Weekly Roundup: Pitchers and Catchers Week

Hi, I am Ian E. Nielson, Lead Beat Writer and Contributor for Dodgers LowDown. This season, I am introducing a new series called “Weekly Roundup” that will be published every Monday of the MLB season. In each installment I will address the most significant Dodgers story lines, give insight on each of them, address reader questions as well as other topics of interest. Without further ado, let’s get after it.

Do the Dodgers have the deepest pitching staff in baseball?

After a long offseason with no team workouts, Dodgers baseball is officially back. Early last week, pitchers and catchers reported to Camelback Ranch in Arizona for the first set of team workouts this spring.

Through review of the Dodgers roster, the case can be made that they have the best collection of pitching in all of baseball. A rotation with Kershaw, Buehler, Hill and Ryu, followed up with either Maeda, Stripling, Urias, Ferguson and that is just to name a few. Anybody who has followed Dodgers baseball in recent years is well aware of the fact that they utilize many pitchers and have a farm system chock full of arm talent.

The Bullpen is another area of strength for the Dodgers, not because they are loaded with the high price free agent talent of teams like the Yankees. The Dodgers bullpen is comprised of guys that are either converted starters like Joe Kelly and Tony Cingrani, former position players like Kenley Jansen and Pedro Baez and guys who pitch to contact like Scott Alexander and Dylan Floro. None of which fit the prototypical model of the star reliever in baseball, nevertheless,

Throughout his career, Andrew Friedman has proven he knows how to find quality relief pitchers through depth and utilization of advanced metrics to discover each pitcher’s niche. After finding each pitcher’s niche, like Alexander’s effectiveness in inducing groundballs or Baez’s effectiveness against lefties, it is then the responsibility of the manager to position them to come into games where they can exploit other team’s weaknesses.

The Dodgers should boast a top 3 pitching unit in baseball as long as Dave Roberts manages his pitchers correctly and they remain relatively healthy.

Kenley Jansen’s Health

Even when the Dodgers were 16-26 in May of last year I had no doubt the team would turn it around and ultimately win the division. This was due to the fact they are the deepest team in the league with many good players, some of which returning from injury. I had only one worry about last year’s team and that was Kenley Jansen.

Last season was Jansen’s worst since he became the full time closer for the Dodgers. In the first five years as Dodgers closer, one could argue he was baseball’s best relief pitcher. Until last year came along. Jansen missed a lot of Spring Training in 2018 due to injury and he was rushed back to the closer role on Opening Day. As a result, he was completely ineffective the first month of the season and his velocity had dipped drastically. He rebounded in May, en route to another All-Star appearance and all seemed normal once again. Then the Dodgers went to Colorado for a series against the Rockies.

Kenley Jansen, who has had heart complications in the past went on the disabled list for 10 days with heart complications once again. From then until the rest of the season, Jansen simply never appeared to be completely healthy or comfortable. This offseason Kenley Jansen underwent heart surgery and lost 25 pounds. He is confident in his abilities and he looks as healthy as ever. A healthy Kenley Jansen should strike fear into the hearts of the Dodgers opponents and go a long way towards determining the fate of the Dodgers.

Cody Bellinger MUST be Playing Everyday

Yes, I know I can’t believe this is even a story. The 2017 National League rookie of the year sat down with Pedro Moura of the Athletic and explicitly (in multiple ways) said that there is no reason for him not to be in the lineup every day.

“Because if I play consistently, whether it’s left field, center, right, first base, I know for a fact I would win a Gold Glove anywhere. And they know I’m a Gold Glove anywhere I go. I just need to be in the lineup every day.”

Last season the Dodgers were a makeshift militia of platoon players, as they combated injuries and struggles against lefties, among other things. Justin Turner was truly the only everyday player for the Dodgers last season, with Manny Machado sliding into the everyday lineup following his acquisition in July. The Dodgers have rebuilt their roster a bit and picked up an everyday center fielder along the way. Outside of second base and catcher, it is easy to predict the Dodgers everyday lineup the same way it was in 2017.

Back in December Dave Roberts stated that Max Muncy and Cody Bellinger will be everyday players in 2019, with Muncy playing first base most nights, second base occasionally and Bellinger will likely see most innings in the outfield with some time at first base. Cody Bellinger was an exceptional defender last season in the outfield, with defensive statistics similar to his new teammate A.J. Pollock. Most importantly, Bellinger has so much raw power, as showcased largely in 2017 and even in 2018. If a WAR of 4.2 and an OPS+ of 120 is considered a down year, then sign me up. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to watch Cody Bellinger and see what a special talent the Dodgers have.

If it were not for Cody Bellinger, the Milwaukee Brewers would have represented the National League in last year’s World Series. Bellinger’s performance in Game 4 included a game saving catch, that would have given Milwaukee a lead in the ninth inning, and a walk off hit. He also sparked the Dodgers in Game 7, giving them a lead in the first inning that they never gave up. He claimed the NLCS MVP despite going 5-25. Why? Because he has that intangible clutch gene that no analytics can measure.

Put your calculators away and trust your intuition for once. Cody Bellinger is a monster and he’s only getting better. START HIM. EVERYDAY.

Corey Seager is Back

Ah yes, a sight for sore eyes. The 24 year old, two time All-Star and 2016 Rookie of the Year is back in action. Corey Seager was spotted at the Camelback Ranch practice fields with the bat in his hand and with the glove in the hole at short.

On Monday morning, Seager took live batting practice against teammate Josh Smoker. Seager has done essentially everything except throw across the diamond, which he should be doing by the time pre-season games start. So far, there have been no set-backs for Seager, who is expected to be ready for Opening Day.

Is Joe Kelly Becoming a Fan Favorite?

Now THESE are the important questions we need to be asking. Can the once bitter rival who broke Hanley Ramirez’s ribs as well as the Dodgers World Series hopes gain the love of the passionate Los Angeles fanbase?

The Southern California native is certainly doing his part to repair the relationship. After signing with his hometown team back at the Winter Meetings, many fans were left skeptical about signing, with less than stellar memories. In January, Kelly decided to work for a Los Angeles Smart and Final for the afternoon, surprising fans in the grocery lines. And this week, the flamethrower decided not to wear a jersey to his bullpen session but instead opted to wear a shirt that featured a colorful kitten with glasses. The internet loved this.

Now Joe Kelly still has quite a way to go to reach the status of banana Kike or dad-bod Kershaw, but he’s making an effort and deserves some credit for that.

Hot Take of the Week

Bryce Harper and Manny Machado both go unsigned as pre-season games get underway.

This is the most boring week on the MLB schedule, because there aren’t any real story lines yet. However, this offseason has provided its fair share frustration, as so many talented players remain unsigned. I’m not kidding when I say that if all the free agents formed a team, they would be a Postseason contender, largely due to Harper and Machado.

Nobody is certain where these two eventually land, but with every passing day I believe the Padres wind up with one of these two. Why? Because the city is nice, the Padres have money to spend and San Diego is close enough to Los Angeles where a ballplayer could conceivably build their Hollywood market. This will then lead to the Phillies vastly overpaying the other unsigned player, and the White Sox will be forced to focus on their farm system for another season.

Ian Nielson has served as a writer and contributor for @DodgersLowDown since 2018. Follow him on twitter @inielson23