Despite winning 94 games during the 2014 season, the Los Angeles Dodgers underwent an extreme makeover during the off-season. Los Angeles traded away, outfield Matt Kemp and opted not to re-sign, third baseman, Hanley Ramirez. Kemp and Ramirez ranked first and fourth in team slugging percentage, so it’s reasonable to expect Los Angeles to score fewer runs this season. To offset its potential shortcomings, Los Angeles signed two pitchers to bolster their starting rotation. Still, Los Angeles has star power in its infield and outfield to score runs at a high clip. Los Angeles’s infield will be comprised of catcher Yasmani Grandal, first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, second baseman Howie Kendrick, shortstop Jimmy Rollins, and third baseman, Juan Uribe. Los Angeles’s outfield will be manned by Carl Crawford, Joc Pederson, and Yasiel Puig. Here are five things to watch during Dodgers Spring Training.
Storyline #1: Ground Ball Emphasis?
Los Angeles lost some key pieces on offense, but new additions to the starting rotation will help offset the losses. Newly signed pitchers, Brett Anderson and Brandon McCarthy, do not possess high strikeout rates, but excel at generating ground balls. That’s important playing in a division loaded with top offensive players. Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke can strikeout batters, so having Anderson and McCarthy in the rotation will provide a nice contrast to keep opponents off balance.
Storyline #2: Overhauling the Bullpen
Los Angeles had an abundance of older relievers with big contracts on its roster last season. Los Angeles got younger by designating Brian Wilson for assignment and promoting Juan Nicasio and Chris Hatcher. This year’s roster has more youth and flexibility. All roads lead to closer Kenley Jansen, who has become one of the best closer in baseball. Jansen saved 44 games last season and struck out 101 batters in 65 innings. The spring could be a time for the Dodgers to figure out the layout for the rest of their bullpen.
Storyline #3: More Contact, Please
Los Angeles made a conscious decision to add players with lower strikeout rates this offseason. Los Angeles did not have any problem trading away Kemp and his 30% strikeout rate to add players with higher contact rates. Three of Los Angeles’s new additions, Rollins, Kendrick, and Grandal, all had contact rates of 75 percent or better during 2014. Puig is still expected to strikeout at a high rate, but new additions should alleviate some of this burden.
Storyline #4: Defense Wins Championships
Last season, Ramirez graded out as the worst defensive shortstop in baseball while second baseman Dee Gordon, also graded out poorly. Los Angeles addressed both concerns by adding Rollins and Kendrick, who both graded out as above average defenders. While Rollins (36) is in the twilight of his career, he still provides leadership and overall average defensive play.
Storyline #5: Can Kershaw Overcome His Post-Season Woes?
Entering his age-26 season, Clayton Kershaw has won three Cy Young Awards and took home his first MVP award last season. Kershaw completely dominated the National League, posting a 21-3 record with a 1.77 ERA and 239 strikeouts over 198 innings. Despite a historic regular season, Kershaw went 0-2 during the playoffs and gave up eleven earned runs by 12.2 innings. Kershaw has always struggled during the post-season, so a strong post-season performance will alleviate any concerns.