Fantasy Breakdown: Los Angeles Dodgers for 2021

A preview of the L.A. Dodgers' lineup, rotation, and bullpen for 2021.

As we prepare for the season ahead, the Pitcher List staff will be creating profiles for every fantasy-relevant player for 2021. Players will be broken up by team and role through starting pitchers, bullpen, lineup, and prospects. You can access every article as it comes out in our Player Profiles 2021 hub here.

 

At A Glance

 

After seven straight seasons of falling short (and being cheated) of baseball’s greatest accomplishment, the Los Angeles Dodgers finally reached the top of the mountain in 2020 and won their first World Series title since 1988. Now that the champagne has been drunk, and the confetti has been swept off of the infield grass, it’s time for the defending champions to set their sights on getting back to the Fall Classic. Repeating in baseball is harder to do than in any other sport, but if any team is geared up for back-to-back titles, it’s the 2021 Dodgers.

Featuring a lineup headlined by two MVPs, as well as one of the deepest rotations and bullpens in baseball, the Dodgers are once again the team to beat entering 2021. They face stronger competition than ever before within the NL West but remain the favorite to take home their ninth straight division title. This year, when you come at the king, you best not miss. Here’s everything you need to know about the 2021 Dodgers, presented in a fantasy context.

 

Hitters

 

Projected Lineup

 

Infielders

 

Corey Seager (Shortstop)

2020: 38 R, 15 HR, 41 RBI, 1 SB, .307/.358/.585 | SS #5

2021 ADP: 31.7 (SS #7)

 

After missing significant time in consecutive seasons due to injuries, Corey Seager re-emerged as one of baseball’s premier shortstops in 2020. After a strong pre-season where Seager turned heads by looking almost as healthy as he had before his Tommy John and hip surgeries, the Dodgers shortstop put up a strong regular season campaign and posted a 152 wRC+ while playing in 52 of 60 games for Los Angeles. Of course, he topped it all off with a stellar performance in October, where he shattered the record for most home runs in a postseason by a shortstop with eight, netting himself both the NLCS and World Series MVP awards.

So what can we expect from Seager entering a contract year with Los Angeles? Assuming he stays healthy, Seager will likely hit for around a .300 average and anywhere from 25-30 home runs. He won’t steal many bases, but he will also have plenty of opportunities to knock in runs and score at the top of the loaded Dodger lineup.

Steamer is projecting a stellar 2021 for Seager, with a .296 average, 32 home runs, 95 runs, and 98 RBI, which would probably put him in the MVP conversation if he can live up to it. As the 7th projected shortstop off the board, he could be a bit of a steal behind Bo Bichette and Adalberto Mondesi, who are both currently being taken before him. That said, his postseason heroics may still be fresh in the minds of many team managers, possibly resulting in him being taken higher than that depending on the makeup of your league.

 

Justin Turner (Third Base)

2020: 26 R, 4 HR, 23 RBI, 1 SB, .307/.400/.460 | 3B #23

2021 ADP: 219.8 (3B #24)

 

After flirting with a handful of teams in the offseason, Justin Turner and the Dodgers ultimately worked out a deal to bring the veteran third baseman back home to Los Angeles to presumably finish out his career. Turner has aged gracefully coming off of his twelfth season, and remained a threatening presence at the top of the Dodgers lineup in 2020, with a .386 xwOBA and 140 wRC+ in 175 plate appearances. Now 36, Turner’s largest hurdle is once again staying healthy, as the third baseman has played in just 75% of L.A.’s games over the previous four seasons. In 2021, Turner is projected by The Bat X for 130 games, and at least 70 R and RBI. He can also be counted on to limit strikeouts and draw walks, and has the potential to return value as a top 15 option at third base. For context, Turner is currently sitting at an ADP of 220 in drafts, behind both Kris Bryant (132) and Josh Donaldson (193). In the last three seasons, Turner has posted a 142 wRC+ and .894 OPS at the hot corner, considerably higher than both of his peers, in a comparable number of games. Of course, Turner is older than both Bryant and Donaldson, but his potential for high ratios and consistent counting stats could make him a valuable pickup in the late rounds of the draft. Don’t be afraid to take a chance on Turner at his age, especially in a depth role in fantasy.

 

Max Muncy (First Base)

2020: 36 R, 12 HR, 27 RBI, 1 SB, .192/.331/.389 | 1B #26

2021 ADP: 97.0 (1B #11)

 

Some may be wary of taking a chance on Muncy following his disappointing 2020 showing, where he hit below the Mendoza line (.192 — yikes!) and broke even with a 100 wRC+. And it’s true — on the surface, Muncy had a pretty rough couple of months.

Upon further review, however, it’s clear that Muncy’s 2020 is another product of unfortunate circumstances. Of course, there was the uncertainty of the pandemic-shortened season— some players responded better to the abbreviated ramp up and hit the ground running, while many others did not. Muncy also later revealed he dealt with a broken finger out of the gate in summer camp, which he admitted contributed to his slow start. If that weren’t enough, he dealt with terrible batted-ball luck in 2020, and greatly underperformed his expected stats, and finished with the worst BABIP in the league (.203).

With all of that hopefully behind him in 2021, Muncy has the potential to return excellent value as a player with a high power potential (he hit 35 home runs in both 2018 and 2019) and a discerning eye at the plate, with walk rates above 15% for four years running. He has one of the highest floors of any of the infield options in the middle rounds, and his eligibility at three infield positions (1B, 2B, 3B) makes him a valuable asset to build around. Following his down year, it’s entirely likely he slips below the top 100, which would be a steal for the consistency he can provide at that level.

 

Will Smith (Catcher)

2020: 23 R, 8 HR, 25 RBI, 0 SB, .289/.401/.579 | C #6

2021 ADP: 106.6 (C #3)

 

Despite a slow start in 2020, the Fresh Prince emerged as one of baseball’s most exciting young talents following his key role in Los Angeles’ championship run, culminating in his iconic mirror match home run against the ‘other’ Will Smith in the NLCS. He was a quiet producer in the lower half of the Dodger lineup down the stretch in 2020, and finished the season with an impressive .980 OPS and 163 wRC+, even after starting the season with some horrid batted ball luck. Despite a lack of early results, Smith remained incredibly patient in his approach at the plate, with a 14.6% walk rate while striking out only 16.1% of the time, both significant improvements from his rookie season.

Smith now enters 2021 as the third-ranked backstop off of the board, behind J.T. Realmuto and Salvador Perez, and offers considerable power upside from the catcher position. If he can carry his exceptional plate discipline forward into 2021, he could be primed to take a step forward as one of baseball’s premier offensive catchers. That said, his value may be capped on a loaded Dodgers squad that will seemingly be without a designated hitter in 2021.

With Austin Barnes and top prospect Keibert Ruiz also vying for playing time, Smith may see fewer at-bats, limiting his production. If you’re looking for a set-it-and-forget-it option at catcher, Smith may not be the right fit, but the offensive upside he has shown could make him a valuable asset if he receives the majority of the playing time behind the plate.

 

Chris Taylor (2B, SS, OF)

2020: 30 R, 8 HR, 32 RBI, 3 SB, .270/.366/.476 | 2B #7

2021 ADP: 225.9 (2B #23)

 

Chris Taylor enjoyed something of a bounceback year in 2020 and posted some of his best numbers since his 2017 breakout season. Taylor saw a slight increase in power as well as in his average and on-base numbers, which were bolstered by a 12.1% walk rate, the highest of his career to that point.

In 2021, Steamer projects Taylor’s ratios to take a hit, with a .243/.325/.412 slash line (ZiPS is slightly rosier, at .255/.328/.450), but with 17 home runs and eight steals. Taylor offers utility with eligibility at 2B, SS, and OF, and will likely split time with A.J. Pollock in left field and with Gavin Lux and Edwin Ríos in the infield in 2021.

Taylor should not be relied on as a starter in fantasy, but he could be a solid late-round pick in deeper formats in 2021. His eligibility at multiple positions could be useful as a plug-and-play option off the bench in case of an off day or injury to one of your starters.

 

Gavin Lux (Second Base)

2020: 8 R, 3 HR, 8 RBI, 1 SB, .175/.246/.349 | 2B #72

2021 ADP: 225.8 (2B #22)

 

Following a lukewarm cup of coffee at the tail end of 2019, Gavin Lux looked to be poised to take over the lion’s share of the playing time at second base for the Dodgers entering 2020. However, after the season was delayed, Lux was unable to find his rhythm in the following summer training and was assigned to the Dodgers’ alternate site.

In his 151 plate appearances across 2019 and 2020, Lux has slashed just .210/.278/.377 with five home runs and three steals, though it is worth reiterating the small and nonconsecutive sample size. Despite his lackluster showing in his two short stints in the majors, Lux still shows a lot of promise as one of the top hitting prospects to graduate in the last two years. Lux’s history as a former top prospect is enticing, and he is only a little over a year removed from slashing .347/.421/.607 with a 166 wRC+ across AA and AAA in 2019.

With a chance at regular playing time and a full season to get acclimated in 2021, Lux could very well take over the full-time role at second base by the year’s end, especially if free agents Justin Turner and Kike Hernandez sign elsewhere. Currently, Steamer projections forecast a .258/.324/.432 slash line for Lux with six stolen bases and 14 home runs, placing him just outside of the top 200 fantasy players. At this point, Lux would be a gamble as a full-time second base option in fantasy, but has potential as a high ceiling pickup in the later rounds of the draft.

 

Edwin Ríos (Third Base)

2020: 13 R, 8 HR, 17 RBI, 0 SB, .250/.301/.645 | 3B #50

2021 ADP: 335.3 (3B #34)

 

Edwin Ríos made an impact last season as a DH and power bat off the bench for Dave Roberts, slugging eight home runs in 83 trips to the plate, for a ridiculous (and likely unsustainable) 10.38 PA/HR. As of right now, he looks to be a late-round stash option in fantasy at best, due to playing time concerns and a lack of opportunities at the plate, especially now that it sounds like the NL will be operating without a designated hitter in 2021. Now that franchise stalwart Justin Turner has been re-signed, Ríos once again lacks a path to regular playing time. He will likely struggle to get enough at-bats to be draftable except in deep leagues, though he could be someone to watch on the waiver wire if and when injury strikes the Dodger infield. If he does get a consistent chance at the hot corner this season, Ríos offers high power upside, but with considerable strikeout potential.

 

Outfielders

 

Mookie Betts (OF)

2020: 47 R, 16 HR, 39 RBI, 10 SB, .292/.366/.562 | OF #2

2021 ADP: 2.9 (OF #2)

 

Mookie Betts‘ debut season in Los Angeles went just about as well as anyone could have hoped for in 2020, as he made a run at the MVP award and led the Dodgers to a championship in his first year with the team. While he didn’t quite match the stratospheric production from his 2018 campaign, Betts posted a .927 OPS and 149 wRC+ in 55 games atop the juggernaut L.A. lineup and looks poised to do it again heading into 2021.

Betts should be the first player off of the board in fantasy this year, as he has the potential to make a strong impact in all five offensive categories, and offers a higher offensive floor than any of his peers except for Mike Trout. The difference between Trout and Betts is the latter’s stolen base potential, as Mookie is likely good for around 15-20 steals in a given season, if not more. Draft Mookie if he’s available, and sleep peacefully knowing you likely secured the best fantasy player in the draft.

 

Cody Bellinger (OF)

2020: 33 R, 12 HR, 30 RBI, 6 SB, .239/.333/.455 | OF #28

2021 ADP: 15.0 (OF #6)

 

Los Angeles’ other MVP, Cody Bellinger, did not enjoy as productive of a season in 2020. He hovered around the Mendoza line for most of the abbreviated campaign and didn’t show the same power many expected coming off of his superstar 2019 season. His walk and strikeout rates also regressed slightly, but not enough to be a real concern.

Going forward, Bellinger once again offers a very high ceiling at the end of the first round, but the lack of overall consistency in his career to this point also keeps him from becoming a no-doubt pick alongside players like Christian Yelich and Ronald Acuña Jr. That said, Steamer projects Bellinger for 42 home runs and a .956 OPS in 2021, and he also has the potential to swipe around 10-15 bases as well, loosening that classic fantasy handcuff.

Despite concerns about Bellinger’s consistency, he remains one of the top six outfield options in all formats and has the potential to be an excellent value if he slips to the second round.

 

A.J. Pollock (OF)

2020: 30 R, 16 HR, 34 RBI, 2 SB, .276/.314/.566 | OF #16

2021 ADP: 211.9 (OF #59)

 

A.J. Pollock was an unexpected source of power in the bottom of the Dodgers’ lineup in 2020 as he clobbered 16 home runs, tied for third in the National League, and eclipsing his total from the full 2019. Perhaps the key to his resurgence last year was simply his health, as Pollock was able to consistently stay on the field following a season where he only played in 86 games and missed considerable time due to complications from surgery.

Pollock’s .566 slugging percentage in 2020 was the highest of his career, and his 132 wRC+ was his best since his peak years in 2014-2015, though that comes with the caveat of the short season as well as being part of a platoon with Joc Pederson. Moving forward into the new season, Pollock will likely once again be platooned, except now sharing time with Chris Taylor when Gavin Lux starts at second base.

Pollock can be counted on to add some power (Steamer projects him for 24 home runs), as well as to rack up some runs and RBI in the Dodger offense, but his limited playing time will hamper any potential value he can offer in the late rounds of the draft.

 

Watch List Considerations

 

Austin Barnes (C) and Keibert Ruiz (C) will once again be filling in at catcher when Will Smith gets a day off. Barnes is the preferred backstop of Clayton Kershaw and looks to remain his personal catcher in 2021, and is coming off a solid 2020 where he slashed .244/.353/.314, after making some improvements based on suggestions from Mookie Betts.

Ruiz will be looking for his first significant chunk of playing time after making an eight at-bat cameo in 2020, highlighted by a home run in his first major league plate appearance. Ruiz excels at making contact and has shown an ability to drive the ball well, but his power would benefit from driving the ball in the air more. He will likely see more playing time this year if he is not traded, which is a possibility with the emergence of Smith, but is not going to have enough at-bats to be viable in fantasy.

Matt Beaty (INF/OF), Zack McKinstry (SS), and possibly DJ Peters (OF) will also see sporadic chances in 2021, but similarly will not be rosterable.

 

Starting Pitchers

 

Walker Buehler (Locked In Starter)

2020: 1-0, 36.2 IP, 42 K, 3.44 ERA, 0.950 WHIP | SP #73

2021 ADP: 19.3 (P#6)

Repertoire: 62.3% 4SFB, 14.5% Cutter, 14% Curveball, 9.2% Slider

 

After battling blister issues for most of the shortened 2020 season, Walker Buehler enters as one of the top ten starting pitching options in 2021 and is currently the sixth pitcher off the board in NFBC drafts. His upside is considerable — Buehler’s blistering fastball led the league last season with a .102 AVG and .116 SLG against while sporting an excellent 34.9% CSW. He also boasts a wide array of filthy secondary pitches, the highlight being a sharp knuckle-curve with a spin rate in the 97th percentile and a 20.9% swinging-strike rate. He rounds out his pitches with a biting slider, as well as a heavy sinker that he frequently turns to as a putaway pitch.

While Buehler’s repertoire can go toe-to-toe with the best starters in baseball, he has yet to put it all together for a truly dominant season. In his rookie campaign in 2018 he finished with a 2.62 ERA and 3.31 SIERA but has yet to reach those ratios again since, despite seeing an uptick in strikeouts in the following seasons.

Looking ahead to 2021, Buehler once again will head a very deep Dodgers rotation, but will likely also fall victim to ‘Dodgeritis,’ limiting his innings and putting a cap on his value. Buehler is an excellent SP1 option with a lot of potential upside, but due to a lack of consistency and barriers to his playing time, he should probably be taken behind pitchers that offer more quantity, such as Yu Darvish and Aaron Nola. That said, if Buehler can finally put together a consistent season from start to finish in 2021, he has the tools to make a convincing bid for his first Cy Young.

 

Clayton Kershaw (Locked In Starter)

2020: 6-2, 58.1 IP, 62 K, 2.16 ERA, 0.84 WHIP | SP #8

2021 ADP: 33.1 (P #12)

Repertoire: 40.8% Fastball, 40.2% Slider, 18.8% Curveball, 0.2% Changeup

 

After finally securing his first championship ring after years of heartbreak, there is little more for Clayton Kershaw to do to secure his Hall of Fame legacy except to run it back one more time. The Ace That Is Always Gonna Ace enjoyed a slight resurgence in his velocity in 2020 and was able to dial up his fastball to an average of 91.6 mph, up from a career-low of 90.3 mph in 2019. He then went on to have an excellent regular season campaign and posted a 2.16 ERA and 3.22 SIERA in 58.1 healthy innings. His WHIP was once again sparkling, at 0.84, and his 24.4% K-BB ratio was his best since 2017. Once again, these ratios come with the caveat of a short season but come on, it’s Clayton Kershaw.

Entering 2021, the biggest question for Kershaw is once again his health, as his back problems have been his largest obstacle dating back to 2016, which includes a late scratch in the Opening Day reboot this past season. Unfortunately, Kershaw is not getting any younger and will be turning 33 in the spring, and it’s anyone’s guess how long it will be before he begins to seriously regress, at least beyond what we have come to expect from Kershaw (i.e. his “high” 3.03 ERA in 2019). Additionally, with 189 career postseason innings under his belt, Kershaw has pitched roughly the equivalent of an extra season in October over the course of his career, which does little to ease concerns about his longevity moving forward.

So what can we expect going into 2021? The fact is, Kershaw’s value will likely be capped along with his innings count, which will probably be in the 160 IP range, assuming health and accounting for ‘Dodgeritis.’ However, those innings will be of good to great quality if he can maintain his velocity gains from 2020. Kershaw will likely finish with around a 3.00 ERA and a ~26% strikeout rate, which is definitely worthy of consideration as a top 15 pitcher off the board in fantasy. However, the injury concerns might make someone like Brandon Woodruff or Zac Gallen a safer pick in that range, despite Kershaw having the much higher floor when on the field. Kershaw’s age and injuries will catch up with him eventually, but until then, enjoy watching the greatest of the generation pitch his way to Cooperstown.

 

Trevor Bauer (Locked In Starter)

2020: 5-4, 73 IP, 100 K, 1.73 ERA, 0.79 WHIP | SP #3

2021 ADP: 16.0 (P# 4)

Repertoire: 47.8% Fastball, 19.8% Cutter, 16.4% Slider, 15.7% Curveball, 0.3% Changeup

 

Andrew Friedman sent ripples across the league in February when he came to an agreement on a three-year, $102 million deal with reigning Cy Young Award winner Trevor Bauer. Bauer joins a pitching staff that is unequivocally the deepest in baseball in 2021, and the right-hander is expected to slot in as the third pitcher in the rotation. The signing now brings the number of Dodgers starters to seven, and effectively tanks the fantasy value of promising starters Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin. Beyond that, the addition of Bauer allows the Dodgers to be even more careful with their pitchers as they build them back up for the full season. Expect to see the inning counts of all of their pitchers to be negatively impacted by this move.

As far as Bauer goes, his 2020 may have been impressive on the surface, but his underlying statistics indicate some cause for concern moving forward. His 1.73 ERA may have been the best in the National League last season, but his 2.94 SIERA and .215 BABIP (which also led the NL) point towards a fair amount of batted luck being involved as well. Bauer also benefitted from facing considerably weaker competition in 2020 relative to his peers, when he was confined to pitching in the Central division due to the COVID-impacted travel restrictions. Out of Bauer’s eleven starts in 2020, eight of them came against teams under .500.

Bauer’s career numbers also leave something to be desired, and while he has shown an ace ceiling at points, the truth is that Bauer has been more decent than great over the course of his career. His 3.90 ERA and 3.93 SIERA during his nine seasons in the majors is more indicative of a solid third starter than a $40 million ace, and his only other season below a 4.00 ERA came in 2018. His 2020 season also has its flaws, for the reasons covered above.

That said, the ceiling that Bauer has showcased thus far has been impressive. If everything goes perfectly for Bauer in his first season in Los Angeles, he could very well return top ten pitcher value. His repertoire features a high-spin fastball that remarkably gained over 350 RPMs from 2019, as well as a tight cutter and a sharp slider that he can bury low and away to generate whiffs. From 2019-2020, Bauer was one of the top strikeout pitchers in MLB, and his 36% K-rate was only eclipsed by Shane Bieber and Jacob deGrom last season. If he can somehow maintain his miraculous spin rate increases moving forward, he will likely again be near the top of the leaderboard in strikeouts in 2021. Bauer can be counted on to provide quantity as well, and has thrown the third-most innings of all starters over the last two seasons. It remains to be seen if the Dodgers will let him pitch every fourth day as he has discussed, but his high innings total makes him a very strong fantasy ace.

While Bauer at his best is a very valuable fantasy asset, there are still just too many question marks surrounding his ability to reproduce his Cy Young campaign to feel comfortable taking a gamble on Bauer as a top-eight pitcher. Steamer currently projects a 4.02 ERA and 1.22 WHIP for Bauer in 2021, while ZiPS forecasts a 3.60/1.20 line. Both systems do predict over 180 innings for Bauer, but while quantity is increasingly scarce in fantasy, you’d likely be better served to target a pitcher with a higher floor to be your SP1.

 

Julio Urías (Likely Starter)

2020: 3-0, 55 IP, 45 K, 3.27 ERA, 1.15 WHIP | SP # 59

2021 ADP: 107.9 (P# 39)

Repertoire: 56% Fastball, 17.8% Curveball, 13.3% Changeup, 12.6% Slider, 0.3% Sinker

 

Julio Urías’ first “full” season back from anterior capsule surgery on his left shoulder went about as well as anyone could have hoped, especially considering the lengthy recovery and dour outlook on his original injury back in 2017. In 55 innings in 2020, Urías pitched to a 3.27 ERA and 4.88 FIP in the regular season before becoming a bullpen ace in October, and was on the mound to close out the final outs of the World Series against Tampa Bay.

Urías, still somehow only 24 years old, is once again looking to get a chance to stretch it out as a starter in 2021, and figures to be L.A.’s #4/#5 in the rotation alongside David Price. With the addition of Bauer, however, Urías’ path to consistent starts is more uncertain than ever. With the first three spots in the rotation locked down by Buehler, Kershaw, and Bauer, Urías will be battling with Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin for regular innings. While he may have a slight edge due to his experience and postseason performance, there are no guarantees that Urías will emerge with the bulk of the opportunities in 2020.

Barring playing time, the main point of concern for Urías entering next year is his considerable dip in strikeouts. He punched out just 20.1% of hitters faced in 2020, down from his 79.2 inning stint at the tail end of 2019 where he struck out 26.1%. Urías also walked 8% of the hitters he faced for the second year in a row.

While he struggled to miss as many bats in 2020, Urías was able to avoid the home run ball (0.82 HR/9) and excelled at limiting hard contact. While this is all promising, the prevailing issue is that now there will be even fewer opportunities for Dodger starters in 2021, and so Urías’ potential struggle for playing time will hamper any value he can provide in fantasy. Currently, Steamer is projecting him for just 128 frames (ZiPS projects even fewer, with 118 IP). At that quantity, it will be a stretch for Urías to produce enough to be worth consideration within the top 50 pitchers.

 

David Price (Likely Starter)

2019*: 7-5, 107.1 IP, 128 K, 4.28 ERA, 1.31 WHIP | SP #UR

2021 ADP: 160.7 (P# 61)

Repertoire: 28.3% Sinker, 25.9% Changeup, 23.6% Fastball, 19.7% Cutter, 2.5% Curveball

 

David Price enters 2021 as something of an unknown quantity after having decided to prioritize his health and family by opting out of the 2020 season. 2021 will mark Price’s debut in Dodger blue, and he lines up as a likely middle of the rotation starter for Los Angeles.

While it has been over a year since Price last stepped on a major league mound, he can still potentially provide some fantasy value when rounding out a pitching staff. He’s shown he can still generate whiffs into his 30s, with a 27.9% K-rate and 11.3% swinging-strike rate in 2019.

Coming up on 36 years old and in a very crowded rotation, it is doubtful Price will eclipse 150 innings in 2021. Steamer projects a 4.30 ERA, 4.49 FIP, and 15.5% K-BB% for the veteran in 2021, in 126 innings of work. Without more innings, Price’s value will be limited in fantasy, but he is still likely rosterable as a Toby or streaming option. Depending on how things shake out with playing time, however, you may be better served going with a higher upside option like Urías, May, or Gonsolin with a similar innings count.

*Stats are from 2019, as Price opted out of the 2020 season.

 

Dustin May (Fringe Starter)

2020: 3-1, 56 IP, 44 K, 2.57 ERA, 1.09 WHIP | SP #43

2021 ADP: 159.7 (P# 60)

Repertoire: 50.5% Sinker, 24.6% Cutter, 13.4% Curveball, 6.5% Fastball, 5.1% Changeup

 

Dustin May set the baseball world on fire in 2020 with his demonic sinker, a mind-melting pitch that averaged 97.9mph with a ridiculous 18.8 inches of horizontal movement. As gifs and videos of May’s sinker made their rounds, many wondered how anyone could manage to make contact against him, and he finished 2020 with an impressive 2.57 ERA.

Upon closer inspection, however, May’s sterling season begins to show some cracks. His 4.29 SIERA and 4.62 FIP in 2020 immediately set off alarm bells that May’s results were a little too good to be true, and his .234 BABIP backs up that he was the beneficiary of some bad batted ball luck. And as for that sinker? Despite all of the fanfare, May’s sinker only generated a 4.8% swinging-strike rate in 2020.

Overall, May only struck out 19.6% of the hitters he faced, which comes as a bit of a shock for a pitcher with his stuff. May also walked 7.1% of hitters and sometimes struggled to find the zone with his offspeed and breaking pitches.

Entering 2021, May is projected by Steamer for a 4.00 ERA and 1.28 WHIP in 92 innings. Of course, with his ability, the Dodgers may make some tweaks to his repertoire (fewer sinkers, more 4SFBs please) that could cause May to come back and start generating more whiffs. As of right now, however, he cannot be relied on for strikeouts. With the addition of Trevor Bauer, May will also be clawing for innings alongside Price and Urías, though an injury could (and likely will) eventually vault any of them to the forefront at a given moment. As it currently stands, May looks to be primarily a streaming option in fantasy.

 

Tony Gonsolin (Fringe Starter)

2020: 2-2, 46.2 IP, 46 K, 2.31 ERA, 0.84 WHIP | SP #32

2021 ADP: 205.3 (P# 73)

Repertoire: 47.5% Fastball, 29.8% Splitter, 16.8% Slider, 6% Curveball

 

While Dustin May was getting the internet clout in 2020, Tony Gonsolin was getting the outs. Gonsolin enjoyed a quietly productive regular season last year, where he was sneakily the Dodgers’ second-best starter behind Clayton Kershaw with a 2.31 ERA and 2.29 FIP in 46.2 innings.

Gonsolin’s arsenal features a lively fastball that averages 95mph with elite spin at the top of the strike zone, pairing it with a decent splitter to keep hitters off-balance, with a 10mph difference in velocity between the two. His slider is his money pitch, however, which he uses to get batters to chase out of the zone 49.2% of the time. He can also throw it for strikes with a 44.9% zone rate, and can regularly generate whiffs with the pitch with a 27.1% swinging-strike rate in 2020.

In a full 2021, it’s highly unlikely Gonsolin will again sniff a low 2.00s ERA, and Steamer projections actually anticipate a 4.28 mark in just 94 innings, though that seems a little high. At the bottom of the Dodgers’ rotation, Gonsolin will be subject to the pitching timeshare with Urías and May, and at such a low quantity he’s probably best utilized similarly in a streaming role. If he can somehow fight his way to a regular spot in the rotation, however, Gonsolin has the repertoire to make an impact at the big-league level. Unfortunately, with Bauer joining the staff, Gonsolin appears to be on the brink of being squeezed out, so the chances of him getting enough opportunities to be a difference-maker in fantasy are minimal in 2021.

 

Watch List Considerations

 

On the pitching side, Josiah Gray (SP) and Mitch White (SP) might make an appearance at some point, but with such a deep rotation, they will most likely not be worth a roster spot in fantasy. Worthy of note, however, is that ZiPS is actually projecting Gray to throw 125 innings in MLB next season, albeit with a 4.82 ERA. Whether or not he actually gets that many innings is highly doubtful, though. The Dodgers currently have their hands full at the major league level, and likely will have little room for additional pitchers from the minors, save for an occasional spot start.

 

Relief Pitchers

 

Bullpen Roles

 

Kenley Jansen (Closer)

2020: 11 SV, 0 HLD, 24.1 IP, 33 K, 3.33 ERA, 1.15 WHIP | RP #8

2021 ADP: 135.7 (RP#8)

 

The past few years have not been kind to Kenley Jansen, who has been steadily trending down since his incredible 2017 season. In the three years since, Jansen has compiled a 3.34 ERA and 1.04 WHIP as the Dodgers’ closer. Jansen’s downward momentum came to a head in the 2020 postseason, when he blew a key save in Game 4 of the World Series and sat out the rest of the Fall Classic as manager Dave Roberts indicated he would be rethinking Jansen’s status as the team’s go-to option in the ninth inning.

Entering 2021, Roberts has made it known he remains hopeful Jansen can regain some of his shutdown form and continue to close out games, but also made it clear that his decision is contingent on Jansen’s performance in high-leverage situations. From those statements, it sounds like Jansen will probably be the Dodgers’ closer to start the season, but he could be supplanted by the flamethrowing Brusdar Graterol, or more likely, by a bullpen-by-committee situation by the end of the year.

As far as Jansen’s repertoire goes, he will once again be relying heavily on his signature cutter, which has become less effective with each passing year. It sat at just 90.9mph in 2020, and dropped to a 14.4% whiff rate, down from 15.7% in 2019. To Jansen’s credit, he has slowly begun to work in his sinker and slider more in recent years and threw a career-high 27.6% sinkers in 2020.

Even still, Jansen looks like something of a ticking time bomb heading into 2020, and while he may be a good source of saves to begin the year, it’s unlikely he retains that role for much longer unless he can find a way to turn back the clock.

 

Brusdar Graterol (Next In Line)

2020: 0 SV, 5 HLD, 23.1 IP, 13 K, 3.09 ERA, 0.90 WHIP | RP #110 

2021 ADP: 411.3 (P# 154)

 

With Jansen’s days as the de facto closer seemingly coming to an end, the Dodgers may be turning to the explosive Brusdar Graterol to become the lockdown option in the 9th inning in 2021. Graterol, who turned heads with his blistering triple-digit sinker in 2020, had a successful year out of the bullpen for L.A. last year, and the 22-year-old showed he could remain composed even under the bright lights of the postseason as the Dodgers repeatedly turned to him for high leverage innings out of the bullpen.

He can pump in high 90s velocity with all of the effort and ease of a coach throwing batting practice, and ranked in the 100th percentile for fastball velocity on Baseball Savant. With that kind of gas, Graterol surely is blowing it by hitters, right? Wrong. In fact, Brusdar Graterol was in the first percentile for whiff percentage in 2020, with a bafflingly low 6.2% swinging strike rate overall and just 2.9%(!!) on his sinker. Opposing hitters made contact with the sinker 96.4% of the time when it was in the zone, though it often generated groundballs.

Even if Graterol is getting hitters to bounce out, a flamethrowing contact pitcher is a dicey option in today’s game when hitters can time a bullet, and Graterol is going to need to find a way to miss more bats if he is slotted to take over the closer role. If he can transition to throwing predominantly 4-seam fastballs instead of sinkers, those whiff rates will undoubtedly shoot up, but it has yet to be seen if the Dodgers will nudge Graterol in that direction. For 2021, Graterol will get more opportunities for holds during the regular season, and as mentioned before, may take over as the main option in the 9th.

 

Blake Treinen (Holds Option)

2020: 1 SV, 9 HLD, 25.2 IP, 22 K, 3.86 ERA, 1.21 WHIP | RP #78

2021 ADP: 419.2 (P# 160)

 

The Dodgers bought low on Treinen in 2020, following the reliever’s disappointing 2019 season and the Athletics’ subsequent non-tendering of his contract. What they received in return was not the historic closer of 2018, but instead a very solid setup man and clutch performer in October.

Treinen did not strike out as many hitters in 2020, and his K-rate dropped to just 20.6%, a decrease of over 10% from 2018. That said, Treinen also generated more groundballs from throwing his sinker in the strike zone more, which helped him to limit potential damage. Treinen ended 2020 as one of L.A.’s most trusted relievers, and led the team with nine holds, and led the bullpen with 25.2 innings.

In 2021, Steamer projects a 3.75 ERA for the reliever, along with nine saves and twelve holds. And while he likely won’t strike out a ton of hitters, most signs point to Treinen being an effective setup man out of the bullpen in 2021, with enough opportunities to potentially be a very valuable addition in a SVHD league as a result. There is also the chance that Treinen supplants Jansen over Graterol as the closer, so he is definitely a player to keep an eye on in 2021.

 

Corey Knebel (Holds Option)

2020: 0 SV, 0 HLD, 13.1 IP, 15 K, 6.08 ERA, 1.73 WHIP | RP #325

2021 ADP: Undrafted

 

On December 2, the Dodgers acquired reliever Corey Knebel from the Brewers in exchange for a player to be named later and cash. Knebel was coming off of a season where he posted a 6.08 ERA and 24.2% strikeout rate in 2020, his first season back after missing all of 2019 while recovering from Tommy John surgery. It was a classic Andrew Friedman bargain bin move, in an offseason where he also signed Tommy Kahnle through 2021, another pitcher to have recently gone under the knife.

Knebel has All-Star upside if he can regain some of his pre-injury form, having posted a 2.54 ERA and strikeout rate around 40% while racking up 55 saves for the Brewers from 2017-2018. Knebel may be used in a similar capacity as Blake Treinen was in 2020, as a late-inning/set-up option with ample opportunities to secure holds, except with higher strikeout upside.

 

Víctor González (Middle Relief)

2020: 0 SV, 2 HLD, 20.1 IP, 23 K, 1.33 ERA, 0.74 WHIP | RP #27

2021 ADP: Undrafted

 

Victor González seemingly flew under the radar in his rookie season in 2020, though he pitched phenomenally for the Dodgers in both the regular season and in October. He became a trusted option out of the bullpen as the season wore on, and for good reason: González struck out 28.7% of the hitters he faced and walked a minuscule 2.5%. His ability to generate whiffs while minimizing free passes in his rookie year was invaluable for the Dodgers down the stretch, and he finished the season with a 1.33 ERA and 2.21 SIERA.

González could eventually be tried out as a starter somewhere down the line, and may even get a few spot starts in 2021, but for now, the rotation is just too deep for him to crack. He will be called upon for multiple innings of relief again in 2021, though ZiPS projects him for a much more modest 3.79 ERA and 21.6% strikeout rate over just 95 innings.

Unless there is an injury (which is always likely with how aggressively the Dodgers make use of the IL), González likely won’t get the save or hold opportunities to make him a viable reliever in fantasy, though he may be worth watching.

 

Watch List Considerations

 

Joe Kelly once again enters 2021 as a bit of a loose cannon, though he will undoubtedly get a larger share of the opportunities out of the bullpen this year, provided he can avoid throwing near any Astros (and windows). He’s about as volatile of a reliever as you can get out of the bullpen, and you can once again expect a lot of strikeouts and a lot of walks depending on whether or not he can find the zone on any given night.

Either of these relievers could see opportunities for holds in 2021, depending on if the Dodgers truly shift towards a bullpen by committee approach. The trio of Urías, May, and Gonsolin will also probably see at least one of the young starters moved to the bullpen at some point during the regular season, likely in a bulk role and for multiple innings. Expect them to be in the mix next season, especially when injuries hit the bullpen.

 

 

ADP data taken from NFC ADPs. Pitcher rankings are currently combined. SP and RP positional rankings will be updated when made available.

2019 Positional Rankings from Razzball’s 12-team Player Rater (ESPN).

Photos by John Jones & Brian Rothmuller//Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Redler (@reldernitsuj on Twitter)

Noah Scott

Noah Scott is a long-suffering baseball writer and knuckleball connoisseur. If you want to talk old timey baseball names, traffic on the 405, or lukewarm hip-hop opinions you can find him on Twitter @noahascott6

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