Dodgers dominate, but are they a dynasty?

October 28th, 2020

The Los Angeles Dodgers, after more than 30 years in the wilderness, have won their long-delayed, desperately awaited World Series, and it's much deserved. The Dodgers are an extremely likable team, and no one, other than maybe Giants fans, is all that upset to see them finally get this.

But celebrations for a World Series can only take us so far before we start inevitably asking: What next? What have you done for us lately? The Dodgers have been so good, for so long, that, with a title like this, you have to ask the question: When do they count as a dynasty? What elevates them to that tier?

That might seem like a silly question after just one title. No one was saying, “Hey, look at those dynastic Royals!” after they won in 2015. But the Dodgers have been such a dominant force in baseball for the last few years that they seem like the exception that’s worth exploring. Are they a dynasty? If they are not, what do they need to do to become one?

If you are skeptical of the notion of considering the Dodgers a dynasty, note that in the National League, they are obviously already one. They have won the NL pennant in three of the last four seasons, something no NL team has done since the Braves won four out of five from 1991-96. That team only ended up with one World Series title, in 1995, but it’s fair to say that at least some people consider those Braves teams a dynasty, yes?

ESPN’s Jeff Passan argues that Atlanta falls just short, but the fact that one of the best baseball reporters in the world considers it at least an open question cracks the door a bit. And certainly the Dodgers, in the context of the NL West, are a dynasty: This year was their eighth consecutive division title. I guarantee you the Rockies, for example, sure feel like the Dodgers are a dynasty.

But it’s not just NL dominance. The Dodgers teams of this era compare quite favorably to some of the best franchises in their best eras -- franchises we generally do consider dynasties.

The Dodgers’ record over the last four seasons, including postseason games, is an incredible 378-223, good for a winning percentage of .629. That’s an astounding number. That’s playing at a 102-win pace over four whole seasons.

And, it turns out, it’s the best four-season record (including postseason games) for any team of the Wild Card Era:

1. LAD (2017-20): .629 (378-223)
2. NYY (1996-99): .628 (435-258)
3. ATL (1995-98): .624 (423-255)
4. NYY (1998-01): .622 (437-266)
5. ATL (1996-99): .621 (432-264)

Maybe you could argue whether or not those Braves were a dynasty. But surely you’re not going to argue that those Derek Jeter-led Yankees teams were not. Well, the Dodgers were better over the last four years than they were, and remember the Yankees dominated during an era of major expansion, with two teams added in 1993 and '98, making it easier to dominate. And yet despite that, the Dodgers' +1.43 run differential per game (including playoffs) over the last four seasons dwarfs that of the '96-99 Yankees (+1.19).

The Yankees did make four straight World Series from 1998-2001, one more than the Dodgers, which is a point in their favor, as is the fact that they won three of them. But those Yankees are definitely a dynasty, unquestionably so. The Dodgers are right behind them as the most dominant four-season team since the Wild Card Era began. So again: They’re at least close, right? And let’s not forget how different this conversation would be had the Dodgers managed to win Game 7 against the Astros in '17. That was a close World Series, and one that has since been tainted by the revelation that Houston was illegally stealing signs that season. (In fact, some people might tell you the Dodgers are the rightful champions for that very reason.)

Let’s take this from another angle by looking at the 2010-14 San Francisco Giants. In those five years, the Giants won three World Series, which is usually something that will get you unquestioned dynasty status, but it is worth noting that they won their division as many times in those five years (twice) as the Dodgers did. (The D-backs won the other in '11.) The World Series is the ultimate prize, of course, but those Giants teams won three fewer division titles than the Dodgers have won in the last five years. Over those five years when San Francisco won three titles, there were six teams (Yankees, Cardinals, Braves, Tigers, Rays and Rangers) with better records than the Giants had … and they were only two wins (436-434) better than the Dodgers over those years, with identical run differentials per game (+.26). The World Series is the World Series. But those Giants teams weren’t even close to as dominant as these Dodgers teams were.

Heck, some dopes even wanted to call the Cubs of the last few years a dynasty. And the Dodgers have wiped the floor with them too.

Obviously, winning the World Series matters. The A’s of the Moneyball era were consistently among the best teams in baseball, but they never even reached a World Series, so no one would consider them as a dynasty. But I’d argue winning one World Series, particularly one that has come on the heels of such an unbelievable string of fantastic seasons, puts you squarely at the middle of the conversation.

There’s an easy way to settle this, of course. The Dodgers just need to go out and win another one. There’s no reason to think they won’t be the odds-on favorites heading into 2021, and, all told, probably will be well into this new decade. As long as they don’t fall off the table -- and it’s difficult to imagine how that would possibly happen -- they’ll get another shot. If they can just win one more in the next three years or so, it will be impossible to deny them.

I’d argue that, in an age of multiple Wild Cards and expanded playoffs, having the best team in baseball (and one of the best teams in the last 30 years) and then winning a World Series puts you firm in the dynasty conversation. But winning two? Winning two would end the discussion immediately. So congratulations, Dodgers: You won the World Series. Now get out there and get another one.