ESPN Chalk's Joe Peta is sharing his season win total projections for every MLB team, including a reason for optimism and pessimism. Plus, he recommends an over/under play, or a pass. This is the entry for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Reason for optimism: Strength of schedule differences may hide it by season's end, but the Dodgers (not the Nationals) have the best team in baseball.
Reason for pessimism: Neither Pittsburgh nor Chicago may be good enough to keep St. Louis from the playoffs.
Is it even possible that a team with the largest payroll in baseball history (over $272 million, per Cot's Contracts) coming off two straight division titles while averaging 93 wins a year, and in possession of the most dominant starting pitcher since Pedro Martinez, could possibly be overlooked and underrated entering the 2015 season? It looks that way due to a variety of factors:
1) The Dodgers reside in the division of the San Francisco Giants, a team that's won the World Series crown three times in the past five seasons -- including in 2014.
2) Despite 186 total regular-season wins the past two years, the Dodgers have gone 3-7 against the St. Louis Cardinals in the playoffs, with the aforementioned Clayton Kershaw going an inconceivable 0-4 with a 7.15 ERA in those two series.
3) The Washington Nationals, by signing Max Scherzer to a 7-year, $210 million contract, have become the choice of National League oddsmakers.
4) The Dodgers' most notable offseason move, trading former MVP runner-up Matt Kemp to the Padres, involved the jettisoning of a big name.
I think there is a case to be made that the Dodgers are still the best team in baseball. Behind the Rockies, the Dodgers were the highest-scoring team in the NL last season, no small feat when you consider their home environment. Instead, consider it from this perspective: The Dodgers were by far the highest-scoring team in the NL on the road. Yes, they played nine games in Colorado and Arizona, but they also played that many in San Francisco and San Diego. That run-scoring production wasn't a fluke, either -- the Dodgers actually had a mild strain of negative cluster luck over the course of the season.
So how does last year's best-in-league offense stack up with this year's version? Pretty well, even if it's not quite as potent. First, the trade of Kemp brought over Yasmani Grandal, who will take over the starting catching duties from A.J. Ellis. That's significant because the 1 hole in the Dodgers' lineup last season was at catcher, where they got league-worst production of .181/.283/.261. (Yes, that's a slugging percentage 22 points below the on-base percentage.)
Elsewhere, despite the very serviceable job Dee Gordon did last year at second base, Howie Kendrick is an upgrade. Jimmy Rollins doesn't have the power Hanley Ramirez provided at shortstop, but it's a good bet that even Ramirez's best year in the field isn't better than Rollins' worst. Rookie of the Year candidate Joc Pederson made Kemp expendable. Along with a rejuvenated Carl Crawford and MVP candidate Yasiel Puig, not to mention fourth outfielder Andre Ethier, the Dodgers have the best outfield in baseball. Despite the absence of Kemp and Ramirez, look for the Dodgers to once again have the best offense in the National League.
On the mound, the addition of Scherzer vaults the Nationals into the discussion for best rotation in the league, but don't be fooled by the flashy headlines; at best they've merely matched the Dodgers, especially in a three-game series. Kershaw, the perpetually underappreciated Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu give the Dodgers three pitchers with legitimate sub-3.00 ERA skills. The Dodgers have rounded out the rotation expertly with the offseason signings of Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson.
Finally, on the topic of run suppression, the Dodgers knew exactly what they were doing when they jettisoned Kemp for Grandal. While Grandal may create an additional 30 runs on offense year-over-year versus Ellis' 2014 production at the plate, he may create just as much value on the run suppression side of the ledger. Baseball Prospectus ranked Grandal as the sixth-most valuable catcher in terms of runs suppressed through pitch framing; Ellis was ranked 99th. But even that doesn't quite reveal all the value because runs suppressed is a counting stat, and Grandal saw far fewer pitches than the five catchers ranked ahead of him. It's very possible Grandal will make a dominant starting rotation even better.
The discussion in this capsule focuses not on the Dodgers' competition in the NL West, but rather their pursuit of home-field advantage in the playoffs. The Nationals have an easier schedule, maybe equating to a two-game advantage, but the Dodgers look poised to still finish with the best record in the league all while cruising to a third straight division title.
It's not often you see a team with a win total of 92 and think there is value to be had, but that appears to be the case with the Dodgers. It is the Nationals sporting the highest win total (94) and the best NL pennant and World Series odds. The oddsmakers have made a mistake here; take the "over" for the Dodgers.
Los Angeles Dodgers record, 2011-presentYear Season Win Total Record O/U Div. Finish World Series Odds
2011 83.5 82-79 Under 3rd 33-1
2012 81.5 86-76 Over 2nd 40-1
2013 91.5 92-70 Over 1st 15-2
2014 92.5 94-68 Over 1st 7-1
2015 92 -- -- -- 6-1
Evan Abrams, ESPN Stats & Info
Win totals and WS odds courtesy of Vegas sportsbooks
2015 projection: 98-64 (first, NL West)
Bet recommendation: Over