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.

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