As the first half comes to a close, the Dodgers sit in the thick of the playoff hunt, tied for the wild card lead with the Rockies and 2 games back of NL West-leading San Diego. Considering the dreadful off-season, reduced payroll and lack of activity in the free agent market, the Dodgers have to be content to be where they are. They haven’t played spectacular or consistent ball, but have been carried by their star players (always a good sign). With that said, let’s hand out some grades. Remember, the grades are based not on production itself, but production relative to talent level and expectations.
Rafael Furcal – A. Furcal’s production has simply been spectacular. He was recently added to the All-Star team as a replacement for Jose Reyes (he should have been there over him originally). Along with his flashy defense at short, he’s hitting .333 with a nearly .900 OPS. Furcal has proven to be a streaky player in his career and is nearly an MVP-caliber player when he gets hot, as evidenced by the magical late-season run of 2008.
Andre Ethier – A. The spark Furcal has been providing over the latter part of the 1st half is pretty similar to what ‘Dre gave us in the beginning. He started the season off with style, showing marked improvement against left-handed pitchers. Unfortunately, a fluke finger injury sidelined him for a bit and forced him to adjust the way he holds the bat slightly, but Ethier has adapted nicely and returned to his mashing ways. He has an OPS of .932 overall and is developing into a bigger leader in the clubhouse.
Clayton Kershaw – A. It wasn’t exactly easy for Kershaw to build upon his excellent 2009 but the Dodgers were hoping he could get stronger and give them more innings and he has responded nicely. His 2.96 ERA, .209 BAA and 128 strikeouts do a great job of telling the story of how effectively he’s pitched, but his 206 inning pace is the real reason the Dodgers can now rely upon him as a true ace in the post-season.
Hong-Chih Kuo – A. He has been the most dominant reliever in the Dodgers bullpen, which is quite an accomplishment with Broxton as the closer. Kuo has an ERA of 0.99 and WHIP of 0.77. Left-handed batters have failed to record a hit against him 2010. We know who will be facing Ryan Howard in a potential playoff series (right Joe?).
Jonathan Broxton – A-. The big man has delivered the goods once again in 2010. He currently sits at 19 saves, with only 2 blown opportunities. Broxton and Dodger fans have a love/hate relationship because Broxton seems to blow big leads on the occasion he is off. However, that’s probably just due to Rivera-esque expectations for Broxton and not completely fair. His 55 K’s in 38 IP forms a killer power combination at the back of the ‘pen with Kuo.
John Ely – B+. The shine has started to wear off for the inexperienced Ely, but he gave the rotation 80 innings of solid performance when it was desperate for arms. Ely pitches with a lot of heart and guts and gives it everything he’s got. He doesn’t throw particularly hard but has nice off-speed stuff including a big-breaking curve ball. Whether Ely can be a mainstay in the rotation for the rest of the year will be a major question going forward.
Hiroki Kuroda – B. Kuroda has been a solid no. 3 for the Blue Crew. He got off to an outstanding start, but has had two terrible starts in a row as of late. I wouldn’t really panic over Kuroda’s recent performance; he gave up all his runs early during his last start, then proceeded to go 7 innings.
James Loney – B. He is who we thought he was. Loney has a great swing and people still have high hopes for him developing power, but it’s likely he’s already entered his prime. As a first basemen with limited power, he has to find other ways to help the team win and he delivers on that notion. He’s hitting .308, provides smooth defense at first, and has good instincts on the base paths. While I still dream about that power-hitting bopper at first, Loney will have to do for now and I think I’m ok with that.
Vicente Padilla – B. Padilla signed for 5 million in the off-season, so he has to be considered a good deal for the Dodgers. He missed a chunk of time in the 1st-half, but he’s provided for the Dodgers the same in ’10 as in ’09. Upon his return from the disabled list, he has been lights out in his 2 starts, flirting with a no-hitter in the last one. He’s certainly exceeded expectations to a degree.
Chad Billingsley – B-. He looked like he was returning to the form that pegged him as a future ace, until a recent rash of sub-par performance. He is one of the most frustrating Dodgers; a guy with supreme talent and ability, but perhaps a little soft mentally. Baseball is a funny game; you can be doing great one second and terrible the next (especially if you’re a pitcher). Accordingly, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Billingsley figure it out quickly but his hot-cold act is wearing thin on Dodger fans. More consistency is needed.
Casey Blake – B-. Blake has been a solid addition at third base, despite the cost to get him (don’t look up Carlos Santana). He plays good defense and is a gritty player. He can handle the bat well and provide good at-bats, but in all reality, the Dodgers have a major weakness with the lack of power at the corner infield spots.
Manny Ramirez, C+. For 25 million, you’d expect a complete ballplayer. Manny has been hitting the ball well of late and boasts a tidy OPS of .927. However, he’s a black hole in the outfield and has already missed nearly 30 games in the first half. If he played more, the grade would be much higher. But expectations are certainly higher for the guy making a quarter of the team’s payroll.
Matt Kemp – C-. Kemp has regressed badly this season and a lot of that has to do with his head. It’s not hard to question whether Kemp became a little too Hollywood this off-season, after what we’ve witnessed in 2010. Kemp actually started out the season on fire but he has came crashing down. However, he’s not getting killed for his offense. It’s his defense that has been truly bad. Defensive metrics have pegged him as one of the worst center fielders in the majors this year; a stark contrast to his outstanding defensive campaign of ’09. Effort is the biggest culprit. One thing is for certain, ohwever. The Dodgers will not go anywhere without their talented center fielder.
Russell Martin – D. Martin has a solid leadership role on the Dodgers, but he has become one of the worst catchers in the majors. His OPS sits in the .500s and his defense has regressed. This is probably his last year as a starter in LA.