Jim & Bob's Palatial Baseball Blog

Friday, February 15, 2008

Los Angeles Dodgers 2008 Preview: Dodging Their Own Mistakes

2007...the year that sucked/was groovy (pick one)

The Los Angeles Dodgers went into the 2007 as the favorite to win the NL West title. That didn't work out too well as they wound up with a fourth place record of 82-80. The Dodgers were quick to blame injuries, as Jason Schmidt, Jeff Kent, and Rafael Furcal, among others, missed significant amounts of time. The decision to spend millions of dollars to give Juan Pierre over 700 plate appearances didn't help, either, nor did giving 42 starts combined to Bret Tomko, Mark Hendrickson, David Wells, and Esteban Loiza. Over the winter the Dodgers again splurged in the free agent market to sign Andruw Jones; thus making Pierre redundant. They also threw manager Grady Little over the side when Joe Torre became available.

They can put it on the board, yes! no! maybe!

Dodger Stadium has been playing as a hitters park over the past few seasons, increasing offense by about 4-5%. That didn't help the 2007 Dodgers much, as they still finished a mediocre 10th in the NL in runs scored. The problem isn't so much that the Dodgers don't have guys who can hit; they do. The problem is that they misused the talent that they had. While Furcal's dismal 2007 might be at least partially explained by injuries, Pierre, Nomar Garciaparra, and Luis Gonzalez had no such excused. All three were unproductive or even counterproductive but were written into the lineup card night after night despite the presence of better options. A glance at the 2008 depth chart indicates that the Dodgers intend to go into the new season repeating the same mistakes.

SS Rafael Furcal
LF Juan Pierre
C Russell Martin
CF Andruw Jones
2B Jeff Kent
1B James Loney
RF Matt Kemp
3B Nomar Garciaparra

At least they project Nomar into the eight hole, somewhat minimizing the damage. They give this back by putting Pierre in the number two spot. Flipping Pierre and Kemp would improve the offense; telling Pierre and Garciaparra to take their contracts and send the Dodgers a postcard from their favorite golf resorts would be even better, as that would open regular spots for Andre Ethier and Andy LaRoche.

Pitchers or belly itchers?

The 2007 Dodgers finished fourth in runs allowed; second in road games. Strong seasons from Brad Penny and Derek Lowe, the emergence of Chad Billingsley, and an outstanding bullpen overcame unreliability at the back of the rotation. Over the winter the Dodgers added Japanese ace Hiroki Kiroda to the mix.

SP Derek Lowe
SP Chad Billingsley
SP Brad Penny
SP Hiroki Kiroda
SP Esteban Loiza

CL Takashi Saito
RP Jonathan Broxton
RP Joe Beimel

Management hopes to get Jason Schmidt back at some time this year, but even without him this is a good staff. Billingsley is going to be one of the best starters in the league, a match for division rivals Jake Peavy and Brandon Webb. Lowe is consistently reliable and Penny can be dominating at his best. In the bullpen, Broxton is a devastating weapon to set up Saito, a closer in waiting, and Jonathan Meloan is another one.

Witnesses for the defense

Dodger defense was mediocre in 2007, below league average in fielding percentage and defensive efficiency. The addition of Jones isn't the upgrade you might think; Jones is not the defensive player he was a few years ago, and Pierre's play in center wasn't what was dragging the defense down. The age of Jeff Kent and the inability of Garciaparra to play third base were the real killers. Neither problem has been addressed for 2008.

Farm aid

The Dodgers system is loaded. Under the watch of Logan White, the franchise has assembled a collection of young talent second to none; possibly excepting the Rays. Loney, Kemp, Ethier, Billingsley, and Broxton have already made an impact. Andy LaRoche should be the next, assuming that Torre and GM Ned Colletti finally catch on to Garciaparra's lack of real value. LaRoche would quickly move to the upper echelon of NL third basemen. Clayton Kershaw is a lefthanded starter who will begin the year at double A and could move up to the Show before the season ends. The Dodgers are thinking Koufax here, and they might not be far wrong. Chin-Lung Hu is a shortstop candidate with incredible defensive skills and gap power; he'll replace Furcal in 2009. There is more further down the organization such as lefty starter Scott Elbert, third baseman Blake DeWitt, and shortstop Ivan DeJesus. Yes, Bob, Ivan DeJesus.

Watch out for that tree!

Jeff Kent can still hit, but he's 40. Forty year old second basemen tend to decline pretty fast. I should stop ragging on Garciaparra, but he's 34, tends to get hurt, and has been a below average hitter in two of the past three seasons. Penny is only 30 but has a violent motion that frequently sends him to the DL; one of these days it'll be a permanent stay.

I can make a hat, or a broach...

This team is the most talented of any in the powerful NL West. However, the same could have been said in 2007, and look at the results. I frankly have no faith in the ability of Ned Colletti to sort out the good and young from the bad and overpriced. If he actually does so, this team can win 95+ games. Based on what I've seen, it's more likely that they will win 85.

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