Check out my 2022 Season Preview Article for the Dodgers here.
Image: Ross D. Franklin / Associated Press
2022 Record: 111-51 (.685 win%, 1st in Division)
2022 Payroll: $275,629,360 (2nd)
1. RF Mookie Betts, .269 AVG/.340 OBP/.533 SLG, 6.6 fWAR
2. SS Trea Turner, .298 AVG/.343 OBP/.466 SLG, 6.3 fWAR
3. 1B Freddie Freeman, .325 AVG/.407 OBP/.511 SLG, 7.1 fWAR
4. C Will Smith, .260 AVG/.343 OBP/.465 SLG, 3.9 fWAR
5. 3B Max Muncy, .196 AVG/.329 OBP/.384 SLG, 2.4 fWAR
6. DH Justin Turner, .278 AVG/.350 OBP/.438 SLG, 2.4 fWAR
7. 2B Gavin Lux, .276 AVG/.346 OBP/.399 SLG, 3.0 fWAR
8. LF Trayce Thompson, .268 AVG/.364 OBP/.537 SLG, 2.8 fWAR
9. CF Cody Bellinger, .210 AVG/.265 OBP/.389 SLG, 1.7 fWAR
10. UT Chris Taylor, .221 AVG/.304 OBP/.373 SLG, 1.9 fWAR
1. Julio Urias, 175.0 IP/2.16 ERA/0.96 WHIP, 3.2 fWAR
2. Tyler Anderson, 178.2 IP/2.57 ERA/1.00 WHIP, 4.0 fWAR
3. Tony Gonsolin, 130.1 IP/2.14 ERA/0.87 WHIP, 2.7 fWAR
4. Clayton Kershaw, 126.1 IP/2.28 ERA/0.94 WHIP, 3.8 fWAR
5. Andrew Heaney, 72.2 IP/3.10 ERA/1.09 WHIP, 1.1 fWAR
2022 Top 4 Relievers:
1. CL Craig Kimbrel, 60.0 IP/3.75 ERA/1.32 WHIP, 0.9 fWAR
2. Evan Phillips, 63.0 IP/1.14 ERA/0.76 WHIP, 2.2 fWAR
3. Alex Vesia, 54.1 IP/2.15 ERA/1.12 WHIP, 1.5 fWAR
4. Brusdar Graterol, 49.2 IP/3.26 ERA/0.99 WHIP, 0.8 fWAR
Regular Season Recap:
After yet another disappointing finish for the Los Angeles ballclub, one can’t help but ask: what is the value of 111 wins if you can’t get the 11 that truly matter? Many Dodger fans are asking themselves this same question, as another early playoff exit to a division rival has left them quite the sour taste in their mouths. However, let’s save the playoff discussion for the Postseason Recap section. Regardless of how their year ended, one cannot deny that the Dodgers were beyond remarkable in 2022.
Much of Los Angeles’ success this season can be attributed to a historically great pitching staff, whose 149 ERA+, 1.048 WHIP, and .209 Opponent Batting Average, ranked 2nd, 5th, and 3rd, respectively, in all of Major League history.
The anchor of this staff’s rotation was Cy Young candidate Julio Urias. Urias led the National League with a 2.16 ERA and 0.229 Opponent BABIP, collecting 17 wins as well. He was the Dodgers’ best and most reliable starter throughout the season, earning himself the nod to pitch game one of the NLDS.
After the young lefty was the surprise breakout Tyler Anderson, who was among the best in the league at limiting hard contact, finishing in the 98th percentile in both Average Exit Velocity and Hard Hit rate.
This emphasis on soft contact was a major theme for Los Angeles in 2022, as number three starter Tony Gonsolin finished the year with a 0.875 WHIP and 0.172 Opponent Average, and was a major player in the NL Cy Young race until a forearm strain put him on the shelf for the last month of the regular season.
The Dodgers also got valuable production from face-of-the-franchise ace Clayton Kershaw, who was limited to 22 starts due to various injuries, but dominated when he was healthy. Kershaw’s 2.28 ERA would have tied him for second in the National League behind his teammate Urias if he had enough innings to qualify, and he was selected to start the All-Star game at Dodger Stadium in what may have been his final year in a Los Angeles uniform.
Rounding out the rotation is Andrew Heaney, whose 136 ERA+ was the worst of the five main Dodger starters, but still well above league average. Walker Buehler got some starts, but was limited by injury. He will be discussed later.
Mitch White registered a 3.70 ERA in ten starts and five relief appearances before being traded to the Blue Jays at the deadline. Ryan Pepiot, a Top 100 prospect, showed flashes of top-of-the-rotation potential as opposing batters hit .107 off his changeup.
Dustin May spent the majority of the season recovering from Tommy John Surgery, making his return on August 20th. In six starts down the final stretch of the season, he flashed dominant stuff once again, but struggled with his command, registering a career high 4.2 BB/9.
Moving to the relievers, the Dodgers boasted arguably their deepest bullpen in recent memory, as seven different players finished with an ERA under 3 in at least 25 appearances. The standout of Los Angeles’ group was Evan Phillips, who will get a more in-depth breakdown in the season surprises section.
The best lefty out of the pen was Alex Vesia, whose 13.1 K/9 was the highest mark of the main relievers. Brusdar Graterol spent some time on the injured list, but pitched to a solid 3.26 ERA and 0.987 WHIP when healthy. Chris Martin, who was acquired from the Cubs at the trade deadline, was dominant down the stretch for the club, recording 34 strikeouts and only one walk.
Also pitching well out of the bullpen for Los Angeles were David Price, Yency Almonte, Caleb Ferguson, Daniel Hudson, and Tommy Kahnle, who finished with 2.45, 1.02, 1.82, 2.22, and 2.84 ERA’s, respectively, in 147.1 combined innings.
Not every reliever for the Dodgers dominated, however, as closer Craig Kimbrel, who Los Angeles traded AJ Pollock for before the start of the season, registered the third-highest ERA of his career, blowing five saves in 27 situations.
Phil Bickford struggled as well, recording an 89 ERA+, mostly in mop-up duty. One last awesome thing to note is that utility player Hanser Alberto pitched eleven innings in ten games for the Dodgers, with a 105 ERA+ and 1.182 WHIP.
Behind the dish, Will Smith performed as one of the best catchers in baseball in what was actually a down year for him. His .807 OPS and 127 wRC+ were both the lowest in his young career. However, these marks are by no means bad, and Smith was a key piece in the Dodgers’ high-powered offense, often hitting cleanup in the order. His backup, Austin Barnes, was capable in 2022 with a 94 OPS+ and solid defense, earning himself a two-year extension.
The infield was anchored by former MVP Freddie Freeman, who once again put himself in that hallowed conversation this season. Freeman led all National League hitters in 2022 in hits, runs scored, doubles, on-base percentage, and expected batting average, earning himself the sixth all-star nod of his career.
Second base was manned mainly by Gavin Lux, who was quietly one of the better hitters for Los Angeles in 2022. Although he cooled off as he dealt with an injury towards the end of the season, Lux spent most of the year hitting close to .300, and finished the campaign with a 113 wRC+ and 3.0 fWAR.
Max Muncy had an up-and-down year for the Dodgers, as he hit an abysmal .161 average from the beginning of the season through July, before altering his swing and registering an .858 OPS down the stretch. Despite his early season struggles, the Dodgers showed their faith in Muncy, signing him to an extension for next year with a team option for 2024 as well.
Much like Muncy, Justin Turner’s 2022 was a tale of two halves. After recording a .734 OPS prior to the All-Star break, Turner slashed .319/.386/.503 across the second half of the season. Turner has now registered nine straight seasons with a wRC+ above 120, but with sharply declining defense, his future value may be restricted to being a designated hitter.
Last, but not least, shortstop Trea Turner earned a second straight All-Star game appearance after finishing the year with a 6.3 fWAR, ninth in the National League. Turner’s .298 batting average and 121 OPS+ were actually his lowest in three seasons, and he himself noticed this, working on his swing toward the end of the year to try to improve upon what was already a fantastic offensive campaign.
Hanser Alberto, who was signed for his career success against left-handed pitching, struggled mightily in 2022, recording a 90 wRC+ against southpaws. One could argue that Alberto provided more value for the Dodgers on the mound and as a clubhouse presence than he did at the plate.
Edwin Rios missed most of the season with an injury, but slugged .500 in limited at-bats while he was healthy. Finally, prospect Miguel Vargas, who was called up late in the season after tearing up the minor leagues, hadn’t seemed to figure it out yet at the major league level, slashing .170/.200/.255 in 50 plate appearances.
In the outfield, the centerpiece was once again superstar Mookie Betts who kept up with his MVP-winning pedigree in 2022. Betts finished 6th in the National League in fWAR this season with a 6.6 mark, registering an .873 OPS and 15 defensive runs saved.
Centerfield was primarily manned by Cody Bellinger, who improved upon his historically bad 2021 season, but was still unable to match the production of his MVP-winning, or even Rookie of the Year-winning, campaign. Look for more on Bellinger in the Players We Watched section.
Chris Taylor had his worst full season as a Dodger in 2022 after signing a four year contract with the club in the offseason. His .221 batting average, .373 slugging percentage, and 35.2 strikeout percentage were all his worst marks since his days in Seattle, as he dealt with numerous injuries this year.
Trayce Thompson was the major fill-in for Taylor while he was out, and was quietly one of Los Angeles’s best hitters during that time. Read further for details on his fascinating 2022 season.
Joey Gallo, acquired from the Yankees at the trade deadline, served as a project for the Dodgers, who were hoping that he could rekindle some of his slugging magic once out of the spotlight of New York. However, this wasn’t the case, as Gallo only improved his OPS by 50 points in Los Angeles and continued to strikeout at a high clip.
The Los Angeles Dodgers once again had a star-studded group in 2022, and while some of these huge names did not live up to expectations, the team was able to ride the backs of some breakout young players and rejuvenated veterans to make up for it.
The result was a historically dominant ballclub, both on the mound and at the plate, and no matter how disappointing their playoff exit was, one has to give them credit for a roster construction and performance that led to an unbelievable win tally.
M-SABR Predicted Record (104-58) vs. Actual (111-51):
Imagine a world where you predict a team to win over 100 games and you end up underestimating them. When I wrote the season preview for the Dodgers, I thought 104 wins was going to be a hard goal to reach. Turns out, I was wrong.
Just like the preview predicted, Los Angeles ran away with the National League West in 2022, as they were already 11.5 games ahead of the second-place Padres when they made their blockbuster trade for Juan Soto.
The Dodgers were also helped out by the rival Giants, who, after stealing the division from them in 2021, came crashing back down to Earth. Much of the dominance came against these exact division rivals, as Los Angeles went 54-22 against NL West opponents this season.
However, if you ask anyone in the organization, none of this matters, as they suffered a brutal defeat to the Padres in the NLDS. Due to the way their campaign ended, this Dodger team may not be remembered for their historic, 111-win season. I wrote in the season preview that anything short of a World Series victory for this club would be a massive disappointment, and boy was I right.
In March, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts was asked in an interview what it would take for Los Angeles to win the World Series in 2022. His response was a bold guarantee: The Dodgers were going to win the 2022 World Series, no matter what. As the season progressed, this claim looked promising, as the Dodgers ran the table to a league-best 111 wins, earning a first round bye and home field advantage throughout the postseason.
The NLDS arrived with a matchup against the division rival Padres, who the Dodgers had been dominating for years, with a 33-16 record against San Diego since the beginning of the 2020 season. Game one resulted in a 5-3 win for Los Angeles, and it looked like they were going to beat down on the Padres yet again.
However, the Padres fought back, winning the next three games and stunning Los Angeles with another disappointing upset, this one arguably the most bitter.
The next step is to wonder how it all went wrong. Where do we begin? We could blame it on the high-powered offense that dried up, going 5-for-34 with runners in scoring position during the series, including an 0-for-17 stretch across games two and three.
We could also blame it on mismanagement of the postseason roster, giving roster spots to banged-up players like Chris Taylor, Tony Gonsolin, and Dustin May who were clearly not healthy enough to be productive, or in May’s case, play at all.
Or, we could just give San Diego credit, as the Padres were tired of getting beat up by their rivals up Interstate 5. Regardless of who is responsible for the Dodgers’ early exit, it’s safe to say that this NLDS loss is not at all what they were expecting, and many fans are growing quite frustrated.
Surprise of the Season:
Did anyone have Evan Phillips and Trayce Thompson combining for 5 fWAR on their 2022 Dodgers bingo card? Just when the team’s outfield and bullpen depth started to look thin, Andrew Friedman revealed the pair of aces hiding up his sleeve.
Acquired from the Detroit Tigers for cash, Thompson arrived back to Los Angeles and made quite the impact, registering a .947 OPS across the second half of the season, as well as providing the squad with yet another plus defender in the outfield.
As for Phillips, he might have very well been the closer for the majority of the year if the front office didn’t spend so much time trying to give Craig Kimbrel second chances. Phillips was not only the Dodgers’ biggest surprise out of the bullpen, but also by-far their best reliever in general.
With trusty Blake Treinen spending most of the season on the injured list, Phillips was often the first to be thrusted into high-leverage situations, thriving to the tune of a 1.14 ERA and 0.76 WHIP.
These two weren’t Los Angeles’ only surprises, however, as the team worked to revitalize the careers of new rotation additions Tyler Anderson and Andrew Heaney. Anderson, who, before 2022, only had one season with an ERA below 4, registered a 2.57 mark in 2022, earning his first All-Star nod and likely some down-ballot Cy Young votes as well.
Heaney was in a similar position. Coming off a year in which he struggled mightily with the Angels and Yankees, he dominated in 2022, recording career-bests in a number of stats, including an impressive 13.6 K/9.
Players We Watched:
What a weird team the 2022 Dodgers were. If you would have told us at the beginning of the year that we would go 0-for-3 on a Players to Watch list that included Cy Young candidate Walker Buehler and former MVP Cody Bellinger, we likely would have assumed that something went horribly wrong in Los Angeles. However, this team still managed to dominate the regular season, because they are the Dodgers and that’s what they do.
Buehler struggled out the gate in 2022, with his spin rates down across the board and hitters feasting off him. Buehler’s opponent batting average on his fastball rose from .203 in 2021 to .368 this year, and his 1.292 WHIP, 9.3 H/9, and 8.0 K/9 were all the worst marks of his career outside of his debut season.
On June 11th, Buehler was placed on the injured list with a forearm strain, and was expected to make his return sometime in September. However, as August approached, it was announced that he would instead undergo Tommy John Surgery, meaning he may miss the entirety of the 2023 season.
With this being his second such operation, there is much to be fearful of, as there haven’t been many pitchers who were able to come back from a second UCL repair with the same dominance as before. The most recent case of this is Mike Clevinger, whose struggles since his second surgery have been well-documented, especially by these Dodgers who seem to always have his number.
One positive for Buehler, however, is that, at the age of 28, he is younger than most of the pitchers who have had Tommy John twice and, thus, may have a better recovery. Nonetheless, fans in Los Angeles are hoping that Buehler can make his way back to the club as the same Cy Young candidate workhorse he was in 2018-21.
Calling Michael Busch a miss as one of my players to watch can be a little misleading. Although Busch never cracked the Major League roster for Los Angeles in 2022, by no means was he bad. Across AA Tulsa and AAA Oklahoma City, Busch slugged 32 home runs and slashed .274/.365/.516. In fact, if he were a member of any other organization, he would have almost surely played significant time in the big leagues.
However, due to the Dodgers’ left-handed bat depth, they felt that he would benefit more from being able to play everyday in the minors. This makes sense, as left-handed infielders Freddie Freeman, Gavin Lux, and Max Muncy all stayed mostly healthy throughout the course of the season, and the trade deadline acquisition of lefty Joey Gallo only added more obstacles in Busch’s path to the majors.
Thus, when the time came for Los Angeles to call up a top hitting prospect, they elected to instead go with righty Miguel Vargas, who himself was also tearing up the minors, slashing .304/.404/.511 in AAA. With Joey Gallo and potentially Justin Turner headed for free agency this winter, some of the left-handed and infield depth will free up, allowing Busch to get his shot in 2023.
Unlike Buehler and Busch, Bellinger actually got a significant amount of playing time over the course of the 2022 season, playing in 144 games for Los Angeles. To his credit, Bellinger did improve upon his disastrous 2021 campaign. However, we will still consider him a miss, as he was not a player worth watching in 2022.
Bellinger returned to positive WAR status this season, but this is mostly due to his once-again stellar defense, as his 78 OPS+ was still far below league average and his lack of offensive productivity led him to be benched in the NLDS for a beat-up Chris Taylor.
Bellinger’s struggles in 2022 provide an interesting dilemma for the Dodgers. Many, including myself in our season preview, said that this would be Bellinger’s year to prove that he can play somewhere close to his 2019 MVP form.
This did not happen for Bellinger, and now Los Angeles has to decide how many more chances they are willing to give him, as well as whether they believe he is worth the $18 million or more he is set to earn via arbitration.
Asking a team to improve upon a 111-win season is quite the request. This is amplified by the fact that the Dodgers have quite a bit of talent set to hit the free agent market this winter.
With Trea Turner, Clayton Kershaw, Craig Kimbrel, Joey Gallo, Andrew Heaney, Tyler Anderson, and potentially Justin Turner all entering free agency, Los Angeles will have to decide who they want to attempt to bring back, and for those they let walk, who they want to acquire as replacements.
Resigning Trea Turner will likely be Los Angeles’ biggest priority, and he won’t be cheap. If the Dodgers can’t bring him back, they could pivot to Carlos Correa or Dansby Swanson. They could also choose to bring in a second baseman and move Gavin Lux over to shortstop.
The Dodgers have a $16 million team option for Justin Turner for 2023 and may choose to decline it and attempt to re-sign him to a more team-friendly deal if he doesn’t retire.
Joey Gallo’s case is interesting, as he is coming off the worst season of his career, but the 40-home-run potential is still there if Los Angeles thinks they can tap into it across another season.
Another major priority for the club will be filling out a rotation and bullpen that may be losing Heaney, Anderson, Kershaw, and Kimbrel. Coming off strong seasons, it can be expected that Heaney and Anderson will be asking for pricier, multi-year deals. Thus, the Dodgers may turn to other one-year project deals like they did a year ago.
Some names that come to mind are Sean Manaea, Kyle Gibson. Jameson Taillon, or Noah Syndergaard. Meanwhile, Kershaw seems to have narrowed down his offseason decision to three options: staying in Los Angeles, going home to play for the Rangers, or retiring. He has stated in interviews that he’d like to be a Dodger again, but if he decides otherwise, the need for starting pitching will become even more pressing.
Lastly, given his struggles in 2022 and their bullpen depth, Los Angeles will likely choose not to re-sign Kimbrel, instead opting for cheaper options on the market.
One last thing to keep in mind is that the Dodgers aren’t in a position where they feel like they need to spend big on long term solutions in free agency or trades given the state of their farm system and the core of talent they have under control through the next few seasons.
However, at the end of the day, these are the Los Angeles Dodgers and there’s nothing stopping this perennial contender from breaking baseball and going out and signing Jacob deGrom just because they can.
Something to Watch:
For a team that has been competitive for this long, and made as many blockbuster trades that they have, one would expect Los Angeles’ minor league system to be quite depleted. However, the Dodgers’ current farm system may arguably be the deepest and most talented in baseball, as they boast a league-most seven Top 100 prospects.
All seven of which have either already cracked the majors, in the case of Miguel Vargas and Ryan Pepiot, or are set to in 2023, as with Diego Cartaya, Bobby Miller, Michael Busch, Andy Pages, and Gavin Stone. Given how well Los Angeles has been able to develop young talent, expect them to get valuable contributions from this group next season.