Breitbart Sports drew some negative comments when we proclaimed on July 23 that the Los Angeles Dodgers, with a mediocre 51-47 record, were the best team in baseball. Some said we were over reacting to a hot streak, but what the numbers now show is that by then the Dodgers had added two of the top three batters in the NL in Yasiel Puig and Hanley Ramirez based on WAR, and two of the best 30 starting pitchers in baseball to give them FOUR starters that should have been aces on another team according to Value Add rankings.
The best team in baseball rarely wins, and the Dodgers have to beat a very good Braves team one more time, then the St. Louis-Pittsburgh winner, and finally the AL champ – but a look at the transformation in starting pitching, the line-up and the closer is what made us confident way back then that the Dodgers were the team to beat:
1. Batting – A weak line-up for the first couple of months had added Yasiel Puig (call up from minors), Carl Crawford (return from injury) and Hanley Ramirez (return from injury) by July 23. Based on War, Ramirez (7th best in just 86 games) and Puig (20th in just 104 games played) were the only two players in the top 20 despite playing less than 126 games, and if both had played near a full season at the same pace, Ramirez would have been the most valuable player in the league and Puig would have been behind only him and Andrew McCutchen of the Pirates as the third best player in the league.
Sunday Puig and Ramirez combined to go 6 of 9 at the plate and score 6 runs to set the Dodgers all-time playoff record for runs scored in a 13-6 win.
2. Pitching Rotation – The Dodgers rotation in the early going was “Kershaw, then Ryu, then pray for rain.” Chris Capuano, Stephen Fife, Josh Beckett, Ted Lilly and Matt Magill combined for a Value Add ranking of -0.15 in 49 starts this season, meaning Value Add calculates that a group of minor leaguers would have been slightly better than those five. With the return of Zack Greinke from injury and acquisition of Ricky Nolasco from Miami, the Dodgers closed the season as the only team with four starting pitchers in the top 30 of all pitchers in www.valueaddbaseball.com. In fact, no other team in baseball had even three of the Top 30, a significant number because if all teams were balanced the Top 30 pitchers would be the aces of the 30 different staffs, so the Dodgers in essence are hoarding aces for four different teams.
Nolasco gives them a nice option to try to wrap up the series Monday night in Dodger Stadium in Game 4, with the best pitcher in baseball ready should they need to go back to Atlanta for a decisive Game 5 on Wednesday. However, the Dodgers are considering pitching Kershaw tonight with Greinke, the only pitcher in baseball to win 10 games when receiving three runs of support or less, ready for Game 5.
3. Bullpen – As big as those two transitions have been, perhaps the biggest has been the upgrade at closer. Brandon League started as closer and had a 5.88 ERA at the time we wrote, and the Dodgers lowered their closer’s ERA by exactly four runs (to 1.88 ERA) by going to Kenly Jansen.
When Jansen wrapped up Game 1 against the Braves he was on a streak of 12 of his last 15 outs being recorded by strikeout.
They still have a long way to go to actually win the World Series, but going into Monday’s potential clincher against the Braves they are a +11 Runs scored in the playoffs – behind only the Red Sox (+13) and way ahead of the only other team with a positive number (Pittsburgh +4).