Series Preview #43: Arizona Diamondbacks vs. Los Angeles Dodgers

"Wait, we had to take Beckett AND Crawford?"

So I hope everyone enjoyed those "Dodgers are bankrupt" jokes from last year...

Let me be clear on this: I'm not scared by any of the moves the Dodgers have made so far. The Hanley Ramirez trade looks good now, while he has an .835 OPS with the Dodgers, but I have 800 Plate Appearances that say he's an average offensive shortstop, and that outweighs the 140 that he's accumulated with the Dodgers. He's an upgrade, but that says more about Dee Gordon and Juan Uribe than it does about Ramirez. Shane Victorino hasn't been anything special this year, and I tend to doubt that Dodger Stadium is the best place for him to sort out his woes.

Of course, Adrian Gonzalez is still one of the top five first basemen in baseball, but they didn't just pay one big contract to get him, they paid three (unless you think Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford are going to be anything more than the dysfunctional toys that come with the meal).

Are they a better baseball team than they were before the moves? Absolutely. But all the moves have that sense of "Dan Haren in 2008" desperation to them: they were made to help a team that was contending ahead of schedule sneak into the playoffs at the expense of the far future. And there's no evidence that they'll succeed there, either, as they currently sit 3.5 games behind the Giants in the NL West. And while most of the players that were acquired will still be there to help in the future, they probably won't help as much as the money they'd save from 15 cost-controlled years from Nathan Eovaldi, Allen Webster, and Rubby de la Rosa.

No, I'm scared of what the moves represent. I read articles like this and wonder if this was more than a big splash to get people interested in the team, a la the Marlins last year. What if the Dodgers really are going to have stupid money from now on? Obviously, higher payrolls don't guarantee success, but they do give teams a much greater margin for error.

If they really do have this sort of money, they don't need to worry about little things like Andre Ethier declining rapidly over the latter half of his contract. They can smile, pay him his money and then go out and spend $100 million on Justin Upton when he becomes available. I just made you envision Justin Upton in Dodger blue. If that doesn't make you hate the Dodgers with a white-hot fury, then what are you even doing on this site?

What the Stats Say (According to Fangraphs):


Arizona
(64-67)
Los Angeles
(70-61)
Edge
Hitting (wRC+): 93 89
Arizona
Pitching (FIP-):
94 96
Arizona
Fielding (UZR):
12.9 5.2
Arizona

It's really not fair to look at the overall numbers for the Dodgers' offense to get a sense of where they are today. They had the actual team that they wanted to put on the field for about a month and a half, before they lost Matt Kemp and later Andre Ethier to injury.

Those injuries ushered in the June Isotope Epoch, where the lineup was stacked top to bottom with players who had no business starting for a team that was competing for a pennant. While I gave it that name because of their Triple-A team in Albuquerque, their team OPS of .619 during June and July suggested that their hitting was appropriately radioactive during that time. And so, they moved to solve their hitting woes the old fashioned way: by trading for a whole bunch of big-name players who are either dirty, lazy or Adrian Gonzalez. I guess my point is that their hitting numbers on the season have been brought down by a whole bunch of players who aren't with the team anymore, and that the offense we'll see is rather more impressive.

Starting Lineups

Arizona Diamondbacks

1. Chris Young, CF
2. Aaron Hill, 2B
3. Jason Kubel, LF
4. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B
5. Justin Upton, RF
6. Miguel Montero, C
7. Chris Johnson, 3B
8. Jake Elmore, SS

Los Angeles Dodgers

1. Shane Victorino, LF
2. Mark Ellis, 2B
3. Matt Kemp, CF
4. Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
5. Hanley Ramirez, SS
6. Andre Ethier, RF
7. Luis Cruz, 3B
8. A.J. Ellis, C

Bobby Abreu was batting third in this lineup just over a month and a half ago. Now look at it. Ethier hits sixth now; he has become the lineup protection that he always required. Hell, A.J. Ellis is still having one of the more absurd years in baseball (did anyone expect a 124 OPS+ out of him?) and he's entrenched in the eighth spot of the lineup. And it's not just a "catcher bats eighth" thing either, it's semi-defensible now. To pick apart this lineup, you need to look beyond the flashy names.

  • Shane Victorino, like the team he used to play for, was really good last year but has been below-average in 2012. At least, his season line of .258/.320/.391 probably isn't what pops into your head alongside the name "Shane Victorino."
  • Lost in the "Red Sox are the new Titanic" rhetoric brought to you by the mainstream media is the fact that Adrian Gonzalez has hit almost exactly like that guy we all knew and loved in San Diego since right around June. I've heard people trying to sell this season as the beginning of the end for Gonzalez. I'll believe it when I see it.
  • Essentially, the off-season plan for the Dodgers was to take a bunch of veteran free agents, throw them at a wall, and see what was still sticking in July. And hidden amid the Juan Uribe wreckage, they found a pretty solid second baseman in Mark Ellis. He's not terribly exciting, but he's been good for a .356 OBP so far this year.

Pitching matchups:

Thursday: Ian Kennedy (11-11, 4.44) vs. Clayton Kershaw (12-7, 2.84)

Insightful Commentary: Kennedy has allowed seven home runs and has issued 14 walks in his past four games. Neither of those are good things. Earlier in the season, people like me kept arguing that his ERA would drop to fall more in line with his FIP, as is often the case. But instead, for reasons most likely having to do with random luck as much as any psychological issues, Kennedy's FIP has risen to the point where it's almost in line with his ERA. Ian Kennedy has managed to do regression completely ass-backwards.

Oh c'mon, what can I tell you about Clayton Kershaw that you don't already know? He's had exactly two non-Quality Starts since May, and he's gone eight innings in each of his last three starts. If he's a half-step worse than he was last year (and he is), then that says far more about how otherworldly he was in 2011 than it does about any failings this year.

Friday: Trevor Cahill (9-11, 3.99) vs. Aaron Harang (9-8, 3.70)

Insightful Commentary: With Joe Saunders out of the way, Cahill is now free to become the least popular member of the Diamondbacks' rotation. As a member of the (reasonably) silent majority that doesn't want to trade Cahill, I guess it falls on me to defend him. Let's not lose sight of the fact that Cahill is a year and a half younger than Wade Miley. And his FIP has stayed pretty much consistent this year, despite moving to a far more hitter-friendly ballpark. In fact, Cahill is currently posting the highest strikeout rate of his career, by a noticeable margin. The trade isn't looking great right now, but let's not put the blame for that at the feet of Cahill.

Look guys, you don't want to read about Aaron Harang. Really, you don't. He's a journeyman pitcher who the Diamondbacks have faced six times in the last two years. He historically gives up a lot of home runs, and he's had success at Dodger Stadium because it's almost impossible to give up a lot of home runs there. Let's just move on.

Saturday: Tyler Skaggs (1-1, 2.92) vs. Josh Beckett (0-1, 4.76)

Insightful Commentary: It's not fair to anyone when I compare Skaggs to Bauer, but since they're both highly-touted prospects who made their debut this year, I'm going to do it anyway, because that's the comparison that my mind makes. As Jim pointed out, Skaggs looked Bauer-esque at times in his last start. He hit a batter, he spiked some pitches, and he walked a couple. The difference, at least so far, has been that when things like that happened to Bauer, he would often let it derail his outing, while Skaggs has been able to pitch around the adversity. It's probably more luck than anything, but it does suggest that Skaggs isn't giving in when things don't go his way, which might be the most important thing a young pitcher can learn how to do.

I read Moneyball in 2007, and I generally consider 2007 the first year where I followed baseball and really knew what was going on outside the Diamondbacks. And that also happened to be Beckett's best year as a pro, and the year that he just dominated in the playoffs, to the tune of a 1.20 ERA. Thus, it's been a challenge for me to convince my brain that Josh Beckett really isn't that good anymore. His strikeouts have plummeted in 2012, and for whatever reason, he has really struggled with men on base, with a strand rate of 66%, well below the major league average. He isn't completely broken, and the move from Boston to LA should help him, but I sincerely doubt that he'll be a top of the rotation starter again.

Sunday: Wade Miley (14-9, 2.85) vs. Chris Capuano (11-10, 3.58)

Insightful Commentary: Fangraphs did an interesting write-up on Miley recently, and I'd recommend taking a look at it if you have the time.

Chris Capuano has spent most of the season defying FIP, so it's been satisfying to see him finally remember that he is Chris Capuano since the All-Star Break. He has a 4.87 ERA in the second half, and has given up 12 runs in his last two games.

Final Verdict: The Diamondbacks are squarely in "ruin things for everyone else" mode right now, and what could be more fun than to ruin things for the Dodgers? The players they've acquired since mid-July cost more than the Diamondbacks's entire payroll. Just think about that for a minute. So how satisfying would it be to dent their playoff hopes with a couple of rookie starters? The only problem is that it would require the Diamondbacks to play with a modicum of inspiration, which they haven't done for about a week. Dodgers three games to one.

True Blue LA for Dodgers news.

(Stats via Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference)

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