Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Los Angeles Dodgers 2020 Season Preview 2.0


From Getty Images
       All eyes were on the Dodgers to start 2019, as they had come off of back-to-back World Series losses. Then, Cody Bellinger became an MVP winner, and Walker Buehler got better, plus Hyun-Jin Ryu had an ERA under 2.00 for most of the year. But, the Dodgers failed to even make into the fall classic, falling to the eventual champions, the Nationals, in the NLDS. The offseason started off with the loss of Ryu and no big acquisitions. However, they traded for former MVP winner Mookie Betts and former Cy Young winner David Price days before the start of camp. But, the Dodgers might have only traded for about 70-75 games of Betts (including postseason), and Price won't play in 2020. The trade that seemed perfect might have completely backfired, thanks to a certain virus.

       Offseason additions: OF Mookie Betts, LHP David Price, LHP Alex Wood, RHP Blake Treinen, RHP Jimmy Nelson, RHP Brusdar Graterol, OF Terrance Gore, RHP Edubray Ramos, RHP Zach McAllister.

Offseason subtractions: LHP Hyun-Jin Ryu, OF Alex Verdugo, RHP Kenta Maeda, RHP Yimi Garcia, LHP Rich Hill, C Russell Martin, RHP JT Chargois, 3B David Freese, IF Jedd Gyorko.

       Rotation
The Dodgers will have Clayton Kershaw starting on Opening Day for the 9th time, barring injury or sickness. He didn't start on Opening Day last year because of the former reason. He made his 8th all-star team, but his 3.03 ERA was the worst of his career since he was a 20 year old rookie in 2008. He struck out 189 batters in 178.1 innings, so it is good to see his strikeout rate go back up after it was below 9.0 for the first time in awhile in 2018. His 1.043 WHIP was his highest since 2010. He allowed a career high 1.4 homers per nine. Kershaw has seen a big drop in fastball velocity over the years, down to an average of 90.3 mph last year. The Dodgers have another emerging ace in 25 year old Walker Buehler. Buehler was an all-star for the first time and received Cy Young votes after striking out 215 batters in 182.1 innings with a 3.26 ERA. He had a 1.0 HR/9, very low for 2019 standards. Buehler has a 2456 rpm spin rate on his fastball and a curveball spin rate of 2915. David Price opting out will really hurt the Dodgers, as their depth will need to show. Julio Urias is still only 23, but missed almost all of 2017 and 2018 after debuting in 2016 as a 19 year old. In 37 games (eight starts), Urias had a 2.49 ERA with 85 strikeouts in 79.2 innings, with a 0.8 HR/9. Urias' greatest skill is his ability to limit hard contact. Urias allowed an average exit velocity of just 83.2 mph, and when he did allow hard contact, it was only 24.9% of the time. Alex Wood returns to the Dodgers after allowing 23 earned runs in 35.2 games over seven starts with the Reds. He was successful in four seasons with the Dodgers, capping in 2017 with a 2.72 ERA and 16 wins. Wood's change-up, which was decent in 2018 and great in 2017, failed him, with a .600 slugging against. Jimmy Nelson missed all of 2018 and most of 2019 with injuries. He had a 3.49 ERA in 29 starts in 2017 with the Brewers. Interestingly, Nelson's slider saw an increase in rpm by 262 from 2017 to 2019. Price opting-out will give top pitching prospect Dustin May a chance at the rotation, fighting with Nelson. In 14 games (four starts), May had a 3.63 ERA in 34.2 innings with a 0.5 HR/9. The 23rd best prospect in all of baseball, May has a curveball with an rpm of over 3000. Another pitching prospect, Tony Gonsolin, who is ranked by MLB Pipeline as the Dodgers' sixth best prospect in the system, will be helped by expanded rosters. He had a 2.93 ERA in 40 innings last year. His fastball has a very good rpm of 2456.

       Bullpen
The bullpen is a big question after closer Kenley Jansen had his worst season in 2019. It could be filled with lots of starters as well. Jansen had a career worst 3.71 ERA with 33 saves in 63 innings, striking out 80. Still, his 11.4 K/9 was the second worst of his career, only beating his 2018 mark. Jansen still allowed soft contact (84.6 mph average exit velocity), suggesting that his recent struggles could be a fluke. Pedro Baez has been very consistent for the Dodgers in his six season career. In 2019, He had a 3.10 ERA with 69 Ks in 69.2 innings. He has a career ERA of 3.03. Baez had career best .188 xBA last year. Joe Kelly was very inconsistent in his first season in L.A. He had a career high 10.9 K/9, but also had a 4.56 ERA in 51.1 innings. Kelly's sinker averages 98.3 mph. Swingman Ross Stripling was rumored to be in a deal that would send him and Joc Pederson to the Angels, but Halos owner Arte Moreno called it off after being annoyed with the length of the time taken for the Betts trade to be completed. In 32 games (15 starts), Stripling had a 3.47 ERA with 93 Ks in 90.2 innings. 46 of those strikeouts were with his curveball, a pitch that only allowed 18 hits all year. He has a 3.51 ERA in his four year career. Former A's closer Blake Treinen had a 0.78 ERA with 38 saves over 80.1 innings in 2018. Nothing went right for him last year, as he had a career high 4.91 ERA with 59 Ks in 58.1 innings. Treinen's sinker could be to blame, as Treinen saw the slugging against the pitch go up by 197 points. He comes in on a low risk, potentially high reward, one year deal. The last three spots on a 26-man roster are up for grabs with Nelson likely getting one and Gonsolin in on another. The team will likely carry only one of Adam Kolarek and Scott Alexander, but both to start. Both are lefties that will be hurt by the three batter minimum rule. In 28 games last year, Alexander had a 3.63 ERA in 17.1 innings. He is dependent on his sinker, throwing the pitch 88.8% of the time last year. The pitches he threw the other 11.2% did not allow a hit. After coming over at the deadline from Tampa Bay, Kolarek had a 0.77 ERA in 11.2 innings. The contact that Kolarek allows isn't good, as he had a great .329 xwOBACON last year. Both Kolarek and Alexander struck out nine batters with the Dodgers. Dylan Floro pitched in 50 games last year, with a 4.24 ERA. He had a 2.25 ERA in 64 innings in 2018. Caleb Ferguson struck out 54 batters over 44.2 innings with a 4.84 ERA. The lefty has a curveball with a 3023 rpm spin rate.

       Catchers
The Dodgers and their fans got jiggy with rookie catcher Will Smith. He hit 15 home runs in 54 games with a .907 OPS. Smith has good speed for a catcher, with a sprint speed of 27.6 ft/s. Even with Smith in the fold, the Dodgers will not trade top catching prospect Keibert Ruiz, who could debut in 2020. Austin Barnes was great in 2017, but has been awful at the plate since. In 75 games last year, Barnes hit .203 with a .633 OPS and five home runs. With a pop time to second of 2.09 seconds, Barnes isn't great at throwing runners out.

       Infielders
Max Muncy almost copied his surprise 2018 season, hitting exactly 35 home runs again. He finished exactly 15th in MVP voting once again, this time with an all-star appearance. However, his .889 OPS was a big drop-off from his .973 mark in 2018. Muncy walks a lot, with a 15.3% walk rate. Gavin Lux will be the biggest prospect to play in 2020, with Wander Franco years away. MLB Pipeline's 2nd best prospect in the league, Lux hit two home runs, stole two bases and had a .705 OPS in 20 MLB games late last year. He had a .347 average and 1.028 OPS in AA and AAA last year. Corey Seager is still the Dodgers shortstop, although I personally would shop him for a superstar like Francisco Lindor. He hit 19 home runs with 44 doubles last year, the latter tied for the league high. He had an .817 OPS which is good but a little underwhelming after his last full season of 2017. Seager is an underrated defender, with five outs above average last year. Justin Turner has only made one all-star team, but he is the heart and soul of the team. He hit 27 home runs with a .290 average and an .881 OPS in 135 games last year. He was even willing to change positions if the team could sign Anthony Rendon in free agency (they couldn't). Turner is not the fastest guy, but he can get on base (.372 OBP) and can play good defense (4 outs above average). Utility infielder Enrique "Kike" Hernandez can also play center field. He hit 17 home runs in 130 games, but he had a very low .715 OPS. In his rookie season, Matt Beaty hit nine home runs with five stolen bases and a .775 OPS. He can play first base and left field. Beaty hits the ball decently hard, with an average exit velocity of 89.4 mph. Edwin Rios, a corner infielder who debuted in 2019, hit four home runs with a .277 average and a 1.010 OPS in 28 games last year.

       Outfielders
While the addition of Betts is exciting, he is not even the Dodgers' best outfielder. Cody Bellinger won his first MVP, as well as a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger, while hitting 47 home runs with 15 stolen bases, a .305 average and a 1.035 OPS, making him a bona fide superstar. Bellinger's expected batting average (.323) and slugging (.638) were even better than his actual numbers. For a guy that came into the league mostly as a first baseman, Bellinger is very surprisingly fast (28.8 ft/s sprint speed) and a great fielder (8 outs above average). Betts, the 2018 AL MVP, had a down year for his standards, with 29 home runs, 16 stolen bases (almost half of his 2018 total), a .295 average and .915 OPS. He won his fourth consecutive Gold Glove and third Silver Slugger in those four years. Betts still had a .311 xBA, better than his career average. The Dodgers will move either Betts or Bellinger, both right fielders, to center. Joc Pederson was insane at the Home Run Derby, and hit a career high 36 home runs while in Bellinger's shadow. His .249 average and .876 OPS were also career highs. Pederson had an average exit velocity of 90.9 mph. The DH rule in the National League will remove Pederson from the outfield, and prevent AJ Pollock from being the best and most expensive fourth outfielder in the league. Signed prior to 2019 to a four year, $55 million deal with an option, Pollock hit 15 home runs with five stolen bases and a .795 OPS last year. He has an .804 OPS in his career. Pollock had a career best average exit velocity of 90.5 mph. Chris Taylor can also play second base and shortstop. He hit 12 home runs with eight stolen bases and a .794 OPS last year. Contrary to Pollock, Taylor's exit velocity was at an all-time low, at 85.2 mph.

       Projected Opening Day Lineup
RF Mookie Betts (R)
LF Cody Bellinger (L)
1B Max Muncy (L)
3B Justin Turner (R)
DH Joc Pederson (L)
C Will Smith (R)
SS Corey Seager (L)
CF AJ Pollock (R)
2B Gavin Lux (L)

        Projected Rotation
Clayton Kershaw (L)
Walker Buehler (R)
Julio Urias (L)
Alex Wood (L)
Dustin May (R)

       Projected Bullpen
Kenley Jansen, closer (R)
Pedro Baez (R)
Joe Kelly (R)
Blake Treinen (R)
Ross Stripling (R)
Adam Kolarek (L)
Tony Gonsolin (R)
Scott Alexander (L)
Jimmy Nelson (R)
Dylan Floro (R)
Caleb Ferguson (L)

       Projected Bench
C Austin Barnes (R)
UT Kike Hernandez (R)
UT Chris Taylor (R)
1B/LF Matt Beaty (L)
1B/3B Edwin Rios (L)

Baseball-Reference OOTP Simulator Stats
70-23 record, 1st in NL West
Most home runs: Cody Bellinger (29)
Highest batting average: Cody Bellinger (.301)
Highest OPS: Cody Bellinger (1.050)
Best ERA, starters: Walker Buehler (2.16)
Best ERA, relievers: Kenley Jansen (1.73)
Most innings pitched: Clayton Kershaw (128.2)
Most strikeouts: Walker Buehler (160)
Best K/9: Caleb Ferguson (14.0)

Record through 60 games, last five seasons:
2019: 41-19
2018: 30-30
2017: 35-25
2016: 32-28
2015: 35-25

       Prediction
The Dodgers look even more stacked than before. While Price won't play, Betts is a very big addition to an already great lineup. The Dodgers still have a great farm system too, with guys like Smith, Lux, May and Gonsolin debuting in 2019 and looking for a bigger role in 2020. For the 8th year in a row, the Dodgers will win the NL West in 2020.

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