Yasiel Puig dazzled with another show stopping home run, a three-run game-winning blast, in Wednesday night’s sweeping victory over the Colorado Rockies. Walker Buehler set the stage with yet another dominant start, propelling his name to the top of Dave Roberts’ postseason starting pitcher list.
The obvious names like Justin Turner, Clayton Kershaw, Chris Taylor and Max Muncy among others, have received much fanfare, and deservedly so. Their contributions have boosted the Dodgers to a 2 1/2 game lead in the NL West with nine games remaining on the regular schedule.
Last season the Dodgers’ often bested their opponent with a different hero each night. This year there’s been several players who have contributed to their collective goal, but may not have necessarily been heralded as much as the guys helping us shape most of the headlines. Let’s take a look at five of the less flashy Dodgers who’ve been key contributors and have earned a spot on the postseason roster should the Dodgers wrap up a sixth straight NL West title this month.
Joc Pederson is quietly having himself a great year. Puig may have overtaken him with his recent offensive explosion, but Joc’s 125 wRC+ is the second highest among Dodger outfielders with a minimum of 400 plate appearances. He’s just behind Lorenzo Cain and Justin Upton. He currently has career highs in slugging percentage (.516) and batting average (.250).
Despite his solid overall numbers, Pederson continues to struggle against left-handed pitching (.173/.200/.308/.508). He’s been one of the worst against southpaws in baseball this year, but Roberts has done a good job to neutralize his weakness by limiting his exposure to southpaws this season (55 PA). On Monday, in the series opener against the Rockies, Pederson came up big going 3-for-4 with three runs scored, 3 RBI and two home runs including a homer off lefty Harrison Musgrave in the fourth inning. It was his first home run off a left-hander this year and his ninth of his career.
A second homer? You like that?! #JOCPOP pic.twitter.com/35e02ycixG— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) September 18, 2018
Pederson has hit six of his 23 home runs out of the leadoff spot.
Most leadoff home runs by a Dodger in one season:— Eric Stephen (@ericstephen) September 18, 2018
7 - Davey Lopes (1979)
6 - Joc Pederson (2018)
6 - Davey Lopes (1980)
6 - Todd Hollandsworth (2000)
6 - Rafael Furcal (2006)https://t.co/5rO771PAET
Everyone’s talking about Puig’s home run binge, but Pederson has hit four home runs in his last eight games. If Joc’s late-season upsurge is any indication that he’s ready to ring in #Joctober, we should expect peak Pederson in the postseason once again.
Postseason roster prediction: LOCK
Pedro Baez has had a tumultuous Dodgers career to say the least. He’s pitched the most innings (264.1) of any Dodgers’ reliever not named Kenley Jansen (322) since his MLB debut in 2014. So we’ve had plenty of time - and Baez sure loves to take his time - to get to know him.
This year he has the third-highest K/9 (10.17) in the Dodgers bullpen among relievers with at least 30 innings pitched. Baez is still serving up a ton of fly balls (43%), but not a lot are going out of the park this year. His 0.70 HR/9 is remarkably low (lowest of his career since 2015). Jansen’s at 1.34 HR/9. He even holds a better FIP (3.13) than Jansen (3.65) on the year. A mark that he’s decreased by 1.31 points since last season.
Baez is walking a lot less guys (3.5 BB/9, 2.90 K-BB%) than last season as well. He’s only blown one save in 51.1 innings, so that’s a victory in itself. So while he’s still not exactly the first guy you want to go to in high leverage situations, he’s been pretty solid this year despite the dark cloud of negativity that follows him, lingering in our minds, from poor past performance.
A lot of the success Baez has found this season is due to him being less reliant on his fastball (61.9%) and going to his secondary stuff (slider 23.8% and 14.3% changeup) more than ever. He’s always had good peripherals, but he needed to find that balance where he could find more effectiveness in his fierce fastball.
Postseason roster prediction: The middle relief situation has been a work in progress for the Dodgers this season, but Baez has finally found his niche. I say YES.
Dylan Floro is finally getting some attention of late, and rightfully so. A seemingly minor pickup at the trade deadline by the Dodgers in a deal that sent two minor leaguers (James Marinan and Aneurys Zabala) to the Cincinnati Reds has really worked out well for LA.
In 27 relief appearances, Floro is 3-1 with a 1.33 ERA, 2.52 FIP and 0.852 WHIP with 10 K/9 and 0.3 HR/9.
His sinker is jaw-dropping and very deceptive to hitters.
I hear ya, @Joe_Davis pic.twitter.com/S9ZyBrpWV2— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) September 19, 2018
Perhaps it was that Rick Honeycutt magic that honed Floro’s pitching repertoire, eliminating his changeup and increasing his usage of his slider while incorporating a four-seam fastball. Maybe it was Floro himself that made the changes. Either way he’s improved a lot since being traded from the Reds, striking out nearly 12% more batters and allowing 19% less extra-base hits. He’s become an integral part of the Dodgers’ bullpen.
To anyone who says Dodgers management did nothing to boost the bullpen, you only have to point them in the direction of Floro to prove them wrong. The trade might not have been a blockbuster, but it definitely paid out well in the backend.
Postseason roster prediction: That sinker is a deadly weapon. YES.
Unfortunately the catcher is often one of the most underappreciated position players. Day in, day out, the catcher is bombarded with foul balls off every extremity and constantly in a rotation of standing, kneeling, throwing, blocking and framing. Yasmani Grandal has been one of the most important players on the team, but for many they can’t see beyond his batting average and passed ball tally.
The Dodgers have one of the best pitching staffs in all of baseball with a 3.40 ERA, second only to the Houston Astros. They have 1,476 strikeouts, the most in the NL. A big reason for their success should be attributed to their catching duo, two backstops who are tops in pitch framing in the majors. Grandal is second to Jeff Mathis in the majors at +13.0 in Runs Above Average (RAA). Austin Barnes is at third at +10.1. Any major league pitcher will tell you that they want a catcher who can steal additional strikes for them.
The plays where the ball bounced out of Grandal’s glove may stick in your memory, but I’d challenge you to hold on to the ball at the plate and have Billy Hamilton run full force into your wrist. Grandal has halved the number of passed balls he’s allowed this season from 16 to 8. He also has an above-average arm, throwing out 26% of base stealers.
Sure, he’s no Mike Scioscia behind the plate. Few are. Yet his offensive contributions have made up for it. His .800 OPS, .456 slugging percentage, .344 on-base percentage (best on the team among qualifiers) and 120 wRC+ are all higher than his career marks.
Grandal’s hit 23 home runs, eclipsing his total from last season and moving him past Johnny Roseboro on the list of most home runs hit by a Los Angeles Dodgers catcher. He’s hit 88 home runs since joining the Dodgers in 2015.
1. Mike Piazza 176
2. Steve Yeager 98
3. Yasmani Grandal 88
4. John Roseboro 87
5. Mike Scioscia 68
Postseason roster prediction: LOCK
Last, but certainly not least, Kenta Maeda’s contributions to both the Dodgers starting rotation and bullpen should not go unnoticed. He was gracious, yet reluctant, when he was shifted to the bullpen despite facing some unfair incentive issues with his contract. He’s flourished as a late-inning reliever after starting off shaky in his new role. In fact his 11.1 K/9 is 9th in the majors (minimum 120 innings). He’s also tied with the second most wins on the team (8) and has two saves as well.
That'll do, Kenta. That'll do. pic.twitter.com/SuxIZt2Wfc— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) September 8, 2018
Maeda has been in this situation before. Last year he made four relief appearances out of the Dodgers’ bullpen before becoming a valuable arm out of Roberts’ postseason pen. He only gave up one run in 10 2/3 innings in the playoffs last year as a reliever.
If Maeda’s gusty performance in the eighth inning on Tuesday vs. the Rockies was any indication whether he can continue to excel as a high-leverage reliever, Roberts has his man. He had to face the heart of the Colorado order in a tie game with playoff implications on the line. He came up big with a near immaculate inning, He made 10 pitches, and only one of those was a ball. He struck out Nolan Arenado, Matt Holliday, and Ian Desmond, yelling emotionally as he stepped off the mound.
Postseason roster prediction: While not a definite lock, I do see Maeda in the Dodgers’ postseason bullpen. YES.
The Dodgers’ depth has allowed them to overcome injuries and inconsistencies that have hampered some of their top players. This has opened the door for those players who have stepped up to contribute and fill holes in the lineup and the bullpen specifically. The Dodgers still have some work ahead of them to secure their sixth consecutive NL West title. All hands are on deck down the final stretch, and these unsung heroes have proven they are ready for the challenge.