TDG’s Triple Play: Los Angeles Dodgers!
The Triple Play is back for a fourth season! This regular feature is broken down by senior writer Paul Monte and a rotating panel of writers. If you’re new to the Triple Play, this series breaks down an arm, a bat, and a prospect within each organization for your reading pleasure!
Julio Urias Age: 24, Position: SP
Analysis by: Ben Sanders
Questions and answers
Urias has tested the patience of dynasty managers for the past several seasons. He made his MLB debut in 2016 as a 19-year-old phenom, but did not rise to stardom quickly as expected. He missed much of 2017 and 2018 due to shoulder surgery and served a 20-game domestic violence suspension in 2019. He’s bounced between the bullpen and the rotation, never topping 80 innings in an MLB season, and hasn’t consistently produced the strikeout rates you’d like to see from someone with his prospect pedigree. He entered this season with questions about his role and his ability.
He’s done his best to quell those concerns this season. He has 72.1 innings pitched in 12 starts and has gone at least five frames in all of them. Doing that for a stacked Dodgers team is a great way to get wins, and it shows in his 8-2 record. Throw in a 3.48 ERA and 0.97 WHIP and you have an exciting fantasy starter.
First things first
Last season, Urias struck out just 20.1% of the batters he faced and walked 8%. Though he had a 3.27 ERA, estimators like xFIP (5.06) and SIERA (4.88) were skeptical. However, he’s always had an ability to limit hard contact, regularly producing exit velocities and hard-hit rates well below league average. That has continued this season, but he’s also improved his K-rate to 28.1% while cutting his walk rate to just 3.9%.
It all starts with the first pitch, which he’s thrown for a strike a ridiculous 75.4% of the time. For some context, the league average is 60.3% and Urias’ previous best was 62.8%. His current mark is easily the best in MLB among qualified starters, and only five of the 67 pitchers on that list are above 70%.
Getting ahead means Urias can throw the pitches he wants when he wants. His fastball usage has dropped to almost 50%, but his changeup and curveball have both been excellent. Both get whiffs at over a 30% rate and are allowing wOBAs under .150.
Just getting started
Urias is showing a strong three-pitch mix with excellent command and going deep into games for one of the best teams in baseball. He has finally arrived, and though it feels like it took forever, he’s only 24. There are good pitchers his age still struggling in the minors – Nate Pearson, for example.
Pearson was one of 38 names ahead of Urias in TDG’s preseason starting pitcher rankings, and far from the only one I think he should jump on that list. A move into the top 20 seems reasonable, with a leap to ace status possible over the next few seasons if he continues to progress.
Chris Taylor, Age:30 , Position: INF/OF
Analysis by: Patrick Magnus
The Under-Appreciated Utility Man
In the year that the Los Angelos Dodgers became World-Series Champions, their utility infielder posted a career-high wRC+ of 132. That was the 34th best wRC+ in the Majors… Out of a utility player. As if the Dodgers needed any more offense.
In the 2020 season, Taylor found himself, more often than not, batting leadoff the National Leagues’ most deadly line-up. Though some may have written Taylor’s success off as a fluke of a wonky abbreviated season, in 2021 he has picked up where he left off. He’s already surpassed his PA’s from last season, and he’s outperforming his breakout.
Looking at Taylor’s sudden increase in production is a bit puzzling. In terms of how we value fantasy production, there wasn’t anything super exciting about Taylor’s 2020 performance. He didn’t suddenly start destroying baseballs. Though he did have the best home-run to flyball rate of his career, it’s not as if he was on his way to being a participant in the home run derby. No, the big difference came about in his approach at the plate.
Taylor increased his walk percentage by about 4% from his career average, all the while maintaining a similar strikeout rate. Yet at the moment he’s rocking the 8th highest OBP in the National League. The 30-year old has started swinging a bit less, has increased his contact on pitches outside of the zone, and dramatically improved his hard-hit rate (Baseball Savant) and xwobacon. His barrel percentage has also jumped to double digits this season and last. Thus it’s not that Chris Taylor has added power, but it’s the quality of the contact he is making that has led him to be much more successful. Something he credits to an adjustment he/s made in his swing, stating
“When the ball slows down, your plate discipline gets better. I think I made some mechanical adjustments that slowed the ball down a little bit, gave me more time to see the fastball. When you’re not late on fastballs, and having to cheat to catch up to the velocity, I think you’re going to chase fewer off-speed pitches out of the zone. I think it was a combination of making those mechanical changes that put me in good positions to slow the ball down a little bit and allowing me to be on time.” (Dodgers’ Nation)
At the end of the year, fantasy players aren’t likely to look back and give Taylor their MVP award. However, this doesn’t mean that Taylor can’t be a very valuable part of your fantasy team. In deep enough leagues, hell even in less deep leagues, teams struggle with injuries. Especially within the past two seasons, as the COVID IL has only increased the number of players sidelined. The Dodgers’ utility man offers you so much flexibility. He floats between 2nd, short, and the outfield. Providing you with above-average production in those slots, he makes for an excellent strategic piece in deeper leagues. You need at-bats in order to win, and Taylor has shown the capacity to stay on the field, produce, and play a variety of different positions. He’s not a superstar, but he’s a great player for any fantasy team.
Michael Busch, Age: 23, Position: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ , Level: Double-A
Analysis by: Paul Monte
I Ain’t Got No Home
How do you value a player with an above-average bat but no defensive position? That’s what we are faced with as we evaluate Dodgers 2B/1B/OF/DH Michael Busch. The last on that list, DH, is the most likely outcome as the expectation is that the DH is implemented across both leagues as soon as next season. If that happens, we can expect a big bump for the 23-year-old. Until then we are forced to try and estimate how much the lack of a defensive home hurts his chances of making the big league roster.
Primarily a first baseman in his three collegiate seasons at North Carolina, the Dodgers have been trying him out at second base to start his professional career. The timing of being drafted 31st overall in the 2019 draft out of college and Covid hitting in 2020 meant that Busch entered the 2021 season with 10 professional games under his belt at Low-A. Not all was lost for him in 2020 as he was added to the 60-man roster and reports were that he held his own and did very well. Another short stint at Fall instructs enhanced the excitement about the 6’1” 210-pound left-handed hitter.
I’m Just a-roamin’ Around
The Dodgers decided to have him skip High-A altogether and he has done very well in a limited sample of 23 games at the Double-A level. In that time he has played 19 of those games at second base and has committed two errors. His bat was why he was drafted and will always be his most valuable asset. He has hit .261/.398/.545 with six home runs and one stolen base while striking out 30 times in 92 at-bats. Getting on base has always been something that Busch has excelled at as he had more walks than strikeouts his last two years of college as well his summer in the Cape Cod League where he hit .322/.450/.567 with a wood bat.
Finding a path to playing time in the majors will always be difficult with a team like the Dodgers. They have the bankroll to sign free agents as needed and second base is currently occupied by another 23-year-old in Gavin Lux. Max Muncy is under contract until 2023 and Left Field belongs to AJ Pollock until 2024 as well. This reminds me of the situation that Willie Calhoun was in before he was shipped to Texas for Yu Darvish where he has become their leadoff hitter and DH. A trade may be the best outcome for Busch’s long-term outlook as well.
Just a Wandrin’ Worker
His value will only continue to grow from the fantasy side of things as he continues to adjust to the Double-A pitching. He is likely owned in the shallowest of leagues as his ranking is in the top 100 of most of the industries major lists and just outside of the top 100 at 109 here at the Dynasty Guru. If you are going to trade for him, now is the time. He will not sniff the majors in 2021 but there is a shot in 2022 if he remains with the Dodgers and if he is traded that timeline can accelerate rapidly.
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