Friday, January 04, 2013

Sizing Up The 2013 Dodgers

It's Top Ten season for's Buster Olney. And the Dodgers don't end up too bad, all things considered.

First up, the pitching rotations. And Buster Olney places ours third in the majors: (link insider only):

3. Los Angeles Dodgers

Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Josh Beckett, Chad Billingsley, Ted Lilly/Chris Capuano/Aaron Harang/Hyun-Jin Ryu. For Greinke and Beckett, this is the perfect situation, because they don't have the burden of being The Guy. Kershaw is the National League's best pitcher and he fully embraces all that comes with being the staff leader, from the media responsibilities to those moments when retaliation is needed. Greinke and Beckett can just worry about pitching, which is probably how they prefer it to be. The reason the Dodgers are ranked third -- and not higher -- is that it's not really clear what Don Mattingly is going to get out of Billingsley, Lilly or the starting pitcher who isn't dealt.

Linchpin guy: Beckett. Like other veteran starters who have moved from the AL to the NL, he should benefit from the shift, and Beckett is smart and savvy enough to be able to take advantage of those weakest spots at the bottom of the lineup. Beckett had a 2.93 ERA in his seven starts with the Dodgers, after being acquired from Boston, and now he gets a full-season reset button. He could be excellent. It's evident from Beckett's FanGraphs data that he relied a lot more on his cutter in his last few starts; it's a small sample size, but his strikeouts-per-9 ratio jumped from 6.64 with the Red Sox to 7.95 with the Dodgers.

Olney's got Detroit and Washington ahead of us, with only the Giants mentioned from the rest of the NL West (ninth).

Next up, the outfield, where the Dodgers rank fourth (link also insider only):

4. Los Angeles Dodgers

It's the outfield with the most star power, for sure: Matt Kemp in center, flanked by Carl Crawford in left field and Andre Ethier in right. Kemp was plagued by injuries and limited to 106 games, and still managed to hit .303 with 23 homers, and Ethier finished the season with 20 homers and 89 RBIs. Crawford missed almost all of last season with elbow trouble before having Tommy John surgery, and he may not be ready for the very beginning of the 2012 season. If each of the three match their best seasons from the past, this group could be the best in the majors, with power, speed and defense. But a significant factor will be how Ethier and Crawford fare against the parade of left-handers they will see, especially in the later innings of games.

Ethier had an OPS of .606 versus lefties last season, and Crawford had even worse numbers (OPS of .566) against lefties while playing for Boston in 2011. Kemp did a ton of damage against lefties last year, with a 1.105 OPS, and the Dodgers will need him to continue that trend, because he's going to see a ton of lefties while hitting among Crawford, Ethier and Adrian Gonzalez.

Something to remember: The Dodgers' payroll is going to be far beyond the luxury tax, and the team's management has a distinct win-or-bust, Steinbrenneresque style of operation right now. If Crawford or Ethier struggle against lefties and the Dodgers suffer in the standings, it's hard to imagine the front office waiting patiently for them to figure out their swings. They're more likely to pursue a right-handed-hitting outfielder who can help balance the lineup -- which might explain why they were open to retaining Shane Victorino for 2013.

The unknown of Crawford is the key, clearly. Although a fully-healthy Kemp and a consistent performance from Ethier would also come in handy. Victorino? Come on.

Oh yeah, the Angels, Nationals, and A's are ahead of us, with the Diamondbacks at #9.

Infield? We didn't make the top ten (link insider only, if by now you haven't figured this out). Washington snagged #8, and the Giants finagled #9.

Nor did we place in today's post, the top ten lineups. Angels lead the pack, with the Nationals fifth and the Rockies seventh.

Well, two out of four ain't bad (though the Nationals certainly look pretty good, on Olney's paper). The Angels only placed in two of the four top ten lists as well. Let's see how we fare in Olney's next sets of top tens (peanut vendors, concession stand line lengths, and flush-free urinals).