Dodgers’ offensive struggles tied to lack of homers, launch angle

Trayce Thompson‘s walk-off home run was a welcome sight on Tuesday night. Any time the Dodgers hit a home run, it’s a welcome sight (no matter what Steve Lyons might try to tell you). But the Dodgers haven’t been as prominent in the home run department in 2016, and it’s impacting their overall offensive production.

Last season, the Dodgers had a triple slash of .269/.351/.488 through their first 33 games. This season, it’s .241/.314/.381. It’s been even worse in the last three weeks, which is when I wrote about the Dodgers’ offense and how it was scoring. They were averaging 4.7 runs per game through their first 14 games, and doing it by not hitting home runs (just eight).

Since then, the offense has been quite anemic.

  • 19 games
  • 67 runs
  • 3.5 runs per game
  • 16 home runs
  • 29 doubles (five of which came on Tuesday night)

The home runs per game numbers have increased from the first 14 games, but it hasn’t resulted in more runs being scored — mostly because they are sporting a .310 on-base percentage in that time (.321 in the first 14 games). But the home run numbers are still down dramatically from last season, when the Dodgers had 53 home runs through 33 games last season.

Last year, some wondered whether the Dodgers were hitting too many home runs, which was always rather silly. I wrote about their reliance on the dinger to score runs in May of last year.

“The Dodgers are leading the major leagues in home runs with 47. They’re on pace for 272 home runs. They cannot keep up this pace (right?), so the amount of runs their scoring from home runs is somewhat alarming.

The team has 247 hits, 47 of which have gone over the fence. That’s the highest percentage of hits-to-home runs in baseball (19 percent). That number was at 9.1 percent last year (134 home runs). They have an almost identical HR/FB percentage of 19.3 percent, which also leads the majors. And since they’re hitting so many home runs, it only stands to reason they’re leading the majors in percentage of runs from home runs at 74 runs 51.7 percent. More than half of their runs have come via the long ball.”

The Dodgers are tied for 28th in baseball with the Phillies in home runs per fly balls at 9.1 percent — well ahead of the last-place Braves (3.3 percent, based on their eight homers). In 2015, they had a 13 percent home run per fly ball rate (sixth in MLB). The problem could be the fact they aren’t hitting the ball far enough when it is hit in the air. They rank 25th in baseball as a team in with an average batted distance on fly balls of 313 feet. Last season, they averaged 314.1 feet per fly ball. Obviously not a big difference, but they were hitting the ball farther when average distance is filtered for hits. The average distance number jumps to 352.6 feet for this eason — still, just 22nd in baseball — while it was 360.9 feet last season (ninth in baseball). They aren’t hitting the ball in the air as much this season (32.1 percent) as they did last season (35.8 percent), so that makes the average distance stand out even more.

Joc Pederson is doing his part, as he leads the Dodgers with six home runs and a 26.1 HR/FB%. His platoon mate Thompson has four homers and a 25 HR/FB%. Adrian Gonzalez (12.5 percent) is the only other Dodger with a HR/FB percentage better than 10 percent, and he has just three home runs on the season.

What I’m getting at is the Dodgers need to hit more home runs (#analysis). Or at least start hitting their fly balls farther. The problem isn’t with their exit velocity, either. Since April 20, their average exit velocity as a team is 90.7 MPH — fourth-best in baseball. Fun fact: Clayton Kershaw has the fourth-highest exit velocity on the team since that time (91.8 MPH).

The issue is with the launch angle. The Dodgers are 28th in baseball since April 20 with an average launch angle of 8.2 degrees, which means they’re hitting a lot of ground balls. Through April 19, their average launch angle was 11.1 degrees (16th-highest in MLB), but on the season, it works out to 9.4 degrees (25th in the league). In 2015, they were seventh in baseball with an average launch angle of 11.7 degrees (i.e., a line drive-hitting team).

Here’s a breakdown of how the Dodger hitters have hit the ball in 2016 (BBE = batted ball events).

Fly ball (25-50 degrees)
Austin Barnes: 8 BBE, 36.2 degrees
Scott Van Slyke: 8 BBE, 25.7 degrees
– (Obviously small sample size)

Line drive (10-25 degrees)
Joc Pederson: 48 BBE, 19.1 degrees
Justin Turner: 81 BBE, 17 degrees
Yasiel Puig: 79 BBE, 12.6 degrees
Enrique Hernandez: 46 BBE, 11.6 degrees

Ground ball (less than 10 degrees)
Chase Utley: 71 BBE, 8.3 degrees
Trayce Thompson: 39 BBE, 7.2 degrees
A.J. Ellis: 42 BBE, 7 degrees
Carl Crawford: 30 BBE, 6.8 degrees
Corey Seager: 93 BBE, 6.1 degrees
Adrian Gonzalez: 89 BBE, 5.9 degrees
Yasmani Grandal: 43 BBE, 2.5 degrees
Howie Kendrick: 59 BBE, -0.3 degrees

The Dodgers don’t have many players with elite speed on the bases, so hitting the ball on the ground isn’t going to do much good. Everyone in the ground ball category is down from last season, as all but Kendrick (2.8 degrees) were line drive (10-25 degrees) hitters in 2015. I’m not sure why that is. It might not be Turner Ward‘s coaching, as the Diamondbacks had an identical 11.7 degree launch angle the Dodgers had in 2015. Guys are swinging down on the ball, and it’s resulting in more grounders (47.9 percent, fifth-most in baseball) and fewer runs scored.

While the Dodgers are hitting the ball hard, they’re hitting it into the ground. Without elite speed, that isn’t going to be too effective. Raising the launch angle for specific players (Gonzalez, Grandal and Seager, namely) could help the Dodgers improve their run production going forward.

Or, you know, just hit more dingers.

About Dustin Nosler

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Dustin Nosler began writing about the Dodgers in July 2009 at his blog, Feelin' Kinda Blue. He co-hosted a weekly podcast with Jared Massey called Dugout Blues. He was a contributor/editor at The Hardball Times and True Blue LA. He graduated from California State University, Sacramento, with his bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in digital media. While at CSUS, he worked for the student-run newspaper The State Hornet for three years, culminating with a 1-year term as editor-in-chief. He resides in Stockton, Calif.