
The Dodgers are one of the most error-prone defenses in baseball, but they lead the league in stolen bases. The bullpen has been a major source of headaches, but almost all the right strings have been pulled with the rotation.
Most importantly, the team has played well under expectation but doesn't seem to be taking it too hard mentally or physically. They seem to know that a turnaround is coming, and they're playing hard to make it happen.
So, how does one judge a manager and his coaching staff? On results only? In that case, it's a below-average score for the Dodgers, who should probably be running with the Giants, Detroit Tigers and Oakland A's in the win department right now. Is it based on how players respond to said manager? In that case, Mattingly scores higher.
For me, it's a mixture of the two. The Dodgers have been scuffling on defense, blowing games with a shaky, overworked bullpen and getting shut down by pitchers who have no business shutting them down.
Part of that falls on Mattingly, Rick Honeycutt, Mark McGwire, Tim Wallach, Lorenzo Bundy, Davey Lopes, and the rest. But unless you're strictly looking for a scapegoat, the Dodgers still have a good staff in place that will eventually get the ship back on course.
Ned Colletti, Stan Kasten, Magic Johnson and the rest of the front office had a roller-coaster winter. In the offseason, the Dodgers missed on Tim Hudson, but they gained Dan Haren. That's a slight downgrade, but it's not as significant as many think. They went with Maholm out of the group of bad starters available for depth, and it's been a bust for the most part.
On offense, Colletti let Skip Schumaker, Nick Punto and Mark Ellis all walk. Though it was an underwhelming group of players, most fans would give their first-born children to get one or two of those guys back as Figgins and Turner continue their daily power outages off the bench.
And with the question constantly looming, the rumors constantly swirling, the Dodgers made the safe move and held on to all four of their starting outfielders.
Now, they've been drafting well and have rebuilt their international scouting reputation, along with a pretty solid core of young minor league players. But some of the decisions (some of this falls on Mattingly, too) regarding the team's optionable players, such as Federowicz and Rodriguez, have been highly questionable.
You have to like what the front office has done with the bullpen, despite lackluster results so far and the constant yo-yoing of Rodriguez between Los Angeles and Albuquerque. It added two former All-Star closers to the Dodgers existing one and have a pretty good long-relief guy in Wright. Haren has been an absolute steal, and not prematurely pulling the trigger on a Kemp trade was absolutely the correct move.
However, with Wilson struggling and possibly injured and no bench depth to speak of, you have to wonder when the Dodgers will make a move or bring up some of their young, intriguing prospects—or both. Dodgers fans can't wait to see Guerrero, Joc Pederson or Zach Lee in the bigs, but as of now, most paths are blocked.
If the Dodgers are still chasing the Giants near the trade deadline, you may see Colletti get creative and try to deal Crawford or Ethier or a some minor league talent to boost the bullpen and improve the bench. Specifically, the Dodgers could really use a quality backup middle infielder. It's always a work-in-progress at the top, but the Colletti and company has done a pretty good job so far into 2014.
Let's recap, shall we?
Starting Pitching: A-
Relief Pitching: D
Coaching Staff: B-
Front Office: C+
Nobody wants to take those grades home to their parents. You'd be taking "Catching 101" and "Relief Pitching 202" again next semester and probably begging for a curve in "Front Office 105." Luckily, this is baseball, and 42 games is merely a quarter of the season.
In a game of streaks and slumps and swings and stops, the Dodgers are doing just fine. Should they be better? Definitely. They should be a good five or six wins better, at least. But, that's not how the game works. The team is struggling to get on its feet right now, and yet they're still just one good week away from jumping right back to the top of the standings.
At this time last year (not that this should be used for justification to quell any fears), the Dodgers were just getting comfortable in the division basement, and the vultures had started circling for Mattingly, Colletti and pretty much anyone not named Kershaw. This year, it's much more manageable, and we've seen signs of the team's inevitable success.
The guys who struggled early are working out of their funks, and some of the biggest bats on the team have awoken to become consistent terrors for opposing pitchers. Once these early-season tweaks are banged out all at the same time, you're going to see a team operating at full steam, and that will be a fun ride.
As for the current state of the team and how it's performed under Mattingly and Colletti through 42 games? Frankly, it's just been OK.
The Dodgers haven't gotten anything from their catchers, though their starter Ellis has missed most of the season with a knee injury. The defense has been awful, but Gordon and Uribe have proved to be pleasant surprises. Kemp and Puig are locking in, while left field remains a mystery, and the starting rotation has been fully dominant (and will improve even more when fully healthy).
In the bullpen, the Dodgers are figuring out ways to reduce workloads and get guys into their proper roles. Chances are, over the next few weeks, you'll see them start to settle in and pitch better. And as one goes, so will the rest.
Sure, the Dodgers will blow a lead or get hammered by the Chicago Cubs or suffer through a couple of frustrating injuries at key junctures. That's because they are a Major League Baseball team.
But they have a steady structure in place, and the players themselves are slowly cranking back up. It's only a matter of time before Ryu and Uribe return, Gonzalez and Ramirez return to form, and the Dodgers return to the top of the NL West.
Want to discuss Dodgers baseball? Follow me on Twitter @Jamblinman.