The Los Angeles Dodgers have virtually owned the National League West for the past several years. This juggernaut of analytic prowess and stacked payroll turned in four 100-win seasons since 2017. Such a track record might be why Fanduel has the team’s O/U at 96.5. But this is a new look Dodgers, and there are three key factors why the 2023 Los Angeles Dodgers will hit the UNDER on a predicted 96.5 wins.
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2023 Los Angeles Dodgers Hit UNDER 96.5 Wins In “Rebuilding” Season
Quiet Offseason, Losing Turners
Even before poaching the dream team duo in 2015 of Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi from the respective small market front offices of Tampa Bay and Oakland, the Dodgers began in 2013 what is now 10 consecutive years of postseason appearances.
While Zaidi burned up the I-5 corridor by returning to the Bay Area in 2019 as President of Baseball Operations for division rival San Francisco Giants, Friedman remained with the Dodgers under the same title.
There may be all kinds of financial reasons why Friedman and the Dodgers had an unusually quiet offseason. However, it is likely this is an anomalous blip postured as the calm before the storm in a potentially very active 2023 offseason. As one of the legit contenders for the services of impending free agent Shohei Ohtani, 2023 may be the closest thing to a rebuilding year the current iteration of this club may have.
With superstars like Freddie Freeman and Mookie Betts in long-term contracts, the Dodgers have strong pillars upon which to build, even after letting another superstar go in Trea Turner.
In addition to the below names, the Dodgers also parted ways with Joey Gallo, who might be one of the pull-happy hitters that benefits most from the new shift rules but couldn’t cut it as a resurrection project for the Dodgers hitting staff.
While the Dodgers opted to let five-tool MVP candidate Trea Turner sign an 11-year, $300M deal with the Philadelphia Phillies, that may have been because Gavin Lux was still a healthy internal replacement at shortstop.
Nevertheless, Turner’s numbers simply aren’t replicable by many players around the league, especially when coupled with his excellent defense.
Entering his age 30 season, Turner seems to be getting better with age, posting a wRC+ of 142 (a career high) and 128 over the past two years. His poise on the base paths stands to shine brighter than ever, as 2023 will undoubtedly be the year of the stolen base renaissance.
So, who will the Dodgers roll out in place of Trea Turner and/or Gavin Lux?
In a bizarre offseason trade that may have actually put them over the luxury tax threshold, the Dodgers traded for Miami Marlins Miguel Rojas. Presumably, this was to add to their infield depth, but now the 34-year-old returns as the starting shortstop to the team he began his career with in 2014.
Rojas made for a puzzling move then but now seems totally miscast for a team that’s perennially built for World Series play.
Losing Dodger fan-favorite third baseman Justin Turner marks yet another major contributor named Turner whose departure will slow the roll of victories in East L.A. Chock with the kind of infectious energy his flaming red hair might indicate, Turner’s tenure with the Dodgers stretches back to 2014 and the beginning of their current magnificent run. One would be hard-pressed to find a better mascot for this team during that span.
Turner profiles as an analytics-driven archetype, obviously attractive to an organization that signed the duo of Friedman and Zaidi. His incredible batting eye and low strikeout totals feature rarely in a typical power hitter.
While there’s certainly no reason the Dodgers should have extended Turner entering his age 38 year, even in a down 2022 that saw him hit only 13 home runs, Turner still put up an excellent 123 wRC+ with 81 RBI and a .278 average.
Justin Turner doesn’t crank out 30 bombs a year, but he’s had multiple 27-homer seasons with ISOs in the .200 range every year. No single counting category stands out with Turner, but the absence of his overall contribution should be felt even with a couple of potentially capable replacements in a combination of Max Muncy and J.D. Martinez.
Speaking of analytics darlings and the A’s, Max Muncy came to the Dodgers shortly after Zaidi migrated over. Muncy also had a down year in 2022, as did J.D. Martinez. Muncy profiles as a more typical power hitter with a K% in the mid-20s and mid-30s homer power.
Though some metrics say otherwise, internally, the Dodgers have raved about Muncy’s defense, citing their own proprietary metrics. It remains to be seen how having the everyday gig at the hot corner will impact him, though most projection systems have him in the 125 RC+ range. For reference, Justin Turner’s down year in 2022 was 123 RC+.
Justin Turner got a lot of reps at DH, so it bears mentioning the Dodgers brought in a supreme reclamation project in J.D. Martinez to hold that gig full-time. If the team has aspirations of beating 96.5 wins, the reunion of Martinez with his own literal hitting guru Robert Van Scoyoc, who serves as the Dodgers hitting coach, will be foundational to proving this article wrong.
Finally, another beloved Dodger – for a while anyway – Cody Bellinger departed Chavez Ravine for the Chicago Cubs.
Bellinger remains a mystery that 32-year-old guru Van Scoyoc clearly couldn’t sort out. Nothing in his swing profile jumps out as the THING that’s wrong, as Bellinger posted similar Z-Contact% and K% the past two years as his first two – which saw him go off for 39 home runs in his rookie season.
While the recent performance of his bat won’t be missed, Bellinger’s defense has been praised for not faltering during his never-ending slumps.
In finding his replacement, however, the Dodgers off-season apathy might be perfectly typified. Some combination of 32-year-old journeyman Trayce Thompson, 26-year-old rookie James Outman, and defensive stalwart Jason Heyward will form a sub-replacement level platoon to patrol centerfield.
Heyward reportedly came into spring training with revolutionized swing mechanics. It makes a story worth rooting for, though the former heralded prospect hardly makes for an answer as the Dodgers’ center fielder.
Injuries and Controversy
Once Walker Buehler went down for his second Tommy John surgery in the middle of 2022, the writing may have been on the wall for the Dodgers that 2023 would be a year of pivoting.
The flamethrower possesses gas to match Justin Turner’s hair and logged a few stellar seasons for the Dodgers. In losing Buehler, the Dodgers lose a co-ace to Clayton Kershaw. Buehler came on the scene in 2017, just as Kershaw began to see his 200+ innings totals settle into the 160-170 range due to injuries.
With a fastball that touched the upper-90s, precision control, and a few plus off-speed offerings, Buehler served as a perfect right-handed complement to the face of the Dodger franchise Kershaw.
While the Dodgers knew they wouldn’t have Buehler coming into the season, a surprise ACL injury to their would-be starting shortstop Gavin Lux devastated the team’s plans for the infield.
Lux certainly wasn’t going to duplicate anything close to Trea Turner’s numbers in his first year as starter. But this surely puts a damper on the excitement in watching the potential development of a former 70-grade prospect.
A Spring Training ankle injury to Tony Gonsolin will further test the Dodgers diminishing depth.
Gonsolin has repeatedly outperformed his xERA numbers, and some have speculated he’s been a prime beneficiary of defensive shifts. Predictably as an analytics-driven organization, the Dodgers as a team have heavily employed the shift at a clip of 53%, which is tied for most in the league.
So even when Gonsolin returns, his subpar fastball might raise his actual ERA in more accordance with what the metrics suggest it should be.
The sordid situation with the polarizing figure of starting pitcher Trevor Bauer registers as a bummer across the board. Regardless of one’s opinion on him as a person, Bauer as a pitcher put up front-line numbers and piled up innings. The Dodgers not only lost this contribution in 2022 but will also be paying the D.F.A.’d player to be M.I.A. in 2023.
In a year such as 2022, the Dodgers have been known to roll into spring training with as many as eight potential starting pitchers – any of whom a rival team might love to have as their top five.
This clown-car-like depth was necessarily on display last season when number-five starter Tyler Anderson logged the most innings of any pitcher. Meanwhile, previous starter David Price chipped in 40 innings as a reliever. Per-innings darling Andrew Heaney posted a whopping 13.65 K/9 over 72 sporadic innings by becoming a two-pitch pitcher and leaning into his great sweeper.
Tyler Anderson signed a three-year deal across town in Anaheim to pitch for the Los Angeles Angels. Heaney, meanwhile, takes his mini-deGrom act over to the Texas Rangers, where he and Jacob deGrom will attempt to stretch their innings out.
Between losing Buehler and Bauer, it’s logical to imagine why the Dodgers chose not to throw good money after bad for the 2023 season.
All this means the Dodgers still have to make up some innings, so where are they coming from?
Ideally, 35-year-old Kershaw will be semi-ace-like for the duration of his new normal of innings – between 120-160.
Like Gonsolin, Julio Urias bears some indicators in his metrics that suggest his spectacular 2.16 ERA in 2022 might take a hit, especially in a year of mystery defensive outcomes across baseball. Urias’ fielding independent indicators (FIP) speak to an ERA at 3.71, and his SIERA confirms this at 3.66. He’s also never pitched more than 185 innings.
There might be some per-inning magic in Dustin May’s full season return from surgery. But expecting more than 100 innings would be fool’s gold.
Noah Syndergaard could rally for 170 innings or so, as he seeks to regain lost form and velocity. With a mediocre SwStr% of 9.1% and a K/9 of 6.35 in 2022, it’s smoking hope-ium to wishcast those innings to be dominant.
Finally, fifth-starter Ryan Pepiot posted a career-high 127 innings across the minors and majors in 2022. His major league debut was mostly forgettable with a 6.69 BB/9 rate, though he flashed a promising changeup.
Of course, as usual, the Dodgers boast one of the top minor-league farm systems. When inevitably necessary, they have several prospect options in the likes of Bobby Miller and Gavin Stone to get their feet wet on the big stage.
The Dodgers offensive depth has also been sapped, seeing Miguel Rojas go from glove-first utility player to starting shortstop.
Second base is covered fairly well, as prospect Miguel Vargas was always the game plan there. Outfielders Mookie Betts and Chris Taylor also have seen time the keystone position.
While the Dodgers probably chose wisely to go with the “less is more” approach in a season of transition across baseball, these indecisions will likely result in a win total that should fall short of the lofty expectations this team has created.
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