Here’s a news flash: The 2020 Dodgers appear to be a good baseball team.
This, of course, goes without saying. Even before the recent trade that brought in Mookie Betts and David Price from the Boston Red Sox, the Dodgers were already expected to win an eighth straight division title, and were likely the favorites in the National League. Now, after adding one of the top players in baseball to a 106-win team, they’ve increased their stock even more, and many believe anything short of a World Series victory will be a disappointment for this team.
Will Mookie bring a World Series crown to LA? ? pic.twitter.com/0FpYIWSHfR
— br_betting (@br_betting) February 5, 2020
There’s no doubt the Dodgers have a stacked team on paper. The lineup is loaded. Their starting rotation has depth for days. And they made moves this off-season to improve a previously suspect bullpen.
With all that said, every team has areas of improvement and possible flaws with their club. So, it begs asking… what are this team’s weaknesses now? Are there any remaining holes on the Dodgers roster? What are the biggest obstacles they’ll have to overcome in order to win the franchise’s first Championship in 32 years?
Below, we take a look at what areas could still be questionable for the Dodgers this year, and how they might go about addressing them.
The lack of a true #2 in the rotation
While the Dodgers certainly have depth in their starting rotation, one could argue they don’t have a top tier 1-2 punch, which can be a very valuable attribute, especially in the playoffs. Walker Buehler has definitely established himself as a bona fide ace. After him, however, it gets a little uncertain about the quality of a true #2 starter for the team.
Now, before you start shouting, “its Clayton freaking Kershaw dummy,” let’s take a moment to acknowledge the situation.
For the record, yes, Kershaw is still a very good pitcher. Last year he went 16-5 while tossing 178 innings, and posting a 3.03 ERA, 1.043 WHIP, and 3.86 FIP. Those are quality number two starter type stats. However, those numbers are also his worst marks since his rookie year of 2008. The same dominance isn’t there, and with the fastball velocity still in decline, you have to wonder if that downhill trend may continue.
There’s also the history of Kershaw in October, but we won’t get into that right now. The point is, with this version of Kershaw behind Buehler, it’s not exactly the same 1-2 punch as a Cole-Verlander or Scherzer-Strasburg combo.
David Price is a former Cy Young winner and one of the best pitchers in the game over the last 10 years or so. But like Kershaw, his numbers have dipped over the last few years, and he’s had to battle some injuries. Price pitched only 107 innings in 2019 and his 4.28 ERA was the highest since 2009. The Dodgers hope he can reclaim some of his past success, and there’s reason to believe he’ll be a solid contributor. But to expect co-ace type numbers from him in 2020, is probably unrealistic.
Possible Solution: A return to past dominance from Kershaw or Price would be one option. But if that isn’t feasible, the Dodgers could find a co-ace in other ways. Young guys like Julio Urias and Dustin May have the potential to fill such a role, and could develop into a top tier starter by years end. They’ll both likely be on innings limits throughout the season to keep them fresh, and though there’s no guarantee, they both have the stuff to be a dominant starter.
If all else fails, the Dodgers still have one of the deepest farms systems in the game, and could always try to acquire another arm at the trading deadline.
Bullpen, bullpen, bullpen
Repeated for emphasis. In all seriousness though, the bullpen has definitely been the team’s Achilles heel in the past. Sometimes it’s been the actual performance of the relief pitchers themselves, and other times it’s been the in-game management of those relievers. Either way, it’s been a reoccurring issue over the last couple of years.
Going into 2020, the Dodgers bullpen seems to be in better shape. They hope additions like Blake Treinen and Jimmy Nelson can bolster a group that still includes Kenley Jansen, Joe Kelly, and Pedro Baez. You can also add any starters that don’t make the opening day rotation, like May, Gonsolin, Wood, and Stripling. And there’s the new flame-throwing right-hander they picked up from Minnesota in Brusdar Graterol.
So while this bullpen has the potential to be a very good unit, we still just don’t know yet.
The biggest question will be whether Jansen returns to form or not. He’s coming off perhaps the worst year of his career, and if you have a closer who’s struggling to close out games on a regular basis, it’s going to be a problem.
There are other questions concerning the Dodgers’ bullpen as well. Can Treinen return to his 2018 All-Star form? Or will he be duplicate last year’s numbers, when he put up a 4.91 ERA, 5.14 FIP, and 1.59 K/BB?
What Joe Kelly will the Dodgers get, the first or second half version of 2019? Will Jimmy Nelson be healthy? How effective will young arms like Gonsolin and/or May be in relief?
Possible Solution: The initial solution is quite simple. This group just has to perform to their capability. The talent is there to be a good bullpen. If there happens to be some weak links, the Dodgers are equipped with enough options that they can make adjustments. But again, Jansen returning to form will be the biggest help.
Too much depth?
Ok, I know… now we’re really nitpicking. But with a team like these Dodgers, you kind of have to.
Having too much depth is what many would call a “good problem.” And to be clear, it’s not the depth itself that might be an issue, but the utilization of that depth.
— A.J. (@ElessarDarkStar) February 12, 2020
With the Betts acquisition, the Dodgers seem to have a pretty set everyday lineup. The one platoon that may be likely is in left field, where A.J Pollock and former future Los Angeles Angels great Joc Pederson might share time against righties/lefties. Every other position should be accounted for.
Assuming no further trades are made before spring training, the Dodgers will have a deep bench, with many players vying for playing time.
Getting at-bats for guys like Chris Taylor, Enrique Hernandez, and Matt Beaty might become more difficult than it’s been previously. Sure, there will be injuries and occasional rest days for starters. But will that account for the playing time that these guys have normally received?
Over the past three seasons, Taylor has totaled 568, 604, and 414 plate appearances. Hernandez has had 342, 462, and 460. It’s unlikely that any amount of injuries or rest days will get these guys that much playing time in 2020.
So, the question is, will Dave Roberts force the issue? He’s mentioned before that he feels the need to get players at-bats to stay fresh. Will that come at the expense of platooning rookie Gavin Lux? Will Pollock be relegated to a platoon role after signing a $60M deal just last off-season?
Again, this is a “good problem” to have. But it may be one nonetheless.
Possible Solution: Roberts has managed this team for a few years now, and knows how to divvy up playing time. But this year’s lineup does seem a little different with a limited amount of wiggle room. Hopefully, it’s a non-issue. Also, the Dodgers showed a willingness to deal from their depth with the nixed Pederson/Stripling deal, so another trade could always happen in the future.
The Dodgers have very few weaknesses or holes, and will unquestionably be the team to beat in the National League. The issues above seem like minor matters for now, but they may be areas that need addressing as the season progresses. Regardless, one thing remains clear… the Dodgers will go into 2020 with an absolute stacked club.