2004 Los Angeles Dodgers Preview
Saturday, March 13 2004 @ 09:18 AM EST
Contributed by: Leigh
With the ownership situation settled, and Paul DePodesta taking over as General Manager, the Dodgers can finally get down to business. While it is unfortunate that he did not arrive in time to engineer a big trade or free agent signing, DePodesta's General Managerial acumen will help. The formula for 2004 is simple enough: score more runs. In 2003, the Dodgers had the National League's worst offence and best pitching. That does not account for park factor, but Chavez Ravine is the hand that they were dealt: no Jacks. Maybe it was not such a good idea for this team to trade its Ace to the Yankees.
The 2003 Season
|2003 W-L Record: 85 - 77||Runs Scored: 574, last in NL|
|2nd, NL West||Runs Allowed: 556, first in NL|
|Att.:3,138,626||Pythagorean Record: 83 - 79|
Who's in, Who's out
|Players Acquired||Players Lost|
|Juan Encarnacion (Fla)||Kevin Brown (NYY)|
|Jeremy Giambi (Bos)||Jeromy Burnitz (Col)|
|Jose Hernandez (Pit)||Chad Hermansen (Tor)|
|Jose Lima (KC)||Brian Jordan (Tex)|
|Tanyon Sturtze (Tor)||Mike Kinkade (Jpn)|
|Bubba Trammell (NYY)||Fred McGriff (TB)|
|Jeff Weaver (NYY)||Paul Quantrill (NYY)|
|Rick White (Hou)||Daryle Ward (Pit)|
The National League West figures to be a very tight division in 2004. The Padres have begun anew with Brian Giles, Ramon Hernandez and David Wells. The Diamond Backs have added offence to play behind Randy Johnson and groundball-inducing phenom Brandon Webb. The Giants still have Barry Bonds. One man even thinks that the Rockies can compete.
Save for the Rockies, all the teams in the National League West seem likely to win between 80 and 89 games. 87 wins could land the Dodgers in the playoffs, 83 wins could land them in fourth place in the Division.
How can the Dodgers do it? To improve to 89 wins, they would have to maintain the lofty status-quo of their 2003 runs allowed, and score approximately 50 more runs.
Can the pitching be as good as it was in 2003? Losing Kevin Brown is going to hurt, but adding Jeff Weaver and getting a full season out of either Wilson Alvarez, Darren Driefort or Edwin Jackson would certainly help. Regression toward career performance mean holds that Hideo Nomo will likely fall short of his 2003 performance, but that Odalis Perez will pick up the slack by surpassing his 2003 numbers. The bullpen, even without Paul Quantrill, still figures to be dominant.
Can the offence improve by 50 runs? Here is a little game that I like to play: looking at the baseball-reference most similar players through the current age of each member of the starting lineup, and using the subsequent age season of each comparable to construct a lineup. Listed below is each player in the Dodgers' 2004 starting lineup, his age and runs created per 27 outs in 2003, his most similar player up to that age, and that most similar player's runs created per 27 outs in the following season.
Player Age RC/27 Most Similar Age RC/27
Lo Duca, Paul 31 4.20 Harper, Brian 32 5.04
Ventura, Robin 35 4.60 Davis, Chilli 36 6.85
Cora, Alex 27 3.16 Relaford, Desi 28 4.29
Beltre, Adrian 24 4.11 Santo, Ron 25 6.94
Izturis, Cesar 23 3.00 Berry, Jack 24 3.76
Encarnacion, Juan 27 4.72 Hendrick, George 28 5.50
Roberts, Dave 31 3.31 Outlaw, Jimmy 32 3.89
Green, Shawn 30 5.68 Murphy, Dale 31 8.66
The method is PECOTA's sloppy step-brother, entailing little predictive value; but it is fun and does show that the Dodgers' offence is not completely hopeless.
During Jim Tracy's three year managerial career, all with the Dodgers, he has compiled a .541 winning percentage. Tracy was one of only four managers to call for over 100 sacrifices in 2003; the others were Art Howe, Lloyd McClendon and Tony LaRussa. Tracy, Howe and McClendon can be forgiven for trading outs for bases, because they manage teams that were likely to give up their outs involuntarily anyway. LaRussa, who was held in very high esteem before the statistical revolution, has no excuse for exchanging outs for bases with the Cardinals' monster offence.
I think, based on a couple of pieces of evidence, that Paul Lo Duca might be playing too much. The first is that he tends to fall off in the second half. In 2003, the Dodgers got production to the tune of .318/.368/.454 from Lo Duca in the first half; not too shabby. In the second half, he turned into a .229/.284/.302 sinkhole. The second piece of evidence for the assertion that Lo Duca is playing too much can be found in his at bats since his career year. In 2001, Lo Duca was very productive: .320/.374/.543, in 125 games and 460 at bats. In 2002, his playing time was increased to 149 games, 580 at bats, and his production fell to .281/.330/.402; in 2003, he played 147 games, got 568 at bats, and went .273/.335/.377.
There have been some rumblings that Shawn Green will move to first base, but for the purposes of this preview, let's say that he remains in right field. That means that the first base duties will likely be handed over to Robin Ventura, who played 42 games at first in 2003. Last season, Ventura posted his lowest slugging percentage - .401 - since 1990; that is inadequate for a first baseman, even at Dodger Stadium. Ventura has not had a positive runs above replacement since 1999, and with the position switch and his age, he is unlikely to reach replacement level again.
Alex Cora was reasonably productive in limited playing time in 2002 posting a .291/.371/.434 season in 258 at bats. For whatever reason, despite getting 219 more at bats in 2003 than in 2002, he drew 11 fewer walks, thus driving his on-base percentage down to .287. Cora (a left-handed hitter) has a reverse platoon split: in the last three seasons, his batting averages vs. lefties are .293, .318 and .308. Fellow left-handed hitting second baseman Todd Walker, who was a free agent this offseason until signing with the Cubs, would have made an excellent platoon partner for Cora as he has not hit below .300 vs. righties in any of the last three seasons. But alas, DePodesta arrived too late.
Adrian Beltre's career began while he was still a teenager. That was six seasons and over 3000 plate appearances ago, and Beltre's growth as a player has been lateral at best. This is just his age 26 season, and he did hit 17 homeruns in the second half of 2003, so there is certainly still hope for Beltre to become the productive third baseman that he was in 2000 (.290/.360/.475).
Jim Tracy has publicly mused about hitting Cesar Izturis second in the batting order this season. That would be, to employ my favourite Kent Brockman quote, "a veritable orgasm of poor planning". The former Blue Jay's career line of .251/.282/.315 ought to be enough to land him on the bench. The Dodgers signed Jose Hernandez during the offseason, and although Hernandez ought to be the starting shortstop, all indications are that Izturis will be. Over the last three seasons, Izturis has created 2.89 runs per 27 outs, and Hernandez has created 4.53 runs per 27 outs. What about the defence? Hernandez has a better range factor than Izturis as a shortstop since 2001. Starting Hernandez at shortstop in lieu of Izturis would go a long way toward making up the 50 or so runs that the Dodgers need to add to win the division title, while not sacrificing defence.
Juan Encarnacion was brought in during the offseason to augment the offence. He has not been up to replacement level since 2000. Of course, "replacement level" takes on a different meaning when you are a Dodger. If the alternatives are Jason Romano and Bubba Trammell, then Encarnacion is, in fact, likely to live up to the Dodgers' contextual replacement level.
Dave Roberts has been a good base-stealer, posting a career .77 success rate, well above the magical .70 threshold. He has decent on-base skills (.331 in 2003), but virtually no extra-base power (.307 slugging percentage).
Shawn Green ought to have spent some time on the disabled list with shoulder problems in 2003, but for whatever reason he played through the pain and posted his least productive season since 1996. Green had been very good during his three previous seasons as a Dodger, so there is really no reason to believe that a healthy Shawn Green could not return to his more productive self in 2004, even in the National League's worst run scoring environment. This preview does not have a "stadium" section, so I might as well write this here: Dodger Stadium does not have a negative impact on homeruns; its 2002-2003 homerun factor is 107, the same as Bank One Ballpark and greater than Minute Maid Park.
Backing up Paul Lo Duca (which, for Lo Duca's sake, ought to be a more prolific gig than it was in 2002 or 2003) will likely be Dave Ross. The 27 year-old catcher has a more-than-adequate (especially for a Dodger) career line of .254/.340/.560. Jeremy Giambi figures to be the backup first baseman, although one can easily envision a scenario in which Ventura falters badly and yields the starting spot to Giambi. Is that .259/.414/.550 2002 still hiding in there somewhere, or is that dream torn like his labrum? Uber-sub Jolbert Cabrera seems like a lock to make the team, if for no other reason than his Tony Phillips-like versatility. Cabrera played every non-battery position in 2003, but he is a career .253/.303/.353 hitter no matter where he plays. Bubba Trammell's seventh season in the Major Leagues was hampered by lack of playing time and depression. From 1999-2001, Trammell had a nice little replacement level career going, but the last two seasons have not been as kind. If Trammell took some grounds with any amount of success, he could make for a nifty platoon partner for Robin Ventura at first base, as both players have rather dramatic platoon splits. Jose Hernandez appears to be set to back up the left side of the infield, although (as indicated in the Izturis module above) a compelling case can be made for him to be the starting shortstop. The inside track on the fifth outfielder position appears to belong to whomever embarrasses himself the least in spring training between Jason Romano and Wilkin Ruan.
While the countdown is on for Kevin Brown's first public profanity-laced vitriol about the infield defence in the Evil Empire, Hideo Nomo is left as the Dodgers' nominal ace. Despite allowing 1.2 homeruns and 4.15 walks per nine innings since 1999, Nomo has continued to eat copious amounts of innings at respectable ERA levels, culminating in 2003's 218.3 innings worth of 3.09 ERA.
The true performance level of Odalis Perez likely exists somewhere between his 3.00 ERA in 2002 and his 4.52 ERA in 2003. In each of his five seasons in the Major Leagues, Perez' Component ERA has been below his actual ERA; his ERC's for 2002 and 2003 were 2.31 and 4.07, respectively. Lowering his homerun rate from the 1.4 that he posted in 2003 would go a long way toward the restoration of his numbers' respectability.
Jeff Weaver must be very happy to be out of the American League East. The extra ERA that Kevin Brown finds in New York will have been left there by Weaver before he came to Los Angeles. Moving to Dodger Stadium, far away from the short right field porch and range-deprived infield of Yankee Stadium should improve Weaver's numbers.
Kaz Ishii walks batters with impunity, having handed out 214 free passes in the 301 innings of his two year Major League career. His career component ERA is 4.83, whereas his actual career ERA is 4.07. What gives?
The fifth and final rotation spot looks like it will go to Edwin Jackson, who is profiled below in the Prospects module.
Game Over. Montreal native Eric Gagne's 2003 season edges out John Hiller's 1973 as the greatest ever posted by a Canadian relief pitcher. The .133/.196/.173 line that hitters managed against the Dodgers' closer is simply amazing. The temptation is to say that Jim Tracy ought to squeeze 25 or so more innings out of Gagne per season, but tinkering with whatever it is that Eric has going right now is not a good idea. Quietly enough, Guillermo Mota became an elite setup man in 2003, keeping his ERA below 2.00 over 105 innings. Mota's peripherals were great in 2003, with a 2.2 walk rate, an 8.5 strikeout rate and a 0.6 homerun rate. Paul Shuey moves one rung up the ladder with the departure of Paul Quantrill; expect 75 innings of something more than competence but less than dominance from Shuey. Tom Martin is the resident LOOGY, and with good cause, as he held lefties to a .189 batting average in 2003. Martin had a less-than-stellar second half in 2003, posting an ERA nearly a point and a half greater than the first half. This may not be cause for great concern; when the sample size boogeyman bites 50 inning relief pitchers, it bites hard. The often-injured Darren Driefort and the always-rotund Wilson Alvarez would likely be battling for a rotation spot this spring but for Edwin Jackson. Each, especially Alvarez if he can dominate like he did in the second half of 2003, will be useful in long relief and available to start if either Jackson needs more seasoning or National League batters start to realize that they ought not to ever, ever swing at a Kaz Ishii pitch.
Stepping in to Pinch Hit on the Dodgers prospects is Wes Newton, a friend and class-mate of mine who knows more about prospects than I do. Take it away, Wes.
Paul DePodesta inherits a pair of elite pitching prospects in Edwin Jackson and Greg Miller who, if they can stay healthy, should provide the Dodgers with a cheap, effective and potentially dominant source of innings for the next few years. The top hitting prospect is Franklin Guitterrez, a five-tool centre fielder who should be an above average big leaguer when he arrives in a couple of seasons. Remember also the name of Joel Hanrahan, who posted excellent numbers as a 21 year old in AA and possesses a mid 90’s power sinker.
RHP, Age 20
Edwin Jackson is widely regarded as the Dodger’s best pitching prospect since Pedro Martinez and is ranked the 4th best prospect in Baseball by Baseball America. He defeated Randy Johnson 4-1 in his big league debut last September on his 20th birthday. As a 19 year old in double AA Jacksonville he posted a 3-1 K/BB rate striking out 9.5 batters/9 over 148 1/3 innings.
Jackson throws consistent mid 90’s heat and a tight slider. He mixes in a change-up but doesn’t yet have a good feel for the pitch.
Likely to assume a spot in the Dodgers rotation out of the Spring expect Jackson to post impressive numbers early this season and slow somewhat as the league adjusts to his stuff. Jackson projects to be a true staff ace perhaps as soon as 2005.
LHP, Age 19
Miller’s key statistical ratio’s are essentially the same as Jackson’s: a 3:1 K/BB ratio with more than a K/IP and what’s more impressive is that he actually improved his ratio’s when summoned to AA, at the tender age of 18, late last season. Miller has added nearly 10 mph on his fastball since the summer of 2002 and can now regularly reach 95 mph with good movement. Miller also throws a plus power curve, a good change, and a sneaky slider. The only potential concern with Miller is durability as he had some minor shoulder problems last season. If Miller can remain healthy he should develop into a better pitcher than Jackson.
*Editor's note: Greg Miller will have arthroscopic surgery next week in an attempt to diagnose his left shoulder problem.
OF, Age 21
Guittierrez, who was signed out of Venezuela in 2000, is a classic 5-tool prospect hitting for average and power (.282/.345/.513 with 20 HR and 17 SB in 425 Single A at bats), with 20 SB speed and strong defensive skills in Center. The major flaw in Gutierrez’s game is his propensity to strike out, whiffing at a disconcerting rate of once every four at bats last season. He can take a walk but unless he shortens his swing expect his batting averages to drop as he faces more advanced pitching. Gutierrez is likely a couple of seasons away from the bigs but when he arrives he should post strong power numbers while getting on base at an above average clip for a centre fielder.
RHP, Age 22
Another impressive Dodger pitching prospect, Hanrahan possesses what is fast becoming my favourite pitch in the major leagues, a low -mid 90’s power sinker. He keeps the ball down in the zone and doesn’t yield taters. Hanrahan gets ahead with fastballs and sinkers using a plus mid 80’s slider as his K pitch. Think Brandon Webb.
1B, Age 19
A broken wrist sustained at the end of 2002 limited his ability to hit for power last season (.276/.337/.400 with 7 HR and 9 SB in 468 Single- A AB), but Loney is a terrific defensive 1st baseman who is considered to possess solid plate discipline and should develop the sort of power that could see him hit 30 HR at his peak. Loney projects as a serviceable big league 1st baseman in the Mark Grace mould.
I think that the pitching does have the ability to be just as good in 2004 as it was in 2003, which means that the onus will belong to the hitters to step it up and score 50 or so more runs than last season. If they do, they stand a good chance of winning the National League West. Having a healthier (and thus, more productive) Shawn Green, keeping Paul Lo Duca below 500 plate appearances, and installing Jose Hernandez as the everyday shortstop would put the Dodgers well on their way toward scoring those 50 additional runs.