Frustration continues to mount in Chavez Ravine over the Dodgers disappointing 2013 season. People searching for explanations have pointed to the injuries the team has suffered. Others have noted the team's inability to hit with runners in scoring position. Manager Don Mattingly has openly cited the team's lack of grit, while others have blamed Mattingly himself for the Dodgers struggles.
There's plenty of blame to go around Dodgertown, but one point that hasn't been cited too often is the Dodgers utter lack of power. The Dodgers are second-to-last in the National League in runs scored (ahead of only the Marlins), which would probably lead one to believe their hitters aren't getting on base. But the fact is, they are. The team entered today third in the NL in On-Base Percentage, which could be partially attributed to the patient approach espoused by Mattingly and hitting coach Mark McGwire.
The Dodgers real problem though is that they are 29th in MLB in Slugging Percentage, with just a .372 average. So while guys are getting on base, it means the team isn't scoring runs because they're not getting big hits. They are second-to-last in the NL in home runs, and they don't hit many doubles either.
Entering the season, the Dodgers counted on getting good power numbers from Adrian Gonzalez, Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, and Hanley Ramirez, among others. But it appears the Dodgers have learned the hard way that they should never expect home runs from a player who had shoulder surgery (which Gonzalez, Kemp, and Ramirez have all had).
Gonzalez leads the team with just seven homers and he's openly admitted that he can no longer be counted on as a power hitter. Kemp has just two hitters, and is now on the DL. Ramirez's power numbers were in steep decline when he was acquired last year, and he has barely been on the field this year.
Ethier has had every minor injury under the sun, and his best days were obviously behind him when Guggenheim Baseball gifted him with an $87 million contract last year. It was a deal that was done mostly for PR purposes, as the organization felt a need to prove it was willing to spend money while pacifying one of its whiniest players. But Ethier has played below even the most modest expectations for him. He's either washed up already, or he lost his motivation once he got paid.
Beyond their power problems, the Dodgers also have an age problem. Team President Stan Kasten has done a fantastic job of scouting internationally, and he has taken bold steps in rebuilding the team's minor league infrastructure. But it will take several years for the fruits of that labor to present itself.
For now, the Dodgers have very few good players between the ages of 25 and 30, the age group which right now is proving to be the most successful in MLB. If you were to take a look at the best players rated by stats like OPS and WAR, you'll find nearly all of them are under 30. Baseball is now a young man's game, and most of the best teams field rosters of great players in their mid-late 20s.
The Dodgers just don't have many players in that age sweet spot. While Gonzalez, Crawford, Ethier, Josh Beckett, Ted Lilly, Mark Ellis, and several other 30-plus year olds have done great things in their careers, their best days are simply behind them. That doesn't mean they can't still be effective. They're just not going to be as good as they were when they earned their multi-million dollar deals.
So while the Dodgers can boast that they have the highest payroll in MLB, it doesn't mean they have the best team in MLB in 2013. If they had the exact same roster in the 2008, then I'd argue the Dodgers were the best team in MLB. Currently, the Dodgers have the oldest average age in baseball.
Who is in that age sweet spot for the Dodgers? Matt Kemp is only 28, but his shoulder surgery has obviously sapped his power. And he's been beset by so many hamstring injuries that you really need to question his workout regimen.
The Dodgers did get unlucky when 29-year old Zack Greinke broke his collar bone and when 28-year old Chad Billingsley needed Tommy John Surgery (which should have been done in the offseason). You could also argue they were unlucky when 29-year old Hanley Ramirez broke his thumb in the World Baseball Classic and then pulled his hamstring too. But there have been rumors floating around for years that Ramirez is actually 2-3 years older than his listed age, and his performance was already in steep decline when the Dodgers acquired him last season. Expecting anything terrific out of Ramirez was wishful thinking, and asking him to play shortstop is just asking for trouble.
Kasten's international scouting efforts have clearly paid off with the 26-year old Hyun-Jin Ryu, and 25-year old Clayton Kershaw looks like the second coming of Sandy Koufax. In the future, they'll expect contributions from 22-year old Yasiel Puig and even 23-year old Matt Magill has shown signs of promise.
But there's really not much else the Dodgers can brag about. They should probably be starting 26-year old Scott Van Slyke every night in place of Ethier already. And it appears that 25-year old Dee Gordon is a bust.
Whenever a prospect like Gordon fails, most pundits like to blame the player. They say he didn't have the right makeup or that his skills couldn't transition to the big leagues. But few people blame the organization. The Dodgers have so few quality young players on their roster that one has to question the quality of their minor league instructors. I've been writing about this for years, but I still wonder why Ned Colletti has never been held accountable for the collapse of the organization's farm system. Blaming Frank McCourt is a dramatic oversimplification and lets too many people off the hook.
When the Dodgers had success in the late-2000s, they did it with guys like Kemp, Ethier, James Loney, and Russell Martin all in their mid-20s and in the prime of their career. Some people like to oversimplify those days and say that Manny Ramirez led them to all of those wins, but remember the Dodgers had the best record in the NL in 2009 with Ramirez missing a third of the season with a steroid suspension, and not producing much when he came back.
If the Dodgers are to be successful again, then they'll need another young core like that to come through their organization and blossom in their mid-20s.
But for now, the Dodger fans should know that even if their team had average power numbers, they'd probably have a winning record and be in contention for a playoff spot.