After dominating the National League West last season, the Dodgers look to repeat their success in 2014 with familiar names and some new faces to bolster the roster. Most are familiar faces like Clayton Kershaw, Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez, and Yasiel Puig. And a face with a beard. You know — that guy. The one who used to show up during every commercial break.
2013 Season In Review
The Dodgers had missed the postseason for three straight seasons but made it back last fall. They made it as far as the NLCS before losing to the St. Louis Cardinals in six games. The season started off slow for them, however, having a record below .500 (38-43) by June 30. They turned it around with a strong run in July and August, going 42-12 in those two months. Yasiel Puig made his major league debut and placed second in NL Rookie of the Year voting with an outstanding campaign. Puig hit .319/.391/.534 with 19 home runs, an ISO of .215, wOBA of .398, wRC+ of 160, 4.0 fWAR, and 5.0 bWAR. To say that he was a key factor in the Dodgers' postseason push last year might be an understatement. The rotation was also strong to finish the season — Clayton Kershaw, Hyun-jin Ryu, Zack Greinke, Chris Capuano, and Ricky Nolasco. Chad Billingsley was out for the year with Tommy John surgery, but it didn't seem to stop the Dodgers from having an above-average pitching staff. But how could you go wrong with Kershaw as your ace, anyway?
Key Offseason Moves
The Dodgers appear to have focused on pitching depth with their offseason moves, including re-signing Brian Wilson. Locking up Clayton Kershaw to a long-term deal was expected, but he is now the highest paid pitcher in baseball history. Not only that, he's still only 26 and in his prime. He's pitched six seasons in the majors and five of those seasons were 4+ fWAR and 4+ bWAR seasons. It wouldn't be wrong to expect significantly above-average seasons from Kershaw for the duration of his contract — in fact, "significantly above-average" would probably be an understatement.
With Chris Capuano's option having been declined and Ricky Nolasco signing with the Minnesota Twins, signing Haren and Maholm to team-friendly contracts look like smart additions for the Dodgers. Haren and Maholm may not be the most outstanding pitchers on the market, but for contracts like that, hoping that they pitch above replacement level would be enough for them to provide value for the Dodgers who can easy shoulder the cost of the occasional overpay.
One To Watch: Yasiel Puig
This one might be a very obvious one, but Puig has to be the one to watch this season. After an outstanding rookie year, a test for Puig will be if he can sustain similar numbers and not go through a sophomore slump. At the age of 23, he still hasn't reached his peak power potential yet, but a .215 ISO is definitely something that might point in that direction. His 2013 BABIP was at .383, which seems highly unsustainable, but he does have that potential to keep it at a number higher than average. The fact that Puig recently turned 23 in December and has already put up high power numbers shows that he has yet to hit the ceiling of his full potential.
Dodgers By The Numbers
It's no question that the Dodgers' strength in pitching helped propel them to the postseason last year, but a team RA9-WAR of 19.9 is very much indicative of that. This places them 8th in all of MLB, behind teams like the Texas Rangers and the Atlanta Braves. Not surprisingly, Kershaw had the team's highest individual RA9-WAR with one of 8.8. However, Greinke and Ryu also held their own, with RA9-WARs of 4.8 and 4.0 respectively. If they can continue this in 2014, it's something that will be a major strength for the team, whether those runs are being prevented by the pitching staff or their solid defense.
2014 Team Outlook
Because of the state of the NL West, saying that the Dodgers are the front-runners to win the division would make the most sense. The Padres and the Rockies aren't necessarily built to have playoff-caliber teams and the Giants and the Diamondbacks are somewhere in the middle-to-bottom third of MLB teams in terms of how strong their rosters are. It could be easy for them to capitalize on the fact that the NL West might be a subpar division with one good team again this season, but they can't rely on that alone if they want to make it past the first round of the postseason. This Dodgers team may have the potential to reach the NLCS again, but being able to make it further is the true test and the one by which they will judge themselves.
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