For what has seemed like a very tumultuous few months filled with injuries and frustratingly inconsistent hitting, the Dodgers have actually had a very good first half of the season. They sit atop the National League Wild Card standings at 51-40. They’re 7-3 in their last 10 games, and find themselves a manageable 6.5 games back of the Giants in the NL West.
The Giants are currently the best team in all of baseball, but their success in the postseason over the last 6 years has proven that all a team has to do is just find a way to make the playoffs. After that, all bets are off. The right group of players can catch fire and ride that wave to a championship.
— SportsNet LA (@SportsNetLA) July 11, 2016
In terms of playoff aspirations, the Dodgers are in a great position at the All Star break. I wanted to properly assess how the team has fared up to this point, and decided to examine different aspects of baseball to see if the Dodgers are performing adequately at each skill.
While the Dodgers have had their fair share of struggles with their offense, the power hitting aspect of their lineup isn’t their biggest concern, but it’s still troubling. As a team, they rank 18th in the league in home runs, 19th in at bats per home run, and 21st in extra base hits. They’d like guys like Adrian Gonzalez and Yasiel Puig to start showing the pop they’ve proven capable of in their careers.
Puig has just 16 extra base hits in 246 at-bats, which is bizarre for a guy who burst onto the scene with so much promise just a few years ago. If he’s going to remain consistently in the lineup, they need more production from him.
Corey Seager, Justin Turner, Yasmani Grandal, Joc Pederson, and Trayce Thompson have been the sources of power in their lineup. With Pederson on the DL, they can’t really afford to lose a power bat like his for too long, considering that they’re actively trying to combat the slugging underachievement of guys like Gonzalez and Puig.
Getting on base
This is where their team statistics begin to get appalling, and it’s remarkable that a team that’s 50-41 has a collective batting average of .241 with a .315 OBP. That ranks 26th and 22nd in the league, respectively. They’re a scrappy bunch that is capable of finding ways to get on base, as evidenced by ranking 9th in the league in walks and 11th in hit by pitches.
The challenging reality of this is that despite their ability to work the count and get on base, their horrendously low batting average prevents their OBP from settling at adequate levels. It doesn’t matter that they’re still walking at impressive rates, because it’s not offsetting their poor contact hitting. Only 2 players on the team with over 100 at bats are hitting above .265: Seager and Gonzalez.
Of that same group of 11 players, 5 are hitting below .240: Grandal, Pederson, Thompson, Enrique Hernandez, and A.J. Ellis. Only 3 of those 11 players have an OBP over .335: Gonzalez, Seager, and Chase Utley. There are far too many spots in this lineup featuring players not exercising their ability to get on base. If there aren’t as many base runners, it’s extremely hard to manufacture runs or develop a rhythm on offense.
The Dodgers aren’t elevating their poor hitting at crucial moments. They ranked 14th in the league in runners left on base, which doesn’t sound awful until considering the fact that it’s because they don’t get many people on base to begin with. A team that ranks 22nd in OBP and still manages to rank 14th in leaving runners on base speaks to not only their ineptitude at getting on base, but their inability to come up with hits to drive those runners in.
They rank 26th in the league in AVG from the 7th inning on, as their overall total of .241 drops even further to .226. Interestingly, their OBP from the 7th inning on matches their overall total of .315, but their league ranking goes up from 22nd to 16th. Give the Dodgers credit for keeping their ability to get on base constant throughout a game while other teams tend to lose that ability.
However, it can’t be denied that the Dodgers have been lacking in getting that key hit to drive in runs. They rank 19th in the league in their ability to drive a guy from 3rd in for a run with less than 2 outs. They only managed to score that runner 50% of the time. It’s incredibly frustrating, and it extends to their general weakness with runners in scoring position.
They rank 21st in the league in batting average in that situation at .246, but it is somewhat encouraging to see that their batting average goes up in that situation compared to what it is normally. However, .246 is still bad no matter the context, and any type of enthusiasm deteriorates when the situation is changed to runners in scoring position with 2 outs. The Dodgers rank 29th in the league by hitting .191 in that situation. They fail to capitalize on scoring opportunities, and it may come back to haunt them down the stretch.
This team seems to lack an offensive identity: they aren’t a slugging juggernaut, yet they don’t utilize small-ball tactics either. There isn’t much speed in this lineup. Howie Kendrick leads the team with 7 steals. He actually accounts for more than a quarter of the total team steals. The Dodgers rank 27th in the league in stolen bases.
They overachieve slightly in regards to their percentage of successful attempts, ranking 24th in the league by converting 62.5% of their attempts. They rank 27th in the league in stolen base attempts per game, so it’s not like it’s a heavily relied upon tactic. It’s not their style to try to advance bases through speed.
Their lack of blazing quickness combines with their poor slugging percentage to account for only 11 triples as a team, which ranks 24th in the league. It’s hard to classify this as a disappointment, however, because they’re not designed to exploit their speed on the base paths to put runners in scoring position and manufacture runs that way. However, it’s still an aspect of the game that the Dodgers fail to succeed at.
Somebody reading this might be wondering how the Dodgers could possibly have 50 wins and be so bad on offense. Well, we’re starting to get to the categories where the Dodgers excel. They are one of the elite defensive teams in the league.
They rank 2nd in the league in Defensive Efficiency, 3rd in fielding percentage, 3rd in least amount of errors committed, 5th in Total Zone Total Fielding runs Above Average, and 6th in BIS Defensive Runs Saved Above Average. Dodgers pitchers can feel confident that the lineup configured behind them is going to make plays when the ball is hit into the field. Of the Dodgers qualified fielders, all of them rank in the top 7 by fielding percentage at their position except Seager and Puig.
Seager ranks 20th among shortstops, and his range factor only ranks 23rd. He’s the weak link in their defense. Puig ranks 17th among right fielders in fielding percentage, but 3rd in range factor. Combine that with his rocket arm, and despite Puig’s struggles at the plate this season, he’s still a terrific defensive player. When all components are examined, this defense is one of the best in baseball.
It’s easy to cement yourself with a top rotation if Clayton Kershaw is on the team, but the team rankings that the Dodgers have been able to land with their rotation indicates a collective effort. Among starting pitching staffs in the league, the Dodgers rank tied for 1st in shutouts, third in batting average against with .234, 3rd in slugging percentage against with .372, 3rd in OPS against with .668, tied for 3rd in complete games, 4th in OBP against with .296, 5th in WHIP with 1.17, 6th in Average Game Score, and 7th in ERA with 3.77.
A lot of this is due to Kershaw, however, and his dominance ends up inflating some statistics when he pitches every 5th day. This is evident by the staff ranking 17th in quality start percentage and 14th in average innings pitched per start. The good news is that Kershaw is only expected to miss one more start on the DL, since he was well on his way to another remarkable year before his current setback. He’s 11-2 with a 1.79 ERA, a 1.70 FIP, 145 Ks in 121 innings, and a WHIP of 0.73.
Kenta Maeda has also had a great year after arriving from Japan. He has a 2.95 ERA in 103.2 innings pitched with 107 Ks and a WHIP of 1.09.
Scott Kazmir needs to deflate his 4.52 ERA, but his 106 Ks in 97.2 innings pitched show off the type of stuff he possesses. He tends to bounce back and forth between great starts and terrible starts, but he’s tough to hit when he’s on. Beyond that, their rotation has been trying to plug different people in because of injuries.
Hyun-Jin Ryu recently returned, and it’s unclear what he’ll provide this season. Bud Norris has pitched well since his acquisition, and Brandon McCarthy has looked good since coming back from Tommy John surgery. They’ve also managed to get positive contributions from guys like Alex Wood, Ross Stripling, and Julio Urias along the way. The rotation looks promising enough to be able to continue the success they’ve had, no matter who serves as the 4th and 5th guy.
This is probably the biggest strength of this team. Among bullpen units, they rank 1st in the league in ERA with 2.83, 1st in batting average against with .195, 1st in OBP against with .268, 1st in slugging percentage against with .327, 1st in OPS against with .594, 1st in WHIP with 1.02, and 7th in lowest percentage of inherited runners scored at 28%.
They’re the best bullpen in baseball top to bottom. Kenley Jansen, Joe Blanton, Pedro Baez, Louis Coleman, Adam Liberatore, Chris Hatcher, and J.P. Howell stifle any attempts for another team to score late runs.
Only Hatcher has an ERA above 4.05, and he’ll need to get his walk totals down. But his 41 Ks in 37.2 innings are impressive, and if he’s arguably the weakest part of the bullpen, that speaks volumes to how talented the unit is.
As a lefty option, Liberatore has been remarkable. In 29.1 innings pitched, he has an ERA of 0.61, and lefties are hitting .119 against him. Righties are hitting only .205 against him, so he may be a lefty specialist by trade, but he’s not a liability by any stretch of the imagination against any batter. Kenley Jansen has 27 saves with a 1.16 ERA and a WHIP of 0.65. This bullpen is the real deal.
They’ve had to rely on bench options more than expected because of the injuries that have afflicted the lineup. Thompson has blossomed as a power hitter after not figuring to be a starter this season. Kendrick can be plugged in at 3 different positions, although the contact hitting his fans have become accustomed to has been lacking this season. Enrique Hernandez and A.J. Ellis have both struggled from the plate this year, each hitting below .200 with an OBP below .300. The team has a .152 batting average pinch hitting, which ranks 27th in the league.
Dave Roberts has made some questionable decisions during his debut season as manager, like the decision to pull Stripling in the middle of a no-hitter on April 8th, only to eventually lose that game in large part because of that questionable choice. A home run was given up to the very next batter, and it wasn’t a great way to open the season for Roberts.
Having said that, it’s hard to overly criticize a guy who has guided a team to a 51-40 record. With the injuries that have hit this Dodgers team, it is even more impressive that Roberts has the squad sitting in the position they’re in at this point of the season. The bullpen has been handled deftly in the process, and the Dodgers would be in the playoffs if the season ended today.
The Dodgers have had a successful season despite their terrible offensive numbers. Pitching and defense are two crucial keys to playoff prosperity, and the Dodgers have built their record largely on those two components. If their hitting can eventually improve, this team is poised to do damage in the postseason. Gonzalez will be counted on to find his power surge.
If Puig can bounce out of his season-long funk and Pederson can return from the DL without losing any of his pop, that trio can help guys like Seager and Turner carry the offense. Defense doesn’t tend to slump, so that should be formidable all season barring any serious injuries.
A concern with the bullpen is the chance that they’ll wear down over the season if they’re taxed too much by an inconsistent rotation, but some combination of Kershaw, Maeda, Kazmir, Norris, McCarthy, and Ryu should suffice. Their hitting struggles temper any lofty expectations for October, but if their offense eventually finds a consistent rhythm and they start exhibiting more timely hitting, this squad can ride their pitching and defense deep into the postseason.