2018 Dodger predictions

I want to get these in before spring training blurs my mind.

Biggest Dodger surprise in 2018 will be …. Wilmer Font. We need context here. Wilmer Font will not be the best Dodger but I think he will surprise because so little is expected of him.  This is a weak limb as he has a tough case just to make the team and if he doesn’t make the team he won’t even be a Dodger because he has zero options left.  I have no idea why I have bizarre faith in him, but my baseball spidey sense is in courier mode.

Best Dodger pitcher not named Kershaw or Jansen will be …. Alex Wood. Wood will build on his 2017 All-Star season.  This is a strong limb as he is probably the odds-on favorite for this particular award.

2018 Dodger MVP will not be Cody Bellinger, Kershaw, Turner, Jansen,  or Corey Seager. It will be Puig.

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Spring training confidence

Why am I confident in the 2018 Dodgers even though they have shed millions of dollars in salary while keeping pretty much the exact same team that played in the 2017 World Series minus the over the hill back up first baseman, the longest tenured Dodger who only managed 64 plate appearances while raking in $35M over the past two years, and a 2017 NRI who had a fantastic injury-free season for the first time this decade?

Probably because they would be 2017 World Champions if not for:

  • Their best pitcher giving up two three-run leads in the same game
  • Their second best starter giving away two games in a seven game series
  • Their clean up hitter striking out 17 times in 28 at-bats
  • Their main setup man thinking he had something when he had nothing
  • Their right fielder and catcher combining for three extra-base hits in 50 at-bats
  • Their best postseason hitter going 3 for 16 over the last five games of the World Series

Even with everything that went wrong in the World Series, they had enough to make it a seven-game series.

We will look at their competition tomorrow. I’m curious to see how the Brewers stack up because on the surface they seemed to have loaded up this winter like no other team in the National League, but they had a long way to go.

I’m definitely not worried about the Giants. Old teams who get older with no depth just don’t worry me over a 162 game season.

The focus tomorrow will be on the Cubs/Nationals/Brewers/Cardinals.

Win Shares be gone

WinSharesBook

When Bill James came out with Win Shares in 2002 it was a stat I had been waiting for. Baseball Reference didn’t exist yet for me so until then I had no way to normalize the year to year variations of major league baseball statistics.  With this book, you could look at trades and see the impact of the Claude Osteen/Frank Howard trade. At the time I just assumed Bill knew how to interpret defensive stats as he incorporated them into his Win Shares.  I really didn’t question Bill James. I probably should have. Many would.

I went full throttle into Win Shares and manually entered every win share value for every Los Angeles Dodger into my Dodger spreadsheet. Each year the new Bill James Handbook would come out with new Win Shares value for the just concluded baseball system. When I first started writing in 2007 I incorporated my win share spreadsheet into a Win Share series that used Win Shares to show the best LAD at each position for a season and career.

I was already out of date.

WAR had replaced Win Shares and it is possible that someone born in the 21st century who is sabermetrically inclined has never even heard of Win Shares.  Stats need to evolve and WAR would win out with Win Shares becoming the Cro-Magnon of stats. This which left my book and my spreadsheet pointless. This came to a head today when I got started on my spring cleaning and took a look at my baseball bookcase.  I have a Kindle so I don’t need any hardcopy books and while the Kindle is incredibly useful for reading on the go, an actual book still has a place in my life.  Maybe not new books, I’m still sorting that out.

I had every Baseball Prospectus and they are big and bulky. The survived the cut. My Dodger media guides survived the cut. Jon Weisman has two books and they survived the cut. Josh Wilker and Cardboard Gods survived.

Bill James did not. Win Shares didn’t even make the giveaway pile. I put him in the recyclable bin. I thought of how much work Bill James had put into creating Win Shares but I knew I’d never read the book again. Bill James was the reason I got into advanced baseball statistics, he made them come alive in the Baseball Abstracts.

I kept those.

 

Ten most interesting Dodgers in 2018

MLB posted their ten most interesting players for 2018 and our own (for now) Matt Kemp made the list.

9. Matt Kemp, OF, Dodgers
As awkward springs go, it’ll be tough to top this one. The Dodgers reacquired their former All-Star outfielder (and the two years and $43.5 million remaining on his contract) in a complicated salary swap. They would like to move Kemp, but his salary makes that unlikely. So he’ll play some this spring, and while he could open the season as the starting left fielder, nothing is certain.

The list also included ex-Dodger Dee Gordon who is supposed to be the starting CF for the Mariners in 2018.

My own take on the ten most interesting Dodgers in 2018

  1. Start at the top with Clayton Kershaw. With two consecutive years of losing time to back injuries can Clayton pitch a full season for the first time since 2015? If so can he continue to be the best pitcher in baseball when he’s on the mound as he pursues his next huge contract?
  2. Chris Taylor was the surprise of 2017. The infielder not only shocked the baseball world with his new found power but ended up being the Dodgers starting center fielder during their postseason run.  What does he have in store for us in 2018? Will he build on his 2017 breakout season and continue to mature into one of the best players in MLB, or will he regress and simply become a good piece, or will he regress back to what he was and have his 2017 season take it’s place among the flukes of the 21st century?  BABIP be damned, I’m betting he’s an all-star caliber player and follows the Justin Turner path.
  3. Cody Bellinger was the greatest Dodger rookie 1st baseman in history. He is already the greatest left-hand hitting power hitting Dodger since Shawn Green.  Combining power and speed, Cody will also showcase an unnatural defensive grace at 1st base, something Dodger fans have not seen since Wes Parker. Unlike Parker, Cody also boasts the most power of any homegrown Dodger since HOF Mike Piazza.  Entering his age 22 season, don’t be shocked if Cody Bellinger becomes the first LAD Dodger 1st baseman to hit over 40 home runs and be a top-five MVP candidate.
  4. Austin Barnes went from back up catcher, to platoon catcher, to full-time postseason catcher.  He put up Buster Posey offensive numbers. No one thinks he can repeat that success.  Don’t think like everyone else.
  5. Wilmer Font has to make any list I create.  He may not even be in the organization by opening day, but he’s going to be my pick for the surprise Dodger of 2018.
  6. Yasiel Puig has continued his early Roberto Clemente career and as he matures into a man, he’s ready to start becoming one of the best right fielders in baseball.
  7. Tom Koehler might be the Brandon Morrow of 2018. I’m on that train.
  8. If Matt Kemp is one of the ten most interesting stories of 2018 in all of MLB he is certainly going to make my list for the Dodgers.  The 2018 Olympics have been full of redemption stories, I hope Matt Kemp is the MLB 2018 redemption story.
  9. Julio Urias is no longer the teen wonder. At this point, we have no idea what to expect from him in 2018. I’m hoping we see what we saw just a year ago and as he gets ready to take the mound again sometime this summer he has to be one of the most interesting stories.
  10. Kenta Maeda looked like he would be more effective as a multi-inning relief pitcher than as a starter. If the Dodgers acquire another starter or Walker Buehler pushes a rotation piece to the bullpen, wouldn’t it make sense for Kenta to be that piece?

 

Matt Kemp day

It had to be strange for so many writers who predicted that Matt Kemp would never don Dodger Blue after being acquired in the Charlie Culberson trade to be interviewing him on Feb 13th but there he was, still a Dodger as spring training officially opened in Glendale, Arizona.

There is BSOYL and then there is losing 41 pounds over the winter. 

Harold Reynolds said on MLB Network on this morning that Matt Kemp lost 41 pounds during the offseason. Reynolds added that Kemp was pushing to lose 50 pounds. Kemp showed up at Dodgers camp today and people are saying he’s noticeably thinner.

He also explained his comment about Atlanta being a baseball town when he was traded there from San Diego.

“Somebody had asked me how it was to be in Atlanta and I said Atlanta’s always been known for the Braves. The Atlanta Braves, it’s a baseball town – not the Atlanta Hawks, not the Falcons but the Braves. But in LA, when I first got here (in 2006), it was all about Kobe and Shaq (and the Lakers). As the years went on and we started winning more games, the city came alive. We had the best fans. It became more of a baseball town.

Dave Roberts explained how he felt the Dodgers could get better work from Matt Kemp defensively.

He listed a trio of factors that could aid a revival: effort level, fitness and positioning.

The Dodgers believe Kemp will be motivated, after three seasons spent in big league basements, by an opportunity on a contender. Kemp credited an improved diet — more water, smaller portions — along with a renewed interest in conditioning for his upgraded physique. In previous years, the Dodgers utilized advanced scouting reports to properly position converted infielders like Chris Taylor and Howie Kendrick as they learned the outfield.

“I expect there to be a huge uptick in the metrics this year,” Roberts said.

Matt Kemp is certainly saying the right things while physically looking the part of a starting left fielder. The same can’t be said for World Series goat Yu Darvish who told Dave Roberts that his main goal was to beat the Dodgers. Many on twitter pointed out that he already did that by failing to show up in the 2017 World Series.

 

Dodger Goose Eggs

If you want to know just how dominant Kenley Jansen was last year, the best place to look might be the new-fangled relief stat created by Nate Silver called Goose Eggs. We looked at Goose Eggs last April when Nate first wrote about it on fivethirtyeight. I immediately fell in love with the stat, and if you missed the original post on Goose Eggs I suggest you follow the link for a primer on how this stat works.

With the season in the books, I finally decided to take a look at how the Dodgers bullpen did in 2017 and for some context added the top 20 relief pitchers as defined by gwar which is goose egg WAR.

It should not surprise anyone that Kenley Jansen owns this stat for the Dodgers. No Dodger had more than even 1/2 a gWAR in 2017. Basically, you could add up all the gWAR for the Dodger bullpen and it would not come close to what Kenley Jansen did. Kenley Jansen had 6.304 gWAR, the rest of the bullpen combined was -5.146. That is not a typo. Goose eggs were not as impressed with Brandon Morrow as the rest of us.

name gwar year goose_eggs broken_eggs
Kenley Jansen 6.304 2017 44 0
Tony Cingrani 0.430 2017 3 0
Alex Wood 0.430 2017 3 0
Brock Stewart 0.287 2017 2 0
Brandon Morrow 0.212 2017 12 4
Grant Dayton -0.233 2017 1 1
Josh Ravin -0.233 2017 1 1
Tony Watson -0.324 2017 3 2
Chris Hatcher -0.610 2017 1 2
Pedro Baez -0.631 2017 14 7
Luis Avilan -0.647 2017 6 4
Sergio Romo -0.844 2017 2 3
Josh Fields -1.024 2017 6 5
Ross Stripling -1.958 2017 10 9

OK, we need some context here. So here is every relief pitcher who had a gWAR over 2.0.

name gwar year team goose_eggs broken_eggs
Kenley Jansen 6.304032 2017 LAD 44 0
Corey Knebel 3.920239 2017 MIL 47 8
Felipe Rivero 3.883754 2017 PIT 37 4
Raisel Iglesias 3.808143 2017 CIN 31 2
Fernando Rodney 3.598221 2017 ARI 33 4
Edwin Diaz 3.454704 2017 SEA 40 7
Alex Colome 3.425753 2017 TB 38 6
Craig Kimbrel 3.381649 2017 BOS 31 4
Andrew Miller 3.329791 2017 CLE 33 5
Archie Bradley 3.291291 2017 ARI 31 4
Wade Davis 3.26412 2017 CHC 30 3
Brad Hand 3.151999 2017 SD 38 6
Ryan Tepera 2.829704 2017 TOR 25 3
Alex Claudio 2.666934 2017 TEX 26 4
Nick Vincent 2.381388 2017 SEA 28 5
Mike Dunn 2.356582 2017 COL 15 0
Tommy Hunter 2.235616 2017 TB 30 6
Pat Neshek 2.216028 2017 PHI 18 1
Joe Smith 2.145178 2017 TOR 16 1
Greg Holland 2.06448 2017 COL 27 6
Zach Britton 2.008142 2017 BAL 18 2

Yeah, Kenley Jansen owns the gWAR.  I also have to tip my hat to Fernando Rodney who shocked me all year.

Now you know why I wanted the Dodgers to add a hand last summer.

Dodger odds and ends

We said back in November we expected the Dodgers to have a fairly quiet winter but I didn’t think the team would go into full black bear hibernation mode once the team made the Charlie Culberson deal.

As we get ready to head into spring the team that took the field for game seven is basically the same team minus Yu Darvish. Bellinger, Forsythe, Seager, Turner, Barnes, Puig, Taylor, and Pederson are the favorites to start game one of 2018 just as they started game seven.

Jon Weisman has a new book out called Brothers in Arms: Koufax, Kershaw, and the Dodgers’ Extraordinary Pitching Tradition. I’m hoping that Burt Hooton is included in that extraordinary segment as he’s usually forgotten when fans discuss historical Dodger pitchers.  The last book Jon wrote was 100 Things Dodgers Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die which was a fun read. I gave copies out to several family members and they all enjoyed it immensely.  I’m looking forward to this one.

To the surprise of many and the delight of a few, Matt Kemp is still a Dodger.  It is no surprise that Matt is in the BSOHL but his mental state might be the biggest issue he will face this spring. Can Matt compete for a job without bringing the baggage and attitude that has seen him considered a bad clubhouse player since his last days with the Dodgers when he refused to acknowledge that he was no longer a center fielder and felt left field was beneath his skill set?  The last time Matt Kemp was a Dodger he had a monster final month slugging nine home runs in only 95 Sept plate appearances.

Player               Split Year   OPS  PA HR RBI   BA  OBP  SLG
Justin Turner     Sept/Oct 2014 1.192  48  3  12 .422 .458 .733
Carl Crawford     Sept/Oct 2014 1.189  75  3  16 .448 .473 .716
Matt Kemp         Sept/Oct 2014 1.047  95  9  25 .322 .347 .700
Scott Van Slyke   Sept/Oct 2014  .989  38  1   7 .432 .421 .568
Juan Uribe        Sept/Oct 2014  .945  80  3  17 .377 .400 .545
Adrian Gonzalez   Sept/Oct 2014  .897 105  8  25 .260 .324 .573
Hanley Ramirez    Sept/Oct 2014  .876  80  0  11 .352 .425 .451
Yasiel Puig       Sept/Oct 2014  .808 101  3  10 .284 .376 .432
Andre Ethier      Sept/Oct 2014  .773  25  0   2 .222 .440 .333
Dee Gordon        Sept/Oct 2014  .678  91  0   5 .303 .308 .371
A.J. Ellis        Sept/Oct 2014  .583  75  2  10 .190 .297 .286
Joc Pederson      Sept/Oct 2014  .494  38  0   0 .143 .351 .143

Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 2/8/2018.

Only players left from Sept 2014 are Justin Turner, Puig, and Joc Pederson.  Possibly Matt Kemp. This time around they simply need him to be part of the machine. I still don’t think he sees opening day as the Dodgers have plenty of left field options and moving his salary has to be the number one priority of the front office.

Yu Darvish is still a free agent.

Kenley Jansen said the players might need to strike over the fact that mediocre baseball players aren’t getting paid millions of dollars. Justin Turner thinks every team should spend as much money as possible to put the best team out on the field.  The Dodgers twenty deep analyst team feel that both don’t understand the new economics of well-run baseball front offices.  Times are a changing and no one feels the need to pay extra for a veteran when a Charlie Culberson can do it for the equivalent of baseball peanuts. I’d be more interested in what Kenley and Justin had to say if it involved getting higher salaries for the minor league players instead of wanting to add millions to the pockets of current millionaires.  Take care of the Brett Eibners and then I’d be more inclined to listen to the MLB player complaints.

Wilmer Font has the support of Fangraphs. At least two of us are on the Font train.

Only Tyler Glasnow managed a higher strikeout rate than Font did, and Glasnow has long had that reputation of being unhittable when he’s right. Font also limited his walks, which was a function of his throwing more than two-thirds of all his pitches for strikes. Font’s strike rate ranked sixth-highest in the sample, and while I of course do understand there’s more to pitching than just strikeouts and walks, those are two pretty important pillars.

Font is out of options so he can’t sit in AAA this year waiting for someone to drop an arm in the rotation.  If someone in the big five can’t make it through spring (Kershaw/Wood/Maeda/Hill/Ryu) he might be the first guy to get the call provided he isn’t traded along with Kemp this spring.

There is the perception that the Dodgers did nothing while the NL West was busy closing the gap. I don’t see it, but I’ll look deeper into it in a few weeks. Last I looked JD Martinez was not headed back to the Diamondbacks and that looks like a big hit to the organization.  The Rockies are counting on young pitchers to get better. Does that ever happen in Coors? Giants certainly made some deals. They got older, but might not be better than the Padres this year.

Anyway, Dodger baseball is right around the corner, and according to Los Angeles, it is already spring as we have had 80-degree weather for several weeks now.

Dodger NRI for 2018 spring training

You might yawn when you hear about Non-Roster Invitations but when you consider what the Dodgers have gotten out of their veteran NRI over the past few years it beholds us to take a look at the group for 2018. Last year this group included Brandon Morrow.  In 2016 Charlie Culberson and Luis Coleman made an impression.

This group is a combination of veterans trying to catch on with the major league club and promising prospects who have yet to be added to the 40-man-roster.

Among the prospects a few notes:

Keibert Ruiz has to be the youngest Dodger catcher invited to spring training in many a year.

Jake Peter and Matt Beaty will get a chance to impress the staff if the Dodgers need an infielder during the season.

Diaz and Peters will use this opportunity to show the Dodgers they could trade Alex Verdugo if they feel the need, or conversely show the Dodgers they better keep him.

Among the veterans, I have some hopes for:

Manny Banuelos, the once highly regarded Yankee Prospect is a left hander with good stuff who simply hasn’t been able to reach the final hurdle to make a major league career.  Much like Henry Owens who is on the 40-man-roster one tweak, or different pitching advice may be all he needs to spring over that hurdle.

The dual throwing Pat Venditte is in camp. That alone should be fun.

Pitchers:

LHP Manny Banuelos

RHP Joe Broussard

RHP Daniel Corcino

RHP CC Lee

RHP Mark Lowe

LHP Brian Moran

RHP Zach Neal

RHP Yaisel Sierra

LHP/RHP Pat Venditte

Catchers:

Keibert Ruiz

Will Smith

Shawn Zarraga

Infielders:

Matt Beaty

Drew Jackson

Max Muncy

Jake Peter

Edwin Rios

Donovan Solano

Outfielders:

Yusniel Diaz

DJ Peters

Henry Ramos

Travis Taijeron

End of an era

With the trade of Blake Griffin yesterday the Clippers ended the most successful era in the history of the franchise.  In 2009 the Clippers won the lottery and picked the best player in the draft Blake Griffin. In typical Clipper fashion, Blake would fracture his kneecap in the preseason and miss the entire 2009/2010 season.  It felt like Danny Manning all over again but this time the prodigy came back as healthy and athletic as before and changed the history of the franchise.

He didn’t do it by himself. It took the appearance of Chris Paul in 2011/2012 and the emergence of Deandre Jordan to solidify the Clippers as a perennial postseason team. From 2011/2012 until 2016/2017 the Clippers won over fifty games every year. They had some memorable postseasons but none that got them into the Western finals. They were the last Western team to beat the Golden State Warriors in the 2014 postseason. Injuries always seemed to rise up at the wrong time leaving either Chris Paul or Blake Griffin unable to perform at their peak during the postseason. I don’t think we’ll ever know how good the best Clipper teams were because we never got to see them healthy for an extended postseason run.

I’m going to miss Blake Griffin but he was never my favorite Clipper. I enjoyed his immense athleticism, his work ethic, and his sense of humor in his Kia ads. I didn’t enjoy his constant whining but I have to say having watched him play just about every game since he showed up, he sure seemed to be a punching bag for the league so while the whining was annoying, it was understandable. He was a formidable scoring option and in the beginning, consistently gave us plays we’d never seen before. Injuries take a toll and since Blake missed substantial time every season, you could see the result on the floor.  It didn’t take a brain surgeon to notice that he will be an old basketball player when he hits 30.

Some highlights of Blake courtesy of Lucas Hann at ClipperNation.

Blake Griffin should have owned this town, but as Chris Paul found out at Dodger Stadium his first year, this is not a Clipper town. It doesn’t matter that they sold out for five years in a row, the pecking order is still Lakers, Dodgers, Kings, … Clippers.  Six years of winning didn’t make a dent in the sports psyche of Los Angeles.  The only thing that would have changed the landscape would have been an improbable World Championship.  It didn’t happen and Blake can now take his game to Detroit.

As Blake heads to Detroit he’ll do so as the all-time Los Angeles Clipper points leader. I’ll probably be dead and he’ll still be the all-time LAC points leader.

                   Crit Tota  Tota Tota Tota Tota Tota
Player              PTS    G    MP  TRB  AST  STL  BLK
Blake Griffin     10863  504 17706 4686 2133  484  277
Elton Brand        9336  459 17595 4710 1242  438 1039
Corey Maggette     8835  512 15780 2673 1229  421   93
Chris Paul         7674  409 13885 1733 4023  902   54
Danny Manning      7120  373 12676 2399 1132  548  406
DeAndre Jordan     6675  717 20033 7468  493  429 1248
Loy Vaught         6614  558 15671 4471  607  468  211
Ken Norman         6432  439 13584 2916  964  403  346
Ron Harper         5853  304 11458 1678 1463  606  266
Chris Kaman        5813  493 14661 4109  635  238  707
Jamal Crawford     5675  370 10310  684  971  310   65
Benoit Benjamin    5405  406 12724 3538  776  316 1117
Eric Piatkowski    5269  616 12655 1520  674  353  106

Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/30/2018.

In a few days, we will know what the Logo is planning for the team. What will they get for Deandre Jordan and Lou Williams? What other pieces will they sell? What do they get back?

The Clippers haven’t been relevant in the draft since the winning began in 2011 starting with the ill-fated traded of our number one pick to the Cavaliers that turned into Kyle Irving.  This year we already have two number one picks. They could both end up being Lottery picks or not. Both the Pistons and Clippers could still make the postseason.

I have faith that the Logo did the right thing. I loved the trade of Chris Paul. The last thing I wanted was to be paying an old point guard max money. I was a little shocked at the return they got for a player who can walk at the end of the year in Houston.  Patrick Beverly was supposed to be the centerpiece but Lou Williams has been outstanding.  I understand them trading Blake. Even as he improved his outside shot so that he is a credible option at the three, his defense will continue to erode as he ages, and it is not very good now.

The Logo is giving Clipper fans a new future, but Clipper fans can remember the Blake Griffin era and smile because he gave us many great individual basketball moments.

Dodgers have 4 in BA top 100 + 2

Even with the promotions over the last three years of Cody Bellinger, Corey Seager, Joc Pederson, Andrew Toles, Julio Urias, Brock Stewart, and Austin Barnes the Dodgers still have some top talent in their farm system.

Baseball America gave the Dodgers four prospects in their annual January top 100 list.

The Dodgers also had four in last years top 100 list.

Walker Buehler was the top dog at thirteen, making him the fourth best pitching prospect headed into 2018.  Last year at this time Walker Buehler was only ranked 93rd, so quite a big jump in one calendar year for the talented righty.

Alex Verdugo ranked 37th moving up 21 slots from 58 in 2017.

Keibert Ruiz who was unranked one year ago was ranked 40th. Not bad for a 19-year-old making him the youngest catcher on the list. There are only four catchers in the top 100 and only one catcher ranked above Ruiz and that player is already 22 years old.

Mitchell White was the last Dodger ranked in the top 100 at 69.  White was unranked last year.

Falling off the list from last year without the benefit of losing their rookie status was Yadier Alvarez. Quite a drop for Alvarez who was ranked 26th last year.

The Dodgers traded two prospects who are in the top 100. The biggest name was Willie Calhoun who was ranked 92nd last year but is now ranked 36th. Calhoun was part of the big summer trade for Yu Darvish and is now targeted to be a starting outfielder for the Rangers. If he was still a Dodger, Willie Calhoun would have been the highest-ranking Dodger prospect. The other prospect the Dodgers traded was Yordan Alvarez. The Dodgers traded Yordan in the summer of 2016 for Josh Fields. Yordan is ranked 62nd.