Are the Dodgers headed for a decline?
The Dodgers are enjoying a fine season thus far, but there's some reason to doubt that it can last.
Don Mattingly's Dodgers still have the best record in all of baseball, but what was once a sturdy division lead of 7.5 games has been whittled down to 4.0. The Giants, with their powerhouse rotation and core hitters like Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval and the ever-improving Brandon Belt, are more than capable of winning the NL West.
If, however, the Dodgers are to fend off the Giants (and, who knows, perhaps even the reigning Diamondbacks, who may still yet be heard from), then the Dodgers will need two things, only one of them painfully obvious: a healthy Matt Kemp and for a number of aberrant performances to be sustained. Flukes, if you like.
We're talking about Matt Treanor's slash line. We're talking about the ERAs of Aaron Harang and Chris Capuano. We're talking about Jerry Hairston's batting average and Mark Ellis's OBP and Bobby Abreu's rediscovered youth.
To put a finer point on these and others, let's take a look at some Dodger numbers to date alongside what the ZiPS forecasting system projects for these players over the remainder of the 2012 season ...
|Player||2012 Stats||ZiPS Rest-of-Season|
|Chris Capuano||2.87 ERA||4.30 ERA|
|Aaron Harang||3.59 ERA||4.25 ERA|
|Ted Lilly (on DL)||3.14 ERA||3.73 ERA|
|Nathan Eovaldi||1.82 ERA||4.36 ERA|
As you can see, ZiPS expects substantial regression for every name on the list. Sure, some of these, like Treanor, aren't core contributors, but in the aggregate they've been vital to the team's success thus far.
For instance, if you look at offensive Wins Above Replacement, then the hitters above have accounted for 62.0% of the Dodgers' overall offensive WAR (4.9 of a total of 7.9). Meanwhile, Capuano, Harang, Lilly, and Eovaldi account for 38.4% of the total team pitching WAR (3.3 out of 8.6). That's a big chunk of value that's likely to decline over the final months of the season. That raises the question: can the Dodgers, even with a healthy and vintage Kemp, survive what's to come?
The thing about flukes is that they can span the course of an entire season, or even longer. So it's possible that these strange trends will hold up, but no one, other than perhaps Eovaldi, is at an age that lends itself to skills growth. That means it'll likely take an act of God/Vin Scully to keep this going.
To be sure, the Giants are enjoying a few unexpected spikes of their own (the entire starting outfield, for instance), but it's not to the extent of what's unfolding at Chavez Ravine. That's why the NL West race figures to be a hotly fought affair the rest of the way. The Dodgers and their supporters would do well to make no assumptions.
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