Will paucity of power finally catch up to Dodgers?
Posted: Thursday February 8, 2007 11:58AM; Updated: Thursday February 8, 2007 1:57PM
Southern Californians don't all set out to be different. Sometimes, it just ends up that way.
And so it goes with the Los Angeles Dodgers, who against their fondest desires will again try to generate a winning offense via the baseball equivalent of windmills and solar power.
The 2006 Dodgers were alternative energy mavericks. Despite finishing 15th out of 16 National League teams in home runs, Los Angeles outscored its opponents by a greater margin than every other NL squad except the New York Mets.
Then, with every intention of boosting their home-run power, the Dodgers instead lost co-leader J.D. Drew (20 homers) to free agency, replacing him in the batting order with 39-year-old Luis Gonzalez, who hit 15 out of the park in 2006.
With Los Angeles' other major offseason offensive acquisition being the fleet-of-foot, free-of-muscle Juan Pierre (1,007 career games, 12 home runs), wags have wondered whether the deadball era will make an untimely return to Dodger Stadium. Can the Dodgers repeat their above-average offense, or are they tilting at windmills?
The news, both good and bad for Los Angeles, is how easily the Dodgers' offensive success last year can be explained. The team piled up runs because it topped the NL in two really nice categories to top in: on-base percentage and batting average with runners in scoring position. Lacking the hammer, the Dodgers performed admirably with their chisel.
As far as doing it again in 2007 goes, as much as the lineup has changed, the end result may remain the same.
On the upside, two Dodgers who emerged as starters last year were rookies -- Russell Martin and Andre Ethier. Odds are in their favor that their production will improve with more playing time. The presence of former Phillies catcher Mike Lieberthal as a backup should allow Martin to stay fresher. Ethier was unconscious at the plate for most of the summer before blacking out in September, dampening his first-year stats enough so that they won't be impossible to match, sophomore jinxes notwithstanding.
Third base, where mid-2006 acquisition Wilson Betemit and prospect Andy LaRoche have formed exploratory committees with their respective parties, is another area where the Dodgers can be optimistic -- last year, the team watched Cesar Izturis run cold water on the hot corner for weeks on end. And 29-year-old shortstop Rafael Furcal, who recovered from a slow start to become the Dodgers' offensive leader, is in his peak years.
On the downside, however, is the team's right side of the infield, where Nomar Garciaparra (33-years-old) and Jeff Kent (39 in March), will venture farther into the decline of their careers. That's not at all to say they won't have value -- Kent, in particular, remained one of the top offensive second basemen in baseball (.862 OPS, .297 equivalent average, according to Baseball Prospectus) despite hitting his fewest homers (14) in 10 years -- just that when it comes to matching 2006 performance, it won't get any easier.
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