Then Again, Why Would You Ever Want to Leave Dodger Stadium?

When I wrote yesterday that it was hard to understand how the Dodgers could put together an 8-game losing streak and an 8-game winning streak back to back for seemingly no good reason, I neglected to notice that there may in fact be a good reason:

The Dodgers can’t win away from home.

It makes sense if you think about it, right? The entirety of the losing streak came on the road; the majority of the winning streak came at home. As soon as they hit the road last night, all of a sudden Cha Seung Baek (career ERA entering the game: 5.10) shuts them out over 7 innings, allowing only 3 runs. It’s pretty simple to see just by heading over to the MLB.com standings:

Fewest road wins, MLB 2008:
30. San Diego, 23
29. Atlanta, 24
28. Washington, 25
27. Seattle, 26
27. Pittsburgh, 26
25. Cincinnati, 27
24. Dodgers, 28
24. Kansas City, 28

The Royals, by the way, are 61-81, and no other team on that list is even within sniffing range of .500, much less the playoffs. Teams that have a better road record than LA include San Francisco, Baltimore, and Oakland, each of whom already have 78 losses or more.

The flip side to this is of course that the Dodgers have an excellent home record of 45-30, which is good for second in the NL behind Chicago and 6th in all of baseball. Unfortunately, if things stand as they are, the first round opponent of the Blue in the playoffs would be… Chicago, who would have home-field advantage as they’re going to finish with the best record in the National League.

So why is this? Oddly enough, the batting stats don’t really show much of a difference:

Dodgers offense @ home, 2008: .263/.328/.392 .720 OPS
Dodgers offense on road, 2008: .259/.327/.396 .723 OPS

Actually, forget “don’t really show much of a difference.” Those splits are creepily identical. However, the pitching splits… well… you might want to have the kids leave the room for this one, folks.

Dodgers pitching @ home, 2008: 2.93 ERA, .222/.283/.327 .610 OPS against
Dodgers pitching on road, 2008: 4.66 ERA, .282/.351/.433 .784 OPS against

Now, your first reaction is “it must be the pitching, because the hitters are pretty consistent no matter where they are, but the hurlers get killed on the road.” There’s definitely something to that, because a team with a pitching staff as good as the Blue have shouldn’t be giving up nearly 5 runs a game when they’re away from home, and we’ll get to that in a second. But the offense can’t get a pass on this entirely. Remember, Dodger Stadium is known as a park that is very friendly to pitchers (and this year, is ranked as the 2nd most friendly by one such rating, though I’m not entirely thrilled with ESPN’s methodology). What that means, though, is that the offense really is doing worse on the road than at home, because if you’re playing in a home park that depresses offense… having nearly identical stats on the road means that you are in fact performing worse on the road. If you were really performing exactly the same, the road stats would be higher due to not being depressed by Dodger Stadium.

Back to the pitching, though. That split between home/road goes way beyond park factors; it’s just too big. In fact, the .610 OPS against is the best home OPS of any pitching staff in the bigs. Again, the home park helps a bit, but not so much as to explain the fact that the .784 road OPS is the 20th best in the bigs. Why do the same pitchers perform so much worse away from home? Let’s check out some of the worst offenders:

Derek Lowe
Home: 2.45 ERA, .206 BA against
Away: 5.06 ERA, .311 BA against

Clayton Kershaw
Home: 3.27 ERA, .245 BA against
Away: 6.69 ERA, .312 BA against

Jonathan Broxton
Home: 2.73 ERA, .169 BA against
Away: 4.26 ERA, .273 BA against

Hiroki Kuroda
Home: 3.54 ERA, .231 BA against
Away: 4.42 ERA, .273 BA against

Chan Ho Park
Home: 1.65 ERA, .226 BA against
Away: 4.40 ERA, .288 BA against

Pretty striking, isn’t it? One notable missing name is Chad Billingsley… who’s awesome no matter where he pitches. Either way, though, if the Dodgers get into October, they’re certainly not going to be playing all their games in Los Angeles – so they better figure out what’s going on, and fix it. Pronto.

- Mike Scioscia’s tragic illness msti-face.jpg

Even Better, Joe Buck’s Not Calling the FOX Game!

I spent half of this game trying to figure out who was more impressive, Derek Lowe or Andre Ethier. In the end, I couldn’t really decide (nor could ESPN, as you can see to the right. That’s not “Top performers” of the Arizona/Los Angeles game, that’s from the top of their entire MLB page. Yeah, Brett Myers was included too. Screw Brett Myers. Thank you, Photoshop.)

Let’s start with Lowe. You want to talk about a guy who comes up big when it counts? I’d say the fact that in his two biggest starts of the season, back-to-back against the division leader, laying down fourteen scoreless innings (giving up just six hits) counts pretty well. That makes a 1.02 ERA over his last five starts, which is, as they say, pretty goddamn good. Tonight, on national television, with Chavez Ravine simply rocking, Derek Lowe came up huge. It took him only 101 pitches to allow just 4 batters to reach, and he almost certainly could have continued for the shutout, though Joe Torre chose not to stretch him that far. This has really been his deal for his entire career, though. Remember when Paul DePodesta got panned for signing Lowe to a 4-year, $36 million deal because in Derek’s last year in Boston, he was awful (5.42 ERA in 2004)? It’s easy to forget now, but Lowe was the winning pitcher in every single series of Boston’s historic run to the championship that year. It’s funny to say about a guy who’s got such a reputation for being a headcase, but when the pressure is on… he is nails. And say what you will about DePodesta, that contract was a flat-out steal. It’s going to be pretty interesting to see what happens in the offseason when Lowe is a free agent, because I would love to have him back – but he’ll be 36, and it’s likely Scott Boras is going to want to get him a huge deal to make up for the below-market one he signed last time. Anyway, there’s plenty of time to deal with that in November. For now? Buy that man a beer.

Moving on… hey, remember when this team needed power and wouldn’t let Andre Ethier play? Yeah, me neither. Let’s try to pretend that never happened, like Godfather III and Rocky V. (Sidenote: Rocky V was so bad that even the next Rocky movie [Rocky Balboa] pretended it never happened.) It’s hard to even come up with the right way to describe how good Ethier’s been lately except to say that Manny Ramirez is OPSing about 10 billion, and he’s not even the hottest hitter on this team right now. As Tony Jackson points out, he’s only hitting 13-18 (.722) over his last five games. I’m not kidding when I say that I can’t even do that in video games. So yeah, there’s the 5-5 performance, and there’s the second near-miss of a cycle in a week. But I think what I enjoyed the most was how hard he tried to turn that double into a triple. Sure, he probably was going to be out at third whether he slipped or not, but tell me that you didn’t jump up and scream at the television when you saw that ball drop in the outfield and Ethier rounding second? Of course you did. Also, don’t look now, but he’s reached 20 homers and is slugging .511. That, by the way, is good for 37th in MLB and is higher than well-paid famous people like Vladimir Guerrero, Aramis Ramirez, Ryan Howard, Jason Giambi, and Carlos Beltran.

I don’t know if this can be overstated, so I’m going to say it again. Andre Ethier has a higher slugging percentage than Vladimir Guerrero, Aramis Ramirez, Ryan Howard, Jason Giambi, and Carlos Beltran. His OPS of .843 is currently good for 26th in baseball among outfielders - that is to say, there’s more than one team that doesn’t even have one outfielder as good as Andre Ethier. How in the hell did the Dodgers let him get jerked around on the bench for so much of the season? (Update: since I wrote this earlier today, ESPN now has him ranked as 19th, rather than 26th. Good for Andre. Bad for me. Thanks, guys!)

Let’s take a look at Saturday’s game, which couldn’t possibly be bigger. Winner takes first place? Check. National television? Check. Pitching matchup that dreams are made of? You bet. One thing to keep an eye out for, however, is whether Casey Blake is in the starting lineup. He was hit by a pitch in the 7th inning on Friday, and was replaced by Chin-Lung Hu the following inning. Now, it’s likely that in a blowout game, the move was made for defensive purposes – but you could also (somewhat) see him point to his arm in the dugout. Hopefully, nothing serious.

Saturday: Brandon Webb vs. Chad Billingsley.
Advantage: Billingsley.  Yeah, if you’re going to the game, you’re certainly not going to want for lack of star pitching. Billingsley actually has a little better ERA so far (3.13 vs 3.19) and strikes out more batters, but the reason that he doesn’t get mentioned in the Cy Young hype while Webb basically has it locked up is because the voters usually only care about wins, which as we know are the worst possible way to evaluate a pitcher – and while Webb is 19-5, Billingsley is only 13-10. To be fair, Webb does have a more impressive WHIP of 1.172 vs. Billingsley’s 1.315.

I’m sure you’ve noticed that I’m giving the edge to Billingsley here, and you’re saying it’s because I’m a homer. To that I say: yes, yes I am. But that’s not the reason here. Just like with Dan Haren coming into Friday’s game, Webb has been terrible lately. Over the last month, he’s got an ERA of 4.66 in 5 starts, which is decidedly un-Cy-like. (That may be the weirdest word I’ve ever typed/made up.) If you take a closer look at his gamelog, however, his troubles have only come recently. After ripping off a streak of 9 games in which he didn’t allow more than 3 earned runs, Webb has now allowed 12 earned runs in just 8 innings in his last two starts. Even better, his most recent debacle was against these very same Dodgers on August 31st, in which he gave up 8 runs in just 3.1 innings. And who caused the damage? That’s right! Red-hot Andre Ethier took him out of the yard, as did Casey Blake. I’m liking this matchup already.

As for Billingsley, let’s forget all the “going to be an ace someday” talk, and just get to “is currently an ace.” He’s given up 3 earned runs or less in 14 of his last 15 starts, and the only reason he’s got such a mediocre win/loss record with a stat like that is thanks to the often mediocre offense behind him. More importantly, his last start was against Arizona last weekend on August 30th, and unlike Webb, Billingsley was effective: allowing just two runs over seven innings.

I hate to get too confident here, because Webb could revert to his Cy Young form at any time, and because it was only a week ago that the Dodgers were coming off two brutal sweeps in Philadelphia and Washington. But it’s getting really, really difficult not to get excited over what we’re seeing out there.

- Mike Scioscia’s tragic illness msti-face.jpg

Let’s Get It On

There’s been a lot of talk, both here and elsewhere, about “making the playoffs”. Well, guess what? This is the playoffs. This is the last chance the Dodgers have to make up ground on Arizona on a head-to-head basis, and don’t think that the rest of the country isn’t paying attention to this race: both tonight’s game (ESPN) and Saturday’s (FOX) are nationally televised. How big is this series? Well, we never do game previews around here, so that should give you a pretty good idea. In fact, let’s not even do the entire series just yet. You can only win one game at a time, so nothing is more important than tonight.

Friday: Dan Haren vs. Derek Lowe
Advantage: Haren…ish. No, I won’t pretend that I have more faith in Derek Lowe than I do Dan Haren, one of the best pitchers in the game. That said… Haren’s got a 5.36 ERA over his last 7 games. 7 games, for a starting pitcher, is not just a slump. That’s nearly a quarter of their season – although the fact that he’s still got just a 3.24 ERA illustrates how great he was before that. Fortunately for us, the Dodgers aren’t facing the Dan Haren of the first half; they’re facing the same guy who they got 10 hits and 5 runs (including two dingers) off of last week. Also, in some admittedly small sample sizes, the Blue have a couple of hitters with huge success against Haren in the past. Manny has a ridiculous 1.638 OPS in 19 plate appearances, while Casey Blake’s got an even 1.000 in 21 appearances. And while Matt Kemp’s only had 9 shots at Haren, he’s still managed 4 hits, including a homer.

As for Lowe, he’s been great lately. He allowed just 4 hits in 6 shutout innings against Arizona last weekend, and he’s got a 3.53 ERA in his last 7 starts. That’s a little deceiving, though, because in one of those starts he was bombed, giving up 8 runs in just 3.1 innings in St. Louis. He hasn’t given up more than 3 runs in any of the other 6 starts.

In other Lowe news – and I have conciously tried not to discuss offseason free agent decisions or trades just yet, not with a pennant race going on – we’ve got some bad news if we expected some draft picks coming to LA if Lowe signs a big deal elsewhere, as expected. Without getting into the fancy contractual details, free agent players can either be designated as a “Type A” or “Type B” free agent. If the team offers them arbitration and they decline to sign elsewhere, the original team receives draft pick compensation. If the player is Type A, the original team recieves the signing team’s first round pick (assuming it’s not in the top half of the draft – if it is, the original team gets their second rounder) and a sandwich pick between the first and second rounds. If he’s Type B, they only get the sandwich pick.

All of this is a long way of saying that since Derek Lowe has been a solid, consistent starter his entire time in LA, many of us thought that he would be designated as a Type A free agent, and if the Dodgers offer him arbitration and he leaves, they’d be entitled to two first-round picks. But this may not be so: via MLBtraderumors, the blog Detroit Tigers Thoughts claims to have figured out the formulas behind ranking free agents, which I believe comes from a combination of OBP, ERA, blood type, Zodiac sign, and whether you make Santa’s naughty or nice list. Their verdict? Type B for Lowe. Not good, should he sign elsewhere.

But that’s something to discuss in October. Right now? This is the first game of the rest of the season. Go Blue.

- Mike Scioscia’s tragic illness msti-face.jpg

Have a Lot of Coffee on Hand For This Weekend

So look, here’s the deal. The Dodgers have been awful the last week in getting swept in Philadelphia and Washington. They suck right now, and they don’t deserve to make the playoffs. I know it. You know it. By all rights, they ought to be 12 games back of the division lead and making October vacation plans. I don’t think any of us disagree with that.

But what I think has been somewhat lost in the depression over how foul the Dodgers are is the fact that Arizona isn’t really any good, either. Sure, the Dodgers just got swept by the worst team in baseball. But Arizona just got swept by a team with only two more wins than Washington, the Padres – so it’s not like the Blue are exactly walking into a buzzsaw this weekend. You think the Dodgers offense is weak right now? Arizona scored in just three of the twenty-seven innings they played in San Diego. Not only can neither team hit, they both have excellent pitching, so expect to see a total of about 8 runs combined over the three games.

Let’s not kid ourselves, though – this is the entire season right here. The Dodgers don’t neccessarily have to sweep (not with another series at home vs. the D-Backs in September), but they simply cannot lose any more ground. That means that if they don’t take two out of three in this series… we can all pack up and go home. With that in mind…

Friday: Hiroki Kuroda vs Doug Davis
Advantage: Dodgers. Davis has been pretty lousy over the last month, putting up a 7.50 ERA in 5 starts, while Kuroda’s been outstanding, posting a 2.50 ERA and a superb 25/5 K/BB ratio. I hate to say it, but this is the single most important game of the entire season right here, because it’s the only one where the Dodgers have a good advantage on the mound. If they blow this, they face the nearly impossible task of having to take down both Dan Haren and Brandon Webb. Basically, win tonight, or kiss 2008 goodbye. Is that too much pressure?

Saturday: Chad Billingsley vs Dan Haren
Advantage: Push. Talk about a marquee pitching matchup! We’re talking about two of the best young pitchers in baseball here, and they’ve nearly got the same ERA (3.16 to 3.10). However, Haren’s been lousy over the last month (5.29 ERA). But who are we kidding. This game, by every standard, should be 0-0 in the 10th inning. That said, my money’s on a 12-10 slugfest.

Sunday: Derek Lowe vs Brandon Webb.
Advantage: D-Backs. Yeah, this is where it gets a little difficult. Webb is almost certainly going to win the NL Cy Young Award this year, and if he gets the win on Sunday that’d be his 20th against only 5 losses. Really, the only hope the Dodgers have here is that Webb was bombed in his last start out (6 ER in 4.2 IP) against the Padres, who have an offense nearly as bad as LA does. As for Lowe, he’s been his typical Lowe self. His ERA’s in his 4 years in LA are 3.61, 3.63, 3.88, and 3.81 so far this season. Talk about consistency, but there’s no way he matches up with Webb.

So there it is. Win tonight. There’s no bigger game on the schedule.

- Mike Scioscia’s tragic illness msti-face.jpg

LOL, Dodgers FTW

Couple of different things to get to today, so let’s get right to it.

* First things first, in a game that I assume no one saw because most people work at 12:10pm on a Thursday, the Dodgers managed to take the last game of the series against Colorado, 3-1. Not really a whole lot of note to take away from this one, although seeing Jonathan Broxton strike out the side while hitting triple digits a couple of times was fun. Derek Lowe was effective, if inefficient, in giving up just 4 hits and 1 run over 6 1/3 innings. It took him 107 pitches to get that far, though, thanks to allowing seven different hitters to get to a three-ball count. That said, he minimized any damage by only walking two. James Loney hit his first homer since July 27th and… you know what, this is why I don’t do game recaps unless there’s a particularly interesting event or managerial decision to discuss. You can get the details of what happened in the game anywhere. It’s just not too often that the game is played so early, so I couldn’t just skip it entirely.

* Despite what we’ve been talking about for the last few days, Joe Torre insists that Russell Martin isn’t getting tired:

Torre acknowledged that he “may be pushing the envelope at this point and time” after penciling in Martin for his eighth start of the season at third base and 116th start in 126 games overall. Martin started 143 games last season and repeatedly has said he would never ask for a day off.

Although Martin’s batting average had dipped to .237 this month before the game, Torre said he did not think Martin was showing signs of fatigue.

“I think he’s fighting himself more than he’s tired,” said Torre, who started Danny Ardoin at catcher. “I don’t see the slow bat. I see lack of selectivity.”

“May” be pushing the envelope? Gee, you think? Also, there’s more than one type of fatigue. Maybe, as Torre says, his bat isn’t slowing. But people can get mentally fatigued as well, and that might be what’s causing the “lack of selectivity.” Is that it? I certainly can’t say for sure, but everyone needs a mental health day now and then – even ballplayers.

Martin, by the way, went 0-3 today.

* Is TJ Simers drinking the Kool-aid? It’s so odd to read him when he’s not being needlessly standoffish and hopelessly unfunny. Yet here he is, praising Manny and everything he’s done.

* Fantastically nomenclatured reader Leonora Unser-Schutz writes in to point us towards the direction of… Joe Torre’s new blog. I think I’ve just this second realized how the mainstream is planning on getting rid of bloggers; by making the blogworld as fantastically uncool as possible. I’m not going to make fun of Torre here – the blog so far is mostly about his adjustments in moving from New York to Los Angeles. Actually, I appreciate him making the effort.

But Joe, please. I know you’re joking here, but the whole “68 year old man typing like a 14 year old girl” is just a bit creepy:

For example, I saw one of those little candy Valentine’s hearts printed with “LOL” and thought it was a typo right up until I started reading about blogs and Web acronyms. I mean, WTF(udge), right? Then there are “web smileys” like ;-) and :-( which frankly make me a bit >:-P (I just made that one up). But live and learn.

Until then, I’ll just say BFN, because I have to GBTW, but I’ll BCNU soon. But JFTR, I don’t think I’m going to be using a lot of this Web slang. IMHO, plain old English works just fine. TYVM and TTYL.
AA

* Yours truly will be at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia on Saturday for the excellent Clayton Kershaw/Cole Hamels matchup. I’d like to say I planned it that way… so I will. (Just kidding, I bought these tickets months ago.) Feel free to buy me a beer. Difficulty: you don’t know what I look like.

- Mike Scioscia’s tragic illness msti-face.jpg