The Dodgers Are Still A Flawed Team

The Los Angeles Dodgers have won the bidding for superstar SS/3B Manny Machado and added him to a star-studded lineup. An organization that has won five straight NL West titles and reached Game 7 of the World Series a year ago was already being measured by one standard—winning it all. Now the pressure has been kicked up a few more notches. But when I look at this team, I just don’t see a World Series-or-bust club. Consider the following…

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*The Dodgers don’t get a lot of work from their starting pitchers. In doing a statistical review, I was surprised to see Los Angeles leading the National League in starters’ ERA. One step of further research shed some more light—they’re only 12th in the NL in innings pitched from their starters. That’s a lot of work to put on a bullpen over the course of a long season.

*Perhaps it’s not surprising then, that the bullpen is starting to show some nicks and cracks. Josh Fields, Tony Cingrani and Pedro Baez are all dealing with an assortment of injuries. I don’t want to overreact here—none of these arms are irreplaceable and none of the injuries are long-term. But when you put as much pressure on a pen as Los Angeles does, you need all hands on deck and the chances of injury certainly increase.

*The Dodgers don’t hit in key situations. They rank 5th in the National League in runs scored, in spite of being higher than that in the two most important categories, on-base percentage (4th) and slugging percentage (2nd). Once again, a little further research illuminated why—with runners on scoring position and two outs, Los Angeles’ batting average is one of the worst in the league.

This stat would instigate debates in baseball circles between sabermetric types, who see it all as random luck, and old-school observers, who see it as something more. I have mixed feelings on this—in general, I agree with the sabermetric school here. If you’re putting runners on base and hitting for power, odds are your rankings here will eventually align with runs scored.

But nothing is truly random after nearly four months of baseball and a breakdown of the Dodgers’ team hitting profile makes this anomaly seem less random. They hit home runs, drive doubles and take their walks. All of that will give you a good OBP and slugging and make sure an offense is steadily creating scoring opportunities. But the batting average specifically ranks only 11th.

The ability to simply get a base hit is going to define a team’s success at closing rallies. It’s one thing if the team batting average is generally good, except when there’s two outs. I’d dismiss that as randomness. But that’s not the case here—the Dodgers simply aren’t very good at getting simple singles. In most cases, a walk as as good as a single. Not with two outs and men in scoring position. And that’s an area that’s enormous in determining playoff success.

Los Angeles clearly has their strengths. With the addition of Machado, they have 11 everyday players that are playoff-caliber starters. They’re in first place in a tough four-team NL West fight in spite of Clayton Kershaw missing a lot of the first half. He’s now healthy. They have a manager, Dave Roberts, who squeezes the most of out his pitching staff.

All of that is reason to respect the Dodgers chances. It’s not a reason to assume they’re a top-heavy favorite to win the division (as current betting odds show). Two weeks ago, I wrote about the Giants, currently four games out and I tend to see these two rivals as basically even. I see Los Angeles as a step below the Chicago Cubs in class. The Dodgers certainly have a legitimate chance, but I wouldn’t bet on them. Not unless there’s more moves coming in the next twelve days.