This is the Baseball-Reference page for the 2017 National League pennant-winning Los Angeles Dodgers. I consider it to be some form of art; a page that challenges the status quo of conventional Baseball-Reference pages. Why? Well, take a look at the row of “Top 12 Players.” Or, you know what, here it is.
What do you see here? I see a replacement level utility player turned All-Star in first (Justin Turner), an overlooked extra shortstop who all of a sudden learned to hit in fourth (Chris Taylor), two versatile, but not special, platooning catchers (Austin Barnes and Yasmani Grandal) in the top 10, and two forgotten left-handed starters (Alex Wood and Rich Hill) who each provided two bWAR or more last season.
There’s a trend here. The Dodgers are great not because of their superstars, but because of their incomprehensible, impressive ability to find talent and contributions from literally anyone possible. In 2017, it was Taylor, Barnes, and others, and in 2018, Max Muncy and Ross Stripling are continuing the movement.
Muncy is a first baseman, third baseman, and outfielder whose bat has become far too valuable to keep out of the lineup. “Max Muncy” and “bat” and “valuable” really should not be in used in the same sentence. The 27-year-old previously spent parts of two seasons with the Oakland Athletics, with a career batting average of .295 entering the 2018 season with Los Angeles.The @Dodgers are great at finding contributions anywhere. @maxmuncy9 and @RossStripling are the two latest examples.Click To Tweet
Muncy, who has already surpassed his single-season career high in plate appearances (that should tell you a lot), is slashing .272/.395/.616 with 12 home runs, 28 RBIs, an OPS+ of 175, and a showing of decent discipline at the plate, compiling 25 walks. That OPS+ mark leads the defending NL West champions, as does his 1.011 OPS.
As far as Stripling goes, well, he has legitimately been the best player on the Dodgers in 2018. Fans in the City of Angels remember Stripling for manager Dave Roberts pulling the young pitcher after 7.1 no-hit innings in April of 2016, a controversial but intuitive decision that left many upset. Now, he leads the Blue Crew in bWAR (2.4), ERA (1.65), strikeouts (72), strikeouts-per-walk (6.55), and ERA+ (231).
The Texas A&M product was 8-14 with an ERA over 4.00 entering the 2018 season, but in 19 games (eight starts) this season, he’s 5-1 and just mowing dudes down left and right. Especially with the injuries in the starting rotation and elsewhere in the pitching staff — most notably Clayton Kershaw, Hyun-Jin Ryu, and Kenta Maeda — Stripling has been found gold for Los Angeles in the first third of 2018 and boasts the third-best ERA in baseball among pitchers with at least 40 innings pitched.
Maybe it’s a coaching thing. Alongside Roberts in the L.A. dugout, Bob Geren (bench coach) and Rick Honeycutt (pitching coach) are regarded as two of the best assistant coaches in the majors. I think everyone would agree, and at this point, there are too many good examples of players suddenly emerging as useful and productive to lean toward disagreement. It’s kind of fun to say “Where would the Dodgers be without Ross Stripling and Max Muncy?”
The talent level in baseball is fun because of this very phenomenon: players you’ve never heard of can step to the dish or on the rubber, start absolutely shredding guys, and all of a sudden become All-Stars nearly overnight. No team does that look-at-this-random-dude-who-is-now-a-.290-hitter-or-18-win-pitcher trick better than the Dodgers have in recent years, and as far as 2018 goes, Max Muncy and Ross Stripling are proving it.