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Friday, January 11
Updated: January 14, 11:45 AM ET
Los Angeles Dodgers

By Gary Huckabay
Special to

The Numbers
2001 record:
86-76, .531 (11th overall)
2001 expected record*:

Runs scored:
758, 8th in NL
Runs allowed:
744, 8th in NL
Run differential:
+14 (15th overall)

Starters' ERA:
4.04, 4th in NL
Bullpen ERA:
4.70, 15th in NL

Payroll (Opening Day):
$108.9 million (3rd overall)
Local broadcast revenue:
$27.3 million (6th overall)
3.02 million (8th overall)

3-year record:
249-237, .512 (13th overall)

5-year record:
420-390, .519 (10th overall)

* based on runs scored and runs allowed

2001 in review
What went right?
Paul LoDuca was given a chance to play on a regular basis, and responded with a vengeance. Playing in one of the worst hitters' parks in baseball, LoDuca hit an astonishing .320/.374/.543, and threw out 38 percent of runners that tried to steal on him. Shawn Green improved his already impressive game, hitting 30 home runs on the road en route to a .297/.372/.598 campaign. Gary Sheffield shrugged off the clubhouse controversy surrounding him during the preseason, and produced his typical outstanding offensive numbers.

What went wrong
Andy Ashby made only two starts before tearing the flexor muscle in his right elbow. Darren Dreifort, the $55-million man who had never posted an ERA below 4.00 as a starter, despite having spent his entire career in a pitcher's haven, made only 16 bad starts before a career-threatening elbow injury ended his season. The club's offense outside of Green, LoDuca, and Sheffield was predictably awful, sandbagged by a teamwide aversion to accepting bases on balls. Adrian Beltre lost 25 pounds and most of his strength due to an early season bout with appendicitis and related infections, and the effects of the malady and associated surgeries seemed to dog him for most of the year.

In retrospect, the critical decisions were:
1. Hiring Jim Tracy as manager. Tracy handled the annual preseason flap over Gary Sheffield's contract and trade status with aplomb, keeping Sheffield happy enough to contribute without alienating the rest of the team. Faced with crippling injuries to a pitching rotation that was supposed to be a strength, and an offense weighted down with more low performers than the Enron Auditing Team, Tracy kept the Dodgers in the playoff hunt until the very end, finishing six games behind the eventual World Champs.

2. Giving Paul LoDuca a full-time job. At age 29, LoDuca took advantage of the narrow window of opportunity presented to him, and was probably the best overall catcher in the NL in 2001. LoDuca turned a position that was a question mark for the Dodgers at the start of the season into a bona fide strength. LoDuca filled in at the top and middle of the batting order, hitting for average and power, and striking out a Gwynnesque 30 times over the course of the season.

3. Firing Kevin Malone. Yes, Kevin Malone's penchant for the spotlight and the strong word became tiresome and distracting, but Malone earned his way out of the job. His investment in risky contracts like Dreifort was demonstrably unwise, but even the best GM misses a bet here and there. In Malone's case, his track record was damning, from the large gambles like Dreifort, to the small gambles like Gregg Olson and Jose Nunez, to the inexplicable acquisition of noted OutMeister Marquis Grissom. Most importantly, the once prolific Dodger farm system wasted away under Sheriff Malone's regime, leaving a daunting rebuilding project to his successor, Dan Evans.

Looking ahead to 2002
Three key questions
1. Will Kevin Brown, Darren Dreifort, and Andy Ashby be healthy? The Dodgers will be paying these three pitchers approximately $30 million in 2002, or around 70 percent of the projected Oakland payroll. That significantly reduces the Dodgers' ability to spend their way around serious injuries if they occur. In July, Dreifort underwent his second elbow ligament reconstruction in just over five years, and is not expected back until the All-Star break at the very earliest. Brown and Ashby had twin flexor muscle surgeries, and both expect to be ready for the start of spring training. If Brown can't make 25 starts, or the Dodgers can't get 50 out of Brown and Ashby, Jim Tracy will have to do more juggling this year than last, and that doesn't bode well for the Dodgers' postseason aspirations.

2. Can Dan Evans rebuild the farm system? Kevin Malone left behind a farm system that has neither acquired nor developed any talent that's likely to help at the major-league level. Only outfielder Chin-Feng Chen looks ready to help any time soon, and Chen's ability to play defense is suspect, to say the least. Beyond that, the Dodgers' minor-league cupboard is bare, which is one reason Evans was brought in. Evans was a key to the renaissance of the White Sox farm system, which has produced quality offensive players and a raft of young power arms. The Dodgers want Evans to bring the same kind of drafting and development system to L.A.

3. Can the Dodger pitching staff carry an offense likely to be among the league's worst? Unfortunately for Dodger fans, there really aren't too many questions about the offense. The Dodgers still have gaping offensive holes all over the field -- especially after trading Gary Sheffield -- and they're just not going to score that many runs. Some of that will be because of their pitcher-friendly home field, but most of it will be because people like Marquis Grissom, Tom Goodwin, Eric Karros, Alex Cora, Cesar Izturis and Mark Grudzielanek just aren't very good hitters. The Dodgers will be leaning heavily on new acquisitions Hideo Nomo and Kazahisu Ishii to be the driving force behind a successful season. If the Dodgers are going to be successful in 2002, they'll need to lead the league in fewest runs allowed.

Stats Corner
  • Shawn Green (above) had a monster second half: 29 HR, 1.071 OPS vs. 20 HR, .885 OPS in first half.
  • Dodgers leadoff hitters led the majors with 26 HR and were second with 84 RBI, but ranked 27th in OBP (.306).
  • Dodgers first basemen scored just 68 runs (28th) and had a .318 OBP (28th).
  • Paul LoDuca's .378 OBP while hitting leadoff tied Craig Biggio for best in the NL.
  • The Dodgers had a 3.78 team ERA at home, 4.75 on the road.
  • Can expect to play better
    Adrian Beltre. Beltre missed much of spring training and the early part of the season with appendicitis and associated complications. Beltre enters the 2002 season at the tender age of 23 with nearly 500 major-league games under his belt. He's hit for average and power, shown solid basestealing skill, and should be fully healthy. Not only can Beltre reasonably be expected to play better, he's an excellent candidate to complete explode on the league, like Albert Pujols in 2001. He should easily outdistance the .721 OPS he posted during the 2001 season, and enter the elite group of third basemen in MLB.

    Can expect to play worse
    Paul LoDuca's breakout season was absolutely amazing, and at least some amount of decline is likely. Even if his OPS drops 100 points or so, that's still pretty reasonable production from a catcher in a great pitchers' park.

    Projected lineup
    3B Adrian Beltre
    2B Mark Grudzielanek
    RF Shawn Green
    LF Brian Jordan
    C Paul LoDuca
    1B Eric Karros
    CF Marquis Grissom
    SS Cesar Izturis

    Kevin Brown
    Andy Ashby
    Hideo Nomo
    Omar Daal
    Kazahisu Ishii / Odalis Perez

    Matt Herges

    A closer look
    The Dodgers don't have anything in the farm system to help bolster the big club right now. Alternatively, they're looking to use one of their strengths -- cash flow -- to help keep a competitive team on the field. They spent upwards of $11 million to win the right to negotiate with Yakult Swallows left-hander Kazuhisa Ishii, hoping to capture the same kind of electricity and production the Mariners did in 2001 with their headline import, Ichiro Suzuki.

    Even if Ishii turns out to be a great starting pitcher, the Dodgers are looking at an uphill climb in 2002. This is an old team with a number of players that are stretched beyond roles in which they can expect to help a team. Check out the production from these offensive "contributors" in 2001:

                    2002    2001    2001    2001
    Player           Age     PAs     OPS   Road OPS
    Tom Goodwin       34     309    .622    .642
    Marquis Grissom   35     466    .654    .681
    Eric Karros       34     482    .691    .659
    Alex Cora         27     444    .591    .634
    M. Grudzielanek   32     578    .711    .772

    That's nearly 2300 plate appearances of offensive "production" that can only be described as dreadful. All of these players are under contract for 2002, most for enough money that they can't really be traded, nor will they feasibly be sat on the bench in favor of better options.

    Chan Ho Park has left Chavez Ravine for Arlington, and the Dodgers would be ecstatic if Japanese import Ishii can provide them with a comparable number of quality innings. Park has been criticized for being "mentally fragile" and "not a No. 1 starter", but he threw 234 innings of 3.50 ERA ball for the Dodgers in 2001, and replacing that kind of production is a very difficult task. Finding the innings is hard enough; finding them from a pitcher better than Darren Oliver is even harder, much less one better than league average.

    The Dodgers are not going to be a good team in 2002. This is an old team with persistent and serious offensive holes. There is no starting pitcher on the team that can be counted on to be both healthy and productive. The farm system is one of the most poorly stocked in baseball. The team is financially hamstrung by a number of bad players signed to expensive contracts. The Dodgers shouldn't mind paying Shawn Green and Kevin Brown their $15 million each, but paying Marquis Grissom, Tom Goodwin and Eric Karros a combined $15.5 million this season has got to cause serious heartburn in the offices at Fox.

    Fortunately for the Dodgers, they don't need to be a particularly good team to compete in the NL West in 2002. The Giants and Diamondbacks aren't exactly loaded with young stars, and both teams are counting on continued outstanding performances from older players to get through the season. There is no dominant team in the NL West, and only the Padres have taken significant steps to improve. The Dodgers will likely be one of the four teams within shouting distance of the top of the division as the season goes on, but they've got a lot of work to do before this club's going to be a consistent winner again.

    Gary Huckabay is part of the team of writers at Baseball Prospectus. You can order their 2002 book at

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