The trade has been held up, pending questions about the health of one of the prospects, ESPN and The Athletic reported. But assuming the deal is completed, Betts will be a huge addition to a Dodgers team that won 106 games last season. He gives that franchise perhaps its best chance at claiming its first championship since 1988. And he could help Los Angeles avenge the back-to-back losses in the World Series against the Houston Astros and Red Sox, teams accused of cheating in those seasons.
As a result of the trade, the Westgate Superbook in Las Vegas improved the Dodgers’ World Series odds from 7-1 to 7-2. Only the New York Yankees have better World Series odds. The Dodgers’ over/under win total also jumped from 98.5 to 100.5, a mark we haven’t seen in more than a decade. The last MLB team with a win total set at 100 or more was the 2006 New York Yankees, according to the Sports Odds History database. And the Westgate lowered the Dodgers’ pennant odds from +200 to +150, meaning you’d only win $150 on a $100 bet. The Atlanta Braves are next, far behind at +600.
What makes Betts so valuable to the Dodgers? Since breaking into the big leagues in 2014, Betts has batted .301 with an .893 OPS. His 37.2 career wins above replacement is second only to Mike Trout over that span. And he creates runs at a rate 35 percent higher than average after taking into account league and park effects.
Betts beat Trout for AL MVP in 2018 (28 first-place votes for Betts, one for Trout) and was the runner-up to Trout in 2016 (19 first-place votes for Trout, nine for Betts). Betts has finished in the top eight in MVP voting in four consecutive seasons and is also a four-time all-star, four-time Gold Glove Award winner and three-time Silver Slugger Award winner.
The 27-year-old excels in both traditional metrics and newer measurements; he has led the majors in batting average (2018), slugging percentage (2018) and runs scored (2018 and 2019), while more than a third of the batted balls he’s made contact with over his career have been classified as “hard hit.” Betts has never had a season with a hard-hit rate below the major league average, and he’s registered rates of 45 and 43 percent the last two seasons.
Before you tout forgiving Fenway Park as a reason to doubt Betts at Dodger Stadium, study the park factors for right-handed batters at the two venues. Right-handers at Fenway hit 30 percent more home runs at home than they did on the road in 2019. However, right-handers at Dodger Stadium hit 25 percent more home runs at home than they did on the road, making the change of scenery a virtual wash. Dodger Stadium was also a better park than Fenway for right-handed batters in terms of singles, doubles and triples last season.
Adding Betts to a lineup that already includes reigning NL MVP Cody Bellinger, Corey Seager, Justin Turner, Max Muncy and top prospect Gavin Lux almost seems unfair. The Dodgers led the NL in home runs and slugging percentage and finished second in on-base percentage in 2019. They’re again expected to have the best-hitting club in the NL, with 31.7 projected wins above replacement based on playing time and ability, per FanGraphs.
That would be a 7.4 fWAR lead over the next best hitting team, a gap that has only been bettered four times since 2006, the year MLB instituted its leaguewide drug testing policy: by the 2016 world champion Chicago Cubs (11.2 fWAR better than next best team), the 2019 106-win Dodgers (7.9 fWAR difference), the 2018 pennant-winning Dodgers (7.3 fWAR difference) and the 2007 Philadelphia Phillies (7.2 fWAR difference).
Betts is also an excellent defender. He had the fifth-most defensive runs saved among outfielders in 2019 (15) and the third-most defensive runs saved at the position the year before (20). He should fit right in with a Dodgers defense that led the majors in defensive runs saved in 2019 (136, 19 more than the next-best team). He is also an excellent base runner, adding 5.6 runs above average to his team, making him the 13th-best base runner in 2019, according to FanGraphs. (That includes base-stealing and the ability take extra bases when available in addition to other base-running plays.)
On top of that, the Dodgers’ pitching rotation is expected to be among the league’s best, even after losing Hyun-Jin Ryu and Rich Hill. Los Angeles had a major league-low 3.39 ERA in 2019 with the third-highest strikeout rate (26 percent) and the lowest walk rate in the majors (seven percent). Price should join Clayton Kershaw — a three-time Cy Young Award winner and former MVP — Walker Buehler, Alex Wood and Julio Urias as potential starters, giving the Dodgers the fifth-best rotation of 2020, per estimates from FanGraphs. The bullpen, anchored by Kenley Jansen, isn’t as flashy but should be dependable enough to rank among the top half in the National League, according to the site’s projections.
Put it all together, and there’s good reason for the Dodgers to be such overwhelming favorites to return to the World Series.
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