Why aren't Dodgers great? Look to the stars

With the past season’s success, their $230 million payroll and a cadre of easily recognizable players, the Dodgers were considered the heavy frontrunners for the National League West and among the favorites for the World Series.

Entering Saturday’s action, however, the team is 54-44 –- good, not great -– and a percentage point behind the Giants in the NL West. What's more, the Dodgers are only 6-7 in July.

The reasons the Dodgers aren’t better is actually quite simple: The players perceived to be –- and paid to be –- stars are, in fact, playing nothing like stars.

If you use Wins Above Replacement, the lack of production from Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier and Adrián González becomes apparent. Those three are being paid a combined $58 million this season yet have combined to produce below replacement level, at -0.7 WAR.

Perhaps it’s helpful to think of them not by their star names, but by comparisons to players at the same position producing at the same level. In other words, Kemp, Ethier and González have been as good as the decidedly less famous Domonic Brown, Ben Revere and Mark Reynolds.

Dodgers Notable Players OPS

If you replaced Kemp, Ethier and González with Brown, Revere and Reynolds, the team wouldn’t have been any worse off this season, and far fewer people would be asking the question: Why aren’t the Dodgers better?

It would be obvious; their players aren’t that good. Using OPS, we can see that all three of those players (and to a lesser extent, Hanley Ramirez) are playing well off their previously established levels of performance. All three players have posted an OPS at least 100 points below their combined OPS from the previous three seasons.

It doesn’t get any more optimistic when you dig into each player individually. All three are not only playing below expectations this season, but are also in the midst of a prolonged decline:

Adrian Gonzalez

González is hitting .224 since the beginning of May and has two fewer home runs in the past two and a half months (6) than he did in April (8).

He is hitting just .280 with a .781 OPS since being acquired by the Dodgers in late August 2012, compared to .321/.895 while in a Red Sox uniform.

Matt Kemp

Only two position players in the NL have been worse by WAR than Kemp this season, as he’s cost the Dodgers more than a win with his play (-1.3). Since the start of the past season, he’s been worth below replacement level (-0.8).

Matt Kemp

Matt Kemp

#27 CF
Los Angeles Dodgers

2014 STATS

  • GM87
  • HR8

  • RBI35

  • R38

  • OBP.329

  • AVG.266

After hitting .315 with a .954 OPS during his peak in 2011-12, Kemp has hit just .268 with a .740 OPS since the start of the past season.

Kemp was worth 8.2 WAR in 2011 and signed a $160M contract following that season. He’s been worth 1.6 WAR in 2012, 2013 and 2014 (so far) combined.

Andre Ethier

Ethier hit .284 in 2012 and .272 in 2013 and is hitting .250 so far this season. His slugging percentage was .460 in 2012 and .423 in 2013 and is .375 this season. Both his current .250 batting average and .375 slugging percentage would be the worst marks of his career.

He hit 20 home runs in 2012 and 12 the past season but has four this season, entering Saturday.