2012 in review
Record: 86-76 (86-76 Pythagorean)
637 runs scored (13th in NL)
597 runs allowed (3rd in NL)
Big Offseason Moves
Made free-agent starter Zack Greinke the highest-paid pitcher in the game. Signed Korean left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu. Re-signed free agent Brandon League. Signed free agent J.P. Howell. Acquired Skip Schumaker from the Cardinals.
The Dodgers committed more than $200 million just to signing Greinke, Ryu and League. Greinke was the best free agent out there, but $24.5 million per season is a lot of cash for a guy with a 3.83 ERA over the past three seasons. Yes, by now we all know he has underperformed his peripherals; maybe this is the year his defense and BABIP and good luck and pitching better with runners on base all align correctly and he gets his ERA back under 3.00 like he did in 2009, when he won the Cy Young Award with Kansas City. Moving to Dodger Stadium will help, but the defense behind him may not.
Ryu is a 25-year-old lefty (26 in March) with a low-90s fastball, changeup and slider. He's logged more than 1,200 innings in Korea and his weight has been an issue, but his stuff is apparently major league quality. He'll be in the rotation or the bullpen (his contract prohibits him from being sent to the minors without his consent).
The Dodgers overpaid for League, who isn't as good a reliever as Kenley Jansen, so we'll see if he holds on to the closer role. In all, the Dodgers helped fortify their staff, but it cost a lot to do it, and the pressure will be on Greinke to deliver a big season.
Five reasons I didn't give the Dodgers a higher grade in this category:
1. Defense. Matt Kemp (minus-55 defensive runs saved the past three seasons, including minus-13 in a partial year in 2012) and Hanley Ramirez (minus-39 DRS at shortstop over the past three seasons) are liabilities at key positions. Carl Crawford is coming off Tommy John surgery, so who knows about his arm strength? Andre Ethier won a Gold Glove in 2011, but his defensive numbers have never been that good (although better the past couple of seasons).
2. Past-their-prime stars. Adrian Gonzalez's .806 OPS was easily the lowest of his career since becoming a full-time starter in 2006. His home runs have dropped from 40 to 31 to 27 to 18 the past three seasons. Ramirez is just 29 but has hit .243 and .257 the past two years. His .342 batting crown in 2009 appears to be in the distant past now. Crawford is 31 and coming off two bad, injury-plagued seasons. Second baseman Mark Ellis turns 36 in June.
3. Injury concerns. Besides Crawford, Kemp is coming off shoulder surgery to fix a torn labrum. The Dodgers need both at 100 percent, but both enter spring training with question marks about their health.
4. Crawford and Ethier versus left-handers. As in: Neither can hit them, but will Don Mattingly have the guts to sit them? Crawford is a career .305 hitter against right-handers, but .263 with a .309 on-base percentage against lefties. Ethier is even worse, with a .222/.276/.330 line against lefties in 2012 and .220/.258/.305 in 2011.
5. Luis Cruz. OK, he hit OK in 78 games with the Dodgers last year -- .297/.322/.431. He was likely in over his head. The minor league vet doesn't draw walks and never really hit before last season. Odds are he won't last as the starting third baseman.
Look, it could be an excellent offense if Kemp repeats his 2011 MVP-caliber season and Gonzalez bounces back and Crawford is healthy and Ramirez hits better than he has. But that's a lot of ifs in my book.
In Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers have the best pitcher in the National League. In Greinke, they should have one of the best No. 2s. And there's no denying the wealth of depth here, with Josh Beckett, Ryu, Chad Billingsley, Chris Capuano, Aaron Harang and Ted Lilly.
But some of those names look better on paper than they may in a Dodgers uniform. Beckett has always been an ace more in reputation than production, as he owns a 4.11 ERA over the past five years. Yes, that includes a 5.78 mark from 2010, when he battled injuries, but it also includes a hit-lucky 2.89 mark in 2011. He's also pitched 200 innings just once in those five seasons.
Capuano was a nice surprise last year going, 12-12 with a 3.72 ERA and a solid 162-54 strikeout-walk ratio. For most pitchers, that would guarantee a spot in the rotation, but that's not the case here. Billingsley and Lilly have to prove in spring training they are healthy and the Dodgers have high hopes for Ryu. Odds are Harang or Capuano gets traded.
I'm not as optimistic about the bullpen. League has shaky credentials as a closer -- poor strikeout rates, walk issues in 2012 and a 3.14 ERA over the past three seasons that isn't that impressive considering he pitched half the time in Safeco Field. Jansen is the more dominating pitcher -- 99 strikeouts in 65 innings last year -- but maybe the Dodgers know what they're doing. Maybe they'll use Jansen to get out of jams and then League for those bases-empty situations in the ninth. Ronald Belisario had an excellent 2012 and Howell was brought over from Tampa to help against left-handers in the middle innings.
As much as I love the rotation depth, I'm knocking half a grade because I'm not sure how good the depth is after Kershaw and Greinke and half a grade for concerns about League as the closer.
Heat Map to Watch
Kershaw held right-handed batters to a meager .216/.270/.328 line; a key reason is his devastating slider, which righties hit just .194 against in 172 PAs ending with the pitch. What's interesting is the location of the pitch isn't exactly where you would want to end up: middle in, as you can see from the map. But he throws it hard (he averaged 85.5 mph in 2012, up from 83.8 in 2011) and gets great action on it.
Few teams have as much upside as the Dodgers if everything goes their way. With the depth of their rotation, they should be a lock to win 85 games. It's also necessary to point out that they won 86 games last year without Greinke and without full seasons from Gonzalez, Beckett, Crawford, Ramirez and Kemp (who played 106 games) and thus they should easily win 90-plus games.
I'm not so sure; just take the example of Greinke joining the rotation. Say the Dodgers eventually trade Capuano, so Greinke is essentially filling his spot. Well, Capuano was pretty good last year. The upgrade to Greinke would actually be relatively minor, unless he has a monster season.
I see a team that can win 90, but I don't see a powerhouse that you may otherwise expect from a team with the highest payroll in baseball.