Except when they do. Here’s some numbers that will in no way cheer you up:
* The Dodgers are tied for 4th of 16 teams in the NL in batting average at .267 (good), 6th in OBP at .338 (fine), and 14th in SLG at .384 (lousy). But here’s where the real problem lies: Dodger right-handed batters vs. right-handed pitchers (which is the biggest segment of LA at-bats) are putting up a truly abysmal line of .228/.296/.310 for a .606 OPS. Worse, that’s including Russell Martin’s success vs. RHP (.312/.417/.404), so everyone else is really dragging the line down. Unfortunately, this means we can’t blame Juan Pierre for everything. (from baseball-reference)
* Mark Sweeney is the single worst player in baseball. (Shown at right, wondering what exactly he’s doing on the field, too). He doesn’t play enough to accumulate the counting stats, so let’s go with some rate stats. Actually, I don’t even need to break out anything fancy to illustrate this – a .095/.204/.119 line is nothing more than a joke. He’s got 4 hits and it’s nearly June. But let’s get back to the part where he’s the worst player in baseball. MLVr is a fancy Baseball Prospectus stat, defined as “an estimate of the additional number of runs a given player will contribute to a lineup that otherwise consists of average offensive performers. The league average MLVr is zero (0.000).” There are 411 MLB players with at least 35 at-bats in 2008 (at-bat limit done to eliminate pitchers). Mark Sweeney is… wait for it… 411th of 411. His MLVr is -.685, which basically means if we had a lineup full of completely league-average players, Mark Sweeney would cost us .685 runs every single game. And that’s just an offensive stat; some of the other players who are high (low?) on the list are at least plus defenders, like our own Chin-Lung Hu (12th). Sweeney doesn’t even contribute anything on that side of the field, either. If there’s any reason he’s still on the team other than to give Andy LaRoche a few more days to play 1B and/or 2B in Vegas, it’s simply indefensible.
* “When your rotation is average and your lineup is average, it’s no surprise that your team’s record is average.” That would be the take-home quote from yesterday’s Baseball Prospectus preview of the Mets game last night.
Reasons for the Mets’ mediocrity have been covered in this space before, so now it’s the Dodgers turn to explain their .500 record. First, we have a team that isn’t playing good defense: they rank 22nd in the majors in Defensive Efficiency, converting 69.6 percent of batted-balls into outs. Though the bullpen hasn’t suffered much—they rank fourth in the NL in WXRL as a unit—that defense has contributed to the rotation’s ranking only in the middle of the pack via SNLVAR. The offense is hitting .268/.340/.383, which boils down to an EqA of .257. When your rotation is average and your lineup is average, it’s no surprise that your team’s record is average.
The bullpen has helped them out in one-run contests (8-5) and extra innings (3-1) during the first two months of the season, but they are going to need improvement in one of the three areas—pitching, fielding, or offense—if they are to rise above their current position and give the Diamondbacks a scare. Losing Andruw Jones to surgery should help the offense out, as his .165/.273/.271 line was the source of more headaches than runs. Another of the lineup’s old men, Jeff Kent, has issues of his own. He’s hitting the ball on the ground more often—43 percent grounders versus last year’s 38 percent and his career rate of 35—and has lost a bit on his power as well, dropping his HR/FB from 10.2 to 7.4 percent. Kent is also swinging at more pitches—with many of those offerings out of the strike zone—but he’s making contact less often and has seen his walk rate cut in half. Almost 40 percent of his batted balls have been grounders that were weakly pulled as well. Without some switching around—Blake DeWitt to second when Andy LaRoche gets called up, perhaps?—the Dodgers offense is not going to see the vast improvement it needs to keep up with their rivals out.
* What the hell is going on with Brad Penny? He hasn’t given up less than 3 earned runs in a game in over a month, since April 21st at Cincinnati when he gave up one run in six innings. Since then he’s given up 3, 3, 10, 5, 5, and 4 runs. His ERA in May is a robust 8.48. I wish I had a better answer for “why”, but if our erstwhile “ace” can’t turn it around, this team is in big trouble.
* Might Jeff Kent be turning it around? After quite some time as the worst cleanup hitter of the last 50 years, going 5-9 with a homer in his last two games has pushed his OPS+ to 76, which merely makes him the third-worst cleanup hitter of the last 50 years. Still, that’s the right direction.
* Okay, sometimes stats don’t tell the whole story: Also via Baseball Prospectus (yeah, they’re practically the lifeblood of this blog lately) news on some young Dodger catchers.
Last year at Low-A Great Lakes, catcher Carlos Santana hit just .223/.318/.370–not the kind of numbers that generate any kind of attention. Even so, scouts saw something in his raw tools, and those are starting to show some promise this year at High-A Inland Empire, as the 22-year-old Dominican switch-hitter is off to a .306/.421/.513 start in 47 games, with more walks (32) than strikeouts (24) in 160 at-bats. One West Coast scout who recently saw the 66ers walked away impressed: “For me, that’s an everyday catcher,” said the scout. “He’s a good hitter from both sides and he’s strong–there’s some juice in his bat.” Defensively, Santana also earns high marks: “The arm is great, and will be even better with some improved mechanics. He’s a little raw behind the dish, but he certainly has the athleticism to get better.”
Meanwhile, this year’s catcher at Great Lakes is also putting up unimpressive numbers, but is nevertheless intriguing scouts. A native of Curacao, 20-year-old Kenley Jansen is batting just .198/.270/.376, but also has five home runs in 101 at-bats. “He’s listed at 6-2, 220, but he’s even bigger than that,” said another scout. “He can really throw and has tremendous raw power. I know the numbers are pretty bad, but he’s pretty interesting.”
* But there’s reason to watch the game tonight: because I’ll be in the upper deck at Shea. Oh, and the second start of mega-prospect Clayton Kershaw or something, I don’t know. At this point he’s going to have to throw a complete game shutout and hit 3 home runs. No pressure, though.
Update, AKA, I love the people who read this blog: After I finished writing this, I went to go get some lunch. While replaying the post in my mind, the thought occurred to me: “if Kershaw pitches a shutout, he won’t really have to hit three homers, will he? Bah, no one will catch that.”
I understand the use of hyperbole in writing, but technically if Clayton pitches a complete game shutout, he only needs to hit one home run to win it.
I love it.