Last Updated: 2019-03-04
Maybe the third time is the charm. The Los Angeles Dodgers lost the World Series in seven games in 2017 and five games in 2018. There are certainly a lot of reasons to expect them to be back in a position to make it to the Fall Classic in 2019, including a stacked lineup and a solid pitching staff. There is a strong case to be made that the path to the postseason will be easier this time around as well.
The Dodgers were actually the unluckiest team in baseball last season. They weren’t going to catch Boston for home field, so that part was irrelevant, but they may not have had to win Game 7 in Milwaukee. Maybe the series wouldn’t have gone seven games. It could have made a difference. We’ll never know, but Los Angeles was -10 from a Pythagorean Win-Loss standpoint, which was the biggest discrepancy in the league.
We often wonder how much of an impact managers actually have on the outcomes of games. It is something that is exceptionally hard to quantify. Quite frankly, it is an inexact science. There are a lot of people that aren’t exactly sold on Dave Roberts and his decision making. Maybe the Pyth W/L gap is evidence of that. Maybe the postseason was evidence of that.
Whatever the case, the Dodgers aren’t going away as far as playoff teams go. They appear to be the class of the division and could very well be the class of the National League. More often than not, I don’t like to bet on teams that are going to be really good or really bad. The market on teams that could swing either way is a lot less efficient. The Dodgers will be good. The Indians will be good. The Yankees and Red Sox will be good. To me, I rarely find a lot of equity in betting how good or how bad a team will be. It’s a matter of degree. Sometimes it’s a question of how much pressure there is from the teams down below. With all win totals, injuries can leave a bet dead in the water, but the good teams generally have the depth to withstand them, depending on the injury and the player.
Some injuries on good teams would be tougher to overcome, like a Clayton Kershaw or a Justin Turner. Oh, wait, the Dodgers did that last season and still won 92 games. They even excelled without Corey Seager for the majority of the year.
Then again, this is a team that had to go 13-4 over its last 17 games just to get into that one-game tiebreaker against Colorado and avoid the Wild Card Game, where anything can happen. Over 162 games, the best tend to shine, but the Dodgers started the year 16-26. Over their last 121 games, they were 76-45. That slow start was enough to keep the Dodgers under their win total last season, even though they played at a .628 clip for more than three-quarters of the season.
It isn’t as easy as it seems for good teams to be really good. Things happen. Adversity pops up. Hurdles get in the way. The Dodgers underachieved relative to their season win total expectations and still won the division and won the NL pennant. It’s hard to find value betting season-long propositions with something like that.
However, that doesn’t mean that we can’t uncover some under the right circumstances. Are these the right circumstances?
Season Win Total Odds
2018 Standings Data
Actual Record: 92-71
Run Differential: +194
Pythagorean W/L: 102-61
BaseRuns Record: 101-62
BaseRuns Run Differential: +192 (5.03/3.85)
3rd Order Win% Record: 105.3-57.7
Record in One-Run Games: 22-22
Additions: AJ Pollock, Russell Martin, Joe Kelly, Jeter Downs, Paulo Orlando, Shane Peterson, Cameron Perkins, Ezequiel Carrera, Josiah Gray, Jaime Schultz, Adam McCreery, Kevin Quackenbush, JD Martin, Josh Smoker, Josh Thole
Losses: Yasmani Grandal, Brian Dozier, Manny Machado, John Axford, Daniel Hudson, Ryan Madson, Manny Banuelos, Tim Locastro, Kyle Farmer, Matt Kemp, Yasiel Puig, Alex Wood, Caleb Sampen, Ronny Brito, Andrew Sopko, Tom Koehler, Chase Utley
The Dodgers made a lot of moves over the winter, but the team is pretty much on par with what we saw from last year’s group. AJ Pollock moves into the outfield to replace Matt Kemp/Yasiel Puig. Russell Martin is back with the Dodgers to back up Austin Barnes and replace Yasmani Grandal. Joe Kelly replaces the bullpen losses and represents an upgrade.
Guys like Brian Dozier and Manny Machado were simply rental pieces anyway. The core of the team is effectively the same. The only players like to make the Opening Day roster that weren’t there last season are Pollock, Martin, and Kelly.
There was a lot of talk with the Dodgers offseason. They were interested in Corey Kluber and were also one of the teams in the Bryce Harper negotiations. One “addition” is the return of Corey Seager, who missed last season with Tommy John surgery. That’s a pretty good player to get back.
BA: .250 (14th)
OBP: .333 (5th)
SLG: .442 (3rd)
wOBA: .333 (3rd)
wRC+: 111 (1st)
BABIP: .294 (14th)
K%: 22.6% (17th)
BB%: 10.2% (1st)
The Dodgers were first in walk rate and second in home runs. That’s my kind of offense right there. Ten players hit at least 13 home runs for the Dodgers last season. A few of them are gone, as Yasmani Grandal, Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp, and Manny Machado are in new places.
Even still, the core of the Dodgers is extremely strong and a talented player like AJ Pollock has been added to the mix. As you would expect on a team with a payroll approaching $200 million, Max Muncy led the position players in fWAR with 5.2. He slashed .263/.391/.582 with a .407 wOBA and a 162 wRC+. Justin Turner wasn’t far behind on offense with a .312/.406/.518 slash, a .396 wOBA, and a 154 wRC+.
It seems like Cody Bellinger barely scratched the surface last season. Bellinger was an iron man, playing in all 162 games with a .260/.343/.470 slash and a 120 wRC+. He actually hit 39 HR in just 548 plate appearances in his rookie 2017 campaign with a .380 wOBA and a 138 wRC+. He should be better this time around. Chris Taylor should also be better after going from a .361 wOBA and a 126 wRC+ in 2017 to a .335 wOBA and a 113 wRC+ in 2018. His K% spiked 4.5 percent and his batting average fell 34 points.
Corey Seager, who posted wRC+ marks of 136 and 127 in 2016 and 2017, was limited to just 26 games and 115 plate appearances before going under the knife. He was worth 7.0 fWAR in 2016 and 5.9 fWAR in 2017. Now he’s back. Enrique Hernandez posted a 118 wRC+ in a super utility role. Top prospect Alex Verdugo will get more playing time. Pollock, who has a career .281/.338/.467 slash, will bat high in the order.
Let’s add that all up. Bellinger, Taylor, and Seager all underachieved or missed significant time and the Dodgers were still first in wRC+ and third in wOBA. The drop-off from Grandal to Austin Barnes could be pretty noticeable, but this is a Dodgers lineup that could be even better than last season’s version that was top five in several key statistical categories.
You won’t find many lineups with this kind of depth or balance.
ERA: 3.40 (2nd)
FIP: 3.60 (2nd)
xFIP: 3.52 (2nd)
K%: 25.7% (3rd)
BB%: 6.9% (3rd)
LOB%: 76.2% (2nd)
For good measure, the Dodgers finished in the top three in all of the pitching categories. This season is off to an inauspicious start with Clayton Kershaw shut down in Spring Training because of a lack of velocity, but the Dodgers can certainly overcome the loss of one of their top-five pitchers.
Obviously it would help to have Kershaw, who still led the team in fWAR last season, but only had 3.5 per the FanGraphs calculations in 161.1 innings of work. He posted a 2.73 ERA with a 3.19 FIP and xFIP. It was Kershaw’s lowest fWAR since his rookie year in 2008. He also had his lowest K rate since 2013. This is a situation that merits following, as the Dodgers may be without him for some time early in the year. He did experience a big fastball velocity decrease last season that was already a bright, red flag. To counteract the velo loss, Kershaw went heavier with the slider, which does carry an increased injury risk.
Fortunately, my NL Cy Young pick, Walker Buehler, is ready to pick up the load. Buehler posted a 2.62 ERA with a 3.04 FIP and a 3.21 xFIP in 137.1 innings of work. He checked all the boxes with a GB% of 50 percent and well over a strikeout per inning. He’s also on a great team to get the requisite wins to be in the discussion with all voters. He was also dominant in the playoffs, much to my chagrin, as that performance took away some Cy Young value.
Buehler didn’t start with the Dodgers and missed some time in June. After a failed relief outing on June 28, he returned to the rotation full-time on July 13. He had a 2.12 ERA with a 3.28 FIP and a 3.22 xFIP and a 97/25 K/BB ratio in those 85 innings.
The concerning thing for the Dodgers about Kershaw’s injury is that Buehler is the only likely bet to stay healthy. Hyun-Jin Ryu, Rich Hill, and Kenta Maeda all come with their fair share of concerns. Maeda threw 125.1 innings, Hill threw 132.2, and Ryu managed just 82.1. All three were really good when they were out there, but they weren’t out there a whole lot.
Here’s the fun part, though. Ross Stripling posted a 3.02/3.42/2.99 pitcher slash in 122 innings with 21 starts and 12 relief outings. Julio Urias is back this season and the Dodgers also have guys like Brock Stewart, Caleb Ferguson, and Dennis Santana in reserve. There is a lot of pitching depth within this organization. It looks like it will need to be accessed again, but at least it’s there.
The bullpen is solid behind Kenley Jansen. Jansen had some bumps in the road last season as well. He worked 69 times over 71.2 innings, but he wasn’t nearly as dominant as usual with a 3.01 ERA, but a 4.03 FIP. Pedro Baez was actually the most reliable reliever in his 56.1 innings with a great home run rate and a lot of strikeouts. Joe Kelly will slot into a setup role for the Dodgers and deepen a bullpen that has some really good assets in Dylan Floro, Scott Alexander, Tony Cingrani, and potentially Caleb Ferguson, if he isn’t stretched out as a starter. With Jansen likely to bounce back, this is a really good, but not great, bullpen.
Positives & Negatives
The Dodgers really have the chance to dominate in this division. The Rockies are solid, but the Diamondbacks are rebuilding, the Giants are a tough sell, and the Padres, despite the addition of Manny Machado, are still missing pieces, especially on the pitching side. Los Angeles should get more than halfway to the season win total just from division games. Los Angeles won 45 games against the division last season and really could have done better, including a 10-9 record against the Giants despite a +29 run differential.
The Kershaw injury really is a big negative. With Maeda, Ryu, and Hill all under the “high risk” category, the Dodgers may have to start tapping into that depth sooner rather than later. It won’t affect the Dodgers’ ability to make the playoffs, but we are talking about a very high season win total line.
Pick: Over 94.5
This team, in a lot of ways, is better than last year’s team. Sure, last year’s team won just 92 games, but underachieved by 10 games per Pythagorean Win-Loss and nine games by BaseRuns. This was a much better team than the final record would indicate. After the slow start with a 26-30 record through the month of May, this team took off and played more like the one that we expected.
I’m not big on the Rockies or the Padres for this season. The Dodgers look head, shoulders, knees, and toes above the rest of the division, as long as the players on the roster are able to keep their heads, shoulders, knees, toes, and other body parts healthy enough. A big reason why I can make this call, in spite of the obvious injury risk, is that the Dodgers are loaded with depth and still have the currency to trade for more if they need it over the course of the season.
This is an over team through and through.
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