It’s no secret that the Dodgers struggle against left-handed pitching, as evidenced by their league worst triple slash line of .221/.300/.342, adding up to an also league worst .642 OPS. There are definitely reasons for their struggle and they didn’t do much to fix that at either the trade deadline or the August waiver deadline.
The reinforcements that are potentially returning won’t help plug that hole either, as Ethier is pretty abysmal against lefties and Trayce Thompson looks done for the year. Looking at the construction of the roster that will likely see the field in the playoffs, it looks as though it was built to mash right-handers and pray for rain against lefties.
But will the Dodgers struggles versus left-handers really be all that relevant in the playoffs? Let’s take a look!
The Dodgers downfall against lefties has been in strong part to roster construction, as they had a plethora of lefties coming into spring. Similar to how it has gone all season, their performance has been strongly influenced by players with a track record of success who were expected to contribute and suddenly stopped.
Kiké Hernandez was expected to spell Joc Pederson in CF versus tough lefties. While Joc hasn’t exactly been given a fair shake in his attempt to hit LHP, he hasn’t exactly done himself any favors, managing a meager .586 OPS versus lefties in his career. Kiké has struggled mightily all year, sitting below the Mendoza line as this is authored.
However, his career OPS versus lefties of .894 checks in 167 points lower this year, at .727. And he’s joined in that boat by some of the biggest contributors to the offense. Adrian Gonzalez career OPS versus lefties stands at .763, while his .638 OPS is 125 points off the mark in 2016. Justin Turner has always done better against RHP, but his OPS is 55 points off his career mark of .700. And the always consistent Howard Joseph Kendrick is a hefty 88 points below his career average of .778.
When 4 members of your lineup lose that much punch in one season, it’s going to hurt.
Does it Matter?
So that’s how they got here. But is it really that significant? The Dodgers have only had 27% of their plate appearances on the year versus LHP. And looking at nearly every team in the playoffs, it’ll likely be much of the same going forward.
Left Handed Starters & Relievers by Team:
- Washington Nationals – 1 Starter | 2 Relievers
- Cubs – 1 Starter | 3 Relievers
- Giants – 2 Starters | 3 Relievers
- Mets – 0 Starters
The most likely first round opponent, the Washington Nationals, and the potential wild card St. Louis Cardinals, both only boast one left-handed starter and 2 lefty relievers. The juggernaut Cubs have the same numbers, with 1 more in the reliever column. The Giants step it up a little with 2 left-handed starters and a high of 3 potential relievers, but the better of those starters, Madison Bumgarner, has struggled this year and in his career against the boys in blue. The current NL Champion and suddenly resurgent Mets likely don’t have any left-handed starters, with Steven Matz struggling to return from a shoulder impingement.
The Dodgers, conversely, have 4 potential left-handed starters and a bullpen they could pack entirely with lefties. The odds are that the 27% number could be even lower when looking at the potential playoff opponents, setting the Dodgers up to play to their strengths.
The other wild-card is the evidence that a lot of the Dodgers failures against lefties could be due to a league worst BABIP, or batting average on balls in play, with an above average walk rate and a lack of soft contact being some potential positive signs. The team’s BABIP against LHP is a significantly below average .266, suggesting that part of their utter ineptitude is plain old bad luck, as it always does with baseball.
But since BABIP only gets you so far, some encouraging factors that suggest the Dodgers might be able to hold their own against lefties in limited exposure is their above-average walk rate of 9.3%. That’s good enough for #7 in baseball.
The Dodgers also have the 4th lowest soft hit % in baseball, coming in at 17.2%, so they aren’t being completely fooled by lefties. A walk or two combined with a few hard hits finding grass over gloves could go a long way toward stabilizing the offense against lefties in the short doses they will likely encounter them during the playoffs.
Make no mistake, nobody is saying the Dodgers are good against lefties or even have the ability to be good.
They are literally the worst.
The positive in all of this is they can only go up and they have players who have track records of doing better than their current performances shows. They also have some encouraging peripherals that suggest that if the baseball gods blink, the Dodgers might be able to sneak a few runs here and there versus lefties. With a righty mashing offense, a surprisingly dominant top 5 bullpen and the return of the best pitcher in baseball, the Dodgers appear to be statistically well matched against their potential opponents, making for what should be an exciting and strong stretch run.