2014 Fantasy Outlooks: Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers might be the team with the most risk and reward in the majors. Our Al Melchior breaks down the lineup and rotation from a Fantasy perspective in his team outlook.
The Dodgers' Great Spending Spree of 2012 continued into last offseason, and with the additions of Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu , the star-studded squad was able to secure its first division title and postseason berth since 2009. Though the team's investment in pricey veterans like Greinke, Adrian Gonzalez and Hanley Ramirez paid off to some degree, it was three players in their pre-peak years -- Clayton Kershaw , Yasiel Puig and Kenley Jansen -- who were key to fueling the Dodgers' success.
That trio was also a big part of the success of many Fantasy owners. Of course, Kershaw cost the Dodgers $215 million this offseason, and he won't come cheap in Fantasy auctions or drafts either. Nor should he. His 1.83 ERA and 0.92 WHIP made him the most productive pitcher in Fantasy, and his consistency over the last three years is rivaled by none. As a rookie, Puig had his ups and downs, but his overall body of work -- reflected in a .319/.391/.534 slash line -- was impressive enough to make him a viable early round pick this year. Though he needed a meltdown by Brandon League to get a second chance to close, Jansen seized the opportunity and became one of the most valuable closers in Fantasy, despite having the role for less than two-thirds of the season. He heads into 2014 as one of Fantasy's top five closers.
Like Jansen, Ramirez made the most of limited opportunities, ranking as the fifth-most productive shortstop in Rotisserie formats despite playing only 86 games. Numerous injuries shelved Ramirez during the 2013 season, and he scarcely played until mid-June. Health issues have put a damper on his Fantasy value at various times over the last four seasons, but if Ramirez can avoid injury, he could emerge as the top shortstop in Fantasy overall. Injuries are an even bigger concern for Matt Kemp (ankle, shoulder), but even with him being in danger of missing opening day, he will likely be taken in the early rounds of most drafts.
Gonzalez and Carl Crawford are past their days of being Fantasy elites, but both still have enough value to be worth mid-round picks. The same is true for the Dodgers' No. 2 and 3 starting pitchers, Greinke and Ryu. (Some would argue Greinke should still be taken in the early rounds, but I will make my case against that below.) Andre Ethier 's role in the Dodger outfield is unclear for now, but he should garner enough at-bats to be worth a late-round gamble.
Aside from the re-signing of Kershaw, the Dodgers have had a relatively quiet offseason, but they have taken a stab at upgrading an already strong roster. Cuban defector Alex Guerrero was signed to replace Mark Ellis at second base, though he will have to compete with Dee Gordon and Miguel Rojas before claiming the job. The team also dipped into the free agent market to add Dan Haren to a rotation mix that will also include Josh Beckett and possibly Chad Billingsley , who could return from Tommy John surgery as early as May. The Dodgers also beefed up the bullpen by signing former Indians closer Chris Perez and re-signing ex-Giants closer Brian Wilson , who joined the team during their playoff push last season.
The Dodgers appear to be a strong favorite to repeat as National League West champs, but aside from Kershaw, there are few safe bets on the roster. Though Ramirez, Kemp, Gonzalez and Crawford have been among the Fantasy elite within the past few years, and Puig threatens to be in the very near future, none offers the consistency one would want from an early pick. The team is fraught with risky options, but it is unquestionably deep in Fantasy talent.
Buyer beware (hitter edition) ... Matt Kemp , outfield
The last time Kemp was healthy enough to play a full season, he had an MVP-caliber year, but that campaign is now three years ago. Not only do Fantasy owners have to weigh the risks of drafting Kemp for steals and power that he may no longer deliver at his previous levels, but we also have to worry about how well he will recover from last fall's ankle and shoulder surgeries. Because Kemp is still on the youthful side of 30 and could provide a 20-20 season with a .300 average (or much more), it's tempting to start thinking of Kemp in the first two rounds. It's not a terrible move -- other top outfielders like Puig, Ryan Braun and Jose Bautista present their own risk/reward conundrums -- but it's one that could easily backfire. That early in the draft, you are probably better off settling on safe but unexciting Adam Jones or filling another position.
Buyer beware (pitcher edition) ... Zack Greinke , starting pitcher
Though Greinke finished as a top 20 Rotisserie starter last season (and just missed out on the top 20 in Head-to-Head), there were some ominous trends. Greinke's strikeout rate dipped notably for the second straight year, and his rate of called strikes fell dramatically. The differential between his fastball and changeup velocities shrank for the third straight year, and not surprisingly, hitters swung at the changeup far more frequently. Nonetheless, Greinke was surprisingly effective using his changeup. According to BrooksBaseball.net, hitters batted .240 on Greinke's changeup, whereas he allowed batting averages well above .300 in three of the four previous seasons. But he didn't get a higher rate of whiffs per swing, so there may have been an element of luck working in Greinke's favor on changeups put in play. He may not get away with allowing more contact on his changeup going forward, and should that happen, Greinke's ERA and WHIP will rise, and he won't have the strikeouts to make up for it. He could always reverse the trend, so Greinke could continue to be a top 20 starter, but he could just as easily slip into middle-of-the-rotation territory.
Bounceback candidate ... Dan Haren , starting pitcher
Like Greinke, Haren was finding some of his secondary offerings -- namely, his cutter and splitter -- less deceptive due to a small difference in velocity compared to his fastball. After returning from a midseason trip to the disabled list, Haren started throwing softer cutters and splitters. Over the next three months, he sported an 8.6 K/9 ratio and a 3.29 ERA, looking more like the Haren from his Diamondback days. The 33-year-old will try to keep his momentum going with the Dodgers, and if he succeeds, he could provide great value for a late-round pick.
Alex Guerrero could be the only Dodger prospect to make an impact in 2014, and at age 27, he probably has a limited window to make an impression. ... Joc Pederson kept his power numbers intact after jumping from the California League to the Southern League. He offers a nice combination of power, on-base percentage and steals, but a surging strikeout rate is something to watch. Even with a strong Triple-A campaign, the Dodgers have a full outfield, so don't count on a 2014 callup. ... In dynasty leagues, now is a good time to buy low on Corey Seager . He may have been a little too aggressive in the California League, as his strikeout and flyball rates surged, but the potential to hit for power and average is still there for the 19-year-old shortstop. ... With Beckett's health still somewhat in question, Zach Lee could get a chance to join the Dodgers' rotation sooner than later. Single-season league owners only need to consider him in their NL-only leagues. ... 21-year-old Chris Anderson and 17-year-old Julio Urias have just one year of professional ball under their belts, so while both appear a long way off from the majors, both should be owned in dynasty leagues.
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