It's time to get back to debriefing for the 2009 season. The Fan had a trade show over the weekend and writing became sporadic. But the show was a success and now it's time to get back to business here. We've been working on the National League West and the only team left from that division to consider is the Dodgers. Since the team is still in the thick of things in the playoffs, it might be premature to consider them. But we have a lot of data from the 2009 season no matter what the playoff outcomes are.
Obviously, the easiest observation to make is that the Dodgers had a great season. Like duh, right? But like all teams in the majors, there are good things and a few clunkers to consider moving forward and looking back. The year started with guns going off and the Dodgers were quick out of the gate. They built a big lead early and then had the Manny Ramirez bombshell drop. His 50 game suspension was supposed to put a damper on the Dodgers, but Juan Pierre filled in nicely and the Dodgers never ran into serious trouble all year except for a short time in September. The Fan's best guess is that the Dodgers tended to run the same eight position players into the lineup game after game and they might have just run out of gas for a bit. We will consider depth shortly. But let's start with pitching.
The Dodgers finished tied for first in the majors in runs allowed which means you can't complain about that at all. If you combine that with the fact that (despite Manny in left for 108 games), the team also finished first in defensive efficiency in the majors, that's a pretty great combination. But there are some weird anomalies with the Dodgers when it comes to pitching. They gave up the fewest runs, the fewest hits and led the league in complete games. They were the third best team in the National League in giving up homers. But they ranked nine out of sixteen NL teams in walks. They had an astounding nine regularly contributing pitchers who averaged more than 3.5 walks per nine innings. And their closer, Broxton, just missed that number. Clayton Kershaw, the incredibly young pitcher with the huge upside, had early Randy Johnson type numbers where he struck out more than nine batters per nine innings (9.7) but walked 4.8 per nine along the way.
The rotation should be good for years to come whether they re-up Randy Wolf for another year or not. Wolf had one of his best years of his career and is a good guy to have along with the young guys. He pitched far better than his 11-7 record indicates and really was their anchor. Billingsley had a tough second half but overall, his numbers are still above league average and his BABIP of .366 in losses (.300 would be the normal expectation) would seem to indicate he had a bit of bad luck. His line drive percentage was nearly identical to his career. He should bounce back. He is only 25 and should be a good pitcher for a long time.
Clayton Kershaw is such a force. It doesn't seem that it will be a question of if he will harness his stuff but when. Other than his walks, his numbers are unreal. The combination of Kershaw and Billingsley will keep the Dodgers percolating for a few years to come. If you add in young James McDonald, who got his feet wet this year and is the Dodgers' best prospect to that duo and you have a young and dynamic trio of top notch starters. McDonald pitched mostly in relief this year and logged a 102 ERA+ in 45 appearances.
Huroki Kuroda is going to be 35 next year and his health is a big question mark. When he pitches, he throws strikes and keeps the Dodgers in the game, but he only managed 118 innings this year. It would be hard to imagine the Dodgers expecting much more from him. If the top three mentioned earlier of Kershaw, Billingsley and MacDonald are augmented from a pick of Jon Garland, Vincente Padilla and Charlie Haeger (who the Dodgers really should give a shot to) or perhaps even prospect Scott Elbert might be ready to break into the rotation as well.
The relief corp seemed to have one of those years like the Bay Rays did last year. They were great, but only Broxton has a big time arm. Tronsoco, Belisario and Mota walk a lot of guys and don't strike out more than nine per nine innings and it would seem to be a stretch to think they could continue to match the success they had this year. Torre seems to have found a niche for Jeff Weaver as a swing man and although he has some clunkers still in him, he was effective at times in multiple roles.
It doesn't seem that much will change for more than half of the Dodgers' lineup next year. Manny will be in left, Kemp in center and Ethier in right. You can pencil them in. All three had an OPS+ over 120 and Manny, despite appearances, was only slightly off his career numbers in OPS+ and other statistics. No worries in the outfield.
The infield could look different next year. Casey Blake will be the third baseman. But Furcal will most likely be allowed to walk. His place will either be taken by a free agent or two very good prospects in Ivan DeJesus, Jr. or Chin-Lung Hu. Both are very good in the field and show some promise with the bat. Next year would be a good year to give both a shot in Spring Training and see what happens. Orlando Hudson faded as the year went along and was ultimately replaced by Ron Belliard, who had a hot hand late. Going forward, Hudson is a better bet than Belliard to play second long term. But it would be a surprise if either was the starting second baseman next year.
Catcher, Russell Martin, is a bit perplexing. He had a really off year at the plate and one would think it was just a blip this year, but his OPS has fallen three years in a row, so it's hard to categorize his drop in numbers that way. His defense is still fine and for that reason, there is no reason to not continue with him as their number one catcher. The Dodgers can hope that his offensive numbers stop their decline and that 2010 will be a bounce back year.
First baseman, James Loney, is another perplexing player. His numbers offensively do not support the position he plays. He's a good fielder but he's no Keith Hernandez (but who is?). But he doesn't hit like Hernandez either, so a guy with little power production and league average OPS+ at a power position doesn't seem to make sense. Loney increased his on base percentage, but he still had his second year in a row around the league average level.
There is no reason to believe that the Dodgers will fare much worse in 2010 than this year. They have young core at the plate and on the mound with some quality veterans in support. A little tinkering around the infield and this team looks good to go next year.