Here at Beyond the Box Score, we're considering the final fate of all 10 playoff teams: victory. (Note: If you expect all 10 teams to win the World Series in real life, you will be heavily disappointed.) I'm siding against my Mets-fan hopes and dreams and with the team with more of everything: the Los Angeles Dodgers. And, truth be told, this is the team that I really, really think will actually win the World Series [disclaimer: the playoffs are always a toss-up].
Why is the big question, though. Why the Dodgers ... a team that ranked fourth in the National League in both wins and Pythagorean win-loss record? Why a team that finished with a losing record against teams at or above .500? Why this team, and not one of the more-dominant NL Central contenders?
Well, there are two main reasons. Their names are Clayton and Zack.
|Name||ERA||ERA Rank||FIP||FIP Rank||cFIP||cFIP Rank||DRA||DRA Rank|
Note: Ranks are based on starting pitchers with 90 or more innings pitched.
The NL Cy Young race is going to come down to three names: Jake Arrieta, Clayton Kershaw, and Zack Greinke. As I'm sure you know, two of those names belong to the Los Angeles Dodgers. See, when you have The Best Team Money Can Buy*, you can spend the cash to lock up the world's greatest pitcher and also hire on a boyish right-hander to play Curt Schilling to his Randy Johnson.
[*Note: Read Molly Knight's book. It's excellent, and not just for ship-burning and hand-washing anecdotes. [Editor's note: seconded]
The first thing I wish to note here is that having a playoff ace doesn't guarantee success. Having two aces doesn't either. But having two of the three best pitchers in baseball does give the Dodgers the best chance to win any of the games these two pitchers starts. To start, Kershaw is a champion when it comes to advanced metrics like FIP (the measure of how well a pitcher controls strikeouts, walks, and homers) and cFIP (the best available measure of a pitcher's true talent level in a given timeframe). He was, for 2015, the best pitcher in the league by those metrics, and with cFIP it's not particularly close -- his score of 58 smokes the competition, the next closest is Max Scherzer's 66. Oh yeah, he's also racked up his numbers while throwing a major-league leading number of innings.
In some ways, Greinke was the Tonto to Kershaw's Lone Ranger, but in others, he was the leading man this season. We all know by now that ERA isn't exactly the best way to judge a pitcher's efficacy ... but Greinke was still the best pitcher in the world at not allowing runs this year. Was it deserved? Yes. Greinke's Deserved Runs Average (DRA) -- a metric found at Baseball Prospectus -- put him at 2.15, which was still the best number in baseball. Any way you slice it, Greinke has been tremendous.
It's possible that right now, today, Jake Arrieta is the best pitcher in baseball. But it's also just as possible that it's either Greinke or Kershaw. In any game started by the dynamic Dodger duo, LA has to be favored ---- given just how often that's going to be, things look good for this team.
If that's not enough for you, one last thing we should talk about is this team's ridiculously deep bench. The Dodgers are a team that could run out two lineups, composed of completely different ballplayers, and each of those would be pretty good. Take a look:
|Position||Team A||Team B|
|1B||Adrian Gonzalez||Scott Van Slyke|
|2B||Howie Kendrick||Chase Utley|
|3B||Justin Turner||Jose Peraza|
|SS||Corey Seager||Jimmy Rollins|
|LF||Carl Crawford||Justin Ruggiano|
|CF||Enrique Hernandez||Joc Pederson|
|RF||Yasiel Puig||Andre Ethier|
|C||Yasmani Grandal||A.J. Ellis|
Of course, anyone would take Team A over Team B, but the point here is that the Dodgers have BOTH TEAMS. Don Mattingly will be able to mix and match options at all points, even with multiple players hamstrung with, well, hamstring injuries. Of the 18 players mentioned above, guess how many posted above-average offensive numbers in 2015? Go ahead, guess.
The answer is 11, if you're using FanGraphs' wRC+ metric. That number does not include decline-phase superstars Utley, Crawford, and Rollins -- players who could still provide valuable plate appearances during a playoff run despite their diminishing skills.
Yes, this is a team battling injuries on the positional side of the ball. Yasiel Puig and Jose Peraza may not be at full strength for the NLDS. But this is also a team uniquely suited to wearing down opposing pitchers and taking the platoon advantage, just as it has all season long. Don Mattingly has a wicked Swiss Army Knife of a lineup, one that he can use to MacGyver wins against almost any comers. Against the Mets' wicked righties, he can deploy Andre Ether with impunity. Need to move a runner over late in the game? Pretty sure Chase Utley can still do that. Pop off the bench? Yup, Joc Pederson is still on this team.
This is not a team without weaknesses, and picking teams to win the World Series is a fool's errand. Trust me, I think I picked the Mariners to go to the WS this year before the season. However, this is a team loaded with hitters, able to withstand injury and play matchups and, oh yeah, they have the two best pitchers in the world. Is this a team guaranteed for greatness? Nope. But when you've got all the cash in the world to play with, you can build a team designed to wreak havoc in the post-season.
* * *
Bryan Grosnick is the Lead Writer for Beyond the Box Score and a contributor at Baseball Prospectus - Boston. He picks the Dodgers over the Mets in four, which deeply wounds him.