Major League Baseball

Do the 2022 Los Angeles Dodgers have the best lineup ever?

March 29

By Jordan Shusterman
FOX Sports MLB Writer

In this era of NBA superteams, it has become common to see multiple All-Stars join forces and create their own renditions of the Miami Heat's Big 3 or the Golden State Warriors"Death Lineup" with Kevin Durant. NBA teams can stack the deck and essentially guarantee that only star-level players will be taking the majority of the shots.

In baseball, it’s not that simple. You can’t just decide to have your best players take 60% of the at-bats. All you can do is acquire as many good hitters as possible to fill out your nine spots in the lineup and hope you hit enough to give your very best players four or five chances to swing every game. 

Bad major-league lineups will have one or two hitters with whom pitchers need to be careful. Average lineups might have three or four. Good to great lineups might go six- or seven-deep. But a lineup with legitimately good hitters at Nos. 1 through 9? That’s almost unheard of at any level of baseball. 

Until now. 

With the addition of Freddie Freeman — and the introduction of the DH in the National League — the Los Angeles Dodgers might be about to enter an unforeseen tier of offensive production. Now, it's not like the Dodgers haven’t already been amazing for several years. But the lineup the team has assembled for 2022 represents the culmination of several years’ worth of player development, Hot Stove action and baseball serendipity.

Los Angeles Dodgers' 2022 outlook

Ben Verlander breaks down where the Dodgers stand after their offseason moves. With the addition of Freddie Freeman, they could have one of the best lineups of all time.

Before this potentially historic lineup takes the field for the first time on Opening Day against the Rockies, let’s take a look at the evolution of this offensive unit from its first World Series run in 2017 to today.

To me, it all began when Cody Bellinger made his MLB debut on April 25, 2017. The Dodgers had just won a fourth straight NL West title the season before, but after having elite offenses for their first three division titles from 2013 to '15, the 2016 squad’s offense ranked fifth in the National League and 14th in MLB in wRC+. It was a good team but nothing special offensively. Fellow rising star Corey Seager had arrived in 2016, but Bellinger’s debut in 2017 and subsequent sensational rookie campaign truly elevated this team to a new stratosphere of offensive dominance and helped carry Los Angeles to its first World Series appearance since 1988. 

Here’s what an average Dodgers lineup looked like in 2017 (wRC+ rank: first in NL, fourth in MLB):

* CF Chris Taylor
* SS Corey Seager
* 3B Justin Turner
* 1B Cody Bellinger
* RF Yasiel Puig
* LF Joc Pederson/Enrique Hernandez
* 2B Logan Forsythe
* C Austin Barnes/Yasmani Grandal
* Pitcher

That's pretty damn good! You might even say World Series-worthy. But the latter third of the lineup wasn’t exactly striking fear into the hearts of opposing pitchers. And so, after 2017, it was time to level up.

2018: First in NL, third in MLB in wRC+

Seager’s Tommy John surgery in early May set into motion several moves that would help define the next several years of Dodgers baseball. Taylor moved to shortstop, which meant Bellinger moved to center field, which meant the team needed another infielder.

Enter Max Muncy

As if the tremendous breakouts of Taylor and Turner after they were cast off by other organizations weren’t enough, here came Muncy, two years removed from hitting .186 with Oakland and ready to put on an absolute show. He bounced around the infield and eventually settled at first base, where he mashed nonstop en route to an eye-popping .973 OPS and some down-ballot MVP votes. 

Even without Seager, these Dodgers were starting to look dangerous. But at the All-Star break, they were just a half-game up on the D-backs, two games up on the Rockies and four games up on the Giants. With a team intent on contending for a championship, GM Andrew Friedman & Co. sensed that the squad needed further reinforcements. 

And so they traded for Manny Machado. In one of the bigger blockbusters of the past decade, Los Angeles sent five prospects to Baltimore in exchange for just a few months of the All-Star shortstop. 

Here’s what an average Dodgers lineup looked like after the Machado trade:

* LF Taylor/Pederson
* 3B Turner
* 1B Muncy/David Freese
* SS Machado
* CF Bellinger
* RF Puig
* C Grandal
* 2B Brian Dozier/Hernandez

They stacked their right-handed hitters atop the lineup in the World Series against Boston's left-handed starters, Chris Sale and David Price, but it wasn’t enough, as L.A. lost the series in five games. The Commissioner’s Trophy continued to elude the Dodgers. 

2019: First in NL, fourth in MLB in wRC+

In 2019, Machado left for San Diego in free agency, but Seager returned and slotted right back in at shortstop. Bellinger led the charge with his sensational MVP campaign, and there were some new characters in the mix as well. 

Outfielder AJ Pollock arrived via free agency after spending seven years with division-rival Arizona. The Dodgers also began to see the fruits of their elite player development system, as Alex Verdugo finally got some run as an every-day player, and top prospects Will Smith and Gavin Lux each made their MLB debut. 

During this season, the lineup started to change frequently based on matchups and defensive alignment, but it usually looked something like this: 

* RF Pederson/Hernandez
* 1B Muncy
* 3B Turner
* CF Bellinger
* SS Seager
* LF Pollock/Verdugo
* 2B Lux/Hernandez
* C Barnes/Smith

2020: First in NL, second in MLB in wRC+

Here comes Mookie Betts! The blockbuster trade with Boston in February 2020 shook up the baseball landscape and set the tone for a season in which the Dodgers were simply the best team from wire to wire, culminating in their first World Series title in 32 years. 

Here’s what an average lineup looked like during their run to the championship: 

* RF Betts
* SS Seager
* 3B Turner
* 1B Muncy
* C Smith
* DH Pollock
* 2B Taylor
* CF Bellinger
* LF Pederson

This was also our first glimpse of the Dodgers with a DH, and that worked out pretty well, though of course, it was in just 60 games.

2021: Second in NL, seventh in MLB in wRC+

Fresh off a World Series win but now without the DH, the Dodgers settled in as the presumptive World Series favorites once again. Here was the lineup they rolled out for much of the first half of 2021:

* RF Betts
* SS Seager
* 3B Turner
* 1B Muncy
* C Smith
* LF Pollock
* 2B Taylor
* CF Bellinger

But as in 2018, the NL West race was far tighter than expected. The rival Giants rattled off one of the most astonishing regular-season runs in recent memory, which had L.A. in the unfamiliar position of second place at the trade deadline. 

Never content to rest on his laurels, Friedman went big yet again, acquiring Max Scherzer and Trea Turner from the Nationals

Here’s what the lineup often looked like after that:

* RF Betts
* SS Seager
* 2B Trea Turner
* 1B Muncy/Albert Pujols
* 3B Justin Turner
* C Smith
* LF Pollock
* CF Bellinger/Taylor

Oops, forgot to mention: The Dodgers also scooped up one of the greatest hitters of all time as a platoon bat. You know, just for fun. 

Yet, remarkably, it wasn’t enough. Muncy was injured in the final game of the regular season and thus unavailable for the postseason run. The Giants ended L.A.’s streak of eight consecutive NL West titles, and though the Dodgers got revenge by eliminating San Francisco in the NLDS, they ran out of gas against a surging Braves team in the NLCS. 

Back to the drawing board.

2022: ???

You know what they say: If you can’t beat ‘em, sign ‘em

* RF Betts
* SS Trea Turner
* 1B Freeman
* 3B Justin Turner
* DH Muncy
* C Smith
* 2B Taylor
* CF Bellinger
* LF Pollock

Sheesh.  

Now, this isn’t to say the Dodgers have the only scary lineup in baseball. Obviously, the Giants were able to outproduce them a year ago, but they then lost Buster Posey to retirement and Kris Bryant to the Rockies. The Astros have also boasted elite offenses every season since their appearance in that infamous 2017 World Series, but now Carlos Correa is in Minnesota. The Yankees rolled out a rather fearsome group after last year’s trade deadline, and they retained Anthony Rizzo and brought in Josh Donaldson

But while the Yankees’ lineup might never be overtaken in terms of sheer size and intimidation, those big swings come with a lot of whiffs, which can sink an offense quickly against a pitcher on his A-game. These contending lineups — among others including the Red Sox, Mets, Braves and Blue Jays — are all excellent in their own right and awfully impressive through the first two-thirds. But there are holes. 

What makes this final form of the Dodgers' offense so spectacular is its variety, balance, upside and reliability. Every hitter in the lineup has at least one elite skill or the potential to be an All-Star, resulting in a gauntlet of pain-in-the-butt at-bats that will be nearly impossible for pitchers to game plan. 

Pure hitters? Check: Betts and Freeman are both on this baseball team. I don’t need to elaborate on how good Betts is, and Freeman is nominally replacing the one major offensive departure in Seager. You could argue that the offensive ceiling is similar for each, and thus Freeman isn’t that big of an upgrade, but he also comes with far more certainty of staying on the field than Seager. If anyone in this lineup is going to play 162 games or close to it, it’s Freeman. That isn't something you could say about Seager. 

Speed? Check: Trea Turner is one of the fastest players in baseball and the defending batting champion, for good measure. 

Laser-focused plate discipline? Check: Muncy swings at fewer balls than any other hitter in baseball not named Juan Soto

Arguably the best hitting catcher in baseball, even though no one seems to care? Check: Will Smith might not have the jaw-dropping power of Salvador Perez or the elite walk rates of Grandal, but since his MLB debut on May 28, 2019, Smith edges both of them as the best-hitting backstop by wRC+. But because he’s surrounded by so many other superstars, he hardly ever gets mentioned. 

Add Pollock, Taylor and Justin Turner — all of whom have been above-average hitters for multiple seasons — and there’s simply no easy at-bat in this lineup. 

Bellinger, though, might be the key to this whole thing. In 2021, due to seemingly a combination of lingering effects from his offseason labrum surgery and a complete mechanical breakdown, Bellinger was stunningly terrible. The Dodgers’ offense might still have been top of the league if not for his brutally bad .165/.240/.302 slash line. But remember: He started to show signs of life in October. His 12 hits in 12 postseason games were as many hits as he had in 34 games from Aug. 18 through the end of the regular season. 

On the whole, it was one of the more shocking single-season declines in recent memory, but I refuse to believe Bellinger is a lost cause.  

The incredible truth is that Bellinger could remain terrible, and the Dodgers could still have the best offense in baseball. Last year was proof of that, and that was without Freeman. But if Bellinger returns to form? If he figures it out and rediscovers the MVP talent he was just three years ago? He probably won’t be batting seventh or eighth, as currently projected.

Am I getting carried away? Possibly. It’s not like the Dodgers are going to be able to roll out these nine for all 162 games. And if there’s one knock on this squad as currently situated, it’s that most of the players aren’t particularly young, with Bellinger and Smith the youngest regulars at 26 and 27, respectively. Injuries will happen. Slumps will happen. Bellinger might hit .065 this year. Who knows?

On paper, though, something special is very much in the cards this season. A hearty good luck to the pitchers tasked with getting these dudes out. I do not envy them.  

Jordan Shusterman is half of @CespedesBBQ and a baseball analyst for FOX Sports. He lives in D.C. but is a huge Seattle Mariners fan and loves watching the KBO, which means he doesn't get a lot of sleep. You can follow him on Twitter @j_shusterman_.


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