Hey there! Since I haven’t actually written much on the defending World Series champions this year, I thought I’d throw down some of the stuff that’s been percolating inside my head about the 2021 Dodgers ahead of Thursday’s Opening Day. Let’s start with the position players. (Note: Some of these thoughts materialized during the chats we’ve had on Clubhouse.)
Category: Offense (Page 1 of 6)
You’re a person looking at an empty field, or to be more specific, an empty left side of a major-league baseball field.
You could be a major-league hitter in a major-league baseball game, or you could be a fan looking at a major-league hitter at a major-league baseball game, or you could be a member of the media, perhaps a former major-league baseball player, perhaps named John Smoltz, looking at a major-league baseball game.
As you gaze at the pitcher, the area to the right side of second base is filled with defenders. The area to the left side of second base is bare, or nearly so.
Why, you might ask, shouldn’t one bunt to that left side?
Or why, you might instead ask, for the love of all that is holy, don’t you bunt to that expletive deleted left side?
Justin Turner has been on fire. Since returning from his second trip of the year to the disabled list in early August, Turner has a .488 on-base percentage and .714 slugging percentage. More than that, he’s all but been his usual self since June 1, with an .885 OPS.
Yasiel Puig has been on fire. Since his own DL trip ended in early May, the right fielder has a .365 OBP while slugging .578, for a .943 OPS.
Cody Bellinger has been on fire. Since August 1, Bellinger has matched Turner’s .488 OBP while slugging a nearly compatible .605.
Brian Dozier has been on fire. Starting his Dodger clock on August 1, Dozier is OBPing .429 and slugging .590. Despite an apparent EKG scare Monday, the second baseman is in tonight’s starting lineup for the Dodgers.
Nevertheless, several Dodgers have very much not been on fire, leading to four straight losses and a 5-10 plunge over their past 15 games).
While the Dodger bullpen has pitched under a laser-firing microscope for the past several days, the underplayed story is how the offense has let the team down, scoring a total of nine runs in the final three games at Colorado and then two more Monday against the Giants.
Since July 29, the Dodgers have scored 59 runs in those 15 games, but 21 runs came August 2 against Milwaukee. In the remaining 14, the Dodgers are averaging 2.7 runs per game.
There’s no particular shame in being held to two by the likes of Madison Bumgarner, even if one of them is on a collision-inducing bloop double by Clayton Kershaw, but there’s still an important mini-trend to process.
In making their July deals, the Dodgers bet big on bats, acquiring Dozier and Manny Machado. Their additions to the bullpen, Dylan Floro and the now fibula-challenged John Axford, look altogether small by comparison — but keep in mind baseball is a run-differential game. If you increase your offense, your bullpen gets more cushion. The Dodgers looked to ease the strain of their pen with a workaround, and certainly, the plan to eventually move two strong starting pitchers like Kenta Maeda and Ross Stripling into relief played into that intent.
Obviously, over the past week, the strategy could not have looked worse, with the bullpen giving up go-ahead runs in six straight games. Kenley Jansen’s heart issue unexpectedly put more pressure on the relief crew than it was ready to handle. But also, the Dodger offense came to the rescue only once, in Thursday’s crazy 8-5 win. So when you look at the culprits of an ugly week, they include not only the relievers, but the recent performance of Matt Kemp, Chris Taylor, Joc Pederson and perhaps most frustratingly, Machado.
Manny Machado’s first 50 plate appearances as a Dodger are now in the books: .400 on-base percentage, .442 slugging percentage. During that time, the Dodgers went 6-4 on a road trip against three playoff contenders, a trip that you could have called a complete success had they won the 16-inning game at Philadelphia and taken all three series.
If the Dodgers had nothing more than a platoon of Kiké Hernández and Joc Pederson entering the season, I’d be fine with the Dodgers in left field.
In a typical Dodger batting order, left field might basically be the No. 7 spot. If Logan Forsythe bounced back from his 2017 struggles at the plate, the left fielder could bat as low as eighth.
Chris Taylor, CF
Corey Seager, SS
Justin Turner, 3B
Cody Bellinger, 1B
Yasiel Puig, RF
Austin Barnes/Yasmani Grandal, C
Logan Forsythe, 2B
You don’t want left field to be a black hole in the lineup — certainly, by the time the postseason race heats up, you don’t want any black holes in the lineup. But entering the season, the Dodgers are in fine shape with Hernández, who in his career has an .883 OPS with 19 homers in 382 at-bats against left-handed pitching, and Pederson, who has OPSed .823 against righties with 54 homers in 953 at-bats (23 homers per 400 at-bats).
Each player has gone through an extended slump in his career, but both recalibrated by last October — in the glare of the postseason, no less. And, both Hernández and Pederson will be 26 years old for most of the season. It might seem like they’ve been around for a while, but they’re just entering prime time.
In particular, Pederson is a buy-low candidate. His contact rate has improved each of the past three years. His on-base percentage was a career-worst .331 in 2017, but his batting average on balls in play (.241) was the unluckiest of his three full seasons in the majors. In his poorest year, Pederson’s OBP was only .023 behind Chris Taylor in Taylor’s best year.
One other thread in the Andre Ethier legacy is that he is the all-time Los Angeles Dodger leader in times being hit by a pitch, with 58. But at the rate Justin Turner has been going, Ethier’s reign might not last the year.
Last year, the Dodger third baseman set a single-season franchise record with 19 HBPs, breaking Alex Cora’s previous and literal mark of 18. (Cora also held the Los Angeles career mark before Ethier.) That gave Turner 46 plunkings as a Dodger, putting him within 12 of Ethier — and Turner has averaged 14 HBPs over the past three seasons.
By Jon Weisman
There’s always something you can worry about. The bullpen used to be the Big Glum, unless it was the offense, or the starting pitching, or all the injuries.
Now, it seems nothing is more vexing for the Dodgers than their struggles against left-handed pitching.
That was the dominant theme after Tuesday’s 3-0 loss to CC Sabathia and the Yankees, leaving the Dodgers 18-20 when a southpaw starts against them this year, compared with 63-43 when a northpaw noshes.
“Every time we get a left-hander, we feel good about it and are optimistic, but it has been a tough year against left-handed pitching,” Dave Roberts said, according to Doug Padilla of ESPN.com. “The numbers, obviously, as they say, don’t lie. We have to look back at the video with C.C., but it seemed like he kept us at bay and off balance and we didn’t get very many good swings against him. Regardless, we have to find a way to produce baserunners and ultimately runs.”
It’s certainly noticeable that the Dodgers have the Majors’ worst offense against lefties by nearly every measure, from a .294 on-base percentage to 73 weighted runs created, though I’m not convinced that a record near .500 in 38 games sample spells doom.
In distance, they measured 2,025 feet. On the Richter scale, they might as well have been a 10.
Zack Greinke, the darling of Dodger Stadium for three seasons, was punished in his former home like a Rock’Em Sock’Em Robot.
Five home runs off Greinke — a career-high, including four in the fifth inning — shook Chavez Ravine and sent the Dodgers to a 10-2 victory over Arizona tonight.
With San Francisco shut out in Colorado today, Los Angeles leads the National League West by a season-high four games.
The Dodgers’ five leaders in home runs each took Greinke deep — Adrián González (17) with a man on base in the fourth inning, followed by Joc Pederson (20), Corey Seager (24, with two aboard), Justin Turner (25) and feature creature Yasmani Grandal (24).
We have now entered the 10th anniversary month of the 4+1 Game, the most unforgettable regular-season game for a generation of Dodger fans, and one that cemented Marlon Anderson as a folk hero for the franchise.
It’s been hard not to think of Anderson over the past 20-odd hours since Andrew Toles delivered the biggest hit of what has been a magical debut as a Dodger, the 4-in-1 grand slam that completed Los Angeles’ comeback from an 8-2, eighth-inning deficit to a 10-8 victory at Colorado.
Toles’ slam came, to the day, 10 years after Anderson’s acquisition from the Phillies for 20-year-old Gulf Coast League pitcher Jhonny Nunez. And if you look at Anderson’s record as a Dodger in 2006, you find that he played in 25 games — exactly as many as Toles has played so far.
At this moment, there’s even more to link Toles and Anderson. Among players with at least 50 plate appearances in a season for the Dodgers, Toles and Anderson rank No. 2 and No. 3 in adjusted OPS, trailing only 2008’s Manny Ramirez.
I mean, it’s really quite something.
By Jon Weisman
The Dodger offense has been sensational over the past several weeks, and part of the reason for this post, believe it or not, is to remind people (OK, me) that they can’t stay this hot forever.
Right now, the Dodgers have an .814 OPS since the All-Star Break, which is 30 points higher than the Los Angeles record for second-half OPS of .784 by the 2008 Dodgers. In franchise history, only the 1953 Dodgers have had a higher OPS after the All-Star Game.
By Jon Weisman
Adjective-defier Clayton Kershaw takes the mound for the Dodgers tonight, but in a sense, the spotlight will be at least as much on the Dodger offense as Kershaw.
Dodger hitters batted .119 with a .237 on-base percentage and .190 slugging percentage in their three-game series against the Rockies this week. In 98 plate appearances, they had eight singles, 11 walks and as many extra-base hits (two) as hit-by-pitches.
Even including their 12-run outburst Sunday against Atlanta, the Dodgers are hitting .171/.263/.326 in their past 10 games — winning five of them thanks to some favorable pitching. They have 13 homers in those 10 games: six by Corey Seager, three by Trayce Thompson, two by Kiké Hernandez and one each for Yasmani Grandal and Justin Turner.
Roberts said Trayce Thompson has played himself into everyday status. Thompson could play LF, Puig RF.
— Bill Shaikin (@BillShaikin) June 11, 2016
The potential for a turnaround is unmistakable. Nos. 3 and 4 hitters Turner and Adrian Gonzalez are a combined 6 for 48 with three singles and three extra-base hits, for an OPS in the mid-.400s. Just a dose of their normal selves would go a long way.
But for that turnaround to begin tonight, it will have to come against a pitcher, Giants right-hander Johnny Cueto, who is sixth among MLB pitchers in wins above replacement. And it will have to come at AT&T Park, which has been very much a mixed bag for Los Angeles.
Weird fact: Since the start of 2015, the Dodgers have averaged 4.1 runs per game overall. But in their past 14 games at San Francisco, the Dodgers haven’t once scored four or five runs.
They’ve been held to three runs or less 11 times (2-9 in those games). And on the three occasions that the Dodgers have busted out for six runs or more, they’ve won only once.
I wouldn’t want to say the Dodgers are due, any more than I’d want to say, paraphrasing Vin Scully, that we aren’t all day to day. But to quote another memorable source: “When it’s time to change, then it’s time to change …”
By Jon Weisman
When a foul ball fractured the leg of starting left fielder Andre Ethier in March, knocking him out of action for approximately three months, his position fell primarily to Carl Crawford and Scott Van Slyke.
By the time the Dodgers played their first home game, Crawford and Van Slyke were on the disabled list as well. But the Dodgers have thrived in left field, thanks largely to the fast starts of Trayce Thompson and Kiké Hernandez.
By Jon Weisman
One of the quirks of the way the Dodgers have begun 2016 — hot enough for them to average 5.33 runs per game after their 15-0 win Opening Day — is how few walks they’ve drawn.
Los Angeles has nine walks in four games, and four regulars — Chase Utley, Corey Seager, Justin Turner and Carl Crawford — have yet to earn their first free pass. (Turner and Crawford did not start Thursday.)
Adrian Gonzalez has been the exception, with four bases on balls. Yasiel Puig, interestingly enough, not only is the lone other Dodger who has walked twice, he has but two strikeouts.
The Dodgers’ success when swinging at the first pitch has been something: 13 for 24 with three doubles and a homer. Even when they swing and don’t put that first pitch into play, the Dodgers have reached base at a .323 clip in those plate appearances, including two sacrifice flies.
That first-pitch homer was hit by Joc Pederson, who has also has two doubles among the five times he has swung at the first pitch this season. As new as the season is, Pederson has given us plenty at the plate to explore.
By Jon Weisman
“It’s still wide-open,” Dave Roberts said, according to Bill Plunkett of the Register. “It might change but I don’t foresee a designated leadoff guy – versus left, versus right, versus any type of pitcher – because any day is different, any pitcher is different. So whatever I feel is the best, which makes the most sense for that night or day, we’ll do.”
For some reason, this seems to get under the skin of some fans, who correlate a consistent presence atop the order with winning. And to be sure, if you’ve got guy who posts a .400 on-base percentage against all pitching and doesn’t have redwoods for legs, that’s a good head start toward victory.
But you’re not doomed if you don’t have that person, and it doesn’t serve anyone to pretend that you do. Whatever advantage might be derived from stubbornly batting the same player in the same batting slot, regardless of who the opposing pitcher is, is surely bettered by creating the best matchups.
Let’s look at the Dodgers’ potential leadoff hitters, casting a wide net …