In 2022, the Dodgers led the big leagues in all the important offensive categories, including the most important one (runs scored). This offseason, they’ve lost Trea Turner, Justin Turner, and Cody Bellinger, replacing them with J.D. Martinez, Miguel Vargas, and (probably) James Outman.
Overall, it’s probably a small step backward, although Bellinger was awful in 2022 and both Turners had their worst seasons in several years. Combine that step backward with some steps forward taken by other teams, and Los Angels isn’t just out of the top spot on the “best lineups” list, they’re out of the top five. So says Anthony Castrovince of MLB.com, anyway.
1) Mookie Betts, RF
2) Freddie Freeman, 1B
3) Will Smith, C
4) Max Muncy, 2B
5) J.D. Martinez, DH
6) Gavin Lux, SS
7) Chris Taylor, LF
8) Miguel Vargas, 3B
9) James Outman, CF
It didn’t show up in the National League Division Series vs. the Padres, but this was the best lineup in baseball last season, hands down. The Dodgers were No. 1 in every category that matters. The drop from No. 1 to No. 7 on this list is really not as big a deal as it seems, because these are all quality lineups. But I am dinging them for the losses of the Brothers Turner — Trea and Justin (no, they’re not really brothers), both of whom had wRC+ marks around 25 percent better than league average. Martinez was an All-Star last year, but, on measure, it was his worst full season since he became a big league regular in Detroit. The Dodgers figure to take on a more youthful look in the bottom half of their lineup. Knowing them, it will work out just fine. But for now, let’s wait and see.
Castrovince has the Astros in the top spot because of their depth, with the Padres in second on the strength of their top four (Fernando Tatis Jr., Juan Soto, Manny Machado, and Xander Bogaerts). He also puts the Blue Jays, Cardinals, Braves, and Mets ahead of Los Angeles.
It’s not out of the question that this year’s team could actually be a bit better than last year’s offensively. Betts didn’t have his best season, so he could be better. It’s hard to expect Freeman to be much better, but he could hit for a little more power. Muncy was only good for half of 2022, and Taylor was terrible the whole season, so there’s room for a bump there. Martinez had a down year last year but was still JT’s equal offensively, so a small bounceback from him would be a net positive. And Gavin Lux was much better before his neck injury than his overall numbers would suggest, so a full, healthy season from him could help a lot.
The big question comes down to whether the combination of Outman and Vargas will outperform last year’s combination of Bellinger and Trea. Those two combined for a slash line of .260/.308/.433 for a .741 OPS, which would have been around a 104 OPS+. Could Vargas and Outman combine to be four percent better than league average? That doesn’t seem outlandish at all.
Still, it’s kind of nice to go into a season with all the expectations on someone else for a change. Let the Padres deal with the heavy burden of everyone expecting Tatis to just be awesome right off the bat after not playing for a year and a half and having shoulder and wrist surgeries during that time. The Dodgers can just quietly go about their business.
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