The answer is, most likely, no. but it is not a simple question to answer.
First and foremost, the Dodgers are significantly better defensively. With Jimmy Rollins the new shortstop replacing Hanley Ramirez, the infield defense is vastly improved. Howie Kendrick is also an improvement, though not nearly as much so, at second base. Justin Turner and Juan Uribe splitting time at third, and Adrian Gonzalez at first can be expected to provide the same consistently good defense as they have in the past. Behind the plate, newcomer Yasmani Grandal is said to be an improvement over A.J. Ellis, but Ellis did a fine job defensively over the past four seasons, despite this new garbage stat of “pitch-framing” that is totally meaningless in evaluating the overall performance of a catcher, and what he can mean to an individual pitcher, such as Clayton Kershaw.
|In the outfield, Carl Crawford figures to still get playing time in left, whenever he is healthy, and he will continue to cover a lot of ground, catch whatever batted balls he gets to, and to still have the worst throwing arm of any major league outfielder. Scott Van Slyke and newcomer Chris Heisey are average defensive players who will see time in left, how much depending on Crawford's injury status. In right, Yasiel Puig returns to his best position, and he can be counted on to make||
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Offensively, the Dodgers could just as good as last year, but more likely, not as good. Rollins has power, but does not figure to hit as many home runs as Ramirez, and he certainly will not hit for as high an average. At second base, Kendrick is a solid hitter, will hit as high or higher than Gordon, with more power and run production, but the team will miss the speed that Gordon provided. Behind the plate, Ellis had a very poor 2014, but he hit well over the preceding three seasons, and Grandal doe not figure to be any offensive improvement. Two-thirds of the outfield, Puig and Crawford, plus his caddies who play most of the games when he is injured, are basically the same as last season, but the third
The bottom line on whether or not the Dodgers overall have improved is dependent on the pitching. For the starters, Kershaw, Zach Greinke, and Hyun-Jin Ryu remain at the top of the rotation, and the team’s success first and foremost depends on the three of them, along with closer Kenley Jansen, all staying healthy for the full season. But, the rest of the rotation now has two new names, two pitchers who have seldom been able to avoid serious injuries, and long-term absences from their teams’ rotations. Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson are talented, but that does no good if they cannot pitch. The primary holders of the number four and five spots in the Dodgers’ rotation last season, Dan Haren, Josh Beckett, and Paul Maholm, combined to win 20 games in 60 total starts last season. McCarthy and Anderson have never come close to combining to win that many games in any one season. They won 11 total last season, in a combined 40 starts. Haren, Beckett,and Maholm are all gone, as are the two other spot starters, Roberto Hernandez and Kevin Correia, and another newcomer, Juan Nicasio, possessor of a 5.03 lifetime ERA over four seasons, and whose best season saw him win nine times in 31 starts with a 5.14 ERA and 1.47 WHIP, would be first in line to take over for either of the other two new guys. It sure looks from here that the starting staff is less solid, less experienced, and even more injury prone than was last year’s group.
|But like always, the key is the bullpen, and that has not been well addressed, though with Brian Wilson gone, the relief corp begins with a significant lift upwards. Also, the addition of Chris Hatcher and the potential of Joe Wieland do provide some hope. But, as to experienced, reliable, veteran pitchers who can come in and hold the opposition in the seventh and eighth innings, which was so sorely missing last season, there is absolutely no improvement. Joel Peralta||
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So, overall, it’s not an easy assessment, but as of now, it is hard to conclude that the Dodgers are, overall, improved from the team that crashed and burned in last season’s post season. And I did not even mention the fact the the Dodgers are still without a major league caliber manager, but are instead still under the incapable thumb of the empty uniform non-manager, Don Mattingly.