Great expectations may be a tepid realization – This team isn’t that good

I write this post hoping I’m wrong. I can’t think of a time that I wanted to be more wrong.

I entered 2013 with an extremely positive outlook on the season. The new ownership group came in and spent record amounts of money on player payroll. They brought Sandy Koufax back. They renovated the clubhouse and made Dodger Stadium the place where all the top tier players should want to play. Almost everything looked bright, even though they started the year with Hanley Ramirez on the D.L.

So, now as the Dodger season starts off with a collective sputter, their performance makes me wonder if this is what should be expected from the team this year. What if this is what the 2013 Dodgers are, a team that meanders around the break-even mark? I think it’s fair to say that most of us had much higher expectations for this team with a $220 million payroll. Perhaps those expectations were completely off the mark.

Bringing Dodger legend and Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax back into the Dodger family was one of the best moves by new ownership. (Photo credit - Ron Cervenka)

The lofty expectations that many Dodger fans had during spring training seem to have diminished significantly after only two weeks into the new season.
(Photo credit – Ron Cervenka)

Are the Dodgers of today a team that is accurately reflected by their current sub .500 record? It has been argued in some quarters that they are under-performing, but perhaps they aren’t. I think I was dead wrong with my pre-season prognostications which had the Dodgers winning 95 games. The Dodgers are not the strong team I thought they were. I hope I’m very wrong, but judging from their performances last September and thus far this April, I’m seeing trends that are not promising at all.

Here’s my piece-by-piece breakdown of some of the Dodgers problems with the bat. What I say below about each player might be construed as being somewhat exaggerated, but I don’t think so. There is at least a smidgen of truth in each statement on each player. There are some problems folks, and I hope to the heavens that some of these guys prove me wrong.

Luis CruzHe may simply be the player that his lifetime stats say he is – a lifetime .240 hitter that has an OBP that mirrors his BA; a first ball swinger that doesn’t work counts; a fine defensive player on balls he reaches, but one that has limited defensive range. Maybe it is accurate to say that Cruz at best is a major league utility infielder and most likely a AAAA player that should be languishing in the PCL.

A.J. Ellis – A.J. might have reached his peak as a player last year. Here we have a guy that toiled for nearly a decade in the minors and worked his tail off to get where he is. He never was given a shot at making the big club until last year. He works counts, he fouls off a lot of pitches, he gets his share of walks and his OBP is real good. But a .250 hitter may be what he is. His defense has its ups and downs and how many times are balls in the dirt going to get away from him? The catching position may be a real concern for years to come as Ellis is already 32 years old.

Andre Ethier – Ethier’s power numbers have declined in the last few years and his numbers against left-handed pitching are suspect with a .240 lifetime BA. He just might be an aging highly paid platoon player, and a temperamental one at that. I think his best days are behind him and he probably should be traded now before the entire league sours on him and he loses his trade value.

Mark Ellis – He’s a veteran whose best days are behind him. At 35 years old he should probably be a utility guy at this point in his career. Every team needs an Ellis, but plugging him in the #2 slot in the batting order and giving him 650 plate appearances per year is a lot of outs to give away. He’s best slated in the #8 slot, but there’s a lot of Dodger players that fit the #8 role now.

Matt Kemp – He might be accurately described now as a former superstar who can’t return to glory due to a catastrophic shoulder injury that sapped the power out of his game. He’s a player that’s giving it his all but his failures have caused him to revert to bad habits of his early playing days in an effort to find himself. I hope I’m wrong on Matt. I think he’ll be okay, but it might take a month or two for him to get straightened out.

Juan Uribe – A lost player in the final year of his career who now struggles to bat .200.

Jerry Hairston Jr. – A player that is a year from retirement and a shadow of his former self, which never was much more than a utility player.

Skip Schumaker – He’s a journeyman player that St. Louis allowed to walk as he didn’t meet the needs of their roster anymore. A player on the downside of his career that can’t be counted on as a regular contributor to the team. He should be valuable off the bench, but he has even struggled in that role.

Ramon Hernandez – A backup catcher who was on his way out of baseball, only to be given a last chance to hang on for one more year. His advancing age and declining skills probably should be in retirement mode.

Justin Sellers – A no hit/mediocre fielding shortstop that is a AAAA player who should be in Albuquerque. His work ethic is impressive, but as a Major Leaguer, he’s suspect at best.

Nick Punto – Another journeyman player that can play a lot of positions, but a starter with a future he is not. Expect .250 from him and a solid bench guy. Put him in the lineup everyday and you’re hurting.

That’s eleven players; eleven bats on this team that are suspect. This ball club is not as good as we thought and try as they may, Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez aren’t enough to carry them. The return of Hanley Ramirez to the lineup should help, but he’ll have his struggles too as he works himself back into playing shape after being out for two months.

The person that should be worried is Don Mattingly who is playing out the season without a contract for next year. He’ll be the scapegoat no doubt, and that’s too bad as he is a true gentleman and a good baseball man.

With Mattingly in the final year of his 3-year contract and no contract extension in sight, you can bet that he isn't sleeping all that well right now. (Photo credit - Denis Poroy)

With Mattingly in the final year of his 3-year contract and no contract extension in sight, it’s safe to say that he probably isn’t sleeping very well at night right now.
(Photo credit – Denis Poroy)

Look for Davey Lopes or Tim Wallach to take over the helm by mid season and possibly Mike Scioscia to be Dodger manager by 2014 when the Angels fail to make it to the post season and the Halos send him walking. Baseball fans from both teams may find 2013 to be a year to be forgotten.

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23 Responses to “Great expectations may be a tepid realization – This team isn’t that good”

  1. Truebluewill says:

    Evan, you paint a very bleak picture. I agree with what you said about Cruz. He might just be a one hit wonder. Last year could have been his 15 minutes of fame. I hate to feel that Kemp’s best days are behind him, but I do agree that he is reverting to bad habits of when he first came up. Ethier so far has hit .304 against LHP and .231 against RHP. His only HR has been against LHP and all his walks (9) have been against RHP, which tells me they still might not want to pitch to him. I’m interested in seeing how this season will play out for Ethier, because he is one of my favorite Dodgers and I always root very hard for him.

    I know that spending a lot of money doesn’t guarantee a winner, so your breakdown could be correct. I too am hoping that you are very, very wrong.

  2. rmonten3 says:

    It’s. Been. Three. Weeks.

    • Evan Bladh says:

      Agree. Three weeks. And there’s 147 games to go. There is time to turn things around. BUT, there has also been last year’s September failure with the same offense for the most part. We are talking about a sample size in the neighborhood of 50 games now and the clutch hits aren’t coming. That doesn’t make me feel too good about this group.

  3. rmonten3 says:

    Also, lol Carlos Hernandez.

  4. OldBrooklynFan says:

    A very well wrtten article and I have to say that I agree with it. I think the only hope is that the team inproves it’s average of hitting with RISP. The biggest problem as far as I can see is there are too many RLISP and they are just failing to convert all the opportunities they have of driving these runs in.
    I, for one, can not think of any ways of correcting this problem except to say that there is a very good chance that it is mental. I think the players are aware of this problem and are trying too hard when the situation arrives.

  5. Ron Cervenka says:

    An uncomfortable but honest and accurate assessment, Evan.

    I have purposely avoided writing an article along these lines as I am trying desperately to suppress my “realistic” attitude that many deem as being negative, in spite of its accuracy.

    This is where a line must be drawn in the sand separating those who deal with the cold hard facts (statistics) and those who choose to wear rose colored glasses and hope and wish that everything will be okay – aka: the homers. I certainly understand that “hope springs eternal” but the facts are the facts – like them or not.

    I think the most uncomfortable part of this entire equation is/are the expectations of Hanley Ramirez. I simply do not see him as a very good defensive shortstop. Even at his very best he has never been more than a mediocre shortstop. So, do the Dodgers put him at 3B instead and make Luis Cruz the everyday SS? Cruz is (in my opinion) still the best option from among the lot, but he is also mediocre at best (although he has a very accurate arm). But regardless of who plays where, Hanley’s bat absolutely must be in the everyday line-up.

    As much as I agree with your early assessment, I too believe that 15 games into the season is a bit premature to cry wolf. That said, I still believe that: So goes Kemp, So go the Dodgers. If he can snap out of his funk (if that’s all it is and not something more serious, such as his shoulder still hurting), I believe that he, Crawford, Gonzalez, Ethier and Ramirez are more than enough to get it done – if they can all get on the same page. If/when this happens; they will definitely make up for the deficiencies of the others.

    I also disagree with you on Mark Ellis. He is doing an outstanding job in the number 2 hole (.296 / .328 / .315) and has played 2B like a 25-year-old.

    I am also okay with A.J.’s defense; and though he has the best plate discipline on the team, I have always wanted him to be a little more aggressive at the plate and occasionally go after those first two pitches that he almost always takes, as they are usually the best pitches that he is going to see. The scouting report is definitely out on him and if he were to start swinging earlier in the count, it would definitely confuse the opposing pitchers and would undoubtedly improve his batting average and his power numbers.

    Aside from that, I agree with you assessment as to the state of this Dodger team.

    BTW – I have been saying that Scioscia would replace Mattingly as the Dodger manager for over two years now.

  6. Evan Bladh says:

    Punto, Schumacher, Hernandez, Uribe, Cruz, Hairston, Sellers. Some or perhaps all of that group make up the Dodger bench. There isn’t one real offensive threat in the bunch. Not one of those guys enter the game as a pinch hitter and we all are optimistic that a pinch hit is on the way. Throw Puig, Pederson and maybe even Van Slyke in there and at least there is a home run threat. I realize Puig and Pederson need their ABs in the minors, but I’d be a lot more confident in the Dodger team if they were on the Major League roster.

    Mark Ellis turns 36 in June. So my concerns with him are mainly due to the inevitable regression he will experience due to his advancing age. He’s a steady fielder and team player that is as smart as anyone in the league. So there’s a place for him, at the bottom of the order in my opinion.

    AJ Ellis is the hardest working guy on the club and I can live with his offensive approach which the whole team should adopt, but how many times are balls in the dirt going to get away from him? His defense has really deteriorated. Maybe this is a temporary lapse of concentration. I hope that’s the case.

    Kemp is lost out there and I keep hoping he’ll break out of it. This may be McGwire’s greatest challenge this year. I believe he’ll recover, but he’s an emotional player, and an impatient player that may start to lose confidence in the injury recovery process.

  7. ebbetsfld says:

    I’m not willing to throw in the towel this quickly. I certainly am unwilling to share your views on Kemp and Ethier, but I agree wholeheartedly with your assessment of our bench. I’ll reserve my judgement until mid-June.

    • Ron Cervenka says:

      Haha – I inadvertently left that out of my reply, ebbetsfld – I forgot to say that I was going to wait until June 1 to give my assessment of the team – how funny is that!

  8. Bluenose Dodger says:

    I have pretty much stayed out of the prediction business this year, indicating I was only cautiously optimistic. I didn’t make predictions, nor respond to any. My reasons were that I would be seen to be negative before the first gun was fired.

    I figured the team could only go two ways. One was to come out smoking and be seen to be a real threat. The other, and the one I feared, was that the team would play as it has. I didn’t figure they would be a grind it out team. There is still lots of time to get things turned around but it doesn’t feel as if they will.

    My concerns echoed Evan’s in many respects. I felt we have a bench, role players, all cut with the same cookie cutter, versatile, but not very productive. I was OK with the pitching figuring Ryu and Beckett would be middle to end of rotation guys. The loss of Greinke was a serious blow and Chad is a key member of the staff. I could not predict the pen would be as vulnerable as it is.

    The Dodgers are pretty much the same team they were for the last two months in 2012, missing Ramirez of course. Crawford is way better than Victorino. The RISP famine continues with the same players as in 2012. Adrian will get 100+ RBI but his power, as feared, is diminished. He doesn’t give the impression he can be a 30+ homer guy again. Hopefully he can but his four year pattern wouldn’t suggest that.

    For the final two months of 2012 we heard the team has not gelled/jelled – wait until Spring Training and they have had time together. I didn’t buy into that as players can still hit the ball, gelled as a team or not. They may not win a WS without gelling but can get there, or at least make the playoffs. We are still waiting for the gelling in 2013.

    I agree with Evan, the team is not that good being the highest paid team, by far, in MLB. Somehow the middle is missing between the big guns and the role players. Another concern I have is the farm system. It is not that strong with a few exceptions. There is some pitching and outfield depth but little infield depth. I for one would not trade the farm for Chase Headley but wait on Corey Seager. My biggest concern is that the plus prospects we have are basically trade bait and management will continue to aspire by acquiring from outside of the system.

    In my opinion the owners tried to go too far too fast thinking they could buy instant competitiveness. Again, I hope they have done just that but we have seen over the years that huge payrolls have not been the magic elixir to success.

    I am sure we are all frustrated right now, as is the team. Hopefully Matt Kemp will take off and ignite this team.

  9. MFGRREP says:

    I can understand all you have listed Evan and I can even agree with some or most of it, but like Dick I’ll wait to until later in the season to voice my loss of faith. Guess it’s time for me to put back on my rose colored glasses. Signed Homer Smith

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