Wednesday, January 25, 2012

2012 Dodger Outlook

Less than a month until pitchers and catchers report and Ned Colletti has assembled a Dodger team that is ready to compete for an NL West 2005.

Unfortunately, it is 2012.

No, really.  Check it out.

Ned reached into his bag of tricks and pulled out a handful of veterany goodness that was an exciting team half of a decade ago.  This looks like a team that will be more likely to be competing for a winning record than an NL West pennant.

So, what do we have to look forward to.

Well, one big thing.  But, what about after April?

Unfortunately (I don't drink, but if you do you and are in need of a drinking game go ahead and drink whenever you read the word 'unfortunately'), Ned signed every gritty veteran player to a 2 year contract this off-season.  That means we'll have to suffer through this same mediocre Dodger team not only in 2012, but again in 2013.

There's not much flexibility, or opportunity, in the roster for the next 2 seasons, but let's take a look at what could happen.  AKA what I think should happen.

We'll go position by position.  Starting with:

Right Field

Andre ended last season prematurely with a knee injury and his power numbers took a pretty big hit from what we're used to seeing from him.  He still managed to be productive though.  Andre is in his last year of arbitration in 2012 and will be a free agent after the season.  He's a good player, but probably not the guy the Dodgers need to commit to at this point.  He's a poor defensive outfielder.  His -9.7 UZR/150 is 2nd to last amongst qualified right fielders since 2009.   He also has a well documented struggle against left-handed pitchers.  According to FanGraphs' splits, Andre has a .386 wOBA against righties and a .292 wOBA vs lefties.

The best case scenario here is that Ethier comes back and shows that his knee is healthy in spring training then gets off to a good start so he can be traded at the deadline.  I'm not going to speculate as to which teams might be interested in Andre, or what we can get for him.  Ideally, some young players that will be ready to contribute in 2014.  Moving Ethier will bring in some young talent and open up right field for...

Kemp is coming off a near MVP season.  I could spill gallons of virtual ink writing superlatives for Kemp, but that's not necessary, I'll just spill a few ounces.  Kemp was just a few hits short of winning the triple crown.  He was 2nd in the league to MVP Ryan Braun in both wOBA and wRC+.  He was 1 home run away from 40/40.  He lead the NL in both fWAR and bWAR by a hefty margin.  He was rewarded with an 8 year $160 million contract.

Unfortunately, Kemp is miscast as a center fielder.  Like Ethier, Kemp's UZR/150 is closer to -10 than to average.  Kemp checks in at -9.3 over the last 3 years.  That's 3rd worst in the majors.  As a right fielder, Kemp would have solid range and a strong arm, he'd probably be a plus defender for the next few seasons in right.

Center Field
Matt Kemp will start off 2012 in center.  After we trade Ethier for a boatload of riches we'll need someone else to play there.  That someone is, quite obviously
Tony is certainly not Kemp's equal with the bat.  Kemp hit more home runs in September last season (8) than Gwynn has in his entire career (7).  But, where Kemp is one of the worst defensive center fielders in baseball, Gwynn is one of the best.  The best, in fact, according to FanGraphs with a 20.8 UZR/150.  That's a 30 run difference in defense.  That's significant.

FanGraphs WAR says that Gwynn has been about a 2 WAR player over each of the last 3 seasons in limited playing time.  That's certainly a bargain about a million dollars a year.  On a team that's not likely to be contending, Gwynn makes a fine, cheap, center fielder.

Left Field
Is a bit of a mess.  Gwynn will likely start off the season splitting time with
Rivera started 2011 with the Toronto Blue Jays and played so poorly that he was released.  Unfortunately, Ned figured that meant he was totally worth paying a few million dollars for.  To Ned's credit, Rivera played better in Dodger blue.  Rivera had a 79 OPS+ with Toronto and a 105 OPS+ in LA.  Unfortunately, neither one of those numbers is good enough to be a staring left fielder.

Fortunately (ehh...don't drink), Rivera does have some use against left-handed pitchers.  He has a career wOBA of .353 (116 wRC+) vs left-handers compared to a .326 wOBA (98 wRC+) vs right-handers.   That's not an extreme split, but...I'm searching for some reason not to absolutely hate having him on the team.  I've already discussed Ethier's struggles vs lefties.  Gwynn also shares that affliction.  Having Rivera around to face lefties for those guys isn't a terrible idea.

After Gwynn moves to center field to replace Kemp who will be replacing the traded Ethier, Rivera wouldn't be a terrible choice to play LF full time.  He's not the only option, though. 
Any of these guys could get some playing time in the majors.  Trent Oeltjen is the old man of the group. He's 29 and has 99 major league games under his belt.  He's not that good though so if any of the younger prospects breaks out in 2012, we could see them big the club.

You'll notice one name is conspicuously absent, more on him in just a minute.

But first

First Base
James Anthony Loney is the incumbent.  The Dodgers have had high hopes for James Loney since drafting him 19th overall in 2002.  Loney made an impressive major league debut in 2006.  Since then, Loney has, unfortunately, been one of the worst every day first basemen in baseball; he's produced 8.6 fWAR, which is just a bit more than guys like Albert Pujols, Joey Votto and Prince Fielder produce in 1 season.  James is also coming off one heckofa weird season.

Loney started off last season hitting to a .208 wOBA.  That's 74% worse than an average major league hitter.  He straightened it out in May and June, hitting a very James-Loney-like .342 wOBA.  Then, he cratered in July, somehow hitting worse than he did in April.  Then, he turned into Miguel Cabrera for the final two months of the season; putting up .451 and .424 wOBAs.

So, what the hell?  There are about 6 months in a major league season.  For 2 of them he hit like Clayton Kershaw.  For 2 of them he hit like James Loney.  And for 2 of them he hit like Miguel Cabrera.  What's he going to do this year?

Most likely, he's going to hit like James Loney, that's who he is after all.  That's just not good enough.  If that's the James Loney we get we should try and trade him for anything we can at the deadline and move on at the position.

What if he hits like Miguel Cabrera again?  Then we have some deciding to do.  We have to decide if it is for real.  If it is, we need to look into signing him to a long term contract.  If it isn't, we need to trade him to someone who thinks that it is real.  

If Loney gets traded, then first base belongs to
Sands jumped onto the Dodgers' radar after a huge 2010 in which he hit 35 home runs between A and AA.  He was called up to bigs early in the 2011 season, and struggled. He returned to Albuquerque where he put up decent numbers then ended the season in LA where he hit .415/.493 over his last 20 games.  Sands may, or may not, be a major league quality first baseman.  He's not a sure thing, but he's got good plate discipline and developing power.  If he doesn't hit enough for first base, he's an option in left field as well.

Second Base
Belongs to
Mark Ellis turned a season in which he was 32% worse than an average hitter into 2 years and $8 million.  Thanks, Nedo.  Ellis was terrible with Oakland (.246 wOBA about 50% of an average major league hitter's production) before bouncing back a bit with the Rockies (.313 wOBA).  If we get the Mark Ellis that the Rockies got, he's a useful player.  I'm not betting $8 million on it though.  Ellis is 35 this year and most of his value comes from defense.  Defense is the first to go with age.  This could get ugly real fast if Ellis' hitting is gone and his defense goes.  Good thing we're locked into him for 2 seasons.

Third Base
I kinda liked the move to acquire
before the 2011 season.  He was coming off two resurgent years with the Giants.  He played strong defense.  He had some pop.   Most knowledgeable Dodger bloggers panned the signing.  They were right, at least for 1 year.  Uribe was horrid last year.  So much so that he became a meme.  There is some hope for a bounce back.  Uribe wasn't healthy last season.  Being healthy and playing regularly has to lead to better production.  He still had a positive UZR rating.  Even though he didn't hit, it appears that he could field.  That give ME hope there is something left in the thank.  There better be.  He's going to be on the roster and in the starting lineup for two more years.

Short Stop
Here, watch some of these.

I'll wait.

I don't know how good Dee Gordon is going to be.  He doesn't walk.  He strikes out too much.  He has no power.  He weighs less than an ounce of helium.  But dude is fast.  And electric.  Seriously, just watch those videos.  Let him play.  We've got to see what we've got.

Other Infielders
Jerry Hairston jr isn't a bad player.  He plays the infield.  He plays the outfield.  He can hit the ball out of the stadium now and again.  He's better than Aaron Miles.  He's not as good as Jamey Carroll.

Adam Kennedy.  He played DH for the Mariners last season.  He must be able to hit right?  No?  Then why are we paying him twice what we'd pay Justin Sellers to do the same thing?  Why isn't the battle for 2nd back up infielder between Justin Sellers and Ivan DeJesus?  DeJesus projects to the same line as Kennedy (.321/.353 85 OPS+).  Whatever Ned.  At least Kennedy is only around for 1 season.

AJ Ellis finally gets his shot at age 31.  Ellis has a career OBP of over .400 in the minors and over .440 in AAA.  He's got no power; 19 home runs in over 2000 trips to the plate.  But, he's been able to get on base.  At worst, he's a major league back-up catcher.  Maybe he's even a starter.  The offensive bar for catchers is very low.  Major league catchers hit just .313/.389 last season.  If Ellis reaches his ZiPS projection of an 87 OPS+ that'd put him in the same offensive bracket as Geovany Soto, Jarred Saltalamacchia, and AJ Pierzynski, and other catchers with impossible names to spell.  A couple years of league average catching at minor league prices is very valuable.

Tim Federowicz was acquired in a *%%#(&*(#$(**)#'n dead line deal involving the Boston Red Socks and Seattle Mariners.  The reports on him aren't glowing.  Good defensive catcher.  Might not hit enough to play full time in the bigs.  Well...Fex-X (as he's called.  What's up with catchers and names that are hard to spell?) spent most of last year in AA.  I'd let him continue to get experience, either there or AAA Albuquerque, while AJ Ellis takes his shot in the bigs.  Ideally, Ellis would impress enough to claim the starting spot allowing Fed-X to stay in the minors until late in the season when he could come up and play back-up for a month or two.

There you have it.  The complete plan for the Dodgers' non-pitchers for 2012.

Look for a similar post for the pitchers soon.

No comments:

Post a Comment