You may have noticed that FanGraphs’ initial 2016 projections came out, and… whoa:
- Cubs, 95-67
- Red Sox, 92-70
- Dodgers, 90-72
The Dodgers, the third-best team in baseball! This should come along with about a million different caveats including “sequencing and dumb-ass luck matter,” and “the projections don’t really handle relievers very well,” and “just because the projections didn’t like the Royals last year shouldn’t make you forget that no one liked the Royals last year,” and so on.
But really, it’s the Dodgers positioning that stands out, because, you know, if you listen to local radio or the guy who actually with a straight face said that the Hector Olivera/Alex Wood trade was among the worst in the history of the franchise — yes really, no, I’m not linking to it — the Dodgers are suffering through just a miserable winter. Not that I’m saying it’s been great; I’ve been clear that it’s not what anyone hoped for.
That said, I don’t run the projections — though FanGraphs is my former home, so go there and read and click ads — so this shouldn’t have anything to do with what I think of the team right now. I’m more interested in seeing why they still think so highly of the 2016 Dodgers, and if that’s fair. So let’s quickly do that.
This is the No. 3 overall catching group behind the Giants (Buster Posey) and Yankees (Brian McCann) in the projections, and these are three good players. I’ll be on MLB Network’s Top 10 by Position series over the next few weeks, and this is basically where I put Grandal, who was crushing the ball before he injured his shoulder and was arguably baseball’s best framing catcher. We saw Ellis play very well in the second half, and Barnes is still a very interesting prospect. This is a good collection.
|Scott Van Slyke||63||.243||.325||.410||.321||0.4||-0.1||0.3||0.2|
Eventually, age is going to catch up to Gonzalez. But he’s been basically the same guy each year since he’s been in LA, and this projection has some small regression built in. This is the No. 8 group, and with good depth behind him (Grandal, not shown here, can also play first), this feels right.
So this is the No. 17 group, which seems maybe okay, but which also ties them with Dee Gordon and the Marlins, which, come on. I’ve argued against forgetting the good talented players who came over from Miami for Gordon other than just Howie Kendrick, but no one is saying this group is as good as Gordon in 2016. So, can this group be league-average, which is what the projection is saying? I guess, because I love Hernandez and Utley was a very, very good player as recently as 2014. It just feels like that’s the ceiling, and the floor is… low. It’s worrisome.
This suggests that Seager will be an above-average player, but not a star, in his first full season. That does not seem unreasonable. When people point to the clear step back the rotation took with the loss of Zack Greinke, the expected upgrade from Jimmy Rollins to Seager is what I point them to.
However, the depth here worries me. Hernandez as a fill-in now and then is fine, but is he a long-term solution if Seager is hurt or struggles? If so, how much weight does that put on Utley to play full-time at second? If not Hernandez, the next option is… Erisbel Arruebarrena? Tim Locastro? Eesh.
Turner has been an underrated star, and arguably a better hitter than Todd Frazier. That his projected wOBA is much lower than his last two seasons (.394, .371) is partially due to the many years of mediocrity he had before the Dodgers, and that he’s also coming off microfracture knee surgery, so, fine. Still, this projection is only calling for the No. 16 overall third base group, which doesn’t seem unreasonable. But like shortstop, the depth here is terrifying. Hernandez and Utley each have extremely little third base experience — and are the second basemen — and Guerrero, well, you know.
|Scott Van Slyke||154||.243||.325||.410||.321||1.0||-0.2||0.8||0.5|
So if anything, this one actually feels low, because Ethier just came off a very good year, and I find both Crawford and Van Slyke useful. (Ethier’s lousy 2014 undoubtedly plays into the mix here.) Then again, left field is such a garbage pile in baseball these days that even this modest collection is the 10th-best group. These guys could do better. These guys should do better.
|Scott Van Slyke||28||.243||.325||.410||.321||0.2||0.0||0.1||0.1|
And then we come to this, probably the biggest source of controversy of all. This projection has the Dodgers right fielders third, ahead of the Red Sox (Mookie Betts), Jays (Jose Bautista), Astros (George Springer), and on and on. Needless to say, I’m not fully on board with that. If you look at this and laugh, I couldn’t even argue. Still, even this has Puig returning to something a lot closer to his 2014 form than his 2015 showing, and that’s not totally out of the question.
…and if you think Puig will hit .220 and play in 38 games, I couldn’t refute that either. A lot would have to go right for him to be a four-win player again.
Fair? *shrug emoji*
Is Puig a bigger question mark, or is Pederson? I hardly need remind you how much of a mess his second half was compared to his first, and this projection somewhat splits the difference by envisioning a 2016 that looks like his overall 2015 did. That seems among the least likely outcomes for me; either he’ll fix his problem and look like a near-star, or he won’t, and he’ll be in the minors by June. If that happens, then that’s another position Hernandez needs to step up in, though Thompson looks like an interesting acquisition.
You could see Pederson & Puig combining for 10 wins. You could see them combining for two. This is easily the biggest variance and uncertainty here.
|Clayton Kershaw||231.0||11.1||1.8||0.6||.300||80.9 %||2.08||2.27||7.8|
|Scott Kazmir||174.0||8.2||2.5||1.0||.300||73.0 %||3.59||3.66||2.6|
|Brett Anderson||160.0||6.4||2.6||0.7||.311||72.2 %||3.58||3.65||2.5|
|Alex Wood||143.0||7.0||2.8||0.9||.303||72.1 %||3.84||3.95||1.7|
|Hyun-Jin Ryu||94.0||7.5||2.2||0.9||.301||73.4 %||3.41||3.54||1.6|
|Mike Bolsinger||36.0||8.3||3.2||0.9||.306||72.0 %||3.78||3.73||0.5|
|Carlos Frias||36.0||6.2||2.7||1.0||.305||70.9 %||4.09||4.15||0.3|
|Brandon McCarthy||29.0||8.2||1.7||0.9||.306||73.7 %||3.20||3.21||0.6|
|Brandon Beachy||18.0||6.9||3.4||1.2||.298||71.4 %||4.39||4.55||0.1|
|Zach Lee||9.0||6.6||2.5||1.1||.301||71.6 %||4.02||4.16||0.1|
|Francelis Montas||9.0||9.2||3.5||0.9||.299||74.1 %||3.53||3.65||0.1|
|Jharel Cotton||9.0||9.1||3.0||0.9||.301||74.7 %||3.33||3.45||0.2|
|Ross Stripling||9.0||7.3||2.6||1.0||.300||72.9 %||3.78||3.94||0.1|
|Julio Urias||9.0||8.3||3.4||0.9||.299||73.0 %||3.74||3.87||0.1|
Speaking of controversy, the 2016 rotation, somehow ranked No. 1 overall! I’m not buying that. Kershaw is obviously a god, and rightfully earns the best projection of any starter, though I’m a bit uncomfortable with how much ahead he is. (He’s at nearly eight wins; Jacob deGrom & Matt Harvey are just above four, Jake Arrieta, Chris Sale, and Max Scherzer are around six, etc.)
The rest of this, well, this really goes back to what I said last week about depth. Kazmir & Anderson’s projections seem reasonable, and there’s about a billion different outcomes you could expect from everyone else. The idea being that even your tenth starter is someone you don’t mind throwing out there for a minute — not Scott Baker or Kevin Correia, etc. — is a powerful one. I’m just not sure I could say this is baseball’s best rotation with a straight face. Kershaw’s good. He’s not that good.
(Note: Kenta Maeda is not yet included in the projections, though his presence wouldn’t change the depth outlook all that much.)
|Kenley Jansen||65.0||11.6||2.4||0.8||.294||80.1 %||2.44||2.62||1.8|
|Chris Hatcher||65.0||9.5||2.8||0.9||.300||75.2 %||3.19||3.29||0.9|
|Yimi Garcia||55.0||9.9||2.7||1.0||.293||78.3 %||3.04||3.40||0.6|
|J.P. Howell||55.0||7.6||3.4||0.8||.303||73.1 %||3.61||3.79||0.2|
|Pedro Baez||45.0||9.5||2.7||0.9||.297||76.3 %||3.17||3.39||0.3|
|Luis Avilan||40.0||7.8||3.4||0.8||.301||73.3 %||3.56||3.77||0.1|
|Adam Liberatore||35.0||9.3||3.2||0.9||.299||75.5 %||3.28||3.48||0.1|
|Ian Thomas||30.0||9.1||3.1||0.8||.299||75.8 %||3.17||3.40||0.1|
|Josh Ravin||25.0||10.0||4.1||0.8||.300||74.1 %||3.49||3.55||0.0|
|Francelis Montas||20.0||9.2||3.5||0.9||.299||74.1 %||3.53||3.65||0.0|
|Jharel Cotton||15.0||9.1||3.0||0.9||.301||74.7 %||3.33||3.45||0.0|
|Ross Stripling||10.0||7.3||2.6||1.0||.300||72.9 %||3.78||3.94||0.0|
|Brooks Brown||10.0||7.5||3.0||0.9||.301||72.5 %||3.72||3.86||0.0|
|The Others||2.0||8.2||4.0||1.2||.322||69.5 %||4.74||4.50||0.0|
The projections have a bit of a tough time with relievers, largely due to limited sample sizes, so mostly ignore the WAR rankings. Jansen is elite, and you know how I feel about Hatcher’s late season resurgence. I’ve actually been saying for a while that I think the bullpen is better than it’s being given credit for; is it that unreasonable to think this could be a top-10 group? (The projections actually have them as No. 3, behind the Yankees & Red Sox, which seems a bit aggressive.) I don’t think it is.
Still feels like it’s missing something, though.
So, where does that leave us? These projections seem pretty fair behind the plate and in the infield. They seem extremely optimistic about Puig and Pederson, and far too high on the rotation, though left field should do better than we’re seeing here. I’m not sure it factors in some big lineup depth questions if Utley or Puig or Pederson don’t work out, or lord help us, multiple of them don’t. Ultimately, this is a roster that’s not without its flaws — sure would be nice to exchange Guerrero for a defensively-minded left side infielder — but that still has so, so much talent. I can’t say it’s the third best team in baseball, of course.
But you know how the other side of this works. To say that the D’Backs or Giants have blown past the Dodgers in the NL West, well, that’s not really true, either. Sure is a lot more fun when the talent on the team just arrived last month and you haven’t seen them in action, I get that. Sure doesn’t seem like much is better than the team that didn’t make it work last year, and I get that too. Still a good team, though. Still a damn good team. Just maybe not exactly in the way it’s laid out here.