So supposedly, because the Dodgers signed Zack Greinke to a 6 year, $147 million contract, along with their mid-season pickups, are the team to beat in the NL West now?
Not so fast.
To look at the Dodgers, you have to break down their 2012 season into three parts: The start of the season through May 25th, in which the team drastically overachieved, with aging veterans Chris Capuano, Aaron Harang, Ted Lilly, and Mark Ellis performing the best they had in years, guys like AJ Ellis and Andre Ethier playing way over their heads, and Matt Kemp putting up numbers that are out of this world, even for a player of his caliber, got off to a 32-15 start. Then players came back to reality, while others, including Matt Kemp, spent a significant time on the DL. Between their fluke start and and the trade with the Red Sox, the team went 36-43. From August 25th to the end of the season, when everyone was pretty much healthy and they had acquired all the new guys, the team went 18-18. So basically, you’re looking at a .500 team going into the off-season.
Does the addition of Zack Greinke turn the Dodgers from a .500 team into playoff contenders? Or more specifically, does Greinke add thirteen wins to the Dodgers to match the Giants 94 wins from 2012?
Not even close.
Greinke’s a solid pitcher, but looking at his career performances, he’s only had one year, his Cy Young year in 2009, in which he was a true ace. Since then, he’s been an above average starter but not much more than that.
And what does Greinke really add to the Dodgers? He’s not much better than what they already had at the back end of the rotation. Compare the Dodgers 2012 pitching staff with the 2013, and it’s not really all that much better (consider that newly signed Korean free agent Hyun-Jin Ryu will most likely be a non factor at this point):
Look at how the starting pitchers in 2012 performed (combining certain pitchers to make a full season)
Clayton Kershaw 14-9, 2.53 ERA, 229 K / 63 BB, 1.02 WHIP, 150 ERA+Ted Lilly/ Chad Billingsley (33 combined starts): 16-11, 3.45 ERA, 159K/ 64 BB, 1.20 WHIP, 111 ERA+
Aaron Harang: 10-10, 3.61 ERA, 131K/ 85 BB, 1.403 WHIP, 105 ERA+
Chris Capuano: 12-12, 3.72 ERA, 162 K/ 54 BB, 1.22 WHIP, 102 ERA+
Josh Beckett/ Joe Blanton/ Nathan Eovaldi/ Stephen Fife (32 combined starts): 5-15, 4.02 ERA, 143 K/ 62 BB, 1.41 WHIP, 104 ERA+
Now compare those to the 2013 rotation’s 3 year averages:
Clayton Kershaw: 16-8, 2.56 ERA, 230 K/66 BB, 1.055 WHIP, 148 ERA+
Zack Greinke: 14-8, 3.83 ERA,194 K/ 54 BB, 1.22 WHIP, 106 ERA+
Chad Billingsley: 11-10, 3.79 ERA, 150K/ 66 BB, 1.34 WHIP, 100 ERA+Josh Beckett: 9-9, 4.25 ERA, 141 K/ 50 BB, 1.26 WHIP, 101 ERA+
Ted Lilly: 9-9, 3.72 ERA, 118K/ 38 BB, 1.12 WHIP, 104 ERA+
Chris Capuano: 9-9, 4.10 ERA, 128K/ 43 BB, 1.29 WHIP, 92 ERA+
Aaron Harang: 10-8, 4.03 ERA, 112K/ 60 BB, 1.43 WHIP, 94 ERA+
Almost every starting pitcher for the Dodgers overachieved in 2012. So because of that, the rotation, even with the addition of Greinke, will be no better in 2013. And that doesn’t take into account Greinke’s well documented mental problems, that he didn’t want to be traded to a large market team two years ago because he didn’t think he could handle the pressure, and that he has pitched poorly in every big time game (notably during the 2011 playoffs), and there’s a good chance of Greinke being a complete bust in Los Angeles.
So with a decent but vastly overrated rotation and a subpar bullpen (Brandon League as closer, that says it all), the Dodgers are going to have to rely on their “star studded” lineup to carry them to October.
Yeah, good luck with that. Let’s break it down to show how flawed it truly is: At catcher, you have AJ Ellis, a career minor leaguer who, after coming out of nowhere to have a stellar first two months in 2012, really slowed down and played pretty poorly the final four months of the seasons with the exception of a decent August semi-resurgance. At first base, you have Adrian Gonzalez, who hit a career high 40 home runs in 2009 has seen a drastic drop-off every year since, going from 40 to 31 to 27 to 18 homers in 2012. At best, you’re looking at a 20 home run guy, but realistically another dropoff is more likely, especially now that he’s out of hitter friendly Fenway park and the American League. At second base, you have 35 year old Mark Ellis, who was such deadweight in 2011 that the A’s cut him mid-season after being with the team for nearly a decade, and other than one good month with the Dodgers last year, has looked pretty much the same. At third base, you have Luis Cruz, a career minor league who performed adequately after not being able to hit minor league pitching for his first decade in professional baseball. Good luck with expecting anything out of him next year. At shortstop, you have Hanley Ramirez who at 29 is a clubhouse cancer that has already been washed up for a couple seasons.
At left field, you have Carl Crawford, who was a “fantasy superstar” (someone who’s fantasy baseball value far outweighs their real life value) in Tampa Bay but overall a slightly above average player. This was before he went to Boston and stunk it up, which was before being sidelined from a major injury which we don’t know that he’ll be back by opening day 2013. Do you really think he’ll be of any value in 2013? At right field, you have Mr. April Andre Ethier, who always starts off the season well before being useless the last 2/3 of the season. And even Matt Kemp, the lone superstar in the lineup and one of baseball’s elite is coming off a season in which he suffered through multiple injuries. If that’s not a red flag, I don’t know what is.
All in all, can you really look at this team and see a team that will upend the reigning World Series champions two of the last three seasons? Look past the names, and the money, and all they really have is a heavily flawed, heavily overrated team.
Just like the Miami Marlins and Boston Red Sox in recent years, expect for the Dodgers to crash and burn.
When Brandon League signed a 3 year, $21 million contract to re-sign with the Dodgers, I had written an article about the possible effect of contracts around the league. I didn’t publish it because it was boring, but the overall summary of it is that one massive overpay can drive up costs for free agents around the majors, and now we’re already seeing it.
Jeremy Affeldt, who a few years ago, resigned with the Giants for 2 years, $8.5 million, and was barely considered worth picking up his $5 million option this year, not only got a raise, but for three years. That’s what happens an inferior reliever gets more money than you did.
Just think. One year ago, Huston Street only got 3 years and $20 million despite being younger than League and being a proven effective closer. Thanks to League’s contract, any proven, reliable closer like Street will cost at least $10 million annually, so the Padres can be thankful they got their guy a year earlier.
There’s at least a dozen relievers still on the market better than League that will command similar to what Affeldt got or even higher, something that has unheard of for non closer/ dominating middle reliever. And for someone like Rafael Soriano, we may see a record contract for a reliever. And this will continue to drive up the Giants payroll, as guys like Romo and Casilla will make more in arbitration.
As for Affeldt’s contract, I like it. The third year may be a bit too much, as we don’t know if he’ll still be any good in 2015 when he’s 36, but for now, he’s definitely worth the money.