The Dodgers are flying to Baltimore right now, and boy I would not want to be on that plane. The mood must not be good right now. The last week has been a disaster for the Dodgers, after winning two out of three in San Diego, the Dodgers lost two of three in Arizona, and then came home and were swept by the lowly Padres in embarrassing fashion. The Dodgers are now 7-8 on the 2013 season through 15 games, and everyone is trying to figure out what the problem is.
The pitching staff is generally solid on most nights, despite being taxed this week because of injuries and overuse. The Dodgers pitching staff currently ranks second in the league in staff ERA, and fourth in the majors. The pitching is not the problem. The Dodger defense is pretty good, ranking 14 in the majors in total defensive rating. They rank about average in throwing runners out. Not great, but good enough to win with. The defense is not the problem.
The problem with the Dodger’s slow start has been the offense. It’s letting the team down in a major way. However if we take a real in depth look at what’s gone wrong with the Dodger offense we can find the real issue which is very interesting.
The Dodgers rank 12th in the majors in hitting (.261 average), and seventh in the league in on base percentage. (.339). But they’ve only scored 41 runs. That ranks them almost dead last in all of Baseball. Only the Marlins have scored less runs than the Dodgers with 32. The Dodgers haven’t been hitting home runs either, but have still slugged nine round trippers. So how can a top ten batting and OBP team only score 41 runs? Why aren’t they scoring more runs?
The real problem with the Dodger offense is something underlying. It’s something that has been flying under the radar, and I’m not sure if anybody is noticing. Now the Dodgers have been very poor with runners in scoring position so far this season. They’re 1 for 19 with the bases loaded, and have posted a .485 OPS and are only hitting .171 with runners in scoring position. That’s just atrocious and it has to improve. The Dodgers inability to hit with RISP has been the main headline this year. But the real problem with the Dodger offense continues to lie subtly in the background. The Base running.
The base-running is terrible, and it’s absolutely killing the team. I already wrote a post about this earlier documenting the Dodger’s declining base-running skills. They’ve steadily been getting worse since their rebound campaign in 2011, which was the first year under base running guru Davey Lopes.
The biggest problem isn’t a lack of stolen bases, which by the way, the Dodgers rank 22 in Baseball with only five steals in eight attempts. The real problem is a lack of taking extra bases, and going from first to third on base hits. The Dodgers are one of the worst teams at taking extra bases. Watch them hit, you’ll see it if you read between the lines. Look closely. It took me a while to figure it out. I almost missed it.
The Dodgers only take one base at a time. It’s called playing station to station Baseball. That’s how they get three or four hits in an inning and don’t score, and how they leave so many guys on base. The problem isn’t that they’re not getting on base, or not getting hits. It’s that they’re not moving guys up extra bases. Last night they got ten hits, and left 14 men on base. They had guys on base the whole night, and at one point even had the bases loaded three times and didn’t score. When you only move up 90 feet on each hit, it makes it very hard to plate runs.
The base running stat that documents how often and how well a team takes extra bases is called the hitting advancement opportunities rating, or HAR for short. The rating calculates all of the extra bases a team takes on hits, and all of the chances the team can take extra bases, and calculates how often, and how well a team does this. The league average has usually been around 4.00 the last few years. The Dodgers rank at -1.51 this season. That ranks them 26 in all of Baseball. That means the Dodgers take negative bases! That is unholy bad.
Also factor in the general lack of aggressiveness, and Tootblans that accompany the utter lack of base running skills and you can see how this can have a very negative effect on the offense.
So what’s the solution? Get some speed in the lineup. The Dodgers could call-up Dee Gordon, but they have another option. Gordon would obviously bring his electric speed into the equation, but before you yell at me, no I don’t think he’s the solution necessarily. Although he would inject much needed speed into the Dodger lineup. I think Gordon should continue to work on his game down in Albuquerque, which is the best thing for his development. Ditto goes for Yasiel Puig in a similar way. While it may help the team, it may not be what’s best for them individually. The Dodgers could at the very least call up Alex Castellanos. The guy can run the bases well, and he can hit for power. Even someone like Elian Herrera can help. He can run well also, and he is a switch-hitter who plays all over the diamond.
The Dodgers are very set on Justin Sellers playing shortstop until Hanley returns, and he’s a good shortstop, but he can’t hit. You don’t want to sacrifice offense for defense, you always want to sacrifice defense for offense. Especially for a team that’s struggling to score runs. I’m not calling for Dee Gordon per say, but I am calling for some speed to be added into the lineup, other than Carl Crawford.
The truth is, the Dodgers have no speed at all in the lineup other than Crawford. None, zero, zip. They have no other base swiping threats. They’re just a bunch of very big slow moving dudes. They can hit, and they can get on base, but they can’t run. They don’t move very quick and are slower than molasses in January. They almost NEVER go from first to third on a base hit, or from second to home on a single. A lot of the times, the only way they can score runs is only if Crawford is on base, and then someone else gets a hit. Or via home runs. Otherwise, it’s just a bunch of singles, or long singles, and moving up one base at a time. You can’t score runs like that.
I’m not sure if anyone’s noticed this about our lovable Blue Tootblanners. It’s a huge problem that is destroying the offense. There are options to fix this. Rest assured it needs to be fixed as soon as possible. It might not get any better if not addressed now.
Yes Matt Kemp’s slow start is a huge problem that has a huge effect on the offense. The poor hitting with runners in scoring position has been death on the offense as well. But the real problem continues to go unnoticed. Now that we know what it is, someone please fix it. I don’t care how you fix it, just fix it now! Before it’s too late.