Monday, March 28, 2011

5 Dodger Questions Before Opening Day: Who Needs to Rebound?

It's time for me to attempt to answer what I see as the last major question of this Dodger team just three days before Opening Day. That being (as the title implies), exactly who do the Dodgers need bounce-back years from?

The first and really answer is Matt Kemp. After a disappointing year in which his Batting Average dropped about .050 points and his caught stealing % rose sharply, combined with poor defense and what appeared to be a lack of effort (although I don't buy that one bit), Kemp made many fans sad and angry. Did he do anything right last year? Well he hit 28 Home Runs, which was a career high, and his walk rate stayed virtually the same as his breakout 2009. As MSTI points out, according to peripheral statistics such as BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play, essentially measures how often someone gets a hit when they put the ball in play. Probably the best way to measure "luck" for a hitter or pitcher), Kemp was unlucky, and his average should recover (that's assuming he doesn't get any better as a hitter than he was last year, which I happen to believe he will). Davey Lopes is one of the best 1B coaches in the business, and should help Kemp's SB rate climb back up. Plus, the members of last years coaching staff that hated his guts are gone, and finally, Kemp was clearly disappointed with himself last year, and was proud of how he ended the year last year, basically saying that he was giving fans a taste of what's to come this year. Kemp, of all the hitters, needs to rebound the most next year. He's probably the biggest key to the Dodger offense.

Andre Ethier's year last year was only a disappointment because of how he started the year. Before the dreaded pinkie injury, Ethier was hitting well enough to be an MVP (this isn't exaggeration either, even though it's very easy to), and it got to the point where pitchers walked him to get to Manny Ramirez. Ethier finished the year comparatively slowly, and his On Base Percentage tanked after his injury. I'm expecting him to bounce back and have a very solid year, at least for his standards. Again, it's hard for me to say that he needs to bounce-back, because he's such a consistent player and we don't know how his numbers would have ended up had he not been hurt. If he can stay healthy and be his typical .300/30HR/100+RBI self, that'll be more than great.

James Loney is the other obvious candidate, but his situation isn't just needing a bounce-back, it's needing a breakout year. While I like James Loney, you just can't play first base and be as average offensively as he was last year. I've always said that he's a second baseman in a first baseman's body (similar to how many say Dan Uggla is a first baseman in a second baseman's body). Loney will probably never have 30 Home Run power, but if he can show signs that power is actually developing, say by hitting 12-15 before the trade deadline, Dodger fans will be rejoicing. If he can hit 20-25 over a full season while still retaining his good Batting Average and Plate Discipline, he'll be a useful player, one that Dodger fans (including myself) will love. It's just hard to see that happening though. Luckily for the Dodgers, they've got Jerry Sands knocking on the door, so should Loney not be bouncing back, he can be flipped for prospects (Loney seems to have a reputation around the league of being better than he actually is) and Sands can (hopefully) step in and give us the power we've all wanted from the 1B position. Because of Sands, Loney's bounce-back/growth isn't crucial, not in the same way that Kemp's and Ethier's is, but it would certainly be nice.

While it would be nice if players like Casey Blake and Jonathon Broxton rebounded, I don't think it's necessary for this team. As I talked about in the Bullpen post, the Dodgers have 4 guys in Broxton, Kuo, Jansen, and Padilla who can close well enough for this team. Broxton rebounding would be nice (and I think he will, provided the defense starts, ya know, defending whenever he's pitching), but I don't think it's as necessary as Kemp, Ethier or Loney. There aren't too many analysts questioning how good the pitching staff is, or calling the Bullpen the weakness. All the questions with this team lie on the offense. Can they play well enough and score enough runs to win games for this pitching staff? If the core of Kemp, Ethier, and Loney rebound and do well enough, that answer should be a resounding "Yes!"

So there we go. In what I suppose is my first series of posts (I meant to break down each of the Packers opponents in the playoffs, but that obviously didn't happen) I talked about the Left Field Situation, the Starting Pitching, the Bullpen, the Upcoming Minor League Players, and in this post, who needs to bounce back. While some of it is a bit outdated since I wrote it, most of the main ideas should still be relevant. Thanks for following along, and feel free to leave a comment!

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