Undeniably, the injury bug has bitten the Los Angeles Dodgers a bit hard so far this year, although many of the injuries could seemingly be much worse. Despite the injuries, though, Los Angeles has proven that it can win without some of the most important players on the field.
Cody Bellinger has not been in the lineup since the Oakland series on April 5. He was initially diagnosed with a contusion to the lower leg, but scans later revealed a hairline fracture to his fibula. Accordingly, his playing status changed from day to day to being out for several weeks. Without Bellinger in the lineup, the Dodgers have tallied an impressive 11-3 record.
Before his injury, Bellinger had gone 4-for-19 on the year, making a little noise with an RBI double in the season opener against the Rockies, while raking a triple in the second game. Outside of that, there’s not much to write home about offensively, as he is currently sitting with a .211/.286/.368 slash line in 21 plate appearances.
Nevertheless, for as much firepower as the Los Angeles batting order can offer, the team probably misses Bellinger most for his defensive skills. Since his absence, the Dodgers have used all three of Chris Taylor, Mookie Betts, and AJ Pollock in center field. Taylor leads the way with 11 appearances there.
No question, Betts has all the tools and more to man center, as made evident by his spectacular, game-saving catch against the Padres last Saturday. However, with Pollock having been on the shelf with groin problems, Mookie found himself flanked by Luke Raley and Zach McKinstry on several occasions. Sure, Raley and McKinstry are capable in these spots, but it’s certainly not the ideal pairing for a team looking to find itself in the World Series hunt come October.
In 2019, Bellinger registered a 1.6 dWAR, putting him right on the edge of the Top 10 for all position players in the MLB. That same season, he posted a 9.5 UZR, good enough for the fourth best in the majors among all outfielders. In 2020, he registered a 0.4 dWAR for the shortened season, which was a little above average for all big-league outfielders, as was his 0.2 UZR. Nonetheless, he did post a 3.0 RngR last season, which put him in the Top 8 in the majors. Regardless, his countless web gems and his 10 outfield assists in 2019 speak for themselves as far as his potential defensive value goes.
On the offensive side of things, his MVP year in 2019 will stand out in the Los Angeles record books for years to come. For those who don’t recall those numbers, he hit .305/.406/.629 with 34 doubles, 47 long balls, and 115 RBI, coupled with 15 stolen bases and 121 runs scored. Obviously, topping those numbers is quite the challenge, but he ended up hitting just .239/.333/.455 in 56 games in the shortened season last year, after making several adjustments to his swing. After hitting over .300 in the 2020 NLDS, he averaged just .200 in the NLCs and .136 in the World Series.
This year, he broke out another new stance, as he was much more open with his front foot, apparently giving him a better look at the ball.
Personally, I think the Dodgers can sustain much of their offensive production without Bellinger in the lineup, but not many teams have the luxury of guys like Betts, Corey Seager, Max Muncy, and Justin Turner cemented at the top of their respective batting orders. Still, with Bellinger in there, there are days when the team’s offense is nearly unstoppable.
Defense, though, is a different story. Pollock doesn’t have the range he had five years ago, and while Betts is more than capable, it creates a huge hole in right field. Taylor is definitely competent, but when other players like Gavin Lux and Pollock are questionable, Taylor’s utility services are definitely at a premium.
Looking ahead, it will be interesting to see the offensive numbers that Bellinger puts up by the end of the season, as many pundits wonder if the pitchers around the league have figured out his weaknesses and whether he will be able to adjust for long term success.