May 25, 2024

Which Los Angeles Dodgers players’ stock is up/down after first month of the MLB season

PHOENIX — The Los Angeles Dodgers played “middling” baseball for much of April, Dave Roberts said. And yet, they finished at 19-13, with a plus-41 run differential. For as little as has gone right for them this first month, they’re about where expected.

So let’s take stock.

Stock up

Mookie Betts

The trending up label could apply to the Dodgers’ entire top four of Betts, Shohei Ohtani, Freddie Freeman and Will Smith, but Betts has stood out among the crowd.

Among the categories Betts leads baseball in are batting average (.368), on-base percentage (.477), wRC+ (211) and FanGraphs Wins Above Replacement (2.8).

Oh, and he’s second in slugging percentage (.624) and is a top-10 base runner in the sport, according to FanGraphs’ all-encompassing base-running metric. He’s pummeling fastballs (.413 batting average, .680 slugging against them), not striking out (his 10.6 percent strikeout rate is eighth lowest in baseball) and inflicting punishment.

This is all while playing shortstop full time for the first time since he was a senior in high school. Public-facing defensive metrics can be dubious and are split on Betts’ production there — he has 5 Defensive Runs Saved, second most among shortstops, but has been worth minus-1 Outs Above Average, according to Baseball Savant — but that he’s even been playable out there is an accomplishment in itself.

This is MVP-caliber stuff. That 2.8 fWAR marks the second-best month of his career (he had 2.9 fWAR in August), better than any month he had during his 2018 MVP campaign.

The fate of the 2024 Dodgers will rely heavily on Betts. He plugs up a clear hole on the roster. His bat sets the tone. He’s even stealing bases again. On a club filled with superstars, he’s been the biggest one.

“I’m just in a lot better place mentally, physically, spiritually, everywhere,” Betts told The Athletic this week. “I don’t know man, I’m just playing. … I’m a new person.”

Tyler Glasnow

Glasnow has looked the part of a $136.5 million pitcher in his first month in Los Angeles. He leads the major leagues in innings and strikeouts. The tweaks the Dodgers made to his delivery this spring — focusing on shifting the weight on his feet to more consistently repeat his mechanics — have taken hold. As the rest of the rotation has shuffled in and out of flux, Glasnow has been the constant.

Tyler Glasnow looks both dominant and durable in the early going. (Jesse Johnson / USA Today)

More than that, he’s been dominant. Despite his overpowering arsenal and supreme per-inning numbers, injuries and workload have prevented Glasnow from ever receiving Cy Young votes. At this rate, he should be among the front-runners.

“He’s done everything and more,” Roberts said

Glasnow’s fastball trails only Shota Imanaga’s as the best in the game, according to Statcast’s Run Values, as opposing hitters are hitting just .187 against it. Glasnow’s slider has been consistent. In recent starts, he’s rediscovered his curveball, finding ways to get hitters to swing at it more often rather than spiking it as he did earlier. The key, like everything else with him, is maintaining a delivery that includes plenty of moving pieces.

“When I pull off and I get really left-right directional as opposed to throwing through the catcher, I just get so quick with my curveball,” Glasnow said. “I’m already super supinated on it. And if I’m not good with my timing across my body, I will just throw it into the ground. I just think it’s a directional issue.”

Stock down

Chris Taylor

Taylor set out to rediscover something this winter. His swing hadn’t been the same since his All-Star campaign in 2021, and a .708 OPS (94 OPS+) the last two years led him to want to rework things. Those swing changes have not worked.

He ended April with a .251 OPS, having recorded just three hits in 49 at-bats. That OPS is the second-worst month for a Dodgers player since the franchise moved to Los Angeles (min. 50 plate appearances), putting Taylor in company with the likes of Luis Cruz. There are other underperforming hitters at the bottom of the Dodgers order such as Gavin Lux and James Outman, but none has had the start Taylor has.

Taylor sat Monday against a left-hander before returning to the lineup the next two nights. It’s just 59 plate appearances, but there’s only so much leeway for Taylor, who has two years and $26 million (including this year, plus a club option for 2026) remaining on his contract. Getting him right has been a challenge.

“It’s a balance, clearly,” Roberts said. “We’re trying to win games. Performance certainly matters. Certain other guys have been playing better, swinging the bat better, and Max Muncy is not a platoon player. So you’re just trying to balance.”

The bullpen depth

The Dodgers’ bullpen fared just fine in April, with a 3.66 ERA that ranked 11th in the game despite logging more innings (132 2/3) than any team in baseball. Relievers have largely performed, headed by Evan Phillips and his 0.71 ERA through 13 appearances.

But it’s a group that has seemingly been an arm short since departing for South Korea, and each injury adds weight to the subsequent domino. Brusdar Graterol’s shoulder inflammation threw things into flux (he’s still a ways away) and put more of an onus on Blake Treinen to be ready to go. And when scans on Treinen revealed he had broken some ribs in his final spring training outing, that caused things to spiral.

Then you get into instances like Tuesday night when the Dodgers’ situation was laid bare. Their successful trip had included a productive workload from their top relievers, slotting things for Monday night that likely would’ve involved using Ryan Brasier in a leverage spot. When Brasier came up injured and felt something “blow up” in his right calf (MRIs revealed a strain), that forced the Dodgers to deploy Phillips in a non-save situation in the ninth.

So come Tuesday, Phillips was unavailable. Pitching would’ve been his fifth outing in eight days, a red line for usage teams usually won’t cross. Joe Kelly and Daniel Hudson were the lone typical high-leverage relievers available for Roberts, and the manager used them in turn in the seventh and eighth innings. Kelly completed a scoreless inning. Hudson coughed up a one-run lead. By the ninth, the Dodgers had just Nabil Crismatt (already designated for assignment this year) and Gus Varland (recalled for the injured Brasier) left available. Crismatt threw a scoreless ninth to force extras before Christian Walker sent Crismatt’s third pitch of the 10th into the seats to cement a walkoff loss.

This is simply where things are at in the bullpen right now.

“We’ve got to weather it,” Roberts said. “I’m sure we’ll be churning through some guys in the next couple weeks.”

The hope is that Treinen, who pitched last Thursday in a back-to-back spot on his rehab assignment, can be part of it.

(Top photo of Mookie Betts: Cole Burston / Getty Images)