Crawford leads the Dodgers in steals with 2-Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

Whatever Happened To The Dodger Running Game?

The Dodgers have been a team known for their speed demons. Jackie Robinson, Maury Wills, Davey Lopes, Brett Butler, are among some of the best base stealers in Dodger history. Base stealing and speed has always been a main cog in the Dodger’s offensive weaponry over the years.

So what has happened to that this season? It seems the Dodgers have gone from speed merchants on the base paths, to slow as molasses in January.

What the hell happened to the running game? It’s been virtually non-existent this season, but has taken a steady regression since last year. The Dodgers were very unsuccessful with the running game back in 2010. The Dodgers stole 92 out of 142 bases that season, for a success rate of 64%. That ranked them 16 in Baseball out of the 30 teams.

Then Don Mattingly took over, and the Dodgers got some new coaches in, one of those coaches was first base coach and former Dodger legend and base-running guru Davey Lopes. Lopes was one of the better base stealers in Los Angeles Dodger history. Lopes stole 554 bases during his 16 year MLB career, 418 of them as a Dodger. It was believed if anyone could turn the Dodger’s stagnant running game around, it would be Lopes.

For a while it seemed like it was working. The Dodgers had a rebound year on the base paths the following season. In 2011, the Dodgers stole 126 bases out of 166 attempts. That computes to a 76% success rate. This was a big improvement over the previous season. Then a regression hit in 2012.

The Dodgers only stole 104 bases out of 148 attempts, which dropped their total to a 70% success rate. Of course a lot of this had to do with Matt Kemp missing 56 games because of a strained hamstring, and then missing more time because of his shoulder injury. Kemp went from stealing 40 bases in 2011, to only stealing nine last season. This year he hasn’t stolen any, and it appears his days of being a base threat are over. He just never runs anymore.

Dee Gordon is an excellent base stealer-Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

This season the Dodgers have only stolen four bases out of seven attempts. So far this season only three Dodgers have even attempted a steal in 2013. Carl Crawford is 2 for 4, Nick Punto and Mark Ellis each have a steal and that’s it I guess it would be four if you counted Andre Ethier’s one stolen base attempt, which was not successful.

To say the Dodgers aren’t stealing bases and don’t have any speed, doesn’t really get to the heart of the problem. It’s not just that they aren’t stealing bases, or they have no speed, they’re playing station to station baseball, and it’s a big problem. One of the biggest helps to an offense to score more runs is a strong running game. Not only that, but there is one thing that is almost vital to a good offense, and it’s something the Dodgers just don’t do anymore. That is going from first to third on a base hit.

The good teams with strong offenses do this often. Actually the Dodgers used to do this. But how is something like that measured? Good question. They have a stat for everything these days. There is a stat called Hit advancement opportunities, or HAOPPS. That is the number of times a team goes from first to third on a hit or from second to home on a single or double. For that, they also give the teams a rating, called the Hit advancement rating, or HAR.

Can Davey Lopes continue to improve the Dodger running game?-Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

The higher your HAR is the better you are at taking those opportunities on the base paths. How have the Dodgers done since 2010?

Keep in mind, the league average has generally been around four. In 2010, the Dodgers put up a HAR of 4.20, and their HAOPPS was 591. That ranked them a little higher than league average. The following year in 2011, the Dodgers were one of the best in the National League at taking those extra bases.

Now their HAOPPS was around the same from 2010, (591). That means the Dodgers had the same amount of opportunities to take those extra bases, but did so at a higher success rate. For example while their HAR was only 4.20 in 2010, their HAR in 2011 shot up to 7.32. 2012 saw some big time regression. The Dodgers posted a 560 HAOPPS, while posting a paltry 2.24 HAR. Take a look at these numbers again over the last three plus seasons, and you can almost hear the Dodgers getting slower by the day.

Dodger hit advancement opportunities from 2010-2012

           HAOPPS      HAR        SB              SB%

2010- 591               4.20    92 for 142    64%

2011-590                7.32     126 of 166   76%

2012-560                2.24     104 of 148   70%

2013-42                 -1.56        4 of 7         57%

 

Those are telling numbers. The lack of speed is killing the Dodger offense. More specifically, lack of taking extra bases. It has been for a number of years now, but this year is glaring. Think about it, and try to remember the last time you saw the Dodgers go from first to third on a base hit?

I asked Don Mattingly about using more base stealing opportunities, and he didn’t sound to enthused about it. He said it would depend on who’s on the mound, lefty/righty ,match-ups, and made it sound more complicated than I thought it was. Besides Carl Crawford, who else has the wheels to steal bases? Should the Dodgers call up Dee Gordon to infuse some speed into the lineup? That’s the one thing that is sorely missing in the Dodger lineup that Gordon can bring to the table.

The more extra bases an offense takes, the more runs they will score, regardless of how many guys they get on base. Sure you can put a lot of runners on base, like the Dodgers are doing per say, but if you are only taking one base at a time, then you won’t be scoring a lot of runs. Unless of course you get a lot of hits, or hit a lot of home runs. This is why the Dodgers can string together hits, but not score.

Oh how I miss the days when the Dodgers used to mix their wonderful speed to manufacture runs. Dodger fans used to chant “Go Maury Go!” every time he would get on base. I don’t think that would apply when A.J. Ellis gets on base. (no offense to AJ, you know I love the guy).

You know what they say, speed never takes a day off. However if the Dodgers want to start scoring more runs, they are going to have to find a way inject some more speed in the lineup. At the very least they could cut down on the tootblans, which would help tremendously.

If the Dodgers don’t find a way to improve the non-existent running game, then I am afraid that the Dodgers may be running themselves out of more runs, or more scoring chances.

Tags: Carl Crawford Davey Lopes Dee Gordon Don Mattingly Los Angeles Dodgers Maury Wills

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