Two rites of passage happen for many men every February.
They get optimistic because pitchers and catchers report to spring training in less than three weeks. And the ones who don’t own a glove or bat pull out their spreadsheets and micromanage convoluted theories over which teams can win the World Series.
To wit, a group of well-meaning IT guys created a baseball stats think tank called Fangraphs. At this moment, thanks to the trade that brings second baseman Logan Forsythe to Los Angeles, these guys tell us that the Los Angeles Dodgers project as the best team in baseball for 2017.
It’s not true.
To be clear, I like the Forsythe deal enough. The Dodgers sent top pitching prospect Jose De Leon to Tampa Bay to get the guy, who is an above-average second baseman. It sounds like a lot, but De Leon doesn’t project to be a staff ace. After Clayton Kershaw, the current Dodgers pitching staff is overstocked with guys who project as a No.2 or 3. Another No. 2?
Before the deal, if somebody hit a ball to the right side of the infield, it would roll all the way to wall. So yeah, De Leon can toil before 5,000 people in that nasty concrete pimple the Rays play in.
I’m OK with Forsythe. I realize fans saw 42 home runs from Brian Dozier in Minnesota and wanted that guy no matter what. Baseball history tells us a lot of guys hit close to 50 home runs in a breakout year and follow it up with 15-18 the next. The ones who consistently push for 45-50 HRs? They’ve either sold their souls to Satan or are on ‘roids.
So the Dodgers, once again, project as a so-called deep roster team with lots of options that will make the playoffs and probably have a showdown with the Chicago Cubs. Vengeance is theirs, project the fearsome mighty slide rulers at Fangraphs!
First of all, let’s talk about what the Cubs have — which is everyone from the defending championship roster. Their starting pitching was and is superior to the Dodgers. Their lineup is approaching its physical prime, and it’s hard to believe that Jayson Heyward will have another bad year.
The only everyday position where you look at the Dodgers and say they are superior to the Cubs is at shortstop — Corey Seager over Addison Russell. Everywhere else? The Dodgers at best, match or come close to matching. Chicago’s outfield is better. Every Angelino loves Justin Turner, but Kris Bryant is better at third base. Adrian Gonzalez might be a hall of famer, but right now Anthony Rizzo is better.
Moreover, the Dodgers’ addiction to analytics means a heavy reliance on the bullpen, which has been shortened by letting reliable Joe Blanton and J.P. Howell walk in free agency.
None of this is to imply the Dodgers suck. It wouldn’t be a surprise at all to see them win the National League West for a fifth consecutive year. But with no World Series titles, or even World Series appearances, since 1988, winning a division is about as big a deal as being the valedictorian at summer school. Nobody cares.
For the Dodgers to be the best team in baseball, the Cubs have to regress — whether by injury or complacency. Those are things that simply can’t be forecast on Microsoft Excel.