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Dodgers season in thirds: The first 54 games

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We’re one third of the way through the 2021 campaign

Miami Marlins v Los Angeles Dodgers Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Now that we have a full season on our hands again, let’s break it down into smaller chunks to see what’s working and what isn’t.

Three lineup regulars — Cody Bellinger, Corey Seager, and AJ Pollock — have missed significant time, plus Zach McKinstry missed six weeks and Edwin Ríos slumped and is out for the year after shoulder surgery. Dustin May is out for the season after Tommy John surgery, and late-inning reliever Corey Knebel is out for months with a lat injury.

Seventeen different Dodgers have been on the injured list this season, not including the three that missed a few days on the COVID-related IL. Injuries have been a scourge throughout baseball this season, though using the Baseball Prospectus injured list ledger, the only team to lose more actual production than the Dodgers is the Mets.

Despite the injuries, the Dodgers have still done reasonably well, on pace for 96 wins, though that’s still below preseason expectations, and they are currently in third place in the National League West, though also with the third-best record and second-best run differential in the NL.

It just happens to be their worst 54-game start in three years, back to a season that also saw — at least for a while — a three-team race in the division.

Dodgers first 54 games, year by year

Year W-L Runs for Runs against Run differential BA/OBP/SLG wRC+ ERA ERA-
Year W-L Runs for Runs against Run differential BA/OBP/SLG wRC+ ERA ERA-
2021 32-22 282 209 +73 .242/.338/.414 112 3.25 86
2020 38-16 312 193 +119 .255/.337/.472 120 3.08 72
2019 36-18 294 211 +83 .261/.349/.460 112 3.51 85
2018 25-29 231 213 +18 .237/.316/.393 95 3.63 94
2017 33-21 271 185 +86 .258/.340/.428 105 3.20 77
2016 28-26 230 195 +35 .238/.309/.374 86 3.38 85
2015 31-23 245 195 +50 .261/.339/.450 119 3.44 92
2014 29-25 231 191 +40 .257/.324/.415 111 3.48 100
2013 23-31 193 229 -36 .257/.327/.375 98 3.88 108

“I use the tennis analogy — we just held serve,” manager Dave Roberts said during the Fox broadcast of Saturday’s game against the Giants.

For those interested in pace, we are at an easy point in the schedule. Just multiply by three to see what a full season might look like. Maybe not for Bellinger, but you get the point.

Here’s a look at the individual players through the first 54 games.

First 54 games: catchers

Player GS AB R H 2B HR RBI BB PA BA OBP SLG OPS wRC+
Player GS AB R H 2B HR RBI BB PA BA OBP SLG OPS wRC+
Smith 37 140 27 38 9 5 18 21 168 0.271 0.375 0.457 0.832 132
Barnes 21 79 9 20 5 2 14 12 93 0.253 0.359 0.392 0.751 117
Ruiz 0 7 1 1 0 1 1 0 7 0.143 0.143 0.571 0.714 90
Totals 226 37 59 14 8 33 33 268 0.261 0.363 0.438 0.801
Also includes starts for Smith and Barnes at designated hitter

Will Smith has been predictably productive at the plate, and Austin Barnes’ recent power surge has him well above average offensively as well. Smith has started 34 of 54 games behind the plate, a pace for 102 starts on the season and 60 for Barnes. That’s a relatively normal split between a starting catcher and the backup, especially one as productive as Barnes.

This is a reminder that any consternation over Roberts’ noncommittal guess in spring training that Smith would start “somewhere around 90 games” at catcher was silly. From 2017-19, MLB had an average of 10.7 catchers per year starting 100 games behind the plate. Smith is on pace for at least that, and considering there are no more designated hitter games on the schedule — where Smith started three times — there might be even more opportunities behind the plate, especially if he continues to hit.

First 54 games: position players

Player GS AB R H 2B HR RBI SB-CS BB BA/OBP/SLG OPS wRC+
Player GS AB R H 2B HR RBI SB-CS BB BA/OBP/SLG OPS wRC+
Muncy 50-0-1 172 38 48 7 13 30 1-0 43 .279/.436/.558 0.995 175
Turner 44-0-4 188 33 51 9 9 28 0-0 25 .271/.356/.463 0.819 131
Betts 0-42-0 174 27 43 16 5 18 5-3 27 .247/.365/.437 0.802 128
Taylor 9-35-0 164 40 46 7 7 28 6-0 27 .280/.401/.488 0.889 151
Seager 36-0-0 147 20 39 7 4 22 1-0 19 .265/.361/.422 0.783 123
Lux 41-0-0 154 20 38 5 5 25 1-1 11 .247/.298/.403 0.700 95
Pollock 0-24-0 94 13 26 5 4 17 2-0 8 .277/.333/.457 0.791 118
Beaty 4-16-1 85 15 24 3 2 23 0-1 10 .282/.378/.388 0.766 123
McKinstry 4-12-0 63 7 16 5 3 14 0-0 3 .254/.294/.476 0.770 109
Ríos 10-1-0 51 4 4 0 1 1 0-0 7 .078/.217/.137 0.354 17
Neuse 9-3-0 58 6 10 1 3 4 0-1 1 .172/.186/.345 0.531 47
Raley 0-9-0 44 3 8 1 1 2 0-0 2 .182/.280/.273 0.553 60
Pujols 9-0-0 38 3 9 2 3 10 0-0 1 .237/.275/.526 0.801 121
Bellinger 0-7-0 29 5 4 1 0 2 0-0 5 .138/.265/.241 0.506 53
Peters 0-7-0 26 5 5 2 1 4 0-0 8 .192/.382/.385 0.767 96
Tsutsugo 0-6-0 23 2 3 0 0 2 0-0 3 .130/.231/.130 0.361 16
Totals 1510 241 374 71 61 230 16-6 200 .248/.347/.429 0.776
Starts are listed infield-outfield-DH

Max Muncy is the star here, a heightened version of his 2018-19 self, leading the majors in walks and on-base percentage, is second only to Juan Soto at not swinging at pitches outside the strike zone, and is fifth in wRC+.

“Part of me always felt like it was in there,” Muncy said Sunday.

Given the preponderance of versatility on the Dodgers roster, a grouped all the non-catching position players in the same bucket, but noted starts in the infield and outfield. This will probably end up being more usual later in the year, as we can compare different thirds of the season and how playing time gets distributed.

It should also be noted that catcher Austin Barnes, though he didn’t start elsewhere, also played in five games and 14⅓ innings at second base through the first 54 games.

First 54 games: starting pitchers

Pitcher GS Record QS IP H R ER BB SO ERA WHIP FIP
Pitcher GS Record QS IP H R ER BB SO ERA WHIP FIP
Bauer 12 6-3 10 76.3 40 22 19 23 96 2.24 0.825 3.83
Kershaw 12 7-4 7 70.3 55 27 26 13 77 3.33 0.967 3.04
Urías 11 7-2 6 67.3 55 29 27 9 75 3.61 0.950 2.97
Buehler 10 3-0 8 64.3 47 20 19 11 62 2.66 0.902 3.56
May 5 1-1 2 23.0 16 8 7 6 35 2.74 0.957 3.24
Starters 50 24-10 33 301.3 213 106 98 62 345 2.93 0.913 3.32

Trevor Bauer has been every bit as good as hoped, leading the National League in innings pitched and strikeouts. He is also roughly on pace for 288 strikeouts this season, a total reached only four times in Dodgers history, by a pair of lefties named Koufax and Kershaw. The franchise record for strikeouts by a right-handed pitcher is 262, by Dazzy Vance for Brooklyn in 1924.

I did not include the first pitchers of the four bullpen games with the starters, trying to give an accurate view of actual starting pitchers in that role. Dodgers starting pitchers lead the majors in innings pitched per game, strikeout rate (29.5 percent), lowest walk rate (5.4 percent), and quality starts, plus rank third in ERA and fifth in FIP.

First 54 games: bullpen

Pitcher G Record Sv-BS IP H R ER BB SO ERA WHIP FIP
Pitcher G Record Sv-BS IP H R ER BB SO ERA WHIP FIP
Jansen 21 0-2 12-2 22.3 7 8 5 16 27 2.01 1.030 3.43
Treinen 22 1-1 2-0 20.7 19 9 7 6 25 3.05 1.210 3.11
Nelson 16 1-1 0-1 18.7 11 6 5 11 30 2.41 1.179 1.83
Gonzalez 23 2-0 1-0 18.7 13 5 5 9 18 2.41 1.179 3.65
Price 11 1-0 1-0 16.3 18 7 6 4 19 3.31 1.347 3.91
Santana 16 0-0 0-0 15.0 18 11 10 11 8 6.00 1.933 4.85
Alexander 12 0-2 0-0 11.7 7 4 3 1 5 2.31 0.686 3.89
Uceta 6 0-2 0-0 10.7 11 8 5 4 12 4.22 1.406 4.43
Vesia 9 0-1 0-1 9.7 4 9 7 11 13 6.52 1.552 8.18
White 8 0-0 0-2 9.3 10 10 3 5 7 2.89 1.607 4.61
Kelly 8 1-0 0-0 7.0 10 7 7 2 6 9.00 1.714 5.97
Knebel 8 1-0 2-0 6.0 3 3 3 3 9 4.50 1.000 1.61
Cleavinger 8 1-3 0-1 6.0 8 6 3 4 9 4.50 2.000 6.45
Jones 4 0-0 0-0 4.3 2 3 2 0 2 4.15 0.462 5.19
Bickford 5 0-0 0-0 4.0 3 1 0 1 6 0.00 1.000 1.61
Kickham 1 0-0 0-0 2.0 5 3 3 1 2 13.50 3.000 10.61
Graterol 3 0-0 0-0 1.3 3 3 3 2 1 20.25 3.750 6.11
Starters 181 8-12 18-7 183.7 152 103 74 91 199 3.63 1.323 3.89

Even with the losses of Knebel and Brusdar Graterol — the latter currently on a rehab assignment in Triple-A, and due back relatively soon — the upper portion of the bullpen has been strong, with the pitchers with the five-most innings all considered leverage pitchers and mostly effective. It’s after that where things got wonky, with several pitchers thrust into roles, exacerbated at times by a slumping offense that basically ensured every game was close, late.

But for the most part, the bullpen has persevered, and could be even deeper once Jimmy Nelson and Graterol return.

For the relievers, I only included blown saves if said appearance actually had intent on finishing the game. Blowing a lead in the sixth, seventh, or (usually) the eighth in a non-doubleheader doesn’t count as a blown save for our purposes. If you’re interested, Dodgers pitchers also have eight of these other games, which technically count as blown saves, though in name only.

Fifty-four games down, 108 left.