Richard Mackson/USA Today

Los Angeles Dodgers 2016 season depends largely on the Two P's: Yasiel Puig and Joc Pederson

Three Big Questions linger if the Dodgers are to claim a fourth straight division title.

                The quest for an unprecedented fourth straight NL West championship begins in San Diego, and already we can safely say that the 25 guys who get things started in The Litter Box will not be the 25 guys we see by the All-Star Break, or beyond that before the September 1 call-ups.  Spring has sprung a seemingly endless parade of injuries on the Dodgers as they break camp and get rolling in 2016.

                Three pitchers who are certain to see time with the Dodgers this year are on the 60-day disabled list:  Brandon McCarthy, Frankie Montas, and Brett Anderson.  They’ve also got seven guys on the 15-day disabled list, including projected starting position players Yasmani Grandal, Howie Kendrick, and Andre Ethier.  Hyun-Jin Ryu is also sitting on the 15-Day DL but his most likely prognosis is now June.   With two series against the Giants in the season’s first two weeks, it’s a M*A*S*H unit that will be looking to simply hang on to start the year.

                Of course, it’s not exactly a bunch of no-names who will actually be on the field in San Diego.  Clayton Kershaw starts things off, and the Dodgers will have El Titan and Ginger Jesus at the corners.  Corey Seager starts the year entrenched as the everyday shortstop, and Yasiel Puig and Joc Pederson will be patrolling the vast Petco Park outfield when the season starts.   The Dodgers, after years of struggling at the catcher position throughout the organization, have AJ Ellis and Austin Barnes to hold down the backstop position until Grandal’s forearm allows him to return.

                So what determines the fate of the 2016 Dodgers?  Let’s look at some of the big questions that the Dodgers will need to address if they are going to make another postseason appearance:

1.       What of the Two P’s?  We talked about the dramatic reversal of Joc Pederson’s 2015 previously, and although he’s been around longer than Joc, Puig’s career arc has had the same disturbing trend.   Here are his numbers from his first 162 games as a Major Leaguer:

BB%

K%

ISO

BABIP

AVG

OBP

SLG

wOBA

wRC+

9.70%

21.00%

0.228

.385

.324

.406

.552

.413

170

And here are the numbers from his last 162 games:

BB%

K%

ISO

BABIP

AVG

OBP

SLG

wOBA

wRC+

9.00%

19.80%

0.164

.320

.268

.342

.433

.341

120

 

Clearly, there has been a significant drop-off, though a huge part of that had to be expected, based on Puig’s absurd and totally unsustainable .385 BABIP.  Nobody stays that fortunate with batted balls.   His strikeouts and walks are essentially unchanged as well.  What really decreased was his power.  From his robust slugging of .552 we have a drop to .433, which is not bad, but it’s not the power of an elite corner outfielder.

So what’s up with Puig?  Let’s look at Puig’s contact and at how he was pitched in the 2nd half of 2015.  Puig’s line drive percentage cratered in the second half.  22.4% of his contact was a line drive in the first half, and that number fell to 9.8 in the second half.   Interestingly, his fly ball rate went up in the second half.  44.6% of his contact went in the air, up from 34.4%.  He also got pull-happy in the second half, pulling 38% of the pitches he put in play, up from 33.6% in the first half.

Pitches didn’t alter their pitches dramatically to Puig in the second half, but they did make an adjustment.  Puig saw fewer fastballs and more sliders, just like Joc.  He saw more off-speed pitches overall as well.  Dealing with the slow stuff (either by laying off or learning to square up mistakes) is going to be the key to Puig’s season.

These two guys, in a very real way, hold the Dodgers’ fate in their hands.  If they both perform at an All-Star level, the Dodgers will run away with the NL West.  If one performs and the other struggles, the Dodgers will likely be neck and neck with San Francisco and Arizona.  If both play like they did in the second half of 2015, the Dodgers are going to have a very difficult time repeating in 2016.

2.       Which arms make it to October?  The Dodger front office went for quantity over quality this offseason, letting Zack Greinke go to Arizona and stockpiling a number of injury-prone pitchers who proceeded to get injured.  With the jewels of the farm (Urias, De Leon, and Cotton) likely still a year away from taking spots in the rotation, this season is about bridging the team to 2017.  Right now, the rotation looks like Kershaw, Kazmir, Maeda, Alex Wood, and Ross Stripling.  That’s not a group that’s going to put fear in opponents come October.  The good news is they don’t have to be.  With Brandon McCarthy, Brett Anderson, and Ryu all slotted to return later this season, the Dodgers are essentially betting that from those seven non-Kershaws, some combination of four will A)hold up through 162 games and B) actually pitch enough innings so as not to chew up the Dodger bullpen.  There’s no telling which four of this group it’s going to be by September and October, but you’d have to think the Dodgers’ odds of patching together four effective pitchers out of seven bodies are decent.  If they don’t?  The Dodger will have the trade deadline as well as their own farm system as emergency options should the arms of too many of these guys explode or should they start serving meat balls to opposing batters on a consistent basis.

3.       Wither Ginger Jesus?  The corners of the Dodger infield are manned by two guys who have shown remarkable consistency in their time as Dodgers.  Adrian Gonzalez has been incredibly consistent his entire career.  Nobody thought the Dodgers were getting an elite everyday hitter when they acquired Turner, but that’s what he’s become.  Dating back to 2014, Turner’s got a wRC+ of 148.  That’s the best  of all major league third basemen (setting the floor at a minimum of 700 PA’s).  Better than Josh Donaldson, Matt Carpenter, and Manny Machado as well.  Those guys have all had over 1,000 PA’s over that span, making health the only real question mark for Turner. It’s clear with Kike Hernandez and the retention of Alex Guerrero, the Dodgers absolutely plan to rest Turner during the year, and rightly so.  He’s become their legit #3 hitter, and nothing we saw in the spring suggests he’s going to regress.  The key will be getting both he and Gonzalez through the 162 unscathed.  Nobody in the division has infield cornerstones like Gonzalez and Turner.

So there you have it.  The Dodgers are still projected to win the division (by four games over the Giants and 12 over Arizona).  Things don’t have to go perfectly for the Dodgers to make it four straight division titles, but the three questions above will need answering if the Dodgers are going to earn a chance to end their 27-season pennant and World Series title drought. 


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