Nick Doran

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Team Roundup: Dodgers

Monday, November 5, 2018


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Los Angeles Dodgers

2018 Record: 92-71
First Place, NL West
Team ERA: 3.38 (2nd)
Team OPS: .774 (3rd)

 

What Went Right

 

The Dodgers overcame a very rough start to the season and ended up tied with the Rockies for the NL West division title. They beat Colorado in a Game 163 tie-breaker to grab their sixth division title in a row. They rolled into the World Series for the second consecutive season and finished as runner-up for the second consecutive season. The strength of the team was their depth -- they leveraged their huge financial advantages to stockpile talent all over the field and it paid off as a rash of injuries forced them to dip into their logjam of talented bench players. The depth also enabled them to utilize platoon swaps in the batting order and in the bullpen. Max Muncy had a breakout season, leading the club by slugging 35 home runs and driving in 79 runs while playing primarily against right-handed pitching. Matt Kemp got off to a great start to the season to pull himself off the scrap heap and plant himself firmly back into the fantasy landscape by batting .290/.338/.481 with 21 home runs and 85 RBI. Justin Turner missed the first month-and-a-half of the season but helped carry the team from then on, slashing .312/.406/.518 with 14 homers and 52 RBI in 103 games. The Dodgers traded prospects to obtain superstar shortstop Manny Machado at the deadline and he responded with a .273/.338/.487 triple-slash to go with 13 home runs and 42 RBI in 66 games down the stretch. Clayton Kershaw went 9-5 with a 2.73 ERA and 1.04 WHIP in 26 starts. Young starter Walker Buehler burst upon the scene as one of the best pitchers in baseball by going 8-5 with a 2.62 ERA and 0.96 WHIP in 23 starts and one relief appearance. Ross Stripling went on an amazing run while the Dodger rotation was struggling through a rash of injuries, going 8-6 with a 3.02 ERA in 122 innings. Hyun-Jin Ryu missed more than half the season with a leg injury but was fantastic when healthy, going 7-3 with a 1.97 ERA and 1.01 WHIP in 15 starts. Closer Kenley Jansen saved 38 games and registered a 3.01 ERA in 69 outings. Relievers Pedro Baez (2.88 ERA in 55 games) and Josh Fields (2.20 ERA in 45 games) solidified one of the deepest, most effective bullpens in baseball.

 

 

What Went Wrong

 

When a team makes it to the World Series it is a pretty clear sign that not a whole lot went drastically wrong. At the end of April the Dodgers sure didn't look like a World Series team though. The Dodgers got off to a woeful 16-26 start to the season, largely due to a plethora of injuries. Justin Turner broke his wrist during spring training and didn't return to the lineup until May 15th. Star shortstop Corey Seager underwent Tommy John surgery in May and later had an operation on his hip as well. The pitching rotation was particularly hard hit by injuries. Starting pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu tore a groin muscle on May 2nd and was on the disabled list until August 15th. Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill, Alex Wood, Kenta Maeda and Ross Stripling all spent time on the disabled list during the season. Austin Barnes got a lot of hype as a potential fantasy sleeper last offseason but ended up bitterly disappointing his owners by batting .200/.329/.290 with two home runs and 14 RBI in 100 games played. The Dodgers acquired second baseman Brian Dozier at the trade deadline and he proceeded to fall flat on his face, slashing an impotent .182/.300/.350 with five homers and 20 RBI in 47 games. Logan Forsythe hit just .207/.270/.290 with two home runs and 13 RBI in 70 games before being dumped off to the Twins.

 

Fantasy Slants

 

** The Dodgers' extreme depth had a fantasy downside in that no Dodgers player got more than 557 at-bats on the season. There were 53 players in the majors who had more at-bats than any Dodger. Cody Bellinger had 557 ABs and Chris Taylor had 536. No other Dodger had more than 462. There were 140 hitters who qualified for the batting title last year and only two of them were Dodgers. The good news for the Dodgers is their depth kept everyone rested and in peak form while also helping the team cover for injuries to Corey Seager and Justin Turner. When fantasy owners draft a hitter they want him to play every day and approach 600 ABs in the season, they don't want them to be rested or platooned. It is something to keep in mind on draft day next year. We have to weigh a player's playing time as well as his talent. For reference, Trea Turner led the majors with 664 ABs in 740 plate appearances.

 

** Catcher Yasmani Grandal received a one-year, $17.9 million qualifying offer. He is one of the best defensive catchers in the game and one of the better hitters as well. The bar is not high when it comes to being a good hitter "for a catcher". Grandal batted .241/.349/.466 with 24 home runs and 68 RBI on the season. That was good enough to rank him third among all catchers behind J.T. Realmuto and Yadier Molina on the Yahoo Baseball player rater this year.

 

** 28-year-old first baseman Max Muncy came literally out of nowhere to slash .263/.391/.582 with 35 home runs and 79 RBI in 137 games. He had a total of five home runs in two years with the Athletics previously. That is an amazing slash line but as mentioned above, the questions with Max Muncy are can he do it again and will he get enough playing time? The Dodgers will be just as deep next year as they were this year and given that Muncy is 28 years old and had never done much of anything prior to this year he will be a risky player to draft next season.

 

** Shortstop Manny Machado seems unlikely to be back next year. The Dodgers are set at the two positions Machado plays -- shortstop and third base -- with Corey Seager and Justin Turner. The mega-rich Dodgers certainly have the money to make a run at keeping Machado but it is more likely they target Bryce Harper than Machado.

 

** Third baseman Justin Turner is the axis around which the Dodgers revolve offensively. Since joining the Dodgers in 2014 he has a cumulative .305/.383/.505 slash line. Unfortunately for his fantasy owners that great work with the bat hasn't translated into a ton of fantasy value. Over that five-year period he has 85 homers, 316 RBI, 314 runs and 24 stolen bases for a yearly average of 17 home runs, 63 RBI, 63 runs and five stolen bases. Those numbers are not going to win fantasy championships.

 

** Outfielder Matt Kemp had a resurgent season, slashing .290/.338/.481 with 21 home runs and 85 RBI. He did the vast majority of that damage in the first half (.310/.352/.522) and came back to Earth with a thud in the second half (.255/.313/.719). Given his rapidly-advancing age he doesn't seem like a strong bet to help his fantasy owners much next season, especially considering the fact he no longer runs. In his heyday he could be relied upon for 30 or more stolen bases and once stole 40 in a single season but he's swiped just one bag total over the last three seasons combined.

 

** Outfielder Yasiel Puig has all the talent in the world but has no idea how to harness it. He batted .267/.327/.494 this year with 23 home runs, 63 RBI and 15 stolen bases in 125 games. He will turn 28 years old before Opening Day and is past the point where we can rely on his potential to hope for better things next year. It wouldn't be a shocker to see him put up a monster year at some point but spending a mid-round draft pick on him right now just seems like gambling. If he ever moves to a team in a more hitter-friendly environment be sure to snap him up -- until then just let someone else deal with his maddening inconsistency.

 

** Outfielder/first baseman Cody Bellinger played well this season even though he couldn't match his rookie year. In 2017 he exploded for a .267/.352/.581 triple-slash with 39 home runs, 97 RBI and 10 steals in his first 132 games as a major leaguer. This year he settled in with a .260/.343/.470 triple-slash with 25 homers, 76 RBI and 14 steals in 162 games. That is still excellent production for a 23-year-old and there is every reason to expect him to keep getting better for the next few years.

 

** Shortstop Corey Seager went down for elbow surgery in mid-May and missed the rest of the season. He is expected to be at full strength in time for Opening Day and can be expected to resume hitting .300 with 25 homers and 75 or more RBI. The 24-year-old has already played parts of four seasons in the major leagues with a career .302/.372/.494 slash line. He doesn't steal bases but he can do everything else fantasy owners crave.

 

** Starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw was the first pitcher off the draft board in every fantasy league for several years in a row. Those days are over, or at least they should be. He's still a great pitcher but the concerns are mounting. He used to be a mortal lock for 33 starts of superhuman production every year. The last three years he's made 21, 27 and 26 starts. He has a chronic back injury which has led to disabled list stints and declining velocity. His fastball averaged 90.9 MPH this year -- the first year it has been below the league average in his career. His 2.73 ERA was still excellent but is nearly a run higher than his five-year average ERA of 1.95 from 2013-2017. Kershaw will turn 31 years old before Opening Day and has to start declining eventually. He is still an elite pitcher but he shouldn't be taken in the first round of fantasy drafts any more.

 

** Starting pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu received a qualifying offer from the Dodgers, which will limit his earning power on the free agent market and makes it more likely he will return to the Dodgers for next year. He took his game to a new level in 2018, notching a 1.97 ERA with 89 strikeouts and just 15 walks in 82 1/3 innings over 15 starts. He missed over half the season with a torn muscle in his leg. He will likely fly under the radar a little bit on draft day -- don't let him fall too far down your board.

 

** Starting pitcher Rich Hill since joining the Dodgers in mid-2016 has a 26-15 record with a 3.30 ERA and 1.07 WHIP in 55 starts and one relief appearance. He has a remarkable 355:95 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 302 2/3 innings. Those are great numbers, unfortunately he is prone to injury. He will be 39 years old when the next season starts. One thing to note about Dodger starting pitchers from a fantasy perspective -- there are a lot of them. The Dodgers have so many good starting pitchers that even a hint of a malady is enough to send them to the disabled list as the team tries to keep them healthy for the playoffs. A mild injury that a pitcher on another team would play through will cost a Dodger pitcher (and his fantasy owners) several starts. It bumps the fantasy value of all Dodger starters down a notch.

 

** Starting pitcher Walker Buehler is perhaps the best of all the young pitchers in baseball, as if the Dodgers weren't loaded enough in pitching already. He put up huge strikeout rates throughout his minor league career and kept right on smoking upon reaching the majors. He made 23 starts and one relief appearance this year as a rookie and went 8-5 with a 2.62 ERA and 0.96 WHIP. Combine that with his stellar efforts in the post-season and Buehler is going to fly off draft boards this spring.

 

** Pitchers Kenta Maeda, Ross Stripling, Julio Urias and Alex Wood will likely battle it out for the last slot or two in the rotation. Stripling performed the best of the bunch this year (8-6 with a 3.02 ERA and 1.19 WHIP) but has the shortest track record. Maeda has the longest track record and has the best shot of locking down a rotation slot. He went 8-10 with a 3.81 ERA in 20 starts and 19 relief appearances this year. Wood made the most starts of the trio this year, going 9-7 with a 3.68 ERA in 27 starts and six relief appearances.

 

** Closer Kenley Jansen has been an uber-elite closer the last few years but showed signs of decline this year. He was still good (38 saves, 3.01 ERA with 82 strikeouts in 71 2/3 innings) despite more than doubling his previous career high in homers allowed. He served up 13 home runs this year after having never allowed more than six in a season. His 10.3 K/9 was the first time in his career it dropped below 13.0 K/9. His walk rate more than doubled his 2017 rate. Of the top 10 closers in saves, only Shane Greene of the Tigers had a lower strikeout rate. No pitcher with three or more saves gave up more home runs than Jansen. He is still a strong closer even if he doesn't make the top tier any longer. 

 

** Alex Verdugo and Keibert Ruiz are the Dodgers' top prospects. Verdugo is an outfielder with a contact-oriented bat that currently lacks power, although he does have power potential. The 2014 second-round draft pick has been considered a top 40 prospect throughout his minor league career. Ruiz is an offensive-minded catcher who is just 20 years old and likely at least a couple years away from fantasy usefulness.

 

Key Free Agents: Hyun-Jin Ryu (received qualifying offer), Manny Machado, Yasmani Grandal (received qualifying offer), Brian Dozier, John Axford, Ryan Madson, Daniel Hudson

 

Team Needs: The offense employed a heavy Three True Outcomes approach with lots of home runs, walks and strikeouts. The team needs to find a couple of high on-base table-setters to complement their homer-heavy middle of the lineup. The Dodgers are loaded with lots of starting pitching depth -- and they are loaded with lots of cash. They will likely be in play for all of the top free agent pitchers this winter and will jump at the chance to stack their rotation with another ace. They have an obvious hole behind the plate if Grandal leaves and could go after Wilson Ramos in free agency or J.T. Realmuto in trade.




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