Clayton Kershaw, Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger, Justin Turner, Kenley Jansen. It is these men the Los Angeles Dodgers can count on for perennial success and contributions on and off the field. All five played massive roles in their run to Game 7 of the 2017 World Series, and if they wish to repeat as National League pennant winners, they might need even more from the five.
Their stat lines from last season are downright absurd, and it still might not be enough for another pennant run. The concern with the Dodgers should be the number of role players who chipped in with career years that can not be duplicated.
Last year’s L.A. Dodgers received a healthy dose of work on the hill from lesser-known players like Rich Hill, Alex Wood, and even Brandon McCarthy‘s six wins. The shelf life of an elite pitcher is only becoming statistically shorter, and their shining 2017 seasons are difficult to imagine as repeatable.
This trend of surprising excellence continued on the field, as Chris Taylor, the catcher tandem of Austin Barnes and Yasmani Grandal, and the resurgent Yasiel Puig were hefty auxiliary options.
Can the Dodgers really expect to get what they got from these role players in 2018? Short answer: no. Long answer…
Taylor turned out to be more than just a solid player in 2017 — his 4.8 WAR was fourth on the team with Major League Baseball’s best record. The National League Championship Series Most Valuable Player appeared in more games in 2017 than the rest of his relatively young career put together.
That, however, is exactly what the issue is. Taylor is a bit of an unproven talent, and while many have pointed to his new fly-ball approach to hitting as the reason for his breakout, one great year surrounded by a sensational team does not a great player make. It’s completely possible his .288/.354/.496 slash line carries into 2018, but it isn’t likely.
Taylor is a guy who had to scratch and claw for plate appearances up until 2017. His 568 PAs is far more than his 318 from his three previous full years. There had to be a reason as to why he couldn’t hold a bat often for the Seattle Mariners and Dodgers after them.
Wood was a legitimate NL Cy Young Award contender for the better part of last summer, going 16-3 with an earned run average of 2.72. That win total and ERA were career bests, as well as his ERA+ (154), WHIP (1.057), hits per nine innings (7.3), walks per nine innings (2.2), and strikeout-to-walk ratio (3.97).
Wood had not previously won more than 12 games, though, and he was deployed as a fourth starter come postseason time. It’s hard to imagine a fringe playoff rotation lefty repeating a .842 winning percentage.
As for another left-handed pitcher, Hill will be 38 years old when the 2018 season starts in a league flooded with youth and versatility. In 2017, he tossed more innings than in any year since 2007, and found himself on the disabled list twice last season.
He does not have much left in the tank. I like Hill — he is easy to root for and fun to watch — but the plausibility of his 2017 success transferring to the Dodgers dugout this year is middling to low.
Grandal can be counted on for 20 home runs and decent defense, but Barnes is a concern behind the plate. The sample sizes with Barnes are far too minimal to expect his above-average .289 batting average, eight bombs, and 38 RBIs to carry over. Rumors are the two will split time calling Dodgers pitches in 2018, which adds to the uncertainty of each catcher.
Lastly, Puig is one of the most entertaining personalities in baseball. He is one of those players you love only if he’s wearing your favorite club’s jersey, and resent otherwise. His swagger is good for baseball — but his variability is bad news for Los Angeles.
With post-2013 rookie explosion Puig, you don’t always know what you’re getting from him. From a raw skill perspective, he is an immensely valuable two-way force, but from a consistency standpoint, he’s a question mark.
I love Puig, but a repeat of his 3.7 WAR and 28 home runs last year is far from a lock. The reality is, he isn’t and cannot be the go-to option for L.A. when things are pointing downward.
The NL West is only getting tougher, as the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies qualified for the postseason in 2017 while the San Francisco Giants restocked an already skilled roster this offseason.
For the Dodgers to repeat as NL West champs, and perhaps pennant winners, they need to see the healthy Seager who was an MVP finalist in his rookie season. They need to feast their eyes on Bellinger, who, now that Giancarlo Stanton is in the American League, could easily pace the NL in long balls.
They need to see the Kershaw of old. Not to say he’s lost a step, but they need the Kersh who walked to the dugout screaming and flexing his muscles in Game 1 of the World Series, rather than turning backwards in disbelief as a fly ball exits the ballpark in Game 5.
They need to see the Jansen who didn’t walk a single batter until mid-June in 2017. The best reliever in baseball being the shutdown force generating loads of torque from his back leg, and loads of confidence in the dugout, is a necessary in SoCal.
They need Turner to be the resilient, easy-going third baseman attaining MVP votes and leading the league in batting average without breaking a sweat. They need their superstars to carry a team that likely won’t get the assistance from 2017 out of unheard-of players this season.
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