Series Preview #31: Arizona Diamondbacks vs. Los Angeles Dodgers

Former Diamondback Trent Oeltjen suspends a bat in mid-air using only his mind, demonstrating the same psychic powers that he used in 2009 to convince us that he might be a good player.

The last time the Diamondbacks played the Dodgers, Arizona was in a dogfight with the Padres to stay out of last place in the NL West, Josh Collmenter was making his first career start, and Russell Branyan was our starting first baseman.  Needless to say, it's been awhile.

Obviously, the biggest story surrounding the Los Angeles Dodgers this season has nothing to do with the nine guys on the diamond, as Major League Baseball took over day-to-day operation of the Dodgers from owner Frank McCourt in April, citing concerns about the team's financial situation.  This saga came to a head on June 27, when the team filed for bankrupcy.  

Add to this mess the fact that the team itself isn't very good in 2011.  The Dodgers head into the second half of the season with a record of 41-51, eleven games out of first in the NL West.  And with the team's financials the way that they are, it's likely that they will be sellers at the deadline.

Of course, all of this adds up to one thing: the Dodgers are irrelevant.  After being one of the flagship franchises of baseball, with figures like Jackie Robinson, Sandy Koufax, Fernando Valenzuela and Tommy Lasorda associated with the team, the Dodgers are now a national punchline.  And despite the support of the second-largest market in baseball, centered around a city that has the third-largest GDP in the world, they have been mismanaged to the point that they cannot even make payroll.

Make no mistake, I'm not at all upset about this.  The Dodgers have been among the Diamondbacks' most bitter rivals since 1998, and 13 years of hate don't just evaporate because of one season of poor management.  But it's truly bizarre to see a team that dominated the division with a core of promising young players as recently as 2009 completely fall apart like this, and it's going to take some getting used to.

(Of course, by the time I do get used to it, the team will probably be owned by Mark Cuban or someone, and he'll start spending like an actual big-market franchise.  So there's that.)

Star-divide

What the Stats Say (According to Fangraphs):

                           Arizona (49-43)                                Los Angeles (41-51)                                     Edge

Hitting (wRC+):    97                                                      92                                                         Arizona

Pitching (FIP):     4.00                                                  3.69                                                    Los Angeles

Fielding (UZR):   20.2                                                   -3.6                                                        Arizona

The Dodgers actually have the second-best offense in the NL West by wRC+, which says as much about the NL West as it does about the Dodgers.  While they're 25th in baseball in Runs Scored, this is mostly because Dodger Stadium is notorious for its run-suppressing tendencies.  Their FIP is noticeably lower than their team ERA (3.91), which is a bit surprising, considering how pitcher-friendly of a park they play in.  This separation is particularly noticeable in the bullpen, where the ERA (4.25) is almost half a run above the FIP.  Look for some regression back to the mean in the second half. 

Arizona Diamondbacks

Ryan Roberts, 3B
Kelly Johnson, 2B
Justin Upton, RF
Stephen Drew, SS
Chris Young, CF
Miguel Montero, C
Brandon Allen
, 1B
Gerardo Parra, LF

Los Angeles Dodgers

Tony Gwynn Jr., LF
Rafael Furcal, SS
Andre Either, RF
Matt Kemp, CF
James Loney, 1B
Juan Uribe, 3B
Dioner Navarro, C
Jamey Carroll, 2B

10 Fun facts about the Dodgers' lineup!

  1. Andre Either and Matt Kemp have produced 7.6 bWAR between the two of them.
  2. Every other hitter on the Dodgers has produced 1.8 bWAR total.
  3. The only other player on the Dodgers with an OPS+ over 100 is 37-year-old utility infielder Jamey Carroll
  4. Unsure what to do with such a dazzling display of competence, manager Don Mattingly has taken to batting Jamey Carroll eighth more than any other player on the team, including de facto starting catcher Dioner Navarro (OPS+: 48)
  5. Dioner Navarro hasn't actually made any sort of contact with a pitch since 2008.
  6. Leadoff man Tony Gwynn Jr. has an On-Base Percentage of .316.
  7. Rafael Furcal has failed to play in at least 100 games in three of the last four seasons, and he will again in 2011, unless he participates in 76 of the remaining 72 games.
  8. First Baseman James Loney has an OPS of .653, compared to Juan Miranda's .717.
  9. Juan Miranda just got demoted to the minors.
  10. Loney is MVP candidate Matt Kemp's primary protection in the lineup.

I guess what I'm trying to say is this: there is absolutely no reason to throw Either or Kemp anything that's anywhere near the strike zone.  Ever.  I mean, their protection in this lineup is so bad, it's almost like the team is bankrupt or something... 

Pitching Matchups:

Friday: Joe Saunders (6-7, 3.86) vs. Clayton Kershaw (9-4, 3.03)

Insightful Commentary: The Snakepit seems somewhat divided over what Joe Saunders will do in the second half of the season.  Some people look at his increased confidence and efficiency on the mound in late May and June as a sign he's turned a corner, while others look at the discrepancy between his ERA and his FIP, along with his frighteningly high walk rate as a sign that he will be ripe for regression in the second half.  While I tend to side with the latter group, it is worth mentioning that his FIP has been higher than his ERA in three of his first four full seasons, so he has a history of outperforming his peripherals.

If the NL West were to secede from Major League Baseball and have its own Cy Young winner, Clayton Kershaw would be the frontrunner.  The first thing that jumps out when perusing his stats is his K/9 rate, which is the highest in baseball at 10.13.  However, it's also worth noting that his BB/9 rate is by far the lowest of his career at 2.41.  He hasn't conditioned us to dread him just yet, but he's only 23, and I have a feeling that soon we will treat him with the same amount of terror that we feel toward, say, Tim Lincecum.

Saturday: Ian Kennedy (9-3, 3.44) vs. Hiroki Kuroda (9-4, 3.03)

Insightful Commentary: We now have 128 innings of data about Ian Kennedy's 2011.  He's cut his walks significantly since last season, kept the ball in the ballpark more effectively, and generated noticeably more ground balls.  Interestingly, his strikeouts are slightly down this year, but a rate of 7.43 strikeouts per nine innings is still more than acceptable, give his walk rate.   At 3.44, Kennedy's ERA is more or less on par with what his peripherals suggest that it should be and, barring some unforeseen drop off in stuff, he should be a similar pitcher in the second half of the season.

Hiroki Kuroda has been mentioned in some trade rumors recently, and he is arguably the best pitcher who is expected to be on the market.  Though his ERA is significantly lower than his FIP (3.73), he has a number of repeatable skills that make him an asset.  In particular, he doesn't allow walks, with a career BB/9 of 1.98.  That, along an average K-rate and a solid HR rate, make him a solid starter who will almost certainly help some team down the stretch.

Sunday: Daniel Hudson (9-5, 3.74) vs. Ted Lilly (6-9, 4.79)

Insightful Commentary: As good as he's been already, Hudson still has room to regress.  His BABIP is still only .313, much higher than it was last year despite roughly the same line drive rate.  His LOB% is also lower than average at 67.3%.  I see him being even more effective in the second half of the season, and eventually seizing the role of the team's undisputed best starter.

Ted Lilly's ERA and FIP are both the highest they've been since 2006.  In addition, his BABIP is up this year, along with his LD%.  His fastball, which was never all that impressive to begin with, has slowly dropped in velocity over the past couple of years.  At 35, Lilly is getting close to the end, and his numbers are beginning to show it.

Final Verdict: Some of the optimism surrounding the Diamondbacks in the second half of the season has to do with how many times they play the Padres and Dodgers.  Unfortunately, this is an oversimplification.  The Dodgers are in disarray right now, and the Diamondbacks are a noticeably better team.  But at the same time, Los Angeles has (arguably) their two best starting pitchers leading off the series in Kershaw and Kuroda.  I think the Diamondbacks will win the series two games to one, but I don't think it will be as easy as people seem to think.

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