Do you know how many starting pitchers the Los Angeles Dodgers utilized during the 2015 season? Eighteen, in what is supposed to be a five man rotation. Do you know how many different position players the Dodgers utilized during the 2015 season? Twenty-four, in what is supposed to be a twenty-five man roster that includes pitchers and position players. Lastly, do you know how many relief pitchers the Dodgers utilized during the 2015 season? Twenty-one and this is where most teams carry eleven to twelve pitchers on the twenty-five man roster during the regular season.
Dodger’s first baseman Adrian Gonzalez was recently quoted as saying that he believed that his team was the deepest team in the league and that the Organization could withstand an injury at every position, while still being able to compete for the pennant.
Since Andrew Friedman was hired as the President of Baseball Operations, his most common phrase has been to say that “this move augments our depth.” Friedman, since his days in Tampa Bay, has done at least one thing consistently well: build division winners and playoff teams through depth, one through twenty-five, and twenty-six through forty. The 2016 version of the Dodgers is no different and actually has more depth, while shaving $70 million dollars from the 2015 payroll. Let us explain.
It has been written many times that an aforementioned pitcher left for the Arizona Diamondbacks. What has not been written about is what the Dodgers gained by forgoing a $206.5 million dollar salary over the next six years to one player (Greinke is actually receiving deferred salary under the Diamondbacks deal).
The Dodgers, not counting the several Cuban players signed (e.g., Yaisel Sierra), gained two starting pitchers in Kenta Maeda and Scott Kazmir, plus Joe Blanton (bullpen), and then added infielders Chase Utley and Howie Kendrick. The Dodgers also fulfilled their arbitration obligations to their arbitration eligible players (Kenley Jansen, Justin Turner, and others). All of the above was accomplished, even though the Dodgers have the financial resources to do much of anything in terms of buying talent, by passing on Zack Greinke’s salary requirements.
The Dodgers’ 2015 record was 92 wins and 70 losses, which was good enough for a third straight National League West Division title. Do you know what the Dodgers record was in 2015 when Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke were not pitching? 57-60. The Dodgers were under .500 in games that Kershaw and Greinke did not pitch. Do you think the Dodgers brass and front office thought about that statistic when building the 2016 team? We think so and the facts point to the same.
Of the Dodgers’ starting pitchers in 2015, only one significant player was lost to free-agency or trade for 2016. This is important because the drop-off in statistical performance after the Dodgers top three starters in 2015 (Kershaw, Greinke, and Brett Anderson) was significant. None of the fifteen other starters used in 2015 won more than six games or pitched more than 109.1 innings (Mike Bolsinger). The next best starter (Carlos Frias) was at 77.2 innings and all but one pitcher not named Kershaw and Greinke lost as many games as they won (only Anderson won one more game than he lost with a 10-9 record). Not the greatest performance for pitchers number three through five in the rotation, or rather three through eighteen.
Runs win games. Teams need to score them and prevent them. Simply, the Dodgers needed to improve their pitching staff from top to bottom.
In other words, the Kenta Maeda and Scott Kazmir signings to the rotation are added arms, not replacements. Furthermore, Hyun-jin Ryu and Brandon McCarthy are due back sometime in 2016 (both were lost to injury for most of the 2015 season). Joe Blanton adds bullpen depth (with an occasional spot start likely on his radar). Frankie Montas, who came over via the Cincinnati Reds-Chicago White Sox-Los Angeles Dodgers trade, is another power arm as soon as he returns from his surgery. The Dodgers also have a full season of Alex Wood and renewed confidence in Brett Anderson as he was third best pitcher on the Dodgers staff in 2016 (pitching 180.1 innings and posting 10 wins with a 3.69 earned run average).
It is clear that the main issue for the Dodgers’ struggles through the long haul of the season, eventual loss to the New York Mets in the Division series, and not being able to secure the number one seed entering the playoffs was a lack of pitching depth. The Mets had depth, the Dodgers did not. The Dodgers lost a crucial playoff game when Brett Anderson started and Alex Wood relieved him. Kershaw and Greinke also lost one game each in the Division Series further highlighting the need for depth created by purchasing two high quality starters in place of one.
The Dodgers led the league in homeruns and had a +72 run differential so their offense was not an issue. The defense was also good. Minus Jimmy Rollins, who had already been supplanted at short stop by Corey Seager toward the end of the season, the Dodgers kept all of their position players and added depth in Trayce Thompson (outfielder) and Micah Johnson (second baseman) through the Reds-White Sox-Dodgers three team offseason trade.
Just leave the avocado-cutting to basically anyone else in the organization, Micah.
With the above being said, we have not mentioned that the Dodgers have the top ranked Farm System in Major League Baseball according to Baseball America. Pretty impressive considering the Dodgers Organization had neglected and some would say abandoned their domestic and overseas scouting and player development under former owner Frank McCourt.
For some context, consider that the Dodgers were ranked as the “23 best” farm system in 2012, now they are the cream of the crop. A good farm system augments depth. A great farm system provides hope for the future. The best farm system augments team depth beyond the twenty-five man roster, provides and delivers hope for the future, and as Gonzalez alluded to, is a security blanket for injury.
Injuries happen. Yankees Hall of Fame Manager Casey Stengel famously utilized players for different roles and for rest. Current Dodgers Manager Dave Roberts will be looking to do much of the same. Hoping for a player to last a full season is one thing, preparing for it not to happen is another. The Dodgers are now prepared for injuries through their depth and versatility.