Dodgers: 2018 Showing Just How Special LA’s Depth is
By Sunit Bhakta
The first word that usually comes to mind when people think of the Dodgers is ‘depth.’ Last year solidified that but this year has been a more exemplary example.
In 2016, the Dodgers had to use a record 15 different starting pitchers during the regular season and were able to make it all the way to the NLCS. Last year, Austin Barnes, Chris Taylor, Brandon Morrow, and Cody Bellinger came out of nowhere and helped propel the team to within one victory of a World Series title. But as impressive as those years were, this year may be the most.
The ‘next man up’ mentality has been the mantra of the Dodgers since Andrew Friedman took over the franchise. He prioritizes depth, and affordable at that, over high-priced star power. The belief is why overpay for good play when, through analysis and scouting, you can find just as good or incrementally lesser, but still solid, production for a much lower price?
You can then allocate those surplus financial resources in other areas such as building up the farm system, taking care of your stars, or going after great production in free agency. Through this philosophy, the Dodgers have built up one of the best farm systems in the game and excellent major league depth.
But it does help when these ‘lesser’ players play like All-Stars and MVPs. And it’s not to say Los Angeles does not have its stars. They have Clayton Kershaw, Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger, Justin Turner, Kenley Jansen, and to an extent Yasiel Puig.
Last year you had Chris Taylor come out of nowhere and cement himself as one of the best center fielders in the game. Brandon Morrow cemented himself as one of the better relief pitchers. Austin Barnes was an elite producer in his part-time role. And Cody Bellinger displayed how talented the farm system is.
However, 2018 has been even more telling of how extraordinary the team’s depth indeed is. The Dodgers started off slow but have rattled off 20 wins in their last 26 contests to get to just two games back of first in the NL West, which in its own right is impressive. But what makes it even more impressive is that this streak has happened while withstanding around $60 million of talent shelved due to injury.
That group includes 80% of the Opening Day starting rotation on the DL. Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill, Kenta Maeda, and Hyun-Jin Ryu have missed all but a combined three starts (Hill would be the fourth, but he only threw two pitches) in the last 26 games.
They’ve missed just over 88% of the games during this impressive stretch. And because of it, the team has had to use 11 different starting pitchers, good for second-most in the league. The rotation has bent but not broken.
In their absence, they called up top prospect Walker Buehler and moved Ross Stripling from the bullpen back into the rotation. They have undoubtedly been the team’s two best pitchers this year and All-Star worthy. Ross Stripling is looking like a right-handed Clayton Kershaw, and Buehler would have been an All-Star, and possibly the Rookie of the Year favorite in a loaded field, if not for a recent trip to the DL.
Andrew Freidman and Co. picked up reliever Erik Goeddel from Seattle, another unheralded move. All he has done is quietly be the team’s best reliever and an unsung hero. In addition to him, the team has Tom Koehler waiting in the wings as he recovers from injury. Before he got hurt, he was expected to fill an essential role for the Dodgers, something along the lines like Brandon Morrow did.
But arguably the most impressive thing, however, is that Corey Seager’s absence has almost been forgotten. Yes, that is a crazy thing to say about your best position player, but there is some truth to it because the offense has been top-2 in the sport in the last month.
The Dodgers had the luxury of replacing an MVP-caliber player with Chris Taylor, a guy who performed like an All-Star in 2017. And he has started to regain his form the last three weeks or so. And Max Muncy has been 2018’s Chris Taylor, coming out of nowhere and cementing himself as one of the team’s best hitters, if not the league.
In just 47 games he has a team-leading 13 home runs and an OPS over 1.000. It looks like another team in the AL West was robbed. And Muncy was sitting in triple-A to start the season and only called up as an injury replacement.
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Continually, the outfield depth that has been lauded over the years is actually something worth praising because of the play. Matt Kemp is having a resurgent season and been arguably the team’s best overall hitter.
Yasiel Puig and Joc Pederson started the season off slow but have become supernova with the bat and significant reasons the Dodgers have 32 home runs in 12 June games and lead the entire National League in home runs.
And before the game started last night, the Dodgers had the highest-scoring offense (5.96), second-most home runs (48), second-highest team OPS (.831), and the best-run differential (6+1) from all 30 teams since May 17. Oh, and top prospect Alex Verdugo is in triple-A waiting for a permanent call-up.
They are getting production from left and right like never before, from guys you would least expect it from. Justin Turner Turner did not return until a month ago and is still rusty, yet LA has been able to withstand all this and exceed expectations. This should not be happening with the kind of injury luck they have had.
Next: The inexact science of projecting Dodgers prospects
At this rate, it is more than a fluke. It is something special; the franchise’s depth is remarkable. Whenever a fan of another team uses the injury excuse for their team’s mediocre play, realize how lucky Dodger fans are because the front office knows what they are doing when building a team. What Los Angeles is doing is nothing short of ridiculous because they are defying the odds.