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2012 Preview: Los Angeles Dodgers


Los Angeles Dodgers

What They Did:      82-79, 3rd Place NL West.

      Actual Runs:      Scored 644 runs, Allowed 612.

                                Expected wins based on RS and RA:  84.3 (2.3 above actual)

          Restated:      Scored 641 runs, Allowed 608.

                                Exp. wins based on restated RS and RA:  84.3 (2.3 below actual)

In 2011, the Los Angeles Dodgers squandered one of the National Leagues’ great hitting and pitching combinations. Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay can at least make an argument they were better, by degrees, last year than NL Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw and NL MVP winner Ryan Braun had as great a year at the plate (and on the bases) as runner-up Matt Kemp, but no team possessed a star pitcher and hitter as good as the Dodgers.  Kemp and Kershaw provided the Dodgers with something around 16 Wins Above Replacement.  As an average player has a WAR of just over 2 and as a team full of average players would win an average amount of its contests (which is of course, 81 games) that means that the rest of the Dodgers’ roster in 2011 were about 11 games below average.  Stated another way, it means that had Kemp and Kershaw been surrounded by teammates of merely average MLB-caliber, the Dodgers would have won about 93 games and attained a post-season playoff berth.

With that as a backdrop, Dodgers fans have three things to worry about regarding the 2012 season:

  • Regression from Kemp and Kershaw.  Per Baseball-Reference’s calculation of Wins Above Replacement, Matt Kemp posted 10 WAR last season.  In the past thirty years, no player not named Barry Bonds, has ever had back-to-back seasons of double digit WAR.  Not even Albert Pujols or Alex Rodriquez.  (I was going to make an increasing-hat-size joke until I realized Bonds did it in 1992 and 1993 in addition to 2002-2004.  He really was a great player even before the steroids use allegedly began.)  Some regression from Kemp is mandatory, no matter how much 50/50 (home runs/stolen bases) chatter he’s encouraging this spring.  I love, love, love watching Clayton Kershaw pitch but compared to his elite counterparts who may challenge him for the Cy Young Award this year, in 2011 he had a significantly lower batting-average-on-balls-in-play than Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and especially Zach Greinke and Madison Bumgarner.  (Remember, that’s not skill-based; Kyle Kendrick had the lowest BABIP of the Philadelphia Phillies starting rotation.)
  • Besides Kemp and Kershaw, the only other player on the 2011 roster who was above average, in that he contributed more than 2 WAR over the season, Hiroki Kuroda, departed via free agency and signed with the New York Yankees.
  • Hamstrung financially by the legal morass its owner found himself in with MLB, during the off-season the Dodgers did nothing to address its glaring line up weaknesses.

Without qualifiers, and especially when you factor in park effects of their respective home stadiums, as a staff the Dodgers pitched as well as the San Francisco Giants last year.  With one exception, they hit as well as Arizona but the exception is a big one – home run hitting.  While an average MLB team in 2011 hit 152 home runs, the Dodgers hit just 117, and 39 of those came off the bat of Matt Kemp.  Los Angeles had an above-average batting average and on-base percentage (12th in the majors for both) but was 23rd in slugging (and 23rd in home runs, the biggest component of slugging percentage) and as a result was below-average (21st) in scoring runs.  One look at the roster reveals how easy it would have been to correct that deficiency.  Here’s how the Dodgers stacked up with the league average player at two different positions:

Position           Average HR/Slugging %        LA HR/Slugging %

1B                               24 HRs/.452                            12/.416

LF                               18/.408                                    2/.353

At the plate, James Loney and Tony Gwynn, Jr., the players responsible for the LA portion of the above production, are absolutely killing the Dodgers at first base and left field, respectively.  Dodger fans have a right to be annoyed that management did nothing in the off-season to address this weakness.  It’s inconceivable that a team that invented the 3 million-a-year attendance milestone, operating in the second largest television market in the country, with a massive international broadcasting presence thanks to its proximity to Mexico, that a team worth 2 billion dollars* wouldn’t be involved in the bidding for not one, but two different premiere free-agent first basemen, Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder, during the off season.  It wouldn’t have taken a big ticket purchase to address its ills either; there is no way the Dodgers should have let its division foe, the Arizona Diamondbacks, sign free-agent left fielder Jason Kubel to a very reasonable three-year $22.5 million contract without at least matching that offer.

(* It’s possible that the $2 billion price tag for the Dodgers should be viewed skeptically.  It’s rumored the new owners offered $1 billion for the $640 million Mega Millions Jackpot last week as well.)

While their hated foes the Giants can boast three different starting pitchers with number one-starter talent, beyond Kershaw the Dodgers rotation cupboard consists of maddeningly inconsistent Chad Billingsley and a trio of thirtysomething cast-offs, (Chris Capuano, Aaron Harang, and Ted Lily).  It’s an even numbered year so Billingsley is due for an ERA below 4.00 (your author firmly implants tongue in cheek here) but it would be a feat if any of the other three supporting members hit that target. 

For the second year in a row, Dodgers’ fans, not to mention the greatest announcer of all-time in any sport, Vin Sully, will be forced to watch a team squander the talents of Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw.  The two young superstars are going to be Dodgers for quite some time as Kemp is signed through 2019 and Kershaw is under team control for three more years.  For those that bleed Dodger blue the hope is that in the future the new ownership group won’t stand for a team with the last-place potential the 2012 team has.

Oddsmakers’ expectations:  Oddsmakers see the Dodgers as a .500 team as the team’s over/under for total wins sits at a uniform 81 ½ among a number of Nevada-based and off-shore sites.  Just as it does for the majority of teams in this division, the under looks like an attractive play here as well. 

2012 Outlook:

75-87 – Fourth in NL West

634 Runs Scored       692 Runs Allowed


Mop Up Duty:

Joe Peta is the author of Trading Bases, the Newsletter, a companion piece to Trading Bases, A Story about Wall Street, Gambling, and Baseball*  (*) Not necessarily in that order, a Dutton Books/Penguin (U.S.A.) February, 2013 release.

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Reader Comments (2)

Tony Gwynn "Junior", and "Prince" (not Cecil) Fielder. You're showing your age.

Thanks for the shout out to Vin;I wish they'd let him call at least one WS game this year.

April 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBlech

Arrrgh. Good catch. Both have been corrected. It's a combination of age and lap 29 in the 30 lap series. I may be on fumes. Thanks for reading.

April 3, 2012 | Registered CommenterJoe Peta

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