There hasn’t been much news with the Dodgers lately since they made the huge trades during Winter Meetings but folks are still talking and wondering about this team and with Spring Training on the Horizon the roster is looking pretty interesting. For the past two seasons this team as been filled with star players and were always looked to be that team to win the World Series. However the Dodgers couldn’t really get it done in the postseason despite taking the Division two straight seasons in a row. In come a brand new front office with a different way of winning now. The overhaul was underway. Players such as Hanley Ramirez (Signed with Boston) signed else where via Free Agency and others like Matt Kemp and Dee Gordon were traded to fill other needs or restock the farm system. The Dodgers did make some solid moves to improve in different areas by acquiring Howie Kendrick and Jimmy Rollins which improved the Infield defensively and add Bullpen pieces such as Joel Peralta and Joe Wieland. Many believed the Dodgers would open their check books and spend but actually went to shed salary and work through trades. Some see what the Dodgers did and believe that they actually did a great job but others are questioning why the Dodgers made these moves and if it will even work. I am actually in the group of those who believe this just might work…Wait what?
The new front office of Andrew Friedman, GM Farhan Zaidi, and Josh Byrnes came in knowing there was a few areas they had to improve the team on the field and in the clubhouse. On the field the Dodgers had to improve the Bullpen, infield defense, offensive production, and help out the starting pitching, Oh and figure out the outfield log jam. They managed to solve that all within a month with the help of some information they had and the “Moneyball” logic. Starting at the bullpen which was the Dodgers biggest area of need. Last year the bullpen was filled with pitchers that added more fuel to the fire and you could say that put more pressure on the Dodgers starting pitchers to pitch 6-7 innings a game. Dodgers went out to sign BULLPEN guys like Peralta as well as acquire pitchers via trade (Joe Wieland/Chris Hatcher/Juan Nicasio). Not to mention Los Angeles releasing guys like Brian Wilson, who had a difficult 2014 season. Many may think the Dodgers didn’t address their bullpen need when in reality they were all over it. The Dodgers also looked at improving defensively as well and really went to work at doing so. Last year the Dodgers committed 107 errors which was 2nd in the National League (Pirates led with 109). If you watched the team last year it seemed like they made a lot more errors than 107. You know something had to be done and the Dodgers did just that. Instead of opening the breaking the bank on Hanley and giving him a long term deal the Dodgers allowed him to walk and sign with Boston leaving a hole at Shortstop. So what did the Dodgers do? Instead of going out and signing a Shortstop to fill the need or calling up one of their prospects they went out and traded for Jimmy Rollins. Rollins is seen as a huge upgrade defensively over Hanley, Last season Rollins lead the National League in fielding percentage among at .988. He also committed only 7 errors and 64 Double Plays. Just when we though the Dodgers infield was set another move was made that saw Dee Gordon and Miguel Rojas traded to the Miami Marlins for Prospects and Chris Hatcher. Then the Dodgers turn around and trade Andrew Heaney to the Angels for 2nd Baseman Howie Kendrick who was coming off a pretty solid season. Howie is also another upgrade to the middle infield. Kendrick is a very confident fielder who had a percentage of .984 to Gordon’s .981. Where the difference lies defensively is within the Defensive WAR where Howie last season had a Defensive WAR of 1.4 to Gordon’s -0.3. Speaking of defensive WAR the Dodgers cleaned up defensively in the outfield and cleared up a Outfield log jam (Kinda) and address a need at another position. Through off-season last year and through the season Matt Kemp’s name has been in trade talks. Kemp was moved from his natural Center Field position to Left to improve the team defensively in the outfield and then from Left Field to Right where Kemp picked it up in the 2nd half of the season. Dodgers finally pulled the trigger on trading Matt Kemp to the San Diego Padres for Catcher Yasmani Grandal, Pitcher Joe Wieland, and prospects. Yasmani Grandal may not be worth a what the Dodgers gave up nor look to be an upgrade defensively but when you break things down Grandal may actually be what the Dodgers need. Yasmani Grandal creates more strikes for pitchers and through his career is one of the best pitch framers where AJ Ellis is one of the worst through his career. The more strikes the Dodgers can get the more outs the Dodgers will have. Let’s not forget the two starting pitchers the Dodgers signed in Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson who ERA wise may not be that attractive but their ability to produce a high rate of ground balls. So how does all this tie in? The high amount ground balls to Howie and Rollins means more double plays and/or outs (Also the low amount of errors) also a higher strike rate with Grandal behind the plate. When the Postseason rolls around where the strike zones become tighter and pitching is more important the Dodgers will have an advantage with their defense.
Okay so defensively the Dodgers look to be better but what about with the Bats? Well offensive production was also another thing the Dodgers front office wanted to improve on. Last season Los Angeles was one of the best offensive teams in the National League with a team Batting average of .265 as well as 2nd in runs. However their big Achilles heel was Batting with Runners in Scoring Position (RISP). Also the team lacked plate discipline and would swing at a lot of pitches outside the Zone which hurt them in the Playoffs for two straight seasons. The additions the Dodgers made will now feature players who are more patient at the plate and more effective with runners in scoring position. Dodgers last year batted a league best .289 with RISP but come postseason batted .195. You add that with poor plate discipline equaled the offensive woes which was part of the reason why they were eliminated by the Cardinals last season. The moves the Dodgers made just may have made them much more effective offensively. How you might ask? Let’s start with plate discipline. Most of The Dodgers seemed like they were very antsy to swing which lead to a high rate of swings outside the strike zone opposed to taking pitches. Jimmy Rollins, who is projected to likely be a lead off guy in L.A., Just may have the patience that Dee Gordon was lacking. Jimmy take’s about 26.8% hacks outside the Zone last season and only 59.1% of the first pitches are strikes which is currently the 4th lowest on the Team. Rollins will take pitches and has a low strike out swinging percentage last season which is perfect for a lead off man. Rollins, Kendrick, and Grandal’s ability to layoff the outside pitches allows them see more pitches inside the strike Zone (Howie: 45.7%/Jimmy: 44%/Grandal: 42.1% in 2014) and the more pitches they see in the strike zone the higher chance they have at making contact. So where does batting with RISP play into all this? Well when you look at just Howie Kendrick it means a lot to the Dodgers. Last season Kendrick batted .326 with Runners in scoring position. That’s batting in the 4 spot with Kole Calhoun, Mike Trout, and Albert Pujols ahead of him. Kendrick batted .293 last season and is known to really drive the ball into the gaps which is enough for extra bases. (Hit for 13 Extra base hits in 2014). Howie with Rollins/Puig and maybe even Gonzalez on base could really produce for the Dodgers. Los Angeles already had a high rate of runs scored and high average with RISP but the way the Dodgers line up was constructed would fit better in the American League where there’s a DH and a hitters heavy league opposed to the NL where small ball and pitching is key. Plus when playoffs roll around and the Dodgers find themselves there they can pick teams apart, get men on base, and cash in much more effectively with Runners in Scoring Position. Look at the San Francisco Giants and the St Louis Cardinals and how they manage to get on base and just pick teams apart. Dodgers could very well be the team that may not look that scary on paper but can strike when it counts.
So on the field the front office used SABR Metrics and stats to work on improving the team. A huge roster overhaul at that. But there has to be more behind the moves. Well in the Clubhouse the Dodgers needed to clean things up. While on the outside we seen the team dance and joke and cut bubble machines on after every home run inside the clubhouse was a different story. The Dodgers had no true leadership where one voice caught the ear of the 25 man roster. When the trade for Jimmy Rollins was made the Dodgers got a guy who can step up and be a leader on the field and in the clubhouse. Rollins has the respect of every player on the roster and has been there before. This also has a benefit for Don Mattingly and his job as well. While Mattingly has managed the team to a better and better record each season he would also have to manage egos of a star-studded team. At times it was more of him managing egos in the clubhouse than games. That was also part of the reason why Matt Kemp was traded, why they let Hanley walk, released Wilson, and Likely see Ethier on the move soon. Mattingly can manage a team instead of managing egos as apart of managing the team. Mattingly can also play the game by numbers with the front office giving him the players that could play things into his hand as well as going to the bullpen with some trust. I know many feel the Dodgers took a step back with the trades and lack of spending that we’ve seen two-three seasons but if you take a closer look the Dodgers maybe that team that could finally get over the hump and do it effectively. The pitching is there, defense is there, offensively they look better on paper and in the clubhouse they finally have a leader that will speak up. Only time will tell if this is the perfect model. This also plays into the Dodgers hand for the future. Not only do they shed salary but this sets the Dodgers up for the next few years as Los Angeles has some high prospects that are likely to be up in the Majors in the next year or 2. So while the Dodgers are in Win Now mode they’re also in Win they year after that and the year after that and the next year after.