With the Dodgers in the playoffs, it’s my duty as a blogger to opine to you about the Dodgers’ playoff roster. It’s like the 11th commandment that Moses lost on the way down from Mount Sinai or something. But for better or worse, this time around there’s not much drama involved, as almost all the spots are locked up. There are, however, two hotly contested spots that remain.
Starters – 4
Hyun Jin Ryu
I suspect the Dodgers will be one of the few teams without rotation debates, both because of the excellence of the four seen above and because the fifth starter position has been a mess. For a while it looked like Nolasco was going to overtake Ryu for the third spot, but he has since come back down to his reality while Ryu has shrugged off fatigue concerns and has begun to excel again.
Relievers – 6
Jansen has become an elite-level closer, and he isn’t of any concern to me. If the Dodgers lose in the postseason with the ball in Jansen’s hands, well, what are you going to do? You have to live with it, as he’s one of the best.
Paco and Beli have struggled lately, but there’s no way they’re not making the roster. Withrow has been used in important situations by Don Mattingly as he’s gotten more work, which shows a level of trust in him, and he could also come in handy as a guy that can go two innings or more.
I said I had concerns about Wilson when he was signed because he would have to re-invent himself as a pitcher to be effective … and he has (more on that here). Howell is a necessity as both a quality pitcher and second lefty.
Starting Lineup – 8
Yasiel Puig – RF
Andre Ethier – LF
Hanley Ramirez – SS
Adrian Gonzalez – 1B
Matt Kemp – CF
Juan Uribe – 3B
Mark Ellis – 2B
A.J. Ellis – C
If all four outfielders are healthy, I can’t see a way that the starting outfield isn’t Ethier/Kemp/Puig unless there’s a string of tough lefties. Crawford is easily the worst hitter with the lowest upside, he’s having a terrible second half, and his plus defense and plus baserunning days are behind him.
Perhaps it’s wishful thinking that Mattingly would put his five best hitters in the first five spots, but he loves handedness alternations so much I think it’s realistic.
Bench – 5
Carl Crawford – LF
Tim Federowicz – C
Nick Punto – 2B/3B/SS
Skip Schumaker – 2B/OF
Michael Young – 1B/3B
Crawford is an average player as a starter and would be in the lineup with a DH, but he’s the least effective of the four when everybody’s right. T-Fed is a necessary backup at catcher. Punto has been a revelation and has convinced me of his value. Yes, he’s been the second-most valuable piece the Dodgers got in the trade with Boston. Screw the grit and veteran-ness platitudes, he is what you want out of a utility guy: a fringe-average bat, but one that plays plus defense at three scarce positions.
Schumaker and Young are in their own boat because they’re sort of similar. They’re guaranteed spots, but them getting a spot if SVS gets left off will be a travesty. Skip has a .685 OPS and Young has a .739 OPS, so besides Crawford they’re the best hitters on this list. Unfortunately, they also can’t play defense. Schumaker is fringy in the outfield and horrid at second base. Young has been impressive with the bat since coming over, hitting .385/.375/.462/.837 and … wait, what’s that? His WAR with the team is still negative? Ah right, because he’s a hindrance on the bases and plays defense like a statue. Now factor in that all but two of his hits were singles and he has a .417 BABIP and … yeah.
In both cases, the player should be relegated to pinch hitting, where both actually have positive value to add to the team. But that requires one to trust Mattingly to make the right call, which he hasn’t done time and time again in regards to the bench. Like I said at the time of the trade, Young potentially makes this a better team, but expecting Mattingly to use him that way was always a fool’s adventure. It’s possible that he wises up in the playoffs, but why bank on it?
There are only two spots left after all the dust settles, and if 23 locks seems like a lot, it’s because I think it is. But that’s the benefit/cost of having a good, solid team with a lot of veteran pieces on the bench that practically require to be taken along for the ride.
One Reliever Or Two?
So the next debate is whether one wants seven or eight relievers. Usually I would be in favor of taking eight, but that assumes the best roster has already been taken and Scott Van Slyke is included by replacing one of Schumaker/Young. Since that’s not the case, I’m basically forced to choose seven relievers.
But who will it be? Brandon League, Carlos Marmol, Chris Capuano, Edinson Volquez, and Stephen Fife would be the leading candidates for one reason or another.
Fife, I think can be eliminated first, both because he has looked terrible of late and because having Withrow and four solid starters reduces the need for a long reliever. Plus, they can’t afford that luxury if they’re only rolling with seven guys. Capuano too would be looking at the axe, as he would get more consideration as an eighth reliever for matchup purposes as a third lefty, but even if he gets healthy by then, he won’t have the time to build the team’s confidence in him.
So what about the actual relievers? Well, League has a 5.43 ERA and a 4.97 FIP on the year. Has that gotten better recently, though? His .985 OPS against in September says no. Easy pass. Marmol, on the other hand, has shown improvement, as he has a 2.79 ERA as a Dodger. However, his 4.03 FIP tells a more accurate story, as he has actually walked more batters as a Dodger than as a Cub (19.3%/16.3%). Sure, he strikes out guys, but do you trust him to get out of a jam even in the bottom of the sixth? No, and the Dodgers don’t either, which is why he’s generally been relegated to meaningless innings.
That leaves Volquez, who has pitched a grand total of one inning in relief in the last 30 days. Hypothetically, his stuff should play up in relief, but he hasn’t shown anything of the sort yet. Furthermore, he’s had control problems as a starter all his career, so I’m not sure changing roles would be a breeze for him either. That said, there’s upside here. Even working as a starter, his K% (17.6%/22.7%) and BB% (10.5%/5.2%) are trending in the right directions since becoming a Dodger. It’s only 23 innings of sample, but the same applies for basically every other candidate at this point, and he’s the only one showing any type of actual progress. Furthermore, there’s the benefit that he provides as a potential longman.
Edinson Volquez is the choice as the seventh reliever, for better or worse.
That leaves the last bench player, and it has to be Van Slyke. In my mind, this is easy. He would be the only player on the Dodgers’ bench with an OPS over .750, much less .820, and he represents the only power threat off the pine.
Literally every position is covered by the guys already on the bench, so Hairston’s utility is negated. And the Dodgers don’t have space for game-changing speed in Dee Gordon because they are already carrying so much fringe-averageness that they have no room for a gimmick roster spot.
Scott Van Slyke is an easy choice as the last bench piece.
Although the bench still looks a bit weak, the upside of this roster is gigantic if used optimally, which explains why the expectations are rightfully high, both from fans and oddsmakers. For most of the playoff roster spots, there’s not much debate, but that’s the team’s strength, not weakness. Hopefully the team can avoid injuries over the final week and then make the right minor choices with the playoff roster, as all 25 guys could end up paying dividends in October.