The Dodgers are 60 games through the 2021 season, so it’s only natural to look back at last year, which was complete at 60 games. There are many differences between this season and last, though maybe more similarities than you might have realized.
I’m not talking about the fact that Chris Taylor has eight home runs and 55 strikeouts on the season, matching his 2020 total, and that his 89 total bases this year is virtually indistinguishable from his 88 last year. And this isn’t about the eight home runs Clayton Kershaw allowed last year or the eight he allowed this year. Or that Kenley Jansen pitched 24⅓ innings through 60 games both in 2020 and 2021.
Think bigger picture.
A glance at the standings illuminates the most obvious change. After finishing with the best record in baseball in 2020 (43-17), the Dodgers are 35-25 this season, which is still quite good, and a 95-win pace.
|CF||Bellinger (L)||RF||Polanco (L)|
|SS||Lux (L)||LF||Tom (L)|
They are also in third place in the division, at the moment three games back in the National League West. If the season ended today, the Dodgers would play the Padres in the NL wild card game. But the season doesn’t end today, which is kind of the point. Unlike last year’s sprint, this year is back to being a marathon.
“Every game is important. We try to win every baseball game,” manager Dave Roberts said Tuesday. “But the truth is, it’s a longer season and to play every game like it’s a Game 7 — I think last year, every game meant 2.5 or whatever the number was (Editor’s note: each 2020 game was the equivalent of 2.7 games in a 162-game season) — it’s not the case this year. We’re still trying to play to win, but it’s not 60 games.”
Even though the Dodgers are in third place in their own division at the moment, they also own the third-best record in the NL, and the sixth-best record in the majors.
Last year the Dodgers led the majors in runs scored and home runs. This year they are second in the majors in runs scored, with the biggest difference their relative power, only ranking 12th in MLB in homers this year.
But context is important.
Last year, the Dodgers hit .256/.338/.483 as a team, with a 122 wRC+ that led the majors. This year, the Dodgers are hitting just .239/.336/.405. In a reduced run-scoring environment (4.38 runs per game in MLB in 2021, compared to 4.65 runs last season) the Dodgers have a 109 wRC+, which is still good enough for third in the majors.
Pitchers are hitting in the National League in 2021, a noted change from last year, which explains at least part of the league-wide offensive downturn. Taking away plate appearances by pitchers, the Dodgers this year are hitting .246/.346/.421, with a 117 wRC+ that ranks second in the majors, and doesn’t look too much different from last year’s juggernaut offense.
Last year the Dodgers were second in runs allowed (3.55 per game), but this year they have fallen to sixth (3.88 per game). The biggest difference is in relief, or rather lack of it.
- 2020 bullpen: 2nd in ERA (2.74), 2nd in FIP (3.45)
- 2021 bullpen: 12th in ERA (3.82), 16th in FIP (4.03)
It’s almost apples and oranges comparing pitcher usage between this year and last because of roster sizes. In 2020, rosters had 30 players for the first two weeks, then 28-man active rosters the rest of the way. This year, active rosters are down to 26 players, which has meant fewer relievers to turn to, and relying on starting pitchers more.
That has worked to the Dodgers advantage thus far, with the LA rotation leading the majors in innings, strikeout rate, and lowest walk rate, and is second in ERA. Imagine what the Dodgers might do with five starters instead of four.
Last year, no Dodger pitched 60 innings, which meant nobody reached the requirement of one inning per team game to qualify for any rate leaderboards. This year, four Dodgers starters through 60 games have pitched at least 72⅓ innings.
Let’s see what these next 102 games bring.