Chris Taylor: Can He Repeat In 2018?
If I close my eyes, I can actually envision Jerry Dipoto kicking himself while watching Chris Taylor hit the go-ahead home run in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series. After all, this was only several weeks after his team, the Mariners, had been eliminated from playoff contention, but several years removed from when Dipoto traded Taylor to the Dodgers in exchange for pitching prospect Zach Lee. Like most trades, it’s doubtful that the Dodgers or Dipoto had the foresight to predict that Taylor would be as impactful as he was for the 104-win Dodgers in 2017.
The 27-year-old leadoff hitter and super utility man was just that last season: SUPER. Taylor received starts at five different defensive positions, including 14 games at shortstop and eight games at third base. His versatility clearly played a role in getting him 514 at-bats in 2017, but his success at the plate was the main reason. Before being traded, Taylor had hardly impressed at the major-league level, posting a disappointing .239/.296/.296 triple slash line in his 85 games with Seattle (2015-2016). Despite his big-league struggles heading into 2017, Taylor had a career OBP north of .400 in 422 minor league games.
Taylor brought his on-base skills with him to Los Angeles this year, which helped him earn the leadoff role with the Dodgers. He led off in 74 if his 140 games and did most of the home-run damage in those contests. In fact, 15 of Taylor’s 21 home runs last season came on days that he was hitting in the leadoff spot, including three home runs to jumpstart the game. “Clutch” is typically not a term that I’m comfortable using on a regular basis, but it’s hard to describe Chris Taylor’s 2017 campaign without using that word. In innings seven through nine, Taylor slashed .332/.393/.534. And in games that were “late and close,” he performed even better, posting a .368/.435/.566 triple slash. In the postseason, Taylor continued to crush all the way to the NLCS MVP trophy.
As exciting as Taylor’s clutch stats and postseason numbers were, they offer little insight into determining what type of a hitter he will be in 2018. What those headlines do, though, is create buzz surrounding a player like Taylor, which is probably contributing to his current top-100 ADP. When examining his underlining skills, my concern comes when realizing that the results might have outperformed the profile a bit in 2017. For example, Taylor’s .354 OBP was top-50 among qualified hitters last year, and yet his BB/K rate was not in the top-100. His .288 batting average was also useful, but he needed an incredibly high .361 BABIP to achieve it.
Regardless of some pending regression in OBP and AVG, we are still looking at a possible 20/20 guy, right? Well … not so fast. In order to get his 21 home runs, Taylor had to take advantage of some pretty terrible pitchers. Now, no disrespect to Nick Pivetta and his 6.02 ERA last year, but most of Taylor’s home run list is underwhelming. A more important factor is Taylor’s mediocre 86.8 MPH average exit velocity, which ranked 203rd in baseball among players with at least 150 batted-ball events. With this in mind, what can we expect from Chris Taylor in his second full season with the Dodgers?
To be honest, I’m not exactly sure. It’s possible Taylor makes the most of hitting leadoff behind guys like Corey Seager, Justin Turner, and Cody Bellinger and ends up scoring 110+ runs. There is also a pretty clear path to Taylor finishing as a top-10 fantasy second baseman. That said, what I’m fairly certain of is this: Taylor won’t take another step forward in 2018. Invest accordingly and be happy with the production he gives, but if you are looking for a player in the ninth or 10th round that could return top-50 overall value, I would suggest looking elsewhere.
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