StrategyMarch 7, 2009

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30 Teams in 30 Days: Los Angeles Dodgers

By Ray Flores

For the next installment of “30 Teams in 30 Days,” we take a look at the Los Angeles Dodgers. To Dodger fans, 2008 will be remembered as “The Summer of Manny,” when the arrival of Manny Ramirez created shock waves around Dodgertown and tilted the National League West-division pennant to Chavez Ravine, due in part to Ramirez’s torrid two-month MVP-like run.

Los Angeles is the kind of town that does not remember division titles, and with budding stars such as Matt Kemp and Chad Billingsley rising to the fold, expectations are higher this season. At long last, the four-month offseason stalemate of signing Ramirez is over and Dodger fans no longer need to worry about where the runs are going to come from.

For a closer look at the Los Angeles Dodgers and the rest of the NL West, be sure to check out the The Can of Corn NL West Preview Podcast.

Offensive Starters

C Russell Martin.280.385.39687136918553 
1B James Loney.289.338.4346613907595 
2B Orlando Hudson.305.367.450548414407w/Ari
SS Rafael Furcal.357.439.573345168143 
3B Casey Blake.274.345.4637121813536w/2T
LF Manny Ramirez.332.430.601102371213654 
CF Matt Kemp.290.340.45993187635606 
RF Andre Ethier.305.375.5109020776525 

Unsettled: The batting order. Now that there’s a long sigh of relief echoed across Mannywood, all that is unresolved is the Dodgers’ everyday batting order. Manny Ramirez should reprise his usual spot in the three-hole. Rafael Furcal’s place as the leadoff hitter is set in stone while Russell Martin and James Loney are a certainty to hit directly behind Manny. The intriguing question is who will Joe Torre feature in the two-hole? Matt Kemp thrived as either the leadoff or two-hole hitter before Manny arrived, but Andre Ethier had his best stretch of the season hitting in front of Manny. Whatever the case, the fantasy values of Ethier and Kemp shouldn’t change and if anything, they should go up with Manny returning.

Target: Matt Kemp. I could echo the advice given in our 2 Up, 2 Down Outfield column to target Ethier and I recommend him as a viable mid-round draft target. However, if you’re going for pure first round upside with some semblance of a track record to back it up, aggressively target Kemp. In his first season with an everyday role, Kemp had a .290 AVG, 18 HR, and 35 SB in 46 attempts. Much has been made of Kemp’s suspect plate discipline as evidenced by a count of 153 strikeouts to 46 walks. However, this overlooks the fact that Kemp only struck out 49 times in the second-half, as opposed to 108 whiffs in the first-half.

Another good sign is the fact that Kemp is growing more comfortable in taking the ball the opposite direction with solid results. In 2008, he sacrificed his fly ball rate but his doubles rate over a full slate of at-bats was better than his prorated 2007 doubles rate. With little reason to believe that Torre won’t green-light Kemp as much in 2009 given his success rate, Kemp is a legitimate five-category threat. Think of Kemp as a B.J. Upton or even an Ian Kinsler that can be drafted in the third round of drafts. If Kemp falls to you in the fourth round, don’t hesitate to draft him.

The Rotation

Chad Billingsley (R)16-103.141.3420180200.2 
Hiroki Kuroda (R)9-103.731.2211642183.1 
Randy Wolf (L)12-124.301.3816271190.1w/2T
Clayton Kershaw (L)5-54.261.5010052107.2 
Jason Schmidt (R)1-46.311.79221425.2in 2007

Unsettled: Jason Schmidt. The Dodgers hope Schmidt can make an impact this season, especially in light of seeing former staff ace Derek Lowe join the Atlanta Braves and Brad Penny depart for the Boston Red Sox. Supposedly, a procedure to remove an arthritic tip of Schmidt’s collarbone was cause for Schmidt to feel more bullish that he can contribute in 2009. The procedure was designed to get rid of the main cause of discomfort for the two-time NL Cy Young winner. Expectations that Schmidt can pitch with little-to-no ill effects should be tempered, considering the Dodgers had actively shopped for a cheap starter to cover a starting role.

Vying for the number five fill-in role should Schmidt not be able to start are Shawn Estes, Eric Stults, Eric Milton, and Claudio Vargas. There is also the distinct possibility that the 24 year-old prospect James McDonald could spot start as the Dodgers’ back-end starter, but the plan is for McDonald to develop in the bullpen as a long reliever.

Target: Chad Billingsley and Hiroki Kuroda. There could be some trepidation in many leagues when it comes to investing a premium pick on Billingsley, who suffered an offseason leg injury. Billingsley is a power pitcher, reliant on his legs and back to deliver his offerings, which makes good reason to be concerned about his health and effectiveness.

Despite a rather high WHIP, there’s still a lot to like about Billingsley. His groundball rate picked up even if his strikeout rate began naturally regressing from his early-season torrid strikeout binge. Consequently, his home run rate remained relatively low. If Billingsley continues to maximize his pitch efficiency by making inroads in cutting down walks, he will likely finish as a top ten starter with another 200 strikeout season. Unless there are any major setbacks or telltale signs, Billingsley is a reasonable sixth or seventh round pick.

In deeper leagues, Hiroki Kuroda should be a late-round target on your radar, given his median draft position of 244. The 33 year-old Japanese veteran ace posted a solid rookie season, slightly better than originally projected, posting a 3.73 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 5.69 K/9, and 2.06 BB/9 in 183.1 IP. Kuroda was somewhat lucky in his first year, with his home run and fly ball marks being rather low. His inconsistency from start to start even in the most favorable of matchups was quite a maddening habit for those managers entrusting him as a spot starter on their fantasy rosters. That said, Kuroda does a decent job of deceiving hitters into hitting far from ideal pitches and although you can expect a marginal ERA spike, a 2008 repeat is still plausible.

The 8th and 9th Innings

Jonathan Broxton (R)143.131.17882769
Hong-Chih Kuo (L)12.141.01962180

Chasing Saves: Jonathan Broxton. With Takashi Saito leaving for Boston, Broxton has the vacated closing role all to himself. One thing to keep in mind is Broxton seemed to be far from immaculate in save situations, posting a 4.25 ERA and a 1.36 WHIP in save situations last year. That intangible closer mentality might take some getting used to for the burly right-hander, but on paper, Broxton has the makings of a top five closer. This makes him a possible mid-draft bargain. Broxton’s supporting peripherals are outstanding, given a career 11.43 K/9 mark and a relatively low fly ball rate over the last two seasons. The key for Broxton will be to improve his command and pitch selection in save situations. Even though Broxton is a late-10th round or early-11th round pick according to his median draft position, don’t hesitate to take Broxton a round earlier, if need be.

Kuo was a revelation in 2008, emerging as one the top setup men in the National League. He went undrafted in many leagues as a projected fringe spot starter, but was a terrific bargain source for holds in 2008. The main concern hovering around Kuo is his durability. He underwent two Tommy John operations early in his career and logged a career high in innings in 2008 before bowing out of the regular season with elbow discomfort. Should Broxton have any trouble nailing down saves for the Dodgers, Kuo’s name will be tossed first in the hat for closing consideration, if he stays healthy.

A dark horse to setup if Kuo is sidelined due to injury is the second-year reliever Cory Wade, who made a splash in 2008 with a 2.27 ERA and 0.93 WHIP in 71.1 IP. While Wade is not a strikeout-intensive pitcher, he’s the front runner to pitch the seventh inning and can be a cheap source for holds, with the upshot of possible eighth inning duties. Also in the mix for seventh inning duty is Guillermo Mota, who enjoyed his best seasons as a Dodger in a near three-year span from 2002 to 2004.

Final Thoughts

The Dodgers seem richer in lucrative fantasy options than in recent years and there should be a healthy demand for a number of Dodgers. Don’t expect much lag in Manny’s production, as long as you’re not expecting his second-half and postseason stretch to be prorated over a full season. While Andre Ethier is a solid mid-draft target, James Loney could be overvalued for the same mid-round price.

In a full slate of at-bats last season, Loney posted a career-low HR/FB rate for relatively the same fly ball percentage as the previous season. Loney could very well bust out with 20-25 home runs for the year. He’s far from an ideal starting first baseman in a standard fantasy lineup and Ethier has more positional flexibility being listed as an outfielder. On that note, please don’t be that guy who drafts Russell Martin with a fourth or fifth round pick.

Lastly, the future is bright for the Dodgers’ future ace, Clayton Kershaw. While a solid September 2008 remains an encouraging sign that he’ll only improve, Kershaw is just at the tender age of 21 and his fantasy relevance for 2009 will be limited. Depending on who is left over in the 14th round of your league’s draft, Kershaw might be a worthy gamble in a redraft.

Yesterday we previewed the Colorado Rockies. Check back tomorrow for the San Diego Padres, the next installment of “30 Teams in 30 Days!”

True to his name as The Artful Dodger, Ray Flores is a rare breed of Dodger fan who can't tell the difference between Dodger owner Frank McCourt and Manchester United owner Malcolm Glazer. While being artful doesn't best describe him, Ray is a web developer, a part-time fantasy football blogger (the game actually played with feet), and head "Wicked Wikitect" of the Cafe's Fantasy Sports Wiki project.
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