clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Preparing for the World Series: Meeting the Dodgers lineup

New, 1 comment

It’s an incredibly deep group of hitters

League Championship Series - Los Angeles Dodgers v Milwaukee Brewers - Game Six Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

We are less than 48 hours away from the first pitch of the 2018 World Series, and while this will be the first time this postseason the Red Sox will play a team that finished the regular season with fewer than 100 wins, the Dodgers are certainly nothing to sneeze at. Los Angeles will be playing in its second consecutive World Series, and they are an incredibly deep team. That depth is most pronounced on the position player side of their roster, as their entire team could easily start for a good number of teams in baseball. They run a ton of platoons, and their depth is not only talented but also versatile. We’ll see a lot of these players shuffling in and out of the lineup and playing different positions all series. In fact, the fluidity of their lineup makes this exercise below very difficult and is more of a rough outline than a clear depth chart.

Catcher

Starter: Austin Barnes (238 PAs, .205/.329/.290 77 wRC+, 4 homers, 0.3 fWAR)

I’m actually not sure about the starter here, so I’m sort of taking a shot in the dark. Barnes was not Los Angeles’ best or most used catcher during the regular season, but it seems the Dodgers have gone with a straight platoon at the position, and Boston will obviously be starting a pair of lefties to start this series. It’s also worth noting that Barnes started Game Seven of the NLCS with the Brewers starting a righty, though everyone knew Milwaukee wasn’t going to stick with their starter very long.

Anyway, it was a pretty disappointing year for Barnes, who had been coming off a really impressive 2017. That was his first full year in the majors, but he took a step back at the plate in just about every area in 2018. The most startling step back was in terms of strikeout, with his rate increasing by a whopping 12 percentage points all the way up to 28 percent. This may have been at least some small sample size noise, however, as Barnes’ swinging strike rate didn’t rise too much. The catcher is a patient hitter and is going to draw some walks, so when he’s in the lineup the Red Sox pitchers need to make sure they are pounding the zone and daring him to beat them. Barnes didn’t beat many pitchers this year, finishing with an Isolated Power of just .085 thanks largely to an increased ground ball rate.

All of that being said, the reason Barnes has become the preferred backstop recently is his play behind the plate. He grades very positively in terms of framing and blocking pitches, and is about neutral in terms of controlling the running game. It is also worth noting that while his overall numbers in the regular season (and postseason, when he posted a .311 OPS in the NLCS) were disappointing, he put up a really solid 101 wRC+ against lefties this year.

Backup: Yasmani Grandal (518 PAs, .241/.349/.466 125 wRC+, 24 homers, 3.6 fWAR)

Like I said, Barnes was not the starter during the regular season, and Grandal actually had a really good year. The reason he has been sitting more of late is the defense, as he had some high-profile gaffes in the NLCS and in a short series you don’t really have time to see if those kind of plays will even out. What’s strange is that, according to Baseball Prospectus’ catching metrics, he was quite good across-the-board defensively. When he does play — and he will get starts in this series — the Dodgers lineup will be much deeper. There’s real swing and miss in his game, but the switch-hitting backstop draws a ton of walks and has above-average power even without accounting for his position. How Dave Roberts ends up managing this position will be one of the most interesting stories to watch this series.

League Championship Series - Milwaukee Brewers v Los Angeles Dodgers - Game Five Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

First Base

Starter: Max Muncy (481 PAs, .263/.391/.582 162 wRC+, 35 homers, 5.2 fWAR)

Muncy was, perhaps, the most surprising position player in all of baseball this year. He was released by the Athletics just before the 2017 season and signed by the Dodgers shortly after that. After spending all of last year in Triple-A, the 28-year-old was called up early in 2018 and has mashed ever since getting that call. Before we get into him as a hitter, I should mention that while I have him listed at first base I’m not sure how much time he actually spends here. He has played a fair amount of first, but he’s generally shifted to second against lefties and with the addition of the DH for four of these games he could see at least some time there. Like I said at the top, the Dodgers have a lot of guys who can play all over the diamond. Muncy is one of them.

Wherever he plays defensively, he is going to be a focal point in the middle of their lineup. Muncy was, among players with at least 450 plate appearances, the second-best hitter in the National League by wRC+ and will likely get some down-ballot MVP votes. His only weakness at the plate this year was with the strikeouts, as he was set down 27 percent of the time in 2018. Of course, that’s no longer the issue for hitters that it once was, and he more than made up for it with the rest of his game. Muncy hits for big-time power, posting a .319 ISO, and according to Fangraphs’ batted ball metrics he hit the ball hard a whopping 47 percent of the time. On top of that, he showed off a strong eye for the strike zone with a 16.4 percent walk rate that kept his OBP so high despite the high strikeout rate.

Muncy hits from the left side, but won’t suffer too much against Boston’s big southpaws. While he was better against righties, the Dodgers infielder posted a 141 wRC+ against lefties this year. This postseason, he did have a huge series against the Braves in the NLCS but scuffled a bit in the NLCS.

Backup: David Freese (312 PAs, .296/.359/.471 126 wRC+, 11 homers, 2.0 fWAR)

Freese is a straight platoon player, and is another option we could see at the DH slot when games are played at Fenway. The former Pirate has been a big part of the Dodgers plan this year and is a big situational piece for the Dodgers. He will, in a way, be neutralized by the Red Sox this series by the simple fact that they don’t have any late-game left-handed relievers. So, Freese isn’t all that likely to make a big impact in games in which he does not start. Against southpaws this year he posted a 140 wRC+.

Second Base

Starter: Chris Taylor (604 PAs, .254/.331/.444 113 wRC+, 17 homers, 3.1 fWAR)

Taylor was sort of last year’s version of Muncy for the Dodgers, though not quite to the same extent. He hasn’t been quite as good in 2018, though obviously he was still more than a solid player. He’s not at all tied to second base here, and against righties he’ll more likely shift to the outfield, but he’ll play in just about every game. Taylor, like most of the rest of the Dodgers’ lineup, strikes out a lot but makes up for it with big power. He won’t look like a power threat at the plate but he posted a .190 ISO this year after putting up a .208 mark in 2017. Thanks to the consistent hard contact he makes as well as good speed on the bases, he regularly posts high batting averages on balls in play to help cancel out that strikeout rate. Taylor doesn’t have huge platoon splits in either direction, making him something of a rarity in this lineup in that he can and will play against pitchers of both handedness. His versatility and ability to play both middle infield spots as well as all over the outfield is a huge boon for Roberts. Taylor has had a monster postseason, posting a 1.067 OPS in ten games.

Backup: Brian Dozier (632 PAs, .215/.305/.391 90 wRC+, 21 homers, 0.8 fWAR)

Dozier was one of the bigger names on the trade market this summer, but it’s been a disappointing year for the veteran in both Minnesota and L.A. and he’s been relegated largely to a bench role. He’s still a threat to take a ball over the fence whenever he comes to the plate, but he just hasn’t been able to hit the ball with authority on a consistent basis this year. If he has any chance to impact this series, it will be in the first two games when the Dodgers have a DH spot and Boston starts their left-handed starters.

League Championship Series - Milwaukee Brewers v Los Angeles Dodgers - Game Five Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Shortstop

Starter: Manny Machado (709 PAs, .297/.367/.538 140 wRC+, 37 homers, 6.2 fWAR)

We know this guy pretty well, I think. Machado is one of the few Dodgers who can be penciled into the lineup every day at the same position, and for good reason. He is quite simply one of the best players in the game and will be a force in the middle of this lineup all series. Of course, he also has something of a history with the Red Sox from his Orioles days, so expect some loud boos for him consistently over the first two games of this series. Those boos will only be boosted by the loud rumors that he will end up with the Yankees in free agency this winter.

In terms of his impact on the field, well, it’s large. Machado bounced back from a disappointing 2017 season and was one of the best overall players in baseball in 2018. He’s a rarity in this lineup with a low strikeout rate, and he pairs that with an above-average walk rate — this was the second season in his career in which he accomplished that — as well as plus power. As we’ve seen many times, he certainly has the ability to hit moon shots over that big ol’ wall in left field. The one deficiency you’ll hear about is his defense at shortstop, but that’s overplayed. His metrics were awful with Baltimore, but they’ve come up with the Dodgers and to me that indicates that a team with better positioning can get the most out of him with the glove. Machado has come up with some big hits this postseason and has posted an .813 OPS. If you’re looking for someone to really hate during this series, well, here you go.

Backup: Taylor

Third Base

Starter: Justin Turner (426 PAs, .312/.406/.518 154 wRC+, 14 homers, 4.2 fWAR)

Of all the bats in the Dodgers lineup, Turner is the one that scares me the most. He was another Dodgers breakout, though his rise to prominence came way back in 2014. Since then, he’s been one of the most consistently terrifying bats in the league. He spent some time on the disabled list to start this year which brought down some of his counting stats, but he is every bit as dangerous as he’s ever been. Turner really is the whole package with the bat, posting low strikeout rates, high walk rates and big-time power. Over the last five years the lowest wRC+ he’s posted is 123, and in the other four years he’s put up marks of at least 141 in each season. To make matters ever worse for Boston, Turner feasted on left-handed pitchers this year to the tune of a 179 wRC+ with more walks than strikeouts and a .244 ISO. If you’re looking for good news, he did have a rough NLCS, but before that he had a big NLDS after posting a 190 wRC+ in the second half.

Backup: Freese

League Championship Series - Milwaukee Brewers v Los Angeles Dodgers - Game Five Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Left Field

Starter: Joc Pederson (443 PAs, .248/.321/.522 126 wRC+, 25 homers, 2.7 fWAR)

I’m listing Pederson as the starter here, but I should mention that he probably isn’t going to start four of these seven games (if it gets that far, obviously) when either Chris Sale or David Price starts. Pederson is a straight platoon player who sits when lefties start. That being said, he will lead off when Nathan Eovaldi and Rick Porcello start, and in the other games he’ll come in once the starters leave. So, whichever way you slice it he’ll play the majority of the time here.

Pederson is a really interesting player who had a bounce-back year in 2018. The former top prospect was quite disappointing in 2017, but his power came back in a big way this year to the tune of an 80-point increase in ISO all the way up to a .273 mark. He’s also really reigned in his plate discipline. When Pederson first came up he consistently posted well above-average strikeout rates, but he’s brought that number down every year and in 2018 he posted his first season with a rate below 20 percent. As I said, though, his biggest strength is mashing right-handed pitching, which he did to the tune of a 139 wRC+ this year. Pederson has a .741 OPS this postseason.

Backup: Matt Kemp (506 PAs, .290/.338/.481 122 wRC+, 21 homers, 1.6 fWAR)

Kemp had a big bounce-back year in 2018 after looking like his career was pretty much toast over the previous few seasons. However, much of his success this year came in the first half of the year and he’s fallen out of favor in recent months. At this point he hasn’t really been starting much, even against lefties, though again the addition of the DH could change things. My expectation is that Kemp will be a pinch hitter in this series, and while he’s not the player he once was he can always take one deep.

Center Field

Starter: Cody Bellinger (632 PAs, .260/.343/.470 120 wRC+, 25 homers, 3.6 fWAR)

Bellinger was the Rookie of the Year last year, and is a fascinating player if for no other reason that he’s shifted from first base to center field. There’s not many players than can do that. It’s been a necessary move with the emergence of Muncy at first. Bellinger certainly won’t win any Gold Gloves out in center, but for the most part he’s handled himself well out there. Of course, if the Red Sox can hit a few balls out into the triangle at Fenway things can get really interesting.

Its Bellinger’s bat that is the real concern for Boston, however. In the regular season he took a bit of a step back after his monster rookie year, but don’t let that cloud your judgement of him. He was never going to keep up that .315 ISO he put up in 2017, but he’s still a very good hitter. He’ll hit for power and draw walks. The big thing for Bellinger is whether or not he’s making contact. If the Red Sox can get him to rack up some strikeouts they should keep him in check. If not, things could get dangerous. It’s also worth noting that while Bellinger’s overall numbers were a bit disappointing he was better in the second half and he is coming off being named the NLCS MVP. All of that being said, the one big advantage Boston has here is that Bellinger is a left-handed hitter and he posted a wRC+ of just 88 against southpaws this year. The Red Sox have an opportunity to get him off on the wrong foot in this series against Sale and Price.

Backup: Taylor

League Championship Series - Milwaukee Brewers v Los Angeles Dodgers - Game Five Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Right Field

Starter: Yasiel Puig (444 PAs, .267/.327/.494 123 wRC+, 23 homers, 1.8 fWAR)

Puig is going to be one of the most-discussed players in this World Series, largely for his personality. It is one that rubs many traditionalists — and, to be fair, plenty of non-traditionalists — the wrong way, but not me. I’m a big Puig fan and think for the most part his “antics” fall on the fun side of the coin much more often than the problematic one. Ultimately, we don’t really care about that though. We care about his impact on the field, and he is one of the biggest wildcards in the series. In terms of pure talent he certainly has the potential to make his mark over the next ten days. He puts the ball in play a lot, and when he’s going well it’s almost always hit hard. However, he’s never really consistently shown that ability since his second year in the majors, though overall he did have a good year in 2018. The big thing to look for with Puig in this series is how discipline he is at the plate. If the Red Sox can get him to swing wildly at pitches all around the strike zone, they are going to have success. On the other hand, if he makes them come to him the Red Sox could get into some trouble.

The other part of Puig’s game that I’m most looking forward to is his defense. As with his offense, Puig has the potential to be a big-time defensive player, but as we know when players don’t have experience in Fenway’s right field they can get into trouble. The Dodgers right fielder also has a huge arm, and I’m looking forward to seeing Mookie Betts try to go first to third on Puig. He’s looked good this postseason with a .962 OPS.

Backup: Enrique Hernandez (462 PAs, .256/.336/.470 118 wRC+, 21 homers, 3.3 fWAR)

I have Hernandez listed here, but he is another guy who can and will play all over the place. That includes all over the outfield as well as the middle infield positions. He is one of those smaller pieces that has a chance to make a big impact on this series. He is a strong hitter who draws walks, limits strikeouts and hits home runs, though he’s always been held back by low BABIPs. If his batted balls are finding holes, he will be an all-around force in a package that also includes strong baserunning.