ANALYSIS: Breaking Down the Dodgers Deals

How could the Dodgers trade Matt Kemp and let Hanley Ramirez go and still manage to get better? If you look at the advanced metrics, Farhan Zaidi's dealings at the Winter Meetings are no-brainers.

No more Matt Kemp. No more Dee Gordon. No more Bison. No more Flash. No more Hanley doo-rags. So, how did the Los Angeles Dodgers actually get better through these Winter Meetings, after trading arguably their two hottest hitters down the stretch and the league’s leading base stealer? Easy: They’re now stronger up the middle.

Yes, Gordon brought back the flash to the base paths in Chavez Ravine in more ways than one, but Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi – while publicly stating earlier this week that they would not trade Gordon -- knew that their second baseman’s trade value would never be higher. Beyond his 64 stolen bases, his batting average on balls in play (not entirely in control of the hitter, but it correlates well with batting average) was a full .020 points higher than his career total, and his WAR – wins above replacement – was also a career high (3.1).

For the first time since Maury Wills, the Dodgers had the league stolen base leader in their uniform, and they traded him away because, as a second baseman – and as a hitter – he had his deficiencies. For instance: Four walks after the All-Star Break. Four.

He was -4 in total defensive runs saved above average second basemen in 2014, and his UZR (ultimate zone rating, i.e. runs saved) was -3.0. His replacement, Howie Kendrick (acquired with pitcher Andrew Heaney, who was dealt by Miami in exchange for Gordon), had a +6.7 UZR (sixth in all of baseball). In just that swap alone – not directly, of course, but through several trades – the Dodgers are 9.7 runs-allowed better on defense. That’s not even counting the fact that Kendrick had a 4.6 wins above replacement number last season, and had a .347 batting average on balls in play.

[FEATURE: Gordon Back in a Flash]

Gordon was an above-average base stealer, a very poor shortstop (-13.4 UZR in 2012), a below-average fielding second baseman and, as a leadoff hitter, slightly below average. His 16.5% strikeout rate is about average, but his 4.8% walk rate is very concerning for a leadoff hitter. You can’t use speed if you’re not on the base paths, and even going to standard metrics, Gordon’s .326 on-base percentage was 79th in the majors last season.

Now, compare Gordon as a leadoff hitter to another one of the Dodgers’ acquisitions this week: Shortstop Jimmy Rollins.

Rollins is no spring chicken. He’s six years older than the man he’s replacing at shortstop in Hanley Ramirez, and 10 years older than the man he could replace as a leadoff man in Gordon.

True, his batting average on balls in play was .269, compared to Gordon’s .346 last season, but, his walk percentage is nearly twice that of Gordon’s (9.3% last season, no year under 8.9% since 2008), and he was one of five players in the majors with at least 15 home runs and 15 steals. Rollins’s true value, though, will be steadying the defense up the middle for a pitching staff that produced the second-highest groundball percentage in the major leagues last season (47.8%). Taking away Dan Haren’s 41.5% and adding Brandon McCarthy’s 52.6% makes defense up the middle that much more important.

Rollins is a decided upgrade, defensively, over Ramirez. Granted, Ramirez was an offensive force for the Dodgers, when he was healthy (he played just 86 games in 2013 and 128 in 2014), but defensively, he was a liability.

As is so often mentioned, Clayton Kershaw was one Ramirez fielding flub from a perfect game this past season. Ramirez’s UZR was -10.3 in 2014, worst in the National League. That -10.3 came in 919.2 innings of work at shortstop – the most innings he’s spent at the position since 2010 (1,217.0 innings). That year, his UZR was -9.5. In fact, the only year that Ramirez’s UZR has even been on the positive side of the ledger was 2013, when, in 651.0 innings, his UZR was 0.2. Not even a whole run better than an average shortstop.

Let’s look at Rollins. Rollins has had two years in his 13-year career with negative UZRs. Granted, one of those seasons was as recently as 2013, but last season, his UZR was 3.7. His UZR/150 (essentially, runs saved over average replacement player per 150 defensive games) is 4.4. Ramirez’s is -8.8 (i.e. he costs a team runs at shortstop). But, runs don’t mean much unless they equate to wins, so let’s compare wins above replacement: Jimmy Rollins had a 5.4 WAR last year, and Ramirez had a 3.4.

It bears repeating, though, that Rollins is 36. He’s not the shortstop of the future. He’s the shortstop for now, essentially a stopgap until Corey Seager is ready. Seager – the second-ranked prospect in the Dodgers system and the 37th-ranked overall prospect after the 2013 season – was an animal at high-A Rancho Cucamonga and Double-A Chattanooga. Between the two levels, Seager hit .349 with a .602 slugging percentage, a 1.004 OPS, 20 home runs and 50 doubles.

Seager is almost done cooking, and Rollins may only be needed for a year -- maybe, at most, two years – before the front office is ready to hand the reins to the youngster.

Now, it’s time to address the Bison in the room: Matt Kemp.

Matt Kemp, ca. 2011, is not coming back. In 2012, hamstring injuries kept him out for two months. Then, knee/shoulder injuries suffered in a crash into the Coors Field wall hampered him over the final month of 2012. His 2013 season was marred by the deleterious effects of offseason shoulder surgery. Then came more hamstring issues and an ankle injury, which ultimately ended his season, requiring microfracture surgery to repair his talus bone.

In Kemp’s mind, he’s still a center fielder. Advanced metrics say differently.

Kemp’s arm is no longer elite, if it ever was. He saved a career-best 4.0 runs in 2011 based on his arm, but that number has slid dramatically, to the point where, in 2014, his arm value was actually -0.1 runs across all outfield positions. Let’s isolate center field, though. Over the last two seasons, Kemp has posted UZR/150s of -35.0 and -33.8 in center field (compared to -40.3 in left and -8.8 in right). Even that 2011 MVP-caliber Kemp had a UZR/150 of -4.9. His arm is still above average, but only slightly, in center, where his outfield arm runs saved above average has gone from 4.0 to 3.3 to 1.8 to 0.5 in 2014.

And here’s where the San Diego Padres come in. Petco Park is cavernous, placing a premium on outfield speed and arm strength, particularly in the gaps. Kemp’s defensive decline and reliance on his power game at the plate won’t play well in that yard, where he’s tried to hit Carlos Quentin and where he actually has hit .325 with three home runs in 77 at-bats over the last three years.

In simple terms, Kemp’s range has decreased greatly over the past three years. His Range Runs Saved Above Average (RngR) in the outfield (regardless of position) has gone from -8.4 to -13.0 to -17.4 to -20.4.

Additionally, Kemp’s batting average on balls in play has dropped every year since the .380 mark in 2011, and, if you take out that .380, his BABIP has trended downward since his .411 high-water mark in 2007.

Who replaces Kemp? Odds are, it’ll be Joc Pederson, and that should make most Dodgers fans very, very excited.

[FEATURE: Past Meets Present Meets Future for Pederson]

In Triple-A last year, Pederson’s BABIP was .385, with a walk percentage of 18.1%. At the big league level, he walked 23.7% of the time, and while his strikeout numbers are high, he makes up for it in power, with an ISO (isolated power) number of .279 in Triple-A last season. In fact, in every season he’s spent at successively higher levels of minor league ball, Pederson’s ISO has gone up. Though he played in the offense-happy Pacific Coast League for the majority of last season, Pederson became the first player in that league since Frank Demaree in 1934 to hit 30 home runs and steal 30 bases. How will his power translate to the bigs? That’s the big question. But, what he does give the Dodgers is a true blue center fielder with speed and athleticism – things that Kemp has lost over the past three years.

One more thing Pederson has over Kemp: Good, old-fashioned cost savings.

The Dodgers will only have to send $30M to San Diego along with Kemp, while the Padres are taking on $70M of Kemp’s salary. Los Angeles also gets back a catcher in Yasmani Grandal, who, despite hitting .225 last season, still hit 15 dingers and drove in 49 runs in 377 at-bats. He’s also 26, and under team control until 2019 (Pederson will likely be under team control until 2021).

In baseball, good teams are strong up the middle. The Dodgers shored up their middle infield, made room in center for the best prospect in their system, dealt an aging player who was primed to become a clubhouse liability, dealt an asset at the height of his value, got rid of a defensive liability and shored up the catching position. They also arguably upgraded their fourth starter from Haren to McCarthy, and did all of this without trading the three biggest assets in the farm system: Seager, Pederson and top-100 pitching prospect Julio Urias.


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