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Entries in Los Angeles Dodgers (49)

Thursday
Jun282012

Dee Gordon's Fastball Problem

Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop Dee Gordon leads the major leagues with 24 stolen bases this season. That's remarkable considering how infrequently he, you know, gets on base. Gordon ranks in the bottom ten among qualified hitters in both OBP (.277) and OPS+ (55) this season. In fact, Flash's son could make some fleet-footed-yet-offensively-futile history this year. Currently on pace for 51 steals, Gordon could "top" Bert Campaneris (.278 OBP in 1972) for the lowest OBP ever among players with 50-plus stolen bases in a season and Willy Taveras (55 OPS+ in 2008) for the lowest OPS+.

While no one expected the 5-foot-11, 160 pound Gordon to hit with authority in the majors, he's trying to avoid historic offensive lows among stolen base kings because he can't hit the fastball. Check out Gordon's slugging percentage against the heat this season, and then the league average:

Gordon's slugging percentage by location vs. fastballs, 2012

Average fastball slugging percentage by location, 2012

Gordon has a .277 slugging percentage versus fastballs this season, nearly 170 points below the big league average and fourth-worst among qualified hitters:

Lowest slugging percentage versus fastballs, 2012

BatterSlugging Pct.
Brendan Ryan .253
Carlos Santana .257
Dustin Ackley .267
Dee Gordon .277
Justin Smoak .280
Jamey Carroll .282
Dayan Viciedo .308
Shane Victorino .311
A. J. Ellis .312
Yunel Escobar .314
MLB Avg. .444

 

So, Gordon can't hit the fastball. And pitchers are well aware: Dee has seen the 11th-highest percentage of fastballs (four-seamers and two-seamers) among qualified hitters this year:

Highest fastball percentage among hitters, 2012

BatterFastball Pct.
Jemile Weeks 59.3%
Mike Trout 55.9%
Dexter Fowler 55.9%
Jamey Carroll 55.7%
Derek Jeter 54.6%
Cliff Pennington 53.5%
Orlando Hudson 53.5%
Gregor Blanco 53.1%
Denard Span 52.9%
Adrian Gonzalez 52.9%
Dee Gordon 52.4%
Joe Mauer 52.3%
Josh Reddick 52.3%
Michael Cuddyer 51.8%
Elvis Andrus 51.8%
MLB Avg. 47.3%

 

Pitchers don't fool around when they throw Gordon a fastball, either. They're placing 56 percent of them within the strike zone, well above the 52 percent MLB average. Why wouldn't they pound the zone, considering the worst that can happen is a slap single the other way?

Gordon is never, ever going to be confused with a power hitter. But he'll need to find a way to stop strumming the banjo so hard against fastballs if he's going to avoid being overmatched right into the history books.  

 

Tuesday
Jun122012

Dodgers Extend Ethier

The Dodgers are reportedly close to announcing a five-year, $85 million contract extension with outfielder Andre Ethier with a vesting option that could push the deal's total worth to $100 million. Fully healed from a right knee injury that required season-ending surgery last September, Ethier is enjoying a resurgent season at the plate. He sits just one home run shy of his 2011 total (11), and his slugging percentage has climbed from .421 to .509. But while Ethier has bounced back by bashing breaking and off-speed stuff this year, this deal could turn into a boondoggle before long.

Ethier's comeback year has been fueled by a major improvement against "soft" pitches -- curveballs, sliders and changeups. Take a look at his slugging percentage by location against soft stuff during his down 2011, and then this season. Ethier didn't make loud contact against breaking and off-speed pitches last year unless the pitcher left it right down the middle of the plate. This year, he's killing anything in the zone:

Ethier's slugging percentage by location vs. soft stuff, 2011

 

Ethier's slugging percentage by location vs. soft stuff, 2012

Ethier slugged .366 against soft stuff in 2011, well below the .391 average for qualified hitters. In 2012, however, his .560 slugging percentage versus soft stuff ranks in the top 20 among MLB hitters:

Highest slugging percentage against soft stuff, 2012

BatterSlugging Pct.
Josh Hamilton .712
Matt Holliday .643
Mark Trumbo .630
Joey Votto .625
Mike Stanton .620
Ryan Braun .602
Michael Cuddyer .602
Carlos Gonzalez .592
Adam Jones .591
Dayan Viciedo .591
Bryan LaHair .589
Josh Reddick .588
Kyle Seager .576
Prince Fielder .574
A. J. Pierzynski .571
Robinson Cano .570
Andre Ethier .560
Jed Lowrie .553
Mark Teixeira .549
Matt Wieters .547

 

While Ethier's power has returned following a tepid 2011 season, recent history suggests that the Dodgers might end up paying their right fielder superstar money for mediocre offensive production. 

Ethier has a 129 OPS+ in 1,388 plate appearances from age 28 to 30 so far. Per Baseball-Reference, seven other corner outfielders (Shawn Green, Trot Nixon, Brad Hawpe, Pat Burrell, Ryan Ludwick, Jayson Werth, Luke Scott) put up similar lines to Ethier at the same age over the past decade, with an age 28-30 OPS+ between 125 and 135.

Their collective OPS+ at age 31 was 117. It dropped to 103 at age 32 and 99 at age 33. Green, Nixon and Burrell retired before age 35. And while Hawpe, Ludwick, Werth and Scott are still active, Werth looks like the only guy assured a roster spot by his mid-30s.Considering that Ethier derives all of his value from his bat (he has been five runs below average per 150 defensive games played in the outfield, according to Ultimate Zone Rating), that list of comps is troubling.

L.A. has deeper coffers with Magic and company now in the owner's box, but the Dodgers might have been better served by using the cash infusion to chase other free agent outfielders like B.J. Upton, Michael Bourn or Shane Victorino (if not Josh Hamilton), going after an ace like Cole Hamels or Zack Greinke, or locking up their own ace, Clayton Kershaw, for the long term. Ethier's deal might not preclude such spending, but he'll have to buck history to avoid become a drag on the payroll.

Monday
Jun042012

Inside A.J. Ellis' Breakout Season

The first-place Los Angeles Dodgers are enjoying MVP-caliber production from an up-the-middle position player. It's just coming from the guy no one would have expected. While Matt Kemp's hamstring has forced him to the DL for the second time this season, catcher A.J. Ellis has kept L.A.'s offense humming by hitting .315/.430/.503.

The 31-year-old Ellis, taken in the 18th round of the 2003 draft, was an on-base machine in the minors (career .406 OBP) but showed little power (.380 slugging percentage) and seemed destined to toil as a big league backup. Instead, he has grabbed the starting job by pairing his trademark plate discipline with surprising pop. Ellis has hit six home runs in 2012, already closing in on the career-best eight he managed in Double-A back in 2007. This unlikely slugger is killing pitchers who challenge him inside. Check out Ellis' slugging percentage by pitch location:

Ellis' slugging percentage by pitch location, 2012Ellis is slugging .789 versus inside pitches, trailing just Josh Hamilton (.891) and Josh Willingham (.871) among all MLB hitters. Five of Ellis' homers have come on inside offerings, including the Alex White sinker that the Dodgers backstop ripped over the left field fence yesterday afternoon against the Rockies.

It's highly unlikely that a 30-something catcher with little history of power hitting (19 shots in over 2,100 minor league plate appearances) can continue to channel vintage Mike Piazza. But Ellis' sharp eye should continue to make him an asset to the Dodgers. And if the power does persist, L.A. could have another up-the-middle All-Star on its squad.

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