In 2011, the Dodgers scored 644 runs, ninth in the National League. The offense was powered, of course, by Matt Kemp, who just missed the batting Triple Crown. The next most significant offensive contributions after Kemp came from veteran infielder Jamey Carroll, a somewhat-injured Andre Ethier, and a second-half surging James Loney. And that was pretty much it.
Carroll’s gone, having signed with the Minnesota Twins. Ethier and Loney are in the final year of their contracts. Kemp will continue to anchor the offense. Who else will get on base and score runs for the Dodgers in 2012?
This off-season, the Dodgers signed free agents Matt Treanor, Mark Ellis, Jerry Hairston, Juan Rivera, and Adam Kennedy. Rivera is the youngest of the bunch; he’ll be in his age-34 season in 2012. Treanor, Hairston and Kennedy will all be in their age 36-season. That’s a lot of players on the downside of their careers.
Let’s take a look at the 2012 Dodgers by position.
First base: Loney’s been the Dodgers’ everyday first baseman since 2008. In those four seasons, he’s been consistent offensively, with an average wOBA of .327 and an average wRC+ of 102. Consistent, yes. Effective? Not particularly, especially for a first baseman. The only National League first basemen with lower wOBA and wRC+ over the last four seasons are Jorge Cantu and Garrett Atkins, neither of whom plays in the majors anymore.
Second base: Jamey Carroll split duties with Aaron Miles at second base in 2011. Carroll ended the season with a wOBA of .321 and a wRC+ of 104. That was the fourth highest wRC+ on the team. Miles was dreadful, posting a .291 wOBA and an 83 wRC+.
The new second baseman, Mark Ellis, is a big downgrade offensively from Carroll. Ellis did battle injuries in 2010 and 2011, but his average wOBA over the last four seasons is .308. He has a below-average walk rate and hits for no power at all.
Jerry Hairston will likely platoon at second, third and perhaps even short, and is better than Ellis at the plate, but only by so much. Hairston ended 2011 with a .323 wOBA and a 103 wRC+ in 376 plate appearances — his best season since 2008. The typically optimistic Bill James projections have Hairston with a .301 wOBA for 2012. Second base looks to be an offensive black hole for the Dodgers in 2012.
Shortstop: Carroll split time at shortstop with young Dee Gordon and the injured Rafael Furcal, before Furcal was traded to the Cardinals. Gordon looks to be getting most of the innings at short in 2012, with help from Juan Uribe and Justin Sellers. Gordon hits for average but has an abysmally low walk rate (3.0%) and almost no power. He’s fast and a threat to steal, so if he can inch his OBP up even slightly, he will create more scoring opportunities.
Third base: Uribe was hurt for much of 2011 and his offense suffered considerably as a result. After hitting 24 home runs for the San Francisco Giants in 2010, Uribe hit just 4 HRs for the Dodgers in 295 plate appearances. His .204 batting average was a career low.
Uribe’s season ended for good in early September when he had surgery for a sports hernia. The Dodgers need Uribe to bounce back in 2012 to something approaching his offensive output in 2009 and 2010 with the Giants. If not, they’ll be relying on Adam Kennedy. And as Eno Sarris noted a few weeks ago, Adam Kennedy relying on Kennedy for any sort of offensive output will leave you very disappointed.
Left field: I wrote about Juan Rivera right after he signed his two-year deal:
Rivera’s 2011 efforts at the plate continued a decline that had begun in 2010. His best seasons offensively were in 2006 and 2009 — both with the Angels — and separated by leg surgery that forced him to miss most of 2007. In 2006, his age-29 season, he posted a wOBA of .373 with an wRC+ of 125. In 2009, he had a wOBA of .348 and a wRC+ of 110. But by 2010, Rivera’s wOBA had dropped to .314 with a wRC+ of 94. His final line in 2011 had his wOBA at .308 and his wRC+ at 96.
Tony Gwynn will be likely be the first outfielder off the bench, giving Rivera a chance to rest his aging leg. But Gwynn isn’t likely to provide more offensive firepower than Rivera. In 2010 and 2011, his wOBA was below .300 and his wRC+ averaged 81.
Center field: Kemp had an exceptional year in 2011, but it was coming off his worst offensive year in 2010. As my colleague Eno Sarris wrote after Kemp signed his eight-year contract extension in November, he is unlikely to repeat his 2011 performance, given is very high BABIP in 2011 (.380) and career high strike out rate. But Kemp will be an offensive force in 2012.
Right field: Ethier started off 2011 with a 30-game hitting streak, batting .380 in April. But he cooled off after that, ending the season with a slash of .292/.368/.421, a wOBA of .343 and a wRC+ of 119. Ethier endured a right knee injury for much of the season — which appeared to sap his power — and forced him to miss most of September. If Ethier’s knee is strong in 2012, I’d expect him to be the second most important contributor to the Dodgers’ offense, after Kemp. He’s also playing for a new contract, which should give him extra motivation.
Catcher: The catcher position provided almost no offensive help for the Dodgers in 2011. Rod Barajas and Dionner Navarro combined for a .284 wOBA in 529 plate appearances. The bright spot was A.J. Ellis, who posted a .346 wOBA and a 121 wRC+ in only 103 PAs. Ellis should get the majority of the playing time in 2012, backed up by veteran Matt Treanor. Whatever Ellis and Treanor produce is likely to be more than what Barajas and Navarro mustered in 2012.
So it’s Kemp and Ethier and who knows what else for the Dodgers’ offense in 2012.
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