Manager Don Mattingly answers the question, "How many Dodgers will start at third base this season?" - Justin K. Aller
The Dodgers will have the largest payroll in baseball history in 2013. Will it be enough to snap their three-year playoff drought?
The Los Angeles Dodgers continued their spending spree in the offseason, most notably with the additions of starting pitchers Zack Greinke and Hyun-jin Ryu. But for a team with a record payroll north of $230 million, there seems to be an awful lot of question marks. Here is a summary of the offseason, with some of those questions heading into the 2013 season.
|Los Angeles Dodgers|
||Apr. 1 vs. Giants|
1) Will Cruz stick at third base?
Despite recent dalliances with Scott Rolen that may or may not end up fruitful, the Dodgers' third base situation looks very much the same now as it did at the end of 2012. Hanley Ramirez will open spring as the starting shortstop, with Luis Cruz the incumbent on third. Back in December, I surveyed the Dodgers' hot corner situation:
Sure, Cruz hit .297/.322/.431 but there are a couple of red flags. His batting average on balls in play was .320, which isn't too crazy, but what if a few of those hits find gloves next year? The National League BABIP in 2012 was .300, so if we take five singles away from Cruz (BABIP: .299) his line would have been .279/.305/.413. Still alright, but below the National League average for third baseman of .270/.333/.433.
But that would beat Bill James' 2013 projection for Cruz. James, who is notoriously optimistic with offensive projections in his annual Bill James Handbook, predicted a line of .260/.287/.390 for Cruz.
Cruz also finished his season by going 31 games and 120 plate appearances without a walk. Will that catch up to him in 2013?
But offense isn't the only factor here.
A large chunk of Cruz's value is tied up in his defense, which is understandable since he is a natural shortstop. Baseball-Reference had Cruz at 2.3 wins above replacement in 2012, and over half (1.2) of his value came on defense. FanGraphs rated Cruz at 22.2 runs above average per 150 games in ultimate zone rating, which was fourth among major league third baseman with at least 200 innings in the field.
This would be a good time to point out the caveat that it might be dangerous to base anything on a half-season of defensive statistics. But still, impressive.
In third place was none other than the forgotten Juan Uribe, at 22.3 runs above average per 150 games.
So while Ramirez may be a project, to put it mildly, at shortstop, he is currently surrounded by very good defense at the other three infield positions, with Mark Ellis and Adrian Gonzalez locking down the right side of the diamond.
2) Will the Dodgers platoon Ethier?
If you have been paying attention, you should know the answer to this. Neither manager Don Mattingly nor general manager Ned Colletti have noted a willingness to sit Andre Ethier against left-handed pitching despite a mountain of evidence that suggests it's a good idea. Both Colletti and Mattingly say they believe Ethier will hit lefties, despite these numbers:
|Andre Ethier vs. Left-Handed Pitchers|
Ethier faced by far the most lefties in his career last year, battling a southpaw in 38.7% of his plate appearances. But the struggles against left-handers continued with a .606 OPS, compared to his stellar .325/.398/.546 mark against right-handed pitchers.
But given the current roster construction, don't expect Ethier to sit very often against left-handed pitching. Jerry Hairston Jr. is the only right-handed hitting outfielder expected on the bench.
However, as bad as that .606 OPS against lefties was for Ethier, it was the first time in his career that his OPS against southpaws didn't decline from the previous year. Baby steps.
3) Can Gonzalez reverse the decline?
The Adrian Gonzalez era in Los Angeles started off as good as possible, as the new first baseman homered in his first plate appearance as a Dodger, on Aug. 25. But he then went a month without hitting another home run, until he homered twice off his slump buster Homer Bailey, snapping a span of 115 plate appearances and 25 full games without a dinger.
Since Gonzalez is signed through 2018, it's important to wonder just what kind of hitter the Dodgers will get for the next six seasons. Here are the isolated power numbers for Gonzalez (slugging percentage minus batting average) for each of his seven full seasons, starting with 2006:
.196, .220, .231, .274, .213, .210, .164
Last season marked quite a power decline for Gonzalez, who did hit a career-high 47 doubles. The Dodgers will need Gonzalez to rediscover his power stroke, but that's not all. Gonzalez drew just 37 unintentional walks in 2012, the lowest total of his career. Here are his unintentional walk rates since 2006:
6.9%, 7.9%, 8.2%, 14.7%, 8.8%, 7.8%, 5.4%
That downward trend, coupled with the relative power outage, does not bode well.
4) Just what are the Dodgers getting in Crawford?
Back in the 2010-2011 offseason, when there was such a thing as budgetary restrictions in Dodger land, we had an exercise in futility, making the case for the Dodgers to sign one of the four top free agents on the market that winter: Adrian Beltre, Carl Crawford, Jayson Werth, and Adam Dunn. I wrote the plea for Crawford:
Crawford picked the right time to have a career year, as he hit .307/.356/.495, a .378 wOBA, 134 OPS+, and 141 wRC+ for the Rays in 2010. He has a 107 career OPS+, and has a 115 OPS+ over the last five years. Bill James projects Crawford to hit .300/.350/.453 in 2011. His bat doesn't quite pack the punch of Werth, Dunn, or Beltre, but Crawford more than makes up for it in other ways.
Not only is Crawford is volume stealer -- he has 400 steals in the last eight years, leading the American League four times -- but he is efficient as well. His career success rate is 81.96% on stolen base attempts, making Crawford one of 12 active players with at least 100 steals and an 80% success rate.
In addition to stolen bases, Crawford also excels at taking the extra base. Bill James Online tracks stolen base gain (SB Gain) and baserunning gain (BR Gain), which it defines as "the total of all the types of extra baserunning advances minus the (triple) penalty for all the BR Outs compared with what would be expected based on the MLB averages. Zero is average. Plus numbers are above average and negative numbers are below average."
Crawford has been in the top ten in baseball in net gain in seven of the last eight seasons.
Crawford won his first Gold Glove award this week, and is rated above average to excellent by various fielding metrics
Crawford got the best contract of the four, at seven years and $142 million from the Red Sox. But his two years in Boston were a disaster, as Crawford was none of the things that made him great with the Rays.
Crawford hit .260/.292/.411 in two injury-plagued seasons with the Red Sox, and was worth between 0.4 (Baseball-Refence) and 0.6 (Fangraphs) wins above replacement combined in Boston. Crawford, who is due $102.5 million over the next five seasons, was essentially the cost for the Dodgers in their quest to get Gonzalez, but now the question is whether or not he can turn things around.
To further complicate matters, Crawford had Tommy John surgery in August, and his readiness for opening day is somewhat in question. However, Crawford's bat is expected to be ready before his arm, and in all likelihood will play as long as his elbow allows him to hit. After all, despite his defensive prowess Crawford's throwing arm hasn't been a strength throughout his career.
"If I was able to throw with the pain that I had at first, I should be able to hit the cutoff man," Crawford said in October.
In many ways the performance of Crawford, who will either bat first or second in the lineup, will be a reasonable guide of just how well the offense will fare. A reasonable facsimile of the Tampa Bay Crawford would transform the Dodgers offense into something much more dynamic. But if Crawford is anything like his last two years in Boston, the runs will be hard to come by.
5) How man major league starts will Billingsley make in 2013?
The story of camp just might be the health of Chad Billingsley, who hopes that a pair of platelet-rich plasma injections were enough to cure his partially torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. If Billingsley is able to avoid surgery, which would likely knock him out for all of 2013 and possibly part of 2014, the Dodgers will have an even more formidable top three in their starting rotation.
But history isn't kind to pitchers attempting to pitch with a torn ligament, and Billingsley's health is a main reason the Dodgers are heading to camp with eight starting pitchers under contract.
Perhaps it's a coping mechanism, but I have mentally prepared for Billingsley to eventually need surgery and miss the 2013 season, so any starts he does end up making will likely be like found money or icing on the cake.
I'll set the over-under at 9½ starts.
|Dodgers Trades, Etc. This Winter|
|Cardinals||Jake Lemmerman if||Skip Schumaker 2b/of|
|Astros||John Ely rhp||Rob Rasmussen lhp|
It will be interesting to see just how often Schumaker plays, especially given his success against right-handed pitching.
|Dodgers Contracts Signed This Winter|
|Pos||Player||Type||Total Contract||2013 Salary|
||FA||6 yrs, $147m||$24,000,000*|
|SP||Hyun-jin Ryu||FA||6 yrs, $36m||$5,000,000*|
|RP||Brandon League||FA||3 yrs, $22.5m||$5,500,000*|
|RP||J.P. Howell||FA||1 yr, $2.85m||$2,850,000|
|C||A.J. Ellis||arb||1 yr, $2m||$2,000,000|
|RP||Ronald Belisario||arb||1 yr, $1.45m||$1,450,000|
|*including signing bonus|
Given that much of the 2013 roster shaping happened during the 2012 season, there weren't a ton of transactions this offseason. Also, to date the Dodgers have signed 18 non-roster invitees to minor league deals, with Peter Moylan, Mark Lowe, and Jesus Flores highlighting the group.
|Dodgers Players Lost|
|OF||Shane Victorino||Red Sox|
|C||Matt Treanor||free agent|
|OF||Bobby Abreu||free agent|
|RP||Todd Coffey||free agent|
|^Rule 5 draft; *Minor league deal|
Here's my guess of the Dodgers' opening day 25-man roster. Keep in mind that the total only reflects the opening day roster plus disabled list, but the Dodgers at the moment have 25 players signed for $231.95 million, including non-roster invitee Tony Gwynn Jr., who is due $1.15 million this year. Juan Uribe is on the projected team now because I won't believe his roster removal until it becomes official:
|2013 Dodgers Under Contract|
|Pos||Player||2013 Age*||2012 Salary|
|3B||Luis Cruz||29||team control|
|IF/OF||Jerry Hairston Jr.||37||$3,750,000|
|C||Tim Federowicz||25||team control|
|RHP||Kenley Jansen||25||team control|
|DL||Scott Elbert||27||team control
|Totals (23 players)
|*Age as of June 30, 2013; ^minor league deal (estimate)