Friday, April 19 2024
MLB: OCT 09 NLDS - Diamondbacks at Dodgers

MLB: OCT 09 NLDS – Diamondbacks at Dodgers

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Los Angeles Dodgers

2023 record: 100-62 (.617)

First Place, NL West

Team ERA: 4.06 ERA (13th)

Team OPS: .795 OPS (2nd)

What Went Right

Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman put together sublime offensive campaigns, spearheading an offensive core that finished second in baseball in both OPS and home runs, trailing only a Braves‘ lineup that launched a record-setting 307 round-trippers this season. Will Smith fell one homer shy of a 20-homer campaign and remains one of the elite catchers in the fantasy landscape. Max Muncy, who signed a two-year, $24 million contract extension following the conclusion of the Fall Classic, eclipsed 30 homers for the fourth time in the last six full seasons since 2018. Offseason acquisition J.D. Martinez blasted 33 homers in a true renaissance campaign, and rookie outfielder James Outman emerged as a legitimate 20-homer, 20-steal impact fantasy contributor.

Despite their pitching depth crumbling down the home stretch, there were a few bright spots for Los Angeles, most notably hard-throwing rookie Bobby Miller. The 24-year-old top prospect ascended to the big leagues in late May and compiled a strong 3.76 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and 119/32 K/BB ratio across 124 1/3 innings (22 starts). Without delving deeper into his advanced analytics, Miller looks like a potential upper-echelon fantasy starter for years to come. There are some questions regarding his long-term role, but Ryan Pepiot emerged as a potential impact contributor for the Dodgers, posting a sparkling 2.14 ERA, 0.76 WHIP and 38/5 K/BB ratio across 42 innings (eight appearances, three starts). It merely qualifies as a footnote, but closer Evan Phillips converted 24 of 27 save opportunities and flame-throwing Brusdar Graterol blossomed into one of the most dominant high-leverage relievers in the game.

What Went Wrong

The Dodgers lack of high-end starting pitching depth led to their unexpected postseason upset at the hands of the division-rival Diamondbacks, as veterans Clayton Kershaw – pitching through a lingering shoulder issue – and Lance Lynn were shellacked in stunning fashion. It would’ve made an impact if Walker Buehler made it back from Tommy John surgery in time for the playoffs, but Los Angeles ultimately decided not to rush him back, focusing instead on having him prepare to be ready for Opening Day. Julio Urías put together arguably the worst season of his career before landing on administrative leave indefinitely following an early-September arrest on felony domestic violence charges. The 27-year-old southpaw’s career in Los Angeles is likely over and it’s possible no other club is willing to give him an opportunity this offseason in free agency.

We’re not done yet with the Dodgers’ problems on the pitching side of the ledger. Notable offseason acquisition Noah Syndergaard’s fastball velocity never returned and he wound up being jettisoned to Cleveland at the trade deadline. Former top prospect Dustin May was phenomenal in his return from Tommy John surgery before requiring an additional elbow surgery in mid-July, which is expected to sideline him until the second half of the 2024 campaign. Tony Gonsolin struggled while pitching through a right elbow injury that wound up requiring season-ending Tommy John surgery by late August. Emergency stopgap solutions like Michael Grove, Emmet Sheehan and Gavin Stone were largely ineffective in their first taste of the majors. Here’s an oversimplification: Los Angeles’ lack of effective pitching talent torpedoed their playoff hopes. There are some lingering concerns with their position player nucleus and bullpen depth, but those are ancillary issues heading into an offseason where the front office’s primary focus will be bolstering their starting pitching depth.

Fantasy Slants

** The central question for the Dodgers is what version of Walker Buehler will show up on Opening Day. The 29-year-old fantasy ace hasn’t pitched in the majors since undergoing Tommy John surgery back in 2022 and made just one minor league rehab appearance before the 2023 season wrapped up. There won’t be any workload restrictions, but he’s one of the biggest unknowns for fantasy managers heading into next spring. It’s fair to assume that his spring training outings in the Cactus League will be appointment viewing.

** There’s some uncertainty surrounding his future, but all indications are that Clayton Kershaw will return for the 2024 season. Despite some durability concerns, the 35-year-old future Hall of Fame southpaw has finished with an ERA above 3.03 just once in the last half decade. He’s unlikely to make more than 25 starts, but fantasy managers can bank on Kershaw remaining a viable fantasy option, health permitting. He’s a borderline top-30 fantasy starter, if he chooses to continue his career in Los Angeles.

** What happened to Miguel Vargas remains a bit of a mystery. The highly-touted 23-year-old rookie infielder was handed the proverbial car keys at second base to open the regular season, but wound up being shipped to the minors for good in mid-July after struggling to a .672 OPS with just seven homers and three steals across 304 plate appearances in 81 games. Given his impressive minor league resume, it’s too soon to bail on Vargas completely, but he’s going to have to show something at the highest level before fantasy managers can trust him again, even in deeper mixed leagues.

** There aren’t a ton of elite prospects left in the Dodgers’ system, but it’s probably time to figure out if Michael Busch can make an impact at the highest level as a primary designated hitter and part-time infielder. The 25-year-old slugger got into 27 contests this season for Los Angeles, but spent the majority of the year tattooing the baseball at Triple-A Oklahoma City, finishing with a stratospheric 1.049 OPS and 27 homers across 98 games. He’s more of a four-category, power plus counting stats contributor, but it wouldn’t be shocking to see him make an impact in deeper mixed leagues, especially if the Dodgers don’t bring back J.D. Martinez in free agency.

** Speaking of prospects, is there anyone more intriguing than unheralded right-hander Kyle Hurt? The 25-year-old sipped a quick cup of coffee in the big leagues towards the conclusion of the regular season after compiling a stellar 3.91 ERA, 1.23 WHIP and 152/44 K/BB ratio across 92 innings (26 appearances, 16 starts) between Double-A Tulsa and Triple-A Oklahoma City. If his prodigious strikeout rate carries over in the majors, he has a chance to make an impact for fantasy managers, depending on how Los Angeles wants to deploy him. He’ll be an interesting late-round sleeper candidate for fantasy managers next spring.

Key Free Agents

Clayton Kershaw, J.D. Martinez, Jason Heyward, Ryan Brasier, Shelby Miller, David Peralta, Amed Rosario, Enrique Hernández, Julio Urías

Team Needs

There are avenues for the Dodgers to replenish their roster through emerging youngsters and top prospects, but that won’t solve their critical issues at the top of their starting rotation, which presently features Walker Buehler in his return from Tommy John surgery, Bobby Miller, and a couple back-end rotation stabilizer types in Ryan Pepiot, Ryan Yarbrough and Emmet Sheehan. Given their financial flexibility, Los Angeles makes a ton of sense to be in the running for a potential top-of-the-rotation starter like Japanese right-hander Yoshinobu Yamamoto. It’s possible they’ll make a serious run at Shohei Ohtani, but they should also be in the mix for other top starters including Blake Snell, Aaron Nola, Jordan Montgomery and Sonny Gray. They could always use another impact bat in the lineup or a live arm in the bullpen, but they need to upgrade their talent at the front of their starting rotation.

Source: Yahoo Sports

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