It’s funny now to reflect on some of the things that were said over the offseason, when the Dodgers went through an almost complete roster overhaul. Granted, people have to say something, because that’s how this business works, but think of the concern expressed in some corners regarding the immediate future of the Dodgers’ offense. How were they going to make up for losing Matt Kemp? How were they going to make up for losing Hanley Ramirez? How were they going to make up for losing Dee Gordon? Two of those players, as it happens, have hit quite well this year. Hasn’t mattered to the Dodgers. After swapping so many different pieces around, the Dodgers became an early-season offensive juggernaut.
It is, of course, a big reason why the Dodgers have the second-best record in baseball, and the highest run differential. They’ve dealt with significant injuries on the pitching side, that have left them weakened, but the lineup has picked up the slack, despite some injuries of its own. The point isn’t just to say, hey, the Dodgers have hit pretty well. No, that wouldn’t be worthy of a post. The point of this is to explain to you the magnitude by which the Dodgers have out-performed everybody else. The state of things is ridiculous.
It’s hard not to make this just a whole post of fun facts. Fun facts are fun, as the name suggests, but no one wants to read a hundred of them in a row. The Dodgers have played 32 games, about a fifth of their season. Allow me to try to curate the fun facts. I think this can be done in a readable way that isn’t overwhelming.
Start with regular old wRC+. It’s my preferred adjusted measure of team offense. The Dodgers, as a team, stand at 131, meaning they’ve been 31% better than average, adjusted for park. In second place, we find the Royals, at 116. That’s a big gap! The gap between first and second place is the same as the gap between second and tenth.
But, wait a second, the Royals play in the American League! That’s hardly fair. The Dodgers, pitchers and all, have that 131 wRC+. The second-highest National League mark belongs to the Cardinals, at 104. Enormous gap, almost twice the size of the first. Here, the difference between first and second place is the same as the difference between second and 14th.
Why not bring everything together and just look at overall MLB performance, excluding pitchers? That should level the playing field, more or less, and this is where we arrive at my favorite facts. The Dodgers, without their pitchers, stand with a wRC+ of 142. The Royals are still in second, at 116. A few things about this. First, the highest team wRC+ marks since 1950, leaving pitchers out:
It’s the Dodgers, and it’s the Dodgers by a landslide. The Dodgers, obviously, have played only a partial season. The Dodgers, probably obviously, won’t finish this season as high as 142. They’ll come back to the pack, and I have to imagine the probability is they won’t be No. 1 on this list come season’s end. But, who’s to say? What’s happened is what’s happened, and it hasn’t all been a fluke. And besides, this isn’t a projection post. This is a post intended to review what has taken place. The Dodgers have basically hit like a lineup full of All-Stars. Not uncommon to see for a few games in a row. Far less common to see for several weeks.
And there’s this part. This is my favorite part. The difference between the Dodgers and the Royals, in non-pitcher wRC+, is 26 points. Here are the season-to-season gaps between first and second place, from 1950 on:
It’s the biggest gap, by a lot. The average gap is about three points. In 1975, the Reds were better than second place by 10. The next season, the Reds were better than second place by 18. Since then, no one’s cleared second place by more than eight. What the Dodgers have done is genuinely exceptional. It’s not that they’ve hit the ball well. It’s that they’ve hit the ball so much better than anybody else. The fun facts could continue almost endlessly.
Among regular and semi-regular players, the Dodgers have seven of the top 25 wRC+ marks in baseball. They have four of the top 10 isolated-power figures. According to Baseball Savant, the Dodgers have three of the top five players in average exit velocity. (Incidentally, Hanley Ramirez is also one of the five.) A dozen Dodgers have batted at least 50 times. Nine of them have been significantly better than average. The team has thrived despite Jimmy Rollins slugging .298. Juan Uribe has underachieved. Carl Crawford is hurt. Yasiel Puig is hurt. No matter. We figured the Dodgers would have tremendous depth, and at the moment the injuries are almost helpful, because they’re keeping the roster from having too little room for too many talents.
I don’t want to convey the wrong impression — the Dodgers should be outstanding. They have more resources than anyone, so it’s not like they aren’t working with an extraordinary advantage. Consider that gap between the Dodgers and the Royals in wRC+. The Dodgers’ payroll is nearly one and a half times higher than the Royals’. The Dodgers are exceeding the luxury-tax threshold by more than six teams are spending on their whole rosters. Money can’t buy happiness, but it can buy wins, and there’s nothing miraculous going on here. The Dodgers are smart and privileged. They’re positioned better than any other team in their league.
Yet there is a balance between acknowledging the advantages and giving the money credit for everything. The Dodgers did well to identify and acquire Yasmani Grandal. They did well to trust Joc Pederson. Scott Van Slyke isn’t a big-money player. Neither is Justin Turner. Andre Ethier might be in the middle of a resurgence, mashing the ball like it’s 2009. Even Adrian Gonzalez has turned it up. Gonzalez was a quality player before this season, but he’s showing evidence of little tweaks, to go with a career-best performance. More balls in the air. More balls toward right and right-center. Almost everybody’s been dangerous.
The rest of the season should allow the numbers to settle. Where they are now is almost too absurd, so you can’t expect this same performance going forward. Yet it’s clear this isn’t a team with many offensive weaknesses. They have skill, depth, and the money to ensure they always have both. However thin the rotation might be, the lineup is the opposite.
There’s one last asterisk I do want to point out before I close. The Dodgers’ opponents so far:
Some struggling pitching staffs in there. The pitchers the Dodgers have faced have allowed a weighted .763 OPS. Take out the matchups against the Dodgers, and they’ve allowed a weighted .745 OPS. The average pitcher’s allowed a .712 OPS, so there’s evidence the Dodgers have had it relatively easy. Baseball Prospectus tracks a quality-of-opposition stat, and of the 30 players with at least 50 plate appearances who’ve seen the easiest average pitchers, 12 are Dodgers. That’s all of the Dodgers. One thing you can say about the Dodgers is they never have to go up against Clayton Kershaw or Zack Greinke. The slate to this point has been generous.
So it’s a factor. It’s not the whole explanation. They’re probably going to face some tougher pitchers, but then, they’ll always share a division with Arizona and Colorado. Even San Francisco is kind of thin behind Madison Bumgarner. Divisions are unbalanced, and we know this.
It gives the Dodgers a bit of an edge. Because what the Dodgers really need is another advantage. The Dodgers are on pace to win 111 games, and they’re on pace to have the best team offense of all time. Maybe that’s not the way things are going to turn out, but you can’t argue with the direction of things.
Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.