Mookie, Shohei, Freddie: Dodgers get first look at new top of the order

February 27th, 2024

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- As soon as the Dodgers signed , manager Dave Roberts began to dream of what the top of his lineup would look like in the 2024 season and beyond.

On Tuesday, as , and Ohtani took the field for the first time as teammates, Roberts finally revealed the order for his top three hitters.

Betts stayed at the leadoff spot, with Ohtani and Freeman coming in right behind him. It’s a lineup that now features three former MVPs, forming, arguably, one of the best trios in Major League history.

“As a manager, you start trying to formulate a lineup and see how it looks on paper,” Roberts said. “You get a big glow on your face when you look at Ohtani, Freeman and Betts.”

Tuesday was a relatively auspicious start for the new-look lineup, with Betts (single) and Ohtani (two-run homer) notching a hit apiece in three at-bats in the Dodgers' 9-6 win over the White Sox. Freeman went 0-for-2, grounding out to short and flying out to left.

The conversation with the three superstars happened early in the camp, and it wasn’t particularly lengthy. Betts, Ohtani and Freeman all let the Dodgers know that they would accept wherever they have them hitting in the order.

When Roberts and the Dodgers began to dig into things, it was clear that they didn’t want to move Betts out of the leadoff spot. It’s where Betts has had the majority of success throughout his career, including an American League Most Valuable Player Award in 2018 and a pair of second-place finishes for NL MVP since coming to the Dodgers in ‘20.

“I think for me, Mookie really has thrived in the leadoff spot,” Roberts explained. “I like him at the top, being the igniter.”

Coming to a decision on Betts was easy for the Dodgers. Then, it was about figuring out how Ohtani and Freeman would follow. Both have had experience hitting in both spots, making it easier for the Dodgers to try and project where they would feel most comfortable heading into the year.

A few days into camp, Roberts pulled Freeman into his office and laid out the plan. He would be hitting third behind Ohtani. Freeman, of course, hit second for the Dodgers in 2023, a year in which he finished third in NL MVP voting. The conversation didn’t last long as Freeman quickly said he was on board.

“I don’t think that the handedness really affects [Freeman or Ohtani],” Roberts said. “I feel that having Shohei hit in front of Freddie, I think will create a lot of scoring from first base, a potential stolen base threat. And then to have Will Smith behind Freddie, it just made a lot of sense.”

In his career, Freeman has hit second in 363 games and third in 1,146. In 2022, the Dodgers had a similar situation with Trea Turner. Freeman hit second in 83 games and third in 76. He put up strong numbers in each spot, but he did post a .980 OPS in the three-hole (compared with .863 batting second).

Ohtani, on the other hand, has hit in all nine spots of the batting order throughout his career. The two-time unanimous AL MVP has seen most of his success hitting second, posting a 1.013 OPS in 240 games. Ohtani has an .856 OPS in 247 games hitting third.

Given their past numbers, it could suggest that Ohtani feels more comfortable hitting second while the splits are about the same for Freeman, who will now get even more RBI opportunities behind Betts and Ohtani.

“I think that if you’re looking at the DNA of the two hitters, Shohei is more of a free swinger than Freddie is,” Roberts said. “So if you have somebody like Freddie behind him, pitchers are still gonna attack Shohei in a specific way, no doubt about it. But there’s also a chance that they should be in the strike zone a little bit more than if Freddie wasn’t behind him. Not to take away anything from anybody else on our roster, but Freddie is the biggest presence for protection behind Shohei.”

There really isn’t much of a wrong answer for the Dodgers considering the talent involved. The lineup could change if things don’t work early in the season. But as of now, the Dodgers believe this is the best way to go.

“I think we’re gonna do this for a while,” Roberts said. “What a while means, I don’t know right now. It’s not set in stone. It’s still gotta work and make sense. But I do think I can be slow moving on things. I don’t move just because for a week or two it doesn’t work.”