Back in March, before the 2016 season kicked off, I wrote an article about what players could prove to be “x-factors” for the Dodgers this year. You can find it here.
Now, at the halfway point of the season, it’s time to review how those players have done so far, and discuss how they may continue to be x-factors throughout the rest of the year.
Scott Kazmir / Kenta Maeda Combo:
It was no secret that neither Kazmir nor Maeda were going to individually fill the void left by Zack Greinke’s departure. But the hope was that both guys would be able to add depth to the starting rotation, and perhaps have a bigger overall impact. If both players could pitch like solid #2/#3 starters, the Dodgers could be in good shape. But if they didn’t, the team could be in trouble.
So far this year, Kazmir has been consistently inconsistent. There have been some good starts, but also some very bad ones. He’s sporting a 4.52 ERA as we head into the All-Star break, and he has exactly one more start than I do of at least 7 Innings.
Maeda, on the other hand, started off very well for the Dodgers, giving up only one earned run in his first four starts. Coming over from Japan, the league hadn’t seen him before, and that may have worked to his advantage. Although he struggled a little bit after his hot start, he still has a very respectable 2.95 ERA. Like Kazmir, however, Maeda hasn’t been able to go deep into games, going 7 innings only twice (with one being Sunday’s dominate 13 strikeout performance.)
Even with the return of Hyun-jin Ryu and Brandon McCarthy, along with additions like Bud Norris, the Dodgers will continue to lean on both Maeda and Kazmir to provide quality starts. Kazmir was signed to be the #2 guy after Clayton Kershaw, but he hasn’t really taken on that role so far. Maeda has been solid, but as teams see him more and more often, you have to wonder if they may find more success against him as the year goes on.
Both pitchers will still play a big role the rest of the way for the Dodgers.
Coming into the year, Dodgers fans were really hoping for a return of 2013 Yasiel Puig. So far, we’re still seeing more of the 2015 version, where his slash line was .255/.322/.436. At the break this year, Puig is hitting .258/.316/.389, to go along with 7 homeruns.
Of course, offense isn’t the sole aspect to the game. Puig’s defense has been very solid this year. He ranks 2nd in the league at his position in dWAR, and still has one of the best arms in the game. But the Dodgers were hoping that he’d develop into a true 5-tool player, and become a force offensively. And that, unfortunately, hasn’t happened thus far.
Certainly, Puig has time to turn things around this year. Since coming off the DL in June, he’s played a lot better. But it may be time to come to the realization that Puig may never be the player we all hoped he’d be. The potential seems to be there, but potential doesn’t always transfer to results. If he could somehow develop into that hitter we saw glimpses of back in 2013, it would definitely give the Dodgers lineup a totally different look, and really give them a lift for the 2nd half of the season.
The tale of two halves in 2015 had many wondering what exactly to expect from Joc Pederson this year. The hope was that he’d make adjustments from his 2nd half struggles, and be more of the player we saw from the 1st half of the year.
In 2016, Pederson seems to be somewhere in the middle. He’s raised his avg from .210 in 2015 to .236 this year, but his OBP has actually dipped a little, from .346 to .328. His power stroke is still there (13 homeruns) but he still strikes out at a pretty high rate as well (about 25% of the time.)
In only his sophomore year, it’s certainly possible for Joc to continue to develop and improve. But similarly to Puig, it may be time to just accept the kind of player Pederson is. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Pederson provides some pop in the order, gets on base at a good rate, and plays above average defense. All good attributes to the team. But he’s also going to strike out a lot, and won’t hit for a very good average.
Pederson is still a key component to the Dodgers this year, and when he returns from the DL, it should be a boost to the club. He still has plenty of room for growth, and if he can continue to improve, it could pay big dividends for the Dodgers.
The one area that you could probably say is an “x-factor” for most teams, and the Dodgers are no different. Their bullpen has had its ups and downs this year for sure. During the first couple of months of the season, there were some struggles. Ok, there were a lot of struggles. It was probably the biggest glaring issue for the club early on.
But things have changed dramatically since then, and the Dodgers bullpen now ranks at the top of the league. They lead all N.L relievers in ERA (2.85) and BAA (.196). The group is led by all-star closer Kenley Jansen, but has also had other guys step up. Joe Blanton may have finally solidified the set-up/8th inning role, and Adam Liberatore continues to be effective on both lefties and righties (he also just set a franchise record for most scoreless outings in a row.)
Guys like Chris Hatcher, J.P Howell, and Pedro Baez may still give some fans a queasy feeling when they come into the game, but overall, the bullpen has been pretty solid, especially lately.
The one concern is the use and workload of the bullpen. Dodgers starters have lasted 5 innings or fewer in 12 of the past 18 games, and Sunday’s start by Kenta Maeda was the first time a starter not named Kershaw has pitched 7 innings since May 14th. That equates to a lot of bullpen use.
Hopefully the starters will be able to go deeper into games in the 2nd half of the year, and take some stress off of the bullpen. Still, the relievers will need to continue their successful ways if the Dodgers want to make a deep run this year.
As a rookie manager, Dave Roberts may get the benefit of the doubt more times than not this season. Mistakes are going to happen, and some bad decisions are going to be made. That can be said for any manager. Trying to minimize those is the key though, and up to this point, I think Roberts has done a decent job.
I definitely don’t agree with every call he’s made, and can point to a few specific moves that probably cost the Dodgers. I’ve been especially critically of his persistence use of different lineups and batting orders on a regular basis (you can read more about that here: (http://www.dodgersnation.com/the-misconception-of-depth/2016/06/29/)
With that said, I don’t think Roberts has been a hindrance to the Dodgers success. He’s tried to manage the bullpen the best he can, but he’s had some challenges with pitch counts to guys like Urias (and now Ryu and McCarthy as well) which has forced him to go to the pen probably a little more often than he’d like.
Going forward, it will be interesting to see how Roberts handles the roster. Will he continue to use different lineups on a daily basis? Will the starting rotation help him save the bullpen? Decisions get magnified as the season goes on and games get more meaningful. Roberts’s decisions will continue to be a key factor on how the Dodgers will fare this year.
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