Dodgers: The 2018 Dodgers Are Not the 2013 Dodgers

WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 20: Starting pitcher Alex Wood #57 of the Los Angeles Dodgers reacts after giving up a single to Wilmer Difo #1 of the Washington Nationals (not pictured) in the third inning at Nationals Park on May 20, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 20: Starting pitcher Alex Wood #57 of the Los Angeles Dodgers reacts after giving up a single to Wilmer Difo #1 of the Washington Nationals (not pictured) in the third inning at Nationals Park on May 20, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images) /

The Dodgers’ slow start has been highlighted by injuries, ailments, bad luck, and lack of production. This rough first quarter of the season has reminded some fans and analysts of the 2013 Dodgers. It shouldn’t.

The Dodgers are 20-27, and five and a half games back of the first place Rockies. I’ve seen comparisons start emerging about this Dodgers team and how this start to the season is similar to the slow start the 2013 Dodgers faced. In ’13, the Dodgers got as far back as 9.5 games in June, but ultimately went on to win the West by 11 games. That would be the first of five consecutive years Los Angeles won the West.

So will that be the case again this year?

First off, let’s look at hitting production. The 2013 Dodgers had some potent names in that lineup, including Adrian Gonzalez (124 wRC+), Yasiel Puig, who had perhaps his best season and highest wRC+ (160), and maybe most importantly, peak Hanley Ramirez, who posted an OPS of 1.040, and a wRC+ of 191, in albeit fairly limited time. Nonetheless, this year’s Dodgers aren’t getting that kind of production from anyone. The best hitter in 2018 has arguably been Matt Kemp, which on a team with budding superstar Cody Bellinger, and a laundry list of other talented young players, doesn’t bode well for this squad.

There are other problems, of course. The Dodgers lost Corey Seager for the season to Tommy John surgery, which was more or less out of the team’s control. Most other players have simply been underperforming, like Chris Taylor, who was expected to factor much more into this offense’s attack. The only thing he leads the league in is strikeouts looking. It’s entirely possible that last year was a career year for Taylor, and that he’s only going to regress from here. It shouldn’t be glossed over, however, that Yasmani Grandal has been pretty solid – perhaps the most consistent hitter thus far, with a wRC+ of 150, an OPS of .898, and seven home runs.

In terms of pitching, it’s a similar story. Firstly, the 2013 team had a 25-year-old Clayton Kershaw and a 29-year-old Zack Greinke. It wasn’t a career year for either pitcher, but they had very solid seasons, one of whom (Kershaw) was an All-Star. Kershaw had a 2.99 SIERA and 232 strikeouts, while Greinke had a 3.60 SIERA and a 20% strikeout percentage. 2013 was also Hyun-jin Ryu’s introduction to Major League Baseball, and he had quite a season to go with it. He started in 30 games and, like Greinke carried a 3.60 SIERA. Kenley Jansen also showed his dominance, putting up a nearly 40% strikeout percentage. Combine that with J.P. Howell’s and Paco Rodriguez’s season, the Dodgers had a formidable bullpen.

That’s not been the case this year. The Dodgers staff has suffered injuries and setbacks galore, from Clayton Kershaw regressing, then landing on the DL, to Rich Hill almost never being able to pitch (getting hurt again as I’m writing), and Ryu and Wood’s struggles. To the rotation’s credit, though, they’ve been better than you might expect, given the back and forth, highs and lows that they’ve faced. They actually rank 2nd in xFIP at 3.23. The bullpen, though, has been very average. By that same measurement, they rank 15th in baseball with an xFIP of 4.17. They’re also serving up homers like there’s no tomorrow, allowing 24, which is tied for second-worst in baseball.

Make no mistake, I don’t think the Dodgers are as bad as we may have been led to believe over the first nearly two months, but it’s evident they’re not nearly as good as we expected them to be, either. For example, the Dodgers current run differential is +3, meaning they’re outscoring their opponents in terms of Runs Scored versus Runs Allowed, which is a good thing. What that should lead us to believe is that the team should be closer to .500 than they are, but that’s really the only conclusion we can draw from that data. That run differential is very middle-of-the-pack, and I think that’s the team we’re going to continue to get with the 2018 Dodgers.

Moreover, the team’s wRC+ is 97, which is good for 15th in baseball. Again, another indicator of just how average this team is. In most offensive categories, the Dodgers are right at, or below, average. It’s getting to a point where we shouldn’t really expect this to change. There’s no reason to think Chris Taylor is all of a sudden going to turn it on. In fact, there might be a better case for players such as Matt Kemp to begin to slow offensively, which will take away another contributor. The only player I can foresee reaching his potential this season that currently isn’t is Cody Bellinger. Other than that, this squad can mix and match however they’d like, but it probably won’t change anything.

One thing positive I will say, however, is that I truly believe the current team is perhaps in a better state than it was five years ago, which is a major boost. I say this because of average age. The ’13 Dodgers’ average age was 30.8, meaning they were an aging squad comprised of veterans. This year’s team’s average age is 27.8, a full three years younger. There might be somewhat of a depletion in talent at the lower levels, which the front office may have to address, but youth is currently on this team’s side.

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The Dodgers looked better over the weekend, sweeping the Nationals in DC. Perhaps that will help propel them into a nice run. That series didn’t do much in the way of changing my mind overall, though. The Nats have been better recently, but they haven’t exactly been a force, either.

I still expect this team to be abundantly average. With that said, the National League West doesn’t have a clear frontrunner. It looked like it might be the Diamondbacks, but their lack of starting pitching had yielded quite the skid recently, and it may keep up for the foreseeable future. The truth is the West really just isn’t very good. That is good for the Dodgers because they also aren’t very good.

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The makeup of the Dodgers lends itself to be believed that they are the better team on paper versus the competition in the West, but as we’ve seen this season, and with countless other teams of the past, baseball doesn’t always pan out that way. I’m not putting a nail in the Dodgers’ coffin yet because the West is apparently so mediocre, but that doesn’t mean the Dodgers are anything above average.