If one thing has been consistent in this 2021 season for the Dodgers, it has been Chris Taylor. The 30-year-old, free-agent-to-be is on pace for the best season of his career — and it couldn’t come at a better time for he and the Dodgers. With the injuries the Dodgers have sustained already this season — Cody Bellinger, Corey Seager, AJ Pollock, Zach McKinstry — Taylor’s strong play has been needed even more.
Taylor is hitting .288/.426/.496 with a 160 wRC+ and .402 wOBA. Not only that, he has seen his walk rate jump by 4 percentage points from last season, while his strikeout rate has dipped 2.5 points. The improvement stems from his plate discipline stats.
These numbers are all trending the right direction from last season and the previous two. The most important are his contact rate, swinging strike rate and zone-contact rate. He’s swinging at fewer pitches in the zone, yet he’s making more contact on said pitches. He’s also making more contact over, missing fewer pitches and making contact with fewer pitches outside the zone (which, generally, means weaker contact).
Overall, he’s hitting the ball as hard as he ever has. He’s running a 90.4 MPH average exit velocity. His previous high was 88.9 in 2017. And his barrel percentage is in line with what he did in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. He had an 11.5 Barrel% in ’20, and it’s at 11.2% this season. Those are massive jumps from three seasons prior: 6.2% (’17), 7.7 (’18) and 4.7% (’19). Maybe barrels aren’t overrated.
Oh, and this doesn’t even really take into account what we’ve come to expect from him, defensively. He has started at six different positions (all but first base and catcher), which has made him an indispensable for the Dodgers in 2021. And he has a Top 10 mark in base runs (BsR, 2.0). He’s truly a 5-tool talent.
With Bellinger and Seager out for the foreseeable future, Mookie Betts hitting a little below his career marks and Justin Turner cooling off a bit from his hot start, Taylor’s importance to the team is going to be magnified that much more. It’s basically him and Max Muncy carrying the offense right now, which is what we all expected back in March.
To date, he has been the Dodgers’ MVP. I don’t think it’s sustainable, but there’s no denying how good he has been this season. He’s putting himself in line for a big payday in free agency — from the Dodgers or another team. I’ll say this: If he and Gavin Lux look like they can handle shortstop during Seager’s absence, re-signing Corey might not be as automatic as we think.