The Dodgers have gotten contributions from many players this season, but none have been more unexpected and impactful (at the same time) as Chris Taylor. He was destined for a utility player/25th-man role before the Dodgers fixed him and made him a valuable player.
Stacie wrote an article in May about Taylor and his taking advantage of his opportunity. To date, he has been the Dodgers’ 3rd-most valuable player according to FanGraphs wins above replacement. So maybe the Dodgers don’t need to upgrade the offense. Maybe this is the real Chris Taylor. Let’s dive a little deeper.
Taylor is destroying left-handed pitching this season. He has a 182 wRC+, 16th-best in baseball (among qualified leaders), but he’s also more than holding his own against right-handers. He has a 119 wRC+ against them, so he’s not just a platoon player.
The easy comp to Taylor is Justin Turner if you look at the overall situation (late-bloomer, revamped swing, etc.), but he also compares to another player — the player he has essentially replaced: Andrew Toles.
Here’s a breakdown of some interestingly similar stats between the two from the last two seasons:
Toles gets the overall edge in value because of better defensive ratings, but the other numbers are a lot closer than you’d probably expect. Toles’ sample size is a bit smaller, but Taylor’s wouldn’t be as high as it is without the Toles injury. Also, they both have hit game-winning grand slams on the road to boot. They’re basically the same person.
Not only have both Taylor and Toles been productive players, but they also can run. Before the knee injury, Toles was a 60-65 runner. Taylor is a 55-60 runner, which is plenty good enough. Taylor does have 12 stolen bases, which is good for the 5th-best single-season mark for the Dodgers since 2013. He’ll pass Carl Crawford‘s 15 steals in 2013 and he might challenge the 23 steals he had in 2014. He won’t get to Dee Gordon‘s 64 steals in 2014, obviously, but there’s value in his legs on the bases and in the field. A rarity for the Dodgers.
Two months ago, I pondered how the Dodgers might replace Toles’ production after his injury two days after Stacie’s Taylor article.
“It certainly looks as if the Dodgers are going to be fine without Andrew Toles. It’d obviously be better if his knee wasn’t ripped up, but the Dodgers can withstand his loss. It just remains to be seen exactly how it all plays out.”
That I was right about — the Dodgers have been fine without Toles. However, I mentioned Taylor in passing (and in regards to second base) in the article. That isn’t surprising because Taylor had exactly zero innings in the outfield in either the minors or majors before this season, so his exclusion made sense. But since, he has made the most of the situation and thrived.
Taylor has made a solid transition to left field, posting a +3 defensive runs saved and an 18.5 UZR/150. If the Dodgers don’t acquire another bat and/or don’t trade Logan Forsythe (they’re shopping him a bit), it figures to be his primary position for the remainder of the season.
For all the talk about Cody Bellinger, Corey Seager and Turner — and rightfully so — Taylor has been a Godsend this season. I’m honestly not sure where they’d be without him, but they certainly wouldn’t be on this incredible tear and baseball’s best team. I mean, they’d still be really good, but his emergence could help the Dodgers from paying for a bat at the trade deadline. They already passed on J.D. Martinez, who would have been a ridiculous addition, and there aren’t many other bats out there worth pursuing. Lorenzo Cain would be interesting (and I wrote about that in the article from May), but it would also involve moving Joc Pederson to left field and limiting Taylor’s playing time.
Of course, limiting Taylor’s exposure still makes some sense. Even as a part-time player, he could still, conceivably, start 3-5 times a week (platoon with Pederson and give the infielders a day off every now and then), which might ultimately make him more valuable. And if the Dodgers want to go for the jugular, then perhaps Andrew McCutchen is in their future. But there’s still 11 days until the trade deadline. We’ll see if they want to make a splash that big.
One thing’s for sure: Taylor has been incredible this season. He’s a key cog to this team and its success. His acquisition might be the best this front office has made to date.