Kiss ‘Em Goodbye: the Dodgers

All week long, I had an assignment hanging over my head that I hoped I wouldn’t have to write, at least for another couple of weeks: the Dodgers’ edition of the Baseball Prospectus/ESPN Insider “Kiss ‘Em Goodbye” series. Alas, with their Game Four meltdown and Game Five beatdown, their number was up. Here’s a bit of what I had to say:

When our initial PECOTA projections were unveiled in mid-February, the Dodgers’ overall chances at reaching the postseason only stood around 29 percent, with an eight-win gap separating them from the Diamondbacks. By the time the season opened, their odds were up to 57 percent (48 percent for a division title, nine percent for the wild card) thanks to the late-February addition of Orlando Hudson and the early March re-signing of Ramirez.

Those two deals, along with the early February signing of Randy Wolf, came at substantial discounts in a bad economy. This was a feather in Colletti’s cap, as he was able to reduce the Opening Day payroll by about $18 million relative to 2008.

As it was, PECOTA’s 93-win forecast was pretty accurate, particularly given that it nailed both the Dodgers’ ranking as the league’s stingiest pitching staff (they tied with the Giants for the fewest runs allowed at 3.77 per game) and fourth-highest scoring offense (4.81 runs per game). While [Chad] Billingsley didn’t live up to the system’s expectations due to a bad second half, Wolf put together a career year and [Clayton] Kershaw pitched well beyond his years, posting the league’s lowest hit rate (6.3 H/9), second-best homer rate (0.4 HR/9) and fifth-best strikeout rate (9.7 K/9) and ERA (2.79). Jonathan Broxton led the league with 4.9 WXRL while anchoring the circuit’s top bullpen.

As for the offense, its .273 EqA ranked second in the league. [Manny] Ramirez was projected to rank seventh in the league with a .315 EqA, and while his 50-game suspension prevented him from getting enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title, his .327 EqA would have ranked fifth. [Andre] Ethier (.301) and [Matt] Kemp (.298) both beat their projections slightly as well while becoming the first Dodgers to top 20 homers since 2005.

Key Stat: .346 OBP

Despite playing in one of the league’s top pitchers’ parks, the Dodgers put up the NL’s highest OBP as well as batting average (.270), enabling them to overcome a meager .412 slugging percentage (seventh in the league) and the third-lowest percentage of runs scored via homers (30.1). There simply wasn’t an easy out to be had in their lineup; of their eight regulars, only leadoff man Rafael Furcal (.335) finished below .350, and even he came on strong late in the year. Though Ramirez (.418) cooled off after his suspension, he nonetheless set the tone, walking 71 times in 104 games; his 21 intentional passes ranked third in the league behind Albert Pujols and Adrian Gonzalez despite his lengthy absence. Juan Pierre (.365) filled in admirably during that 50-game stretch and elsewhere off the bench. [Casey[ Blake (.363) set a career high. Kemp (.352) and Ethier (.361) set career highs in walks as well as homers, a sign of growing respect in the eyes of opposing pitchers. Russell Martin (.352) and James Loney (.357) kept the line moving despite mysterious power outages which raised questions about their future viability.

This will be a big winter for the Dodgers, with Billingsley, Ethier, Kemp, Loney, Martin and Hong-Chih Kuo all arbitration-eligible and ready to take up a significantly larger chunk of payroll. But whether it’s a spillover from the Dodgers’ ownership turmoil or a firm belief in their own resources, Colletti doesn’t sound inclined to try signing or trading for a true ace who could properly orient the rotation for a short series, as Joe Torre ultimately failed to do. One would think the Dodgers could consider dangling Billingsley in a deal for the Blue Jays’ Roy Halladay, or throw a significant amount of money at the Angels’ John Lackey, who’s been one of the game’s top 10 starters over the past five years according to ERA+, and who’s been battle-tested in the postseason.

I guess we Dodger fans shouldn’t hold our breaths for such an ace. On the contrary, perhaps we should thank our lucky stars that as bad as the internecine struggle between Frank and Jamie McCourt over control of the team appears to look, it’s considerably less likely to turn into the kind of fire sale that the Padres underwent in the wake of owner John Moores’ divorce, at least in the near term.

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