Between now and Opening Day, we'll be previewing each team with a focus on answering the question: "How will this team be remembered?" For the full archive of each 2017 team preview, click here.
“She wants somebody,” May Alix wailed at Louis Armstrong’s blaring Selmer, “who’s workin’ all day.” And that’s what the Butter and Egg Man does, baby. He does the work.
It’s time for a new era of Dodger Baseball this year, in a way it hasn’t been time since kids were quite literally still dodging trolleys across Church Avenue on their way to make first pitch at Ebbets Field. The most polished silver tongue that baseball broadcasting has ever known isn’t going to weave together the season’s humanity anymore, and that is a shocking and cold reality to which Angelenos will be forced to make ongoing adjustments.
Sure, some of us were forced to start adjusting a few years premature, when SportsNet LA and television providers outside the greedy gates of Time Warner Center launched their toddler feud to deprive hundreds of thousands in the city viewing rights for the hometown nine. But even then, we all still felt Vin’s soliloquies wandering through our summer evenings. Even in his absence he was present. We knew that the biggest Butter and Egg Man was right there the whole time, doin’ the work.
It is perhaps fitting, however, that Vin Scully hung ‘em up when he did, because the man that The Man had so frequently dubbed as the club’s on-field man from way out in the West … well, he didn’t quite feel up to the distinction for the first time in a while.
Mind you, it’s not entirely clear that it was Adrian Gonazalez’s fault that his cupboard felt a little less stout. By most measures, he was still a very good hitter last year. By the standards of our glossary on the subject, in fact, his .293 TAv checked in just a couple notches south of full-on great. But after racking up the most combined WARP of any Dodgers position player during his previous three full seasons donning the azul, Gonzalez felt … well, a bit less indispensable last year.
The Dodgers’ lineup posted a combined .271 TAv, good for the fifth-best collective offensive performance in the majors. Yet Gonzalez’s near-great effort checked in just fifth among its regulars. His value was the same by VORP, WARP, and likely any other Pawnee attorney you care to throw into the mix, too. His defense also slipped, to where the 34-year-old cost his team runs in the field for just the second time in 11 full seasons.
Again, it’s important to emphasize that he wasn’t bad last year. At all. He’s now logged at least 156 games in every one of those 11 full seasons. It was a decidedly weird offensive season for him, to be sure, with no power in the first half and far fewer successful trips to first base and beyond in the second. But it all balanced out reasonably well, and he crushed it in high-leverage situations to maximize the return on his production to the tune of a .336/.390/.555 effort in those ever-so-important 123 plate appearances. He didn’t cost the Dodgers that many runs, and he didn’t even hurt them on the bases—a rarity. All told he ended up producing the value of a top-10 first baseman, while hitting cleanup in the fifth-best lineup in baseball.
But let’s talk about that lineup, because there were a lot more cooks in it. Joc Pederson out-produced Gonzalez. He still couldn’t hit lefties worth a damn, but boy did he take it out on righties. Justin Turner did, too. He’s the rare right-handed slugger who can’t really hit left-handed fastballs all that well. But he crushed everything else, and he also out-produced Gonzalez. Yasmani Grandal kept right on racking up defensive runs through his offensive doldrums in May and June, and then his bat caught up. He authored one of the better power performances of any ignorant tool-wearer in the second half of the season, and he too out-produced Gonzalez.
And then there was the Boy Wonder. Despite being just terrible in the sixth inning of games, Corey Seager played immaculate baseball in his first full-season show. His long-suspect glove at shortstop was pretty damn suspect indeed, but man was he fun to watch hit a baseball. He out-produced Gonzalez, and had the prettiest clothes of all. He also feels like the chalk for butter-and-egg designation, doesn’t he? Twenty-two-year-old shortstops who pace the six spot in WARP will tend to engender those kinds of expectations.
Beyond the threat of Seagerian usurpation, however, PECOTA isn’t so sure we maybe haven’t seen the last Butter-and-Egg season on the merits from Adrian Gonzalez. Despite possessing the talent and the track record to demand the benefit of all doubts, AGon rates just a .272 projected TAv—a number which, if it came to pass, would represent far and away the worst effort of his career, some 33 points south of his cumulative effort. The conservative outlook is of course colored by the track record of other 35-year-old lumbering first basemen.
And perhaps that should make us appreciate Gonzalez’s durability and sustained production all the more because of it. He does have the talent and the track record, and it is apparently a pretty damn unique combination. All of this is to say that even at 35, he’s probably as good a bet as any to still be good. Maybe even borderline great. The Dodgers, as a whole, project similarly. PECOTA might be bearish on Gonzalez, but he is the rare bird among his teammates. Our computers have Los Angeles scoring the second-most runs in the National League this year.
And we’ve made it this far without even mentioning the Greatest Pitcher in the World. Clayton Kershaw won’t turn 30 until next year, when he’ll have a resume pushing 2,000 big-league innings and boasting the best ERA+ of any starting pitcher in baseball history. Ho hum. There might not be a Zack Greinke behind him right now, but there’s just an absurd amount of rotation depth more than capable of cobbling together another 600-some innings of reasonable quality. One of the sneaky-outstanding bullpens in the league last year sits behind it, with a couple interesting additions and reinforcements matriculating up the minor-league ladder to boot.
So the pitching staff has the ability to be really good, too. Put it all together? Ninety-seven wins, PECOTA expects of this team. That is the most projected wins in baseball—yes, more than the Champs—and it means that Los Angeles as a whole is as good a bet as any to still be good. Maybe even borderline great. Therein, of course, lies the burden for these Dodgers. “Good is not good,” Scully once cautioned, “when better is expected.”
The Dodgers have won the National League West for four consecutive seasons, and while they posted 13 playoff wins on the back end of those triumphs, they strung ‘em together in precisely the wrong order to send Vin out with one more. If they can figure out how to sequence ‘em a bit more efficiently this time around, we’ll remember this team for the Butter and Egg man who leads them in doing it. Whoever he may be*.
*It’ll probably be Corey Seager.
Thank you for reading
This is a free article. If you enjoyed it, consider subscribing to Baseball Prospectus. Subscriptions support ongoing public baseball research and analysis in an increasingly proprietary environment.Subscribe now