Boy, that was quick, wasn’t it? It didn’t seem like very long ago we were doing a 2016 season preview for the Dodgers, and wondering what the year had in store. And just like that, as fast as a Yasiel Puig throw from right field, it’s over.
Ok, I know it’s not technically over, and the Dodgers still have something to play for these last few games. Not only do they have a chance to earn home field advantage in the first round of the playoffs, but they can also knock off the arch rival Giants this last weekend, and ensure they don’t make it (which would just be lovely, wouldn’t it?) Still though, after claiming their 4th straight division crown this past Sunday, the regular season sure does feel complete, and most fans just can’t wait for post season baseball.
Like any year, the Dodgers’ 2016 season had its share of ups and downs, twists and turns, good times and bad times. There were some positive surprises, as well as some disappointments. Before we go forward into the playoffs, we take a look back here at some of those.
Corey Seager’s rapid development: I honestly didn’t think I’d put Seager on this list. Reason being, I had really high expectations for our young rookie (even higher than most) and wouldn’t have been surprised at all to see him have a very productive year. With that said, he found a way to exceed even my expectations.
Entering this year, there was a lot of hype surrounding Seager, and plenty of talk about him being the top prospect in the game. A little pressure maybe? Pffft. He was able to live up to all that, and then some. Not only is he a lock for this year’s Rookie of the Year award, but you can also throw his name in the MVP conversation as well. Sure, due to Kris Bryant putting up some otherworldly numbers, Seager probably won’t win the award, but he’ll still likely end up in the top 2-4 in voting.
Seager made the All-Star team in his first full season. He broke the Dodgers club record for most hits by a rookie in a season. He’s been the team’s most consistent hitter and most valuable player. All this, and he’s only 22 years old. The Dodgers have not only found their star for the future, but also their star of today. And that was probably unexpected in his first year.
Bullpen: If you would have told me after the first month of the season, that I’d be doing an article placing the Dodgers bullpen under “pleasant surprises,” I would have told you that you’re crazy. I mean, how would you know what I’m going to be writing about 6 months from now? Then, I would have told you that you’re also crazy about the Dodgers bullpen.
It was anything but a pleasant surprise early on in the year. But after the first month or two of the season, the relievers really stepped it up. The Dodgers bullpen skyrocketed to one of the best in the league, and currently sits at the top of all ML bullpens in ERA (3.21) and 2nd in BAA (.215.)
And it’s not just their performance that makes the bullpen unexpectedly stand out, but it’s their constant use as well. They’ve logged the 2nd most innings pitched in all MLB, but they haven’t let that overuse affect their performance. That has been a key factor in the Dodgers success this year.
Young Arms: Recently, I wrote about this very issue, asserting my belief that the Dodgers young arms could (and should) play a vital role in October. You can read more about that here.
Twenty year old phenom Julio Urias made his debut earlier this year, and has continued to improve each time out, showing flashes of why he’s such a highly regarding prospect. Fellow prospect Jose De Leon finally appeared in September and has looked pretty good in his few starts. Other guys like Brock Stewart and Ross Stripling also made significant contributions to the team over the course of the year.
These kids weren’t supposed to be such a mainstay in the starting rotation this year, but due to various injuries to the Dodgers’ staff, they got their chance. And they definitely didn’t disappoint. If it weren’t for these young pitchers rising to the occasion, the Dodgers likely wouldn’t be where they are now.
Unexpected Role Players: Depth was something the Dodgers were already hoping to have. In an ideal world, where everyone stays healthy (does such a world exist?) the Dodgers would have had “role players” coming out the wazoo. But baseball happened.
Andre Ethier and Trayce Thompson got injured. So did Scott Van Slyke, but only after struggling mightily while he was healthy. Kike Hernandez is still batting below .200 and we’re at the end of September. All these factors opened the door for other guys to get an opportunity. Names like Chris Taylor, Charlie Culberson, Rob Segedin, and my personal favorite, Alvin Andrew Toles, all made an impact.
These players all made contributions this year, which no one could have predicted. And the Dodgers were fortunate they did.
Health/Injuries: There’s no one to blame for the injuries the Dodgers suffered this year. It just happens I guess. Still, it was extremely frustrating to watch player after player go down with another injury. It just never seemed to stop, and eventually, the Dodgers would set an MLB record for placing the most players on the DL in one year (28.)
And these weren’t little injuries either. Dodgers ace, and best pitcher on the planet, Clayton Kershaw, went down for 2 ½ months with a back injury. In fact, everyone in the starting rotation not named Kenta landed on the DL at some point. Kershaw’s injury was the really disappointing one, as he was having his best season to date, which is saying a lot. He was well on his way to another Cy Young Award and possibly another MVP.
Every successful team needs to overcome some adversity, and the Dodgers certainly did that by enduring all their injuries this year. It was still disappointing to deal with, but the outcome could have been a lot worst.
Scott Kazmir: I feel a little bad about putting Kazmir down here. I mean, I’m not trying to call the guy out or anything, but when it comes to key players under-performing this season, I don’t think another one stands out more. No one expected Kazmir to fill the defecting shoes of Zack Greinke, but he was signed as the projected #2 guy when the Dodgers gave him a 3 yr/$48 mil deal this past off-season. And he hasn’t been that at all.
Kazmir wasn’t completely terrible. But he wasn’t very good either. He was consistently inconsistent, and his 4.56 ERA is the highest among Dodgers starters this season. He returned from the DL this past weekend, but was forced to exit his start early yet again, pitching only one inning before leaving with another apparent injury. His season is likely done.
Kazmir can opt-out of his contact this off-season, but coming off of a disappointing 2016 campaign, he likely won’t do that. Hopefully, he can regain his form next year.
Goodbye to A.J Ellis: This was a tough pill to swallow for many Dodgers fans. Ellis was a fan favorite and even though he hadn’t put up very good offensive numbers for a few years now, everyone seemed to appreciate him for who he was. A knowledgeable player, a great teammate, and Clayton Kershaw’s favorite battery-mate buddy.
Baseball is a business, and blah blah blah. I really get annoyed by hearing that every time a player is dealt away, regardless of how true it is. But I get it. The team comes first, and moves are going to be made by any front office if they feel it improves the club. Although, one could certainly argue if the “upgrade” from Carlos Ruiz was worth the intangibles lost by letting Ellis go. Either way, it was a sad day for Dodgers fans, and we all still wish nothing but the best for A.J in his career.
Struggles against LHP: I shudder just thinking about the word… “southpaw.” Scary stuff, indeed. At least for the Dodgers offense it is. The Dodgers have yet to figure out how to hit lefties with any consistency, and are easily the worst hitting team in baseball against LHP this year.
They rank dead last in all of the following categories: BA (.215), OPB, (.294), Slg % (.338), OPS (.632.) And again, that’s dead last in all MLB.
Even when Dave Roberts stacks the lineup with right handed hitters (and believe me, he does) it has little effect on their struggles. But maybe that’s part of the problem. Roberts continues to play the lefty/righty match-up game, and goes with the likes of Kiki Hernandez and Charlie Culberson more times than not, leaving guys like Joc Pederson, Josh Reddick, Andrew Toles, and Chase Utley on the bench. And thus far, it hasn’t helped much.
On the flip side, it’s not like those left handed hitters are giving Roberts any incentive to give them a shot. Pederson is currently batting .093 against LHP (no typo there, his avg. is really .093.) Reddick has the same amount of extra base hits against lefties this year as I do… zero. Toles is the one guy who you could argue deserves more of a chance against LHP, but I guess Roberts hasn’t been sold on his small sample size just yet.
Some might think the Dodgers woes against LHP are over-blown. I don’t. The numbers don’t lie, and I think they have legitimate issues against them. But hopefully they can figure it out for the playoffs, and at least make some needed improvements. Either that or maybe they can convince Jon Lester to throw underhand to them? Perhaps that would help.
Be sure to check out Part II of my 2016 season review tomorrow, when I cover the most memorable moments of 2016. Go Dodgers!