Editor’s note: This is the Tuesday, Oct. 20 edition of the Inside the Dodgers newsletter from reporter J.P. Hoornstra. To receive the newsletter in your inbox, sign up here.
At the end of last year’s National League Division Series, I analyzed the contributions of every Dodger player to see where things went wrong. It took a while, but we got there.
For some reason I have the same yearning now, with the Dodgers about to begin the World Series. The 7-game NLCS was so close, and so tense, that identifying where things turned in the Dodgers’ favor requires some deep detective work. The Braves were, in my opinion, the best of the three NLCS foes the Dodgers have vanquished in the last four seasons. They didn’t lose by much, and it wasn’t all Chris Martin’s fault for allowing a home run to Cody Bellinger.
It’s worth scrutinizing who helped the Dodgers, who hurt them, and what it all means for the World Series. I’ve ranked all 28 players by their cWPA (championship Win Probability Added). This is a number, expressed as a percentage, that measures how a player affected his team’s win expectancy. If your cWPA is above zero, you helped the team. If your cWPA is below zero, you hurt your team. It’s far from a perfect proxy for greatness but it helps tell a story.
Here we go.
1. Julio Urías 19.62%
Urías is who the Dodgers thought Dustin May could be in the postseason. The left-hander started Game 3. He came back in Game 7 on three days’ rest to pitch three perfect innings of relief in the series’ most critical juncture. If there was a challenger to Corey Seager for the Most Valuable Player of the NLCS, it was Urías.
The Braves keyed in on pitchers who rely on a repertoire best described as “hard, harder and hardest.” They didn’t fare as well against a properly sequenced off-speed pitch. Urías sequenced the dickens out of his curveball and changeup, commanded both pitches in addition to his fastball, and wound up allowing three hits and one run in eight innings. That ― as much as Seager’s five home runs, as much as Cody Bellinger’s one ― made the difference in the series.
I think Urías’ repertoire should play well against Tampa Bay, too. It’s a shame the World Series begins today. With Walker Buehler starting Game 3 on Friday, Urías can start as early as Game 4 Saturday on five days’ rest. More likely I can see Urías serving as a jackknife, pitching a few innings in Game 2 and maybe opening another game later in the series. Kudos to Dave Roberts and the front office for realizing what a powerful weapon he could be against the Braves and “riding the hot hand” at the end of Game 7.
2. Cody Bellinger 10.85%
Seager was the MVP of the series, but Bellinger tops all hitters on this list for a simple reason: He had the most influential hit in the deciding game of the series. He didn’t perform poorly enough in his other at-bats to bring his final cWPA down.
Bellinger’s 4-for-24 line going into his final plate appearance was not what he or the Dodgers wanted. As Dave Roberts suggested on Sunday, Bellinger had done enough little things to at least justify batting him sixth, which he did in all seven games of the NLCS. When Martin served up a mistake in Game 7, Bellinger hit it out of the park. As far as cWPA is concerned, that outcome was more important than Bellinger’s process.
I felt like Bellinger failed to take advantage of some previous mistake pitches in the series. Sometimes, that was because the Braves were positioned perfectly in the field. The Dodgers would surely prefer to see a version of Bellinger that hits home runs, sprays the ball around the whole field (making him more difficult to shift) and uses his legs to disrupt a game. That’s the player who won the MVP award a year ago, but it’s not the version of Cody Bellinger we’re accustomed to seeing in October.
At least this year’s club is better positioned to thrive without the best version of Bellinger. As long as his shoulder isn’t an issue in the World Series, this version of Bellinger should suffice.
3. Walker Buehler 8.95%
Buehler is quickly becoming the kind of postseason pitcher fans have been waiting on Clayton Kershaw to become for the last decade. He allowed one run in 11 innings across two starts. He repeatedly pitched out of trouble. He threw 100 pitches on four days’ rest with blisters on two of his fingers, making everyone forget the excuse he easily could have leaned on. That’s the stuff people like me write about for years.
In the World Series, Buehler lines up to start Games 3 and 7. That’s not the worst position for the Dodgers to be in. It’s not the best, either. Will the Dodgers try to “get cute” and extract more innings from their ace? I’m not sure what that would look like, but I wouldn’t mind finding out.
4. Will Smith 6.02%
Smith’s seven RBIs in the NLCS ranked only behind Seager’s 11. His three-run home run in Game 5, a 7-3 win, is the hit that vaulted him up the cWPA list. He also hit a two-run single early in Game 2, and an RBI double during the 11-run first inning in Game 3.
Watching Smith show some emotion in the series was a revelation. At least, it was a superficial sign that he is feeling comfortable on this stage ― something that wasn’t apparent in last year’s NLDS. (That’s good.) The pessimist in me needs to point out that Smith had five hits and 10 strikeouts in 28 at-bats. (That’s bad.) His cWPA benefited primarily from timing his hits well, when there were runners on base.
If there’s any lasting derivative from Smith’s clutch hits in a cluster of seven games, you might feel good about him being in the Dodgers’ everyday lineup going forward. If not, some extra muscle from another right-handed hitter (Chris Taylor? AJ Pollock?) might be needed to take the pressure off.
5. Kiké Hernandez 5.95%
Hernandez hit solo home runs in Game 1 and Game 7, which accounted for his only RBIs in the series. He also made some superbly athletic plays in the field. If you enjoy thinking along with a manager/front office about how to use a player, there’s something eminently satisfying about Hernandez. He crushes lefties. He plays a bunch of positions really well. Knowing how to maximize his skill set doesn’t pose much of an enigma. We know exactly who Kiké Hernandez is.
We also know that he went a combined 5-for-28 between the 2017 and 2018 World Series. Maybe there’s some solace in the idea that Roberts, by now, should know exactly how to deploy Hernandez in a playoff series. He’s also a free agent after the final out of the season, giving Hernandez all the incentive in the world to capture lightning in a bottle again.
6. Blake Treinen 5.65%
Back in August, I looked at Treinen and saw the second coming of Brandon Morrow ― the kind of second fiddle to Kenley Jansen who could slip into the closer’s role without anyone noticing. Then, in Game 1, Treinen faced four hitters and allowed three runs. Suddenly I didn’t see Morrow anymore. When Jansen faltered too, I didn’t know if there would be any more tomorrows.
Now Treinen looks like a capable high-leverage pitcher again after scoreless two-inning stints in Games 5 and 7. He also threw an inning in Game 6 that was good enough to preserve a 3-1 win. Is Treinen the Dodgers’ best reliever? cWPA says he was the most clutch (not counting Urías in Game 7) in the NLCS.
By Sunday, how the Dodgers deployed their bullpen had become the story of the NLCS. The same will be true in the World Series, I think. (You could probably say the same for the Rays.) Treinen will need to be a large part of that strategy for this to end well. Again, I don’t know exactly what that looks like but it’ll be fascinating to watch.
7. Brusdar Graterol 5.51%
Back in July, Graterol wasn’t as quick to come on the bullpen scene as Treinen, so my expectations for him were neither as high nor as longstanding going into the playoffs. That may have left me in the minority.
Like Treinen, Graterol ended up having a hiccup in the NLCS (one-third of an inning, three runs allowed in Game 4). He came back with a scoreless inning the very next day, then did so again in Game 7. Also like Treinen, Graterol leads with a power sinker that doesn’t generate as many strikeouts as you might like from a high-leverage reliever. For the most part it works. He’s actually generated more fly-ball outs than ground-ball outs in cavernous Globe Life Field, and that will have to be good enough.
I imagine we’ll see Graterol in Game 2 of the World Series, which looks like a bullpen game from here. To the extent that any relievers (not swingmen) should give you confidence right now, it’s Treinen and Graterol, and maybe, just maybe …
8. Kenley Jansen 2.66%
There’s something unsatisfying about how Jansen course-corrected in the middle of the NLCS. Namely, if talking to Charlie Hough and Rick Honeycutt was all it took, why didn’t he do it sooner? Is that really how close the Dodgers came to blowing the series? And why couldn’t Mark Prior, Josh Bard, and/or Connor McGuinness do that?
Anyway, here was Jansen’s NLCS on paper: three innings, nine batters faced, one save, zero baserunners allowed. What more could you ask for? He struggled recently enough that the Dodgers might use him less dogmatically than they did from 2013-19. In other words, he won’t be the ninth-inning closer unless the matchups favor him better than any other available pitcher.
I also think Jansen’s low-90s, cutter-slider repertoire offers enough of a contrast to the Dodgers’ high-octane sinkerballers that he can be a potent weapon if used correctly. The Braves simply couldn’t adjust from A to B when Jansen entered the game. We’ll find out soon enough if the Rays can.
9. Victor Gonzalez 2.44%
The Braves hit Gonzalez fairly hard in the NLCS. He was nowhere to be found in the Game 7 endgame scenario, and I wouldn’t have predicted that at the beginning of the series. He also got some big outs, and probably finished the series as the bullpen’s most trusted left-hander (when Urías was not available).
Austin Meadows and Ji-Man Choi are the Rays’ most fearsome left-handed hitters. Look for Gonzalez to get the first crack at them in the World Series.
10. Edwin Rios 2.01%
Rios took nine at-bats in the series. His only two hits were solo home runs. You could, at times, make a case for him to supplant Muncy in the everyday lineup, but really he’s the perfect bench player. Rios missed the NLDS with a groin injury. He also missed the last two weeks of August after popping a hamstring. Expecting him to play nine innings every day seems unwise.
Any team would kill for a left-handed slugger with a career .942 OPS just hanging out on the bench, waiting for a late-inning moment to own. The Dodgers haven’t had a guy like that since … I really don’t want to say Jim Thome here, but … Jim Thome?
11. Mookie Betts 1.57%
Betts’ primary contribution to the NLCS came on defense. He saved multiple runs with his glove alone. cWPA didn’t factor any of that in, so he surely belongs higher on a list measuring overall impact. The number-11 ranking tells us that Betts’ .269/.387/.308 slash line out of the leadoff slot was modestly valuable on its own.
After his superb catch-and-throw snuffed out a Braves rally in Game 5, I asked Betts to identify what felt like the turning point in the game. He picked Max Muncy’s walk against Will Smith (the pitcher), a moment ahead of the three-run home run by Will Smith (the catcher). Betts’ leadership skill gets a lot of ink, and that was the rare moment in which it was on full display: picking up a struggling teammate (Muncy) after an 0-for-3 game. Don’t underestimate what that can do for a clubhouse in the World Series.
12. Pedro Baez 1.22%
Baez made four appearances in the NLCS. In his first, Baez relieved Tony Gonsolin in Game 2, inherited two runners, allowed both of them to score and walked two of the four batters he faced. Classic Baez.
The right-hander came back to throw a scoreless inning in Games 3, 5 and 6. The last two preserved a fragile lead. Also Classic Baez.
What isn’t classic Baez is that he’s throwing a changeup like there’s no tomorrow. His 94-mph fastball no longer qualifies as “high velo,” or even “high spin.” Sometimes ― three times out of four, let’s say ― that will be OK against the right team in the right situation. Now he’ll need to do it again.
13. Chris Taylor 1.21%
Talk about a mixed bag. There were some games in which Taylor barely showed up, like his 0-for-5, three-strikeout Game 3. That didn’t matter so much because his teammates created 15 runs. Then, in the more tightly contested Game 7, Taylor went 2 for 4 with a double. After hitting that double in the sixth inning, he was thrown out at home plate on Corey Seager’s grounder to Ozzie Albies. One step forward, one step back (and one awkward step on the foul chalk).
Taylor had a nice mini-season coming off two down years. Until Sunday, though, he hadn’t done much at the plate since September. He still hasn’t driven in a run in his last 26 postseason games, a streak that dates to Game 1 of the 2018 NLCS. There were times last week where I might have preferred to see Taylor spelled by Austin Barnes, whose approach leads to more contact and offers better defense than Smith. Batting Taylor instead didn’t cost the Dodgers in the aggregate, but I’m wondering if Roberts would consider a similar switch in the World Series.
14. Joc Pederson 0.80%
It’s refreshing whenever you see Pederson stroke an opposite-field single, or make a diving catch in the outfield. He did both of these things last week. cWPA docked him for his 0-for-4 Game 5 that included a double-play groundout, but Pederson was the bottom-of-the-order threat the Dodgers needed to keep the Braves’ right-handed pitchers on their toes. His raw stats (7 for 18 with only two strikeouts) reveal a hitter who’s locked in.
Pederson, Hernandez and Rios are effectively role players on this team. The Dodgers shouldn’t need all three clicking at the same time. But they did all click, and the team did need it because Muncy and Bellinger ― the guys who should be slugging behind Betts and Seager ― spent most of the series working the count, acting as pests. I don’t know if that’s a repeatable formula for success.
15. Joe Kelly 0.64%
Kelly had a forgettable series, facing just five batters across two games, each appearance coming with the Dodgers trailing. Kelly throws a fast curve and a faster four-seamer, and maybe his ideal high-leverage scenario never presented itself against the Braves. That’s why I wouldn’t necessarily look at the NLCS as an indictment of what he can or can’t do right now.
Kelly should be right there in the Graterol-Treinen-Jake McGee club as a set-up guy in the World Series, maybe even as a ninth inning option if Jansen struggles or the matchup presents itself. That sounds optimistic. At worst, the idea of having Joe Kelly as a “neat third option” is pretty special when you think about it.
16. Matt Beaty 0.24%
Beaty drew one walk and two HBPs in his only plate appearances of the series. Dropping a routine throw at first base offered some comic relief late in Game 4. Alternatively, it might have been the low point in the series for the Dodgers.
As long as Will Smith is the DH and Austin Barnes catches whenever Clayton Kershaw starts, the Dodgers will need a third catcher. That’s Beaty by default, so I think his roster spot is safe for the World Series. Terrance Gore would be more fun if he ever got off the bench, but the odds of this are unfortunately low.
17. Dylan Floro 0.01%
Floro had an even more forgettable series than Kelly. He picked up mop-up duties during the lopsided innings of Games 2 and 4. Like Kelly, it’s not obvious whether that was in response to the Braves being a disadvantageous matchup for Floro’s repertoire, or whether the righty has taken a step back from what was a solid regular season (3-0 in 25 games, with a 2.59 ERA and 1.11 WHIP).
Floro probably won’t be part of the ninth-inning mix in the World Series, but if he’s your mop-up option, your bullpen is doing something right.
18. Alex Wood -0.01%
Wood didn’t make the roster to do anything more than eat innings, saving the better arms in the Dodgers’ bullpen from pitching in low-leverage situations. That’s basically what he was against the Braves: a left-handed version of Floro. No wonder he couldn’t “get up” for the series.
The World Series is a different animal, not because the stakes are higher but because there will be a day off between Games 2 and 3, and games 5 and 6 (if necessary). That doesn’t help Wood’s chances for making the 28-man roster. Who would his roster spot go to if Wood gets cut? Gavin Lux? Keibert Ruiz? Someone else?
The Rays had seven lefties on their ALCS roster, and Wood’s status might hinge on whether the Dodgers believe all seven will see the field in the World Series too.
19. Adam Kolarek -0.14%
Kolarek knows the Rays better than any Dodger. He was a Ray until the middle of last season. The Dodgers quickly converted Kolarek into a lefty specialist, a role that no longer exists because of the new three-batter minimum rule.
For a while, it looked like Kolarek had adapted to facing right-handed hitters. He went 3-0 with a 0.95 ERA and a 0.789 WHIP in the regular season. Then, in his only three postseason appearances going back to the NLDS, Kolarek allowed nine hits and five runs in 2 2/3 innings. His margin for error vanished. He hasn’t fooled anyone.
Maybe it’s unfair to expect Kolarek to do something he wasn’t acquired to do. Maybe he’s simply pitching poorly. The difference is negligible at this point. The Dodgers have to win four games or their season is over. One could argue that Kolarek’s disappearance from the ranks of high-leverage options is the most disturbing development in the bullpen; I’m not even sure if he deserves a 28-man roster spot. Stay tuned.
20. Austin Barnes -0.78%
This wasn’t Barnes’ best series. It wasn’t his worst. He was behind the plate for Clayton Kershaw’s loss in Game 4 and Walker Buehler’s win in Game 6. He allowed a stolen base. He made an error. He didn’t allow any wild pitches or passed balls. As a hitter and baserunner ― the only things cWPA cares about ― he got on base twice via singles in nine at-bats, and didn’t score.
Part me can’t shake the idea that Barnes should catch and Smith should DH against the Rays’ left-handed pitchers (Tyler Glasnow and Blake Snell, who start Games 1 and 2). That might be in play, actually.Barnes is the rare (only?) Dodger hitter who does not appear to expect a home run to result from his best contact. He seems comfortable swinging for line drives and spraying the ball around the field. There are situations where you want that guy at the plate ― not all the situations, but definitely some of the situations ― and I think Barnes earned more at-bats than he’s received after a bounceback regular season.
21. Jake McGee -0.96%
I can’t figure out McGee. Maybe the Dodgers can’t either. The veteran left-hander was cut by the Rockies over the summer, made some mechanical adjustments with the Dodgers, started throwing almost exclusively four-seam fastballs, and looked untouchable for most of the regular season. Then he didn’t pitch again until Game 1 of the NLCS, with the Dodgers trailing 3-1.
Maybe the Braves were just a bad matchup for McGee; they have a lot of right-handed hitters who hit fastballs well. In the eighth inning of Game 4, Roberts asked McGee to get lefty slugger Freddie Freeman with two outs and a couple runners on base. McGee allowed an RBI single, then another to Marcell Ozuna, before the inning ended.
Like Kolarek, I don’t know where McGee stands going into the World Series. I know the Dodgers could use one of these two lefties to step up. Otherwise that’s a lonely island of competence Victor Gonzalez is standing on.
22. Clayton Kershaw -1.65%
Kershaw made his only NLCS appearance as the Game 4 starter. He pitched five solid innings, got roughed up in the sixth, and his bullpen didn’t help him out. That’s what he did; that explains the negative cWPA. All this is fairly typical Clayton-Kershaw-in-October stuff.
What was less typical, and far more encouraging, was what Kershaw didn’t do. He went down to the bullpen for games 6 and 7, but didn’t talk his way into appearing in either game. He started one game, took down five-plus innings, and was never seen from again in the series. Take away the “-plus” and that’s exactly what you’d hope Clayton Kershaw to do in a successful seven-game playoff series.
Kershaw will start Game 1 of the World Series on four days’ rest. The bar is so low for his postseason starts ― externally, at least ― that a certain degree of calamity is expected. The Dodgers want him to win, of course, but Glasnow has to be the prohibitive favorite in the matchup of the two pitchers. Having two days off during the World Series ought to benefit Kershaw more than anyone. He can start Game 5 on regular rest.
23. Dustin May -2.16%
May was a bit of a disaster against the Braves. He threw 4 2/3 innings across three games, and somehow managed to allow three runs (two earned). He walked five batters (one intentionally) and allowed five hits, including two doubles.
More than using him as a traditional every-fifth-day starter, May might benefit from facing a different team. The Braves thrived off the hard stuff, and May’s hard-harder-hardest repertoire, paired with poor control, looked predictable. He has a big adjustment to make if he wants to be successful against the Rays ― whatever his role is in the World Series.
24. Justin Turner -4.49%
We’re now entering the “what are they doing here?” portion of the cWPA rankings. Turner slashed .280/.379/.480 in the series. He made a stunning contribution by starting a double play in Game 7. What is he doing here?
cWPA essentially doesn’t like the sequencing of Turner’s seven hits. It doesn’t like his double-play groundout in Game 2, his only RBI in the series coming on a solo home run in Game 6, or that he didn’t have any high leverage plate appearances until the fourth inning of Game 7. With runners on first and second and one out, and the Dodgers trailing 3-2, Turner drew a walk. The Dodgers didn’t score in the inning.
Turner had a fine series overall, as he usually does in October. Be encouraged that his soon-to-be-36-year-old body seems to be holding up just fine, and that he’ll have two built-in days off in the World Series. Nothing to see here, and that’s a good thing.
25. Max Muncy -6.82%
Muncy slashed .227/.452/.591 with two home runs and six RBIs. cWPA doesn’t like that all of his RBIs came in a Game 2 loss and the Game 3 blowout ― in other words, they didn’t directly bear on any wins in the series.
Encouragingly, Muncy seemed to gain confidence as the series went along. He didn’t chase pitches out of the strike zone, even when he was struggling, even when they were called strikes. He finished the series as one of the most productive Dodger hitters, even if he didn’t collect any game- or series-changing hits. Nothing to see here either. Good thing.
26. Corey Seager -9.40%
Seager slashed .310/.333/.897. He hit five home runs, tying Nelson Cruz’s LCS record, and drove in 11. He was chosen the MVP of the series. He had a good series. cWPA had Seager as a plus player too, until his 0-for-5 performance in Game 7. That’s why you find him here, third from the bottom on this list.
That doesn’t take anything away from Seager’s status as the most dangerous hitter in the lineup entering the World Series. His emergence ― rather, his re-emergence ― is perhaps the most encouraging trend for any player in a Dodger uniform. Forget what it means long-term; he only has a year to go before he’s a free agent. If the Dodgers end their World Series drought in 2020, it will be because, for three months at least, Corey Seager looked like the hitter everyone expected him to be from the beginning.
27. AJ Pollock -12.19%
Pollock had four singles and four strikeouts in 20 at-bats. This wasn’t the dreadful 0-for-13, 11-strikeout showing in last year’s NLDS. Nor was it his bounceback 2020 regular season, when he was remarkably the team’s second-most productive outfielder by OPS+. Most of that damage came early in the season, however.
That’s why I’ll be interested to see how the Dodgers’ assessment of Pollock plays out in the World Series. He’s essentially part of a triumvirate of right-handed hitters (along with Chris Taylor and Kiké Hernandez) competing for two spots in the lineup. Hernandez can always step in if Pollock can’t turn things around. Having Pollock and Taylor swinging at full force would be ideal.
28. Tony Gonsolin -12.30%
It’s tempting to lump Gonsolin and May together as co-captains of the ill-fated S.S. Fourth Starter. Where May was able to work out of trouble at a couple junctures, Gonsolin could not in Game 2, and Pedro Baez did him no favors with his inherited runners. Gonsolin finished the series with seven earned runs allowed in 6 ⅓ innings.
Did Gonsolin crack under pressure? Did he simply fail to execute? How will the NLCS affect his usage in the World Series? These are some of the biggest questions facing the Dodgers, who have not announced a starting pitcher outside of Kershaw in Game 1 and Buehler in Game 3.
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