The world is basically at a standstill due to the emergence of global pandemic Covid-19, and baseball is no exception.
It’s abundantly clear that MLB will have to play a shortened season of some kind, though the details are murky in such a highly-dynamic emergency situation. Whenever teams reconvene for their spring (summer?) training, the Los Angeles Dodgers will be the favorite to win the National League pennant, and for good reason.
The Dodgers have finished in first place in the National League West for the last seven seasons, an unprecedented period of success for a team with a near-140-year history. That this period of time has largely come as a disappointment, amidst zero World Series championships, would leave a bitter taste in anyone’s mouth, let alone a team that has blown the doors off spending limits, and drafted well.
The 2020 Dodgers have perhaps the best team of any Dodgers squad of the last seven years, and actually improved quite a bit over the franchise-record 106-win 2019 roster that lost the NLDS to the eventual-champion Nationals.
Whatever the projection system, LA is expected to run-away with the National League West. PECOTA projects LA to win 103 games, and be the only team in the division with a winning record, as sound a thumping as could be had in modern-day baseball. With a 99.5 percent chance to win the division, the system projects them as a near-sure-thing for success in 2020.
FanGraph’s Playoff Odds projects LA for 97 wins, and the Padres for 84, a modest difference to PECOTA, but despite it being closer than what Baseball Prospectus projects, they still project the Dodgers with 91 percent chance to win the West.
What makes everyone so bullish on the current team?
The biggest move of the offseason was the Dodgers’ acquisition of Mookie Betts and David Price from the tear-it-down Red Sox. Mookie Betts is likely the best player in the NL today (one could make the argument for Christian Yelich), and is coming off a 6.6 win season, which followed a 10.4 win season. Betts hits for both power and average, he walks a ton, and has a high stolen base success rate. Mookie makes any team better the instant he suits-up for them, but for a Dodgers team that already had the best firepower offense in the NL, it’s that much more potent.
One of the Dodgers biggest assets during their first-place runs has been their roster depth. With versatile players like Enrique Hernandez, Chris Taylor, and Cody Bellinger, skipper Dave Roberts can get creative to field an excellent lineup when someone is injured, or simply to give players rest when needed.
Going position-by-position, it’s hard to find a more balanced and strong roster. The outfield alone consists of three all stars in Betts, Bellinger, and Joc Pederson. That trio is expected to generate nearly 15 wins by FanGraphs’ fWAR. Behind these three is fourth outfielder A.J. Pollock, a former star in his own right who may end up being potential trade-bait down the line.
The infield is nearly as strong, led by Corey Seager and Justin Turner on the left side, and Gavin Lux and Max Muncy on the right side. Gavin Lux is the youngest of the quartet, and even he is projected for over 2 wins despite entering his age-22 season. Catcher Will Smith is one of the best-hitting catchers in the game, and greatly improved a team that as of late-July, had a 2019 wRC+ of 69. Smith is projected for 2.2 fWAR, and if he can come anywhere close to his 132 wRC+ he posted in 54 games lsat year, it will be an in-house coup of a solution at catcher.
While the Red Sox dumped David Price in the Mookie deal to free-up salary, it’s a win for the Dodgers, who lost pitchers Hyun-Jin Ryu and oft-injured Rich Hill in free agency. Price will slide-in as the number three starter behind stars Clayton Kershaw and Walker Buehler, with a rotation rounded-out with Julio Urias and Alex Wood ---- two pitchers that would likely be number three starters if they were anywhere else (save Houston).
Price’s velocity has trended downward in recent years, but there’s little pressure for him to be the former ‘ace’ he was in Tampa considering LA is likely to run away with the division, and he won’t even start games one or two in any playoff series. A serviceable 170 to 190 innings would be a welcome addition to the rotation.
Bullpens are fickle things, but adding Blake Treinen to a relief corps that already included Kenley Jansen and Joe Kelly could potentially go a long way. While Treinen’s 2019 was anything but spectacular (he lost the closer role in Oakland posting a near-five ERA and a 14 percent walk rate), his 2018 was darn-near perfect. He posted a 0.78 ERA over 80 ⅓ innings, an ERA+ of 538 that season.
If the bullpen looks exposed heading into the trade deadline (which may be moved back since everything is being moved back), LA has the chips to trade away to make an upgrade. They have seven players in the Top 100 prospects, and recently signed Pollock to a fairly-friendly deal that could be attractive to a team that needs an upgrade in the outfield.
Most analysts agree that the playoffs are a crapshoot. Who could have predicted the Nationals would win the World Series by basically riding three arms the entire way in 2019? If the Dodgers keep winning at the pace we all expect, and if they keep racking up the NL West pennants at the pace we’ve seen year-in-and-year-out, it’s only a matter of time before they break their World Series championship drought. 2020 could be the year.