The Dodgers and their payroll approaching $220M are projected to be one of the top teams in baseball this season. It was a tale of two seasons for the Dodgers in 2013, beginning the year just 38-43 through the month of June. In July and August, nobody could slow down the Dodgers, who rattled off 42 wins in 54 games. With the division in hand by the end of August, the Dodgers coasted through a 12-15 September and fell to the Cardinals in the National League Championship Series.
From June 21 to the end of the season, the Dodgers were 62-28. Seeing what the club was capable of has given the Dodgers huge expectations entering 2013. It’s rather incredible given that the Dodgers were just 37-39 against division foes in a division where they were the only team to finish above .500. The Dodgers feasted on the teams below .500 in the National League outside of their division with a 25-8 mark against those teams.
The biggest reason for the Dodgers success was the pitching staff. The Dodgers allowed 582 runs, the third-best mark in the league. Over 54 games in July and August, the Dodgers allowed just 2.74 runs per game and exactly three runs per game following the All-Star Break. The Dodgers have a nice home-field advantage for pitchers, but their offense also suffered at home. The Dodgers scored just 3.5 runs per game at home, but 4.5 per game on the road.
For a team that was 42-12 over two months and 50-60 over the other four, oddsmakers are certainly high on the Dodgers. Currently, 5Dimes.eu, Bovada.lv, and BetOnline.ag are showing 92.5 and juice ranging from -115 to -125 on the over. BetDSI.eu is at 93.5 with both sides at standard juice.
Key additions: Dan Haren, Brian Wilson, Chris Perez, Jamey Wright, Paul Maholm
Key losses: Chris Capuano, Ricky Nolasco, Mark Ellis, Ronald Belisario
Two things held the Dodgers back last season, their starting pitching and middle relief. Both areas were addressed this offseason. The Dodgers got great production from Ricky Nolasco after they traded for him and Chris Capuano when he was healthy enough to pitch. With both guys moving on as free agents, Dan Haren and Paul Maholm will be called upon to fill those holes.
Haren’s main problem over the last couple of seasons has been allowing home runs, something that the marine air and deep dimensions at Chavez Ravine will suppress. He remains a very good control pitcher. Maholm has also been victimized by a high home run per fly ball rate, in part because he’s a ground ball pitcher. The Dodgers had one of the top defenses in the National League last season, including great defense at the infield corners.
Brian Wilson, Chris Perez, and Jamey Wright will slot into a bullpen that was top-heavy with talent and lacking depth. Wilson and Perez, two former closers, and the rubber-armed Wright will strengthen this bullpen from top to bottom. Even though the Dodgers let 2013 leader in appearances Ronald Belisario walk, this unit looks much deeper than last season.
The only question left unanswered for the Dodgers is at second base where Cuban import Alexander Guerrero will take over for Mark Ellis. Ellis was a more valuable player than his stat line would indicate, as he was a well above average defender and put up pretty decent numbers for a second baseman in a bad hitter’s park. Scouts and statisticians aren’t sold on Guerrero’s numbers in Cuba, nor are they sold on his defense, even with a move from shortstop to second base.
Why bet the over?
In terms of talent, this may be the most loaded roster in the Major Leagues. Money will buy you a lot of talent and that’s what the Dodgers and their ridiculously-lucrative television deal have done. With Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez, Matt Kemp, and the ability to make financial commitments and take chances with guys like Yasiel Puig, Hyun-Jin Ryu, and Alexander Guerrero, the sky is the limit for this team.
It starts with the pitching. With a rotation of Kershaw-Greinke-Ryu-Haren-Maholm/Beckett, this rotation has a little bit of everything. Kershaw is an elite talent that you can pencil in for a great season like clockwork. Since his second full season in the Majors, Kershaw has accumulated 4.1 or more fWAR per season. He’s averaged just over six fWAR over the last three seasons. He’s an elite, number one star. He’s also durable, with 161 starts over the last five seasons. Kershaw’s 2.39 FIP trailed only Matt Harvey’s 2.00 and tied with Anibal Sanchez for the second-best in baseball. Nobody came close to his 1.83 FIP. Over the last three seasons, the Dodgers are 63-36 when Kershaw starts.
The Dodgers’ ridiculous run in 2013 coincided with Zack Greinke’s performance. From June 22 to September 28, Greinke’s stat line looked like this: 12-2, 2.03 ERA, 113 K, 31 BB, and a .589 OPS against. The Dodgers were 16-3 in Greinke’s 19 starts during that span. Greinke missed a month due to a broken collarbone from a bench-clearing brawl that he instigated from April 11 to May 15. Also missing time in that span was Chris Capuano. It’s no surprise that the Dodgers struggled early on without two key contributors of their starting rotation and it was before they added Ricky Nolasco via trade. A healthy Greinke gives the Dodgers one of, if not the best, 1-2 punches in the National League.
Hyun-Jin Ryu was great in his first season in the Majors. The South Korea native came as advertised with great control and a terrific change-up. That change-up neutralized right-handed hitters and Ryu posted a 3.1 fWAR season with a 3.00 ERA and a 3.24 FIP. Ryu’s numbers were even better in the second half and his 61/10 strikeout-to-walk ratio proved that he could withstand the rigors of a full MLB season. Ryu did benefit a lot from pitching at home, as his home ERA was 1.37 points better than his road mark, but a 3.69 ERA on the road is still above average.
Dan Haren just might be what the Dodgers need to get to the next level. As mentioned above, the big problem for Haren has been the long ball over the last couple of seasons and he’s got a very friendly ballpark to pitch in now. With road starts in San Diego and San Francisco as well, Haren’s benefits from moving to the NL West should continue on the road. His velocity has dwindled but he has varied his fastball looks with more splitters and cutters to stay away from the barrel of the bat. If he stays healthy, he has a lot of upside in Dodger Stadium with this offense.
Whoever wins the rotation battle between Josh Beckett and Paul Maholm won’t be asked to do a whole lot with the other four guys pulling the bulk of the weight. Whoever doesn’t win the rotation battle should add depth in one way or another. Stephen Fife looked serviceable in 10 starts, giving the Dodgers some quality depth.
Kenley Jansen has some of the best swing-and-miss stuff among NL closers. His 38 percent strikeout rate tied Craig Kimbrel and trailed only Aroldis Chapman. His 6.17 strikeout-to-walk rate was the fourth-best in baseball. When he gets a save opportunity, he finishes it off. After Don Mattingly inexplicably tried to use Brandon League in the closer’s role, Jansen took the job in June and thrived. He is the anchor of a very intriguing bullpen.
Behind Jansen are former closers Brian Wilson and Chris Perez. Wilson was dominant in 18 regular season appearances following his return from Tommy John surgery number two. Perez lost his closer’s job with the Indians and was subject to the wrath of many Tribe fans. Perez was arrested for having weed shipped to his dog in June and had been a ticking time bomb in the clubhouse for the better part of two years. He gets a fresh start in Los Angeles, a place where his tendency to give up home runs should be lessened and where weed is pretty plentiful. These two are no sure bets, but live arms once propelled them to the closer’s role, so there’s a lot of potential in a setup capacity.
JP Howell will be the primary matchup lefty and could be joined by Paco Rodriguez, who was second on the Dodgers with 76 appearances last season. The rest of the depth, including Brandon League, has some strikeout ability but also some control issues. The bullpen, overall, has a lot of talent, but also some red flags with injuries and former closers not accustomed to setup roles.
The Dodgers lineup was in the middle of the pack in wOBA last season without Matt Kemp. Adrian Gonzalez and Andre Ethier were the only guys to play over 140 games. Yasiel Puig had a huge impact on the Dodgers offense when he was called up in early June. Puig certainly comes with his share of concerns, but hitting is not one of them. Puig posted a .319/.391/.534 slash line and a .398 wOBA in his first season in the bigs. In just 104 games, Puig compiled a 4.0 fWAR, despite some shaky defensive decisions saved by his howitzer of an arm. A full season of Puig certainly makes this offense better.
What will Matt Kemp give the Dodgers in 2014? He had just 290 plate appearances last season and missed time in 2012 as well. In the same boat is Carl Crawford, who hasn’t been healthy since 2010. Kemp is just 29 and could definitely have a bounce back year if he can stay in the lineup and his power hasn’t left him. Crawford was still above average last season, especially for production from left field, and a similar season of around 15 steals and a .280 or better batting average will deepen the Dodgers lineup.
Hanley Ramirez also played just 86 games last season, yet was able to put together a monster offensive season. In those 86 games, Ramirez amassed 5.1 fWAR and a slash line of .345/.402/.638. His 191 wRC+ was second among all players with 300 or more plate appearances, trailing only Miguel Cabrera by one. Hanley improved in every offensive category except for walk rate. It will be Ramirez’s age 30 season, so he’s still within his prime. The production from last season is probably unsustainable, but a full season of Hanley performing remotely close to that production will add a lot to the Dodgers offensively.
AJ Ellis is due for a bounce back, making him a very valuable player, both offensively and defensively for the Dodgers. His .269 BABIP from last season was 60 points below last season’s .329 and lowered his career BABIP to .301. That appears to be an anomaly and it led to a 32-point drop in batting average. Already a strong defensive catcher, any offense the Dodgers get is gravy, but Ellis’s contributions should improve in 2014.
If this group can stay healthy, there really aren’t any holes.
Why bet the under?
If this group can’t stay healthy, there are plenty of holes. The Dodgers spent so much money creating a starting nine that the team’s depth is very poor. Outside of injuries, some guys will definitely regress in their offensive performance. Hanley Ramirez probably leads the list. His .363 BABIP was the second-highest of his career and highest since 2009, when he was in his prime. His power spike to 21.1 percent of fly balls leaving the yard was an unsustainable jump in power. He’s always been above average in that category, but 21.1 percent is up there with guys like Mark Trumbo, Nelson Cruz, and Giancarlo Stanton. Guys that are known as power hitters. Hanley isn’t a power hitter. He’s a good hitter, but expect the power numbers to come down. His ISO, which is slugging percentage minus batting average, was .293. His career high prior to last season was .239 in 2008. That was a long time and many injuries ago. He’s still a quality player, but his 2013 performance is not going to be replicated.
Yasiel Puig put over 50 percent of balls in play on the ground, yet managed a .383 BABIP. BABIP is a measure of luck and Puig’s was certainly good. He hits the ball hard for sure, but it would be very reasonable to expect Puig’s batting average and on-base percentage come down. Puig does swing and miss quite a bit and the pitchers around the league will adjust to him. Like Ramirez, Puig will continue to be a good offensive contributor, but expect his numbers to come down.
Along with the injury concerns to Ramirez, Matt Kemp and Carl Crawford are probably going to miss significant time at some point. Another question mark is Juan Uribe. Uribe was a horrible hitter for two seasons before suddenly turning it around last season to post a wRC+ of 116. Most of Uribe’s value has come defensively over the last few seasons. He’ll turn 34 while the Dodgers are opening the season in Australia, so it’s about that time where age starts to catch up with a lot of guys. That’s especially true of Uribe who has never really been lauded as somebody who keeps himself in great shape. He posted a 5.1 fWAR season last year, the best of his career by far. Don’t expect that again.
Alexander Guerrero is a pretty big question mark. While Mark Ellis didn’t put up huge numbers or anything earth-shattering, Guerrero joins Puig as a guy who hopes that his Cuban success will translate to the Majors. Scouts aren’t sure that his free-swinging approach will work favorably in the Majors. Unlike Puig, who spent time in the minor leagues, Guerrero is the favorite to start at second base. With limited middle infield depth behind him, there’s a lot of pressure on Guerrero to succeed. His Spring Training appearances suggest that he will start the season in the minors, so the Dodgers will definitely be below average at second base to start the year.
There’s the chance that the back-end of the rotation for the Dodgers could be a lot more exciting on paper than it is on the field. Dan Haren, Paul Maholm, and Josh Beckett are all dealt with various ailments of late. Haren and Beckett have seen velocity drops in recent years. There is nearly 5,500 innings worth of pitches weighing on those three arms. The Dodgers are built as a team that needs to stay healthy. The depth behind Haren, Maholm, and Beckett is very shaky and very inexperienced.
Pick: Under 93.5 (BetDSI)
Ninety-four games is a hell of a lot to win. The Dodgers are in a much-improved division that they didn’t have much success in last season and a lot of money and a lot of expectations are riding on this team. They’re clearly the most talented team in the division, if not the entire National League, but there are so many injury concerns that picking them to win 94 games is probably not a good bet.
The Dodgers put together two incredible months to take charge of a mediocre division and were 10 games under .500 in the other four. Things changed and the personnel was drastically better when Puig came up, Greinke got healthy, and Jansen took over the closer’s role, but the pace is simply unsustainable. Ninety-four wins is a .580 winning percentage and that takes a ton of consistency to achieve. Consistency generally comes in the form of staying healthy.
While this team undoubtedly has the talent to win 94 or more games and possibly go on to the World Series, the grind of 162 games with a team chock full of injury-prone players is probably not going to be friendly to the Dodgers.
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Adam Burke is a freelance writer and amateur handicapper with a knack for finding value through matchup analysis and a deep understanding of the sports betting market. His main area of expertise is baseball, with a background in sabermetrics and advanced statistics. He is the host of The Gridiron Gambling Report and our college football and college basketball BangTheBook.com podcasts on the BlogTalkRadio Network.