Ho hum, the Los Angeles Dodgers are back in the postseason. That makes 10 playoff trips in 10 seasons, with nine division winners and a 106-win wild-card entrant playing at Dodger Stadium in the past decade.
Yet with the potential exception of the 2020 club—which went 43-17 and won the World Series in a pandemic-shortened season—this Dodgers edition might be the best yet. Los Angeles won a franchise-record 111 games this season, led the majors in runs scored and allowed, and posted a plus-334 run differential—the best for any team since the 1939 Yankees.
That extraordinary performance represents a continuation of the Dodgers’ decade-long run. Since 2013, they’ve won 73 more regular-season games than any other team, averaging 99.3 wins per 162 games over that span. They’ve been even more dominant of late, averaging 104.5 wins per 162 since 2017.
Because of all that regular-season success, the Dodgers have also become playoff mainstays, as much a part of October as Halloween and multicolored trees. Over the past decade, they’ve played 96 playoff games. The Astros are the only other team with more than half as many.
Most Playoff Games Since 2013
As Ben Lindbergh wrote in 2020, the Dodgers’ playoff continuity made them special, thanks to their “familiar cast of characters, rich story lines, and recent spate of playoff failures.” Yet even as they extend a preexisting run, the 2022 Dodgers are different. The “playoff failures” part is gone now, after the 2020 title—and the “familiar cast of characters” element is mostly gone, too.
Consider just how different the core of the 2022 Dodgers is, compared to the cast that led them over the previous nine seasons. Of the top 10 Dodgers position players in fWAR from 2013 through 2021:
- Six are no longer on the team (Corey Seager, Yasmani Grandal, Yasiel Puig, Joc Pederson, Adrián González, and Hanley Ramírez).
- Cody Bellinger proved last season’s offensive swoon wasn’t a fluke, hitting .210/.265/.389 in 2022.
- Chris Taylor posted a below-average batting line for the first time in a full season as a Dodger.
- Max Muncy, despite a white-hot second half, still had his worst slash line and fewest home runs in any full season since becoming a Dodger.
- Only Justin Turner hit at anywhere near his previously established level—and even he displayed evidence of age, with nearly half his games coming at DH.
And of the 10 most valuable pitchers from 2013 through 2021:
- Seven are no longer on the team (Kenley Jansen, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Zack Greinke, Kenta Maeda, Alex Wood, Rich Hill, and Ross Stripling).
- Walker Buehler struggled through 12 league-average starts, with a career-worst strikeout rate, before undergoing Tommy John surgery.
- Only Julio Urías and Clayton Kershaw excelled, the latter in only 126 1/3 innings.
Some of those players, like Ramírez and Greinke, departed long ago. But L.A. has experienced much more recent turnover, too: Both players who ranked second on their respective WAR lists—Seager for position players, Jansen for pitchers—left in free agency last winter.
The players who have replaced those erstwhile Dodgers regulars are much more recent additions. The club’s three most valuable position players this season, and the top three batters in the best lineup in baseball, were Mookie Betts, Trea Turner, and Freddie Freeman, who joined the club in 2020, 2021, and 2022, respectively.
Incidentally, Betts, Turner, and Freeman each played a role in eliminating L.A. from the playoffs in the past few years. But their insertions into the Dodgers’ lineup highlight the club’s approach to building a juggernaut. It’s not just that the Dodgers, led by former Rays GM Andrew Friedman, can build out an excellent player development system like the Rays can; it’s that they can pair that internal system with aggressive external acquisitions, using their financial might to chase stars.
Betts and Turner came to Los Angeles via trades (and Betts signed a 12-year extension soon after), while Freeman signed a lucrative free-agent deal last winter. The Dodgers aren’t the only team that attempts this model—the Cardinals are another example, having traded for both of their MVP candidates, Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado—but they’re clearly the most successful.
Although previous pitching acquisitions in this mold, like Yu Darvish and Max Scherzer, aren’t on the team anymore, the mound is still home to prominent new Dodgers. Lefty Tyler Anderson—the most valuable Dodger pitcher this year, according to fWAR—joined the team this season. The saves leader was Craig Kimbrel, who also joined in 2022 (and isn’t closing anymore). The actual best reliever was Evan Phillips, who joined in 2021. Almost the entire pitching staff has turned over as the Dodgers’ decade-long run has continued: Of the 10 Dodgers with at least 100 batters faced in the playoffs since 2013, only Kershaw and Urías will pitch for the club this October.
Of course, that personnel shift didn’t prevent the staff from excelling this season. (A defense that helped hold opponents to the joint-lowest BABIP of any team in a full season in the wild-card era helped.) The Dodgers’ team ERA in 2022 was 29 percent better than the league average—the best mark for any team in a full season since the deadball era.
Best Team ERAs, Adjusted for Park and League Context
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As the Dodgers take the field for the NLDS against the Padres, this large-scale turnover should also change the viewing experience for fans, who will have to learn the fun and foibles of a whole new cast of characters. As Ben wrote of the team back in 2020, “even neutral fans have histories with their leading men.” The likes of Pedro Báez, Joe Kelly, and especially longtime closer Jansen became familiar over the course of all their tense October moments on the mound. But does any casual viewer have a strong sense of what Phillips looks like, or of Alex Vesia’s repertoire?
This isn’t to say that the Dodgers are totally new or anonymous. Thanks to the continued contributions of players like Will Smith, Turner, Kershaw, and Urías, 43 percent of the Dodgers’ fWAR this season came from players who had already been with the team for at least three years. That’s right in the middle of the range for playoff teams:
Percentage of WAR From Players With 4+ Seasons on Team
Now the Astros, on a run of five consecutive ALCS trips, have the roster everyone knows, even if the likes of George Springer, Carlos Correa, and Gerrit Cole are gone. Meanwhile, does it surprise anyone that the rosters built by Jerry Dipoto and A.J. Preller would be the newest by this measure?
But the Dodgers stand out because their roster had so much longevity for so long, and now it’s led by a bunch of relative newcomers. That 43 percent mark is the Dodgers’ lowest since 2017, when they started winning 100 games (almost) every year. Kershaw is now the only remaining player who connects the current club to the team that started the playoff streak.
The next step is for the Dodgers to keep returning to October—and with the expanded playoff field, who knows when they’ll ever miss the postseason again?—so the new cast members can become just as ingrained in the October baseball experience as their predecessors. Yasmani Grandal was once a well-known character in the Dodgers’ lineup; now it’s Smith, ready for his fourth postseason behind the plate for L.A. Freeman is signed long term. Betts is signed for even longer, and somehow has already played more playoff games as a Dodger than as a member of the Red Sox. Whoever its stars are, the Dodgers’ juggernaut will roll on.