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The Total WAR Project, Part V: Los Angeles Dodgers

The Total WAR Project is a series of posts Mike and I began back at The Phrontiersman. In each post, we take a look at the biggest competition the Phillies will likely face – within their division, the National League and the American League – and evaluate their offseasons. Have these teams improved? Have they weakened? How good are the Phillies, in terms of WAR, in relation to their closest competition? Well, that last one will be reserved for the final post in the series. For now, we’re setting our sights on our competitors.

We’re using WAR – Wins Above Replacement – exclusively here, as it contains both offensive and defensive evaluations combined into one single, easy-to-use statistic. There are a few iterations of WAR, none differing greatly, and we use the one supplied by Fangraphs for our numbers and projections.

Typically, these posts begin with some sort of allegorical war story to tie in with the team we’re about to evaluate. You want a war story? Go read some of the comments on the last entry in the series, posted by Mike on the Cardinals.

In this episode, we’ll be taking a look at the National League runners-up in two straight seasons, the Los Angeles Dodgers. Shall we?

The Dodgers didn’t really have any super-duperstar performances in 2009. Perhaps Manny Ramirez would have if he hadn’t missed a third of the season being suspended. Who knows? The guy has been ageless. Like Mitt Romney, as Mike would say. Or Rip Torn, as Corey has discovered. Personally, I’m a little stunned that Tom Cruise is turning 48 this July.

ManRam won’t be able to keep it up forever, but his .269/.389/.492 line in 311 plate appearances following the lifting of his suspension shows that he still has plenty of plate discipline and good contact and power for a guy who turns 38 in May.

The real heart of the Dodgers now resides within a young core of players that could bust out into megastardom at any point, even as early as this year. Outfielder Matt Kemp won’t turn 26 until September, but he seems on course for a 30-30 season in 2010, all while playing above average defense at one of the toughest positions on the field in center.

Young phenom Clayton Kershaw is even younger – 22 in a month or so – and had an incredibly successful sophomore year in 2009. Kershaw allowed a league-low 6.3 hits per nine innings pitched, and surrendered just seven homers in 171 innings while striking out 185. His only Achilles heel is that his stuff has so much movement – including his “Public Enemy No. 1” curve – that patient hitters have little trouble drawing walks; Kershaw walked just fewer than five hitters per nine, a dangerously high number.

A recap of Los Angeles’s 2009 campaign:

2009 Roster

C1: Russell Martin (2.1 WAR)
C2: Brad Ausmus (0.6 WAR)

1B: James Loney (1.4 WAR)
2B: Orlando Hudson (2.9 WAR)
3B: Casey Blake (4.2 WAR)
SS: Rafael Furcal (3.2 WAR)
INF: Ronnie Belliard (1.0 WAR), Juan Castro (0 WAR), Mark Loretta (-0.2 WAR)

OF1: Matt Kemp (5.0 WAR),
OF2: Manny Ramirez (2.7 WAR)
OF3: Andre Ethier (2.5 WAR)
OF4: Juan Pierre (1.8 WAR)

SP1: Randy Wolf (3.0 WAR)
SP2: Chad Billingsley (3.1 WAR)
SP3: Clayton Kershaw (4.2 WAR)
SP4: Hiroki Kuroda (2.2 WAR)
SP5: Vicente Padilla (2.0 WAR)
SP6: Jon Garland (2.4 WAR)

CL: Jonathan Broxton (2.9 WAR)
SU: Ramon Troncoso (0.8 WAR)
RP: Ronald Belisario (0.7 WAR)
RP: Guillermo Mota (-0.1 WAR)
RP: James McDonald (0.1 WAR)
RP: Hong-Chih Kuo (0.4 WAR)
RP: George Sherrill (0.4 WAR)
RP: Cory Wade (0 WAR)
RP: Will Ohman (-0.5 WAR)

2009 Total WAR: 47.3

Behind Kemp and Kershaw, and maybe some continued development from Andre Ethier or a resurgence from Russell Martin, the Dodgers should once more be the favorite to win the NL West. But their hold is slipping, and they may not be the favorites again this time next year.

The Dodgers are a bit lacking in upper-tier minor league talent, so the best production they’ll likely get for this season is from what they’ve already got. ESPN’s Keith Law ranks their system 19 out of 30 for that very reason. It’s not as if that’s a big hindrance, though: this team will hit a lot of home runs, compile some good on-base numbers and be decent defensively. Their relief corps looks to be strong once again, and the losses of Randy Wolf and late-season acquisition Jon Garland probably won’t hurt as badly as the loss of Wolf’s 2009 numbers would indicate. Wolf’s BABIP was at a career low last year, pushing his numbers favorably enough to net him a three-year, $27 million deal with Milwaukee this winter.

As for 2010, let’s see what the men in blue are projected to produce.

2010 Roster

C1: Russell Martin (3.9 WAR)
C2: Brad Ausmus (0.4 WAR)

1B: James Loney (1.8 WAR)
2B: Ronnie Belliard (0.4 WAR)
3B: Casey Blake (3.0 WAR)
SS: Rafael Furcal (3.0 WAR)
INF: Blake DeWitt (1.6 WAR), Jamey Carroll (1.5 WAR)

OF1: Matt Kemp (4.0 WAR),
OF2: Manny Ramirez (2.8 WAR)
OF3: Andre Ethier (2.6 WAR)
OF4: Jason Repko (0.2 WAR)
OF: Xavier Paul (-0.1 WAR), Reed Johnson (0.1 WAR)

SP1: Clayton Kershaw (4.4 WAR)*
SP2: Chad Billingsley (4.4 WAR)*
SP3: Hiroki Kuroda (3.2 WAR)*
SP4: Vicente Padilla (2.0 WAR)*
SP5: Eric Stults (0.5 WAR)*

CL: Jonathan Broxton (2.6 WAR)* 2.38 FIP, 80 IP
SU: George Sherrill (1.4 WAR) 3.31 FIP, 74 IP
SU: Ramon Troncoso (0.8 WAR) 3.54 FIP, 72 IP
RP: Ronald Belisario (0.7 WAR) 4.20 FIP, 69 IP
RP: James McDonald (0.1 WAR) 4.22 FIP, 74 IP
RP: Hong-Chih Kuo (0.4 WAR) 2.95 FIP, 48 IP
RP: Cory Wade (0 WAR) 4.39 FIP, 62 IP

2010 Projected WAR: 45.7

Out: Wolf, Mota, Castro, Hudson, Pierre, Loretta, Garland, Ohman

In: Repko, Carroll, Johnson

Remember: asterisks indicate fan projections and italics indicate 2009 numbers.

So, by rough estimation, the Dodgers are already on the path to slight regression, losing about two wins from ’09 to ’10. They added very little to replace what was leaving, and will seemingly need to rely heavily on internal help to fill out their supporting roles.

Manager Joe Torre, a notorious bullpen abuser, looks like he’ll be running arms out at a heavy pace once again, as just those relievers listed are projected to amass somewhere in the vicinity of 480 innings. That said, it appears Jon Broxton will once again be a stout, dominant force at the back end of that ‘pen. His troubles in the ninth innings of last year’s NLCS Game 4 notwithstanding, Broxton is one of the best short relievers in the game, and he’ll need to be a two- to two-and-a-half-win pitcher to hold that mostly young ‘pen together. Sherrill and Kuo form a formidable one-two lefty punch, and should continue to give lefty batters fits.

Rotation questions exist after Kershaw, however. Billingsley finished his 2009 campaign rather roughly, Padilla is mercurial at best and not as good as his half season in L.A. would suggest (as if we don’t already know that), and Kuroda’s durability could be in question as he enters his age-35 season.

In fairness, Billingsley probably just experienced a blip and should return to his effective ways, but that does not allay the worries that Dodger fans should have three out of five days. The Dodgers’ chances of reaching a third straight NLCS hinge on those rotation arms, as well as rebounds of sorts from Manny and Martin and the continued progression of Kemp and Ethier. Though perhaps my concerns over the rotation are overstated; for sure, the offense looks to be quite well-rounded and should score between 750 and 800 runs (enough to mask a few clunker outings), and Dodger Stadium plays favorably to pitchers.

What I don’t see is a marked improvement over the course of this offseason. The Dodgers will be good. They will win the West and go to the playoffs with designs of overcoming the Philly hurdle and reaching the World Series. On paper, however, this isn’t a team that will accomplish that feat.

Pencil in the Dodgers for 91-71, good for another NL West division title in 2010.

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