Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The Hidden Issue in the Dodger Bullpen

Photo courtesy of dodgersnation.com
If you’re a Dodger fan, at this point you’re most likely just waiting for the regular season to end and the playoffs to commence.  Not to say it hasn’t been fun for you watching the team steamroll through almost any opponent thrown at them at an almost historic pace, the real test is always going to be the playoffs.  In recent years emphasis has been placed on relief pitching in the playoffs and the Dodgers’ bullpen currently comes equipped with the third lowest ERA, fourth lowest FIP, third highest K/9, and the lowest BB/9 in the entire MLB.  They’re leading all those categories amongst teams in the National League.  Needless to say, they’ve been good and a big reason why when the Dodgers have a lead, they usually don’t lose (unless they’re playing their kryptonite, the Braves).


There’s been talks of what the Dodgers’ rotation is going to look like come October with the recently acquired Yu Darvish.  Clayton Kershaw, if healthy, is the no brainer number 1.  After that it’s a question of not only who, but how many.  Last year’s playoffs saw the Dodgers stick to a 4 man rotation consisting of Kershaw, Kenta Maeda, Rich Hill, and Julio Urias.  However, in 2015 the playoff rotation in the NLDS against the Mets featured just 3 in Kershaw, Zack Greinke, and Brett Anderson.  This year with the acquisition of Yu Darvish, the Dodgers have somebody with a similar pedigree of a Zack Greinke and with the way Alex Wood has thrown, he’s pitching just as effectively too.  Whether they go with 3 or 4, somebody is going to be the odd man out and most likely be used in the bullpen.  Not only that, but with the amount of starting pitchers currently on the Dodgers’ payroll, it’s possible they would want some of them in the bullpen anyway and it might be to their benefit if you look closely at two relievers in particular.


Pedro Baez has been an enigma in the bullpen in recent years but this year for the most part he’s found a way to be effective.  Some will look at his 1.89 ERA and be impressed seeing as that is a pretty low number for a pitcher and much improved for Baez.  Look a little further and the ERA sticks out as kind of dubious.  Pedro Baez currently has his lowest K/9 since his debut year in 2014, his highest BB/9, and his highest FIP and xFIP ever.  The biggest change this year though?  Pedro Baez’s LOB% is at 94.4%, a career best and is 20% higher than the average for a reliever.  The amount of hard hit balls has not changed drastically off of him and his ground ball rate is also under league average...all of this seems to point to something giving way at some point.  There has only been one season in Baez’s career where his ERA has been higher than his FIP and with almost nothing changing to suggest a drop in ERA of almost a run and a half, it might benefit the Dodgers to go with somebody like Kenta Maeda, Hyun-Jin Ryu, or Brandon McCarthy come October.


Baez isn’t the only one of concern in this department either, Josh Fields is also having a very similar season to Pedro Baez.  Josh Fields K/9 and BB/9 are actually better than league average for a reliever and in line with his averages, but the concerns start to crop up when you look at the same thing: LOB%.  Josh Field’s LOB% is sitting at 93%, that is 3rd in the MLB among qualified relievers (Pedro sits at 2nd).  Not only that, but Josh Fields’ ground ball percentage of 26.8% is the 3rd worst in the MLB, only behind teammate Chris Hatcher and the Cubs’ Koji Uehara.  When you look at the leaderboard for LOB%, their names start to stick out amongst the others like Craig Kimbrel, Archie Bradley, and Corey Knebel (Knebel and Kimbrel being All Stars, Bradley leading the Diamondbacks’ bullpen in fWAR).  It’s hard to keep a LOB% of 90 even if you’re among the elite in the game, and none of Pedro Baez’s or Josh Fields’ stats seem to indicate that they’ve been among the elite besides that LOB% and to an extent ERA (which is problematic for relievers as it is).  While Pedro’s BABIP this year is of less concern in this department as it is around his career average, Josh Fields’ is almost .80 points lower than his average and that could be of a concern come October when a ball in play might just fall in for a hit in a crucial part of the game.


Of course all of this is just guesswork and hypothesis, Baez and Fields have not faltered enough to be a large detriment to the bullpen.  All these numbers are evidence but none factor in the human element of the game and come October if they’re still maintaining their LOB% and other supplementary stats to be effective, they might earn the spot on the playoff roster.  It’s baseball and crazier things have happened than going an entire year with very good luck when it counts.  However, the Dodgers’ managerial staff led by Dave Roberts has not been known to be very cookie cutter and by the books (just ask Rich Hill and Ross Stripling when they were taken out of their perfect game/no hit bids).  If the more advanced analytical front office has any say (and they have access to the same numbers, if not more detailed ones) there might be some hurt feelings for the best later in the season.

The Dodgers are sitting on a wealth of pitchers in their rotation.  Health is a factor for some, but when Kershaw comes back from his back problem and if McCarthy gets his blister under control, there are plenty of solid choices to go into the bullpen for a Postseason run.  The Dodgers have already started top prospect Walker Buehler on a transition to the bullpen to be ready for the major leagues later in the year.  Kenta Maeda and Brandon McCarthy alone have a better FIP than both Fields and Baez and Hyun-Jin Ryu since late June has been terrific.  Even if 1 of those names is kept as an emergency long-man for the postseason (even though Ross Stripling has done very nicely in that role), the Dodgers still can replace Baez and Fields and take their bullpen from arguably one of the best to the absolute best when the games start to matter.

All stats current as of 8/9/17

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The 2016 Dodgers and the Dreaded Left Handed PItcher


It's no secret that 2016 was a terrible year for Dodger hitters against left handed pitching.  The narrative followed them throughout the season as they struggled to find any offensive success against southpaws.  Just how bad was it?  The Dodgers were last in all of baseball against lefties in average (.213) on-base percentage (.290), slugging (.332.  Combining all three naturally gave them the lowest OPS too, a .622), and wRC+ (72).  Basically every major offensive statistic you can think of the Dodgers were dead last or near the bottom.

Of the 11 Dodgers who had at least 50 plate appearances against lefties, only 2 had a wRC+ over 100, Yasmani Grandal (120) and Yasiel Puig (110).  Looking back to 2015, 9 of 12 Dodgers who reached at least 50 plate appearances against lefties had a wRC+ against lefties of at least 100 or more.  The most notable drops from 2015 to 2016 were Kiké Hernandez (234 in 2015 to an 85), AJ Ellis (157 in 2015 to a 71), Adrian Gonzalez (120 in 2015 to a 67), and Justin Turner (111 in 2015 to a 77).  All had spectacular to above average offense and all saw sharp declines in offensive production in just one year.  Left off this list is Scott Van Slyke who had a 124 wRC+ in 2015 but was injured through most of 2016 and saw limited action vs. lefties with only 42 plate appearances (he had a 100 wRC+ in those PAs).  Just moving from 2015 to 2016, the Dodgers' batting average dropped 50 points versus left handed pitching.

A 149 point drop in wRC+ is only 11 points away from
the total weight of Alexi Amarista.
This means absolutely nothing
So what was the issue?  Looking at their BABIP versus lefties, things start to look peculiar.  The Dodgers BABIP (batting average for balls put in play) in 2016 versus lefties was a major league worst .260.  For comparison, their BABIP versus righties was .307, good for 7th in the majors and a leap of .047 points.  That .260 BABIP mark versus lefties was also the lowest mark the Dodgers have posted in the last 15 seasons.  Over those 15 seasons the Dodgers' average BABIP versus left handed pitching was .297, a .037 increase from their 2016 mark.  In fact their BABIP versus lefties had never dropped under .283 until the 2016 season.  The past three seasons, 2014-2016, line drive percentage, ground ball percentage, and fly ball percentage were very similar and their BABIP versus lefties was .294 in 2014 and .312 in 2015.  While it's an easy excuse to chalk certain things up to luck of the game, the numbers certainly point to some massive bad luck with BABIP against lefties.

This offseason, the Dodgers added a couple of right handed batters in the form of Logan Forsythe and Darin Ruf that look to help the Dodgers when it comes to left handed pitching.  Darin Ruf in 318 major league plate appearances stretched over a few years has put up a 151 wRC+ against lefties while Logan Forsythe has a 127 wRC+ against lefties in his 722 major league plate appearances.  If players like Trayce Thompson and Scott Van Slyke also stay healthy, the threat of left handed pitchers will be alleviated even more as well.  But 2016 in terms of the players that played and will stay with the Dodgers in 2017, it might just be an outlier.  Taking away ABs from Adrian Gonzalez and Joc Pederson versus lefties will also help dramatically if Trayce Thompson and Darin Ruf can do what the front office believes they are capable of doing.  Justin Turner's wRC+ had also not dipped below 100 since his arrival in LA but has dropped each of the last three years and will probably see his numbers versus lefties improve with the lingering injuries that were bothering him early last season.  Kiké Hernandez's 2015 will probably not be replicated as his BABIP was astronomical and it was the only season that he ever put up numbers like that in the bigs.  But any improvement against left handed pitching that is seen from anywhere will gladly be taken.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Dodgers' Quiet Winter Meeting No Cause for Alarm

The 2016 MLB Winter Meetings concluded on Thursday and while a handful of teams found themselves overhauling and unloading, the Dodgers weren't among them.  The big move made by the Dodgers being the 3 year deal Rich Hill signed for $48 million but aside from that there was only speculation and rumor.  The big free agents from the Dodgers, Kenley Jansen and Justin Turner, have been thrown about in rumors but with Turner and Jansen in Curacao for Jansen's wedding, no progress has been made on a deal for either.  Leaving the Winter Meetings, the Dodgers find themselves in need of a second baseman, a third baseman, and a closer.  Turner is without doubt the most attractive third baseman in free agency and with Mark Melancon and Aroldis Chapman signing record deals for free agent relievers, Jansen now sits pretty aiming for a similar deal if not more.  Second base is currently also a mystery as Chase Utley remains unsigned and Howie Kendrick having been traded to the Phillies. While a quiet Winter Meeting from the Dodgers' front office might cause some concern among the fanbase about the team's current state, just remember that even last year's meetings were fairly uneventful for the Dodgers (with some notable differences).

2015's Winter Meetings saw the Dodgers drop many deals and only walk away with a signing of Chase Utley.  Hisashi Iwakuma was supposedly signed but the contract was turned down by the Dodgers after concerns in his physical and the Aroldis Chapman trade fell through from allegations of domestic violence that led to his suspension.  This is not to say the 2015 offseason wasn't a failure by any means for the Dodgers after they scored a very nice deal on Kenta Maeda, signed Scott Kazmir, Howie Kendrick, Joe Blanton, and also traded to acquire Trayce Thompson and Micah Johnson.  Most of those names contributed pretty significantly to the Dodgers in 2016 and all moves were made after the Winter Meetings.  While the Dodgers seemed more active last year in trying to make moves, when it was all said and done they weren't walking away with many key transactions.

Make no mistake, the Dodgers are certainly not done addressing their needs in this offseason.  With the big meetings out of the way, the front office is no doubt looking at the dust settling and which teams are ready to make a trade or which free agents are fit for the team.  Rumors have circulated that the White Sox and Dodgers have talked Todd Frazier and David Robertson and the Dodgers have also been linked to the Twins for second baseman Brian Dozier.  Losing Justin and Turner and Kenley Jansen could be big blows as both were fan favorites (especially with Kenley Jansen just coming off setting the all time save record for the Dodgers) but with a relatively weak free agent market for infielders a trade would be the best bet if the price is not right on either of them.  Expect something big in the coming months and when the New Year starts don't be surprised if it brings with it some new faces around the diamond.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Remembering Hisashi Iwakuma: How the Dodgers Maeda Good Move


Almost one year ago during the 2015 offseason, you might recall the Dodgers having a few problems acquiring players.  Most notably was the Aroldis Chapman trade with the that Reds fell through due to domestic violence allegations coming to light, however you might also recall the Dodgers' attempts to get Seattle Mariners' righty Hisashi Iwakuma.  The deal was all but complete at 3 years, $45 million when reports of a failed physical caused the Dodgers to back out of the agreed upon deal.  Iwakuma had issues with a lat strain and reports of decline on his fastball velocity were probably big factors in the Dodgers' front office nixing the deal and looking elsewhere.

Fast forward to a month later, the Dodgers won the bidding war for Kenta Maeda and signed him to a rather unorthodox, incentive laden deal.  An 8 year deal with only $25 million in guaranteed money (along with a $20 million posting fee to his former team the Hiroshima Carp) was a bit surprising when many thought he'd command much more guaranteed.  It was seen as an incredibly team friendly contract that would prevent the Dodgers from getting burned too much if Maeda ended up getting hurt and was unable to accrue his performance bonuses.  So just for fun, let's look at the performance and money involved in both of these pitchers in 2016.

We'll start with Hisashi Iwakuma.  The original agreed upon contract the Dodgers had with him was for 3 years and $45 million (average of $15 million per year).  Although he failed the Dodgers' physical, Iwakuma did not miss any starts in 2016 and started 33 games totaling 199 innings pitched.  Iwakuma finished with a a 4.12 ERA, 147 strikeouts to 49 walks, a WHIP of 1.33, and a FIP and xFIP of 4.27 and 4.41 respectively.  The ERA was a career high and his K/9 at 6.65 had never dipped below a 7 until this year.  Reports of declining fastball might have contributed as his fastball runs above average dipped into the negatives for the first time in his career (and have showed a decline each year since his breakout year in 2013).  An fWAR of 2.4 and a bWAR of 2.6 were the final tallies for him on the year.  Last year, teams were willing to spend on average $7.7 million per WAR for a player which puts the $15 million a year on average a pretty spot on price point for his production (Iwakuma ended up making $11 million on his deal he re-signed with the Mariners making the contract even better).

Now for the interesting part with Kenta Maeda and his performance and contract.  Maeda finished the 2016 season making 32 starts and 175.2 innings pitched.  He totaled 179 strikeouts to 56 walks, a 3.48 ERA, a WHIP of 1.14, and a FIP and xFIP of 3.58 and 3.70 respectively.  With a 3.3 fWAR and 2.4 bWAR, Maeda had a very solid first year in the MLB.  Among qualified starting pitchers, his K/9 was 13th in all of the MLB and he was 16th in WHIP.  While he faltered toward the end of the season and in the playoffs, he was still a very integral part of the Dodgers injury plagued season.  Maeda's contract is an interesting one but he met some pretty big milestones to net him more than just the guaranteed $3 million a year.  Since he made 32 starts, Maeda netted himself an extra $6.5 million.  His 170 innings pitched got him an extra $2.25 million and just making the opening day roster got him a $150,000 bonus.  All in all Maeda's incentives made him about $12 million this year or basically just a small bit (only in baseball is a million difference small...) difference from Hisashi Iwakuma.  Depending on which WAR you look at, Maeda made right in line with his contract value or played even above it.  Because they play in different leagues and ballparks, you might be hesitant to compare the numbers at face value but if you're into advanced statistics Maeda's ERA+ (ERA adjusted to the ballpark pitched in) was 112 (12 runs above average) and Hishashi Iwakuma's was 99 (1 run below average).  It should also be noted that Fangraphs ERA- (ERA adjusted to league as well as ballpark) favored Iwakuma more with a 102 compared to Maeda's 88.

None of these comparisons might amount to much ground breaking information but it's interesting to look back and see how what seemed to be the contingency plan of Maeda after the Iwakuma deal fell through worked out.  The results of the Dodgers' season certainly speak to that as Maeda was the most consistent starter to make it through the year in terms of actually making starts (Kazmir was second on the team in games started with 26, a difference of basically a month's worth of starts).  Iwakuma, while trending downwards from recent years, still put up fairly solid numbers in the American League with more innings thrown than Maeda (which may have been valuable with the how the Dodgers' starting pitching did not go deep into games).  Maeda's peripherals and age seem to suggest that Maeda will have more success in the future and that's why it made a lot of sense and has been so far a very good move for the Dodgers.  Whether Iwakuma would've done better or worse for the Dodgers in 2016 is anyone's guess but regardless the alternative certainly has been fun to watch.

Let's see you do this, Iwakuma!


Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Clayton Kershaw Didn't Let the Dodgers Down


It's been a few days since the Dodgers were bumped from the Playoffs in the NLCS by the Chicago Cubs, but the wound is still fresh for Dodger fans.  After jumping to a 2-1 lead in the best of 7 series, the Dodgers failed to capitalize and fell off dramatically not making the next three games close at all.  Outscored 23-6 in Games 4, 5, and 6, it was a tough blow after a very intense and close start to the series.  A lot has been made of the final game of the series across the internet because it was a Playoff game and it involved Clayton Kershaw, a topic of debate for many over the years.  Kershaw has been called a "choker" and it doesn't take much searching to find image macros galore making fun of him and his Postseason performance.

However, this year in particular it's hard to fault him for pretty much anything regarding the Dodgers' fate.  Out of the 5 wins the Dodgers had in the 2016 Postseason, only one of them didn't involve an appearance by Clayton Kershaw (Game 3 of the NLCS).  But this is the Postseason and every loss hurts 10x worse but that should also mean every win is 10x better and Kershaw gave the Dodgers' every opportunity he could through his dominance and struggles this Postseason.

In total, Kershaw threw 24.1 innings in the 2016 Postseason (12.1 in the NLDS and 12 in the NLCS).  In those 24.1 IP, Kershaw racked up 29 strikeouts to just 4 walks.  That's an 11.2 K/9 and a 7.25 K/B ratio which is essentially the same as Kershaw's entire 2015 season (AKA pretty damn good).  Where Kershaw wasn't as dominate in that series was in his ability to limit hitting.  In the NLDS, Kershaw gave up 15 hits in his 12.1 IP which is over 1 an inning (over 11 hits per 9 innings pitched, almost double his career average).  A lot has been brought to light about BABIP over the years and if that's not an extreme case in such a small sample size I don't know what is.  Even the 8 runs given up by Kershaw in that series are suspect because 3 of them came in Game 4 with the bullpen faltering and giving up each inherited runner Kershaw left on.  Yes he's the ace of the staff and yes he's considered the best pitcher in baseball but he's one man and the team should have his back just as much as he has theirs (and in the end the Dodgers won each game he appeared in).  The one loss Kershaw suffered in the entirety of the Postseason was of course in Game 6's elimination game which will in many's eyes make all of his success prior to that game go by the wayside (even though the Dodgers' offense and defense did him zero favors).  Never mind the fact that Kershaw threw 7 innings of 2 hit shutout baseball in Game 2 with only 1 run of support to help him out.  There were also 4 other games that series that Kershaw wasn't a factor in and the Dodgers were 1-3 in them. That's not Kershaw choking, that's the team letting Kershaw down and that was the theme this Postseason.

Whether it came from a few bad pitches from the bullpen, an offense that fell off the face of the Earth towards the end, or even the other starting pitchers not getting the job done, this was a team effort and a team failure.  Blaming Kershaw is extremely nearsighted and saying he choked is even more of an overreaction.  Without Kershaw, the Dodgers most likely don't even make it past the Nationals, let alone win a couple of games from the Cubs.  2016 was still a big year for the Dodgers who despite so many injuries and juggling of roster were able to make it farther than many thought they'd ever go.  With a slew of rookies getting their feet wet (including the skipper Dave Roberts) it's still a bright future for the Dodgers who should be ready for next year.  Don't let one single loss in this past Postseason spoil the fact that Clayton Kershaw will be the man to lead the Dodgers and there's no one better out there who can.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Turn Down the Runs: Is Justin Turner the Best Defensive Third Baseman in the National League?


If you've been following baseball for the past few years, you probably recognize the talent the game has at third base across the nation. Last year's MVP in the AL for the Blue Jays in Josh Donaldson, last year's NL Rookie of the Year for the Cubs in Kris Bryant, perennial gold glove winner for the Rockies' in Nolan Arenado, the list goes on and on. The Dodgers have had a low key superstar at the hot corner for the past few years in Justin Turner who came out of utility role obscurity from the New York Mets to become an integral part of the Dodgers' offense. Offense has been the big highlight for Turner's success the past 3 years with the Dodgers but 2016 is highlighting a different part of Turner's game: his defense.

Justin Turner so far in 2016 is giving the Rockies' Nolan Arenado a run for his money for the Gold Glove in the National League.  If this is coming as a surprise to you, let's take a look at the numbers so far.  Fangraphs has a Defense metric they use to weigh into their WAR calculations that is a "combination of two important factors of defensive performance: value relative to positional average (fielding runs) and positional value relative to other positions (positional adjustment)."  Justin Turner is currently leading all National League third basemen in this statistic (11.3) by a whole 3 points over second place Nolan Arenado (Turner is 3rd in the entirety of MLB behind former Dodger Adrian Beltre of the Rangers and Manny Machado of the Orioles).  The stat measures a 0 as average so the +11.3 Turner holds is an easy to see measure that Turner has been about 11 runs better than an average third baseman.  Also noteworthy is that "every ten runs (approximately) in each direction is a win above or below average."  

If you dive into the more in depth side of defensive metrics, UZR is also favoring Turner this year.  Among qualified third basemen in the majors, Turner is second overall and first in the National League.  Fangraphs' UZR/150 which measures UZR over a 150 game span has Turner tops in the MLB at third base.  There is one important defensive statistic that Turner has not been at the top of the NL and that is Defensive Runs Saved (DRS).  Turner is 2nd in the NL at a 6 while Nolan Arenado has been spectacular in this category sitting 1st place at 14 defensive runs saved.  If you're curious as to why Turner has been leading in DEF and UZR but lags way behind in DRS, it's because there are slight differences in the way UZR and DEF are measured.  Fangraphs' breakdown of DRS states "Defensive Runs Saved uses a rolling one-year basis for the Plus/Minus system, while UZR uses several years of data to determine each play’s difficulty level."

With all that being said, there's no denying that right now Turner has a strong case for the Gold Glove in the National League.  Nolan Arenado has won it every year he's been in the majors which can mean either voter fatigue or the Molina effect where he's the clear choice every year.  Arenado also currently has almost 100 more innings played in the field although it still stands that Turner has been more valuable in his innings according to DEF and UZR.  Defensive metrics have a tendency to fluctuate from year to year so while Justin Turner may not keep up this newfound elite defense in the coming years (his highest UZR was 2015 at a 2.6, 7 below what he's at now) he might not have to travel to Rio to get his share of gold in 2016.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Meet Your New Number 5 Starter, Ross Stripling

The Los Angeles Dodgers have announced that rookie Ross Stripling, a fifth round draft pick from Texas A&M in 2012, will be the fifth starter in the rotation to start the 2016 season.  The news came as a bit of a shock as many presumed Carlos Frias, who made 13 starts for the Dodgers last year, to fill the spot start role yet again as it came down to those two.  After Brett Anderson's injury and Hyun-Jin Ryu's longer rehab schedule, Mike Bolsinger was almost assuredly going to be the number 5 starter for the time being until an abdominal injury (which currently has no timetable for a return) will sideline him as well.  Zach Lee's fall from grace as a top prospect also will continue as he was dismissed as an option earlier this week.  Ross Stripling is a rookie in every sense of the word as he has never pitched above the AA level.  Stripling had Tommy John surgery in 2014 which sidelined him that whole year but he managed to pitch 71 innings last year at both A and AA ball.  Manager Dave Roberts addressed that at the start of camp the plan had been for Stripling to make his debut in September when the rosters expand but the wealth of injuries suffered in spring has forced the Dodgers to make some tough decisions.

Stripling's numbers in the minor leagues have been fairly good but his position in the farm system, a system ranked by many as the best in baseball, hasn't been outstanding.  As it stands he's considered the 25th best prospect in the farm system according to MLB.com which puts him behind names like Julio Urias, Jose De Leon, Grant Holmes, Walker Buehler, and even Zach Lee.  Most of those names are younger and on tight innings limits as they progress through the minor leagues with as much protection as possible as they are considered the future stars of the Dodgers.  In 235.1 innings at both A and AA, Stripling has a 2.83 ERA, 1.105 WHIP, 8.1 K/9, and a 3.74 BB/K ratio.  They're all pretty solid numbers but with a small sample size and in the minor leagues to boot, it's still very unclear how he will perform until he gets his first start, which is projected to be on April 8th against the Giants in San Francisco no less.  AT&T Park is about as good as any park to pitch in the last couple of years which could be a boost for Stripling, but the Giants offensively aren't pushovers as they led the National League in wRC+ last year.  It'll be exciting to see what the guy can do as stories like these are always great for the game and always fun to follow.  Plus he makes hilarious faces during his windup.