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Dodgers Depth Enough To Win

Photo Credit: USA Today

If you remove the rotation and starting nine, do the B-Squad Dodgers still have enough to beat the worst team in the National League?

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that the Los Angeles Dodgers are the deepest team in baseball. Despite losing Zack Greinke to the division rival Arizona Diamondbacks, the Dodgers retooled their rotation, adding a recently resurgent Scott Kazmir and Korean ace Kenta Maeda. They also re-signed many of their complementary offensive weapons, including Howie Kendrick just last week, maintaining a significant advantage in a very important area: depth. 

With the kind of depth the Dodgers have at every single position, they have the necessary pieces to survive almost any slew of injuries. Last season, the Dodgers had the fourth highest total for numbers of days lost to injury, according to Baseball Heat Maps, including long DL stints from Yasiel Puig, Carl Crawford, Kenley Jansen, and starters Brandon Beachy, Hyun-Jin Ryu, and Brandon McCarthy. Despite the injuries, the Dodgers still won the National League West with 92 wins, eight games ahead of the second-place San Francisco Giants. 

But what would happen if every starting position player and member of the starting rotation succumbed to injury? Would the Dodgers still have enough to win at the Major League level? This is not a scenario likely to happen in reality, but it is still an interesting test of the Dodgers depth. 

Reuben Hampton and I have decided to test this theory by constructing a lineup and rotation made up solely of Dodgers bench and minor league players and then putting them up head-to-head against the worst team in baseball. Vegas Insiders has the Philadelphia Phillies and Atlanta Braves as the least likely teams to win the 2016 World Series. The Braves win our arbitrary tie breaker by having the overwhelmingly superior farm system, creating some uncertainty as to when they’ll call these players up to contribute, so we’ll use the Phillies as our worst team. Player WAR/600 steamer projections are listed for comparison purposes. We will not look at relief pitchers given the difficulty in retooling an entire bullpen (there isn’t a bullpen bench to take from). 

According to Roster Resource, this is the current projected starting squad for the Dodgers, and are thus ineligible for our team: 

1. Howie Kendirck – 2B 

2. Corey SeagerSS 

3. Justin Turner – 3B 

4. Adrian Gonzalez – 1B 

5. Yasiel Puig – RF 

6. Andre EthierLF 

7. Yasmani Grandal – C 

8. Joc PedersonCF 

SP1: Clayton Kershaw 

SP2: Scott Kazmir 

SP3: Brett Anderson 

SP4: Kenta Maeda 

SP5: Hyun-Jin Ryu   

May the best team win! 

Catcher: A.J. Ellis (2.1 WAR) vs. Cameron Rupp (1.0 WAR

Rupp split the catching duties with Carlos Ruiz last year and will probably continue to do so again this season. Neither catcher was particularly effective in 2015, but Rupp was the better offensive player with nine home runs in just short of 300 plate appearances and a somewhat moderate 0.9 WAR (compared to Ruiz’s two home runs and -0.5 WAR). With a full season of at-bats, Steamer projects some regression from Ruff, expecting him to match his 2015 performance despite having more at-bats.  

Ellis, on the other hand, is a completely serviceable catcher. He caught mostly Kershaw’s starts last season as his personal catcher (a third of his games played came with Kershaw on the rubber) but still managed to provide solid offensive production. His career 100 wRC+ describes him as a league average offensive player, while his 11.8 BB% would have ranked him 18th in the league and best among catchers had he qualified in plate appearances. He turns 35 in about two months and probably doesn’t belong as an everyday catcher in the majors at this point in his career. That being said, his offensive production and excellent pitch calling abilities make him the more viable catcher in this matchup, at least until Phillies prospect Jorge Alfaro is ready to take over.    

Winner: Dodgers B Team

First Base: Ryan Howard/Darrin Ruff vs. O’Koyea Dickson (-0.4 WAR) 

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Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Now, this is an interesting comparison because, while, individually, both Ruff and Howard are flawed, platooned they become quite formidable. Let’s assume here that Howard gets 400 PA (vs. RHP), and Ruff gets 200 PA (vs. LHP). Last year, in just 396 PA against RHP, Howard had a .802 OPS, .341 wOBA, and a .243 ISO to go along with 20 HR. That is a non-trivial amount of dingers! And this has been par for the course with Howard throughout his career. Combined with extra rest via the platoon, he should at least be able to replicate that success this season. In 114 PA last season, Ruff had an insane 1.107 OPS vs. LHP to go along with a .289 ISO and a 201 wRC+. Now those numbers seem gaudy, but Ruff has a career .946 OPS vs. LHP to go along with a .255 ISO, so this isn’t a fluke. 

Dickson is a player so obscure he doesn’t even have a Wikipedia article. In Triple-A last year, he had a .738 OPS and a .324 wOBA. That is to say he wasn’t very good in the minors, and with 600 PAs Steamer, don’t expect him to be good in the majors either. 

Winner: Phillies

Second Base: Cesar Hernandez (0.4 WAR) vs. Chase Utley (1.4 WAR)

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Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

It’s safe to say that Chase Utley retired after 2014 because the version that appeared on the Dodgers last year was surely an imposter. Last year, Utley fell off a cliff, posting decade lows in ISO (.131), BB/K (0.5), and wRC+ (72). For the first time in his career since he was a rookie, Utley graded out negatively defensively according to UZR (-2.2). To put it simply, Chase averaged an WAR of about 3.6 the past four seasons before falling off a cliff and laying an egg in 2015 (0.0 WAR). 

There have been rumblings for years that the reckless abandon Utley showed in the field would one day break his body down, and it seems to have finally happened. I personally think the “eye test” isn’t worth much, but watching him hit for the Dodgers was downright painful. That being said, giving Cesar Hernandez 550 ABs would also be painful. Hernandez had a “career” year last season, with a 91 wRC+ and slightly above-average defense. To put things in perspective, if Cesar puts up another 1.4 WAR this season, Phillies’ fans will be elated. Hernandez did swipe 19 bags (caught five times) last season but has no power or plate discipline to speak of. This positional “battle” comes down to who will be less bad, and, given Utley’s injury history and decline, it’s a wash. 

Winner: Push

Shortstop: Freddie Galvis (.8 WAR) vs. Kike Hernandez (1.7 WAR

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Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Freddie Galvis also had a career season last year, thanks, in large part, to a lot of playing time and good defense. And 2015’s 1.3 WAR will probably represent a career high for him because no other team will ever give him that much playing time, and nothing about his numbers suggest he’s capable of better. Galvis’ value is with his glove, and whatever he and his career .634 OPS bring to the plate is gravy. 

Now, Hernandez and his projected .677 OPS are nothing to write home about, but he has put up a .174 and .183 ISO in 2014 and 2015, respectively. In 134.1 career innings at shortstop, the utility man has put up a 4.0 UZR and 3.0 DRS, so it’s likely he could handle a hypothetical full season at the position. 

Winner: Dodgers B Team

Third Base: Maikel Franco (2.7 WAR) vs. Alex Guerrero (0.6 WAR

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Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

For the first couple months of the season, Dodgers fans were clamoring for pinch-hitting extraordinaire Alex Guerrero to get more playing time. After the beginning of June his numbers catered, and he actually finished with a -0.2 WAR in only 230 PA. Now Steamer’s 600PA WAR estimates don’t take into account the likelihood that Guerrero has flaws in his swing/approach that opposing pitchers began to exploit the more and more they saw him. It’s likely that without a major adjustment, his WAR would end up on the negative side of the ledger, especially when you consider his defense (-1.0 DRS in 149.2 innings). 

Franco, on the other hand, is the Phillies best player and belted out a .840 OPS to go along with a .217 ISO in 80 games last year. His defense at the hot corner last year was poor, but Steamer is projecting improvement, and his contributions at the plate will surely outweigh any lapses he has. 

Winner: Phillies

Left Field: Odubel Herrera (1.2 WAR) vs. Scott Van Slyke (1.6 WAR

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Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

One of the biggest surprises of last season for Philadelphia was Herrera, who put up a robust 3.9 WAR, thanks to a .333 wOBA and 110 wRC+. The young outfielder was fantastic on defense both in terms of UZR (9.9) and DRS (10), though Steamer is expecting a large amount of regression in that area. Herrera put up a horrendous 0.22 K/BB ratio in 2015, which seems to indicate he’s in for some regression, but there simply isn’t enough data available to see definitely one way or another what to expect from Herrera this season. 

Over his career, Van Slyke has hit better against lefties (.858 OPS) than he has righties (.707 OPS). In particular, in 2014, he mashed against LHP to the tune of a 1.045 OPS and .315 ISO, which earned him half a year’s worth of PAs. He couldn’t repeat the feat last season, and Steamer doesn’t seem to think 2016 will be much different in that regard. Defensively, Scott has always been a slightly above average player; his overall profile and age (29) don’t suggest a massive improvement is coming. With Van Slyke, you know what you’re going to get (and it isn’t much) with 600 PAs, and it’s just a matter of how much Herrera regresses (if at all).

Winner: Push

Center Field: Peter Bourjos (0.9 WAR) vs. Carl Crawford (0.8 WAR

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Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

There was a time when Peter Bourjos was considered the best defensive outfielder in baseball, covering an insane amount of ground in centerfield. Unfortunately, his career .682 OPS has kept him glued to the bench on any respectable team despite his gold glove caliber defense. Fortunately for Bourjos, the 2016 Phillies are not a respectable team! In all likelihood, he will get close to those 600 theoretical PAs, and per protocol will underwhelm offensively but put his wheels (career 7.4 Speed Score) to use in the field. 

Once a highly coveted table setter, injuries and Father Time himself have robbed Crawford of his value. He finished this season with a 0.24 K/BB rate and a .707 OPS to go along with poor defense. Even if the Dodgers were willing to give him 600 PAs, it’s highly unlikely his body will hold up for the entire season. While both players offer limited upside, Bourjos is at least on the right side of 30 and is guaranteed to play good defense. 

Winner: Phillies

Right Field: Aaron Altherr (0.8 WAR) vs. Trayce Thompson (1.0 WAR

Two players, both with alliterative names, and neither known to anyone but the hardcore fans of either fanbase. Altherr played some fantastic baseball in his 39 games with the big club, putting up a massive .248 ISO and .353 wOBA to go along with great defense (6.0 Def). Steamer seems to think that, in roughly 4x as many PAs, Altherr will accumulate less than half of the WAR he did last year, while Fans (Fangraphs crowdsourced projections) has him as a 12/20 player with a .739 OPS in only 500 PAs. Altherr has shown a steady increase in production during his time in the minor leagues that makes a bullish projection possible; however, he’s equally as likely to fall off a cliff. 

Like Altherr, Thompson also put up great numbers in limited playing time with a .896 OPS and .383 wOBA. Also similar to his fellow competitor, Thompson is not beloved by Steamers projections. The Dodgers outfielder isn’t as fast nor plays as good defense as Altherr, but he did take more walks in 2015. Both players were drafted in 2009 and have spent the majority of their careers in the minor leagues, making any projections more dartboard-esque than we’d like. Thompson does have the marginally better projection, but Altherr has more upside thanks to his defense and speed on the base paths. 

Winner: Push

Staff Ace: Julio Urias (2.1 WAR) vs. Aaron Nola (2.6 WAR

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Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

For any team, having a young stud in the rotation is an absolute must for long-term success. For the Phillies, Nola showed flashes of brilliance after being called up for his first cup of coffee in the big leagues at the age of 22. In six of his 13 starts, Nola allowed one run or less (he pitched at least six innings in all but one of those starts), and two poor six run outings against the Nationals and Mets inflated his overall 3.59 ERA. Expected to be a serious candidate to be the Phillies’ opening day starter, there is a lot to look forward to with this 2014 first round draft pick, and Fangraphs’ scouting tool gives him a 55 future value (click here for an explanation of the 20-80 scouting scale). 

Opposing him in this matchup is the number four prospect in all of baseball. Urias is incredibly young entering the season at the age of 19, but there is every reason to believe that he is much closer to the majors than his age would make you think. He finished last season making two short appearances for the Triple-A Oklahoma City Dodgers and is expected to begin the season with them. 

With the amount of depth the Dodgers have, they have no reason to rush the development of their top pitching prospect, and, even if there is an injury in the rotation, Urias is not expected to be the first one to get the call-up. That being said, he has the potential to be the second or third best pitcher on the team as early as next season, which is why he leads this B-team as the staff ace. 

Despite Urias’ potential for much stronger peripherals, as seen by his minor league production–in his three minor league seasons he has produced a K/9 over 10 and ERA under 3.00–Nola wins this matchup given his age, experience, and similarly high potential. 

Winner: Phillies 

#2 and #3 starters: Alex Wood (1.8 WAR) and Mike Bolsinger (1.9 WAR) vs. Jeremy Hellickson (1.7 WAR) and Charlie Morton (2.3 WAR

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Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Part of the reason the Dodgers traded for Wood at the deadline last season was to replace Mike Bolsinger in the rotation. Following the trade, Bolsinger was sent down to Triple-A, spending all of August in the minors until rosters expanded in September. He was actually effective early on in the season with a pristine 3.08 first-half ERA in 73 innings pitched. But teams caught up to him and hit him hard in June and July leading to the demotion. 

Wood is a consistently solid starter. He provides a solid mid-three ERA while throwing plenty of innings. If there’s an injury to this Dodgers starting rotation, he’s probably the first one to get the call to fill the spot. That’s what the Dodgers were hoping for when they relied on him last season in place of an ineffective Bolsinger and injured Ryu. Steamer is bearish on his steamer/200 IP WAR, considering he has 2.6 in each of the past two seasons. He is probably the most reliable back-of-the-rotation starter the Dodgers have on their roster. 

Opposing these two, the Phillies are deploying pitchers who have had mixed success in recent seasons, with more bad than good. Hellickson, the once top prospect, hasn’t turned in a productive season since 2012. Since then, he has a cumulative 4.86 ERA in almost 400 innings pitched, and just 2.7 WAR over three seasons. Fangraphs provides stats that examine the percentage of batted balls against that are hit “soft,” “medium,” or “hard.” Over this recent three-year span, over 85.4% of his batted balls against have been at least “medium” hit, which is the 11th highest among qualified starters over that stretch. Bringing him on was definitely an “upside” play for the Phillies. 

Finally, the veteran Charlie Morton. He’s been slightly more consistent than Hellickson, but he’s also seen his production decrease over the past few years. While the differentiation between his 2015 xFIP and ERA indicate that he was slightly unlucky (his 3.87 xFIP is more in line with his ERA over the past few seasons than his 4.81 ERA), he is nothing more than an innings eater on a decent team. Overall, while Hellickson and Morton might have slight potential upsides, neither matches the consistent production delivered by Alex Wood. Bolsinger hurts the Dodgers’ case here, but Wood’s consistency makes up for it. 

Winner: Dodgers B Team

Back-end starters: Zach Lee (1.4 WAR) and Brandon Beachy (0.6 WAR) vs. Jerad Eickhoff (2.3 WAR) and Brett Oberholtzer (2.0 WAR

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Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Zach Lee was once a highly touted Dodgers prospect as their first round pick in 2010, but he quickly fell out of favor as the system grew stronger with pitching depth. Meanwhile, Lee has lost much of the velocity that made him such a high draft selection, and his other pitches are average at best. Beachy is another depth piece for the Dodgers who has really struggled to get his career going. Just when he was starting to show true potential, he missed all of 2014 with injury. He has some upside, but he’s mostly a place holder if the Dodgers see another serious rash of injuries hit the roster. 

Eickhoff, the former 2011 15th round draft pick by the Texas Rangers, showed some promise in his debut with the Phillies last season, but he still only projects to be a mid-rotation starter at best (and more likely to be a back-end innings eater). Some would point to his low BABIP against (.257 in 51 innings pitched) as a potential source of regression, but his career high BABIP against in the minors is .291 (minimum of 100 innings pitched at that level in a given year), indicating that low BABIP may be a sustained skill. While projections aren’t favorable, at least one guy over at Fangraphs thinks he can be a real fantasy sleeper in 2016. 

Oberholtzer is another depth piece who strikes out few (career 15.3 career K%), relies on his mix of pitches instead of velocity, and allows plenty of contact. He probably won’t remain in the rotation for long, serving as a stop-gap for the soon-to-be-ready prospects Mark Appel and Jake Thompson. Overall, three of the four pitchers I mentioned here are duds, with Eickhoff providing at least some very interesting potential. 

Winner: Phillies 

At the end of the day, the Phillies are a bad baseball team, and the Dodgers are a fairly deep, good one, but it’s Philadelphia that carries the day here. The fact that this hypothetical matchup was even close speaks volumes about the depth Los Angeles has this year. However, baseball isn’t purely an exercise in aggregation, and it remains to be seen if the Dodgers can leverage this roster to gain entry to the 2016 World Series.


*All WAR and Steamer numbers refer to fWAR courtesy of Fangraphs

Edited by Jeremy Losak, Jazmyn Brown, Jaidyn Hart.

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Created 2/7/16
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