Predicting which Dodgers will heat up or cool down based on early data

San Diego Padres v Los Angeles Dodgers
San Diego Padres v Los Angeles Dodgers / Jayne Kamin-Oncea/GettyImages

While it is still very early in the progression of the Dodgers' season, more than two weeks have gone by, with plenty of surprising performances in L.A. Some players have gotten off to hot starts as expected, while others have struggled to piece things together at the plate to start the 2024 campaign.

Luckily, some of those struggles are the result of bad luck with hard contact, and most of the successes look sustainable. Regardless of which way the arrow is pointing currently, both Statcast and FanGraphs are useful tools to predict how things will turn out over the course of a full season. This article will predict which players will or won't continue their current trends throughout the 2024 season based on the data available.

Dodgers' Kiké Hernández will heat up

The bottom of the Dodgers' order has been extremely unproductive to start 2024. However, even coming off a rough 2023 season, Kike Hernández is a much better hitter than what he has shown at the plate in 2024. In his disastrous 2023 season, Hernández posted a .646 OPS, and the Statcast data says it could have been an even worse season. Hernández did not even eclipse the 20th percentile in xwOBA, xBA, xSLG, Average Exit Velocity, Barrel %, Hard-hit %, and Sweet-spot %.

The results lined up last year with a bad season, but this year, that hasn't been the case. Hernández's OPS to start the season is .437, a more than 200-point dropoff from 2023, and yet all his batted-ball data is better in 2024. Hernández is 32nd percentile in xwOBA, but in xBA, xSLG, Average Exit Velocity, Barrel %, Hard-hit %, and Sweet-spot %, he is in the 46th percentile or better. Hernández is not going to break out and have an All-Star caliber season as a part-time player, but the underlying numbers indicate he should be a nearly league-average hitter in 2024. If he keeps hitting the ball this hard, he should at least have a better season than he did in 2022 and 2023.

James Paxton will cool down

This one might be a bit obvious just from watching some of his starts, or knowing his career injury history, but James Paxton's 2.81 ERA is completely unsustainable. He can still be a solid part of the back end of the Dodgers' rotation, but his 2023 season had better Statcast data across the board than his early 2024 campaign, and yet his results have been much better.

To start, his average fastball velocity in 2023 was 95.2 MPH, but in 2024, it is down to 93.5 MPH. But the most worrying trend is that less velocity has not led to more command. His K % and BB % were 24.6% and 8% respectively in 2023, but in 2024, his K % is down to 14.7% and BB % is up to 20.6%. Both those numbers are results of not getting chases or whiffs, as last year, he was in the 56th percentile in Chase % (29.3%) and 62nd percentile in Whiff % (27.5%), but in 2024, Paxton is 6th percentile in Chase % (19.6%) and 41st percentile in Whiff% (23.6%).

Despite all the drop-offs in important underlying numbers, Paxton's ERA is at 2.81. In 2023, he carried an xERA of 3.77 and a FIP of 4.68, and that resulted in a 4.50 ERA, meaning he was more or less in line with his expected data. But in 2024, Paxton's xERA is 5.27 and his FIP is 6.25. After 16 innings in Dodger blue, his ERA is well below that range. With a 1.50 WHIP in 2024, Paxton has allowed way too many baserunners, as evidenced by his eight-walk outing on Sunday, to expect to maintain a sub-3.00 ERA.

Shohei Ohtani will stay hot

Even though he is not pitching in 2024, Ohtani has had a major impact at the plate. The good news for Dodgers fans is that the Statcast data backs up his hot start and, if anything, hints that he could somehow get even better as the season goes on. Ohtani is in the 96th percentile or better in every batted-ball statistic (xwOBA, xBA, xSLG, Average Exit Velocity, Barrel %, and Hard-hit %) other than Sweet-spot % (where he still ranks 92nd percentile).

But somehow, even with all the great production he has put on the board in 2024, his xBA (.362) and xSLG (.711) are both slightly higher than his actual BA (.338) and SLG (.662). In 2024, his 1.048 OPS would be good enough for the second-best mark of his career, only trailing his 1.066 OPS during his second MVP season in 2023. Ohtani's BB % (8.4%, 47th percentile) is down from 2023 (15.2%, 98th percentile), but if he becomes as patient as he has been in past seasons while keeping the batted-ball data at the level it has been at so far, Ohtani could post the best hitting season of his career in 2024.

Mookie Betts will stay hot

More good news for Dodgers fans here, as Mookie Betts looks as likely to stay hot as Shohei is. His 1.163 OPS to start the season might still be a little too high to be sustainable over a full, 162-game season, but Betts still looks ready to post his third straight top-five finish in NL MVP voting. Because it is early in the season, Betts' Statcast numbers in terms of percentiles are down from 2023 levels, but the raw numbers are the same or higher across the board.

In 2023, Betts was in the 88th percentile or better in xwOBA, xBA, xSLG, Average Exit Velocity, Sweet-spot %, Chase %, Whiff %, K %, and BB %. In 2024, he is in the 85th percentile or better in all of those statistics, and he actually has seen improvements in his personal numbers in xwOBA, xBA, xSLG, Sweet-spot %, Chase %, Whiff %, K % and BB %, even though some of those percentiles have fluctuated in either direction. Betts actually has better numbers to begin 2024 than he did over the course of 2023, and if he continues his amazing tendency to simultaneously hit the ball hard while avoiding chases and whiffs, he might avenge his second-place NL MVP finish in 2023 by winning the award in 2024.