And here we are, the final team that was eliminated from the 2012 playoff picture....the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Dodgers didn't look like much of a playoff contender coming into the year, despite the presence of 2011 NL MVP runner-up Matt Kemp and 2011 NL Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw. The Dodgers started the season off on a crazy run until Kemp got hurt, then slogged through the next two months before acquiring Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett, Nick Punto, Hanley Ramirez, Randy Choate, Joe Blanton, and Shane Victorino...and *still* missing the playoffs.
If you're new here (which about 90% of our reader base is in comparison to last year), here's a brief explanation: after a team is eliminated from the playoffs, we're going to put their season under a microscope and look at just what the hell went wrong, what went right, and so on and so forth. The goal is to post these the day after a team is eliminated.
What Went Right: When he was healthy early in the season, Kemp was awesome. He homered 12 times in April and hit .417. Then. a strained hamstring slowed him considerably, and Kemp would hit just 11 homers over the last 82 games of his season. The hamstring injury also destroyed Kemp's speed, and he stole only nine bases, a far cry from last year's 40. Catcher AJ Ellis was a huge surprise for the team behind the plate, amassing 4.0 fWAR thanks mainly in part to a walk rate that kissed 13% for much of the season. On the mound, Kershaw was fantastic, though not nearly as good as last year, posting a 2.58 ERA and striking out a batter per inning.
What Went Wrong: Most of LA's big summer acquisitions fell flat. Blanton posted a 4.99 ERA in ten starts. Beckett's ERA in seven starts was 2.93, but he barely averaged six innings a start and only won two of those seven starts. Shane Victorino posted just a .658 OPS as a Dodger, but did end up stealing 15 bases. Hanley Ramirez was largely the same Hanley that played this year in Miami, and not the former MVP candidate. Adrian Gonzalez's power outage continued, homering just three times in 35 games. However, at least those players were better than the guys they replaced, notably James Loney at first base (four homers in 114 games). The Dodgers rotation also dealt with injuries at the end of the year, notably to Kershaw (though he didn't miss any significant time) and Chad Billingsley (who might need Tommy John, which would take him out for all of the 2013 season).
Most Surprising Player: It's gotta be AJ Ellis. He had 244 plate appearances coming into 2012, but always had fantastic plate discipline throughout his career. Sure enough, the 31-year old was one of the finest catchers in the NL this year, walking 12.9% of the time while posting a .778 OPS and homering 12 times. It's worth noting that from 2006 to 2011, Ellis had a total of 16 homers in the minors and majors in over 2000 plate appearances. Sure enough, he hits a dozen in a quarter of that playing time this year. Life.
Most Disappointing Player: I can't call Andre Ethier disappointing, because he's not disappointing...he's just paid way too much. How about Dee Gordon? In a brief sample size last season, Gordon hit adequately enough, considering his speed. This year...nothing. .228/.281/.281 isn't going to get it done at any level, and when you steal 31 bases, you need to be caught stealing less than ten times. Gordon's defense at shortstop also scored terribly using both DRS and UZR. Instead of a long-term answer at short, 2012 showed the Dodgers that they actually just have a bench player.
Prospects Up: Here's the thing: the Dodgers traded a bunch of prospects, so this is judging just what they have left. 21-year old Zach Lee had a solid year split between high-A and AA despite the unsavory ERAs, but might need to start in AA again. 2011 first round pick Chris Reed had a year similar to Lee's where he struggled after a promotion to AA. Garrett Gould had homer problems, but good enough strikeout and walk rates. 20-year old Joc Pederson had a breakout year in high-A, homering 18 times, stealing 26 bases, and walking at a double digit rate. Catcher Tim Federowicz had a good year in AAA, but remember: it's just the PCL. 2012 first round pick Corey Seager had a great, well-rounded rookie year. Finally, there's Cuban signee Yasiel Puig, who showed some awesome power and speed in just 23 games this season, throwing in some great plate discipline as well.
Prospects Down: Chris Withrow was in AA for the fourth straight year and was eventually switched to the bullpen, where the same issues held strong: lots of strikeouts, lots of walks. Alfredo Silverio was involved in an offseason car accident, and didn't play an inning this season.
The Future: In 2013 and beyond for the Dodgers, they have a lot of money locked up on their offense with Gonzalez, Crawford, Ramirez, Ethier, and Kemp all making eight figures for at least the next two seasons. But then, there's the starting rotation, with Kershaw, Billingsley, Beckett, Aaron Harang, and Chris Capuano all under control through at least 2014. But Billinglsey might miss the whole season, Kershaw's hip could cause serious problems for him next year, and the veteran duo of Harang and Capuano ran out of gas near the end of the year. The Dodgers really could have a situation where Josh Beckett is their most reliable, healthy starter going into next year...and that's not a winning proposition, even with their dynamic offense. But with new ownership in place, I'd expect the Dodgers to at least sniff at some of the more interesting free agent rotation options on the market and attempt to solidify that aspect of their game before going into 2013 with multiple question marks in the starting five.