COMMENTARY | The Los Angeles Dodgers have rocketed up the NL West standings to take a 5.5-game lead in the division heading into today's game.
Don Mattingly has been getting credit; Yasiel Puig has been getting the lion's share of the praise for bringing "energy" and unquantifiable things of that nature to a floundering club; and Hanley Ramirez has been getting some growing MVP love. All that said, it shouldn't be forgotten that health, players playing better, and improving the roster with a number of moves have led to the team's resurgence.
There have been a number of guys who have not gotten much, if any, praise or credit for their contributions to the team's rise and success over the last couple of months.
Paco Rodriguez was the first 2012 draftee to make it to the bigs, and 2013 has been his coming-out party as a viable piece of any bullpen. He's whiffing almost 10 batters per nine innings, walking roughly 2.5 per nine, and has an ERA of 2.20. His 2.51 FIP backs up the success he's had as a back-of-the-pen and late-inning option in addition to Kenley Jansen.
What Rodriguez has done that trumps all of that, though, is be more than a LOOGY (Lefty One Out Guy). Paco has been death to lefties and righties this season, holding them to on-base percentages of ~.215 and slugging percentages under .175. When your opponents are OPSing under .390 against you, you're doing a lot of things right.
This gives Don Mattingly multiple options for late innings and high-leverage situations, and when your bullpen also features Brandon League and (the recently added) Carlos Marmol, you need all of the excellent arms you can get your hands on.
Stephen Fife began the season as an afterthought, as minor league depth should the Dodgers' rotation need to dig deep. They needed to dig, and they dug up a valuable commodity in the fifth starter's spot.
Fife's dealt with a couple of shoulder injuries this season and was recently optioned to Triple-A Albuquerque, but, when healthy and in The Show, he's been a solid contributor. Stephen has struck out over 7/9 IP while issuing about 2.5 BB/9.
His shiny 2.47 ERA isn't backed up by his 3.75 FIP, but that's a more than satisfactory FIP from your No. 5. Fife has allowed 2 ER or less in seven of his nine 2013 starts, and he has thus far given the Dodgers 51 innings of work any team would take from one of their many No. 5 rotation arms.
Juan Uribe had done anything and everything but live up to the 3-year, $21 million deal he signed prior to the 2011 season, and though his 2013 performance won't come close to justifying what was already an unjustifiable deal, he's given the Dodgers his best performance in Los Angeles this season.
Uribe's glove has never been the issue, and he's impressed once again at the hot corner. This season, however, he's also been valuable on the basepaths and improved his bat. A .255/.321/.387/.708 line is far from great, but Juan's OPS is 150+ points higher than in his first two seasons with the club; his power has increased from last season; and he's making less outs, most importantly.
To sum it up, Uribe isn't a liability in 2013 and for a team that's finally healthy and stacked, any offense and baserunning to go along with his vital defense is just icing on the cake.
Hanley and Puig get all the attention and have been discussed as MVP candidates, and rightfully so. With that in mind, we shouldn't overlook the steady contributions of Adrian Gonzalez. Mattingly called him his MVP, and while he's wrong (it's Clayton Kershaw, and it's not even a question or close), AGon has been quite good in his first full season in L.A, especially early in the campaign.
Adrian has been excellent with the glove and solid with the bat, hitting .295/.346/.456/.802 with a .346 wOBA. He's certainly capable of putting up much better offensive numbers, but his steady play and relative health (he battled a minor neck ailment earlier in the year) have been much needed throughout a season filled with injuries to top offensive talents.
I pushed him for an NL All-Star spot, and while he's slumped since, this balanced Dodgers squad can live with the new Adrian if he continues to be solid offensively -- with stretches of brilliance -- and bring his always-excellent glove every game.
Though his offensive numbers have dipped from 2012, A.J. Ellis has continued to be a key cog to the Dodgers' success. A.J. still works counts and has walked in over 10% of his plate appearances. His defense has improved from last season, as A.J. leads all of baseball in catching attempted base-stealers at just under 50%.
There are numerous reasons why L.A. loves A.J., as I've discussed previously, and as he moves further away from the oblique injury that felled him earlier this year, I expect the offensive numbers to pick up a bit as he continues to aid the club with his plus defense and strong rapport with the pitching staff.
Greg Zakwin is the founder of Plaschke, Thy Sweater Is Argyle, a Dodgers' and sports card blog. He writes with an analytical tilt about The Blue Crew at ChadMoriyama.com. You can find and follow him on Twitter @ArgyledPlaschke. A graduate of UCLA in 2011 with a Bachelor's in History, he's been a follower of the Dodgers since birth and still mourns the loss of both Mike Piazza and Carlos Santana.
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- Los Angeles Dodgers
- Don Mattingly
- Stephen Fife
- Juan Uribe