Zack Greinke is an honest soul. He seems like the kind of guy who always happens to be on the other side of a door when you open it, startling you, as he faintly smiles and makes uncomfortably intense eye contact before passing. But also honest. At the Dodgers FanFest over the weekend, the right-hander admitted he's not sure about these new-look Dodgers.
I wouldn’t say everyone got along with everyone that is gone, but I would say there was definitely more positives than negatives with everyone that we got rid of.
Translation: Matt Kemp and/or Hanley Ramirez would use my keys to pick their teeth, but they could sure hit. Greinke doesn't outwardly criticize the team or its direction, he's just a little suspicious of the idea that the Dodgers are going to be better this year because they smile more and play dominoes together. That's fair. We know that Greinke reads FanGraphs and likes statistics, and you know how those people are when it comes to the subject of team chemistry.
Because it's my never-ending mission to make the Dodgers and their fans more comfortable, it's time to look at the moves the Dodgers made and see if they really are worse, at least on paper. Before looking at the projections from Steamer to get an idea, my guess is that they're actually better, and that's before you get to the chemistry part. Here are the (vast multitude of) changes the Dodgers made, keeping in mind that there's a surprisingly large subsection of fans who aren't convinced that the team had a good offseason.
Yes, that's a good point Ironic Am ... wait ...
In: Yasmani Grandal (2.3 projected WAR in 2015)
Out: A.J. Ellis (-0.4 WAR in 2014)
I got confused on the Dodgers' 2014 team page on FanGraphs because A.J. Ellis wasn't listed. Turns out the players were ranked by WAR, and he was on the second page, just below Jamie Romak. It's hard to overstate just how bad Ellis was in 347 at-bats, and Grandal had a nice season in 2014. It's hard to rate catchers with WAR, considering it's not including pitch-framing and field-generalling, but there isn't enough of that on Ellis's side to make up the difference.
Actually, if you look at the stats that do exist, it looks like Grandal was one of the best framers in baseball and Ellis was one of the worst. The offense should be much improved, but the defense should be, too.
In: Howie Kendrick (2.4 projected)
Out: Dee Gordon (3.1 in 2014)
The trick to liking the Kendrick move is realizing that Gordon probably isn't going to have that kind of season again. Steamer projects him for a .308 OBP and a one-win season, which seems like a very Dee Gordon season. Still, you can't take away what Gordon did last year from this calculation, so the Dodgers might be a little worse off this year at second.
In: Jimmy Rollins (2.5 projected)
Out: Hanley Ramirez (3.4 in 2014)
Ramirez looked like he was playing shortstop wearing full catcher's gear. Rollins is still a fine defensive shortstop. But Ramirez could hit enough to make up the difference and then some, and there's always a tightrope to walk with shortstops on the other side of 35. Their defense doesn't have to decline nice and gradually.
Still, the Dodgers went for defense, and they'll probably get it, even if Greinke isn't convinced it'll help much.
"How much better is [Clayton] Kershaw going to be with a different shortstop?" Greinke said. "He had a 1.7 ERA, so it couldn’t have hurt him too much. If you’re pitching good and doing your job, you’re still going to get outs. Yeah, it helps to have a good defense behind you, but the most important person on defense is the pitcher.
In: Joc Pederson (2.2 projected)
Out: Matt Kemp (1.8 in 2014)
If you believe the Dodgers are upgrading in the outfield, you believe in the ghastly defensive stats that Matt Kemp accrued. They're historically awful. If you believe in the ghastly defensive stats that Matt Kemp accrued, you probably watched him play in the outfield last year. He moved like he was carrying around Hanley Ramirez wearing full catcher's gear. Even though Steamer dislikes Pederson's chances to hit for contact, it's still projecting a better season for him than what Kemp supposedly had last year.
On the other hand, the Padres aren't staffed with dummies, and they don't believe in the ghastly defensive stats. At least, not enough to shy away from Kemp as a middle-of-the-order bat and offseason centerpiece. It's at least debatable. For now, though, the projections say the new guy takes it.
In: Brandon McCarthy (2.1 projected)
Out: Dan Haren (1.0 in 2014)
Those projections don't really care about McCarthy's renaissance after he was traded to the Yankees and rediscovered the cutter the Diamondbacks didn't want him to throw, so you might even want to adjust those expectations upward. For now, though, it's a safe guess to assume the Dodgers are a little better in the #4 spot.
In: Brett Anderson (0.9 projected)
Out: Josh Beckett, Roberto Hernandez, Kevin Correia, Paul Maholm ... (-1.8 wins in 2014)
The Dodgers held onto their best prospects at the deadline and went cheap on their starting pitching acquisitions. It didn't cost them the division, but it wasn't pretty to watch. Steamer projects Anderson for 96 innings, which clearly isn't what the Dodgers are hoping for, but even if you add on another 50 or 75 innings, the Dodgers will still need to do a better job with their contingency plans this season. It would be hard for them not to, considering that a GM trying to assemble a collection of below-replacement starters probably wouldn't have been as successful as the Dodgers last year.
Total: about 3.4 projected wins over last year's incumbents. It took a lot of shell-shuffling to get those three extra wins, and most of them come from the Grandal upgrade, but on paper the Dodgers are better. Luckily the game isn't played on paper, because the cleats would go right through it and everyone would fall down into a pit. The available evidence, though, suggests the Dodgers were right to have the frenetic offseason they did.
There are other factors to consider, of course. Kershaw had one of the most brilliant pitching seasons ever, and he's not likely to be as good again because no one is. Adrian Gonzalez is projected to be good again, but not as good. Same goes for Juan Uribe. Beckett was worth about 1.5 more wins than we're crediting him for if you ask Baseball Reference's calculators instead of Fangraphs' -- if B-Ref is closer to the truth, the Dodgers might have downgraded in the fifth spot. There are ways for the Dodgers to give these wins right back, too, just as there are myriad ways for those projections to look absurdly pessimistic or optimistic in six months.
To reassure Greinke just on the additions, though, it looks like the Dodgers made good baseball moves, and that's before getting dirty with the intangibles and unquantifiables. The projection systems love them as NL West favorites again. The Dodgers might have had clubhouse chemistry on their mind when they started the offseason, but whatever they get in that category will be a bonus, not necessarily the end result.