During a recent video on 120 Sports where they profiled certain teams and talk about how they might do this upcoming season, a surprising thing was uttered. That thing? The Los Angeles Dodgers might overperform in 2016.
It seems a little crazy to suggest that a team who won 92 games last season, and just watched one of their two best starting pitchers leave the team, will actually overachieve the following season, but it does seem quite possible when you dive into it.
As of this second, FanGraphs projects the Dodgers to win 90 games in 2016, just two wins down from their 2015 mark. However, it should be noted that actually going over the 90 wins isn’t exactly implausible.
It all starts with a couple things. First, health. Last season, the Dodgers lost 1196 man games due to injury. Meaning, all the players injured missed 1196 games combined. That was the fifth most amount of games any team missed in 2015. This coming season should be one of relatively better health.
Namely, the Dodgers are going to get Hyun-jin Ryu back from his shoulder injury, as well as Brandon McCarthy from his Tommy John surgery. On top of those two, Justin Turner missed time due to knee issues and other calamities. He recently underwent arthroscopic knee surgery this offseason.
Right fielder Yasiel Puig missed a lot of time in 2015 due to various ailments, as did second baseman Howie Kendrick. With Kendrick likely not returning to the team, you can remove him from the 2016 equation, but his time missed was still a major blow.
A lot of these players should be relatively healthy going into 2016, and should perform better when at full health. That leads us to the second reason why they might overachieve: progression to the mean.
This namely applies to the aforementioned Puig. Due to his injuries and time away, his 2015 season was one of below-average production. During his 2013 rookie season, the energetic Cuban import compiled 4.1 Wins Above Replacement in just 104 games. In 2014, he put up 5.3 WAR in 148 games. Last season, though, he only managed 1.5 WAR over 79 games and 311 plate appearances. Getting Puig back to that 4-5 WAR level is a major boon to the team.
The third reason the Dodgers could definitely overachieve next season is directly tied to their young core of players. Joc Pederson took the league by storm in the first half of 2015 only to struggle in the second half. If he’s able to level out his swing a little more, then perhaps a return to his first half prominence is in store.
That leads us to rookie shortstop Corey Seager. In a lot of ways, this is also addition by subtraction. Jimmy Rollins was bad last season. He was miserable at the plate (.283 wOBA) and miserable in the field (-7 Defensive Runs Saved). Seager is already a clear upgrade, and he even showed it in limited time at the end of 2015.
In 113 plate appearances during last season, Seager managed to put up a .421 wOBA. Combined with his solid defense (+1 DRS), the shortstop accumulated 1.5 Wins Above Replacement in only 25 games. That’s absurd. Over a full 600 plate appearances, you’re looking at a near 8-win player. But you have to tone it back some.
Right now, the ZiPS people project Seager as a 4-win player. Even producing that alone would increase the team’s chances at winning more games. However, it doesn’t just start and end with the offense (or defense). You also need to take pitching into account here.
The bullpen seems to be coming back mostly intact, so it’s all on the starting rotation. You know what you’re going to get out of Clayton Kershaw since he’s the best pitcher in the game right now. But what about those other guys? Well, it might not be that bad.
While losing Zack Greinke appears to hurt on the surface, it should be noted that Greinke hadn’t performed anywhere close to last season except for his 2009 season in Kansas City. Those are the two outliers. That isn’t to say that Greinke hasn’t been productive in his career, because he surely has, but not consistently up to that level.
The starting rotation will replace him with a few guys rather than just one. Scott Kazmir and Kenta Maeda, both projected for 3-win seasons apiece by ZiPS, can do the job as a tandem. It doesn’t stop there, though. Throw in a full season of Alex Wood, the return of Hyun-jin Ryu, and the continued performance of Brett Anderson, as well as the progression of Mike Bolsinger.
It’s going to be a committee job by the starting rotation after Kershaw’s spot. And that’s fine. You can live like that. The Dodgers just need to outperform the final couple spots in the rotation from last season to even project better going into this season. And, for right now, it appears they might.
If a team loses a starting pitcher as good as Greinke was last season, you don’t replace him with just one guy. It’s an “all hands on deck” sort of mentality that has to take over. They have that now. With Kazmir, Maeda, Anderson, and Wood slotted in behind Kershaw for now, the depth is there. Especially with Ryu, McCarthy, and Bolsinger waiting their respective turns.
Lastly, a full season of Kenley Jansen is a big deal. The hulking righty missed the first month and a half of 2015. He’s one of the premier closers in the game, so having him from the get-go is going to be a massive jolt in the arm to a team that needs all the bullpen help they can get.
When you factor in everything – from the depth in the rotation to the health to the progression by a lot of players to the improvements that’ll come defensively due to some players leaving – then you can start to see how the Dodgers could definitely overachieve during the 2016 regular season. 90+ wins isn’t out of the realm of possibility. Neither is 92 or 94.
Especially with a new manager who is full of energy. That alone can light a fire under players and get them to perform over their heads. Either way, 2016 is going to be a heck of a year for the team. Just don’t be shocked if they perform better than you might expect.