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Entries in Los Angeles Dodgers (49)

Thursday
Sep082011

A Good Month for James Loney 

Over the last month of baseball, Dodgers first baseman James Loney leads the majors with a .457 weighted on-base average.  In 102 plate appearances, Loney has amassed 34 hits, 4 home runs, and 12 walks for a line of .386/.460/.636.

(Click image to enlarge)

The one area Loney has been cold is basically right over the heart of the plate and slightly in.  Looking at the slugging heat map for the rest of the league's lefty hitters over the last month, you can see that most like the ball in that area.

Loney has feasted on pitches up in the zone, hitting .421 with a .789 SLG in 57 PA over the last month.  He's hitting balls down in the zone equally well.  In 36 PA decided on a low pitch, Loney has collected 15 hits, including 5 doubles and 1 HR.

Tuesday
Aug232011

Andre Ethier's Power Outage

From 2008-2010, Andre Ethier established himself as one of the better power hitters in the National League. The Dodgers outfielder clubbed an average of about 25 home runs per season, slugging .504 in the process. But as L.A. languishes in 15th place among NL clubs in run scoring this year, Ethier has gone deep just 10 times while slugging .416. The lefty hasn't hit a homer since July 25, a stretch of 88 at-bats.

A major reason for Ethier's power outage is that he's not driving pitches thrown inside and at the knees like he usually does. From '08 to '10, he golfed low-and-inside pitches for extra bases:

Ethier's in-play slugging percentage by pitch location, 2008-2010 Ethier slugged .469 against pitches thrown low and inside over that three-year stretch, besting the .343 league average for lefties by a considerable margin. But in 2011, that hot spot has disappeared:

Ethier's in-play slugging percentage by pitch location, 2011He's slugging a paltry .188 against low-and-inside offerings, without a single homer hit on a pitch thrown in that location.  

The Dodgers have a difficult decision to make with Ethier after this season. The 29-year-old is pulling down $9.25 million this year, and he's got one year of arbitration eligibility remaining before he hits free agency after 2012. Even with a tepid season so far, Ethier will easily make eight figures in 2012 should he go to arbitration.

If the Dodgers think his power will recover, then Ethier is likely worth the cash. If not, the cash-strapped club might choose to let someone else pay for a lumbering corner outfielder with mid-range pop.

Friday
Jul222011

Clayton Kershaw's Platoon-Proof Slider

Is the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw the best starting pitcher in baseball? If not, he's in the discussion. The 23-year-old left-hander has taken yet another step forward this season, increasing his strikeout rate, issuing fewer free passes and posting a 2.39 fielding independent ERA (FIP) that's bested by that of only Roy Halladay. Kershaw is enjoying his best season yet by shutting down right-handed hitters, and he's doing it with a wicked, platoon-proof slider.

Kershaw has long been death on fellow lefties, but his numbers against opposite-handed hitters have improved dramatically

Kershaw versus right-handed hitters:

2008: 1.71 strikeout-to-walk ratio, .269 batting average/.349 on-base percentage/.393 slugging percentage

2009: 1.41 K/BB ratio, .208/.325/.291

2010: 2.13 K/BB ratio, .218/.301/.298

2011: 4.52 K/BB ratio, .221/.271/.316

Basically, Kershaw is turning every righty hitter that he faces into the 2011 version of Alex Rios. Those righties are hitting his fastball pretty well, with a .314/.368/.432 line against the pitch that's well above the .273/.351/.431 average for righty batters versus lefty fastballs. But Kershaw's slider is another story.

Kershaw is using his slider against righ-handers 22 percent of the time this year, compared to 19 percent in 2010, five percent in 2009 and less than one percent in 2008. Righties just plain can't make contact with the pitch.

First, here's the average contact rate for right-handed hitters against left-handed sliders:

Now, here's the contact rate for righties against Kershaw's slider:

Right-handers have missed 41 percent of the time that they have pulled the trigger on a Kershaw slider, compared to the 28 percent average for righty hitters versus lefty sliders.

What makes Kershaw's slider so remarkable is that it's a killer pitch against batters swinging from both sides of the plate. Overall, sliders have one of the largest platoon splits of any pitch, with opposite-handed hitters faring much better against the offering. In 2011, left-handed pitchers have a .183/.212/.258 line against left-handed hitters when throwing a slider. Right-handed batters have a .207/.255/.326 slash against lefty sliders. But Kershaw's slider? Lefties are hitting .130/.167/.196, and righties have an even worse .087/.120/.173 line.

Most pitchers can't shut down opposite-handed batters with the slider, but Kershaw seems to be the exception to the rule. His increased use of that hard breaker and subsequent improvement against right-handers puts Kershaw in the same class as the Halladays, Lees and Lincecums of the world.