What do you know about the Los Angeles Dodgers? We know they’re the glamor franchise in baseball right now. They have the enormous TV deal and the largest payroll in the league. They just won their second straight National League West crown. They’re good, as one expects such an expensive club to be.
Expensive teams tend to employ well-known players, and the Dodgers don’t want for names. But the way they go about their business is, in my mind, something of a mystery.
The Dodgers have a great rotation and sort of a terrible bullpen. Their offense is good but is it best in baseball good? According to wRC+, that is exactly where it ranks. Their non-pitching offensive players put up a 116 wRC+, tied with the Pirates for best in baseball.
Despite playing a ballpark that is actually favorable to home runs, the high-output Dodgers offense didn’t hit many bombs. They don’t have a prototypical power bat in the middle of their order, until you remember Adrian Gonzalez slugged 27 home runs this year and Matt Kemp put up a 140 wRC+ this season. As a team, they hit 134 home runs, fewer than the Mariners and just two more than the Giants, a team they outscored by almost 50 runs.
Some of the efficient Dodgers offense in 2014 can be attributed to situational success. Their hitting with runners in scoring position lead baseball, both by average and by wRC+. Of their 134 home runs, 42 came with runners in scoring position – the second largest ratio in the league.
There is more than one way to score runs. Like the running fools from Kansas City, the Dodgers totaled more steals than home runs in 2014. Their 138 steals lead the NL, the majority coming from league leader Dee Gordon (64) and Carl Crawford (23).
Despite running often and running effectively (73% success rate), the Dodgers collectively rank as a below-average group by Ultimate Base Runs. How might that be? They get thrown out more than any team in baseball trying to advance, running into 78 outs on the bases according to Baseball Reference. Their high team on base percentage skews this counting stat some, but they ran into 50% more outs than the Pirates, their equal in OBP.
They took the extra base at a league average rate, but the Dodgers seem to have an knack for another kind of “extra” base – hustle doubles. No team managed more two-baggers on batted balls that travelled less than 200 feet (via Baseball Savant). And who is best at this modified base larceny? Why Yasiel Puig, of course.
Despite a reputation for pimping fly balls and failing to play the game the right way, there are plenty of Puig highlights just like this one. Because Puig is Puig, it can be difficult to separate fact from fiction. Watching him, especially during his first season, you saw a very bad base runner. His aggressiveness was cartoonish and he ranks as the worst semi-frequent base stealer in the game since he broke in.
But he’s learning and he’s improving in all facets of the game. He picks his spots better on the bases, only attempting four steals after July 1st. That selectivity shows up in his results, too. He improved his dismal success rate, going four-for-four on those tries.
And Puig isn’t afraid to go for two on bloops behind the infield or balls in the gap that don’t reach the wall. It’s the give and take of Yasiel Puig. He lead the team with 15 outs on the bases, getting caught in rundowns and trying to take the extra base on throws to the plate. Sometimes, he makes outs on the bases doing literally nothing at all.
In a short series, it’s the kind of thing that can make a difference – both ways. Last year, an awful lot of ink spilled in the name of Puig’s “trustworthiness”, worry that is his madcap ways might cost the Dodgers a run or even their season. But with Puig and Gordon, the Dodgers have game-breakers.
The kind of players who can have the same kind of impact on a game that Jarrod Dyson and Terrance Gore exerted on the Wild Card game. It is, somewhat surprisingly, the Dodgers style. They put themselves in a position to score runs and thrive in those “clutch” situations thanks to their long line of capable big league hitters.
Against the Cardinals, LA faces a well-drilled team with a reputation for controlling the opposition’s running game. But their outfield, outside of Peter Bourjos, isn’t a defensive squad capable of slowing the determined Dodgers runners.
Their offensive profile is slightly unusual but the Dodgers put runs on the board. Anomalous as their situational hitting might be, their willingness to go for broke provides more opportunities to do so. They’re the little things that loom large during short series baseball.
In an offensively-starved time, when the best pitchers are on display, the Dodgers might be the National League’s version of the go-go Royals. Don’t let their age or star power fool you, this team is out to make its own luck on the base paths.