Dodgers: Chris Taylor Bringing Back the 2017 Magic

Gavin Lux’s debut was the story during the Dodgers’ Monday night win, but Chris Taylor had himself quite the night, collecting three hits with two home runs, giving him 50 homers for his career. And it was a reminder of sorts, that Chris Taylor is a legitimately good ballplayer, after taking a lot of slack from fans in 2018, and through the first month of 2019, for not being.

After a 2017 breakout filled with excitement that perfectly represented the Dodgers’ magic that season, it’s understandable why any regression would make it appear as if he were a one-year wonder.

Yes, his play dropped to .254/.331/.444 with 17 home runs coupled with an NL-leading 178 strikeouts, but taking into account ballpark factors, the league-wide scoring environment, and position, Taylor’s “disappointing” season at the plate was ten percent better than average, and still worth a healthy 4.1 wins above replacement. So the demise was a bit overstated.

This year, the 29-year-old’s numbers are up to .270/.339/.482 with 11 home runs, a 113 OPS+, and 2.0 WAR in 103 games. Better than 2018, but not entirely up to 2017 levels, but he’s getting there.

His numbers are held back by a slow start (.493 OPS through May 1st), and the counting stats by a hit-by-pitch on the hand that sidelined him for over a month. But since the scuffle at the beginning of the year, Taylor is reminding us of the lightning he struck with two years ago.

Since the beginning of May, the utility man is slashing a robust .300/.362/.549 with ten home runs, and a .372 wOBA in 72 games. Since June 18th, the righty is hitting .353/.416/.639 with six homers in 34 games. And the stint on the Injured List did not slow his momentum as it did Corey Seager’s, with a 1.019 OPS and three long balls since returning on August 20th.

And he’s doing this while batting up-and-down the lineup without any pushback and issue, making lineup construction that much easier for manager Dave Roberts and the front office.

But one of the things that made him stand out during his first full season with the Dodgers was the feeling that he came up with critical hit after critical hit every time he was given a chance. Whether there is such a thing as “clutch hitting” is still up for debate, but it seemed that Taylor, after Justin Turner, was the guy you wanted up at the plate for the team in a crucial situation.

Taylor’s momentum that year was so great that he was bound to come through at a high clip when needed most, and that was just what he did. But, believe it or not, he might be even better in 2019.

OPS by Situation

 With Men on BaseWith Runners in Scoring PositionHigh Leverage
2017.832 (217 PA).879 (139 PA)1.017 (53 PA)
2018.732 (231 PA).716 (153 PA).801 (68 PA)
2019.866 (160 PA).943 (89 PA).903 (35 PA)

And unless you are a pitcher or designated hitter, there are two sides of the diamond in which you need to be effective. And Taylor’s quality bat is multiplied in value because of his versatile glove.

Like teammate, Enrique Hern├índez, the 29-year-old epitomizes what a utility man should be, playing five different positions since coming over to the Dodgers. This year, he’s played 117 innings at second, 280 innings at short, 237 innings in left field, and 74.2 innings in center field.

While he may not be the caliber of player Cody Bellinger, Corey Seager, Max Muncy, and Justin Turner are, Taylor’s value to the team is almost immeasurable in comparison. He’s the type of supporting piece you can’t find anywhere, thus giving LA a leg-up on the competition.

Taylor’s flexibility makes the game simpler to manage for Roberts. It allows the Dodgers to spare Seager, Bellinger, and Muncy for much-needed rest. He makes it easier for Los Angeles to deal with injuries to Alex Verdugo, Muncy, and potentially Joc Pederson because there isn’t as much of a dropoff at the plate as there should be- if there is any- while naturally able to cover their defensive positions.

As long as Chris Taylor can stay healthy and continue his 2017-esque form, the Dodgers will have an invaluable weapon at their disposal, and a lineup with minimal weaknesses. His versatility in the field and lineup- without it affecting his play- is something that will play up come October and go a long way towards the Dodgers ending their title drought.

p.s. If the Los Angeles Dodgers win the NLCS, Chris Taylor will be the MVP of the series.

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