Los Angeles Dodgers
In the spring of 1963, Major League Baseball re-instituted the rulebook strikezone. That fall, an anemic-hitting Dodger ballclub - only one player had as many as 80 RBI - won the World Series on the strength of dominant pitching.
In the spring of 1988, Major League Baseball re-instituted the rulebook strikezone. That fall, an anemic-hitting Dodger ballclub - only one player had as many as 80 RBI - won the World Series on the strength of dominant pitching.
In the spring of 1999, Major League Baseball attempted to re-institute the rule book strikezone. But due to an increase in disputes and ejections, and the Commissioner's inability to enforce the rule with an uncooperative umpires union, the rulebook strikezone disappeared by the All-Star break. That fall, an anemic-hitting Dodger ballclub finished 77-85, 23 games out of first.
This year, Major League Baseball is again attempting to re-institute the rulebook strikezone. The Dodgers were 8th in the NL in run scoring last year and did next to nothing to improve this offseason. However, their pitching got appreciably better. If Baseball can enforce the strikezone for the entire season, will history repeat itself?
For the past decade, the general consensus was that the Dodgers had the most talent in the division. Of course, the general consensus was wrong. Yes, the Dodgers had some high quality hitters like Mike Piazza, then Gary Sheffield. But they also had more than just a couple guys who are clearly below average offensively. Last year, centerfield was manned by Devon White and Tom Goodwin. According to STATS Inc, White produced less than the average player by more than one and a half runs per game. Goodwin was slightly above average. However, for his career, Goodwin is almost a run below average. This spring, the Dodgers traded White for Marquis Grissom who was only slightly more productive (+0.22 runs per game better) than White. The net effect is that the Dodgers still won't get even league average production out of the centerfielder.
Shortstop Alex Cora was almost 2 runs worse than league average last year. He's still young (25) and he wasn't entirely overmatched, but to expect him to suddenly vault into the midst of the offensively acceptable is just wishful thinking.
Todd Hundley, the primary catcher for the Dodgers last year, was an exceptional producer at his position, giving the Dodgers more than 3 runs per game over what an average player would produce. This year, Paul Loduca (1 run less than average) and Angel Pena (almost one and a half less) will be behind the plate.
First baseman Eric Karros is the Los Angeles Dodgers all-time home run leader with 242 entering this season. He's still 128 short of overtaking Gil Hodges for the franchise record. And he's still almost a half a run short of being league average offensively. For all the home runs he hits, he still doesn't draw a lot of walks, doesn't hit a lot of doubles, and therefore doesn't score a lot of runs.
Second baseman Mark Grudzialanek made the transition from playing shortstop to playing second fairly smoothly. While he's still below average compared to the league, he's actually about average compared to other second baseman.
Third baseman Adrian Beltre was a phenomenal one and a half runs better than the average player last year. While that may not seem so great on the surface, consider that he was only 21 years old and playing a reasonably tough defensive position and it's apparent he's destined for greatness. Just not this year. A botched appendectomy in February may cost him much, if not all of this season. In his place will be Phil Hiatt and Chris Donnells, both journeymen minor leaguers who have been below average as major leaguers.
That leaves the two corner outfield positions to produce most of the Dodger offense. Gary Sheffield is one of the premier hitters in baseball, posting OPS in excess of .900 every year since 1994. That kind of production grades out to almost 3 runs better per game than the average major league player. What I mean when I say "runs per game" or "runs created" is that a team of 9 Gary Sheffields would outscore a team comprised of the same number of clones of an average major league player by 3 runs per game.
While Shawn Green's impact offensively isn't as dramatic as Sheffield's, his average of 1 more run per game is certainly welcome on this team.
Add it all together, and the Dodgers offense, barring some freakish career-best outburst by one or more players, is appreciably below average, even with the mighty Sheffield trying to stem the tide. RATING: 45
One would think that a team that was not particularly good at hitting the ball might concentrate on catching it. Not so with the Dodgers. With the exception of Beltre, who ranks in the top 5 in range among third baseman, and Goodwin, who rates about average, the Dodgers do not have a single player who even rates as average when it comes to getting to batted balls. In fact, Cora, Grudzialanek, Sheffield, Green and Grissom all ranked in the bottom 5 at their respective positions in all of baseball. This defense is not good. RATING: 35
The Hallmark of all good Dodger ballclubs has been very good starting pitching. From Koufax and Drysdale to Hershiser and Valenzuela, they have either won with pitching, or not won at all. This year will be no different. Kevin Brown is the ace of this staff and one of the 4 best pitchers in baseball. He's tough to hit, doesn't walk hitters yet strikes them out at a rate close to 1 per inning. As tough as he is in the regular season, he gets even tougher in the postseason, having thrown some of the most dominating starts in post season history. Brown intimidates most hitters with an nasty assortment of hard stuff: a heavy sinking fastball that reaches 94 mph, a four seamer that gets up to 98, a wicked slider and an occasional split finger fastball that was taught to him by a master of the splitter, Dave Stewart.
Like Brown, Darren Dreifort also has an intimidating repertoire of high velocity fastball and slider. But his pitches have so much late movement, that he has trouble throwing strikes consistently. In the second half of last season, he appeared to have finally figured out where his pitches were going, posting an ERA of 3.14 and striking out 88 in 94 innings. Facing one Kevin Brown is bad enough, but if Dreifort can build on last year's late season success, opposing hitters will be looking at facing 2 of them.
Chan Ho Park is more of a straight forward pitcher. He has the same velocity as Brown and Dreifort, although his fastball is much more straight than the whiffleballs that brown and Dreifort throw. Rather than a slider, he uses a knee-buckling curve reminiscent of that of Nolan Ryan or a young Doc Gooden. He does have a slider and an improving change-up. When he first signed out of Korea, many compared him to Gooden in ability. If, like Dreifort, he can continue to build on last year's improvements, he may yet live up to that early billing.
Andy Ashby caught a bad break last year. He's an extreme groundball pitcher and was traded to a team that had the worst turf in the majors and a middle infield to match. With Curt Schilling on the shelf to start the season, he was expected to be the ace of an up and coming young staff. The pressure, along with the defense behind him, was too much for him to overcome and he had a major meltdown through the first half. Then his luck improved. He was traded to the Braves, where he was happy to be the 3rd or 4th best starter on the team and where he could regain his confidence with a big upgrade in infield defense behind him. He also had the opportunity of picking the brain of one of the most cerebral pitchers in baseball in Greg Maddux. If Maddux ever writes a book on pitching, it will be the intellectual equivalent of "the Science of Hitting" by Ted Williams. That is, it will be the pre-eminent work on the subject. Anyway, Ashby got back on track and then signed with the Dodgers this offseason for big bucks. However, unless the Dodgers start concentrating on defense more, he'll probably suffer from some of the same things that derailed him in Philly. However, it's highly unlikely it will ever get that bad again.
The 5th starter is promising young Eric Gagne (pronounced Gahn-yeh). Gagne was supposed to be a big comer last year as he finished AAA in 1999 with some impressive numbers - 12-4, ERA of 2.63, 185 Ks in 167+ innings in a league and a ballpark notorious for being favorable to hitters. But pitching nearly 200 innings between AAA and the majors took their toll on the 23 year old arm and he was left with 150 ineffective innings last year bouncing back and forth between AAA and the majors. Early indications this year are positive that he can return to form and give the Dodgers yet another potent starting arm.
If pitching were just throwing hard, the Dodgers would probably have the best staff in the majors. The same could be said if pitching were all about having an assortment of ridiculously difficult pitches to hit. But until the younger starters learn that pitching is more than just physical, this staff will merely be very good. If, however, the light clicks on, then we could see 1963 or 1988 all over again. RATING: 65 (75 if Dreifort, Park and Gagne learn how to pitch)
Like the Phillies, the Dodgers have a bullpen that looks pretty ugly on paper. Closer Jeff Shaw doesn't really throw that hard, although his split finger pitch is very good. Mike Fetters was cast off from the Brewers when he could no longer close effectively. Gregg Olson was cast off from the Orioles when it was discovered he had arm problems after 5 years of brilliant closing. Terry Adams was supposed to be the Cubs closer of the future but he was never able to find the magic in that role. Each of these guys was dumped by teams that were and are desperate for good pitching in the bullpen. Yet like the guys in the Phillies' pen, they have experienced success before. perhaps it's only a matter of being put in the right situation where they can succeed. While there's no question that this pen will never intimidate anyone, it does have enough talent to be reasonably successful. With the talent their starters have, that might be all the Dodgers need. RATING: 55
After having just 2 managers in it's first 40 years of existence in Los Angeles (Walter Alston and Tommy Lasorda), The Dodgers will be on their 4th manager in 3 years this season with Jim Tracy. Tracy, like his division rival to the south in San Diego Bruce Bochy, was a very successful minor league manager before getting his shot. Little is known about his ability to handle a bullpen, his in game savvy or his ability to keep pitchers sharp, but healthy. GM Kevin Malone was fired recently, presumably for some ot his antics off the field, including his most recent tussle with a fan in San Diego. He should have been fired for his inability to put together a decent hitting team on the field, despite having an almost unlimited budget. Former pitching coach Dave Wallace will act as GM until a permanent replacement can be found. At least they didn't put Tommy Lasorda back in charge. RATING: 35 (assuming that Tracy turns out to be an average manager)
The Dodgers can't really hit or field, but if their starting pitching lives up to potential, it's possible that in a run depressed environment like what we're seeing with the strikezone changes, that this team could compete and possibly win the division. With any sort of competent trades to shore up the offense, this team could be very dangerous come playoff time. However, if the Commissioner's office fails to enforce their new strikezone edict, and the umpires slide back into their old ways, not even Koufax, Drysdale and Hershiser combined could carry this offense to the playoffs.