The Pyramid Rating System’s All-Time Los Angeles Dodgers

Eric Gagne, dominant in his time with the Dodgers, is simply a middle reliever on this all-time team. (via John Verive)

Eric Gagne, dominant the Dodgers’ closer, is simply a middle reliever on this all-time team. (via John Verive)

Paul Moehringer’s Pyramid Rating System & All-Time Teams

Aug. 27, 2015: The Pyramid Rating System: JAWS on a Career Scale

March 15, 2016: The Pyramid Rating System: The Results

Aug. 12, 2016: All-Time League and Baltimore Orioles

Sept. 2, 2016: Boston Red Sox

Sept. 28, 2016: Texas Rangers

Oct. 19, 2016: Brooklyn Dodgers

Nov. 30, 2016: Cincinnati Reds

Dec. 15, 2016: 2016 Season Update

Dec. 20, 2016: Seattle Mariners

Jan. 25, 2017: Milwaukee Brewers/Braves

Feb. 2, 2017: Cleveland Indians

In our latest installment of the Pyramid Ratings System all-time team series, we take our first look at the National League West with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

As with Brooklyn earlier in the series, this team will focus on only part of Dodgers history, so while Jackie Robinson, Duke Snider and Dazzy Vance will not be included, their omission is not due to lack of talent.

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

Historically, the Dodgers have been a team that relies on overpowering pitching and just enough offense to get by. That structure will be very much reflected on this squad, which features one of the most dominating starting staffs and bullpens to be found in either league, but does not have the offense to match.

Like their Brooklyn counterparts, the LA Dodgers will rely on a crowded outfield and some creative platoons to overcome a relatively poor infield and a lack of dominating power hitters.

This team will have to bank on a “get up and stay up” philosophy if it is going to have any realistic chance of winning the division or the NL pennant. Like Cleveland earlier in this series, this is a team capable of pitching itself out of its problems, but unlike Cleveland it has no dropoff once you get into the bullpen.

Franchise Included: Los Angeles Dodgers (1958-Present)

Hall of Famers on 25-man roster: 3

Manager: Walter Alston

Probably Walter Alston is not the pick if I were doing this on a more serious level, but here, win-loss record is the only thing taken into account, which is why Alston comes in as the manager of the all-time Los Angeles Dodgers.

Most might expect Hall of Fame manager Tommy Lasorda to get the call, but the Dodgers’ greatest run of success from the late 1950s through the mid-’60s came under Alston. Between 1959 and 1966, the Dodgers won four NL pennants and three World Series, and never fell below 80 wins. They were easily the most dominating team in the National League and arguably all of baseball.

How much of that success can be attributed to Alston is debatable, but nevertheless the man who spearheaded one of the most dominating teams in baseball history is the one leading the all-time LA Dodgers squad.

Best Overall Player and Pitcher: Clayton Kershaw (Honorable Mention: Sandy Koufax)

For the first time in this series, we have a pitcher named the best overall player on the team. It’s the man who is putting together a strong case to go down as the greatest left-handed pitcher in baseball history.

Some would argue this distinction should go to Koufax, and in fact on most teams Koufax would be the number one starter. There is a good reason why his run from 1962-’63 through 1966 is the standard by which all other peak pitcher runs are measured.

At a time when pitching reigned supreme, Koufax was the king. During the early to mid-’60s, he pitched the Dodgers to three National League pennants and two World Series titles, with brilliant performances in both Series victories. From ’62-’66 Koufax led the NL in ERA every year and was a three-time Cy Young award winner during a time when there was only one award handed out across both leagues.

It’s hard to imagine Los Angeles ever finding another lefty who could even approach what Koufax did, but somehow the Dodgers have found just that in Kershaw. Since 2011, Kershaw has gone 100-37 with a miniscule 2.06 ERA, a WHIP of .908 and a strikeout to walk ratio of 5.62. He is the only man to ever lead the majors in ERA for four consecutive seasons and like Koufax has been a three-time Cy Young award winner.

Although Kershaw has yet to match Koufax’s postseason dominance, with a career postseason ERA of 4.55, I feel a lot of Kershaw’s struggles in the playoffs stem from overuse. Kershaw has been asked to pitch on short rest in playoffs more often than every other active pitcher combined and most of his struggles have occurred in the later innings of these games.

With Koufax and Don Drysdale behind him, these all-time LA Dodgers will not need to bank on him the same way the real Dodgers do for big time starts. Between Kershaw and Koufax I would be happy with letting the opponents choose which pitcher they would like to face.

Best Hitter: Mike Piazza

It’s no secret that the Dodgers have not featured a lot of big-time bats since moving to LA. Among the biggest sluggers who have come through the organization, such as Gary Sheffield and Jimmy Wynn, most have stayed only briefly. One who didn’t is the man who will be the focal point of this lineup, the greatest offensive catcher of all-time, Mike Piazza.

Most may think of Piazza as a Met, and in fact Piazza did have more at-bats with the Mets and was inducted in the Hall of Fame wearing a Mets cap. But as great as he was in New York, it was in LA where Piazza put his name on the map as the most dominating offensive force the game has seen from behind the plate.

Over his Dodgers tenure, Piazza batted .331 with a .966 OPS and twice led the league in OPS+. Aside from the strike-shortened season of ’94, between 1993 and 1997 Piazza hit at least 30 home runs and drove in 90-plus runs every year, won the Silver Slugger every year and never finished outside the top 10 in MVP voting.

In hindsight, I think the Dodgers would have been better off moving Piazza out from behind the plate after his rookie season, as his defensive ability never came close to matching his offensive ability, but even so, I would expect Piazza to be the favorite to win the Silver Slugger award in this all-time league and be a serious threat to be the All-Star starter.

Best Player Not on the Roster Due to the One-Team-Only Rule: Kevin Brown

I’m hard-pressed to name another recent player whose accomplishments have been more unfairly brushed aside than Kevin Brown.

While viewed by some as a free agent bust, Brown’s tenure with the Dodgers comes in as one of the best for any starter in team history. For a team with as many great starters as the LA Dodgers, that is saying something.

During his five years in LA, Brown had an ERA of 2.83 and despite a somewhat injury-plagued tenure, still had three seasons with 200-plus innings. In 2000, Brown led the National League in ERA, WHIP and strikeout-to-walk ratio, going 13-6 over 230 innings. All this amounted to just a sixth-place finish in the Cy Young voting, which I think shows bias writers had against him because of his personality. His dismissal from the Hall of Fame ballot after one vote was among the most unfair treatments of a player I can recall. I haven’t looked at the Hall of Fame and the voting process the same way since.

Brown is also a rare case in which even though his best numbers came with the Dodgers, he will be featured in a more prominent role elsewhere as a member of the Marlins starting rotation. He is there rather than here largely because of the many great starters the Dodgers have.

Los Angeles Dodgers Coaching Staff
Position Person
Manager Walter Alston
Bench Coach Tommy Lasorda
First Base Coach Lenny Harris
Third Base Coach Nate Oliver
Hitting Coach Manny Mota
Pitching Coach Red Adams
Bullpen Coach Darren Dreifort
tht-field-design-nl-la-dodgers
Los Angeles Dodgers Starting Lineups
vs RHP vs LHP
Pos B T Name Pos B T Name
LF L L Andre Ethier 3B R R Ron Cey
 C R R Mike Piazza CF R R Matt Kemp
1B R R Steve Garvey 2B R R Davey Lopes
CF R R Pedro Guerrero  C R R Mike Piazza
RF L L Shawn Green LF R R Pedro Guerrero
SS S R Maury Wills RF L L Shawn Green
2B R R Davey Lopes SS S R Maury Wills
3B R R Ron Cey 1B R R Steve Garvey
 P L L Clayton Kershaw  P L L Clayton Kershaw
DH vs RHP DH vs LHP
Pos B T Name Pos B T Name
LF L L Andre Ethier 3B R R Ron Cey
 C R R Mike Piazza CF R R Matt Kemp
1B R R Steve Garvey 2B R R Davey Lopes
DH R R Pedro Guerrero  C R R Mike Piazza
RF L L Shawn Green LF R R Pedro Guerrero
3B R R Ron Cey RF L L Shawn Green
2B R R Davey Lopes DH S R Jim Gilliam
CF L L Willie Davis 1B R R Steve Garvey
SS S R Maury Wills SS S R Maury Wills
Los Angeles Dodgers Expanded Roster
Pos B T Name
C R R Russell Martin
1B S L Wes Parker
2B/3B S R Jim Lefebvre
3B R R Justin Turner
SS L R Corey Seager
OF/3B R R Tommy Davis
OF R R Raúl Mondesí
OF R R Yasiel Puig
SP R R Chan Ho Park
SP L L Claude Osteen
SP L L Jerry Reuss
SP R R Bob Welch
RP L L Steve Howe
RP R R Tom Niedenfuer
RP R R Alejandro Peña

Strengths

Without question the backbone of this Los Angeles Dodgers team is the pitching. Top to bottom in both the starting rotation and the bullpen, there is not a weak link, and with pitchers like Claude Osteen and Tom Niedenfuer on the 40-man roster, the Dodgers have plenty of depth.

Kershaw and Koufax make for one of the most intimidating 1-2 pitching combos in either league, but things don’t get much easier once you get past those two aces. The Dodgers feature three former Cy Young award winners right behind Kershaw and Koufax, giving them arguably the deepest rotation in the National League.

What makes this pitching so special, though, is not just the starting rotation but the bullpen. Much is made about the success of Koufax and Drysdale during the team’s 1960s dominance, but far less about the third most important pitcher on those teams, Ron Perranoski.

If you somehow managed to get to Koufax or Drysdale and chase them late in the game, it meant was that you would go from one of the most dominating starters in the game to one of the most dominating relievers.

At his peak in 1963, Perranoski was third on the team in wins, going 16-3 while posting a 1.67 ERA over 129 innings, all coming out of the bullpen. Over his eight years in Los Angeles, Perranoski posted an ERA of 2.56 over 766.2 innings. In this league I would expect Perranoski to be one of the better closers and a serious All-Star candidate.

The fact that I can move Eric Gagne into middle relief is another testament to this bullpen’s depth. For the most part, even in this league, middle relievers tend to be pitchers who could give you more than one inning out of the bullpen on a consistent basis, but aren’t effective enough for a late-inning role. The Dodgers could easily justify Gagne as the seventh- or eighth-inning man, but given the quality of short-inning relief that Jim Brewer and Takashi Saito bring, I’m not concerned about the Dodgers blowing a late-inning lead even without going to arguably their next best option after Perranoski.

Instead, Gagne will be asked to conjure up some of his early days as a starter and provide Dodgers starters with a safety net most clubs could only dream about having. To think that a guy like Orel Hershiser could ever be on a short leash after the fifth inning is mind-blowing, but when you have the type of bullpen LA has, five or six quality innings from a starter is all you really need.

Because of this, the workhorse nature of their rotation is largely wasted. Sandy Koufax probably wouldn’t need to pitch any more than 180 innings over the season. But it also enables the Dodgers to be a near lock for having the lowest team ERA across the National League.

Weaknesses

The Dodgers are probably going to need every bit of their great pitching to make up for their offensive deficiencies. The trio of Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes and Ron Cey helped make for one of the strongest infields of the 1970s, but in this all-time league it’s one of the weakest. In this all-time league where every other team is going to have a sure fire Hall of Famer starting, aside from Cey at third, the Dodgers rank in the bottom third at every starting infield position.

Like their Brooklyn counterparts, the LA Dodgers are able to take advantage of several platoons to give them more outfield production than they have on paper, but unlike what we saw with Brooklyn, cramming more offense into the lineup comes at a pretty heavy defensive price.

Against right-handed pitchers, Pedro Guerrero is moved to center field to make room for Andre Ethier in left. While this may seem like a strange choice, considering Willie Davis and Raúl Mondesí being passed over for starting roles, Ethier possesses one of the most extreme splits for any player in baseball history, being a career .303 hitter with an OPS of .888 against righties, but just a .234 hitter with an OPS of .635 against lefties.

This is no doubt a gamble, but aside from Guerrero, Piazza and Matt Kemp against lefties, the Dodgers don’t have the type of firepower needed to put fear into opposing pitchers.

Far and away the Dodgers’ best defensive outfielder is Willie Davis. I would expect Davis-for-Guerrero to be one of the most frequently used late-game defensive substitutions in this series. If Guerrero struggled enough in center field, the reaction would be to shift Guerrero to left, insert Davis in center field and send down Either in exchange for Mondesí, who unlike Ethier qualifies for all three outfield positions, is a better defensive player and is not completely useless against lefties.

Against lefties, the situation is not nearly as dire defensively, with Guerrero in left, but with Willie Davis having a career OPS of just .619 against lefties, the Dodgers will have to bank on the health of Matt Kemp to be the near exclusive starting center fielder. Kemp’s career .324 average against left-handed pitching should justify him getting the nod over Willie Davis, but the Dodgers still suffer a bit of a setback defensively; Kemp has consistently rated as one of the worst defensive center fielders in recent years in spite of winning two Gold Gloves. But I imagine he would still be an improvement defensively over Guerrero.

Conclusions

There will be teams with as good a starting rotation, and there will be teams with a bullpen as good or better. But no team has the Dodgers’ combination of elite starting and elite relief pitching.

With only two other serious division rivals — the Houston Astros and San Francisco Giants — the Dodgers should be no worse than a low 80s-win team and one of the favorites to make the postseason. At best, this team could even challenge for the 100-win mark. The offense leaves a little to be desired, but the pitching staff is plenty talented and deep.

I think this team and Brooklyn’s would be envious of what the other has in a lot of respects. The LA Dodgers have all the bullpen and starting pitching the Brooklyn Dodgers would ever need, while Jackie Robinson and Duke Snider would go a long way to solve LA’s issues with middle-of-the-order hitting and quality infielders.

In a head-to-head match-up, given Brooklyn’s quality of hitting against left-handed pitching and with LA featuring three lefties in the rotation, I would give the edge to Brooklyn, but as a whole I think the LA Dodgers present a team that is built to take down a much more diverse group of opponents than their Brooklyn counterparts. Their quality of pitching alone would make them a serious threat against even the best of teams. How far that pitching would take them is open for debate.

I would expect the Dodgers and Giants to be heavily involved in a tight three-team race among them and Houston. Unlike LA, San Francisco will not be at a loss for offensive weapons and even without the benefit of Gaylord Perry on the roster, the Giants will feature one of the best starting rotations of any team. As in reality, these should be among the best rivalry games across either league.

One current Dodger could change the dynamic of this team: shortstop Corey Seager. I mentioned in the 2016 update article that Seager did not do enough in his first full season in LA to warrant a spot on the 40-man roster, but after a second thought, I put him in place of utility star Billy Grabarkewitz. Seager still has some work to do to catch up to Bill Russell and his 18-year tenure with the Dodgers to make the 25-man squad, but Russell was never the kind of superstar that Seager appears to be. For a 22-year old to already be in that type of discussion speaks to the potential Seager has. He could become the greatest position player the Dodgers have had since Jackie Robinson. That type of addition to the LA Dodgers lineup would go a long way in closing the offensive gap between them and the Giants.


Paul Moehringer is a data analyst, a SABR member and inventor of the Pyramid Rating System; originally from Mount Olive, NJ, now living in Westwood, MA. Follow him on Twitter @PMoehringer.
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Dennis Bedard
5 years ago

Great article. Not that i disagree with Piazza and Scioscia but not mentioning John Roseboro seems incomplete on an aesthetic level. I know we have beat this topic to death before, but is it possible to construct an all time Dodger team based on roles in movies and TV?

Scott
5 years ago

This is largely what I thought about the LA Dodgers – great pitching and all star, but not all-time position players. Their pitching is so strong that a Hall of Famer and 300 game winner is in the bullpen and not even mentioned in the article.

At first I wondered why Andy Messersmith wasn’t on 40-man roster, but I looked up his stats and realized two things: he really didn’t play that long for the Dodgers and he good, rather than great over that period. He’s probably on another team’s roster (Angels maybe). This suggests that just because we associate a player with a team, it doesn’t mean that that team is where he had his greatest impact, especially in a situation where the fame is due to off-field issues as opposed to performance.

Paul Moehringer
5 years ago
Reply to  Scott

A lot of what you said about Messersmith could also apply to Ramon Martinez or Hideo Nomo or even Burt Hooton.

For 90% of the teams in this league, Messersmith’s run from ’73-’75 would be enough to crack the rotation, but on a team like the LA Dodgers when it comes to their starting pitching, three great years isn’t enough.

1,440 players will be featured on some team’s 40-man roster, but it will not be the same as the best 1,440 players in MLB history.

Unfortunately for Messersmith, he is someone that falls into that category due both in part to splitting up big years amongst too many teams and having his best years coming with a team that is already a buzzsaw when it comes to pitching.

Scott
5 years ago

Messersmith’s teammates, Al Downing, Tommy John and even Mike Marshall, would also fall into that category.

Michael
5 years ago

Don Sutton? Hall of Fame?

Zeke
5 years ago

I was about to say that “the greatest position player the Dodgers have had since Jackie Robinson” is almost damning with faint praise in the context of this league. But then I realized the Dodgers already had their better position player, but they let him walk as soon as he became a free agent and you (rightly) rostered him for Texas…

Paul, I’m curious: If there was no One-Team Rule, would ’98-’04 Beltre have been enough to push Cey out of the lineup?

Paul Moehringer
5 years ago
Reply to  Zeke

Beltre would have definitely cracked the 40-man roster on this team without the one-team only rule.

Beltre also only had really one big year with the Dodgers and Cey was a six-time all-star, so I don’t think there really is much debate to be had there in terms of who was the better third baseman all-time in Dodger history.

That being said, I would put Beltre above Jim Gilliam but the problem is with Garvey and Guerrero both on the team, the Dodgers are already essentially carrying three third baseman. Adding a fourth doesn’t really help the club out a whole lot and they don’t have a lot of versatility up the middle, so they need a guy like Jim Gilliam on the 25 to help plug up the second base position along with Lopes.

Steve Isaak
5 years ago

Sorry, but I have to replace Andre Either and Raul Mondesi with Dusty Baker and Reggie Smith.

Paul Moehringer
5 years ago
Reply to  Steve Isaak

I feel Mondesi is a lot better than your giving credit for. You look at what he did between ’94 and ’97 and its hard to see how he’s not in the top five for best right fielders in baseball during that four year stretch. Larry Walker and Sammy Sosa are the only two I would take hands down ahead of him, so he’s arguably even top three.

The fact that he fell off so quickly I think is why people don’t view him in a higher light, but he’s also the only two time 30/30 club member in LA Dodger history. That can’t be for nothing.

When it comes to Baker and Smith, if this was a straight ranking system where we were simply ranking the best outfielders in Dodger history and there wasn’t a one-team only rule which also knocks out Brett Butler who I would take both of them, Baker and Smith would be on the team over Ethier as well.

Why Ethier is on the team over a guy like even Wally Moon is because of a concept that I’ve been trying to illustrated with every article of this series and that is that talent and overall ability ≠ value which is fare more intrinsic and can based on environmental factors that nothing to do with a player’s inherent talent.

The fact that I can hide Ehtier’s biggest weakness in a way that I can’t with other players changes how I view him relative to how good he actually is.

The fundamental question I want to ask is when we look at a player’s WAR or any other measure of value stat, VORP, Total Player Rating, etc. what are we actually looking at? That’s not quite the same question as what do we think we’re looking at or what do we want to look at?

I think there is a deeper conversation about WAR ready to be had that isn’t about its validity as a measuring tool for the HOF, or whether or not a player should be in the HOF that the sabermetric community IMO is largely ignoring.

Bobr
5 years ago

Did you consider Dusty Baker for a spot on the team, perhaps in place of Puig for example?

steve kantor
5 years ago

Granted, 1962 was an expansion year, and short career and all, but I gotta get Tommie Davis in the lineup. He had a couple of GREAT years.

Paul G.
5 years ago

Kevin Brown was taking PEDs. Combine that with a so-so playoff record, a mercenary-for-hire type career, his general unpleasantness, and several other relevant factors that hurt him, and it is not huge surprise that he was one and done on the ballot. Personally, I would have expected him to survive the first ballot, perhaps lingering just above the threshold until his time ran out, but he was never getting in the Hall of Fame anyway. Or at least he is never getting in with this generation of sportswriters.

Paul G.
5 years ago

There’s no one else on the roster who is a better designated hitter against lefties than Jim Gilliam? Wow. If this league was a confirmed DH league and they would use a DH every game, would that change the roster to get someone better into that slot?

I’d also think in “real life” Gilliam would be playing left and Guerrero would be the DH, but I’m guessing he did not log enough time.

Paul Moehringer
5 years ago
Reply to  Paul G.

Gilliam falls just short of qualifying for left field, but you are right about him probably being the more realistic option in left over Guerrero.

As far as a better DH option, there really isn’t one to be had on the 25-man team, but if the Dodgers were in the AL, Mondesi would be on the 25-man team over Andre Ethier and against lefties he would be the starting right fielder with Green shifting over to left and Guerrero taking over DH duties.

DH against lefties is a definite weak spot, but it’s also one the Dodgers won’t have to worry about too much.

Jimmy Fischbeck
5 years ago

I’d agree with Kershaw over Koufax if Clayton would come through in the playoffs! So far, Hell No!

Neema T
5 years ago

Allot I disagree with here. Lets start with the pitching. Don Sutton ranks #1 in Dodgers all time wins and yet he is not in the starting rotation? I would have to say that does not make any sense. Fernando and Orel were great, but here I would have to move one of them to the bullpen to make room for Sutton. For the relief pitchers, you don’t even include Mike Marshall, the guy won a Cy Young as a middle reliever in 1974 and pitched a ridiculous number of innings. He would have to be in there. Now the pitching coach would have to be Ron Peranowski or Honeycutt, and why is Darren Driefort our bullpen coach? Now the position players. First off, why is Eric Karros, the Dodgers all time HR king not included as the starting 1B? In fact, I would include Adrian Gonzalez in that argument as well. For third base, why is Adrian Beltre not included? LF does not belong to Andre Either, I’m sorry, but he is not THAT great, I would have Shawn Green there, with Pedro Guerrero a terrific offensive bat playing behind him, and Gary Sheffield behind him. For CF I think Matt Kemp deserves the nod to start, with Willie Davis and Dusty Baker backing him up and RF I think the nod would have to go to Raul Mondesi if not for the fact that he had offensive power but a virtual cannon of an arm and amazing range. Like I said, lots of problems here.

Dana Yost
5 years ago

First, thank you for acknowledging the importance of Ron Perranoski to those Dodgers’ staffs! He is too often overlooked in discussions about the first big wave of relievers (say, before 1975, or the rise of the Gossage, Sutter era). He was not only crucially important to the Dodgers teams who, before the trade for Osteen, didn’t have a really deep starting staff, but also had two stellar years for the division-winning Twins in 1969 and 1970. He had 31 saves in ’69, and 34 in ’70. His 34 saves would have set the major league record if Wayne Granger had not saved 35 that same year for the Reds. Perranoski led the majors with 172 saves for the decade 1961-70. Unlike the the next five on that list he almost always pitched for a contending team during that 10 years. The Twins won the two division titles, the Dodgers played in three World Series and, in 1962, they lost to the Giants in the three-game NL playoff that counted as regular season games. That’s a pretty good roll for Perranoski.

I might take a little exception to your comment about Kershaw’s postseason performance being the result of overuse. I know it’s a different era and pitcher usage has changed, but relative to Koufax — or even Hershisher in ’88 — it does not seem like Kershaw has been overused. Koufax pitched more than 300 innings in each of the Dodgers’ World Series years in the ’60s, and had four complete games in six Series starts in those years. Compared to his similarly used contemporary, Madison Bumgarner, Kershaw has not done as well, either, in the postseason. But to be fair, who has? Bumgarner has been other-wordly.

At any rate, thanks for a thoughtful and thought-provoking piece. And for giving Perranoski a deserved moment in the spotlight!

Paul Moehringer
5 years ago
Reply to  Dana Yost

Thanks for the kind words.

With regards to Perranoski, to me he was after Koufax and Drsydale, he’s the next most important player on those early-mid 60’s teams that won two World Series and was a perennial NL powerhouse and its rare to hear his name brought up in that context.

As dominant as both Koufax and Drysdale were, its not called the golden age of the pitcher for nothing. You had Bob Gibson and you also had Juan Marichal, Jim Bunning, Dean Chance, Jim Maloney and a host of other pitchers who could at least provide a somewhat fair matchup against Koufax.

But nobody had the kind of starter/reliever combo the Dodgers had with Koufax/Drysdale and Perrnoski and that’s really put the Dodgers head and shoulders above everyone else in baseball when it came to pitching in the early-mid 60’s.

With regards to the Kershaw/Koufax debate, its certainly interesting one. That is arguably the best 1-2 combo in the National League and after Boston’s 1-2 punch of Clemens and Pedro certainly the next best 1-2 combo we’ve seen up to this point.

Any way you split it, we’re talking about two generation defining players and these teams are set up, it really doesn’t make too much of difference of which one is better than the other because they’re both going to be treated almost exactly the same. They’re both looking at 2+ starts in an extended playoff series and I perfectly fine with sending either or out there against any starter in either league.

Snider Fan
5 years ago
Reply to  Dana Yost

Different era, but Koufax pitched on three day’s rest all the time; in ’65 the Dodgers went to a three-man rotation in September so he pitched most of that month on two days. I would agree that until Kersh wins 27 games or a World Series, Sandy is the #1.

Carl
5 years ago

Paul,

Curious as to how close Steve Sax (8 years w the Dodgers, 3x All Star, ROY winner) was to making the team in place of Gilliam? With the LA-only Dodgers, Gilliam was an All Star only once.

Also, no mention or place for Tommy John?

Paul Moehringer
5 years ago
Reply to  Carl

Only one of those all-star selections came with the Dodgers, but that’s really neither here nor there when it comes to why I picked Gilliam over Sax.

Offensively I would give the slight edge to Sax, but on defense there is a reason the phrase “Steve Sax syndrome” exists in the baseball lexicon. He was top three in errors five times with the Dodgers and twice led the league and that’s in comparison to one of the most sure-handed defensive infielders of all-time.

His ’86 season is phenomenal and if he had another year with the Dodgers that even approached those numbers, he would get the nod over Gilliam, but he just doesn’t have to bat to make up for the defensive pill you would need to swallow in order to justify him on the team.

Its not a slam dunk, but its a pretty decisive call IMO.

As far as Tommy John goes even though he’s better than half the pitchers that are on this team, he spread his career too thin over too many teams. An ERA+ of 118 over six years is certainly respectable, but nearly the same thing could be said about guys like Tim Belcher and Tom Candiotti.

To make this Dodger staff you needed both longevity and peak dominance and with just six years and zero top ten’s in BR WAR John falls short on both fronts, but again I would say a far better pitcher all-time than this league would give him credit for.

Joe Pancake
5 years ago

Count me among those who feel Don Sutton got short shrift being odd man out of the rotation. At his peak he was just as effective as Valenzuela and Hershiser were at theirs — in fact by FanGraphs WAR his three-year stretch from ’71-’73 was better than the best three years of the other two — and he had longevity that the other two don’t come close to matching (over 1,500 more innings with the Dodgers than the other two).

Don Sutton: perennially underrated Hall-of-Famer.

Paul Moehringer
5 years ago
Reply to  Joe Pancake

I have Hershiser rated as pretty much the hands down best pitcher in the National League from ’87-’89, so when you say Sutton was as good as either of them at their peak, unless you’re also going to put him ahead of guys like Seaver, Carlton, Blyleven and others, or you think there’s another NL pitcher out there who was better than Herisher during that ’87-’89 stretch, its just not the case.

As far as having more innings go, Sutton was pretty much a mortal lock to be in the top ten in innings pitched almost every year he was with the Dodgers, but he also never finished higher than fifth in any season. Orel led the league in IP’s three times, and Fernando was in the top 3 six times. What that tells me is that Sutton’s higher IP total is as much to do with his era as it is his longevity. His ’69 season where he pitches 290+ innings is more innings than Fernando or Orel ever pitched in any season. It was also only good enough for ninth in the league.

The best season I have out of Sutton is 1980. He leads the NL in ERA and WHIP and even though 212.1 IP is still only roughly average from a SP in a one game situation, it still comes in as a season that should have put him in serious Cy Young discussion. His ’72 season is not far behind, but beyond those two seasons it hard to find any year where Sutton is anything more than one of the top ten or top twenty pitchers in baseball.

When the Dodgers won the World Series in ’81 and ’88, Valenzuela and Herisher were respectively IMO the best players on those teams. Sutton had seasons where he wasn’t even the best pitcher on the Dodgers and they still didn’t win and its the reason why I put such a high value on peak dominance, especially when it comes to elite players. More often than not having one of the best players on your team and having the best player on your team is the difference between winning a World Series or just going to the LCS or finishing running up.

Joe Pancake
5 years ago

I think you’re drastically underrating how good Sutton was at his best. His top seasons are better than Valenzuela’s by WAR. (You make a pretty good case for Hershiser, and I think he was better than Valenzuela, so I’ll leave him out of this post.) And it’s not just because he pitched a lot more innings due to the era. If you look at his top ERA+ seasons, they’re better than Valenzuela’s, and in my opinion he has more impressive black ink (four time WHIP leader, three time K/BB leader, one-time ERA leader).

Your criticism of Sutton not being the best in his league isn’t a particularly strong one to me because he just so happened to play in the same league at the same time as Carlton, Seaver, Jenkins, Niekro, and Perry. That’s not his fault. Valenzuela pitched at a time when not a single NL Hall of Famer was in his prime. In the mid-’80s the best pitchers in the NL other than Valenzuela were who? Dwight Gooden, Orel Hershiser, Mike Scott, Joaquin Andujar, Rick Sutcliffe, old(ish) Nolan Ryan? That’s not even close to the depth of top-level talent on the mound when Sutton was at his best.

Then there is the fact that Sutton had about twice the number of quality seasons with the Dodgers as did Valenzuela. So he was good for much longer and at his best he was at least just as good. The only thing Sutton doesn’t have is Fernando’s ’81 season, but one (strike-shortened) season isn’t enough to elevate Valenzuela over Sutton, in my opinion.

Quinn Fields
5 years ago

Two Dodgers I wanted to see: 1. Hideo Nomo. A little shorter of a peak than Chan Ho Park, but the guy has to get some props for opening the door for Park, Wang, Matzusaka, Darvish, Tanaka and others right?

2. Eric Karros – I’m not going to argue he was that good, but he was very Dodgers. Like when you think late 90s early 2000s Dodgers, Karros is the only name that comes to mind, right?

Paul Moehringer
5 years ago
Reply to  Quinn Fields

1. Nomo along with half a dozen other starters not mentioned was someone who strongly considered for a spot on the 40-man and for most teams would have done enough to make it.

I don’t know how much he “paved the way” for future guys to come over because his arrival was not treated in Japan the same way as Ichiro’s who I think did far more in that department that Nomo.

The reason for that is because Nomo broke his contract to come to the Dodgers and if you know anything about Japanese culture you know that a contract is a sacred bond. His own family even spoke out against his decision in the media.

Nomo has since been elected to the Japanese Hall so most if not all of those issues are ancient history, but Nomo was not a popular guy over in Japan when he first got here.

2. Garvey pretty well has the first base position on lock. Nobody has ever played more at first than Garvey and aside from perhaps Eddie Murray no first baseman who was better at their peak. With Shawn Green capable of playing the position also and with the more pressing needs elsewhere first base really isn’t a position of focus for LA.

After Garvey I have to go Wes Parker who was near Karros’ equal offensively, but aside from Adrian Gonzalez also the best defensive first baseman the LA Dodgers have ever had. Probably not six-time/consecutive Gold Glove good but certainly a better choice than Karros who was top three in errors every year between ’94 and ’99.

Philip
5 years ago

Another nice installment in your series, Paul.

With nearly all the players on this team playing during my lifetime and having seen most of them play numerous times in person, I’ll nitpick a bit.

Kershaw over Koufax? Sorry, not in this reality.

If it’s Game 7 of the World Series, knowing everything about these two pitchers to date, any doubt who Walt Alston would give the ball to? Probably the guy he DID give the ball to win a game 7.

As for the excuses about Kershaw pitching in the playoffs on three days rest, this is what Koufax did on TWO days rest in game 7 in 1965:

Los Angeles Dodgers IP H R ER BB SO HR BFP
Koufax 9 3 0 0 3 10 0 33

And that was after having gone the distance with a 4-hit, one walk, 10 strikeout in game 5 on three days rest.

If I understood your comments in the Baltimore Orioles segment correctly, you disregard a player’s stats elsewhere when considering who to pick for a given team. (i.e. only what Willie Keeler did with the old NL Orioles mattered; same with Bobby Grich, discounting what he later did in California).

Pedro Guerrero over Dusty Baker? (I assume because you are discounting Baker’s Atlanta stats?)

Yes, Guerrero’s offensive production was greater than Baker’s when they played in L.A. But his defensive liability might not be enough to account for the better slugging stats than Baker.

Here’s an old story manager Tommy Lasorda would tell about Guerrero’s fielding issues.

“Okay, Pedro,” Lasorda said, “The tying run’s on, one out in the ninth. What are you thinking?”

“I’m thinking, don’t hit the ball to me,” Guerrero said.

“C’mon, Pete,” Lasorda chided, “What else are you thinking?”

“You really want to know?” Guerrero said.

“Yes,” answered Lasorda.

“I’m thinking,” Guerrero said, “Don’t hit the ball to Sax either.”

And don’t even consider putting Steve Garvey anywhere near third base!

In terms of projected lineups, not quite understanding how you figure having Ron Cey lead off and Davey Lopes bat 3rd. And having RBI man Steve Garvey in the 8 hole vs. LHP? Likewise, batting Davey Lopes 7th with Ron Cey behind him hitting 8th is only going to get a bunch of intentionally passes to Cey once Lopes steals second.

Don Sutton should be in the rotation. And not just because he was better over an extended period of time than Valenzuela or Hershiser. But because the Dodgers would be a stronger team with Fernando as a devastating closer.

Speaking of managers, I know you had Leo Durocher as Brooklyn’s skipper. But in doing so, you basically made a choice between giving a managerial job to Durocher or Lasorda. I know Durocher managed twice as long as Alston did in Brooklyn, but Smokey won Brooklyn’s only World Championship in 1955. Let Leo coach for John McGraw’s Giants, put Alston in Brooklyn and Lasorda as skipper in L.A.

If you ever “expand” the league, you could put a team in Spokane managed by Lasorda:

If you take only players he managed from his three years there (and throw in 1972 when the Dodgers shifted their AAA club to Albuquerque):

25-man roster:
1B Steve Garvey, Tom Hutton
2B Davey Lopes, Bob Randall
SS Bill Russell, Bobby Valentine
3B Ron Cey, Billy Grabarkewitz
LF Bill Buckner
CF Larry Hisle, Von Joshua
RF Tom Paciorek, Bobby Darwin
C Steve Yeager, Joe Ferguson, Bob Stinson
SPs: Doyle Alexander, Fred Norman, Rick Rhoden, Doug Rau, Geoff Zahn
RPs: Hoyt Wilhelm, Charlie Hough, Eddie Solomon, Stan Wall

My guess is this club, with just a little extra bench and bullpen help, would have won the NL pennant in 1977.

Paul Moehringer
5 years ago
Reply to  Philip

A lot to digest here.

1. I’m not going to go too much into the Kershaw/Koufax debate. You’re comparing across eras and there’s going to be a lot of emotion coming from people who grew up idolizing Koufax and there’s not much I can really say to someone who’s canonized him as the greatest/much clutch lefty pitcher they ever saw.

2. Yes only your numbers with a particular franchise were taken into account. Just because I have Chan Ho Park on the team over Tommy John doesn’t mean I necessarily think that Park was a better pitcher than John all-time.

As far as Guerrero goes he has to be on this team. That’s their next best bat after Piazza and the Dodgers don’t have a lot of big bats in their lineup. The question would be whether or not he would be able to handle center field duties without embarrassing himself. In some ways the position is easier to handle than the corners because you can get a better read on the ball as its coming at you and Guerrero was not a slow guy by any stretch, so he would have the range to handle the position. But Andruw Jones he is not and if experiment didn’t pan out as I hoped it would have you would be seeing a lot more WIllie Davis out in center who’s defensive skills I have total faith in.

3. Not a lot of people ask me about my lineup selections and its bit frustrating because almost as much time goes into those as writing the actual article. Why Cey bats leadoff against lefties is because he has a career .375 OBP against lefties. He never hit for high average, but he was a walk machine against lefties. His ’77 season he drew 29 walks in 163 plate appearances. In ’78 it was 32 in 159 PA’s. If he could the same against righties he would be drawing 100+ walks a year easily. As it stands he was top ten in walks four times.

With Lopes I think the thought behind putting him at the top of the order was he can run fast and he’s not a big power hitter, so let’s just bat him leadoff. I would have never bat him leadoff because if you look at his splits you’ll see he’s almost two different players.

Against righties he’s almost useless. .251 career batting average, a .361 slugging percentage and a career OPS of .698 The issue of Cey being intentionally walked after Lopes steals second is a problem I wish I could have, because I think Lopes is going to get eaten alive by the right handed pithing in this league. The Dodgers just don’t have a second baseman in their team’s history who can hit righters. I even considered putting Delino DeShields on the 25-man roster because that’s how bad Lopes is against righties.

Against lefties though its a totally different story. .291 career batting average, .456 slugging percentage and an OPS of .831. That’s no longer a light hitting second baseman who can steal some bases. That’s a legitimate power threat.

The only reason I go Cey 1 and Lopes 3 is because I think Cey is the better hitter and I want him to get more AB’s, but you could just as well flip their spots in the order and the effect I’m trying to achieve with that lineup would largely be the same.

With Garvey splits aren’t much of an issue. He’s one of the five best hitters the Dodgers have against righties. Against lefties he’s not and the two guys that leapfrog him are Cey and Lopes. I bat him eighth because I am of the belief that your eighth place hitter should be more of a power hitter than a contact hitter. The way I see it if you assume your pitcher is coming up next and is an automatic out, than your eighth place hitter is really your last chance to score a run in the inning. What the Dodgers have against righties isn’t great but I can at least afford myself the opportunity to get a little creative with Wills and Lopes hitting back to back because neither of those guys are driving in anyone and I don’t really need to play hit and run too much if I have Piazza, Garvey, Guerrero and Green all coming up.

4. I wouldn’t worry too much about seeing Garvey too much at third base. The Dodgers starting four infield is pretty much locked in without a wiggle room. If Garvey is at third base, it means probably that both Cey and Guerrero are hurt and at that point I would say they have bigger problems than Garvey’s defensive abilities at third.

5. You say Fernando would be a devastating closer. My question is how devastating, because I have nothing to go in terms of how he would fair as a reliever.

I’m not knocking the idea and if this could somehow be turned into reality converting secondary starters into relievers would be something a lot of teams would be looking into doing. The problem is if I allowed that it would create a whatif debate that wouldn’t have a clear answer. How would he stack up as reliever against Bruce Sutter for instance? I have no idea and I don’t think anyone does either.

6. Leo Durocher being named Brooklyn’s manager didn’t have much impact on LA’s situation. The debate was more between Durocher and Dressen than it was between Durocher and Alston.

If this was reality I wouldn’t pick either Tommy or Alston. The stories I’ve heard about Alston doesn’t pain a very positive picture of what the guy was like in the clubhouse and Lasorda I thought was a blowhard who took himself and what he did way too seriously. They were successful under him, so he couldn’t have been that much of a determent, but how much of their success was because of Lasorda antics and how much of it was in spite of it is something I wonder about.

7. There’s a reason the Dodgers have 17 ROY awards to their name as a franchise. With the exceptions of Shawn Green, Saito and Jay Howell the 25-man roster is entirely home grown. The one thing missing from that team though is the same thing that I feels explains why they never won a WS in the 70’s and that’s the lack of a true middle of the order hitter. It wasn’t a lacking of trying with trades. Jimmy Wynn, Frank Robinson, Reggie Smith all came through with varying degrees of success, but I don’t think they ever really found an answer to that problem until Pedro Guerrero came up and by that point it really wasn’t the same team anymore.

Nickolai
5 years ago

I love this series, nice work!

I loved them both, but I don’t see the argument for Chan Ho Park over Ramon Martinez. Both were good not great RH pitchers, but during their Dodgers stints Ramon pitched 2 more seasons, almost 500 more IP, collected 40 more wins, posted a better W/L %, better ERA and ERA+, better WHIP. more WAR and a higher average WAR/season. All in roughly the same time-frame/competitive environment.

Neither did anything noteworthy in the postseason or with the major awards (although Ramon finished top 5 in CY voting twice, something Park never did). So the only real arguments for Park over Ramon must be K/BB rate or peak performance but in both areas they look pretty close to me.

Philip
5 years ago

Thanks for the response, Paul.

Re: Guerrero

OK, understood re: Baker. That’s what I was assuming with your selection; only look at his time as a Dodger. I agree with that.

Re: Cey

Could not disagree more.

First, I think if you look at Cey’s walks vs lefties, my hunch is a lot of them are situational walks, meaning either IW or IW in all but name only, i.e. to set up double-play, etc, not because he was drawing them.

Secondly, ever been behind the sweeper train on a freeway? That’s what you’d be creating in Los Angeles by batting Cey leadoff. Sig-alert! Bottleneck. Log-jam. Whatever you want to call it. No one would move.

Whatever marginal benefit you’d get by a few extra walks, you’d lose far more in stranded runners because Cey would clog the basepaths.

Example:
Cey was on first base 107 times in his career when a double was hit. He scored on 20 of those plays. Lopes, on the other hand, came home on 40 of 66.

Going from first to third (or scoring) on a single? Cey was 136 of 463. Lopes? 141 of 384.

What about scoring from second on a single. Cey was 147 of 229. Lopes? 215 of 291.

Cey took an extra base on a hit 38% of the time. Lopes, 53%.

And with Cey being no threat to steal, Matt Kemp would be a threat to lead the league in grounding into double plays. And Lopes wouldn’t hit as many doubles, because Cey won’t get to third on many such plays, leaving Lopes stuck at first.

Many people don’t remember, but Fernando Valenzuela actually started his baseball career as a reliever. With the Dodgers desperately chasing Houston in the final three weeks of the 1980 season, Fernando was used in 10 games, all in relief. He finished four of them and got two wins and a save. One of those wins was the first of a three game sweep of the Astros in the season’s final three games that caused the tie for the NL West. In 17 2/3 innings of work, he allowed 8 hits, 5 walks and struck out 16, allowing no earned runs.

Fernando ended up a starter on opening day in 1981 due to an injury to scheduled starter Jerry Reuss.

But Valenzuela could have also been a top reliever.

For one, though a lefty, he was much more effective against right-handed batters than left-handed batters. He was a strikeout pitcher, who could rake them up in bunches. Hitters found him difficult at all times, but especially the first time through a lineup. His numbers with runners in scoring position, late inning situations, etc. are indicative of a pitcher who could come through under pressure.

But since both he and Don Sutton were primary starting pitchers, one of them has to go to the bullpen. I just think the team would be better off with Fernando saving games and with Sutton in the rotation than the other way around.

As for Lasorda, it’s not hype. There’s a reason many of the same guys who played for him won in Spokane, won in Albuquerque and won in Los Angeles. His motivational tactics, whether one thinks them corny or not, worked.

He took team that had finished 20 and 10 games behind Cincinnati in the prior two seasons and ran away with the division the following year. Sure, Don Gullett had left for free agency, but other than that the two teams weren’t really effected much as yet. He won another flag in 1978. Lost a playoff game in 1980, won it all in 1981, finished one back in 1982 and took the division in 1983.

It’s frequently pointed out that Cincinnati had the best record in baseball in 1981 and didn’t make the playoffs but in reality Lasorda managed the Dodgers to win the World Series. He wasn’t concerned about winning the “second half.” The Dodgers were already in the playoffs.

And what he did in 1988 is one of the better managerial feats of the century.

Which he topped 12 years later in the Miracle on Grass, with the 2000 U.S.A. Olympic Team.

Tommy
5 years ago

Nice piece. Only two real qualms. Tommy Davis over Andre Ethier in left. And you can’t leave Mike Marshall off the bullpen. Head and sholders above Niedenfuer or Pena.

Snider Fan
5 years ago

I think if you asked the pitching staff they would want Willie Davis in center. Pedro Guerrero should be in left over Ethier; he hit RHP as well as he did LHP. If you put Shawn Green in right, Ethier is redundant.

And if you want to talk about peak performance, Reggie Smith should be on the team over Mondesi, IMO. OPS+ of 152 with the Dodgers, and a big reason for the pennants in ’77 and ’78.

Rainy Day Women 12x35
5 years ago

Lot to digest here. Quite a few of my thoughts were addressed extensively and don’t need repeating. However….it seems, Paul, as though you didn’t pay much, if any, attention to this team’s defensive needs when making these picks. A team with dominant pitching should back it up with a very good defense as a priority. Pedro Guerrero in CF? Ouch. And he’s backed up by Kemp, who has dismal numbers there, couldn’t even handle RF anymore in LA. But the most egregious (for those of us who were there) is Steve Garvey as the backup 3b. Aside from Maury Wills (who may qualify, barely) who is an above average defensive player? Lopes wasn’t. Cey had no range, good hands. Piazza you already noted, well below average behind the plate.

My other main point is that the Dodgers legend of great pitching with no hitting is, in large part, a direct result of moving into Dodger Stadium in 1962. Check their home/road splits starting in 1962!!! One of the all-time best parks for pitchers, and (of course) worst for hitters, for many years (now it plays neutral due to changes such as lowering of the mound, moving the plate closer to the fences and eliminating large chunks of foul territory). Koufax was great, it’s true, and yet if you check his stats you’ll find a clear delineation of his stats coinciding with the Dodger Stadium move in 1962. Then check his home and road stats. They still show a great pitcher, an all-time great, but not to the degree he’s often listed at. His post-season performances and big-game dependability are also incredible. I am NOT trashing Sandy Koufax, just saying that if you look at his home/road splits he’s not as great as commonly thought. The other point….Don Drysdale is the same product of Dodger Stadium. Bill James (in his Historical Abstract) thinks Drysdale doesn’t belong in the Hall of Fame. He was terrible in big games. He lost a ton of games. He only won 209. Yes that’s one-sided, but taken out of the concept of Dodger Stadium in the early 60’s and his value drops considerably.

Lastly, it almost seems sacriligeous not to have Maury Wills leading off! As a disruptor of other teams, and playing in his era, he changed the game.

Dave Thomas
5 years ago

As soon as I read Clayton Kershaw over Sandy Koufax I realized this article was a total joke and quit reading at that point.

Rainy Day Women 12x35
5 years ago
Reply to  Dave Thomas

open your mind. A strong case can be made for that.

Marc Schneider
5 years ago
Reply to  Dave Thomas

Pretty ridiculous to dismiss an article because of one point you disagree with.

bobr
5 years ago

I don’t understand why Puig is on this team. He had 2 years when he was an excellent player but two more when he was mediocre at best, and it appears you don’t intend to platoon or DH him, so he is essentially a bench bat. If that is the case, unless you feel it necessary to have another RH on the bench, I would rather Manny Mota be my pinch hitter than a hitting coach.

I suppose the raw talent is appealing, although I doubt he would last 5 minutes on a Walter Alston managed team no matter how promising he is. But there is plenty of evidence he is not going to develop it while Mota was the best pinch hitter of his era.

super mario world
5 years ago

Nice piece. Only two real qualms. Tommy Davis over Andre Ethier in left. And you can’t leave Mike Marshall off the bullpen. Head and sholders above Niedenfuer or Pena.