Los Angeles Dodgers
2019 Record: 106-56
First Place, NL West
Team ERA: 3.37 (1st in MLB)
Team OPS: .810 (4th in MLB)
What Went Right
The Dodgers had the best record in the National League by a country mile. They scored the most runs in the NL and gave up the fewest runs in the majors. The Dodgers have been in the league for 130 years so it is not easy to set a franchise record, but that is exactly what they did by winning 106 games in the regular season. The Dodgers also set a new National League record by slugging 279 home runs. The team was led offensively by Cody Bellinger, who put up an MVP-caliber season with a .305/.406/.629 slash line, 47 home runs, 115 RBI, 121 runs scored and 15 stolen bases. After missing most of the 2018 season with elbow and hip injuries, shortstop Corey Seager returned to the field and batted .272/.335/.483 with 19 homers and 87 RBI while playing strong defense as well. Infielder Max Muncy proved his 2018 breakout was no fluke by registering an .889 OPS with 35 home runs, 98 RBI and 101 runs scored. Third baseman Justin Turner rapped out a .290 batting average with 27 home runs and 67 RBI in 135 games. Outfielder Joc Pederson revitalized his career by turning in an .876 OPS with 36 home runs and 74 RBI in just 450 at-bats. Rookie catcher Will Smith burst on the scene with a .907 OPS and 15 home runs in just 54 games. On the mound, starter Hyun-Jin Ryu went 14-5 with a 2.32 ERA to put himself squarely in the Cy Young race. Young fireballer Walker Buehler went 14-4 with a 3.26 ERA and 215 strikeouts in 182 1/3 innings. Perennial ace Clayton Kershaw went 16-5 with a 3.03 ERA while putting to rest concerns that chronic back injuries could threaten his career.
What Went Wrong
The Dodgers were heavy favorites to reach the World Series for a third consecutive season but fell to the Nationals in the first round of the playoffs. Other than the failure to win a World Series it is hard to find fault with the loaded Dodgers roster. The bullpen is their only weakness. Closer Kenley Jansen was the best door-slammer in baseball for several years but showed signs of decline in 2019. The Dodgers don't have any other "name brand" relief pitchers, preferring to use a variety of specialists and starters-in-waiting. Catcher Russell Martin was brought in via trade to be the starting backstop and flailed to the tune of a .220 batting average with six home runs and 20 RBI on the season.
** Have we witnessed the demise of one of the game's best closers? Kenley Jansen's 33 saves were his lowest number since 2013 and he suffered a career-high eight blown saves (more than his previous two seasons combined). His 3.71 ERA was the worst of his career by a wide margin. Jansen's strikeout rate was down a bit from his career average but was still excellent at 11.43 K/9 and his fastball hasn't lost any juice, so perhaps Jansen could actually offer a nice buying opportunity. His shaky season will surely push his draft day price down, allowing fantasy owners to grab him several rounds later than in prior seasons. It wouldn't be a surprise to see the Dodgers bring in another proven closer to use alongside or instead of Jansen -- perhaps free agent Will Smith, previously of the Giants.
** Outfielder Cody Bellinger is now officially a superstar. After a phenomenal rookie season in 2017 he took a step backward as a sophomore in 2018 and consequently fell into the fourth round of most fantasy drafts last spring. He rose to the challenge and delivered a dominant performance in 2019 that guarantees he will be a sure-fire first-rounder moving forward. He is just 24 years old and is already an elite five-category fantasy beast. He won the Gold Glove for his handiwork in right field this year as well.
** Corey Seager missed nearly all of the 2018 season with an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery to fix. He was ready to go for Opening Day 2019 but given the severity of the injury it was not a surprise that he struggled over the first few weeks of the season. He regained his form through the summer and finished with a strong .817 OPS in 134 games. The 25-year-old may fly a bit under the radar in upcoming fantasy drafts despite the fact he won the Silver Slugger award as the best-hitting shortstop in the National League in both 2016 and 2017. He is likely to produce a batting average near .300 (he has a .294 career AVG) and will get plenty of run/RBI opportunities in the heart of a high-scoring Dodger lineup. We haven't seen the best of the former elite prospect yet. Shortstop is a very deep position in fantasy leagues right now, so it makes sense for fantasy owners to fill other roster positions in the early rounds of their drafts and then swoop in to snare the undervalued Seager a little bit later.
** Rookie catcher Will Smith took over as the Dodger's primary catcher in late July and was very impressive. He hit 15 home runs and plated 42 RBI in 54 games. The former first-round draft pick is not just a hitter -- he is an excellent defensive backstop as well. He is poised to become a top-10 fantasy catcher right away. Batting average could be a challenge at times, although he does know how to work a walk and can help his fantasy owners in on-base percentage.
** 21-year-old second baseman Gavin Lux put up a monster season in the minor leagues, slashing .347/.421/.607 with 26 home runs, 76 RBI, 99 runs and 10 stolen bases in 113 games split between Double-A and Triple-A. He got his feet wet with a major league call-up late in the season and struggled a bit, but fantasy owners shouldn't let that little hiccup bother them in the slightest. Lux was named Baseball America's Minor League Player of the Year and is an elite prospect who could begin the 2020 season as the Dodgers' starting second baseman. He can do it all at the plate, hitting for power and average at an All Star level.
** The Dodger rotation is faced with the likelihood of losing free agents Hyun-Jin Ryu and Rich Hill, but even if that comes to fruition they will still have one of the deepest, most-talented starting corps in the major leagues. The rotation will be anchored by veteran ace Clayton Kershaw, fireballer Walker Buehler, Kenta Maeda, Ross Stripling, Dustin May, Tony Gonsolin and Julio Urias. There is not enough room in the starting five for all of those quality hurlers, especially if the Dodgers bring back Ryu or Hill or someone from outside the organization via trade or free agency. Having that level of rotation depth is great for the Dodgers but can present fantasy owners with tricky waters to navigate. Kershaw and Buehler are the only two pitchers guaranteed to be in the rotation all year long -- the rest of them are likely to be used in the rotation and out of the bullpen at various points in the season just like they have been over the past two campaigns, which will pump the brakes on their fantasy value.
** 90 hitters across baseball reached 500 at-bats in the 2019 season, yet Cody Bellinger was the only Dodger who played enough to reach that level. The Dodgers love to mix-and-match on the offensive side of the ball, utilizing platoons and matchups on a daily basis. That leads to reduced playing time for everyone except Bellinger. Fantasy owners must be aware that Dodger hitters are highly unlikely to be among the league leaders in any fantasy hitting stats despite the fact the Dodgers are the highest-scoring team in the National League. Playing time is key in fantasy sports and Dodger hitters simply don't play as often as star players on other teams.
Team Needs: The Dodgers' most pressing need is bullpen help -- their bullpen looks weak compared to the other top teams in baseball, many of which have stockpiled elite relief arms to lock down any leads their hitters provide in the early innings. Los Angeles will likely bring in at least one proven starter to ease the burden on their cadre of highly-touted young arms. The Dodgers' starting lineup is heavily left-handed. They could use a right-handed outfielder to balance things out, perhaps free agent Marcell Ozuna. They may also make a run at Anthony Rendon to play third base, moving Justin Turner to first base and Max Muncy to second base. One thing to note -- despite their sky-high payroll the Dodgers have not signed a high-dollar free agent from outside the organization since President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman took over the team in 2014. If they bring in a star player it will likely be in a trade rather than in free agency.