In the aftermath of Wednesday’s ludicrous extra-innings loss to Washington that was terrible for all the wrong reasons, I wanted to write about the ongoing Dodger problems with the bases loaded. It wasn’t the only reason they lost that game — see Kenley Jansen blowing the save, Justin Turner‘s big error, Don Mattingly‘s ludicrous decisions, Brandon League‘s inability to get outs, etc. etc — but obviously the fact that the Dodgers had the bases loaded in the 10th and the 11th and couldn’t do anything about it, along with a season-long problem with the bases loaded, is what a lot of people focused on.
Bases-loaded situations are such a small fraction of a team’s at-bats with men on base and runners in scoring position that it’s not worth obsessing over.
- Bases loaded: 109 plate appearances, .193 on-base percentage, last in the National League
- Runners in scoring position: 1,484 plate appearances, .357 on-base percentage, first in the National League
Which stat is more important? The one that occurs less than once a game, or the one that occurs more than 10 times per game?
…which is unarguably true, and the sample size issue becomes even more of a concern when you realize that some of those few plate appearances came from guys who should never be expected to hit in any situation, like Drew Butera. (Which is why it was so infuriating that Mattingly chose to have Butera hit rather than Matt Kemp or Joc Pederson, but we’ve been over that.) One of the other Wednesday bases loaded appearances was from Alex Guerrero, who has zero major league hits. Another was from Dee Gordon, who has a .287 OBP since the All-Star break. It’s largely not about “this team can’t hit with the bases loaded” so much as it is “some of these players aren’t hitting no matter who is on base.”
But I don’t really want to write this just to parrot what Jon said. What I want to do is add one more reason why — while this is obviously frustrating — it’s not as important as fans think it is. I can’t argue that the team is doing well with the bases loaded, but I can share with you this.
Here’s the top four teams in baseball, by OPS, with the bases loaded:
1) Texas: .950
2) Cincinnati: .939
3) Houston: .885
4) Cleveland: .857
Here’s the worst four:
27) Arizona: .591
28) LA Angels: .561
29) Tampa Bay: .558
30) LA Dodgers: .511
What do you see there? Other than “nothing at all because we’re talking about a number of plate appearances so small that no team has had more bases loaded opportunities than Miguel Rojas has total plate appearances,” obviously, but here we are. You see that the top four teams are all not making the playoffs. Texas and Houston are the two worst teams in the American League. Cincinnati, believe it or not, is just two games ahead of the Cubs in the NL Central. Cleveland’s having a nice season, but it will fall short.
In the worst four, you have the Diamondbacks, who are a train wreck, and the Rays, who have disappointed, but you also have arguably the best team in baseball in the Angels and arguably the best team in the NL in the Dodgers. There’s not a strong correlation between “hitting well with the bases loaded” and “winning,” and if you want to argue that what I’ve done here is not exactly irrefutable science, know that I hate that I even have to talk about 99 Dodger bases loaded opportunities as though that’s a reasonable sample size anyway.
It’s enormously frustrating. I get that. But when I see people talking about how the Dodgers aren’t clutch, or that Mark McGwire should be blamed — because this is clearly a thing that can be taught, of course — it’s infuriating. It may be difficult to understand, but it’s a thing that’s happening. Nothing more, nothing less.
Besides, do you remember what year it was when the Dodgers last failed to hit a grand slam? It was 1981. I think that one turned out okay.