After too many years of expensive failures like Andruw Jones and Juan Pierre, past-their-prime veterans like Luis Gonzalez and Ricky Ledee, and, God help us, Jason Grabowski, the Dodgers have finally put together an outfield of Manny/Matt Kemp/Andre Ethier which looks to be the best grouping they’ve had in years. Do you know how long it’s been since the top three guys (by playing time) all had OPS+ scores of even just league average? You have to go all the way back to 1991, where the starters were Kal Daniels, Brett Butler, and Darryl Strawberry – though the 2002 and 2006 crews did admittedly come close, with the corners over 100 and the center fielders (Dave Roberts, 2002 & Kenny Lofton, 2006) coming up just shy, in the high 90s.
Barring injury or complete meltdown, the 2009 crew should easily be able to best that mark, so there’s not much question that this will likely be the best Dodger outfield in decades. The real question is, do the Dodgers have the best outfield in the National League?
To test this out, first I took the three prospective starters from the expert predictions at Heater Magazine (which, by the way, I am still writing the Dodger section for – check it out!) I know that in many cases, a job is still up in the air or there’s a platoon waiting to happen, but for simplicity I just took the top three – close enough. The full list is below.
For offense and defensive statistics, we’ll go with Baseball Prospectus’ SuperVORP. As many of you probably know, VORP is “Value Over Replacement Player”, or how many runs a player would contribute over a freely available replacement player. VORP, however, does not consider defense, whereas SuperVORP does add in a player’s FRAA (Fielding Runs Above Average) score. It’s not a perfect metric, but since we’re judging all of the players by this, it should suffice for now.
God damn, that’s close! Los Angeles’ total of 94.1 projected runs above average is just slightly behind Milwaukee’s 97.1. As you can see, the RFs are similar (Ethier vs. Corey Hart), the Dodgers have a nice advantage in CF (Kemp vs. Mike Cameron), and the Brewers are really the only NL team that might have an advantage over LA in LF (Manny vs. Ryan Braun – partly because Braun isn’t as terrible of an outfielder as Manny, and partly because projection systems will always prefer a guy who’s going to be 25 instead of a guy who’s going to be 37.) The Cubs come in third with 81.6, mostly held back by Kosuke Fukudome’s failures last year, and the Mets slide in at 4th, with Carlos Beltran’s top-ranked performance held down by the system’s very negative projection of the injury-prone Ryan Church in right field. Beltran is actually the #1 projection among NL outfielders, which makes sense; while he’s not the raw hitter a Manny or Braun is, he’s an excellent center fielder, which really helps him out as compared to two below-average left fielders.
What’s also noteworthy is that each of the three Dodger outfielders come in with at least 27.2 projected runs above replacement. No other team has all three at that level or above. In fact, seven teams (Arizona, Atlanta, Cincinnati, Colorado, Houston, St. Louis, and San Francisco) don’t have a single outfielder projected to be as valuable as the lowest ranked Dodger outfielder, Ethier.
Think about that: Andre Ethier would be the projected best outfielder on nearly half the teams in the league, yet on the Dodgers, he’s bringing up the rear of the starting group. In particular, it’s going to be a long outfield summer in Atlanta and Colorado. And when’s the last time you could say that about Colorado?
Here’s the listing of each player I used, and the respective SuperVORP score for each. I can hear it now: “Why is Jody Gerut ranked so highly?!” Well, I don’t expect him to keep it up, but he is coming off of a pretty fantastic year - his OPS of 130 was equal to Ethier’s, plus he’s a superior fielder at a more important position. Remember, the SuperVORP scores do take into account both offense and defense, so while Manny’s got a good score, his lousy defense does drag him down here.