StrategyFebruary 12, 2010

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30 Teams in 30 Days: Los Angeles Dodgers

By Ray Flores

Venturing to Dodger Stadium during the 2009 season felt more like a day trip to Six Flags Magic Mountain. Despite a 50-game suspension to star slugger Manny Ramirez, the Dodgers relied on their budding stars in the forms of Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, and Clayton Kershaw en route to the National League’s best record. While this rollercoaster ride had its thrilling moments like Orlando Hudson’s going for the cycle on his home debut against the Giants and Andre Ethier’s Kirk Gibson-esque affinity for the walkoff moonshot, it ended in a massive dip by once again falling short to the Philadelphia Phillies for the second straight NLCS. As if getting off the ride left this Dodger fan feeling woozy and ready to hurl, the McCourt divorce has left some uncertainty as to who really owns the team and as a byproduct of such turmoil, the Dodgers have not made a big free agent splash in an admittedly thin market. The only good to come from the offseason is the likes of Kemp, Ethier, and Chad Billingsley agreeing to terms on new deals without arbitration and the team fielded for 2010 is practically the same bunch that led to one of the more successful Dodger seasons in recent memory.

Offensive Starters

C Russell Martin.250.352.3296375311505 
1B James Loney.281.357.3997313907576 
2B Ronnie Belliard.277.325.4513910393264w/2T
SS Rafael Furcal.269.335.3759294712613 
3B Casey Blake.280.363.4388418793485 
LF Manny Ramirez.290.418.5316219630352 
CF Matt Kemp.297.352.490972610134606 
RF Andre Ethier.272.361.50892311066596 

Unsettled: Manny Ramirez’s playing time. With Orlando Hudson on the verge of signing with the Minnesota Twins and the re-signing of second baseman Ronnie Belliard, it seems that the Dodgers’ everyday lineup is just about set in stone. Aside from utility infielders Blake DeWitt and Jamey Carroll possibly being weekend game starters in place for the likes of Rafael Furcal and Casey Blake, the only thing that seems unsettled is how many rest days per week Joe Torre is willing to give out for Manny Ramirez. Word is, Manny complained of leg fatigue down the stretch last season and the early vibe from Joe Torre heading into Spring Training is he intends to keep Manny fresh by giving him the off day every now and then. This can spell for an occasional start for new utility outfielder signing Reed Johnson and hence, fewer at-bats from Manny.

Target: Manny Ramirez. With that said, it would take a brave man to bet against Manny’s fantasy relevance, especially in a contract year. Since serving a 50-game suspension, the dreadlocked one hit a touch below the .270 mark in the last 260 at-bats of the 2009 regular season, but still managed to slug 13 home runs in that time span. Granted, Ramirez is 38 years old, which makes health and the prospect of gradual regression factors to consider with greater weight. The good news is, it appears that you won’t have to pay a steep price because of his name value. Currently, Manny Ramirez’s median draft position slots him as a mid-6th round draft pick and in fact, I was able to nab him with a late 6th round pick in one of the Cafeholics mock drafts. If Manny can amass at least 500 at-bats, a line of 25 home runs, 100 RBI, and a .290-300 batting average is within striking distance. If he can shake off the inside pitch issues that plagued him late in the regular season and into the postseason, Manny could best that reasonable threshold.

The Rotation

Chad Billingsley (R)12-114.031.3217986196.1 
Hiroki Kuroda (R)8-73.761.148724117.1 
Clayton Kershaw (L)8-82.791.2318591171.0 
Vicente Padilla (R)12-64.461.439754147.0w/2T
James McDonald (R)5-54.001.49543463.0 

Unsettled: James McDonald. Like last spring, the fifth wheel of the Dodger rotation will once again be the position battle to watch at Camelback Ranch. There are a number of candidates vying for the back-end of the rotation, which includes the likes of veterans Russ Ortiz, Eric Stults, and Jeff Weaver as well as prospects Scott Elbert and Josh Lindblom, who have their names in the hat hoping to be drawn with strong spring showings. McDonald has a very tentative hold on the job as of this moment, having earned the spot going into Opening Day last Spring, only for nerves to catch up to him within the first month of the 2009 season. McDonald was best used as a reliever, as he held lefties to a .213 batting average and maintained a 2.78 ERA from the bullpen. The other presumably fantasy-relevant option is Scott Elbert was once touted as a future top-of-the-rotation starter, but his time in the big leagues has been limited. For what it’s worth, Elbert is coming off a decent season in AA/AAA, with a 3.84 ERA and 46 strikeouts in 41 combined innings.

Target: Chad Billingsley. Fantasy owners can be a fickle bunch and Chad Billingsley’s second half struggles (3-7, 5.20 ERA in 71 IP) have been enough of a damper on his draft value thus far. Currently, Billingsley’s median draft position slots him as a 10th round draft pick in standard 12-team leagues, which could lead him to being an excellent bargain. The possible culprit for his suspect stretch was a left hamstring problem, which threw off his mechanics and approach. Billingsley’s velocity in his fastball and cutter gained a touch from 2008 and his outside swing percentage was also marginally better than that of 2008. Bills’ walk rate could be a cause for concern, but he did turn the corner in 2008 in cutting down his walks. With better efficiency, Billingsley’s K/9 should also take a positive hike as well. In short, don’t let a bad second half drive you away from taking Billingsley with a mid-draft pick.

The 8th and 9th Innings

Jonathan Broxton (R)402.610.961142976.0 
George Sherrill (L)212.921.12612469.0w/2T

Chasing Saves: Jonathan Broxton took a big step in establishing himself as one of the game’s premier closers. Aside from Broxton’s pitching woes away from Chavez Ravine and his inability to get a certain Matt Stairs out, the burly stopper offers a gaudy K/9 and svelte ratios across the board. The Dodgers have been unable to dangle George Sherrill as decent trade bait and it appears that Sherrill is likely to return in Dodger Blue as the Dodgers’ set-up man and possible saves poacher.

Final Thoughts

No one on the Blue Crew carries more fantasy significance than up-and-coming 5-cat stud Matt Kemp. There’s a lot to like about Kemp to justify such a high pick: his plate discipline was better, his SB success rate took a step up, and more encouraging is his flyball and HR/FB rates increased. Kemp’s excellent output over the past couple of seasons has quietly earned Joe Torre’s trust to place the talented 25 year-old right where he belongs: at the heart of the Dodger order. Expect Kemp to push for a 30/30 campaign or something close to it. While I’m bullish about Matt Kemp and (cautiously) optimistic about Manny Ramirez being a good value, color me skeptical about Andre Ethier being an annual 30 home run threat. Ethier was more aggressive at the plate last season, as evidenced by a hike in his strikeout and flyball rates and a lower batting average, as the result. Ethier has been fooled against lefties the last couple of years and last season, he hit a ghastly .198 batting average against southpaws, which should keep his average from going north of .300.

Aside from the big three of Kemp, Ethier, and Manny, the rest of the Dodger lineup is like the 99 cent videotape section at your local CVS pharmacy; you might be able to squeeze a bit of value for such a cheap price, but for the most part, what you see is what you get. The theories of James Loney breaking out as a 20-25 home run masher have yet to be proven, as he’s posted back-to-back seasons with a 7.3% HR/FB rate on a full-time gig and is probably not worth an everyday starting UTIL slot in standard leagues yet again. Rafael Furcal had just 18 stolen base opportunities in 150 games and like Loney, he’s worth a late round flier in leagues with deep slots, but the reward is likely to be a modest one. However, I’m buying on Russell Martin if he’s on the board past the 15th round, who should rebound a bit to a touch under a 15/15 season. At Martin’s current median draft position of a 12th round pick, I do think you’ll find more useful players than Martin on the board though.

While Chad Billingsley could be undervalued, Clayton Kershaw’s value is on the upswing. It’s remarkable to know that as a 21 year-old, Kershaw posted a 2.79 ERA and a ridiculous K/9 of 9.74, and yet he’s still a work in progress in harnessing his full arsenal of pitches with greater consistency. On that note, Kershaw had only gone past the sixth inning six times in all of 2009 because of his occasional lack of command. If there’s a silver lining, Kershaw finished the last month and a half without giving up no more than three walks in a contest, over a span of five starts. Expect a bit of a correction to his extremely low HR/FB rate and if Kershaw can make inroads to his control, he can be a fantastic #2, borderline #1 fantasy starter. On the flip side, veteran Hiroki Kuroda is again a great late-round target, who tends to be stingy with walks and should post an ERA under the 4.00 mark. Vicente Padilla found a new lease on life in Chavez Ravine and while he’s not as good as his hot streak that won a vote of confidence from Joe Torre in the 2009 postseason indicated, he’s definitely watch list material.

True to his Cafe name as The Artful Dodger, Ray Flores is a Dodger fan who with every post he makes on the Cafe, inadvertently sounds off the machine that goes "PING!" and every now and then, said machine says "Ekke Ekke Ekke Ekke Ptang Zoo Boing Zow Zing". While being artful doesn't best describe him, Ray is a web developer, consultant, and a Python fan in more ways than one, as a fan of the comedy troupe Monty Python and as a programmer in Python.
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