In preparation for the season’s welcome arrival, MLB Network recently released its Top 100 players for the 2021 season.
2020 was an interesting year for baseball, and the list…certainly reflects that.
These rankings are determined using data from several seasons, but the previous year is typically given more weight in projecting a player’s performance, and of course we only had 60 games in 2020. That being said, the 2021 list was primarily populated with the usual suspects, and it should be no surprise that there was a substantial amount of Dodger representation.
The reigning World Series champs had nine players on the list this year, tied with the up and coming White Sox for the most in baseball. Let’s take a closer look at the Dodgers who made the cut, and how they stack up against the South Siders.
No. 50: Will Smith
When I learned there were nine Dodgers on the list, I was not expecting all of them to be in the top 50, but every Dodger on the list ranked at 50 or above.
Cracking the top 50 with fewer than 300 career at bats might seem a little presumptuous, but Will Smith is already one of the premier catchers in baseball. In fact, he’s one of the best young right-handed hitters in the game. The 25-year-old is a Statcast darling, with every metric indicating that Smith mashes the baseball. The Fresh Prince is heading into his first full season in the majors; expect it to be a big one.
No. 46: Justin Turner
He’s back, everyone. The 36-year-old Dodger mainstay returned to the club on a two-year deal, much to my relief. An ageless wonder at the plate, Turner hit .307 with an .860 OPS in 2020, and the advanced metrics showed no signs of him slowing down. Those same metrics haven’t exactly been thrilled with his defense, but JT is still one of the toughest outs on the team, and brings a most valuable veteran clubhouse presence to the team.
The Dodgers headline the list with nine players in the top 50, with the White Sox not far behind.
No. 45: Max Muncy
One step ahead of his teammate, Max Muncy is actually coming off a bit of a disappointing year. He slashed just .192/.331/.389 with 27 RBI in 58 games. However, I wouldn’t worry about Muncy regressing into his Oakland self. He still hit 12 homers and his 15.7% walk rate placed him in the 93rd percentile in the league.
Expect a return to form for the versatile 30-year-old, who should see time at multiple infield positions while remaining a middle of the order masher.
No. 40: Walker Buehler
The first pitcher to represent the Dodgers in the Top 100, Walker Buehler had a bit of a disappointing year by his lofty standards, mainly because he was limited to just 36.2 innings over eight starts.
His FIP was an uncharacteristic 4.36, as he had a bit more trouble keeping the ball in the yard this season, although I bet that can be attributed to the small sample size. The eye test and Statcast metrics still show that Buehler is an elite power pitcher, as did his carving up of the Rays in Game 3 of the World Series.
No. 38: Clayton Kershaw
Clayton Kershaw has been a regular on the list for the last decade, but 2021 marks his first appearance as Clayton Kershaw, World Series champion.
The 32-year-old future Hall of Famer turned in a vintage campaign in the shortened season, compiling a 2.16 ERA and microscopic .840 WHIP in 58.1 innings and striking out 62 over 10 starts. Kershaw lacks the velocity of a lot of the pitchers on this list, but he more than compensates with impeccable command and an ever-devastating curveball. He’s aging like a fine wine, and should continue to put up great numbers as long as his back doesn’t give him any trouble.
No. 29: Trevor Bauer
The Dodgers’ big ticket acquisition, Trevor Bauer, is coming off of a Cy Young season. Although he’s already made headlines for not exactly the right reasons, Bauer is coming off an historic season after a not-so-hot start to his Cincy career. He’s struggled with his command at times but is as dominant as anyone when he’s on, and is always making adjustments to his game. Is it fair to expect a repeat 2020 performance from Bauer? No. Is he a very talented pitcher? Yes.
No. 24: Corey Seager
The reigning World Series MVP capped off a talented group of shortstops in the mid-20s on the list. Seager bounced back from a couple of seasons where he wasn’t 100%, looking healthy to the tune of 15 homers and a .943 OPS. While he still doesn’t walk much, the two-time All-Star hit the ball with as much authority as anyone not named Juan Soto in 2020. Look for Seager to keep it up in a big way in a contract year.
No.10: Cody Bellinger
You have to be a special player to rank in the top 10 coming off a down year, and Cody Bellinger is just that. The 2019 MVP set career lows in average, on base, and slugging, slashing a relatively pedestrian .239/.333/.455 in the COVID-shortened season, and the shoulder injury he’s still nursing could be a cause for concern.
That being said, Bellinger has shown he can be one of the best players in baseball when he’s on, and we often overlook how good his plate approach is. He’s still valuable even when he’s not hitting, too, as he’s an elite baserunner and defender at multiple positions.
No.2: Mookie Betts
It’s more or less a given Mike Trout’s name will top this list any given season, and Mookie Betts was more deserving of this year’s No. 2 spot than anyone. He finished second in NL MVP voting in 2020, and leads all position players in WAR over the last three seasons. There isn’t a lot that hasn’t been said about Betts. He’s a true five-tool star and a generational talent, and the Dodgers couldn’t ask for anyone better to be roaming right field for the next decade plus.
How do the White Sox compare to the Dodgers on MLB’s Top 100?
The White Sox made an impressive showing on this year’s list, but they’re at least a couple of years away from having the star power possessed by the Dodgers. Both teams had nine players, but every Dodger on the list was in the top 50, and the White Sox didn’t have anyone in the top 25.
I’m not saying this list is the end-all be-all in determining the worth of players, and we shouldn’t overlook the rest of the roster, but the Dodgers are still the team to beat.
Chicago’s growth over the last few seasons is impressive, however, and there are certainly October implications being thrown around. The Sox have a good mix of young homegrown talent and big name acquisitions. Expect last year’s AL Rookie of the Year runner up Luis Robert to be higher than 94 on next year’s list. Yoan Moncada didn’t have a great season, but he’s still talented enough to crack the list. Three Chicago pitchers appeared on the list; Lance Lynn, Lucas Giolito, and newly-acquired shutdown reliever Liam Hendriks. Slugger Eloy Jimenez appeared at 54, and former Dodger Yasmani Grandal at 49, the second highest catcher overall. The two highest White Sox on the list were reigning AL MVP Jose Abreu at 31, and perennial batting title candidate Tim Anderson at 27.
Let’s take a deeper dive into how each team stacks up. Both teams had nine players on the list, but the White Sox average list position was 60.8, while the Dodgers ranked at 30.6. Chicago had a slightly younger mean age, 28.4 to 28.7, but are definitely seen as the up and coming challenger compared to the more established Dodgers, especially with talented youngsters like Michael Kopech, Garrett Crochet, and Nick Madrigal poised to make a larger impact in 2021. Both teams have the ability to win now, but also have prospects galore.
Here’s a positional breakdown to show how both teams stack up.
CHW: No. 75 Lance Lynn, No. 69 Lucas Giolito, No. 58 Liam Hendriks
LAD: No. 40 Walker Buehler, No. 38 Clayton Kershaw, No. 29 Trevor Bauer
Obviously, the Dodgers are ranked considerably higher in the area of pitching, but I would argue that Lynn and Giolito are both undervalued on this list. Lynn isn’t the flashiest pitcher, but he’s one of the game’s last remaining workhorses, and Giolito has established himself as one of the best young right-handed starters in the league now that he makes more use of his changeup, which I wouldn’t be surprised to see classified as a weapon of mass destruction. Comparing relievers to starters is like comparing apples to oranges, but Liam Hendriks is arguably the best closer in baseball. The White Sox should know this well, as he absolutely dominated them in the playoffs last season in Oakland. I’m still giving the Dodger pitchers the edge here, but Chicago’s arms are better than their rankings indicate.
CHW: No. 49 Yasmani Grandal
LAD: No. 50 Will Smith
Two familiar faces here. Grandal is more established and carries more star power than Smith at the moment, but don’t be too surprised to see Smith’s name ahead on next year’s list. Grandal might have the edge in counting stats due to his position in the lineup, but expect Smith to rake and usurp the title of ‘premier catcher who isn’t JT Realmuto’ by season’s end.
CHW: No. 27 Tim Anderson
LAD: No. 24 Corey Seager
Anderson and Seager have more in common than you might think. They both hit for a high average despite being free swingers, and neither of them play what you’d call a Gold Glove-caliber shortstop. Anderson has elite speed and is much more of a threat on the basepaths, but Seager’s hitting is simply on another level. He makes more contact, and hits the ball a lot harder when he does. Hey, Dodgers. Pay him.
CHW: No. 90 Yoan Moncada, No. 31 Jose Abreu
LAD: No. 46 Justin Turner, No. 45 Max Muncy
This might be the most interesting comp here. Both teams have a player coming off a disappointing 2020. Muncy batted below the Mendoza line, and Moncada was just plain bad. He struck out a ton and didn’t make quality contact when he did put the ball in play.
However, his defense was a lot better at third than at second, and he does still offer intriguing upside at the plate. Even though I’m expecting regression, Jose Abreu’s 2020 performance is what puts the Sox on top here. I love Justin Turner and he’s still a great hitter, but Abreu just has more impact at this stage in their respective careers.
CHW: No. 94 Luis Robert, No. 54 Eloy Jimenez
LAD: No.10 Cody Bellinger, No. 2 Mookie Betts
This is the most talented position group on the list. Robert only hit .235 his rookie year, but has an incredibly high ceiling and already plays an elite center field. Jimenez’s left field play, on the other hand, can more often be found on the blooper reel than the highlight reel, but he’s one of the more dangerous power hitters in the American League, despite being overshadowed by Jose Abreu at times.
Even with all the young talent roaming the outfield in Chicago, they’re no match for the two MVPs at the Dodgers’ disposal. Robert and Bellinger are actually similar in that they can both be impactful players when they’re slumping at the plate, but no matter how many homers he hits, Eloy Jimenez will never be as complete a player as Mookie Betts.
Both the Dodgers and White Sox have stacked rosters equipped to win both now and in the future, but the Dodgers still reign supreme.