[ENT] Dodgers vs. Padres NLDS isn’t as close as the betting lines

On Tuesday, two perceived juggernauts square off in a National League Division Series. The Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres led the NL with the most wins in 2020, and while the Dodgers are the favorite among bettors, the talent level of these teams may not actually be as close as the lines indicate.

Offense

The Dodgers have the best offense in baseball, and it’s not even close. That includes the Padres, whose raw 2020 stats were boosted by overachievements from Wil Myers, Jake Cronenworth, Eric Hosmer and even Fernando Tatis Jr. As good as the San Diego offense is, the 2020 season was just 60 games long, and it’s important not to put undue emphasis on the raw 2020 stats given the nature of variance in baseball.

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The Padres posted MLB’s fourth-best team weighted On-Base Average (wOBA) of .341, but if you project the true talent level of each hitter using historical stats, regression to the mean, aging curves, Statcast data and other sabermetric means, their true level is actually .325 according to my projection system, THE BAT X. Compare that to the Dodgers, who posted MLB’s second-best team wOBA (.350) but have a projected wOBA of .345.

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It’s easy to anoint a guy like Tatis as the next big thing, and he may well be, but it’s unlikely his true talent wOBA is actually as high as his observed .392. Look what happened to three of 2019’s highest performers in 2020: Christian Yelich (.442 to .343), Alex Bregman (.418 to .345), and Cody Bellinger (.415 to .337). That’s just how baseball works, and as exciting as Tatis is, he’s not immune to the laws of statistics.

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The Dodgers have a stacked roster full of players who have performed at a high level for more than just two months, and that gives them a big advantage.

Starting pitching

LA also boasts a significant advantage on the pitching side, led by Walker Buehler and Clayton Kershaw, who will start the first two games. If Mike Clevinger and/or Dinelson Lamet can’t go, the Padres’ outlook becomes bleaker.

Bullpen

The Dodgers also have the advantage in the bullpen, but it’s the one spot where it’s smaller than the 2020 numbers indicate. Their NL-leading 2.74 ERA destroys San Diego’s 4.38 mark, but the true numbers project as 3.78 and 3.88. What the Dodgers have working in their favor, though, is a manager who knows how to handle a pitching staff and understands the mathematical penalties of letting lesser starters go three times through the order. This kind of smart managing is made all the more potent when his team has MLB’s second-best bullpen.

See Also

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Speed, defense and baserunning

The Padres are a younger, more energetic team and do project as the superior club in these areas. Edges here are of lesser importance but are worth noting and will help them a bit.

Conclusion

All told, the Dodgers are the superior team, as the betting lines indicate, but the overperformance of the Padres across a small-sample 2020 season may lead their odds to be a bit too optimistic throughout the series.

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