How the 2024 Dodgers can continue to put runs on the board at an historic pace

St. Louis Cardinals v Los Angeles Dodgers
St. Louis Cardinals v Los Angeles Dodgers / Sean M. Haffey/GettyImages

The Dodgers have scored five or more runs in all nine games of the season heading into the weekend series against the Cubs. So far, that has resulted in a 7-2 record, with the only two losses coming from a shootout 15-11 defeat against the Padres in Seoul and 6-5 loss in extra innings against the Cardinals.

Most of the production has predictably come from the top of the lineup, with Mookie Betts, Shohei Ohtani, Freddie Freeman, and Will Smith combining for 29 RBI out of the Dodgers' 56 total runs so far. Even though he is not a part of the top of the order, Teoscar Hernández's four home runs early in the season have also led to 10 RBI for him (which is second only to Betts with 11). That formula has been successful so far, but it is also time to realistically evaluate how sustainable and potentially anomalous this output has been.

The top of the Dodgers' order has been dominant...but...

As much as it pains me to say it, Mookie Betts will eventually come down to earth. Sure, having Ohtani, Freeman, and Smith hitting right behind him in the lineup has potentially caused some pitchers to give Betts more pitches to feast on (a terrible idea, considering how well he has been playing so far), but a 1.686 OPS, a 90-homer pace, and 200 RBI dreams cannot realistically continue. Those numbers are beyond Barry Bonds and Babe Ruth – they are simply impossible to keep up. While Freeman's 1.031 OPS is technically within reach, his on-base numbers (he currently has a .500 OBP) will regress a bit as well as the season continues.

But as ridiculous as Betts' start to the season has been, Ohtani's year has not actually taken off yet. Over the course of his career, Ohtani has hit home runs at a rate of roughly one per every 14.7 at-bats. Ohtani has now had 37 at-bats in 2024, but it took until the 37th at-bat to hit his first dinger of 2024. The same thing goes for Will Smith, who has 13 hits and is currently hitting above .400 (.406, to be exact), but only three of his 13 hits have been for extra bases (with no home runs). As a result, it is entirely plausible that when Betts and Freeman start to regress closer to career averages, Ohtani and Smith emerge out of their power droughts with perfect timing, and the top of the order continues to carry this team.

The power bats in the middle of the Dodgers' order have also been productive

Outside of the top of the order, the Dodgers have really only gotten offensive production from two hitters (more on this later): Max Muncy and Teoscar Hernández. As mentioned earlier, 29 of the Dodgers' 56 RBI have come from the 'Big Four' of the lineup, but Muncy and Hernández have combined for 15 RBI of their own. Hernández's four homers and 10 RBI rank second on the team, only surpassed by Betts' five and 11. Muncy only has one home run, but timely hitting has led him to 5 RBI so far, with a few extremely clutch hits as well.

The downside to these two anchoring the middle of the lineup is glaring, however. Muncy has 16 strikeouts so far, and Hernández has 15, while no other players on the Dodgers have more than nine. They will each have their moments as the year goes on, and could easily combine for 60+ HRs. But there will also be times throughout the year where they will strike out in big moments with multiple runners on base. That's just the trade-off of having high-power, high-strikeout hitters.

The bottom of the Dodgers' order will step up eventually

If you were doing the math in your head when RBI were being counted earlier, you would realize that outside of Betts, Ohtani, Freeman, Smith, Muncy, and Hernández, the rest of the Dodgers' roster only has 12 RBI. This is the part of the lineup that will positively correct as the season goes on. Despite all the spending the Dodgers did in the offseason to improve the star power and pitching prowess of the roster, it's not like the bottom of the lineup is weak. The Dodgers have strong depth, but the players just haven't quite gotten on track yet (with the notable exception of Miguel Rojas, who has already hit two homers).

Somehow, out of James Outman, Gavin Lux, Jason Heyward, Kike Hernández, and Chris Taylor, not a single one of those players has an OPS over .500 in 2024. Out of 90 combined at-bats between those five players, they have only produced 15 hits, with 14 of those hits being singles. The bottom of the lineup has been a non-factor so far, but that is actually a reason to have hope that this lineup can potentially get better as the year goes on. Excluding Hernández's outlier down season, all four of those players had an OPS between .745 and .813 in their last full seasons. None of them are likely to be All-Stars, but every one of those bats is capable of much more than what they have shown so far.

The initial question: is the Dodgers' run production sustainable?

Going back to the original question of how sustainable this offense is, the answer is that it will be sustainable, but in a different form. At some point, Los Angeles will have to get some production from the bottom of the order to keep scoring as much as they have so far. In 2024, the Dodgers are averaging 6.33 runs per game, mostly due to the top of the order. But the 2023 Atlanta Braves averaged 5.85 runs per game over a full season, so it is entirely possible that the Dodgers could hover near six runs per game over the course of a full season, considering how deep and how purposefully packed the lineup is.

What will need to change going forward, though, is the formula. As I have mentioned before, the bottom of the order needs to get involved. Undoubtedly, a few of the players towards the bottom of the order will still have good or even great seasons, but it is impossible to predict who that might be. The top of the order will certainly get all the attention throughout the year, and will continue to produce, but fans can't realistically expect that part of the order to keep dominating like it has so far. As the year goes on, the Dodgers' lineup will become more balanced, and as long as the Dodgers can continue to get timely hitting, this team will have a legitimate opportunity to put runs on the board at an historic rate.