2018 MLB preview: Los Angeles Dodgers

2017: 104-58 (first place in NL West)

Last Postseason Appearance: 2017

Last World Series Title: 1988

2017 Recap

The 2017 Dodgers were a few Yu Darvish tipped pitches away from winning a title.

For the first time since 1988, the Los Angeles Dodgers won the NL Pennant. Unfortunately for them, the season did not end as they hoped, as they lost to the Houston Astros in Game 7 of the World Series. Their 104 regular season wins was tied for the second-most in the franchise’s history, which dates all the way back to 1884.

Los Angeles was the clear-cut, best team in the National League. Their pitching staff finished first in the NL in ERA, strikeouts, BAA, and walks. Of course, they were led by one of the best left handed pitchers of all-time, Clayton Kershaw. Although he missed time because of back tightness, the 3x Cy Young award winner finished tied for the league-lead in wins with 18. Kershaw also ranked second in ERA and BB/9, sixth in FIP, seventh in H/9, and ninth in SO/9.

Budding superstar, Cody Bellinger (LA Times)

Los Angeles’ bullpen led the NL with a 3.38 ERA, and finished first in the MLB in opponent OBP. Kenley Jansen finished second in the league with 41 saves, while Josh Fields and Pedro Baez each appeared in over 55 games and finished with sub 3.00 ERAs.

The Dodgers offense, which finished third in the NL in OBP, was led by some notable names, but also some surprises. Justin Turner, who was designated for assignment by the Baltimore Orioles, and hit .265 in 301 games for the Mets, finished eighth in NL MVP voting, and was named to his first All-Star team. Turner finished fourth in OBP, fifth in batting average, and eighth in adjusted OPS+. Since becoming a member of the Dodgers, Turner has turned into a superstar.

Speaking of superstars, the Dodgers have a budding one in Cody Bellinger. Bellinger was called up in Late-April, and finished the season with 39 home runs, which was sixth-best in the MLB. His slugging percentage ranked 10th overall, and he joined Mel Ott and Eddie Matthews as the only players under the age of 22 to hit at least 39 home runs, with a .350 OBP and .580 SLG.

Corey Seager cemented himself as the top shortstop in the NL. In 2017, he joined Alex Rodriguez, Carlos Correa, and Cal Ripken, as the only shortstops, under the age of 24, to hit 22 home runs with a .370 OBP and 5.5 WAR.

Chris Taylor, who did even make the Opening Day roster, led the team in doubles with 34. He slashed .288/.354/.496, and was named NLCS MVP (with Justin Turner) after hitting .316 with a pair of home runs and five runs scored.

2018: Around the Diamond 

It’s no surprise that the Dodgers have the best odds out of any NL team to reach the World Series in 2018. Cody Bellinger will be at first for a full season, and Seager is a serious MVP candidate at short. However, they will have to start the season without Justin Turner, after the third basemen was hit by a pitch and broke his wrist on Monday. The most likely candidate to hold down the hot corner while Turner is out would be Logan Forsythe. This means Chase Utley will probably get some starts at second.

The Dodgers will begin the season without star third basemen, Justin Turner (LA Times)

Behind the plate will be Austin Barnes and Yasmani Grandal. Grandal, a fantastic defensive catcher, hit 22 home runs in 2017, but lost a good chunk of playing time to Austin Barnes during the postseason. Barnes finished 2017 with a .408 OBP.

In 2017, Los Angeles started 12 different players in left field. With Chris Taylor starting in center, Matt Kemp, Joc Pederson, Enrique Hernandez, Trayce Thompson, Andrew Toles, and Alex Verdugo will all battle for that corner outfield spot. Kemp, who spent his first nine seasons with the Dodgers, has hit .317 with four home runs and eight RBIs in 15 Spring games.

One of the most polarized players in the game, right fielder Yasiel Puig, will look to build off his sold 2017. After injuries and demotions derailed his 2015 and 2016 seasons, Puig played 152 games last year, and hit 28 home runs with 15 steals. His 11.2 percent walk rate was the highest of his big-league career.

On the Bump

Both Yu Darvish and Brandon Morrow signed as free agents with the Cubs. Still, a rotation led by Kershaw is one that will find ways to thrive. Following Kersh, will be Alex Wood, who finished third in WHIP and 10th in wins, Rich Hill, who posted a 3.32 ERA in 135.2 innings, Kenta Maeda, and Hyun-Jin Ryu. All five of these guys spent time on the DL last season, but are ready to go.

There is no reason to think the Dodgers bullpen will not be among the best in baseball. They traded for Scott Alexander, who was great for Kansas City in 2017, and, of course, they still have guys like Josh Fields, Pedro Baez, Ross Stripling, and Tony Cingrani, to make sure Kenley Jansen comes into the game with a lead.

The Future

Walker Buehler (No.12) is the highest rated Dodgers prospect on MLB.com’s Top 100 Prospect’s list. Buehler, a right-handed pitcher, pitched a little bit out of the bullpen for the Dodgers in 2017. While his control wasn’t great in 2017, he still looks like a top-of-the-rotation type starter.

Alex Verdugo (No.33), who was mentioned earlier in the left field chatter, is hitting .324 with two home runs and six RBIs so far this spring. He had a solid  2017 season in AAA, hitting .314 with an OPS of .825. However, Matt Kemp and Andrew Toles appear to be ahead of him on the depth chart, so look for Verdugo to develop more in AAA.

Los Angeles also has the third best catching prospect, Keibert Ruiz (N0. 52). Ruiz hits for a good average, hitting .315 in 101 games between A/A+, and has good speed for a catcher. He needs to develop more defensively, but could be the catcher of the future in Los Angeles.

2018 Prediction: 95-67

There is a reason why the Dodgers are the NL favorite to reach the World Series in 2018. When Turner comes back, this will be one of the best teams in baseball. As long as the squad stays healthy down the stretch, Los Angeles should, again, be right in the mix for a World Series title.

Featured image by MLB.com

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2017 Fantasy Baseball Catcher Rankings

Crying Tiers of Joy: 2017 Fantasy Baseball Catcher Rankings

The catcher position is arguably the toughest and most important position on the diamond. Not only is catcher the most demanding position physically, but mentally as well. Catchers must know everything about everyone at all times.

The most important responsibilities of a catcher are on the defensive side of the ball. They need to block, pick, receive, call pitches and throw out runners, among other things. The importance of defense commonly results in catchers being worse offensively than other positions.

In fantasy terms, the catcher can be compared to the tight end in football. The tight end position is focused on blocking as much as it is receiving, resulting in them having a lower average fantasy value than other skill positions.

The top 25 catchers have been grouped into five tiers. The top and bottom catcher in each tier have been profiled below.

Exceptions include Matt Wieters, who is still an unsigned free agent and Wilson Ramos, who is recovering from a torn ACL, and should return to the Tampa Bay Rays as a designated hitter at some point in May.

Honorable mentions include: Jorge Alfaro (PHI), Nick Hundley (SF), Miguel Montero (CHC), Roberto Perez (CLE), Jeff Bandy (MIL), Tucker Barnhart (CIN), Carlos Ruiz (SEA), Tom Murphy (COL), and Tyler Flowers (ATL).

Tier 1

2017 fantasy baseball catcher rankings

Buster Posey could retire right now and be inducted into the Hall of Fame. (Courtesy of MLBtraderumors.com)

Catchers in this tier are elite fantasy options. They will play every day, whether it is behind the plate or at first base, and have offered consistently great offensive value in the past.

1. Buster Posey SF

2. Jonathan Lucroy TEX

Buster Posey has been the standard of excellence at catcher for the past five seasons. The former MVP is coming off of his worst career season (disregarding his 2011 campaign). An off year for Posey included batting .288 with 14 home runs and 80 RBIs. He managed to be top-15 MVP finalist, win his first Gold Glove and was named an All-Star for the fourth time.

The 29-year-old will remain the three-hole hitter for the always competitive San Francisco Giants, and should be selected as the first catcher off the board in 2017.

A two time All-Star, Jonathan Lucroy, will play his first full season for the Texas Rangers in 2017. He projects to bat sixth in a deep Rangers lineup that features young stud stars Rougned Odor and Nomar Mazara, as well as veterans Carlos Gomez, Adrain Beltre, Shin-Soo Choo and recently acquired Mike Napoli.

Lucroy led the league in doubles while finishing fourth in MVP voting in 2014. His 2015 season was cut short to a broken toe and concussion. In 2016, Lucroy rebounded, reaching career high in home runs, walks and slugging percentage. After being traded by the Milwaukee Brewers to the Rangers in 2016, He managed to mash 11 home runs in 47 games. Lucroy is guaranteed to be a top catcher in 2017.

Tier 2

2017 fantasy baseball catcher rankings.

Gary Sanchez is no longer the future of the New York Yankees, but rather the present. (Courtesy of NJ.com)

This tier consists of catchers who will play nearly every day, hit in the heart of the order, and offer great offensive value.

3. Gary Sanchez NYY

4. Willson Contreras CHC

5. Yasmani Grandal LAD

Everybody remembers Gary Sanchez for hitting 20 home runs in 53 games in 2016, but they forget that he batted .225 in September and October. Sanchez has huge upside as he will bat third for a sneaky talented Yankees lineup featuring veteran speedsters Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner.

With the 24-year-old batting third, Sanchez is in a prime spot to rack up RBIs if he can continue to put the bat on the ball. The Sanchise should not be overlooked because of his great opportunity in 2017.

Yasmani Grandal had his best career year in 2016, finishing 22nd in MVP voting. He hit 27 bombs while slashing .228/.339/.477 in 126 games. The Dodger’s everyday catcher will bat fifth behind Adrian Gonzalez, Justin Turner and Corey Seager, which will give him ample RBI opportunities.

Grandal will be a great fantasy asset in 2017.

Tier 3

2017 Fantasy Baseball Rankings

Russell Martin’s continued success is remarkable at 34-years-old. (Courtesy of www.whatproswear.com)

Catchers in this tier offer above average fantasy value as they will play nearly every day, hit in productive spots in the order, and have proven their worth in the past.

6. Russell Martin

7. Brian McCann

8. Salvador Perez

9. Yadier Molina

10. Wellington Castillo

11. Stephen Vogt

Russell Martin, the MLB’s journey man, has found success everywhere he goes. He has reached the 20 home run, 60 run, 70 RBI plateau in his last two consecutive seasons. The 34-year-old will be entering his 12th season as the everyday catcher and six hitter of the Toronto Blue Jays.

He will have the same opportunity he has had in the past two seasons to be a key contributor in the Blue Jays offense.

Stephen Vogt has finished his second consecutive season of 500 plate appearances and over a .250 average. He has hit a total of 32 home runs in his last two seasons, suggesting that he has above average power for a catcher. The 32-year-old will be the Oakland Athletics primary catcher and two-hitter in 2017, which will give him plenty of opportunities to produce runs.

The two-time All-Star will continue to have the chance to shine as a key part of the Athletics roster.

Tier 4

2017 Fantasy Baseball Catcher Rankings

Where does Evan Gattis fit into the Houston Astros puzzle? (Courtesy of The Houston Chronicle)

Players in this tier will come at a cheap price, but will provide above average value.

12. Evan Gattis

13. J.T. Realmuto

14. Mike Zunino

15. Austin Hedges

16. Francisco Cervelli

17. Derek Norris

Evan Gattis, the former janitor, has managed to amass 20 or more home runs in all four of his MLB seasons while averaging only 122 games per season. Gattis will play a utility role for the Houston Astros in 2017, who have signed Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann this offseason.

Gattis will find time behind home plate when veteran McCann’s legs need a rest, at designated hitter when Beltran starts in the outfield or is out of the lineup, and at first base when Yulieski Gurriel sits or struggles.

The 30-year-old has too much talent to not be in the lineup, and will be a cheap source of power in the middle or late rounds of your draft.

Derek Norris, who batted .186 in 2016, was traded to the Washington Nationals in December of 2016 for a minor-league pitcher. He will hold the primary catchers position relinquishing the occasional at bat to Jose Lobaton. The 28-year-old will bat at the bottom of a loaded Nationals lineup, giving him more RBI opportunities than the average eight hitter. A lot of people forget that Derek Norris batted .250 in 2015, and .270 in 2014, showing that he has the potential to be a valuable fantasy asset for a cheap price.

Tier 5

2017 Fantasy Baseball Catcher Rankings

Travis d’Arnaud looks forward to a healthy 2017. (Courtesy of Getty Images)

These catchers all offer average levels of production but will be playing in platoon roles, so playing time may be staggered until injuries or performance dictate otherwise.

18. Travis d’Arnaud

19. Sandy Leon

20. Devin Mesoraco

21. Yan Gomes

22. Cameron Rupp

23. Tony Wolters

24. James McCann

25. Jason Castro

Travis d’Arnaud will be the primary catcher for the New York Mets, occasionally relinquishing at-bats to backups Rene Rivera and Kevin Plawecki. Although he has only totaled 100 games played once in his career (108 games played in 2014), he is healthy and confident heading into 2017.

The Mets have also hired Glenn Sherlock as their new third base coach and catching instructor which will help d’Arnaud maintain his confidence behind the plate and at the dish. He offers average value for low cost, as he is commonly going undrafted.

Jason Castro, also going undrafted, will be the starting catcher for the Minnesota Twins after signing a three year, $24.5 million contract. He will bat at the bottom of a young Twins lineup that is sure to produce its fair share of runs in 2017. Castro batted .210 with 11 home runs in 2016, although it was only four seasons ago when the 29-year-old was an All-Star who batted .270 with 18 home runs. Castro is a good sleeper for deep or two catcher leagues.

 

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2017 MLB Season

Position Rankings for 2017 MLB Season: Catchers

This is the second installment of the 2017 MLB Season Position Rankings. In this installment, we will be focusing on catchers. Catchers will be weighed by their offensive as well as defensive stats.

Lets start our list of backstops at number five.

5. Yasmani Grandal- Los Angeles Dodgers

2017 MLB Season

Yasmani Grandal will be a steady presence behind the plate for the Dodgers in 2017. (Kevin Sullivan, Dodgers Staff Photographer)

Yasmani Grandal has proven to be a steadying presence behind the plate for the Los Angeles Dodgers. After being acquired from the Padres in the 2014 Matt Kemp trade, he has come into his own. He has provided a solid bat with some good power, knocking 27 long balls to go along with 72 RBI’s in 2016.

Grandal also has good control over the opposing team’s running game. In 2016, Grandal threw out would-be base stealers at an above average 29 percent. Grandal also had 13 defensive runs saved in 2016, providing elite defense behind the plate.

While Grandal does hit for a relatively low average (career .238 hitter), he makes up for it with good power and exceptional defensive skills. Look for Grandal to contend for his second career NL All-Star appearance in 2017.

4. Wilson Ramos- Tampa Bay Rays

Wilson Ramos turned into an offensive force for the Washington Nationals in 2016. With the decline of Bryce Harper from his 2015 MVP form, Ramos was able to pick up some of the slack and help Washington to their third NL Division Series in the last five years. However, the Nationals were unable to get over the hump.

Ramos posted career highs in all major offensive categories. He batted .307 and launched 22 bombs to go with 80 RBI’s. While putting up career highs in offensive numbers, Ramos also exhibited a strong control over the base paths. Ramos was well above league average (27 percent) in throwing out baserunners, limiting opposing teams to 37 percent.

While Ramos did provide ample control of the run game, his overall defense left something to be desired. He posted -1 defensive runs saved in 2016. The Tampa Bay Rays snagged the slugging catcher this off season, and will value him more for his bat than his glove in 2016.

3. Salvador Perez- Kansas City Royals

2017 MLB Season

The base paths are on lock down with Salvador Perez behind the dish. (John Rieger, USA Today Sports)

Salvador Perez has been one of the top catchers in all of baseball since becoming a full-time starter in 2013. In that time, Perez has garnered four AL All-Star appearances to go along with four Gold Gloves. He has provided a steady presence for the Royals and helped fuel their back-to-back World Series appearances in 2014-2015.

While his bat did slip some from his career averages (career .272, .247 in 2016), his power was ever present. Perez slammed 22 home runs, the most of his career to go along with 64 RBI’s.

He also continued to show why he is considered one of the best defensive catchers of the game. Perez threw out opposing baserunners at an astounding 48 percent, easily tops for the catchers in contention for this list. He also provided solid overall defense with 3 defensive runs saved. Perez is set to continue his run as top defensive catcher in all of baseball for years to come.

2. Jonathan Lucroy- Texas Rangers

Jonathan Lucroy saw his season be split between the NL and the AL as the top catcher available was traded from the Milwaukee Brewers to the Texas Rangers at the 2016 trade deadline. Lucroy posted solid numbers in both leagues in 2016, batting .292 while providing exceptional power evident from his .500 slugging percentage. He used his 24 home runs to pad his slugging percentage while pairing them with 81 RBI’s.

Lucroy was a force for the Texas Rangers down the stretch, both behind the plate as well as in the batters box. He threw out runners at a 39 percent clip, more than 10 percent better than the league average. Lucroy also had 4 defensive runs saved in 2016, proving he is one of the top overall catchers in baseball. A change of scenery seemed to fuel Lucroy in 2016. Look for him to continue his ascent while helping lead the World Series contending Texas Rangers in 2017.

1. Buster Posey- San Francisco Giants

Buster Posey has proven to be the total package for the San Francisco Giants. He has four career NL All-Star appearances, three Silver Sluggers, one Gold Glove, and an NL MVP Trophy to go along with his NL ROY award. Posey easily gained the top spot in these rankings, but not just by his trophy case. He posted a batting average of .288 to go along with 14 home runs and 80 RBI’s.

Posey was able to couple his solid offense with his stellar defense to garner his fourth NL All-Star appearance and earn his first Gold Glove. Posey posted stellar defensive numbers, providing 23 defensive runs saved in 2016, easily tops on this list. Combine that with his ability to limit the running game by throwing out 37 percent of baserunners, and you have the best defensive catcher of the 2016 season. Posey will give the Giants a strong glove and bat in 2017.

Catchers play a vital role in the offense and defense of a team. While catchers are more heavily weighed on their defensive stats, in the next installment of this series we will be looking at some of the biggest bats in the game. Stay tuned!

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Ethier said than Done: Dodgers Spring Training woes Continue

The Dodgers are showing that some teams don’t have to make it all the way into the middle of the season to have their roster depth tested. The Dodgers suffered another injury to a big-name on the team on Friday, when Andre Ethier fractured his right tibia when he fouled a ball off of it.

This preseason has been an absolute disaster, injury-wise, for the Dodgers. Last year, the Dodgers made it to the postseason with a 92-70 record before falling to the eventual National League champs, New York Mets, in the divisional round. Currently, Los Angeles is riding a 7-game losing streak to sit at 10-10 in spring 2016.

Ethier is just one of the many injuries the Dodgers have sustained to this point. Ethier is entering his 11th year in the MLB, all with the Dodgers, with whom he has hit .286 with 159 home runs and 682 RBI in his career.  He hit .294 with 14 home runs and 53 RBI last season to help the Dodgers on their postseason run.

Clayton Kershaw gave Dodgers fans a scare this Friday when he got into a car crash in Arizona (with two Angels fans no doubt). But that didn’t stop him from taking the chance to grab some selfies. Photo courtesy of sports.yahoo.com

Along with Ethier, Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw gave every Dodger fan a heart attack on Friday when he was involved in a car collision on Friday in Phoenix. Luckily, no one was seriously injured in the crash, but Kershaw then took a foul ball off the leg on Sunday. It seems that neither of these have presented serious injuries to the Dodgers ace, but has found a way to keep things interesting for Dodgers fans despite seven straight losses. Kershaw went 16-7 with a 2.43 ERA in 33 starts for the Dodgers last season. He has been a staple in LA since his arrival in 2008, putting up sub-3.00 ERA seasons in every year after his rookie season.

Kershaw’s friend in the rotation, Brett Anderson, was not so lucky this preseason.  Anderson will miss the first three to five weeks of the season with back issues. Anderson is entering his second year with the Dodgers, after pitching a number of seasons with Oakland. Anderson went 10-9 with a 3.69 ERA in 31 starts with LA last season.

Not only have the Dodgers faced a number of new injuries over the course of Spring Training, they also have a number of players that are recovering from off-season procedures of injuries. On the offensive side of things, Adrian Gonzalez, Howie Kendrick, Yasmani Grandal, Enrique Hernandez, Corey Seager, Justin Turner, and Scott Van Slyke are all coming off of some form of injury or procedure coming into 2016. While the majority of them should be alright, it should be noted that some of these players aren’t as young as they used to be, and these procedures and injuries may have a lasting impact on how much longer they can remain healthy, not only this season, but for the rest of their careers. Gonzalez in particular will be 34 this May. Grandal is still expected to start on Thursday’s game, according to manager Dave Roberts, but is still undergoing tests concerning forearm soreness experienced in last week’s match-up.

The pitching staff woes don’t stop at Anderson and Kershaw, either. Alex Wood, Brandon Beachy, and Hyun-Jin Ryu are all coming off of off-season work as well. Ryu should be expected to see work in late May to early June, after his recovery regimen was pushed back slightly this spring.

The positive to all of this is, the Dodgers had been stockpiling depth all off-season, so this will not impact them as hard initially. Come June, when most of this roster should be back together, the Dodgers should have at least a semblance of understanding as to how this season will go. Right now, it’s hard to say if this depth stockpile will be enough to get this Dodgers team into the mid-season with a fighting chance, but I think it would be foolhardy to cross them out this early on, especially so long as their ace Kershaw and young stud Yasiel Puig remain healthy.