Since Tuesday evening’s blockbuster trade that sent superstar outfielder Mookie Betts and veteran starting pitcher David Price to LA, there has been a lot of hype surrounding the Dodgers and how much better they are than the rest of the National League. And for a good reason, as the team has won two of the last three NL pennants as well as seven consecutive NL West titles.
Let’s be frank; the Dodgers are more than likely going to win more baseball games than the Braves this coming season. That’s just the cold hard truth. On paper, their lineup is more dangerous, their bench is deeper, and they have a starting rotation that, if healthy, could finish as one of the best in the National League. But, weren’t the Dodgers already expected to win more games this season than the Braves, have a more dangerous lineup, wield a deeper bench, and also run out one of the NL’s best starting rotations?
So theoretically, attempting to measure just how many more wins the Dodgers added by acquiring Betts and Price, is a bit of a redundant exercise. As Chase shared last month, the Dodgers have already been projected to win 100+ games in 2020, as well as blowout their division, and teams don’t receive special benefits for winning 110 games instead of 102. So technically, how much does 3 or 4 more wins really matter?
In 2001, the Seattle Mariners won 116 games, breaking the record for most wins in a season, only to get blown out in the ALCS by the NY Yankees, winning just one game during that series (granted, a 14-3 victory in Game 3). In 2014, the Giants won it all with only 88 wins in the regular season, defeating the Royals 4-3 in the World Series. If you’re already a contender, like the Dodgers and Braves currently are, wins during the regular season shouldn’t be what you’re ultimately chasing. Success in the postseason is the goal here, or at least it should be.
The Dodgers are going to be great this coming season. However, does Betts and Price make them THAT much better than the Braves?
Here are both team’s starting lineups as well as their top-3 bench bats. I’ve also included each player’s 2020 ZiPS projections:
- (RHB) Mookie Betts, OF: 6 WAR
- (LHB) Max Muncy, 1B: 3.8 WAR
- (RHB) Justin Turner, 3B: 3.3 WAR
- (LHB) Cody Bellinger, OF: 6.2 WAR
- (LHB) Corey Seager, SS: 3.7 WAR
- (RHB) A.J. Pollock, OF: 1.5 WAR
- (RHB) Will Smith, C: 2.5 WAR
- (LHB) Gavin Lux, 2B: 2.9 WAR
- (RHB) Chris Taylor, OF: 2.1 WAR
- (LHB) Enrique Hernandez, 2B: 1.1 WAR
- (RHB) Austin Barnes, C: 1.1 WAR
TOTAL: 29.9 WAR
- (RHB) Ronald Acuna Jr., OF: 5.1 WAR
- (S) Ozzie Albies, 2B: 5.3 WAR
- (LHB) Freddie Freeman, 1B: 4.6 WAR
- (RHB) Marcell Ozuna, OF: 2.8 WAR
- (LHB) Ender Inciarte, OF: 2.1 WAR
- (S) Johan Camargo, 3B: 1.5 WAR
- (RHB) Travis d’Arnaud, C: 1.1 WAR
- (RHB) Dansby Swanson, SS: 1.9 WAR
- (RHB) Tyler Flowers, C: 1.2 WAR
- (RHB) Nick Markakis, OF: 0.7 WAR
- (RHB) Adeiny Hechavarria, SS: 0.8 WAR
TOTAL: 27.1 WAR
Well, look at that. The almighty Dodgers lineup isn’t projected to be much better than the Braves, pegged for just under three more WAR (2.8) over the course of the 2020 season. Also, those are some rather optimistic projections for the Dodgers, as ZiPS has rookie second baseman Gavin Lux posting a 3-WAR season in his first FULL campaign in the majors. I’m not saying he’s not capable of such a performance, but it would be quite the accomplishment given that it’s not yet set in stone that Lux will even start the season in the big leagues.
I know even with Marcell Ozuna and Travis d’Arnaud installed in the lineup, the Braves’ 2020 batting order looks much like last season’s. But d’Arnaud should provide much better numbers versus lefty pitching (which the Dodgers have plenty of) in 2020, as he crushed southpaws to the tune of a 130 wRC+.
Advantage… Dodgers: Sure, the Dodgers have the better lineup (on paper), but as you can see, it’s perhaps a lot closer than many would’ve expected. Plus, given that the Braves finished 2019 as a top-10 offense in the majors, totaling 26.9 WAR altogether (that’s with the ENTIRE offense included); in the projection above, I’ve only featured 11 hitters (excluding Austin Riley, Charlie Culberson, and Adam Duvall, plus any other potential contributors). Of course, that goes for the Dodgers too, but you get the point. The Braves could very well improve an offense that was already elite last season.
The starting rotations
We still aren’t exactly sure who the starting-five will be for either the Dodgers or the Braves, but I’m just going to use my best judgment here. I’m also using the same 2020 ZiPS projections:
- Clayton Kershaw, LHP: 3.7 WAR
- Walker Buehler, RHP: 3.7 WAR
- David Price, LHP: 2.4 WAR
- Alex Wood, LHP: 1.6 WAR*
- Julio Urias, LHP: 1 WAR
TOTAL: 12.4 WAR
- Mike Soroka, RHP: 4 WAR
- Cole Hamels, LHP: 2.2 WAR
- Mike Foltynewicz, RHP: 2 WAR
- Max Fried, LHP: 2.9 WAR
- Sean Newcomb, LHP: 1.4 WAR
TOTAL: 12.5 WAR
Here’s where I think folks are underestimating the Braves a bit, in terms of both potential performance and depth. Floor-wise (and I don’t mean the floor you walk on), this Braves’ starting rotation is perhaps the best it has been since before the team’s rebuild. For once, there is some certainty when looking at the players listed on the starting staff, as Mike Soroka and Max Fried are both coming off stellar seasons in 2019, and Cole Hamels has remained ultra consistent even in his late-30s. And better yet, this particular ZiPS projection has Newcomb spending more time in the bullpen than as a starter (24 relief appearances / 19 starts), so his production — if he lands the no. 5 spot in the rotation — could stand even more optimism.
The Dodgers, of course, may not run out that exact rotation listed above, given all but one is a lefty, but even if you substitute Alex Wood or Julio Urias, that would result in them giving more innings to either Dustin May or Tony Goslin, which are two pitchers they don’t want to overload this coming season.
Advantage… Braves: I believe this is finally the year that the Braves can outduel the Dodgers on the mound. Kershaw will only be 32 in March, but he’ll inch ever so close to 2,500 career innings in 2020, and has already started cutting back on his workload over the last 3-4 years. The Dodgers will also be without Hyun-Jin Ryu, Kenta Maeda, and Ross Stripling this coming season — three pitchers that combined for over 9 WAR in 2019. The kings of the NL West still have a solid rotation, but they’re beginning to get rather thin near the top.
It will be interesting to see if the Braves’ significant investment this offseason pays off. Regardless, given all of the reinforcements GM Alex Anthopoulos has made thus far, this is hopefully one area the team shouldn’t have to worry about in 2020.
- (CL) Kenley Jansen, RHP: 1 WAR
- (SET) Pedro Baez, RHP: 0.4 WAR
- (SET) Joe Kelly, RHP: 0.6 WAR
- Jimmy Nelson, RHP: 0.5 WAR*
- Blake Treinen, RHP: 0.7 WAR*
- Adam Kolarek, LHP: 0.7 WAR
- Dylan Floro, RHP: 0.1 WAR
- Scott Alexander, LHP: 0.4 WAR
TOTAL: 4.4 WAR
- (CL) Mark Melancon, RHP: 0.5 WAR
- (SET) Will Smith, LHP: 1.1 WAR
- (SET) Shane Greene, RHP: 0.6 WAR
- Luke Jackson, RHP: 1 WAR
- Chris Martin, RHP: 0.8 WAR
- Darren O’Day, LHP: 0.2 WAR
- Grant Dayton, LHP: 0.4 WAR
- Jeremy Walker, RHP: 0.9 WAR
TOTAL: 5.5 WAR
Keep in mind that WAR is sort of a noisy way to quantify reliever performance, given the sample sizes are usually much smaller than that of position-players and starting pitchers. Still, I think the Braves’ total is a bit light, especially if Mark Melancon can pitch well enough to hold off star reliever Will Smith in the closer role, plus the fact that Shane Greene will get a full season this time around as the Braves 7th-inning guy. Regardless, the listed Braves above aren’t even half of the guys that could contribute above replacement-value production in 2020. This is a very deep group.
Of course, in terms of several positive contributions not being listed above, you could say the same for the Dodgers, as I again didn’t include May or Gonsolin. However, after those two, LA is only left with one of Wood or Urias (from the rotation) in terms of potential depth that’s currently on the 40-man.
Advantage… Braves: The Braves may only be pegged as a 1.1-WAR favorite according to ZiPS, but it’s their depth that separates them from the Dodgers… and any team for that matter (you can see some of that depth in one of my recent write-ups detailing possible Braves’ minor leaguers that could debut in ’20). Relievers can be extremely volatile, but I think the Braves have enough bullets to spare that perhaps it won’t matter.
When adding up each team’s 2020 projected lineup, starting rotation and bullpen, the Dodgers hold a small 1.6-WAR advantage over the Braves (46.7 – 45.1). Of course, simply adding both team’s WAR only gets you so far, and this is a rather raw way of looking at it, but hopefully, this at least illustrates that the Dodgers are NOT light years ahead of the Braves — even after acquiring the almighty Mookie Betts.
The Dodgers may score a ton of runs in 2020 (just like they did last season), but the Braves have made legitimate improvements, improvements that have indeed closed the gap between the two.
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