Feb 05

Hunch bets on whether Dodgers will improve

It should be easy, right? But it’s not.

What needs to be emphasized, in trying to gauge whether the Dodgers will be improved this season, is how unpredictable baseball is. Whether it’s Clayton Kershaw and Matt Kemp or Josh Lindblom and A.J. Ellis, year-to-year changes among players are volatile. Trends and cynics are made to be broken.

In the chart below, listing the players who’d likely be the Dodger Opening Day roster if the season started today, I’m laying out my hunches on where the Dodgers will be better and where they’ll be worse. The net change, in my view, is a positive – but the positives are a) not particularly dramatic ones and b) perhaps a bit optimistic. (Fool me thrice, James, shame on you, but fool me four times …)

The Dodgers haven’t made any moves this winter to become significantly better. That doesn’t mean they will be worse than they were in 2011, and getting just a little better could be enough to keep them in the thick of the 2012 pennant race into the summer and trade deadline fever. The most negative thing I would say about the 2012 Dodgers is that there’s a lesser chance of a World Series title than of the roof caving in. But hey – I’m not counting either possibility out!

Player +/- Comment
Clayton Kershaw 0 Still young, but asking a lot to expect improvement over award-winning season.
Chad Billingsley + As in 2010, should improve from a disappointing year.
Ted Lilly 36 years old and trending down for past three seasons.
Aaron Harang Good environment for him, but can’t see him outpitching 2011 Kuroda.
Chris Capuano Has never had an ERA lower than Dodgers’ 2011 No. 5 starters, who had 3.81 ERA in 31 starts.
Kenley Jansen + We’ll hold out hope for his excellence to extend over full season.
Javy Guerra 0 Without a dominant strikeout rate, not confident in a big step forward.
Matt Guerrier + Making a hunch bet here that he’ll be more effective after inconsistent NL debut.
Todd Coffey + Could bring stability in place of last year’s Broxton-Kuo-Troncoso-Cormier-Padilla combo.
Mike MacDougal All things considered, Dodgers probably got a little lucky with him last year.
Scott Elbert + Now that his role is defined, 26-year-old with K ability can take another step forward.
Josh Lindblom + See Elbert. No reason for this guy to be in minors other than roster games.
A.J. Ellis + Despite power shortage, I’ll venture he’s better than Barajas over 100 games.
James Loney + Sheesh – who knows? We’ll bet he has another hot streak without repeating terrible ’11 start.
Mark Ellis + Dodger 2B had .627 OPS last year. Maybe Ellis improves on that with better defense.
Dee Gordon + Will bet on him having growth.
Juan Uribe + Has to be at least a little better this year than last.
Juan Rivera Could be the No. 3 left fielder by May.
Matt Kemp 0 See Kershaw.
Andre Ethier + At minimum, good chance of him recovering 2010 form.
Matt Treanor 0 Not significantly better than Navarro.
Jerry Hairston 0 Hairston and Kennedy are essentially replacing Blake and Miles.
Adam Kennedy Guaranteed $800,000 contract makes little more sense to me than Navarro’s deal last year.
Jerry Sands + Not expecting an All-Star, but plenty of chance for him to play signficant role.
Tony Gwynn Jr. 0 At 29, we probably know what we’re going to get.
Total +7