October 20, 2017 – Dodgers Advance to World Series

I haven’t gotten many chances to post excerpts here recently, but will share a bit of the long P.B. subscribers received overnight here. On the Dodgers, and especially, on the impact of Chris Taylor:

Meanwhile, Taylor has become a sudden superstar. He has speed, he has plate discipline, and he has a short but vicious swing that the Dodgers helped him engineer after he arrived in the organization, a swing that (with the help of the juiced ball changing MLB so profoundly) has made him a complete offensive threat. The funny thing is, when you really interrogate Los Angeles’s acquisition of Taylor, it’s awfully easy to see what they saw in him: he hit .314/.400/.458 in nearly 2,000 minor league plate appearances.

Sometimes, it’s that simple. This is a principle as old as the early Bill James Abstracts: minor league performance should inform our projections of a player’s success in the Majors. Other teams viewed Taylor’s success in the minors with a jaundiced eye, perhaps noting that he did a lot of his damage at Seattle’s two hitter-friendly affiliates (High Desert, in the California League, and Tacoma, in the Pacific Coast League), or perhaps penalizing him for being neither especially young for his level nor a high-pedigree Draft product (he was undrafted out of high school and a fifth-round pick out of the University of Virginia). Taylor never appeared on any of the major Top 100 prospect lists.

They were probably wrong, all along. His offensive environments might have inflated his raw numbers, especially with regard to power, but Taylor consistently demonstrated a great overall offensive skill set. The Dodgers saw that, and his obvious athleticism, and knew that their player development machine might be able to do something special with him.

It’s lucky for them that they did, too, because the number of small failures and shortcomings Taylor papered over this season is staggering. After being called up in mid-April, he played second base almost exclusively for a month, covering for injuries and ineffectiveness on the part of both Logan Forsythe and Chase Utley. He occasionally filled in at third base, providing such solid production that the team barely missed Justin Turner during his absences. Then he became a regular in left and center field, where the team’s preseason patchwork plans had otherwise fallen to pieces.

Remember Andrew Toles’s similarly startling emergence last fall? He was supposed to be a vital part of this year’s outfield mix for the Dodgers, but on May 9, he suffered a season-ending injury. Enrique Hernandez had an awful year at the plate. Andre Ethier (still) couldn’t stay healthy, and neither (shockingly) (not shockingly) could Franklin Gutierrez. Adrian Gonzalez’s back problems and declining skills forced him almost out of the picture, which forced rookie sensation Cody Bellinger to spend the lion’s share of his time at first base. Worst of all, Joc Pederson continued to go backward, both in terms of athleticism and in his offensive profile. Without Taylor, the Dodger outfield would have been pretty shaky. Instead, he made it a strength for them.

He also dominated the NLCS. He hit .316/.458/.789, with go-ahead home runs in Games 1 and 3 and a triple that extended that Game 3 lead, changing the complexion of those games. He drew a couple of key walks that set up other rallies. He played a strong center field, acting as the linchpin in a Dodgers defense that looked much better and more ready for the pressure of October this time around. Oh, and he played quite a bit of shortstop, too, filling in for (ostensibly) the Dodgers’ best player, Corey Seager. Taylor’s performance in this series was transcendent, and although Turner’s walkoff home run and Hernandez’s monster showing in Game 5 will overshadow it a little bit, it was Taylor who clearly distinguished this NLCS from the last.

To read the full piece, subscribe, using the button on either the right-hand side or the bottom of the page. Remember, through the end of the World Series, I’m doubling the percentage of your subscription price that goes to charity, with $1.11 still going to the charities listed on the About page, and another $1.11 going to Hurricane Maria relief in Puerto Rico.

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