Plenty has changed for the Los Angeles Dodgers since the team stepped off the field after their National League Division Series defeat to the division-rival San Diego Padres. Trea Turner, Cody Bellinger, Tyler Anderson, and Andrew Heaney all joined other franchises. As of writing this, Justin Turner, Craig Kimbrel, and Joey Gallo all remain free agents.
Yet much remains the same for the Dodgers. Clayton Kershaw is back and the team’s lineup, which led baseball in runs scored last season, should once again be among the sport’s best. With Mookie Betts, Freddie Freeman, Will Smith, and Max Muncy leading the way, the Dodgers offer one of the most fantasy-friendly environments for counting stats, especially RBI and runs scored. Elsewhere, the Dodgers have more pitcher wins – 458 to be exact, and 18 more than the next closest team – since 2018 despite utilizing a variety of different starters during that span. In short, there’s plenty to like fantasy-wise about the 2023 iteration of the Dodgers, though as with all teams there are a few players to stay away from in fantasy drafts.
Here are the Dodgers’ sleepers and busts for the 2023 season.
2022 Stats (49.2 IP): 3.26 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 76 K, 2 W, 4 SV
Craig Kimbrel is no longer on the Dodgers’ 40-man roster, opening up a potentially significant number of save opportunities on one of the league’s best teams. That clearly works in the former Twin’s favor here. However, even if Kimbrel was still with the Dodgers, given his struggles it’s likely that Graterol – not to mention a number of other relievers – would be in the mix for saves here.
The 24-year-old reliever turned in a strong season for Los Angeles in 2022, logging a 3.26 ERA and a 2.95 FIP in 49.2 innings of work. He didn’t overwhelm with strikeouts (7.79 per nine innings) but allowed just 1.81 walks and 0.54 home runs per nine frames while registering a career-best 10.9% swinging strike rate. Most crucially, he logged four saves last season.
He missed time due to right elbow inflammation in the second half, but clearly established himself as one of Los Angeles’ most trusted high-leverage relievers when healthy.
There’s closer-by-committee potential with the likes of Blake Treinen, Alex Vesia, and Evan Phillips all on hand as feasible ninth-inning options, but even if Graterol is in the ninth-inning mix with some combination of those three, there should be enough saves to go around to give him similar fantasy value to some closers on rebuilding teams with low win totals. In fact, you could make the argument that the presence of Treinen, Vesia, and Phillips only helps Graterol’s save potential as they could be utilized in higher-leverage situations earlier in games.
2022 Stats (471 PA): .276 AVG, 66 R, 6 HR, 42 RBI, 7 SB
With Trea Turner’s decision to leave the Dodgers and join the Philadelphia Phillies via free agency, it all but solidifies a significant role for Gavin Lux next season. Of course, Lux had a significant role last season with the Dodgers as well, hitting .276 with a .346 on-base percentage, six home runs, and seven stolen bases in 471 plate appearances for the National League West club. He saw most of his playing time at second base, but with his ability to play second base, shortstop, and left field, Turner’s departure – not to mention Cody Bellinger and Joey Gallo not being on Los Angeles’ 40-man roster – should lock him into a regular role once again in one of baseball’s elite offenses, regardless of position.
Lux, who had a breakout year in 2022, establishing new career highs in barrel rate (6.9%), wRC+ (113), and OPS (.745) might not hit at the top of the lineup as Turner did, but he could inherit more RBI opportunities further down the lineup with the likes of Bellinger, Gallo and Justin Turner no longer on the team’s roster. Justin Turner and Bellinger were fifth and seventh respectively on the team in plate appearances with runners in scoring position, accounting for nearly a sixth (99) of the Dodgers’ 630 total plate appearances with runners in scoring position last year.
Elsewhere, Lux could stand to benefit from the larger bases coming into play next season. The 24-year-old registered just seven stolen bases last season but finished in the 88th percentile in Statcast’s sprint speed metric. With his versatility, if he can double his stolen base output while continuing to see significant RBI opportunities in Los Angeles, Lux will have plenty of fantasy upside next season.
2022 Stats (454 PA): .221 AVG, 45 R, 10 HR, 43 RBI, 10 SB
Taylor, who like Lux has considerable experience playing across the diamond, has been a quality fantasy option ever since his first full season with the Dodgers during the 2017 campaign. He’s been a quality option for fantasy managers with his ability to collect home runs and stolen bases while possessing eligibility at a number of positions. Throw in his increased run and RBI totals playing for a Dodgers club that has scored the second-most runs in the league since 2017 and you have a player who has been crucial in determining fantasy championships at times.
While he still provided solid home run and stolen base production last season, the underlying data just wasn’t there. Or rather, it wasn’t up to the standard it usually is.
Granted, Taylor still was selective at times with walk rate and chase rates that finished in the 67th and 83rd percentile respectively, but what was perhaps most troubling is that when he did make contact, it generally wasn’t the type of loud contact you want to see. Taylor logged a .277 xwOBA in 2022, the lowest of his career since 2015 when he had 151 plate appearances in his first season in the Majors with the Mariners. His xwOBAcon also dipped considerably, going from .415 in 2021 to .379 this past season.
And that’s all without mentioning a 35.2% strikeout rate that looks particularly worrisome when paired with Taylor’s strong chase rate. Essentially, the veteran is getting beat in the zone a lot. His zone swing-and-miss rate was the third-highest among batters with at least 250 plate appearances. What’s more, he wasn’t anywhere near as effective against four-seamers as he was in the past.
Accounting for 32.5% of the pitches Taylor saw in 2022, the 32-year-old had just a .297 xwOBA against the pitch, the 13th-lowest in the sport among batters who saw at least 600 four-seam fastballs last season. As with Lux, he should benefit to a degree from some of Los Angeles’ offseason departures where playing time is concerned next season. And he might once again reach double digits in home runs and steals. But if the quality of contact numbers repeat themselves, you might be better off looking elsewhere in drafts for versatile bench options.
2022 Stats (50 PA): .170 AVG, 4 R, 1 HR, 8 RBI
Miguel Vargas’ placement in the “Busts” section of this column doesn’t really have anything to do with the infielder. The 22-year-old has a promising hit tool and could eventually step into a prominent role for the Dodgers. But, his role might not be that prominent this coming season. That’s not to say he won’t play for Los Angeles, but with the way the Dodgers’ roster is constructed, it’s hard to see a pathway to regular plate appearances for Vargas, especially if the National League West club makes a marquee addition or two before Opening Day.
The infielder hit .170 with a .200 on-base percentage, a home run, and a stolen base in a tiny 50-plate appearance sample size for the Dodgers last year. At Triple-A, he hit .304 with a .404 on-base percentage, 17 home runs, and 16 stolen bases while walking (13.7% walk rate) nearly as much as he struck out (14.6%). And while he’s played a variety of positions in the minors – including first base, second base, third base and left field – there are plenty of roadblocks on the Dodgers roster where playing time is concerned.
Freddie Freeman is entrenched at first base and will get most or all of the starts there. Second base could be an option for Vargas, though if the Dodgers add a shortstop via trade or free agency, Lux, Max Muncy, and Mookie Betts are all on hand as potential options to see time at the keystone. Third base is probably Vargas’ best bet for consistent playing time, but Muncy could also see a significant number of starts there, as could Chris Taylor.
And then there’s left field. The Dodgers’ outfield is certainly less-crowded as of mid-December with Cody Bellinger and Joey Gallo no longer on the 40-man roster. Still, Trayce Thompson, Taylor, and James Outman are all options to see time alongside Betts in the outfield with top prospect Andy Pages not far off.
Of course, players like Lux, Muncy, Taylor, and Bellinger have gotten significant playing time for Los Angeles in the past by moving around the field, but it’s hard to project a regular role for Vargas, making him difficult to draft as a starting option for fantasy managers.
Photos by Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Redler (@reldernitsuj on Twitter)