AnalysisNL West

2020 Dodgers Season Preview: Revisited

Despite the precariousness of Major League Baseball’s 60-game 2020 regular season, the objective for the Los Angeles Dodgers is the same as it was in March: End the drought.

The Dodgers are baseball’s best active dynasty, riding on seven consecutive National League West division titles, although the team hasn’t ended a season as World Champions since 1988. While the effects of cheating scandals by the Houston Astros and the Boston Red Sox hindered the Dodgers chances in both of the team’s pennant years, it’s clear that unfinished business lies in L.A.

Cody Bellinger’s Encore

Last year, Cody Bellinger took the National League by storm, bringing home a Gold Glove award, a Silver Slugger award, and the NL Most Valuable Player award. Dodgers fans will look to Bellinger for an encore of his 2019 in this shortened 2020 season, as he has made himself a fixture in what was ranked as MLB’s best lineup in an article by MLB Network writer Anthony Castrovince.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts noted to the media recently that Bellinger had made an adjustment to his swing this off-season, opening up one of baseball’s more up-right batting stances. Roberts said Bellinger made the change because he was reportedly disappointed with his second half in 2019, slashing .263/.371/.546 over that span.

While it’s challenging to assume Bellinger will be capable of repeating a performance like the one he put on in 2019, it’s encouraging to know that Bellinger was capable of such a season at only twenty-three years old. Because of where his birthday falls in comparison to the start of the 2020 season, Bellinger will enter this season at twenty-five years of age.

The Mookie Betts Acquisition

Undoubtedly the biggest story around Dodgers baseball this year has been the team’s trade with the Boston Red Sox, which brought 2018 AL MVP award winner Mookie Betts and 2012 AL Cy Young award winner David Price to Los Angeles. Dodgers President Andrew Friedman has been long criticized by analysts for seemingly never making a blockbuster off-season acquisition since taking his position with the Dodgers in 2014. Those critiques were laid to rest with this trade between L.A. and Boston.

The acquisition of Mookie Betts is one with historic implications. According to Jeremy Frank, author of Hidden Ball Trick Vol. 1 & 2, the MVP-winning trio of Mookie Betts, Cody Bellinger, and Clayton Kershaw will be the first of its kind in an Opening Day starting lineup since Roger Clemens, Jose Canseco, and Mo Vaughn started for the Red Sox in 1996.

David Price Opts-Out

On the fourth of July, David Price joined a list of players who’ve chosen to opt-out of MLB’s 60-game 2020 season due to health risks related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Price wrote the decision came after “considerable thought and discussion with [his] family and the Dodgers,” citing that he would “miss [his] teammates and will be cheering for them throughout the season and on to a World Series victory.”

According to Spotrac, Price is set to earn $32M this season, 50% of which will be paid for by the Red Sox as agreed upon in the trade the team made with the Dodgers.

Schedule Breakdown

Under the 2020 season scheduling rules, the Dodgers will only face teams in their region during the 60-game regular season. Forty of the team’s games will be played against NL West teams, while the remaining twenty will be played against teams in the AL West. Here’s how the Dodgers opponents breakdown this season:

  • Arizona Diamondbacks (3 home, 7 away)
  • Colorado Rockies (6 home, 4 away)
  • San Diego Padres (4 home, 6 away)
  • San Francisco Giants (7 home, 3 away)
  • Houston Astros (2 home, 2 away)
  • Los Angeles Angels (3 home, 3 away)
  • Oakland Athletics (3 home, 0 away)
  • Seattle Mariners (2 home, 2 away)
  • Texas Rangers (0 home, 3 away)

Projected Starting Lineup

  1. Mookie Betts (RF)
  2. Max Muncy (1B)
  3. Justin Turner (3B)
  4. Cody Bellinger (CF)
  5. Joc Pederson (DH)
  6. A.J. Pollock (LF)
  7. Corey Seager (SS)
  8. Will Smith (C)
  9. Enrique Hernandez (2B)

Projected Starting Rotation

  1. Clayton Kershaw (LHP)
  2. Walker Buehler (RHP)
  3. Julio Urias (LHP)
  4. Alex Wood (LHP)
  5. Ross Stripling (RHP)

Projected Bullpen

  1. Kenley Jansen (CL)
  2. Pedro Baez (SU)
  3. Joe Kelly (SU)
  4. Blake Treinen (MID)
  5. Caleb Ferguson (MID)
  6. Dylan Floro (MID)
  7. Brusdar Graterol (MID)
  8. Adam Kolarek (MID)
  9. Scott Alexander (MID)
  10. Dustin May (LR)
  11. Tony Gonsolin (LR)

ZiPS Player Projections

The ZiPS projection system found on FanGraphs was recently updated to fit the parameters of a 60-game season. Here’s who ZiPS believes will lead the Dodgers in a few notable statistical categories:

  • H leader: Betts (66)
  • HR leader: Bellinger (15)
  • RBI leader: Bellinger (44)
  • AVG leader: Betts (.293)
  • OPS leader: Bellinger (.972)
  • wOBA leader: Bellinger (.395)
  • fWAR leader: Betts (2.3)
  • W leader: Buehler/Kershaw (4)
  • IP leader: Buhler/Kershaw (62.0)
  • SO leader: Buehler (74)
  • ERA leader: Kershaw (3.19)
  • WHIP leader: Kershaw (1.03)
  • fWAR leader: Buehler (1.5)

Although projection systems do not account for it, the chance that Corey Seager finds his way at the top of team leaderboards isn’t as slim as it seems. Seager has played very well in Dodgers’ intrasquad games and appears to be fully healthy. Look out for him to be one of baseball’s best shortstops in 2020 and an important piece in the Dodgers lineup.

The shortened season makes the innings limit that may have once held Julio Urias back almost nonexistent, alongside a third spot in the team’s rotation up for grabs with David Price’s opt-out. These factors are a perfect recipe in allowing Urias the chance to make his name known across the league this season.

PECOTA Team Projections

Player Empirical Comparison and Optimization Test Algorithm (PECOTA) is a sabermetric projection system provided by Baseball Prospectus that predicts MLB team performance from year to year. This season, the system has predicted team records, division win percentages, and playoff appearance percentages according to the 60-game schedule.

In 2020, according to the PECOTA, the Dodgers are the best team in baseball. Los Angeles is projected to win 38.4 games, edging out the second-place New York Yankees who are projected for 36.5 wins. The Dodgers also have MLB’s highest division win percentage (92.1%) and playoff appearance percentage (97.7%) by the PECOTA’s numbers.

Final Thoughts

The Dodgers are amidst one of the best streaks of winning baseball in MLB history, winning the NL West each year since 2013 and only sporting a record below .500 twice since 1999. However, these accolades seem trivial to the franchise as they continue to battle for what has become an incredibly elusive World Series title.

While the 2020 World Series champion may be remembered in a different light than other championship teams due to the 60-game regular season, the Dodgers have arguably the best shot in baseball at taking home a World Series trophy this season, and even a title in this unprecedented 2020 season would be sweet to a Dodgers fanbase that has long-awaited a champion.

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