Just a quick Q&A with some of the best writers in the baseball world. Our very own Brian, Blake, and Brandon discuss the potential for the Dodgers 2018 season.
What about the Dodgers has you the most excited or confident this year?
Brian: Any time you’re coming off a 104 win season and bring back practically all the key pieces from the previous year, you have to be somewhat confident. The Dodgers are projected to be one of the best teams in baseball yet again, and for good reason. They have the best pitcher in baseball, probably the best closer, and are a young team with back-to-back Rookie of the Year award winners. They’re also one of the deepest teams in baseball, and utilize their depth keenly. Those are all reasons to be excited about the Dodgers chances this year.
Brandon: I suspect there will be a hunger to avenge a devastating loss. The potential fire that the team may have because of that really excites me. I’m also really excited for what we can get with a full season of Chris Taylor and Cody Bellinger. All of these coupled together have me pretty excited for the trajectory of the team that came within 1 game of winning a World Series.
Blake: One word: depth. It was extremely clear last year that one of the team’s greatest strengths was depth. And boy were we glad we had depth to weather a slew of injuries, under-performance, and so on. Prime examples are Cody Bellinger stepping up when Gonzo went down, and Chris Taylor when Joc Pederson under-performed. Without those two, our season is lost. This year, we have even more depth through a number of shrewd trades and the fact that the next class of prospects are that much closer to contributing. That has me most excited/confident about the 2018 season.
What area(s) are you skeptical or have the most doubts about this year?
Brian: I wanted to say starting pitching, but for me, it’s the thought that many Dodgers players might have over-achieved a bit last year and could be in for a decline.
I’m a full believer in Cody Bellinger, but it would be expecting a lot to see him duplicate what he did during his rookie year. Could he do it? Sure, but he could also decline a bit. He could have a good year, and it still might be considered a decline from last year because of the crazy numbers he put up.
Chris Taylor came out of nowhere last season and put up sensational numbers as well. Was that a fluke or is this the real Chris Taylor now? Rich Hill is about to turn 38 years old, and some may wonder if it’s only a matter of time before we see his decline. Can Alex Wood post another 2.72 ERA, and will he be that same pitcher we saw in the first half of last year?
Many players could take a step back from last year in terms of stats, and that’s my biggest worry. The good news for the Dodgers is that they’re talented and deep enough that they could probably still have success. Even with some declines in player production.
Brandon: I think a big gamble is relying on the health of the starting pitching. Every pitcher in the rotation, and some of the pitchers in AAA, are health risks. Should Kershaw’s back act up or Alex Wood’s elbow start barking, we could be in for a rotational shortage and quick. Not that we couldn’t deal some prospects to fill the spot, but losing leverage and having to deal for a need rather than an upgrade puts us in a bad position.
Blake: My biggest concern is whether or not our starting pitching can replicate it’s success from last year. Alex Wood had a phenomenal first half, but mediocre second half. Kenta Maeda is solid, but no #2. Rich Hill has that #2 quality to him, but not the longevity/durability of one. And Hyun-Jin Ryu, despite having a great bounce-back 2017, is still an unknown. I definitely feel our rotation as a whole is still a top 5 rotation, but a lot of it’s success rides on a lot of “ifs”. The best way to counter this would be to acquire proven starting pitching, but that seems unlikely. So, I then wonder how much guys like Walker Buehler and Julio Urias will contribute this year. Let’s hope they can.
What is your preference with the whole Matt Kemp / left field situation? How do you think it’ll play out?
Brian: I truly don’t have a preference, except that I’d prefer they all get a legit shot this spring. I was always a Kemp fan, and hope he does well if he’s indeed still a Dodger by opening day. But I also like Andrew Toles, Alex Verdugo, and Joc Pederson as well, and would be fine with any one of them being the starting left fielder. It all depends on production.
Intuitively, I want to give Kemp the edge right now. The knock on him in recent years has mostly been about his defense, and his inability to stay healthy. Well, he looks in great shape this spring, and he’s always been able to hit. Also, there’s some questions about the other options in left, like Toles coming off a major injury, Pederson being so inconsistent, and Verdugo still be a rookie with limited experience. And no, I don’t think Trayce Thompson is a realistic option.
Brandon: My preference would be a platoon situation of Pederson/Toles and Hernandez, but Kemp has a very large cost outlay. If he can actually show his weight loss and work ethic could play up defensively, he could remove the perception of him being a liability. The bat needs to improve too, as it’s been relatively league average by the wRC+ standard.
Blake: Just like Brandon said, despite Matt Kemp seeming to put up good offensive numbers, many of the advanced metrics see him as merely league average (as wRC+ and wOBA indicate). We are in an age of baseball where home run rates are at all time highs. And Matt Kemp’s biggest calling card, his power, doesn’t stand out much. In order for him to remotely have a shot at grabbing even a platoon gig in LF he needs, absolutely needs to improve that league worst defense.
Otherwise I think Toles is going to end up with the most starting time there. Don’t sleep on Alex Verdugo either. He could go the way of Bellinger and Seager and force the Dodgers to give him playing time. Both of these guys are making waves at Spring Training. There is also the issue of Trayce Thompson, who is out of options. Meaning the Dodgers give him a roster spot, or risk putting him through waivers.
Ideally, I would love Joc Pederson to return to his 2016 levels. If he can, the LF job should be his. But he has a lot to prove after a difficult 2017 campaign.
Any under the radar players to watch for this Spring that could have a chance to make the big league club?
Brian: I see a few open roster spots up for grabs, but not as many as some would think. There are players I think might be on the bubble, and who I’m looking forward to watching this spring. Guys like Yimi Garcia, Walker Buehler, Brock Stewart, and all the aforementioned left field options. I’m also keeping an eye on non-roster invitees like Pat Venditte and minor league invites like Yasiel Sierra, DJ Peters, and Edwin Rios, among others. However, these guys are all very long shots to make the club out of spring training.
Brandon: Scott Alexander is my big under-the-radar guy. He’s got a career ground ball rate of 73%, which is top of the top, cream of the crop. If he can maintain his control, he should benefit from the Dodgers defense behind him and could truly put up an elite season. I’m also really excited for the return of Yimi Garcia, who could be a big boon to the Dodgers bullpen if he recovers well from Tommy John.
Blake: Trayce Thompson hands down. Forgotten among the bustle of the LF gauntlet is a guy out of minor league options. And he’s been playing relatively well so far. If he can show he is healthy, he may at least play himself into a platoon role in LF. Toles, Pederson, and Verdugo all have options. Kemp’s defense only plays in LF, and the Dodgers may opt to carry Thompson and his defense over Kemp’s league average offense. Keep an eye on this guy Thompson.