Trying to follow up on back-to-back NL West Division titles, the Dodgers had fallen well short of making a playoff appearance in 2010. Along the way, wholesale changes were made on and off the field. Manny Ramirez’s up-and-down stay at Chavez Ravine came to an end at the trade deadline, fan favorite Russell Martin changed addresses to the Bronx, and even the court ruled that two McCourt owners are better than one, as the divorced Frank and Jamie McCourt have split ownership of the Dodgers. Just as significant: Joe Torre stepped down as Dodger skipper, and in his place is Dodger hitting coach and former Yankee stalwart Don Mattingly, making 2011 the debut year to Donnie Baseball’s managerial career.
With a motley crew of veterans and franchise cornerstones such as Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw, expect the Dodgers to orient themselves on reliable pitching, solid team defense, aggressive base running, and timely situational hitting. That’s basically the same formula as the San Francisco Giants’ World Series championship run, but the Dodgers will also need some divine intervention to hit the odd home run here or there (Juan Uribe?) to have any shot of a miraculous run. Otherwise, it’s another middle-of-the-pack finish, with only the “Every Friday is Fireworks” nights and the $20 general parking fee as fond Dodger memories of 2011.
In “30 Teams in 30 Days,” the Fantasy Baseball Cafe will preview each team in Major League Baseball on a daily basis. In addition to projecting starting lineups, rotations and closing situations, the Cafe will identify potential targets for 2011 fantasy baseball drafts.
|C Rod Barajas||.240||.284||.447||39||17||47||0||313||w/2T|
|1B James Loney||.267||.329||.395||67||10||88||10||588|
|2B Juan Uribe||.248||.310||.440||64||24||85||1||521||w/SF|
|SS Rafael Furcal||.300||.366||.460||66||8||43||22||383|
|3B Casey Blake||.248||.320||.407||56||17||64||0||509|
|LF Jay Gibbons||.280||.313||.507||11||5||17||0||75|
|CF Matt Kemp||.249||.310||.450||82||28||89||19||602|
|RF Andre Ethier||.292||.364||.493||71||23||82||2||517|
Unsettled: With the offseason addition of Marcus Thames, you can expect to see a rather uninspiring left field platoon of Thames and Jay Gibbons. In his first big league stint since 2007 with the Orioles, Gibbons provided somewhat of a late-season offensive burst in the post-Manny days. Don Mattingly is likely to shuffle Thames and Gibbons in the lineup, depending on the matchups. Tony Gwynn, Jr. might feature as a late-inning defensive replacement and given Gibbons/Thames suspect corner outfield defense, Gwynn could rustle some playing time from both Thames and Gibbons — if only he could swing a bat half as well as his old man. Elsewhere, expect Rod Barajas to sit every now and then in favor of returning Dodger backstop Dioner Navarro. In addition, if you’re drafting Rafael Furcal, expect Mattingly to give him a rest day or two on a weekly basis, in order to keep the 34-year-old shortstop fresh and off the DL for an extended period of time.
Target: Matt Kemp. A first rounder last season, Matt Kemp was a disappointment for his hefty draft cost, posting a .249 batting average and getting caught 15 times in 34 stolen base attempts. Kemp’s defense also took a shocking nosedive from the high standard he set in 2009 and GM Ned Coletti wasn’t shy to point out Kemp’s dropoff in performance. The silver lining to Kemp’s 2010 was the fact he slugged a career-best 28 home runs. Historically a high BABIP hitter, the 26-year-old Kemp’s batting average should rebound (.280-285 reasonably), given that his batted ball rates last year were about on par with previous seasons. The hike in strikeout rate is a concern, however, especially when he remains prone to being baffled by off-speed and low-speed fastballs. Regardless, a second or third round pick isn’t a bad investment to take on a premier outfielder of Kemp’s caliber, a potential 30-20 candidate.
|Clayton Kershaw (L)||13-10||2.91||1.18||212||81||204.1|
|Chad Billingsley (R)||12-11||3.57||1.28||171||69||191.2|
|Ted Lilly (L)||10-12||3.62||1.08||166||44||193.2||w/2T|
|Hiroki Kuroda (R)||11-13||3.39||1.16||159||48||196.1|
|Jon Garland (R)||14-12||3.47||1.32||136||87||200||w/SD|
Unsettled: As insurance in the event of Vicente Padilla bolting Chavez Ravine, Jon Garland was signed for a second tour of duty in Dodger blue again. Garland posted a career-best 3.47 ERA with the Padres last season, but his BB/9 escalated to the near-4’s and was able to pitch around jams, with a career-best 52% groundball rate. Pitching most of his starts at notoriously pitcher-friendly Petco Park was also an aid and although Dodger Stadium carries the reputation of a favorable pitcher’s park, it has become more neutral over the last several seasons. Vicente Padilla is still considered to vie for the fifth starter spot from Garland in Spring Training, but Mattingly could find Padilla as more valuable to the team in long relief.
Target: Ted Lilly and Hiroki Kuroda. Each season, both Lilly and Kuroda are targeted by avid fantasy managers in the know for solid ratios at a relatively cheap price. Lilly will probably be taken in the middle rounds of your fantasy draft, and he can be counted on for a svelte WHIP, as well as a more than decent K/BB rate. In 76.2 innings of work in Dodger Blue last year, Lilly averaged a strikeout per inning and posted a 3.52 ERA. Lilly’s flyball tendencies tend to be his undoing and he served up 13 round trippers in the same number of frames. Dodger Stadium is a bit more favorable for home runs than its reputation would otherwise indicate, and expect Lilly to serve up his usual share of home runs. Still, that’s a relatively small price to pay for the sum of what Lilly contributes. Hiroki Kuroda has usually been an endgame pick in drafts and will probably linger in the late rounds of the draft. Kuroda had his best Major League season in 2010, throwing a career-high 196.1 innings and a career-best 3.39 ERA. Kuroda’s walk-stingy ways and tendency to induce a great deal of groundballs make him a valuable addition to any fantasy staff.
The 8th and 9th Innings
|Jonathan Broxton (R)||22||4.04||1.48||73||28||62.1|
|Hong-Chih Kuo (L)||12||1.20||0.78||73||18||60|
Chasing Saves: Jonathan Broxton experienced an extremely difficult second half in which he posted a 7.13 ERA and in the process, he eventually had to concede his closing duties. Much has been made of Broxton losing a couple of MPH off his fastball and his resulting loss of command. The speculation for this dropoff ranges from Joe Torre trotting Broxton in unnecessary non-save situations to shoulder fatigue and simply a loss of confidence. Donnie Baseball is sticking to Broxton as the closer heading into camp and there’s good reason to believe he’s undervalued. The burly reliever still averaged 95.3 MPH on the gun and the last season he clocked in at that rate routinely was 2007, in which he posted a 2.85 ERA and 99 strikeouts in 82 frames (10.87 K/9). Last season, he averaged a still decent 10.54 K/9. If Broxton is fully healthy and fixes whatever kink was hindering his mechanics last season, a 14th round investment (based off his current MDP) could provide excellent value on a closer who is still capable of performing as a top five closer.
Should Broxton continue to labor, Hong-Chih Kuo is the next logical successor to close. Kuo was simply filthy last season and at the least, he’s one of the premier setup men in the Majors. The only problem with Kuo is his injury history and he should be used cautiously to avoid back-to-back appearances, as much as possible.
One name you ought to remember, at least beyond 2011, is Kenley Jansen. A former catching prospect turned Major League reliever, Jansen put up an impressive 0.67 ERA in 27 innings while whiffing 41 batters in his debut year. That’s a relatively small sample, but if Broxton is asking for a big pay day on the wings of a successful 2011, Jansen could be a strong candidate to close in 2012. It’s still within the realm of possibility for Jansen to get save opportunities this year, but keep in mind that command remains an issue with the 23-year-old Jansen.
The Dodgers could return to contending ways, if the pitching staff continues to hold the fort and if the offense can actually manufacture enough runs. The Blue Crew were in the bottom five for home runs and with no additional big bat brought in to fill the void of Manny Ramirez, the Dodger offense appears to be on the lightweight side. Despite that, I wouldn’t expect that fact to deter Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier, the two most relevant Dodger hitters, from producing well. I will say that based on Andre Ethier’s current MDP, the 29-year-old rightfielder is a tad overvalued for my liking (a fourth-round pick). Ethier was on an MVP-like pace before he suffered a fractured finger, but also consider that Andre was hitting in front of Manny Ramirez and even a Manny without the female hormones apparently scares the daylights out of opposing pitchers. Expect a line to the tune of 85-90 R/RBI, 25-30 HR, .290 BA for Ethier. Solid, just unspectacular of a return for a fourth rounder. Have him drop a round or two and I would be more eager to take Ethier there. Perhaps the mighty Juan Uribe can provide some semblance of lineup protection and he’s a decent 2B sleeper for 20 home runs.
You will likely have to pay a bit more for the franchise ace, Clayton Kershaw, heading into 2011 with top 10 starter aspirations (early fifth round MDP). After going through a rough patch with his control last April, Clayton Kershaw righted the ship and lowered his BB/9 by over a full walk on the season. Along the way, Kershaw used less of his curveball in favor of his slider. By cutting down on the curveballs, Kershaw wasn’t nibbling the plate as often and hence, was more efficient with his free passes. As long as Kershaw limits the big inning in which his command is a bit off, he could enjoy another superb season. The other staff ace, Chad Billingsley, is a bit under the radar with all this talk of Kershaw, but should not be overlooked. Billingsley’s performance improved from a rather lackluster 2009, including a career-low 3.24 BB/9, a solid 3.57 ERA, and a steady 8.01 K/9. Don’t forget to scoop up Billingsley in the middle rounds if you need another starter to fill out your rotation (9th-10th round approximately).
Check back tomorrow for our look at the San Diego Padres.
True to his Cafe name as The Artful Dodger, Ray Flores is a Dodger fan who actually made no soccer references in the writing of this article. OK, here's one: the platoon of Thames/Gibbons is not exactly Starsky & Hutch nor Yorke & Cole. While being artful doesn't best describe him, Ray is a web developer/consultant and you can find him at General Talk, rambling incoherently in "The Sawker Thread".
Want to write for the Cafe? Check out the Cafe's Pencil & Paper section!