Where Did The Dodger Offense Go?

puig_kemp_2014-04-17

Much is being made of the lousy Dodger defense, thanks to last night’s Hanley Ramirez / Carl Crawford poptastrophe that helped lead to an extra-innings loss to the Phillies. That was ugly, and I can’t say I’ve been thrilled with the defense either at shortstop or in the outfield, but most numbers rank the Dodgers as being average to somewhat above overall, so I’m not going to fret about it too much. (Or at the least, I’ll just stare lovingly at Juan Uribe‘s throwing arm, which is a thing 2012 Mike would have died over had he known 2014 Mike would be writing it.)

While the defense is not an issue to be ignored, I think we’d all be noticing it a lot less if the offense was producing to the level it is capable off, because then we’d stop seeing what appears to be constantly tight extra inning games. And make no mistake, the offense is not where it should be. I mean, here’s how they currently rank in team wRC+:

1) Athletics, 115
2) Rockies, 115

MLB Avg) 99

18) Dodgers, 94

29) Mets, 75
30) Mariners, 74

Looking at the team stats, a few things pop out straight away:

Dodgers Offense, 2014
Name PA HR SB BB% BABIP AVG OBP SLG wRC+
Scott Van Slyke 27 2 0 18.5 % 0.333 0.273 0.407 0.682 204
Dee Gordon 71 1 12 5.6 % 0.418 0.369 0.408 0.492 158
Adrian Gonzalez 90 5 1 10.0 % 0.333 0.288 0.356 0.563 152
Juan Uribe 83 3 0 2.4 % 0.404 0.321 0.337 0.531 144
Yasiel Puig 73 2 1 11.0 % 0.304 0.254 0.347 0.429 124
Chone Figgins 9 0 0 33.3 % 0.250 0.167 0.444 0.167 113
Hanley Ramirez 88 2 3 11.4 % 0.276 0.234 0.330 0.403 112
Matt Kemp 58 3 2 12.1 % 0.233 0.196 0.293 0.431 107
Andre Ethier 65 2 1 7.7 % 0.250 0.220 0.277 0.322 72
A.J. Ellis 29 0 0 13.8 % 0.222 0.167 0.310 0.167 54
Carl Crawford 62 0 4 1.6 % 0.265 0.217 0.226 0.317 48
Justin Turner 36 0 1 5.6 % 0.261 0.182 0.222 0.242 30
Drew Butera 15 0 0 6.7 % 0.222 0.143 0.200 0.143 0
Tim Federowicz 39 0 0 2.6 % 0.154 0.108 0.132 0.162 -23
Mike Baxter 8 0 0 12.5 % 0 0 0.125 0 -54
Alex Guerrero 1 0 0 0.0 % 0 0 0 0 -100

So you can take a few things away from that:

** Van Slyke has been impressive in limited time, though no one should put undue importance on 27 plate appearances. Still, as we’ve seen all too well, there are exactly zero situations where he shouldn’t be allowed to face a lefty in a big situation while Crawford does. Ever.

** Gordon has been excellent, as I wrote recently, and there’s still no way that regression isn’t coming for him, so others are going to need to step up as he slows down.

** Gonzalez has been fantastic. Uribe probably isn’t getting enough credit, which is too bad, because there’s no way a high-BABIP, no-walk approach is going to last indefinitely.

** I don’t care how much Ramirez says his hand isn’t bothering him, he has two hits in 22 plate appearances since being hit.

** Kemp & Puig have been… weird. I can’t look at either and really say I’ve been all that impressed, especially with Kemp, but neither have really been the huge offensive problems on this team, either. Kemp’s BABIP simply has to rebound, and that will at least make his batting average look less than terrible. Puig’s thumb certainly didn’t help, and I would argue that with everything else that surrounds him he really needs to be productive to overcome it. Still, he was never, ever going to match his early splash from last year, and I’m not going to panic on a 124 wRC+.

** Ethier & Crawford have both been awful, and that’s probably the biggest problem on this team right now. As usual, neither should ever be allowed to face a lefty — in 25 plate appearances, they’ve combined for two walks and a single. But neither have really done much against righties, either. I’m inclined to believe that it’s a sample size issue, because they’ve each had long histories of success against righties, and both have lower-than-average BABIPs.

** The catching spot is still an absolute train wreck, and while Ellis is on his way back, I’m wondering how long they can let this go on. It’s been so bad that even though I’m still telling people that Miguel Olivo‘s .396/.448/.698 small-sample line in Albuquerque is a mirage — and it is — I can’t put a lot of heart into it. The Butera / Federowicz combo is that bad. I have no idea if the Dodgers are in on San Diego catcher Nick Hundley, who is reportedly on the market, but you understand why people want to know if they are. This is untenable.

** Down in the minors, Guerrero is hitting .467/.568/.900, and Joc Pederson is at .417/.523/.736. For the millionth time, small samples and Albuquerque offense still apply to the conversation, and in Guerrero’s case, the questions have always been more about his defense than his offense. With Gordon still producing, there’s no reason to rush him. Pederson is all but certainly ready now, there’s just nowhere to put him, is there?

So… what do you do? For the moment, nothing, unless you can upgrade at catcher, which seems unlikely. They are 12-9 despite all the issues and the lack of Clayton Kershaw, so there’s no need to panic. Presumably, Ramirez will improve as his hand heals. Presumably, at least one of Ethier & Crawford will start hitting to career norms. Presumably, at least one of Kemp & Puig will start performing like we know they’re capable of.

If none of that happens over the next few weeks, and if this team keeps striking out like crazy, then maybe you make some moves. Guerrero is probably coming up at some point in the near future anyway. For now, it’s more disappointing than it is truly crushing.

Giants @ Dodgers April 5, 2014: Heart You, Don Mattingly

dodger_stadium_openingday2013If you go back through the old MSTI archives, I’m pretty sure that I was begging the Dodgers to bench Andre Ethier against lefties since at least 2009 — maybe 2008. Either way, it’s been at least five years, and it just… never… happened. He was regularly in the lineup against lefties, and year after year he proved that he just could not hit them. In nearly 1,300 plate appearances, his line is .235/.294/.350, which is atrocious. (By comparison, Dee Gordon‘s career total is .260/.307/.318.) He never could hit lefties. He was never going to hit lefties. We probably didn’t need more than a thousand wasted at-bats to know this.

So imagine my reaction this morning when I saw today’s lineup and saw that not only is Ethier on the bench against San Francisco lefty Madison Bumgarner, so is Carl Crawford, who is only mildly less objectionable against southpaws. Yasiel Puig is in after yesterday’s benching, which was expected, and Matt Kemp is in for a second day in a row, but Scott Van Slyke (!) is getting a start over the two highly-paid lefties. It’s wonderful. It’s perfect. It makes for a dangerous bench when Bruce Bochy brings in his righty relievers.

Giants
Dodgers 
1:10pm PT
Los Angeles, CA
CF
Pagan
RF
Puig
RF
Pence
2B
Turner
3B
Sandoval
SS
Ramirez
C
Posey
1B
Gonzalez
LF
Morse
CF
Kemp
1B
Belt
LF
Van Slyke
2B
Hicks
3B
Uribe
SS
Crawford
C
Ellis
P
Bumgarner (L)
P
Maholm (L)

It’s what should have happened years ago, and, if this becomes a regular thing — which we don’t know for sure, because it’s only one game — just watch Ethier’s overall season line look like a big improvement over 2013 and for everyone to talk about his “career year,” when instead he was just no longer put in a position to fail. I’m enjoying this. A lot.

Don Mattingly goes with the full platoon by going with Justin Turner over Dee Gordon at second base, and even though the platoon splits with that duo don’t really call for it, it’s fine, because you’ve got to let Turner start sometime — and I don’t hate the idea of having Gordon available as a late-game pinch-runner, either. (Yes, even if as a second baseman, Turner is legally obligated to bat second.)

Paul Maholm makes his Dodger starting debut, and for most of us, it’ll be the first time we’ll get a chance to see him, as he faced one batter (striking out Miguel Montero) in Australia back on March 23 and hasn’t been seen since. Josh Beckett, meanwhile, hurt his ankle fielding a bunt in his rehab start yesterday for Rancho.