The Curious Case of A.J. Pollock

It is an inherent want of talking heads to rank players against each other. Just like with the Top Players of the Decade, MLB Network is currently doing Top 10 Players right now, unveiling the top 10 athletes at any one position.

The caveat put forward before every broadcast is that this would be a ranking for the upcoming year. So I found it interesting that they have placed Cody Bellinger in the center field category.

Of course, we know that Bellinger slid over to center from his previous spot in right field in the beginning of September to take over the duties of A.J. Pollock. Bellinger stayed at this position through the NLDS. Eventually, Belli went on to win the Gold Glove for his play in right field.

Other than the big contracts the Dodgers front office took on when they first asumed the team to try to bridge the gap, the Dodgers have mostly stuck to low-risk, high-reward signings. They don’t seem to be looking to spend money at much overall.

Which makes the case of Pollock interesting. The Dodgers knew that Pollock has a history of being oft-injured. That did not stop them from signing him to a four-year, $55 million contract. Along with reliever Joe Kelly, he was the only big signing of the 2018-19 off-season. It was not so much the amount of money spent on the 30-year-old outfielder that was surprising, but rather the amount of years.

Pollock only appeared in 86 games last season, missing six weeks to heal from an infection in the elbow that he had previously had surgery on. He hit home runs in three straight games after his stint on the IL, but never quite got back to what the Dodgers were paying him to be. He played 62 games in center and 18 games in left field, which was almost all of September. During that time, he batted .266 with 15 home runs.

While only coming off his third season, in which he won NL MVP, there is little doubt that Bellinger could become a generational talent. A veteran losing his position to a younger player is hardly anything new.

So if Bellinger is to take over the position Pollock was signed to play, where does that leave him? A break down of the outfield could look a little like this, if the current roster construction stays the same—Bellinger in CF, a platoon in left field of Pollock against lefties and Joc Pederson against righties. Right field will be manned by Alex Verdugo, should he regain his health and form, with some help from Chris Taylor and Enrique Hernandez.

If Pollock never quite gets completely healthy again, this system could work. It gives him lots of rest and less chances to injure himself again. President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman said that Pollock has been working on his flexibility. Whether that means in the literal sense or moving around the yard positionally, I am not sure.

But, if Pollock stays healthy, will he be willing to be relegated to just a platoon role? Surely, he understands his past history of injuries, and his age among the youth of this team. But that would be a happy problem, should the Dodgers have to deal with a healthy and productive Pollock. That would be high reward of his contract. If not, as always, the Dodgers have the depth in the outfield to weather any potential storm again.

 

What Should Dodgers Expect from Clayton Kershaw in 2020?

There’s probably no other player on the Dodgers‘ active roster scrutinized more than lefty starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw. When he was at the peak of his game just a few years ago, many folks rivaled his success with the legendary Sandy Koufax; but now that he is on the backside of his impressive career, there are actually some fans who feel he’s not even worthy of a rotation slot.

Aside from his rookie season in 2008, most of Kersh’s 2019 regular season numbers were among the worst of his career, specifically his 3.03 ERA and 3.86 FIP. However, it goes without saying that many rival teams around the league would be happy if their ace produced those kinds of numbers. That’s a great example of how much fans of the Dodgers have been spoiled for decades by superior starting pitching.

Of course, Kershaw has been hampered by the monkey on his back as far as throwing in the playoffs goes. During the regular season, he has a lifetime record of 169-74 with a ridiculous 2.44 ERA, yet during his postseason career, he has tallied a 9-11 mark with a not-so-impressive 4.43 ERA. Obviously, some of those figures involve the scandalous numbers of the Red Sox and Astros that Kersh will forever have on his personal ledger, but his five earned runs in just 6-1/3 frames during the 2019 NLDS are still quite revealing.

It goes without saying that Kershaw has passed the reigns of the “ace” pitcher to 23-year-old righty Walker Buehler. Despite the No. 2 label, the projections by many outlets still have Clayton producing All-Star caliber numbers for the upcoming campaign. According to the Steamer figures on Fangraphs, CK will post a 14-9 record with a 3.55 ERA, a 3.68 FIP and a 4.4 fWAR over 32 appearances and 202 innings pitched. Coincidentally, Baseball Reference has Kershaw tallying a 12-6 record with a 3.24 ERA over 164 innings of work.

Heading into the new campaign blind, I’d probably agree that the aforementioned predictions are as good as any, but something inside me seems to think that the now 31-year-old Kershaw might have a trick or two up his sleeve in order to succeed in 2020. Perhaps he has been putting in extra time this winter when it comes to pinpointing his command, or maybe he has optimized the spin on his deadly slider to produce better results. Despite the apparent decline in velocity on his four-seam, maybe Kershaw will finally discover a way to come somewhere close to the success he once experienced in his heyday.

Instead of avoiding reporters after his squad’s season-ending loss to the Nationals in the 2020 NLDS, Kershaw decided to speak, seemingly revealing the attitude with which he might take the field during the upcoming season.

“Every year is no fun. This year, the abruptness, the way it happened. It’s no fun. It’s not. It continues not to be,” Kershaw told Ken Gurnick of MLB.com after being eliminated by the Nationals. “But you have two options: you can either crawl into a hole, or you can move on and try to get better for the next year. I don’t want to crawl into a hole yet, so I’m going to try to get better for next year.”

My personal guess is that he will indeed get better. And, although he is viewed as the No. 2 starter in the rotation from a theoretical perspective, I’d be willing to wager skipper Dave Roberts still gives Kershaw the ball against the Giants on Opening Day.

 

Dodgers Roster: Additional Thoughts on the Prospective 2020 Starting Rotation

No matter how you stack up all the pitchers involved in the landscape of the Dodgers‘ 2020 starting rotation, the fact remains that aside from two or three key pieces, almost anything is possible in the days leading up to Opening Day on March 26.

According to the depth chart models on several outlets, the front four of the Los Angeles rotation right now might consist of Walker BuehlerClayton KershawKenta MaedaJulio Urias and one of either Alex WoodJimmy Nelson, Dustin MayTony Gonsolin or Ross Stripling as the fifth starter. With that grouping, it gives the team nine legitimate arms from which to build a front five, plus who knows how many reputable arms joining the crew before the summer trade deadline at the end of July.

Indeed, there are plenty of fans who have expressed their disappointment over the prospect of a substandard rotation, specifically since the team was unable to sign any of the superstars at the forefront of the early free agent market. Nevertheless, based on overall rankings in previous seasons, the Dodgers’ starting crews seem to finish in the Top 5 staffs across the league perennially, thanks in part to its solid corps of young arms.

Admittedly, based on the inexperience of Buehler and Urias, the amount of wear and tear on Kersh’s arm, the lack of late-season endurance by Maeda, and the injury histories of Wood and Nelson, there’s certainly the possibility for disappointment. At the same time, considering the amount of potential and pure ability in the aforementioned list, there definitely lies the chance the Dodgers once again flaunt one of the best staffs in the National League.

One thing that stands out to me is the fact that both Nelson and Wood have no options remaining on their respective contracts, potentially setting up situations where either May or Gonsolin—or somebody else—are blocked from the big league roster.

I’ve always been in support of having the five best arms in the organization making up the big league starting rotation, but along those same lines, I’m even in more support of having those five arms being at the peak of their games by the time the playoffs roll around in autumn. If that means that one or two of the big guns begin the season in the minors, then so be it. The only problem with that theory is that MLB experience is extremely valuable for the development of the youngsters, specifically when considering the career paths of Urias, May and Gonsolin.

Front-office boss Andrew Friedman will certainly be masterful in utilizing the injury list to keeps his starting arms fresh and distributing starts to mostly everyone, despite of all the new rules which have been introduced. Moreover, several of the arms mentioned above will begin the season in the big league bullpen. Still, the fact that May, who conceivably might have one of the highest ceilings in the organization, could start the year in the minors regardless of how he pitches during 2020 Cactus League play, could be a bit disconcerting.

Either way, it should be very interesting to see the front five starting pitchers that emerge once the smoke clears on spring training.

Stay tuned.

 

 

Penalties for Houston Astros Cheating Scheme Handed Down

PCSVWL2XNBGURO7DZR7MKOSTE4

It is something that will forever be the bane of the Dodgers’ 2017 World Series run. The Houston Astros cheated in their endeavor to win the World Series, which of course proved successful for them. Today, Commissioner Rob Manfred handed down punishment to the organization.

Continue reading “Penalties for Houston Astros Cheating Scheme Handed Down”

Dodgers Reportedly Sign Alex Wood

wood3
(Los Angeles Times photo)

Almost exactly like we hypothesized a little over a week ago, the Dodgers reportedly signed Alex Wood to a one-year deal on Sunday, which coincidentally was Wood’s 29th birthday.

Continue reading “Dodgers Reportedly Sign Alex Wood”

What Role Will Matt Beaty Play in 2020?

beaty
(Getty Images photo)

With five weeks remaining before pitchers and catchers begin filing into the clubhouse at Camelback Ranch, there’s still a bit of time remaining for the Dodgers to enhance their player roster with a prospective trade or free agent signing. However, when considering its existing core of players, the club remains one of the most formidable powerhouses in the National League, although building a squad to succeed deep into the playoffs is a completely different story.

Continue reading “What Role Will Matt Beaty Play in 2020?”

Cody Bellinger Snags Record-Breaking Deal to Avoid Arbitration

cody-bellinger3

Cody Bellinger and the Dodgers on Friday evening agreed to a one-year deal worth a reported $11.5 million, setting a record for all MLB players who were arbitration eligible for the first time.

Continue reading “Cody Bellinger Snags Record-Breaking Deal to Avoid Arbitration”

Contemplating a Potential Jeter Downs Move to Third Base

Jeter-Downs
(Matt Kartozian/USA TODAY Sports)

Long before the rumors began circulating about the Dodgers being interested in acquiring players like Anthony Rendon, Josh Donaldson and Kris Bryant, there were plenty of fans discussing what the team believed its long-term solution at third base to be, especially when considering that 2020 is the final year of veteran Justin Turner‘s contract.

Continue reading “Contemplating a Potential Jeter Downs Move to Third Base”

Dodgers Bullpen Should Benefit from New Coaching Staff

img_5463

It was the biggest worry of Dodgers fans last season, and it proved to be the fault in the plan. Clayton Kershaw was once again left in too long, for what we can assume was because there was no faith in who would come after him. The Dodgers bullpen has failed them more often than not when it matters in the postseason.

Continue reading “Dodgers Bullpen Should Benefit from New Coaching Staff”

Dennis Santana Preparing for 2020 Bullpen Role

santanad
(Photo Credit: Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY Sports)

If you were able to catch my column on Sunday, you would have seen my projections for the 2020 starting rotation at Triple-A Oklahoma City. The main goal of the story—as with most of my prospect posts—is to examine the organizational depth of the Dodgers at all levels of their farm.

Continue reading “Dennis Santana Preparing for 2020 Bullpen Role”