Dodgers: A Speculative Analysis of What’s to Come

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 23: Walker Buehler
LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 23: Walker Buehler /

The 2018 Dodgers have, thus far, fallen short of the expectations that surrounded the team. That’s due largely to an extending list of maladies and shortcomings. This leaves the front office, Los Angeles, and the rest of the Dodgers fanbase asking, “What’s next?”

188 days ago, the Dodgers were preparing to begin the game of games by partaking in the Fall Classic’s Game 7, the final hurdle to capturing the World Series. The baseball world was falling all over itself in anticipation for this clash of the titans; in one corner, the built-from-scratch by method of tanking Houston Astros; in the other corner, one of the tried-and-true blue bloods of the baseball world, the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Lance McCullers was set to go for Houston, while Yu Darvish took the bump for Los Angeles. It didn’t take long for the excitement to dwindle, as, by the end of the second inning, the Astros had already gone up 5-0 in front of 54,124 fans in Chavez Ravine.

I don’t mean to rehash bad memories, but it’s important to note where this team was, and realize the stark contrast between what was and what is. While Dodger faithful may still be in the home team’s corner, the rest of baseball may be thinking, “Oh, how the mighty have fallen,” all the while smiling at the thought of the perennial contender staring defeat in the eyes.

Although the Dodgers lost in an anticlimactic fashion that night, fans still went into the offseason with hopes and dreams still abound. Perhaps the departure of those dreams coincided with the departure of important pitchers on the staff. The makeup of that talented Dodgers team, a team that went 104-58, that went 61-29 in the first half, and 41-10 over June and July, changed.

No matter, the city of Los Angeles likely thought 2018 would be as good a year as any to capture the team’s first World Series’ title since 1988.

Over the course of the entire season, the Dodgers starting rotation posted an ERA of 3.39, tops in all of baseball, and it wasn’t entirely close. The bullpen had similar successes, posting an ERA of 3.37, which was good for 4th in the league. Those numbers were due in large part to the successes the staff had during June and July. In those two months, the starting rotation commanded an ERA of 2.96 (1st in baseball), while the bullpen managed a 3.01 mark (4th in baseball), both of which were consistent with the rest of the season.

But the Dodgers parted ways with some significant arms in the offseason, including Brandon Morrow, who posted a 2.06 ERA in 45 appearances out of the bullpen. That also includes reliever, Tony Watson, who came over from the Pirates at last year’s trade deadline. Watson made just 24 appearances in Dodger blue, but was effective during that time, posting a 2.70 ERA. Lastly, and perhaps another key loss, was Yu Darvish. Darvish started nine games for Los Angeles and went 4-3 with a 3.44 ERA. Darvish wasn’t an ace, but he was formidable as a two or three starter. That hasn’t necessarily been the case thus far in Chicago, so perhaps the Dodgers aren’t actually missing that much. Other Dodger casualties include Brandon McCarthy, Charlie Culberson, and Andre Ethier.

There’s a stark contrast between last year’s bullpen numbers versus this year’s. Through May 5, the Dodgers ‘pen has amassed an ERA of 4.45, good for 18th in baseball. As for the rotation, those that made the majority of the starts have returned for the 2018 campaign, and it’s resulted in a 3.42 rotation ERA thus far, which is 4th in baseball, but that shouldn’t totally come as a surprise. But it’s not been without pitchers going down due to the injury bug, which brings the next point into focus.

The Dodgers have fallen victim to injury this year, perhaps losing more important pieces than anyone else. As it stands, the Dodgers are without nine potentially high contribution players, some of whom haven’t had a shot this season, while others had been performing poorly prior to going down to the disabled list. Los Angeles is currently without Justin Turner, Corey Seager, Logan Forsythe, Yasiel Puig, Rich Hill, Hyun-jin Ryu, Julio Urias, Tom Koehler, and most importantly Clayton Kershaw.

Some of those, like Seager and Urias, are out for the season; others, like Turner, haven’t been able to get into action this year, and it’s unsure when he’ll be back. Still, others, like Hill who’s presumably very close to returning, is prone to having finger issues. It’s so common that there’s a pretty good chance he’ll be back on the DL at some other point this season.

As if things weren’t bad enough, the Dodgers announced the addition of Clayton Kershaw to the disabled list with biceps tendinitis, a potential precursor to a more serious injury. If this injury proves to be more of a problem than a short 10-day DL stint, then I may have to revisit some of the assertions I’m about to touch on regarding the Dodgers’ ultimate finishing place.

Others, like Puig, haven’t fulfilled what was expected of him, leaving fans wondering if he’ll be the player they hoped he would. It’s not just a lack of production, but a seemingly precarious clubhouse chemistry. For example, on April 29, a game the Dodgers ultimately lost 4-2, manager Dave Roberts pulled Cody Bellinger after failing to turn a double into a triple on a ball hit into the right-centerfield gap at San Francisco’s AT&T Park, one of the most spacious pieces of grass in all of baseball. Bellinger subsequently got doubled up on a line drive in the infield. This isn’t the first time Roberts took exception to Bellinger’s effort, also once noting his unwillingness to run out a flyball that he thought was foul, a ball that ultimately dropped. Bellinger was only able to reach first base.

This all leaves us wondering ,”what’s next?”

Honestly, it’s not easy to say. With so many crucial positions being lost to injury, it’s hard to fill all those gaps. The Dodgers don’t have many internal options at this juncture, but they have turned to the likes of Walker Buehler, the number one prospect in the Dodgers’ system, and Alex Verdugo, the number one position player prospect in the system.

Buehler has filled in well thus far in the rotation, starting three games in the absence of Hill and Ryu, posting a 1.13 ERA and commanding a good WHIP of 1.06. On the offensive end, Verdugo is working on sliding into the lineup and attempting to become a regular. Verdugo’s posted an OPS of .885 and a wRC+ of 148. He’s also chasing pitches out of the zone 30% of the time while posting a SwStr% of 7.8%.

With so many problems arising in Los Angeles, at this point in the year, it’s more about treading water and trying to keep pace in the West. I realize that’s not the

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glamorous outlook everyone was hoping for, but the Dodgers are currently victims of circumstance, and unfortunately, those circumstances are unbecoming. With that said, Team Rankings still projects that the Dodgers currently have a 62.6% chance of making the playoffs, meaning the team, and fans, should expect a spike in wins once the regulars begin to return from the disabled list. That number is derived from the Dodgers combined chances to win the Wild Card (32.1%) and the NL West (30.5%). FanGraphs’ playoff probability measurement (which runs 10,000 simulations of the 2018 season every day to reach these numbers) doesn’t deviate far from Team Rankings’ prediction; in fact, it’s marginally higher at 66.7%, which is the highest probability for any team in the NL West.

So, while things look bleak for the Dodgers right now, in terms of probability, they are expected to win the division. In fact, the more the team treads water with so many injuries, the more favorable fans should look at them, especially given the totality of the circumstances. Besides, we’ve only gone through one month of the season, and it would be unwise to make premature and rash decisions about the state and the trajectory of this Dodgers team.

Next: Dodgers: Clayton Kershaw Placed on the Disabled List

Come August; I expect the Dodgers to be fully in contention in the West. Come October; I expect the Dodgers to be first in the West.