Making the Case for the 2020 Dodgers’ Place in History

Beyond the fact that at the end of each season only one team can be crowned champion, the Dodgers accomplished something that’s become comparatively rare in the age of expanded playoffs: winning the World Series after posting the majors’ best record during the regular season. Not only that, their .717 winning percentage is the highest of the post-1960 expansion era… but of course, that comes with a significant caveat. The shortened and geographically limited schedule makes it difficult to justify measuring this year’s team against the best of all time, but when we consider this Dodgers squad in the context of their recent multi-year run of success — the regular season dominance, the close-but-no-cigar postseason showings — we can make a fair case that they’ve earned a place alongside the best teams of the expansion era.

First, here’s the short list that the Dodgers joined, the teams from the Wild Card era that finished the regular season with the majors’ best record, then went on to win the World Series:

World Series Winners Following Best Regular Season Record, 1995-2020
Team Year W-L Win% RS RA Run Dif PythWin%
Yankees 1998 114-48 .704 965 656 309 .670
Red Sox 2007 96-66 .593 867 657 210 .624
Yankees 2009 103-59 .636 915 753 162 .588
Red Sox 2013 97-65 .599 853 656 197 .618
Cubs 2016 103-58 .640 808 556 252 .665
Red Sox 2018 108-54 .667 876 647 229 .635
Dodgers 2020 43-17 .717 349 213 136 .712
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

Interestingly enough, top teams have survived to pop the champagne corks more frequently since the one-and-done Wild Card Game was introduced in 2012 (three out of eight) than they did during the period during which each league had only one Wild Card team (three out of 17). While that might be a fluke, intuitively it makes sense. Aside from not having home-field advantage in any round, from 1995-2011 Wild Card teams were on otherwise equal footing with division winners, and were even prohibited from playing their league’s top seed in the Division Series if they hailed from the same division. From 2012-19, teams that won the Wild Card Game were then matched against the league’s top seed, usually after expending their ace and thus limiting him to one start in the Division Series. As an aside from this current exercise, I do think this is a strong argument for maintaining the 2012-19 structure going forward, Rob Manfred’s desire to expand the playoffs be damned (and damned it should be).

Moving along, the Dodgers’ .717 winning percentage was an eyelash (.0006, less than a full point) better than the 2001 Mariners with their 116-46 record, and trails only four teams from the pre-1960 expansion era, three of which came in the first decade of the 20th century. The 1906 Cubs’ .762 (115-36) is still tops, but I’m going to dispense with the ancient history for the remainder of this exercise, so my apologies to the 1902 and ’09 Pirates (.739 and .724, respectively) and even the ’54 Indians (.721); even though we’re grappling with a team that played just 60 games, what they did in the larger scheme took place not only in the era of 162-game schedules but also within that expanded talent pool, which includes players of color in significant numbers. Within that post-1960 set, the 2020 Dodgers’ .712 Pythagorean winning percentage also ranks first, 21 points ahead of the 1969 Orioles, but beyond acknowledging that placement, I’m not going to dwell upon the small sample.

With that out of the way, it’s worth considering the place these Dodgers hold, not just for 2020 but for the run that has produced three trips to the World Series in four years. As I noted on Wednesday, they’re the fifth team to lose back-to-back World Series and then return to win one within the same five-year stretch, though of course other teams had similar accomplishments in a different sequence; for example, the 1969-71 Orioles and ’88-90 A’s sandwiched two World Series defeats around a victory. And of course there are teams that had greater success in the postseason within a given range, such as the 1972-76 Reds and 1976-78 Yankees, both of which lost one World Series before winning two, or the 1972-74 A’s and 1998-2000 Yankees, who each won three straight (the latter before losing a fourth), or the 1991-99 Braves, who went 1-4 in five World Series. Read the rest of this entry »

Pirates Righty JT Brubaker Reflects on His Rookie Campaign

JT Brubaker had a satisfying summer. The 26-year-old right-hander didn’t dominate the stat sheet — neither his 4.94 ERA nor his 4.08 FIP was anything to write home about — but the fact that those numbers came in a Pittsburgh Pirates uniform was a reason to smile. A sixth-round pick in 2015 out of the University of Akron, Brubaker debuted in late July and went on to throw 47.1 solid innings. Initially used out of the bullpen, he finished the season having made nine of his 11 appearances as a starter.

Brubaker was somewhat of a question mark coming into the campaign. He tossed just 27.2 minor-league innings in 2019 due to an arm ailment, and as a result garnered no better than a 40 FV and a No. 25 ranking on our 2020 Pirates Top Prospects list. As Eric Longenhagen opined back in February, the Springfield, Ohio native, “should fit in the back of a rotation or in a relief role [and] his health may dictate which.”

Brubaker discussed his debut, and his impressions of a season played amid a pandemic, following his final start of the year.


David Laurila: How would you describe the 2020 season?

JT Brubaker: “It’s been fun for me. It’s my first year in the big leagues, so I’ve enjoyed it. I feel like players have shown a little bit different side of bonding in baseball. They’re having fun with each other. I’ve seen more teammates laughing and joking with each other. The Cubs, for instance. That’s one team I’ve noticed just hooting and hollering in the dugout — stuff you might not be able to hear when there’s a crowd there.” Read the rest of this entry »

An End-of-Season FanGraphs Business Update

Now that the 2020 season is officially over, I thought it would be a good time to give a complete update on where things stand business-wise for FanGraphs. If you’ve been following these updates all season long, this probably won’t be much of a surprise.

The good news is that revenue from FanGraphs Memberships is up approximately 118%. This has kept us afloat for the past six months — it’s entirely your doing that we’re still here to give you business updates at all. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

The bad news is that advertising revenue over the same period is down 65%. Our traffic has started to return to normal, but we are still seeing a significant decline in advertising rates compared to their pre-pandemic levels.

With that said, if you used FanGraphs this season and aren’t a Member, now is the time to show your support. Maybe you’ve read our articles all season long, or for years; maybe you’ve used our stats pages and tools to help win your fantasy league. Maybe you’ve used RosterResource or listened to one of our podcasts. Maybe you’re a fellow industry member and have referenced FanGraphs in your own writing and analysis. Maybe you work for a team, and FanGraphs is your homepage.

The offseason is when our revenue is typically at its lowest and with the lack of advertising revenue this season to propel us through, every little bit will help us bridge the gap to the 2021 season. Read the rest of this entry »

FanGraphs Audio: Ranking the Free Agents

Episode 894

The Los Angeles Dodgers are World Series champions for the first time since 1988, which also means that the offseason has officially arrived. The hard-working FanGraphs crew is ready with plenty of analysis on this free agent class and this unique playoff run.

  • Meg Rowley and Craig Edwards lead off the show by talking about the hot-and-fresh 2021 Top 50 Free Agents rankings. Just as this season was a strange one, this winter may be far from normal as well, especially in the free agent market. What kind of challenges were there in putting this list together? What kind of role will the Qualifying Offer play? Is Kolten Wong a harbinger of more quality players being let go? [1:43]
  • After that, Jay Jaffe and Dan Szymborski discuss the Dodgers finally reaching the top. Jay grew up a Dodgers fan and recently wrote about what this championship meant to him. The pair also find themselves obligated to discuss the Blake Snell hook, the Justin Turner debacle, and how wonderful it is to cheer for Mookie Betts. [24:39]

Read the rest of this entry »

2021 Top 50 Free Agents

Welcome to FanGraphs’ top-50 free-agent rankings. In years past, Dave Cameron or Kiley McDaniel has been been responsible for this annual post; I have taken the reins this year, with some assistance from my colleagues.

In what follows, I’ve provided contract estimates and rankings of the winter’s top free agents, along with market-focused breakdowns for the top 25 players. Meanwhile, a combination of Ben Clemens, Brendan Gawlowski, Jay Jaffe, Eric Longenhagen, Rachael McDaniel, Dan Szymborski, and Jon Tayler have supplied the more player-focused breakdowns, which are designed to provide some context for each player at this moment in his career.

Players are ranked in the order in which I prefer them. Often, that order closely follows that of the overall contract values that both the crowd and I have projected for them, but not always. All dollar amounts are estimated guarantees to the player. Many players could end up with one-year deals that include a team option for a second year, but only the expected guaranteed years and dollars are included below. All projections are Steamer 2021 projections, with the exception of Ha-seong Kim’s, which is ZiPS 2021.

Some players still have pending opt-out or teams option decisions to contend with; we will update the profiles below to reflect any relevant changes as we learn of them. The list below also includes multiple players who are likely to receive a Qualifying Offer. The QO amount for this season is $18.9 million. Teams must make those offers within five days of the end of the World Series. Players then have another 10 days to decide whether to accept them. It’s not clear whether teams will curtail making such offers this winter out of a fear that more players than usual will decide to accept them and attempt to re-enter free agency in what will hopefully be a more certain climate next offseason. Only J.T. Realmuto and George Springer seem like guarantees to decline such offers, with Trevor Bauer and Marcus Semien likely to do so as well; Marcell Ozuna cannot receive a QO after receiving one last year.

For a comprehensive list of this year’s free agents, which will be updated to include signings as they happen and crowdsource results for those players on whose deals we polled, please consult our Free Agent Tracker. Read the rest of this entry »

Julio Urías Shows Up in the Playoffs

When recording a segment with Ben Clemens for FanGraphs Audio last week, our Dodgers conversation naturally delved into their at-times off-kilter pitching usage, particularly in regards to rookies Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin. After following a mostly straightforward (for 2020, that is) pitching arrangement — both spending the year in the starting rotation — the two were shoved into very different roles in the postseason. May was asked to start, follow, take over the middle innings, or anything else the Dodgers needed of him. Gonsolin, meanwhile, was suddenly less a starter than an opener, and never quite got settled into a typical rest schedule. The result of this constantly evolving usage were postseason performances filled with several unpleasant memories for both young pitchers.

We did not talk about Julio Urías during this part of our conversation, even though Urías is younger than Gonsolin, just a year older than May, and had seen his role tinkered with just as much during the postseason. He didn’t come up because we were talking mostly about the pitchers on the Dodgers’ staff who had been struggling, and Urías had been great. He was great when he started, he was great when he was asked to throw in the middle of games, and he was great on Tuesday, when he closed Game 6 of the World Series by retiring all seven batters he faced and striking out four to clinch the Dodgers’ first championship in 32 years. Read the rest of this entry »

The 2020 ZiPS Projection Wrap-up, Part III: The Pitchers

The baseball season is over, but the projection season never ends, and this is always the time of the year when I look back and dissect the ZiPS projections. We’ve already checked out the hitters and the teams, leaving us the pitchers as the last bit of unfinished 2020 business. Misses are undoubtedly going to be significant in a 60-game season with little time for things to “even out,” but every mistake in the projections provides a smidgen of new information that hopefully aids in refining the work.

As with the hitters, the pitching projections avoided any systematic bias that would have given us new clues as to how certain types of pitchers fare in a mucked-up season. From age to repertoire to velocity to experience, all groups of pitchers I identified had roughly the same result: the expected reduction in overall accuracy, but no specific bias from a shortened year with a long layoff and two spring trainings.

Let’s dive into the biggest misses in ZiPS. Read the rest of this entry »

In Appreciation of Blake Snell

Maybe you’ve heard — Blake Snell pitched a nifty five-plus innings two nights ago. The decision to pull him or leave him in has been hashed, rehashed, diced, A-Rod’ed, and generally poked and prodded like a murder victim in an episode of CSI. If you want my opinion on it, I would have kept Snell in, though I don’t think that was in any way the determining factor in the game.

That’s not why I’m writing today, though. Any honest analysis of that decision is going to come down to a minuscule edge. Use one good pitcher, or use another good pitcher? It doesn’t matter much — the players on the field determine the game, not the manager, even if you think the decision was clearly one way or the other. Instead, let’s appreciate not what Blake Snell could have done if he stayed in, but what he did do when he was in the game.

Snell threw 73 pitches on Tuesday night. He generated a whopping 16 swinging strikes, a 21.9% swinging strike rate. That was his second-highest mark of the year, behind a September 29 start against the Blue Jays. That might not sound impressive, but the Dodgers are, well, the Dodgers. No other starter this year topped a 20% swinging strike rate against them; they simply aren’t the kind of team that swings and misses. Read the rest of this entry »

Effectively Wild Episode 1609: Game, Set, Mask

Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller discuss Justin Turner’s positive COVID test, his unsafe decision to return to the field after World Series Game 6, and why his protocol-breaking behavior cast a pall over the World Series celebration, then examine the series’ significance to the legacies of the Dodgers and Clayton Kershaw, why the Dodgers were a fun team to follow, why no asterisk is required, the legendary postseason performance of Randy Arozarena, Rays manager Kevin Cash’s much-maligned decision to replace Blake Snell with reliever Nick Anderson in the sixth inning of Game 6, whether bullpen usage has gone too far, and the evolution of what people mean when they refer to “analytics,” plus a Stat Blast about where the Rays’ World Series showing ranks among World Series losers.

Audio intro: Robbie Robertson, "Breakin’ the Rules"
Audio outro: Steve Winwood, "Winner/Loser"

Link to MLB statement about Turner
Link to LA Times story on Turner
Link to Ken Rosenthal on Turner
Link to Jen Mac Ramos on Turner
Link to Bradford William Davis on Turner
Link to Barry Svrluga on Turner
Link to Ben on the Dodgers as familiar figures
Link to Tony Wolfe on Arozarena and the Rays offense
Link to Louisa Thomas on Kershaw
Link to Ben on Cash, Snell, and starters
Link to Ben on bullpenning
Link to research on the TTO penalty
Link to earlier research on the TTO penalty
Link to Russell on the TTO penalty
Link to research on pulling pitchers
Link to Twitter thread on pulling Snell
Link to Nate Silver on capping pitchers
Link to FanGraphs playoff coverage

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Contract Crowdsourcing 2020-21: The Kolten Wong Ballot

Free agency begins five days after the end of the World Series. As in other recent offseasons, FanGraphs is once again facilitating a contract-crowdsourcing project, the idea being to harness the wisdom of the crowd to better understand and project the 2020-21 free-agent market.

This year, we’ve added a few new features to the ballots based on reader feedback. You now have the option to indicate that a player will only receive a minor-league contract, or won’t receive one at all. We’ve elected to show averages from the 2017-2019 seasons so that this year’s shortened slate doesn’t skew the numbers, but we’ve also included 2020 stats as a point of recent reference. 2020 salary figures represent players’ pre-pandemic contract amounts. Statistics are prorated to full season where noted; the projected WAR figures are from the first cut of the 2021 Steamer600 projections.

Below is a ballot for one of this year’s free agents — in this case, Kolten Wong, whose $12.5 million 2021 club option was declined by the Cardinals today. Read the rest of this entry »