2021 ZiPS Projections: Los Angeles Dodgerson November 20, 2020 at 4:05 pm

2021 ZiPS Projections: Los Angeles Dodgers

After having typically appeared in the hallowed pages of Baseball Think Factory, Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections have now been released at FanGraphs for nine years. The exercise continues this offseason. Below are the projections for the Los Angeles Dodgers.


Some years, the World Series champion is clearly not the best team in baseball; instead, it’s a club that, through a combination of luck and timing, goes on an October run en route to the Commissioner’s Trophy. That was not the case in 2021. The Dodgers played in the same division as the National League’s second-best team this season, the Padres, and still bested them by six games, a 16-win pace per 162 games. Even with surprising down years (relatively speaking) from Cody Bellinger and Max Muncy, this lineup pummeled opposing pitchers from pole-to-pole, scoring nearly six runs a game and setting a franchise-high wRC+ at 122. Sure, it’s different to do that over 60 games than 154 or 162, but it’s still an impressive feat for a club with such a long history and deep roster of Hall of Famers.

With only one championship available per season, aggressively trying to win isn’t always met with a proportional reward. In this instance, the Dodgers went all-out to rent the services of Mookie Betts, with no guarantee he’d re-sign with them, and then inked him to a long-term deal with one of the richest payouts in major league history in the middle of a global pandemic and corresponding economic meltdown. Betts was as good as advertised — just one Freddie Freeman away from an MVP trophy — and the Dodgers earned a championship. Score one for positive incentives!

The team’s to-do list on the offense is relatively small this winter. Replacing Justin Turner is a priority — bringing him back for a year or two strikes me as the best mutual opportunity — but with a championship already in the bag and the team so strong elsewhere, the Dodgers may not feel compelled to be aggressive as they would have been in a similar situation a year ago. In extremely limited big league time, Gavin Lux hasn’t been great so far, but he remains a top prospect, he’s still very young, and this organization isn’t known for panicking when it comes to its best prospects.

One more item on the to-do list is probably another spare outfielder who can share some time with AJ Pollock. There’s role player depth on the squad as well, but Enrique Hernandez, who was a great player to have around because he could play just about everywhere, is a free agent. Chris Taylor remains a Dodger, but the team already looks like they’ll use him plenty (and he’s a free agent after 2021).

Next up: winning a second consecutive championship, something that hasn’t been done since the 1999-2000 Yankees, and figuring out how to keep Corey Seager and Clayton Kershaw past 2021, all of which is very plausible!


Is Clayton Kershaw actually underrated now? He’s likely past his 2013-2017 peak for good, but he’s still putting up numbers well into ace territory and his 3.03 ERA in 2019 remains his “worst” year since his debut. 2020 cost Kershaw any chance of collecting win number 200 in 2021, but ZiPS still projects him to finish at 261 for his career, a projection that already contains information about his decline in velocity. The projections also have him finishing 13th all-time in WAR for pitchers, nestling him between Christy Mathewson and Lefty Grove, two pitchers who are rumored to have been solid.

One of the biggest boosts to Julio Urias’ projection came from his postseason performance, which ZiPS includes. Twenty-nine strikeouts against just four walks on baseball’s biggest stage was enough to knock a pretty good chunk out of his 2021-projected ERA.

Kenley Jansen‘s not done or anything, but there were some definite warning signings late in the season and in the playoffs, and there’s been a distinct drop-off in his top comp, which has typically been Mariano Rivera (not to take anything away from Mike Timlin). Of the team’s core players over the last several seasons, Jansen is probably the one Los Angeles is most willing to part ways with.

I don’t expect the Dodgers to go after Trevor Bauer to fatten up the rotation, but I’d be surprised if they don’t add a veteran No. 3 or 4 starter who can eat some innings and play a similar role in next year’s playoffs. Manager Dave Roberts did a better job managing the bullpen than in the 2019 playoffs, but the team did occasionally seem stretched more than is ideal when Walker Buehler started having blister issues and Tony Gonsolin struggled in a few playoff games. It’s a team that can’t resist a good reclamation project, so seeing someone like Chris Archer on the roster wouldn’t shock me.

One pedantic note for 2021: For the WAR graphic, I’m using FanGraphs’ depth charts playing time, not the playing time ZiPS spits out, so there will be occasional differences in WAR totals.

Ballpark graphic courtesy Eephus League. Depth charts constructed by way of those listed here.

Players are listed with their most recent teams wherever possible. This includes players who are unsigned, players who will miss 2021 due to injury, and players who were released in 2020. So yes, if you see Joe Schmoe, who quit baseball back in August to form a Finnish industrial death metal fourth-wave ska J-pop band, he’s still listed here intentionally.

Both hitters and pitchers are ranked by projected zWAR, which is to say, WAR values as calculated by me, Dan Szymborski, whose surname is spelled with a z. WAR values might differ slightly from those which appear in the full release of ZiPS. Finally, I will advise anyone against — and might karate chop anyone guilty of — merely adding up WAR totals on a depth chart to produce projected team WAR. ZiPS is assuming that the designated hitter will continue in force in 2021; if it does not, there will be widespread minor adjustments across the board come April.

ZiPS is agnostic about future playing time by design. For more information about ZiPS, please refer to this article, or get angry at Dan on Twitter or something.

Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for ESPN.com from 2010-2018, a regular guest on a number of radio shows and podcasts, and a voting BBWAA member. He also maintains a terrible Twitter account at @DSzymborski.

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