The Dodgers have been up and down like a yo-yo the past three seasons, going from 93 wins and a division title in 2004 to 71 wins and 4th place in 2005 to 88 wins and a wild card in 2006. Historically, they have thrived when concentrating on pitching and defense and relying on a couple of star offensive players. However, a reconfiguring of Dodger Stadium in recent years has changed the park dynamic a bit. From 1979 through 2005, the park skewed significantly in favor of pitching every single season. For much of that period, the park was the premier pitcher’s park in the NL. In 2006, however, the park ended the year with a 102 park factor, (up from 95/96 the previous two seasons), marking the first time in decades the park favored hitters. No, Dodger Stadium is not going to be replacing Coors field any time soon, but at the very least, it has lost its status as a major pitcher’s park. It has moved toward average since the reduction in foul territory, and can no longer be counted on to mask the lack of talent in deficient pitchers. This is important to understand in a new era, where the Dodgers are routinely churning their roster via free agency, rather than relying almost completely on home grown talent as was once the case.
The Top Tier
SP Jason Schmidt – In 2006, despite making the playoffs, the Dodgers had no one who could be considered top tier. The best hitters managed only 20 HRs, and only Drew got 100 RBI. The best pitchers managed 16 wins, but neither Penny nor Lowe managed 150 Ks, and while Takashi Saito was very good, he was only good for part of the season, notching 24 saves. While two of the more valuable fantasy guys from 2006 (Drew and Lofton) are gone, the Dodgers added a legitimate top tier fantasy producer in Jason Schmidt. While disappointing by his lofty standards, even Schmidt’s sub-par season, (11 wins, 3.59 ERA, 1.26 WHIP and 180 Ks) was superior to anyone L.A. had. While the Dodgers lost some offense from 2006, the defense behind Schmidt should make up the difference, and a rebound year is likely. Project him to: 18 wins, a 3.20 ERA with 203 Ks and a 1.15 WHIP.
The Second Tier
CA Russell Martin – A solid year in 2006 gave the Dodgers the catcher of the future they have been searching for since trading away Paul LoDuca. By most measures, Martin was a fairly average catcher, and only makes the second tier because he’s one of a precious few catchers with the speed to steal some bases. This props up his overall value more than his age (24). While there is always the danger of a sophomore slump, Martin didn’t have an off-the-wall breakout season, just solid overall production. He doesn’t strike out much, and he has decent patience, which are traits one likes to see in a young hitter. Those traits should make him less susceptible to a decline in year two. Project him to: .279/13/67 with 14 steals.
1B Nomar Garciapara -- If he was still playing shortstop, he’d be a top tier contender. But, as a first basemen, he’s got below average power. He’s a solid guy for average, and with the departure of Drew, it is likely he’ll be the leading RBI guy for the Dodgers this season. Health is always a concern, but he’s only 33, and after three straight abbreviated seasons, I’m thinking he manages to squeeze in 145 games this season, and post a line of: .308/28/107.
SS Rafael Furcal – Coming off a quiet career year, (setting or tying personal bests in average, HRs, and RBI), Furcal is almost top tier. He’s got enough speed to rank among the top 5 SS in SBs regularly. He hit .300 in 2006 and scored 113 runs – so why not make him top tier? Simply put, because he was having a career year. Also, the Dodgers added Juan Pierre, who could be placed in the lead-off slot, which won’t help Furcal’s RBI chances much, but will likely cut down on his stolen bases. The Dodgers also lost more offense than they gained, which should hurt him in runs scored and RBI. Project him to: .284/12/58 with 39 SBs and 103 runs. Not quite top tier, but close.
OF Juan Pierre – Despite a complete lack of power and RBI, Pierre is still a valuable guy in fantasy land, (much more than he is in the real world, for sure). He led the majors with 58 steals, and a number like that gives him unique value in fantasydom. His OBP is miserable, which will keep his runs scored total lower than it should be, and he also gets caught stealing a lot. His average is the only other stat that is reasonable, making him a 2-trick pony in a 4 or 5-trick circus. As a specialist, he’s incredibly valuable, but his lack of HR and RBI keep him out of the top tier. Project him to: .299/3/44 with 55 steals and 100 runs scored.
RP Takashi Saito – After notching 24 saves with only 2 blown saves, and posting a 2.07 ERA, Saito is going to draw a lot of interest when closers come up. The problem here is that Saito has only one season in the majors, but is 37 this year. It’s not unusual for pitchers to have some initial success when arriving from the Orient, only to struggle a bit more subsequently, as major league hitters figure them out. The huge plus for Saito is an awesome strikeout rate, (107-K in 78 innings). Those are both top numbers in both categories among closers. If he had closed the entire season, he would almost certainly have been top 5 in saves. And many will project him there this year. I’m hesitant to do so, as I’m nervous about one-year wonders, especially when they are 37, and just watched their offense get worse during the off-season. Saito could easily prove me wrong, and throw up 45 saves, but the combination of “is he really this good?”, plus his age, plus a division getting a bit tougher makes me a might skittish.
SP Brad Penny – Coming off a 16 win, 148-K season, Penny finally came close to fulfilling the promise he showed back in 2001 when he posted a 1.15 WHIP, 3.69 ERA and won 10 games for the Marlins. Since then, he’s been splitting time between the mound and the DL. While his ERA in 2006 was a disappointing 4.33, this is more aberration than slippage, as his peripherals were all solid. Project him to 15 wins, a 3.47 ERA and 150 Ks, and 1.26 WHIP, and pray he stays healthy.
SP Derek Lowe – Unlike Penny, Lowe has been a reliable innings eater for some time. And though his K/9 numbers are sub-par, he typically piles up enough innings that he manages to get barely enough Ks to keep him a viable fantasy play. Since joining the Dodgers, his control has improved, moving his WHIP down enough to make him a decent, if unspectacular SP. A repeat of his past two seasons seems likely: 14 wins, 3.62 ERA, 138 Ks, and a 1.25 WHIP.
SP Randy Wolf – The Dodgers are just chock full of mid-level SPs. Wolf has the best strikeout potential of everyone except Schmidt. But he’s coming off a three season stay at the Hotel Gimpy. With fairly miserable numbers and the long DL stints, his stock has fallen dreadfully, making him a potential steal in the later rounds of drafts. No one can tell whether he’ll be fully recovered from his various ailments, but the Dodgers are pretty good at identifying pitching talent, so I’m willing to be a little optimistic about the Return of the Wolf. Don’t pay too much, or jump too soon on draft day, because his health status makes him high risk – but I’m projecting him at: 13 wins, 160 Ks, 3.70 ERA and 1.27 WHIP.
The Third Tier
2B Jeff Kent – Kent’s .862 OPS for 2006 would have ranked him 4th in the majors among 2Bs, if he had qualified. But he didn’t, because he only played 115 games. I KNOW I’m going to take heat for projecting Kent as a third tier 2B, because second base isn’t exactly bursting at the seams with talent. But Kent is 39 this season, and though his average was still solid (.292), his health and power are both starting to fade. Had he been healthy all season, it’s questionable whether he’d have managed 20 HRs, and his .477 slugging percentage is his worst since 1997. The problem here is that a guy who has been this good for this long is exactly the kind of guy who will push himself when he should rest, and turn a few days off into major DL time. I’m expecting the power decline to continue, an even longer DL stint, and his first sub-.280 batting average since 1997, as time finally catches up to him. Project him at: .276/12/60 with 0 steals and only about 90 games played. If he managed to stay healthy, you can add another 5 HRs and 20 RBI.
3B Wilson Betemit – I really hate to place Betemit here in third tier land, because I’m a bit of a fan. I got to see him fill in for injured players while in Atlanta and saw a guy with good skills, a little patience and little pop. At only 25, he’s still a work in progress, so improvement is still possible. The problem is that third base is just glutted with talent these days. A dozen 3Bs hit 22 HRs last season. Ten had 94+ RBI. A half dozen had double-digit steals. Betemit is simply too much of a reach to project him higher than at least a dozen other MLB 3Bs. I’m thinking he’ll be a good value for the Dodgers this year, posting a line something like: .285/22/68. The problem is that an .800 OPS isn’t enough to get you into the top 12 among 3Bs. He could, however, be a nice backup to have, as further development could turn him into a decent fantasy producer. He’s just not someone to risk much on before the season starts.
OF – Andre Ethier/Luis Gonzo – Luis is past his prime, and Andre needs another year or two to develop. In fantasy baseball, outfielders must have significant power or significant speed. Project both of these guys to .287/19/72 and stay away.
OF Matt Kemp – This #4 outfielder may actually have the most talent of the generally weak Dodger contingent. He’s put up some eye-popping numbers during his rapid rise through the Dodger farm system. He hit 27 HR in 109 games at A+ Vero Beach in 2005, with a nice .930 OPS. He split time three ways AA/AAA/Majors during 2006, posting a .930 OPS at AA, a .988 at AAA, and hitting 7-HR in 154 at bats once he reached the Bigs. His total minor league line .309/.357/.516/.873 doesn’t tell the whole story, as his numbers have gone up instead of down as he rose through the system. As an example, he struck out 100 times in 423 at bats in A-ball in 2004. In 2005, he struck out 92 times in 418 at bats in A+ ball. In 2006, combining his AA and AAA stats, he struck out 64 times in 381 at bats. Whatever the Dodgers are teaching, this kid is definitely applying. With a long-in-the-tooth Luis Gonzo ahead of him, playing time may be limited early, but Kemp is definitely someone to keep an eye on as a reserve, because given the general weakness of the Dodger outfield, he could become a significant contributor before the season is over. Oh, and just in case you were wondering, he also stole 60 of 80 bases in the minors, (and was 6 for 6 in steals on his 154 2006 at bats in the bigs). At only 22, there is still upside to be enthralled by, but this kid could turn into a 30/20 guy, (think Beltran).
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