If there’s one thing I wouldn’t want to be twice, zombies is both of them!

-Ed Wood Jr.

The Los Angeles Dodgers are beginning to feel like baseball’s most surprising letdown every year. The 2016 team was once again ready to go, although maybe not using the full reach of their powers. The Dodgers led their division for the fourth straight year while winning 91 games. They advanced to the NLCS for the second time in four years but lost to the Cubs in six games. There’s no shame is falling to the World Series champs, but the Dodgers have been billed and hyped as the new Yankees since they were liberated from Frank McCourt in 2012.

The bar simply feels higher for the Dodgers, no matter how tough building a franchise is. Without a magical streak, a Clayton Kershaw-carried postseason, or a key moment that puts the playoff focus clearly on LA, the Dodgers are just another team. Now, that’s a team with lots of talent, seemingly limitless financial resources, and more former GMs than anyone else, but still a normal, beatable team.

Despite winning the NL West, the Dodgers were only average in terms of runs scored with 725. They weren’t prolific in hits, doubles, triples, or home runs. LA had the fourth fewest stolen bases in the game. Dodger hitters didn’t hit for a high average (.261) or get on base at an above average clip (.320). As an offense there just wasn’t much special at the team level, despite NL Rookie of the Year Corey Seager.

Pitching was where the Dodgers earned their stripes by allowing the fifth fewest runs per game and putting up the fifth lowest ERA. In a season where Clayton Kershaw made just 21 starts and only Kenta Maeda made more than 26, that’s remarkable.

Dave Roberts completed his first season as manager, with ups and downs.

And legendary broadcaster Vin Scully said goodbye.

One thing I can guarantee
The best things in life, they sure ain’t free

-Weird Al Yankovic, This Is The Life

With a payroll of $237 million for 2017 per Cot’s Contracts, the Dodgers are once again far and away the league leaders. With some prospects (and Puig) that can be traded and the ability to absorb any contract, this number could end up as high as you can dream by the end of the season should action be necessary.

Offense

It’s the job that’s never started as takes longest to finish.

-Samwise Gamgee, quoting the Old Gaffer

As important as when the Emperor figured out the formula for great Star Wars dialogue, the secret to a successful offense is getting on base. Especially in an era of declining contact and increasing ability to use what contact there is for power, teams need to realize, as Joe Sheehan often says, “OBP is life.” The Dodgers collectively reached base at a .319 clip, trailing Boston (.348), the Chicago Cubs (.343), Toronto (.330), and Cleveland (.329) – teams that went into the playoffs with offense as a strength – by a good amount. With a team batting average (.249) below that of the Minnesota Twins (.251) LA wasn’t making up for it with high-average hitters who didn’t walk. Luckily for the Dodgers things aren’t quite so cut-and-dry when looking year to year.

Catcher Yasmani Grandal’s bat was essentially absent until July. After hitting .212/.323/.434 in 65 games before the All-Star Break he improved to .245/.356/.521. The coolness of a 2×2/3×3/4×4 where x increased from 1 to 2 to 3 aside, Grandal’s second half is more of what a catcher with a bat should be putting up for his team.

Adrian Gonzalez isn’t ageless after all. After putting up rWARs (Baseball Reference) of 3.7, 3,8, 3.9, and 4.0 the machine broke down and mustered just 2.1 rWAR in 2016. Like Grandal, his season is a tale of two halves: a .370/.412 OBP/SLG in the first and a .321/.463 split in the second. If he can merge the two lines he’ll be great, if he comes close, he’ll return to form. Turning 35 in May, can the first baseman find a link to the past?

Logan Forsythe is an import, acquired in a trade with the Rays for Jose De Leon. After trundling the Padres and Rays for three years the middle infielder seemed to find the breath of the wild in 2015 and 2016 and put up a combined 8.4 rWAR over those seasons. The Dodgers had tried to lure Brian Dozier away from the Twins all winter but Forsythe could fill in at second base and work out of the leadoff spot as he did with the Rays.

Justin Turner put up his third straight good season since coming over to the Dodgers. His 4.9 rWAR tops his previous two seasons even though his triple slash line fell overall. His 27 homers were a new personal best as were 34 doubles and 153 hits – feats accomplished by staying on the field for 153 games, blowing away his previous high of 126 set the year before. Another healthy season in 2017 and the Dodgers should get more fine contributions.

Shortstop Corey Seager was as good as advertised while winning the NL Rookie of the Year award. He led the Dodgers in nearly every offensive category. Next!

Yasiel Puig remains a mystery. #PuigIsYourFriend and #PuigIsYourBarista but is #PuigInYourLineup? Poor performance, a stint on the DL, and a trip to the minors cloud his 368 plate appearances in the major leagues. He still hasn’t been traded though, so…

Joc isn’t just the name of the guy who flew the getaway plane in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Pederson is the centerfielder who can be the inspiration for Puig. After a second half collapse in 2015, the 24-year-old actually boosted his numbers in the second half of 2016 and reclaimed the starting job.

Andrew Toles is in line to start in left field for the Dodgers, which is a long way from being released by the Rays in March of 2015. His story is remarkable and his performance on the field has earned him more time in the big leagues. A 48-game sample that turned into a .314/.365/.505 line and a spot on the playoff roster set the bar high.

Pitching

You may find that having is not so pleasing a thing as wanting. This is not logical but it is often true.

-Spock

Opulence; they has it. The Dodgers used fifteen different starting pitchers last season, granted some weren’t great and had the payroll to carry Hyun-jin Ryu, Brett Anderson, and Brandon McCarthy for a combined 13 starts – with nine coming from McCarthy.

Clayton Kershaw didn’t win the Cy Young award but he could have. His limited innings (149) due to a stint on the DL counted against him but his numbers were sterling. A reliever with a 1.69 ERA would still turn some heads and might have tossed 100 fewer innings. As with Seager, next!

Kenta Maeda impressed in his first season coming over from Japan. In a season with Kershaw missing time, Maeda was the rock of the rotation while making 32 starts. He struck out just over 3.5 batters for each walk issued and 25% of batters overall. His innings were limited and his rest was enhanced whenever it could be. If the Dodgers continue to deploy him this way he should be a fine complement at the top of the rotation.

Welcome to a rotation where Scott Kazmir, a paragon of health, made the second most starts in 2016. The former Sugarland Skeeter took a step back after a renaissance that began in 2013 with Cleveland. With and ERA swelling to 4.56 and a FIP (4.48) offering little consolation, Kazmir will need to get back on track in a hurry given the number of back-of-the-rotation lottery tickets the Dodgers have lined up single-file to hide their numbers.

Rich Hill. The Gold Rush takes Kazmir’s redemption story and laughs. Hill returned from baseball’s island of misfit toys with the Red Sox at the very end of 2015, pitched brilliantly in 2016 with the A’s, was traded to the Dodgers, suffered through some blisters, and pitched again, including 6 shutout innings against the Cubs in the NLCS. Then he signed a multi-year deal to return to LA almost a year after Boston picked him up for a piece of string, two gummy worms, an Alf pog, and a coupon good for a free Crystal Pepsi.

Julio Urias is still only 20. He could be the second-best pitcher on the Dodgers.

Brandon McCarthy wasn’t great. He wasn’t necessarily terrible with a 3.74 FIP against his ERA of 4.95 but like Kazmir, the rotation is crowded. Oh, but also he only made 9 starts (and one relief appearance). At least Jose De Leon was traded? You know, juuuust in case McCarthy is healthy this season. 

What can Hyun-jin Ryu contribute in 2017? He hasn’t pitched 23 innings combined for the Dodgers in the last two years.

Alex Wood? He might be in the bullpen but thankfully for him, the rotation could open up a few spots between injuries and building up innings for Urias.

Kenley Jansen was awesome in 2016 on his way to re-signing with the Dodgers as a free agent for five years and $80 million. As a closer who’s never tossed more than 76.2 innings. It’s good to be good.

Coming out of nowhere, Adam Liberatore dominated and then fell off as the season wrapped up. A lefty with low 90s stuff? Sure, try it again.

Luis Avilan performed well in a sample and will try to convince the Dodgers this spring that he’s a lefty to rely on.

Grant Dayton is another 27-year-old lefty in the Dodgers pen. Like Avilan, he stepped in and performed well but in a short time: just 26 innings.

Bench

Andre Ethier is still around! After a bounceback 2015 campaign, Ethier was injured in the spring and missed nearly the entire season. With Toles and Puig uncertain and possibly mysterious, Ethier’s veteran backup nature could come in handy once more.

Trayce Thompson hit .233/.301/.370 and can play center field, but that’s already taken. Again, Towles has the weakest claim to an outfield job and Puig is unpredictable. If Thompson can play well, there are potential openings for him to claim a more permanent path to at-bats.

In a February signing, the Dodgers brought back Chase Utley and while he’s not slated to start, if he’s playing well he’ll find his way into the lineup.

Enrique Hernandez is slotted in as the backup second baseman and while he didn’t impress in 2016 was on his way to a second chance. Has the return of Utley robbed him of that before spring training even started?

Manager

It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.

-Albus Dumbledore

Dave Roberts put himself into the history books a second time. On April 8th he removed Ross Stripling from his major league debut and 7-and-a-third hitless innings. The Dodgers ended up losing in 10 innings but the statement was made. For good measure, Roberts made the statement again on September 10, pulling Rich Hill after 7 perfect innings. If Julio Urias is in the midst of a no-hitter and on a pitch or innings limit is there any doubt what Roberts will do?

Win forecast: 95. Kershaw will be healthy and that alone will boost the team into the mid-90s. Anyone else performing above projections will be gravy.

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