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Entries in Los Angeles Dodgers (49)

Friday
Sep202013

Hanley Killing Soft Stuff, Chasing the Flying Dutchman

According to the man himself, 2013 has been the best year of Hanley Ramirez's career. And, while the Dodgers shortstop has played in just 81 games due to thumb, hamstring and back ailments, it's easy to see why. The Marlins refugee is going to the playoffs for the first time ever, as L.A. clinched the National League West last night behind Ramirez's 19th and 20th home runs of the season. His park-and-league adjusted on-base-plus slugging percentage is a career-best 94 percent above average (194 OPS+). That's tops among batters taking at least 300 trips to the plate this year and is the second-best OPS+ ever for a shortstop with at least 300 plate appearances in a season. Who's first? Some dude named Honus.

Highest single-season OPS+ for shortstops, min. 300 PA

Source: Baseball-Reference.com

How is Hanley, who rarely made an impact at the plate the previous two seasons (101 OPS+ in 2011-12), hitting like The Flying Dutchman? By taking to the air, of course. Ramirez is lofting far more "soft" pitches (curveballs, sliders and changeups) and depositing them deep into the left field at Chavez Ravine.

Last year, Ramirez hit a ground ball about half of the time that he put a curve, slider or changeup into play, above the 46% major league average. All of those weak choppers led to a .363 slugging percentage versus breaking and off-speed stuff, slightly below the .372 MLB average.

Ramirez's slugging percentage vs. soft pitches, 2012

This year, though? Ramirez is hitting grounders just 34% of the time against soft pitches. He's making those extra fly balls and line drives count, too.

Ramirez's slugging percentage vs. soft pitches, 2013

Ramirez is slugging .711 against soft stuff, trailing only home run king Chris Davis (.725) among big league hitters seeing at least 450 breaking and off-speed pitches in 2013. Compared to Hanley, even Rookie of the Year contender and break-dance enthusiast Yasiel Puig (.576) looks pedestrian. Enjoy the pool party, Hanley. When you're clubbing pitches like Honus Wagner, you've earned a few post-game cannonballs.

Friday
Aug162013

Dodgers Turnaround Part 2: Pitching

The other day, I kicked off this mini-series about the Dodgers by diving into the offense with regards to what has made them one of the best teams in the game this season.

Today, we move onto pitching.

The first part of the LA pitching season was ugly.

The starters were so-so

One would think that a Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke fronted rotation shouldn't have any problems performing well. And to a point, the starting rotation has not been overly bad. Kershaw will find himself in the middle of the Cy Young Award voting again this season. Greinke got off to a slow start, but also missed time with a broken collarbone thanks to Carlos Quentin.

The contribution that helped the most in the rotation at the beginning of the season, was that of Hyun-jin Ryu

Through the 21st of June, the Korean import's ERA of 2.96 trailed only Kershaw among Dodger starters. With a 21.2% K-rate and K/BB of 2.92, Ryu was making the Dodgers front office look brilliant for investing $61-plus million (Posting fee, $25+ million. Contract, $36 million) in the 26 year old left hander.

The starting rotation was around the middle of the pack in the NL in most categories.

But the bullpen, well...

Through June 21st, the bullpen's ERA was 13th in the National League. It's WHIP was 14th. It's OPS against was 13th. Slugging against, 12th. Do you catch my drift?

Of course, when any bullpen is doing terrible, all eyes look to the closer.

And as the closer, Brandon League was all kinds of not good during the first three months of the season.

League was 14/18 in save chances through late June, and got tuned up by opposing offenses who posted a slash line of .300/.352/.455 against him. Or roughly, Allen Craig-like. League's unsightly 5.14 ERA and 1.464 WHIP eventually got him demoted from the closer role. But as a team, the relief pitching blew 15 save opportunities through June 21st. It's easy to point and laugh at League's non-production, but the late innings were a mess for the Dodgers, and it nearly cost manager Don Mattingly his job.

But then came Kenley Jansen.

Yup, Kenley Jansen. Just your typical, run-of-the-mill, completely dominant closer. I would list the stats for Jansen, but I'd rather just stare at the stat table embedded below with you. We can clean each other's drool off of the table.

Jansen by the numbers
 AVGSLUGOBPHRWHIPK%BB%ERA
Kenley Jansen .181 .278 .228 5 0.817 37.3% 4.6% 1.98
   

The Curacao native has been nearly untouchable for the Dodgers throughout July and August, allowing only four earned runs and blowing one save in that time span. 

He may not have Mariano Rivera's cutter, But when you are using it 83.7% of the time, and the results above are what you are getting, it must be something special. 

Along with Jansen anchoring the back end of the bullpen, the rest of the Dodgers relievers have stepped in line to make sure that he gets the ball in the ninth inning. Well, except for League, his ERA since the team became ridiculous good is 4.96. Thanks for nothing, Brandon.

Ronald Belisario has appeared in 25 games since June 21st. His ERA over that span is 0.90. His WHIP is 1.000. Chris Withrow has appeared in 11 games and has an ERA of 1.59 with a WHIP of 0.765. J.P. Howell has an ERA of 0.52 and a WHIP of 0.981. In 24 games, Paco Rodriguez has an ERA of 0.47 and a WHIP of 0.569.

That's five relievers if you include Jansen who have a sub-2.00 ERA and WHIP's at 1.000 or below.

The game is over after four

As a unit the relief corp since June 22nd ranks first in the NL in ERA (2.67), first in WHIP (1.041), third in OPS against (.663) and their K/BB of 3.61 is pacing the NL as well. In theory, that means that every game where the Dodgers have a lead after four innings, should be nearly automatic, and starters could be used less.

But that would mean a lot less Kershaw and his 7-2 record. What's that? You think pitchers wins are silly too? How about an ERA of 1.40, a WHIP of 0.649 and a K-Rate of 25.5% to go along with his 7-2 record over his 10 starts since June 21st? I may have said it before, but just in case I haven't, Clayton Kershaw is good. Like, really really good. I could probably write about him everyday. 

And his number two, Zack Greinke, has been a legitimate number one. He's 8-1 over his last 11 starts to go along with a 2.25 ERA and 1.092 WHIP. A big money offseason signing that worked. I wish my team had one of those. 

The Dodgers are on a run where they are 42-9 since June 21st. 42-9! The Tampa Bay Rays were recently called the "hottest team in baseball." Their record since June 21st is 31-16. The Atlanta Braves just rattled off 14 consecutive wins. Their record? 32-16. 

No team can touch what the Dodgers have been doing for the last eight weeks.

Nobody.

Tuesday
Aug132013

The Dodgers Turnaround Part 1: Offense

On June 21st, the Dodgers lost to the Padres dropping their record to 30-42 and leaving them 9.5 games behind the NL West leading Diamondbacks. Their team record $223 million payroll was buying the team nothing but a spot at the bottom of their weak division. And it wasn't just one part of the team that was performing below expectations, this was a team effort.

Since that date, the Dodgers have gone 39-8. Good enough for a winning percentage of .826 during that span. 

It took the entire team to fail. And it has taken the entire team to push itself back into contention.

Offense first

After play concluded on 6/21, the Dodgers offense was among the worst in the National League. The team's .696 OPS (11th in the NL at the time), was dragged sown by a team slugging percentage of .375. Which was good for 13th in the NL. Right ahead of the Mets and the Marlins.

Although the entire offense was offensive, none drew more ire than three-hole hitter, Matt Kemp.

Through 51 games, Kemp had two, TWO home runs.

This was the same player who two seasons ago was nearly a 40-40 player. And here he was struggling through 51 games with a slash line of .251/.305/.335. That .335 SLG percentage was only 11 points better than his 2011 batting average. And if the pitch wasn't right down the middle, Matt Kemp was getting weak contact.

Kemp wasn't the only offender. His target was just the biggest.

Andre Ethier was disappointing as well through the third week in June. His slash line of .254/.335/.377 was well below his career numbers: .288/.361/.468.

The Dodgers tried to inject some life into the lineup with a June 3rd callup of Yasiel Puig (you may have heard of him) who got off to a kind of OK start with a .455/.478/.773 slash line in the 17 games he played in leading up to 6/21. 

So, how have the Dodgers performed since getting hot?

What's the opposite of terrible?

First things first, the Dodgers brought back the thunder to the lineup.

Since 6/21, their team slugging percentage has been .427. That's the best in the NL for that time period.

Ditto for batting average (.287) and OPS (.773). They may be getting a smidge lucky with a team BABIP of .336 (NL average is .296), but with a team-wide line drive rate of 23.8% since 6/21, the higher BABIP should be expected.

Remember how terrible Matt Kemp was earlier?

Yeah, he's been almost a non-factor since then. But in the 37 at bats he has had since 6/21 (AKA, a super-duper small sample size), he is hitting a robust .324/.390/.622. I give credit where it is due, but Kemp hasn't been the one pulling this train.

That would be Hanley Ramirez.

Although currently dealing with a sore shoulder after crashing into the wall while playing in Wrigley Field last week, Hanley has been crushing pitchers to the tune of a .356/.415/.651 slash line since late June. And with runners in scoring position, Ramirez is literally the last Dodger an opposing pitcher wants to see at the plate with a .412/.524/.824 slash line with RISP during this run of success for the Dodgers. 

But it takes more than one man to win in baseball.

Just ask the Angels and Mike Trout.

Other offensive stars during that time frame include Puig (.341/.421/.518) and Adrian Gonzalez (.289/.325/.463). Even Zack Grienke has gotten into the act of hitting with a .450/.542/.550 slash line in 28 PA. Which was good enough for manager, Don Mattingly, to name him as an option to pinch hit.

The Dodgers are averaging 4.85 runs per game during this stretch of dominance, which, well, with the pitching staff that they have, that should be plenty.

We'll talk about the Dodgers pitching next.

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