Chris Taylor received his most recognition in 2021, and is about to cash in this offseason after what was the quintessential Chris Taylor season.
He started the year without a set position, but still started four of the first five games of the season, at four different positions. Taylor’s duty depended on the Dodgers’ need in any given moment, and his versatility allowed them to fill them all.
“I feel like my role has always been to play all over the field, and that’s part of my value,” Taylor said during spring training. “There’s been times where guys have gotten hurt, and then I have to play one position for a month or whatever.”
Things played out like that for Taylor for nearly all of 2021. When Cody Bellinger fractured his fibula, Taylor took the bulk of the time in center field. Once Bellinger returned, Taylor shifted over to second base, filling the hole left by Gavin Lux moving over to shortstop when Corey Seager broke his hand. When Lux injured his hamstring, Taylor manned shortstop until Seager returned. Taylor later filled in intermittently for Justin Turner at third base, then played right field when Mookie Betts got hurt, and left field when AJ Pollock strained his hamstring.
Six different positions matched a high for Taylor, who also started at six spots in 2019, manned five positions in 2017, and four each in 2018 and 2020.
Taylor led the Dodgers in defensive innings in 2021 (1,191⅓). Though he didn’t lead at any one particular position, he was second on the team in games and innings at second base, third base, left field, and center field. Taylor might not have been the most valuable Dodger, but he provided the team the most flexibility because he could be used in so many ways.
Enrique Hernández filled this role for six years on the Dodgers as well, though in a different way. Hernández was the better defender at multiple positions, while Taylor has been the better hitter, which sets him apart.
Taylor had a 113 wRC+ in 2021, right in line with his 116 wRC+ for his five full seasons from 2017-21. During that time, his lowest wRC+ was 106, and his highest 130. His OPS+ in those years ranged from 107-127. Anyway you slice it, Taylor has consistently been an above-average hitter. That’s extremely rare for someone who plays as many positions as Taylor.
A few searches bear this out:
- Taylor has four seasons playing at least 10 games at each of second base, shortstop, left field, and center field while posting at least a 100 OPS+. No other major leaguer has more than two such years.
- If we lower the threshold to just five games at those four positions, Taylor had five such seasons, also the most ever. Ben Zobrist is next with three.
- Taylor’s four 100 OPS+ seasons while playing at least 10 games in center field and shortstop are double the next-most.
- Even just limiting this to 10 games each at second base and shortstop, Taylor’s five seasons with at least a 100 OPS+ are also the most ever, ahead of an eclectic quartet — Dennis Menke, Jeff Blauser, Ben Zobrist, Marwin Gonzalez — at four years each.
Taylor made his first All-Star team in 2021 at age 30, and played the final four innings in center field. Through the end of July, Taylor was having a career year, at the time tied for seventh in the National League in FanGraphs WAR (3.4) and ranked 11th in wRC+ (137).
But then, things went south.
Taylor’s 2021 splits
|through July 31||411||.283/.375/.499||17||11.2%||26.3%||137|
|since August 1||171||.187/.271/.293||3||9.9%||34.5%||59|
Taylor’s swing got out of whack, limiting his playing time down the stretch even after a lingering neck injury subsided.
“He’s not right mechanically. He’s right physically. I’m going to bet on him. I believe in him. He’s just got to figure it out. He’s going to go out there and compete and prepare,” manager Dave Roberts said on the eve of the playoffs. “I think he’s a threat when he’s in the lineup, so he’s going to keep getting opportunities.”
Oddly enough, those opportunities didn’t include being in the lineup for either of the Dodgers’ first two playoff games. Though he didn’t start the NL wild card game against St. Louis, Taylor ended it, hitting the fourth walk-off home run in Dodgers postseason history.
Taylor’s bat came alive in the postseason, hitting .351/.419/.784, leading the Dodgers in the playoffs in slugging percentage, OPS, runs scored (nine), and runs batted in (12). He had four multi-hit games in the playoffs, including three home runs in Game 5 of the NLCS, setting a Dodgers record for total bases (13) in a postseason game.
Game 5 was also the last Dodgers win of the season, and their last home game. Taylor received what he said was the first curtain call of his career in what could have been his final home game at Dodger Stadium.
“This is why you play the game. When you look back on all the years playing for the Dodgers, it’s all these big postseason games that are the most special to me,” Taylor said. “I think these are moments that we’re going to be able to look back on for the rest of our lives and it’s pretty cool.”
Stats: .254/.344/.438, 113 wRC+, 20 HR, 92 runs, 13 SB, 25 doubles, 2.7 bWAR, 3.1 fWAR
Salary: $7.8 million
Game of the year
Taylor’s highest win probability added came on July 20 against the Giants, when he homered twice in a game the Dodgers erased a five-run deficit to eventually win 8-6. But the choice here still has to be Game 5 of the NLCS.
Taylor is just the 11th different player to hit three home runs in a postseason game, with Hernández (2017 NLCS Game 5) the only other Dodger to do so.
“He’s just one of the best I’ve seen at just being in the moment,” Roberts said. “I think that when his career is over, he can look back and appreciate that.”
Taylor is a free agent. The Dodgers extended him a qualifying offer of one year, $18.4 million, which would net the team draft pick compensation should he sign elsewhere. The deadline to accept or decline the qualifying offer is November 17.