Saturday, March 6, 2021

Los Angeles Dodgers 2021 Season Preview


        You can hate them all you want, but the Dodgers are the perfectly run team. Not only are they complete everywhere, but they never cheap out, and have been able to maintain success for a decade, something that every other team in baseball has failed to do. Finally, they were rewarded with a World Series, but of course Justin Turner and Kevin Cash made sure the game wasn't controversial. Because they are such a progressive organization, even after extending Mookie Betts, the Dodgers brought in reigning Cy Young winner Trevor Bauer, giving him $40 million this year, and $45 million in 2022. 

Offseason additions: RHP Trevor Bauer, RHP Corey Knebel, RHP Tommy Kahnle, LHP Garrett Cleavinger, RHP Brandon Morrow. 

Offseason subtractions: OF Joc Pederson, IF Enrique Hernandez, RHP Dylan Floro, LHP Jake McGee, LHP Adam Kolarek, RHP Pedro Baez, LHP Alex Wood.

Trade Deadline 2020 summary

Acquired: None

Traded: RHP Ross Stripling

2020 record: 43-17

2020 placement: 1st

2020 WAR leader (batter): Mookie Betts

2020 WAR leader (pitcher): Clayton Kershaw

Starting Pitchers

While people have been debating who the Dodgers ace is, the correct answer is still Clayton Kershaw. While the Dodgers had great seasons out of all of their starters, Kershaw was still the best, with a 2.16 ERA and 62 strikeouts in 58.1 innings. Kershaw's 53.3 groundball percentage was his highest in the Statcast era, and his fastball had 2.7 inches of vertical movement above the average. He walked just eight batters all season. Walker Buehler has elite spin rates on his pitches, with his curveball averaging over 3000 rpm, and his fastball over 2500. Buehler struck out 42 batters with a 0.955 WHIP in 36.2 innings. Batters hit .102 against Buehler's fastball, and had a 50% whiff rate against his curveball. It's not good for the rest of the league that Trevor Bauer is the Dodgers' third starter. Bauer had a 1.73 ERA with 100 strikeouts in 73 innings, while allowing just 41 hits for a league leading 5.1 H/9. Hitters had an xSLG of just .287 against Bauer, while his fastball's spin rate mysteriously grew to an elite 2776 rpm, from 2412 in 2019. The Dodgers were able to get such a good deal for Mookie Betts because they took on David Price's contract. They didn't even have to pay Price last year, as he opted-out of the season. Price is signed through 2022, earning $32 million in each season. Price struck out 128 batters in 107.1 innings for Boston in 2019, but he had a 4.28 ERA. When we last saw him in action, Price's fastball continued to dip in velocity, down to 91.9 mph. The Dodgers have three pitchers fighting for the fifth starter role that are all good enough to be third starters. The favorite is Julio Urias, a 24 year old lefty who closed out the World Series for Los Angeles. Urias had a 3.27 ERA with 45 strikeouts in 55 innings, limiting batters to a 28.6% hard hit percentage. Batters hit under .200 against both his fastball and curveball. Dustin May has an elite sinker that had an average velocity of 97.9 mph, with a ton of horizontal movement. May had a 2.57 ERA in 56 innings, but with only 44 strikeouts, which is a surprise considering his amazing stuff. He allowed just 7.2 hits per nine innings. 

Relief Pitchers

For the 10th season in a row, Kenley Jansen will be the closer of the Dodgers. Jansen struck out 33 batters in 24.1 innings with 11 saves and a 3.33 ERA in 2020. Jansen also had a 2.83 xERA, a .187 xBA against and an average exit velocity of 82.7 mph. He was also the league leader in hard hit percentage, at just 14%. 25 year old Victor Gonzalez had an amazing rookie season, allowing just three runs in 20.1 innings for a 1.33 ERA. Gonzalez struck out 23 and walked two, and allowed 13 hits for a 0.738 WHIP. He didn't allow a barrel all season, and batters had a .235 xSLG and a .197 wOBA against Gonzalez. Brusdar Graterol averaged 99.3 mph on his sinker, despite never looking like he was trying. Graterol had a 3.09 ERA in 23.1 innings, while batters went 1-for-21 against his slider. Despite struggling to get swing-and-misses, Graterol walked just 3.4% of batters. The only thing that people will remember about Joe Kelly's 2020 season are the faces that he made to Carlos Correa, which got him suspended for a good portion of the season. Kelly pitched well in the 10 innings he did appear in, with a 1.80 ERA and nine strikeouts, with an average fastball velocity of 97.3 mph. Blake Treinen rebounded well after a weak 2019 season, as he threw his slider more, and limited batters to an 84.8 mph exit velocity. Treinen also allowed just one barrel all season. Batters had a .308 xSLG against him. Lefty Caleb Ferguson had a 2.89 ERA while striking out 27 in 18.1 innings. Ferguson had a BB% of just 4 percent, and his .213 xwOBA and 1.92 xERA were second in the league to Devin Williams of the Brewers. The 24 year old limited batters to a .160 xBA. Corey Knebel had 214 strikeouts in 131.1 innings for the Brewers from 2017-2018, but missed all of 2019 and a lot of 2020 with Tommy John surgery. In his return last year, Knebel had a 6.08 ERA with 15 strikeouts in 13.1 innings, while his fastball velocity was down to 94.3 mph. Tony Gonsolin has a 2.60 ERA in 86.2 career innings, but he may not even make the team. Out of the rotation last year, Gonsolin had a 2.31 ERA and a 4 BB%. Two lefties with a fighting chance at the roster are Scott Alexander and Alex Vesia. Alexander had a 2.92 ERA in 12.1 innings last year, while Vesia allowed nine earned runs in 4.1 innings for the Marlins, but has a 1.62 ERA and 138 strikeouts in 100 minor league innings. 


After a .907 OPS in a 54 game rookie season, Will Smith was able to top that in 2020. Smith hit eight home runs with a .289 average and a .980 OPS. Smith walked 14.6% of the time, with a .293 xBA and a .539 xSLG. He had an average exit velocity of 95.3 mph against fastballs. Austin Barnes had the honor of getting the hit to knock Blake Snell out of World Series game six. But, hitting isn't even why Barnes is on the roster. He is a really good pitch framer, and walked 12.5% of the time, which is fine for a backup catcher. Offensively, Barnes had a .667 OPS. We could see more of top catching prospect Keibert Ruiz in 2021. Ruiz debuted in 2020, appearing in two games. 


Max Muncy had his first bad season as a Dodger, hitting 12 home runs with a .192 average and a .720 OPS. But, you can draw this up as bad luck, as Muncy had a .203 BABIP, which is really hard to do. He lowered his strikeout rate to 24.2%, and raised his walk rate to 15.7%. Muncy is a really bad defender, with -6 outs above average, and -5 at first base. The Dodgers saw Enrique Hernandez leave for Boston, so utility man Chris Taylor will primarily play at second, but he can play a lot of other positions as well. Taylor was actually second on the team in WAR in 2020, hitting .270 with an .842 OPS. Taylor walked 12.1% of the time, had a 28.4 ft/s sprint speed and two outs above average. One of the many star shortstops hitting the free agent market after 2021 is Corey Seager, who finally regained the production he had when he won Rookie of the Year. Seager hit 15 home runs with a .307 average and a .943 OPS. He also had a 93.2 mph average exit velocity, and a 55.9% hard hit percentage. Seager won both NLCS and World Series MVP, going 17-for-49 with seven home runs combined. It took a little bit, but Justin Turner returned to the Dodgers. He had another nice season last year, with a .307 average and an .860 OPS. His power did drop-off, with just four home runs in 42 games. He had a .295 xBA and a .544 xSLG. Gavin Lux entered 2020 as one of baseball's top prospects, but was really disappointing in 19 games, going 11-for-63 with a .596 OPS. He hit .392 with a 1.197 OPS in AAA in 2019, so he can hit. Corner infielder Edwin Rios showed that he could be a starting third baseman for another team, hitting eight home runs with a .946 OPS in 32 games. Rios hit just .143 against breaking balls, but had a 95.7 average exit velocity against them. Matt Beaty had a .638 OPS in 21 games, and he really struggled against right-handers as a lefty bat. Sheldon Neuse also has a chance at the roster after coming over from Oakland via trade. 


You could make a really good argument that the Dodgers have the two best outfielders in baseball outside of Mike Trout. Mookie Betts spent just about all of 2020 in right field, except for one game at second base. He stole 10 bases with 16 home runs and a .927 OPS. Betts also had a .281 xBA and five outs above average in right. Considering he started his career at first base (and still plays there sometimes), it will never not be weird to me that Cody Bellinger has elite speed and is a great defender. While his 12 home runs and .789 OPS was disappointing, he had a 28.6 ft/s sprint speed, and a league leading 11 outs above average. Three of those came at first base, and the other eight were from center field. AJ Pollock is a really good baseball player, but we forget that sometimes, considering who his teammates in the outfield are. Pollock hit 16 home runs with an .881 OPS, while splitting time between left and center field. He had a .499 xSLG while hitting .319 against fastballs. After Joc Pederson and Hernandez left, the outfield depth did thin a little bit in Los Angeles, but Taylor can play outfield, and so can Zach McKinstry, a 25 year old utilityman. McKinstry debuted in 2020, appearing in four games. Between AA and AAA in 2019, he hit 19 home runs with eight stolen bases, a .300 average and an .882 OPS. He had a 1.174 OPS in AAA. 

Projected Rotation
Clayton Kershaw (L)
Walker Buehler (R)
Trevor Bauer (R)
David Price (L)
Julio Urias (L)

Projected Bullpen
Kenley Jansen (R)
Victor Gonzalez (L)
Brusdar Graterol (R)
Caleb Ferguson (L)
Blake Treinen (R)
Dustin May (R)
Tony Gonsolin (R)
Joe Kelly (R)
Corey Knebel (R)

Projected Lineup
RF Mookie Betts (R)
CF Cody Bellinger (L)
SS Corey Seager (L)
3B Justin Turner (R)
1B Max Muncy (L)
C Will Smith (R)
LF AJ Pollock (R)
2B Chris Taylor (R)

Projected Bench
C Austin Barnes (R)
IF Gavin Lux (L)
IF Edwin Rios (L)
UT Zach McKinstry (L)


Yeah, this team is good. It has been a really long time since we have seen a team this good, and while the Padres made a valiant effort to get better, the Dodgers are still better. For the ninth year in a row, the Dodgers will win the NL West in 2021. 

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