2018 Season Preview: Los Angeles Dodgers

This piece is part of the Replacement Level 2018 Team Preview Series. An introduction to the series, as well as a brief explanation of the projections used, can be found here.

2017 Review

Record

Pythag Record

BaseRuns Record

Runs Scored

Runs Against

104-58

102-60

101-61

770

580

The Dodgers were an amazing team in 2017. For four months, Los Angeles won games at an amazing pace, leading many to wonder if they were the best team ever. Then September happened. The Dodgers began dropping games left and right, losing 15 of 16 games at one point, highlighted by a ten-game losing streak. They rebounded, of course, making it to Game 7 of an unforgettable World Series and ultimately losing to an Astros team that jumped out early and refused to make mistakes.

As one would expect of a 104-win team, the Dodgers had no real weakness last year. Combined with an insanely deep pitching staff, the Dodgers’ liberal use of the 10-day DL allowed their pitching staff to stay healthy and effective, finishing with the third-most WAR (24.3) in baseball. The defense and offense were equally impressive, finishing top five in the league in team defense, wRC+, and BB%.

Offseason in Review:

Key Additions – Scott Alexander, Matt Kemp?

Attempting to stay under the luxury tax and prepare for the next year’s onslaught of free agents, the Dodgers were relatively quiet this offseason. Scott Alexander was added in a bizarre, five-player, three-team trade. Alexander slots in as the Dodgers best lefty in the pen, coming off a league-best 73.8 GB%. While he walks too many, this elite groundball rate allows Alexander to escape unscathed from most innings. Kemp should warm the bench until the Dodgers manage to find a way to dump him.

Key Losses – Matt Kemp, Brandon Morrow, Yu Darvish, Tony Watson

You might notice that Matt Kemp is on both the additions and losses list, because while the Dodgers did technically gain the rights to Kemp, this is more of a loss to the organization. While they hoped to flip him – perhaps also giving up a prospect in the process – their old friend now seems to be stuck. He’ll take up space and provide horrible defense, as an old Kemp is wont to do. Morrow and Watson join him are key relief components leaving the roster, two effective options who will be sorely missed. Like Watson, Darvish was added at the trade deadline, helping the team get to the World Series before his Game Seven collapse.

2018 Projections

ZiPS

Steamer

Pecota

96-66

92-70

97-65

ZiPS and Pecota are in agreement on the Dodgers being one of the best teams in baseball again this year. Steamer is a bit lower on a few key players, though, being especially bearish on 1B Cody Bellinger (2.6 sWAR vs. 4.4 zWAR). All three sources see the Dodgers maintaining their dominance over the NL West in 2018.

Key Players:

When healthy, Clayton Kershaw is still the best pitcher in baseball. Continued back issues plagued Kershaw in 2017, “limiting” him to 175 innings and his worst FIP (3.07) since 2010, almost a run higher than the past three seasons. While Kershaw is the clear leader of the injury-riddled pitching staff, the offense contains several cornerstones. Corey Seager put up 13.1 WAR in his first two seasons at the ripe ages of 22 and 23. Seager looks the part of a complete hitter, mixing in above-average defense at SS to boot; he might miss a few weeks to start the season, but he will be in MVP contention if healthy all year. Joining Seager on the left side of the Dodger infield is Justin Turner. An early proponent of the fly-ball movement, Turner’s added power morphed him from a guy with elite bat skills and plate discipline to one of the better hitters in the league. He’s deceptively old (33 last November), but should maintain his status for another year or two before his average defense starts to drop off. This section could go on for 500 more words, as Cody Bellinger, Yasiel Puig, Chris Taylor, and Rich Hill all possess great skill sets, giving the Dodgers an extremely high floor and enviable depth.

Key Minor League 2018 Impacts:

The Dodgers have maintained a good farm system, even with perennial trades to improve the pitching staff for playoff pushes. Walker Buehler returned from Tommy John surgery in 2017 and should make an impact in the big leagues this year with an electric mix of pitches, led by a blazing fastball and tantalizing curveball. When the Dodgers get a few of their inevitable SP injuries Buehler should be ready to step in. Likely joining Buehler at some point is OF Alex Verdugo; performing well in AAA last year, Verdugo could add more power to his profile, though some scouts are skeptical. In the low minors, the Dodgers hope to see more from Cuban Omar Estevez and Dominican Starling Heredia, as both were signed to huge bonuses in 2015 and have failed to live up to expectations thus far.

Future Outlook:

The Dodgers’ future still shines bright. 2018 should see the Dodgers playing as one of the best teams in baseball again, led by All-Stars Kershaw, Seager, and Turner. With only $95 million committed in 2019, they have even more financial flexibility moving forward after this season. Kershaw will need to be re-signed, but the team looks primed to compete for at least one of the other elite free agents this coming offseason. These expensive players are all in play thanks to the Dodgers’ young, cost-controlled core of Seager, Bellinger, etc. The farm has thinned a bit over the last few years, but looks to continue promoting interesting players like Buehler. Don’t expect any drastic changes at the top of the NL West anytime soon.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s