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2010 Los Angeles Dodgers: The Curse of the NL's Best Spring Preview
by Keith Glab,
February 27, 2010

Key Transactions
Acquired Pos.
Reed Johnson OF
Jamey Carroll IF
Alfredo Amezaga IF/OF
Luis Ayala RP
Russ Ortiz SP
Angel Berroa SS
Brian Giles OF
Josh Towers SP
Departed Pos.
Jon Garland SP
Randy Wolf SP
Orlando Hudson 2B
Juan Pierre CF
Eric Milton SP
Guillermo Mota RP
Will Ohman RP
Juan Castro SS
Jason Schmidt SP
Jim Thome PH

In some ways, the American League is boring, as the same four teams seem to make the postseason just about every year.  Not so in the National League, where the best team in the league tends to falter the following season.

In 2009, the Los Angeles Dodgers had the best record in the league with 95 victories.  We need only look at their 2010 roster to know that they won't come anywhere close to that total this season, but the Curse of the NL's Best portends an ill fate as well.

Perhaps we should call it the Curse of the 2006 Cardinals instead.  Coming off two consecutive triple-digit win seasons, the St. Louis Cardinals expected to coast into another postseason berth.  That didn't quite happen, as the reigning best team in the NL squeaked in with 83 wins.  Despite that being their lowest win total in seven years, they wound up winning their first and so far only World Series title in he Tony LaRussa era.

It is as though the baseball gods frowned upon this anti-correlation and made certain that if the team with the best record in the NL doesn't win the World Series, they are due for quite a fall.  Consider that the 2007 Cardinals continued the decline of the 2006 squad by winning only 78 games.  The Redbirds would not see postseason play again until 2009.  The New York Mets had the best record in baseball in 2006, boasting 97 victories.  They missed the playoffs the following two seasons due to historic September collapses before winning just 70 games last season. 

Alex Gonzalez Candidate
Casey Blake
Dodger infielders have a knack for second half collapses
Comeback Candidate
Russell Martin
What the heck happened last year?

The Arizona Diamondbacks had the best record in the NL back in 2007, then proceeded to win eight fewer games the following season and 20 fewer in 2009.  The Chicago Cubs won 97 games in 2008, then fell prey to yet another curse, setting them back to an 83-victory season in 2009.  Since the Cardinals won 100 games in 2005, the NL team with the best record has averaged a dropoff of 12 wins the following season.  Not a single one got to the World Series in their league-leading season nor made the playoffs the following season.

2009 Standings - NL West
West W L PCT GB Home Road RS RA Exp W% RHP LHP
Los Angeles Dodgers 95 67 .586 0 50-31 45-36 780 611 .610 68-47 27-20
Colorado Rockies* 92 70 .568 3 51-30 41-40 804 715 .553 65-44 27-26
San Francisco Giants 88 74 .543 7 52-29 36-45 657 611 .533 65-52 23-21
San Diego Padres 75 87 .463 20 42-39 33-48 638 769 .415 49-58 26-29
Arizona Diamondbacks 70 92 .432 25 36-45 34-47 720 782 .462 53-62 17-30

Pos '09 '10
C Martin Martin
1B Loney Loney
2B Hudson Belliard/Carroll
3B Blake Blake/DeWitt
SS Furcal Furcal
LF Pierre/Ramirez Man-Ram
CF Kemp Kemp
RF Ethier Ethier
Okay, enough cute observations.  The Dodgers aren't going to fall by 12 victories because of some silly curse. They are going to fall by far more than 12 victories because Joe Torre mismanaged them in October and because their roster lacks depth.

How can I write such things?  This was not only the winningest team in the National League, but it also had the best run differential in all of baseball.  They battled through a 50-game suspension to their best hitter last year.  In Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Chad Billingsley, Clayton Kershaw, and Jonathan Broxton, they possess five of the best young players in all of baseball. What's not to like?

Well, pretty much everything outside of those five players and Manny Ramirez.  Their infield ranges from old (Casey Blake, Ronnie Belliard) to impotent (Russell Martin, James Loney) plus features Rafael Furcal, who's a little bit of both.  Hiroki Kuroda is the only legitimate pitcher behind Billingsley and Kershaw in the rotation.  While the earned run averages in the bullpen look swell, their peripheral stats do not (aside from Broxton's, of course).  With the defense older and slower, many of these bullpen arms will get exposed. 

Matt Kemp

Even though Manny Ramirez served a 50-game suspension, the offense by and large was remarkably healthy.  Even with Manny's missed time, the Dodgers had eight position players play in at least 139 games.  That is quite rare, especially for a team peppered with aging players.  The team did overcome an injury to Kuroda, but the three most important members of their rotation - Billingsley, Kershaw, and Randy Wolf - all made at least 30 starts.  Broxton, one of the hardest throwers in the game and one of the fattest pitchers around, was perfectly healthy, as was most of his supporting cast.  This team was unbelievably healthy in 2009; it will have to deal with more injury adversity in 2010. 

Having poor depth behind a small core of star players is bad enough, but the Dodgers' emergency plan includes the likes of Russ Ortiz, Josh Towers, and Angel Berroa.  These players can turn competitive teams into cellar dwellers all by themselves.  We even made a Josh Towers Award for the pitcher in baseball who does the most to keep an otherwise competitive team out of the playoffs.  If the Dodgers suffer an average amount of injuries this year, they will be in trouble.  If they suffer a lot of injuries and players like these are the fill-ins, the Dodgers could be looking at the worst record in their division.

Pos '09 10
SP Wolf Billingsley
SP Billingsley Kershaw
SP Kershaw Kuroda
SP Kuroda Padilla
SP Stults, etc. Stults/McDonald
CL Broxton Broxton
RP Troncoso Troncoso
RP Belisario Belisario
RP Mota/McDonald Ayala
RP Weaver Elbert
LP Kuo/Sherrill Kuo/Sherrill

Problematically, there are even questions surrounding the Dodgers' core of stars.  This is thanks in large part to manager Joe Torre.  Based on an uncharacteristically bad September by ace Chad Billingsley and an uncharacteristically competent September from journeyman Vicente Padilla, Torre used Padilla over Billingsley in the postseason rotation.  This not only cost the Dodgers any chance at winning the NLCS, but it may have cost Billingsley his future confidence.  Furthermore, Torre went with the 21-year old Kershaw in game one of that NLCS.  Kershaw proceeded to walk six batters, throw three wild pitches, and hit one guy, reminding anyone over 20 of Rick Ankiel's performance in the 2000 postseason.  He was inexplicably allowed to face nine batters in the fifth inning.  It is unlikely that Kershaw will collapse as completely as Ankiel did, but it is very likely that either Kershaw or Billingsley has a poor season because of Torre's blundering.

Clayton Kershaw
Then there's Manny.  He's saying that this will be his last season with the Dodgers and perhaps his last, period.  There is a very real chance that Mr. Ramirez collects his $20 million and phones in the season.  You could argue that he did not try too hard last season, as he hit .269 and slugged .492 in 260 at-bats after his suspension.  Given his age, motivation level, and a possible deficit of performance enhancers in his body, there are plenty of reasons to question Ramirez' productivity in 2010.  Torre has pretty much let Manny do whatever he wants over the past year-and-a-half, so it's hard to figure that he will be able to motivate Man-Ram.

Rounding out the six stars, Matt Kemp had a PrOPS of just .813 last year.  That isn't terrible, and much of Kemp's value comes from speed and defense, but those who expect Kemp to improve upon his 2009 numbers are going to be disappointed.  Broxton fanned an absurd 13.5 batters per nine innings last year, but pitchers like him can suddenly lose command or get injured on the turn of a dime.  Only Andre Ethier is above reproach, but he has the lowest ceiling of them all.

Dodgers Team Capsule

6/27/10: Broxton Brings Dodger Blues - Jonathan Broxton entered the ninth inning of Sunday night's game against the New York Yankees with a four-run lead and a 0.87 season ERA (three earned runs in 32.2 innings). He left with the game tied and a 1.87 ERA in a contest that the Yankees would win 8-6 in ten innings.

Besides allowing more earned runs in one game than he had in his previous 33 combined and more than doubling his season ERA, Broxton got off the hook rather easily. Because he entered with a four-run lead, he did not get saddled with a blown save, and because the Yankees only tied the game against him, Broxton did not take the loss. Whenever you hear someone say that a closer's ERA is irrelevant, this outing should be on the back of your mind and the tip of your tongue.

Final Word

Randy Wolf, Orlando Hudson, and Juan Pierre aren't fantastic players, but they all had good seasons for the Dodgers last year.  Not only has Ned Colletti and company failed to replace their production, but most of the players that remain aren't likely to repeat their 2009 performances.  The Dodgers play in a strong division in which the other four teams either held steady or improved.  It's hard to see how the Dodgers can approach .500 this season playing against such formidable foes.  They will probably finish in fourth place, assuming one of their rivals suffers more injuries than they do.    

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