The Dodgers Are Good Enough to Win the 2020 World Series

Baseball is a long season. 162 games and it then all comes down to winning 11 postseason games or 12 in the case of the Washington Nationals. We are about one month until Spring Training, and I’m here to tell you that the current Dodgers roster as is can compete for a World Series!

The 2019 Dodgers regular season was an absolute thrill ride led by a roster that appeared to be one of the greatest in the entire history of the franchise. The Dodgers steam rolled through the rest of the National League competition, along with no team in the division even coming close to challenging the Dodgers. It had appeared that the Dodgers would have minimal to zero question marks entering the postseason. Unfortunately the 106 win team was stunned by the Washington Nationals in a major NLDS upset. Despite what has felt to be the longest offseason in quite some time, Dodgers fans should not be discouraged but actually optimistic about the 2020 season. Let’s not forget this team was cheated out of back-to-back World Series titles and nearly the entire core remains in tact with the addition of one of the strongest farm systems in baseball. Fans have been clamoring for the Dodgers to make a “big move” all offseason, and while they have come up short in some instances, they still have the best constructed team in the National League and are perfectly capable of matching up with the New York Yankees (who are considered the favorites to win the AL Pennant). While, the Dodgers offense certainly disappointed in the NLDS, the talent was there and the players put the team in a position to win the game. The Dodgers were up 3-0 in Game 5, and it actually boiled down to poor managerial decisions. This felt more obvious even before the series began when Dave Roberts announced Clayton Kershaw would be the Game 2 starter, so that Kershaw could be available in a Game 5 scenario, which obviously backfired. The problem was Roberts, and he failed by managing this series as if it was going to go 5 to begin with — instead of going with the obvious move of starting MLB ERA leader Hyun-Jin Ryu who was more equipped of matching up with Strasburg.

Many people feel that the Dodgers are built to just win in the regular season, but after analyzing the upcoming 2020 roster…hopefully some of you will feel different.

The Starting Infield:

The Dodgers infield is absolutely loaded. When we work our way around the diamond by starting at first base, it is safe to say Max Muncy will put up another monster season. After making his first All-Star team, MLB Network has projected Muncy to be the 2nd best 1st baseman in baseball just behind Freddie Freeman of the Atlanta Braves. I will be using FanGraphs ZiPS projections for most of my analysis. They have Muncy finishing with a 3.8 WAR, 132 OPS+, plus 29 HRs and 92 RBIs. Muncy was an absolute monster against the Nationals and had a big walk-off Home Run in the 2018 World Series against the cheating Red Sox, so you have to feel good with him near the top of the lineup. Sliding in over at second base should be the rookie Gavin Lux who has a legitimate chance to be the NL Rookie of the Year. After just a limited sample size in 2019, Lux is projected to hit 21 Home Runs, 25 Doubles, and drive in 79 runs at only the age of 22. If Lux can come near the level of production then no doubt he will be in the conversation as the top rookie in baseball. Shortstop Corey Seager is projected to nearly replicate his 2019 campaign, which I feel that the projection models are playing it safe because the numbers he put up were very impressive for an athlete coming off two surgeries and missing nearly an entire season. Seager was tied for the NL lead in doubles and is expected to put up a 3.7 WAR with a defensive rating of 4 (Bellinger is expected to put up a 6, while Turner is projected at a 1 for perspective). Having Seager in the everyday lineup will always be a boost, and Seager is about to enter the prime of his career. Mr. NLDS as I like to call him, Justin Turner, returns for the final year of his contract with the Dodgers, and you have to believe he will be playing with a chip on his shoulder to prove to all the teams out there that he still has plenty left in the tank. However, Turner is projected to regress down to 19 HRs and 66 RBIs with a 3.3 WAR. The overall OPS+ of 124 is still expected to align with Joc Pederson, but the dip in Home Runs from 27 down to 19 is certainly interesting. Finally behind the plate is the young catcher Will Smith who dazzled upon entering the scene but then completely fizzled out in September and the entire postseason. FanGraphs is not high on Will Smith, the catcher is projected to hit just .234 with a lower OBP and defensive rating than Austin Barnes. However, the power numbers are very encouraging as they expect 24 Home Runs and 77 RBIs. If Smith can put up those numbers then the Dodgers will be at a good spot with the catching position.

The Starting Outfield:

If you were attending a music festival then the headliner is without a doubt Cody Bellinger. The reigning NL MVP is expected to continue his run with a 6.2 WAR, 157 OPS+ made up of 40 Home Runs and 120 RBIs. The Gold Glove winner will seeing the majority of his playing time out in center and right field. It’s time for Bellinger to start consistently performing in the postseason. Joc Pederson is the next guy to mention, who will be used in his usual platoon role. Pederson projects at a .340 OBP with a .513 SLG% and 27 Home Runs, which is closer to his 2018 production. Alex Verdugo was one of the catalysts in the Dodgers lineup last season. Just as he was proving to be an every day OF, Verdugo’s season was cut short due to a lingering back injury and unfortunately one of the leading question marks entering the season will be if Verdugo’s back has fully healed up.

With just a projected 476 plate appearances, which is still slightly more than Pederson but somehow less than Chris Taylor, it is better for Verdugo to take his time rather than to rush back onto the field, but the .341 OBP would be a nice addition and certainly could be much higher. Lastly comes A.J. Pollock, who is a bust at this point in time, but hopefully he’s determined to justify why the Dodgers signed him and is still only age 32. Pollock is projected to hit .255 with a 1.5 WAR. The Dodgers might have a log jam in the outfield, which is never a bad thing but it definitely makes sense that Pollock is at the bottom of the totem pole, which includes his defensive rating of -2. The Dodgers are going to give you an OF full of power and great overall defense.

 

The Bench:

David Freese is the biggest loss to the Dodgers bench, but with that being said one could argue their bench is as deep as ever. Utility man Chris Taylor is projected to see the most action with 514 plate appearances, which could only mean good things. If CT3 can finally come near that 2017 season then that would be huge.  With a projected 49 XBH and 63 RBIs and team leading .335 BABIP, I’m excited to see what 2020 brings for Taylor who is only 29. Kiké Hernandez is entering the final year of his deal and will hit another 15-20 Home Runs for the Dodgers. Fortunately for Kiké, Madison Bumgarner is staying in the NL West, so he will have more opportunities to improve his lifetime .500 batting average against him. The dark horse candidate to make a 2020 impact will be catcher Keibert Ruiz. The amount of plate appearances he is projected to get would be a split between AAA and the MLB level. FanGraphs and I appear to be on the same page by comparing him to future HOF catcher Yadier Molina. Tyler White could be that replacement of David Freese, as he’s projected to hit 15 Home Runs with 60 RBIs. If that were too actually happen, I would be shocked because White was terrible last season. Dodgers always need those right-handed bats off the bench. Matt Beaty burst into the scene last season as a clutch bat off the bench and should be in a similar role in 2020. Edwin Ríos should see more time at the major league level and would be a nice power bat to plug in there when needed as well as playing him all over the field. Zach McKinistry is a 25 year-old who was added to the 40-man roster and may see some time in the big leagues as well at some point. The Dodgers roster is full of guys that can play all over the field. Last year’s Dodgers finished 4th in 2019 with 279 Home Runs. They were 5th in runs scored at 886. You will find them near the top at pitches per at bat as well thanks to the excellent job of their hitting coach Robert Van Scoyoc.

The Rotation:

Hyun-Jin Ryu and Rich Hill are gone. Dodgers led baseball with a 3.11 starting staff ERA. It appears 2020 will be the year the Dodgers have 2 aces. Walker Buehler and Clayton Kershaw are each projected to finish with a 3.7 WAR. Kershaw will lead the staff with a 128 ERA+. In 27 starts, Kershaw will have a 3.24 ERA and a 12-7 record. That would be some major regression after a 16-5 campaign with a 3.03 ERA. I’m really big on Mark Prior, and it felt like Rick Honeycutt just wasn’t doing a good job with helping Kershaw adapt with his declining fastball velocity. Prior has dealt with a lot of adversity, and I view as someone who just gets it and will help improve Kershaw’s area of weaknesses.

I question Buehler’s projections of an 11-6 record and 3.27 ERA over 29 starts. Baseball Ref also has Buehler finishing with a 3.44 ERA. The Dodgers are known for taking it easy on their pitchers during the regular season, but we have seen what Buehler is capable of during October, the guy just brings his best stuff when everything is on the line. I project Buehler to be the bona fide ace of the staff by the end of the 2020 season, and I think he will finish in the top 5 in Cy Young award voting. Kenta Maeda is determined to prove he’s a staple in the Dodgers rotation, but just like Groundhog’s Day we know the outcome. He will either give you 7 strong innings or 3 long strenuous innings. Maeda is projected to make 24 starts, but he will end up back in the Dodgers bullpen and finish with an ERA right below 4. Dustin May is popping in the projection models. May could end up making 25 starts and finishing with an ERA just north of 4. Don’t forget he’s only 22 and has a fastball and curveball spin rate in the 99 percentile. Ross Stripling will make half of his appearances as a starter and the other half out of the bullpen. Julio Urías is a major wild card coming into the season. The Dodgers have kept the training wheels on this guy ever since his big league call-up back in 2016. 2020 looks promising for Urias to finally be allowed to break out. He’s projected to finish with an ERA 3.92, which seems reasonable. Finally Tony Gonsolin is the last young starter worth noting. Gonsolin was really impressive as a rookie, but 2020 projects CatMan to make 22 starts – possibly a split between the MLB and AAAA and finish with a 4.91 ERA, which would a step in the wrong direction. Lastly, the Dodgers are taking a flyer on both Jimmy Nelson and Alex Wood who both hit their peak in 2017, but then fell off track due to injuries. I think Wood has the better chance of cracking the Dodgers rotation to open the season, but I like Nelson long-term. If he can get back to his form, then we have a guy who once got involved in a pitchers duel with Clayton Kershaw and struck out 11 Dodgers. As you can see the Dodgers have a deep rotation, but I’m looking for 4 guys that I know I can trust during the postseason, and Kershaw has to be the #3 guy at this point unless the adjustments were made.

 

The Bullpen:

The Dodgers had the 4th best bullpen in MLB, and the best in the NL. Despite contrary belief, the Dodgers bullpen is set up well to succeed once again. Reminder that Clayton Kershaw is not a reliever. Kenley Jansen will be the closer entering the season, and even though he had a career high in blown saves along with losing the trust of Roberts, I expect him to rebound. Jansen is projected to finish with a 3.15 ERA, which would lower than last season, but that’s irrelevant. The main concern is that his K-rate is expected to decrease and pitch less innings. If anybody has the first shot of becoming the next Dodgers closer then it’ll be Blake Treinen. He’s entering his first season with the Dodgers and despite coming off a rough 2019, Treinen will bounce back becoming the Dodgers go to set-up arm and lowering his ERA by nearly 2 runs. Pedro Baez will be another arm Roberts will lean heavy upon, and he should maintain the level of production that we’ve seen the last couple seasons. Joe Kelly is projected to finish with a 3.44, which would be huge if true. Kelly could not be trusted last season and finished the season with a negative WAR. Kelly showed elite fastball velocity and curve spin last season with a strong K-rate, so hopefully he figures it out. Caleb Ferguson had a sophomore slump, but he’s my pick for breakout reliever. He’s projected to pitch 72 innings and finish with an ERA around 3.60. I’m not calling him Josh Hader, but I think he’ll be able to put up a season about 80-85% of what Hader has done. Adam Kolarek turned out to be a strong reliever pickup by Friedman at last year’s deadline. My hesitation with Kolarek is if he’ll be able to survive the new three batter rule. We might see Kolarek split time between AAA and the MLB level. Scott Alexander is coming back as well, and he started the season strong, but then fell off a cliff. I’ve given up on him, even though I was initially excited when they had acquired him from Kansas City due to his ability to generate a high ground ball rate. Dylan Floro will see some action as well, and I’m rooting for him to return to his 2018 form. May, Gonsolin, Stripling, Maeda, Nelson are all righties who may see action coming out of the bullpen throughout the season. One guy who I think has a chance to make an impact out of the Dodgers bullpen if he has a nice start in Spring Training and AAA is Dennis Santana.

Summary:

Las Vegas has pegged the Dodgers to win 99 games. That would be the best record in the NL, and only behind the New York Yankees. I view the Atlanta Braves as the Dodgers biggest NL competitor. They have a really good young rotation and some stars in their lineup. I’m not sleeping on the St. Louis Cardinals or even the defending champion Washington Nationals either. The Phillies and Reds are two teams who will make a postseason push, while the Dbacks and Padres should improve within the division. Matching up with the Yankees will be key, but I have no doubt we would be able to hang in there with them. Adding a reliever or extra bat along the way would help the Dodgers, but expect another season of a dominant offense and strongest pitching staffs. The Dodgers lineup is deep with 8 guys on any given day capable of working the count and getting into the opposing team’s bullpen early. The Dodgers will be coming into this season hot knowing that they were cheated out of championships and forced by the commissioner to not comment on the punishment rulings.

Follow me on Twitter @Klein25 and listen to The Incline: Dodgers podcast!

(photo credit: CBS Sports)

 

 

 

https://twitter.com/GTRLAD/status/1219889843502632960

https://twitter.com/WinoSzn/status/1219873365776711680