The Dodgers made the World Series for the first time since 1988 last year, although they fell short, dropping Game 7 to the Astros in a dramatic series that will go down as one of the most entertaining ever. Los Angeles finished with the eighth-best OPS on offense and the lowest ERA among starters. It’s a young team with a strong bullpen, defense and manager, so it’s not surprising projection systems peg them to be one of the best in baseball, with around 95 wins and as the current favorites to win the National League.
Dodger Stadium has decreased run scoring by 10 percent over the last three years, with only two parks suppressing offense more over that span. The NL West also features AT&T Park, Petco Park and a new Chase Field that could shift in a major way with the introduction of a humidor, so despite the presence of Coors Field, playing in this division benefits pitchers far greater than hitters.
Now let’s get to the pressing fantasy questions.
Q: How high should Cody Bellinger be drafted?
A: Bellinger became the fastest player ever to reach 20 homers last season, finishing with an NL-rookie record 39 long balls. He swings and misses a lot, and Bellinger’s lasting memory from 2017 is him looking lost in the World Series, when he struck out an unfathomable 17 times in 29 plate appearances (he ended the postseason with a .219/.254/.453 line across 64 at bats). But Bellinger hits the ball hard and frequently in the air, and he impressively more than held his own against southpaws (.903 OPS). He’s also sneaky fast and just 22 years old. He’s no doubt a batting average risk with an uncertain floor, but especially given the changes to Chase Field, Bellinger enters 2018 with more fantasy upside than Paul Goldschmidt while attached to a lower price tag. Don’t let him fall out of the second round.
Q: How high should Clayton Kershaw be drafted?
A: He has a chronic back issue that’s helped limit him to fewer than 200.0 innings in three of the past four years, a postseason reputation that took another hit thanks mainly to one bad outing, and he gave up far more homers than usual last year (as did the rest of the league). But Kershaw’s arm appears as healthy as ever (although there was a small dip in velocity last season), and with offense up and so few true elite aces, Kershaw becomes a viable option as soon as pick No. 3. Even if limited to 180 innings or so, a pitcher’s impact is still far greater than a hitter’s (even a true 5X5 stud hitter would have a hard time contributing as much, given the common roster construction of nine Ps and 14 Hs, especially when you factor in 2-3 of those pitchers will be relievers). Over the last five years, Kershaw’s ERA (1.95) is nearly a full run lower than the next best (Zack Greinke at 2.83).
Quick Hits: Since joining the Dodgers in 2014, Justin Turner has posted a 141 wRC+ that ranks top-15 among all hitters (just ahead of Miguel Cabrera). He had an inexplicably low ADP last year, and while that’s risen, he’s still underrated. The counting stats will come while hitting in the middle of this lineup, so he’s going to be a monster if healthy…Austin Barnes made all the starts when games mattered most during the World Series, but Yasmani Grandal enters as the team’s No. 1 catcher again. It’s a blow to fantasy owners but makes sense for LA, giving them the rare advantage of having depth at that position (with both terrific pitch-framers). But Barnes has the upside to be a top-five fantasy catcher should he ever get the full-time job…Corey Seager is a 23-year-old shortstop who posted the fourth-best Hard% (44.0) in MLB last year that likely would’ve been higher had he not played through a painful elbow injury down the stretch (the three sluggers ahead of him were Joey Gallo, Aaron Judge and Paul Goldschmidt). Seager could be an MVP someday.
Kenley Jansen recorded a 1.31 FIP last year and is the clear top fantasy reliever, while Rich Hill and Alex Wood should each be top-25 starters when healthy…Kenta Maeda has posted a 1.15 WHIP over two seasons in the majors, had a 4.9/1 K/BB ratio after the All-Star break last season, is 30 years old and pitches in one of the best environments in baseball, so he’s an undervalued mid-tier SP to target…I hope Julio Urias‘ career isn’t finished after such serious surgery, but he’s a long shot at this point…Walker Buehler is the team’s top prospect and will likely be limited to around 125-150 innings this year, but he’ll be immediately worth adding when he’s called up mid-summer. The team’s farm system keeps producing elite young talent.
I have no idea what to make of Yasiel Puig‘s agency firing him, as there’s obviously still some off-field issues, but he’s a top-20 outfielder for me regardless…Chris Taylor is likely to regress some, but he’s clearly improved as a hitter, hits atop a strong lineup and is 2B/SS/OF eligible…Joc Pederson is 25 years old, set to start against righties (he’s hit 34 home runs against RHP over 566 ABs the last two years), and his ADP is outside 370, so he’s a legit sleeper.
Dodgers Projected Lineup
CF Chris Taylor
SS Corey Seager
3B Justin Turner
1B Cody Bellinger
RF Yasiel Puig
C Yasmani Grandal
LF Joc Pederson
2B Logan Forsythe
Dodgers Projected Staff
SP Clayton Kershaw
SP Rich Hill
SP Alex Wood
SP Kenta Maeda
SP Hyun Jin-Ryu
CL Kenley Jansen
RP Pedro Baez
RP Scott Alexander
RP Josh Fields