Offense in Major League baseball is cyclical, like the ocean’s waves. It comes and goes, sometimes with a thunderous crash and sometimes but a mild whimper. The Dodgers offense this year has nearly mimicked that analogy, spending the first 3 months of the season as tiny waves, sometimes biting at the ankle but never over-powering. And suddenly, as the summer rolled in, the offense grew from low-tide to tidal wave, capable of overcoming steep terrain and rugged peaks to crash the shore. Was this change due to a new approach, or did the Dodgers offense simply just struggle to find its groove?
The start of the year wasn’t kind to the Dodgers offense. By the end of the first half, the team ranked near the bottom in OPS (25th) and batting average (26th). Yet suddenly, the tides changed. As summer rolled in, things began to click for the much maligned offense. Players who were expected to be contributors began living up to their expectations. New contributors, who weren’t even a glimmer in the eyes of most fans and, likely, most people within the front office stepped forward, ready for their opportunity to make a name for themselves.
The simple theory is that the approach of the Dodgers changed, allowing them to truly realize their offensive prowess. The first noticeable change was the Dodgers began hitting the ball harder. The Dodgers hard hit % during the first half was 32.6%, good enough for #11 in baseball, only to rebound with a vengeance in August, posting a hard hit % of 38.3% through August 22nd. Their strong mid-season performance raised their hard hit % to 33.7%, good enough for #2 in the National League behind the New York Mets. Hitting the ball hard correlates strongly with getting more hits, but it’s not the only thing that can be indicative of strong offensive performance.
Another big thing is soft hit % and the Dodgers strongly excel here, leading baseball with the lowest soft hit % at 17.1%. More hard hits and less soft hits have helped the Dodgers push their team slugging percentage from a paltry .393 through the first half, good enough for 28th in baseball, to a strong .451 in July and a league leading .491 in August. The improvement in hard hit % and maintaining a low soft hit% have allowed the Dodgers to jump to #3 in baseball in OPS in August.
The Dodgers have also managed to cut their infield pop-ups in half, partially due to hitting the ball harder. A portion of this decrease also falls on the demotion of Yasiel Puig, as a healthy portion of the pop-ups came off his bat. Puig had a whopping 25% of his batted balls go for pop-ups. The team is also hitting less ground balls and substituting them with line drives and fly balls. A potential red flag however, is the Dodgers homerun to fly ball ratio, or the ratio with which fly balls leave the yard, as it has increased from 13.2% in the first half to 17.1% in the second, suggesting that it may not be sustainable.
However, batted ball statistics aren’t the only indicator of an increase in performance. Luck has a strong factor in regard to hitting a baseball and the Dodgers have benefitted from more balls falling onto grass rather than into gloves. A BABIP, or batting average on balls in play, near .300 is considered league average. Anything above this can be considered “lucky” with anything below considered “unlucky.” During the first half of the season, the Dodgers maintained a near league worst .280 BABIP, showing a strong degree of poor luck. During the second half, that jumped a full 49 points in the Dodgers favor, as they currently sport a BABIP of .329 through August 22nd. This is a huge influence on the increase in offensive performance, as more balls drop for hits.
Naturally, this performance has been keyed by a few expected performers who were under-achieving finally rounding into form. However, it has also been driven by one consistent factor that can’t be overlooked: Corey Seager. Seager hasn’t been the strongest producer in the lineup since July 1st. That distinction belongs to Yasmani Grandal. He has, however, become one of the most consistent producers since the start of the season, sporting a .946 OPS since July 1st. Grandal has absolutely raked since July 1st, posting a 1.113 OPS with 14 HRs, 22 runs scored and 25 RBIs.
Joining him on the under-achievers finding their groove is Justin Turner and Adrian Gonzalez. Much has been said of Turner’s improvement, and he hasn’t done anything to change that with a OPS of .986, 12 HRs and 33 RBIs since July 1st. Gonzo has also rediscovered his power swing, with an equal to Turner’s OPS of .986 and 9 HRs of his own. And not to be overshadowed is the quiet assassin, Joc Pederson. His offensive turnaround has helped stabilize the outfield, and since returning from the DL on July 19th, he has been setting the table with an on-base percentage of .389, fueling his .916 OPS.
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Not to be overshadowed are less-heralded names, like Rob Segedin and Andrew Toles. Segedin was acquired from the Yankees for Ronald Torryes and Tyler Olson in the offseason and has filled in admirably at many positions. Andrew Toles, who has a very interesting story, was once a top prospect of the Rays and was signed to a minor league deal in October 2015. He’s driven the ball, with a .326 batting and .853 OPS.
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All of these factors bode well for the Dodgers future aspirations of a 4th consecutive NL West title, and the quenching of a 28-year-long thirst. The strong performance of the Dodgers’ own Fierce 5 has helped mitigate the rotations lack of health and the struggles of a recently acquired outfielder. The key to winning in the playoffs is heating up at the right time, and it appears the Dodgers are doing just that.