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The week in Los Angeles Dodgers (non-)dominance – SweetSpot


There are, I suppose, two ways to look at the Los Angeles Dodgers‘ season if you’re a fan of the team:

1. 92-51 is still the best record in baseball.

2. 1-15 in their past 16 games, which … WHAT IN THE WORLD IS HAPPENING, THIS MAKES NO SENSE, THE ENTIRE TEAM IS AWFUL AND THE SEASON IS OVER AND I HATE BASEBALL.

The Colorado Rockies beat the Dodgers 8-1 on Sunday, sending them to their 10th loss in a row. It was 2-0 until the Rockies broke it open with five runs in the eighth and the Dodgers added their meaningless run in the bottom of the ninth on Alex Verdugo‘s first major league home run. Rockies manager Bud Black was hoping to get three innings out of starter Tyler Chatwood, who primarily has been used as a reliever lately, but the Dodgers’ offense has been so inept that Chatwood tossed five scoreless frames.

You won’t be surprised to know the Dodgers are the first team to win 15 of 16 and lose 15 of 16 in the same season. Heck, only two other teams in the past five years have lost 15 of 16 games — the 2015 Braves, who finished 65-97, and the 2013 Astros, who lost their final 15 games on their way to 111 losses. No team has lost 10 straight games and gone on to win a World Series — the 1953 Yankees lost nine in a row, the most for a World Series champion.

So, that makes it difficult to wrap our minds around this stretch. The Dodgers had won 52 of 61 games to give themselves a chance at the single-season record for wins. Now they’ve spent two-plus weeks as the worst team in baseball. The logical analysis says to look at the bigger picture and view this 16-game skid as an aberration — a unique one, for sure — because if there’s one thing sabermetrics has taught us, it’s to not overreact to a small sample size.

We also know the Dodgers have the same players that went on that record tear. At the same time, the emotional side of our brain can’t watch what has happened of late and just dismiss 15 losses in 16 games as simply irrelevant. If winning 52 of 61 games told us something about this team’s greatness, losing 15 of 16 tells us at least a little something as well.

The thing is, they’ve earned this record. They’ve stunk it up in every facet of the game. Let’s see what has gone wrong over this stretch of misery.

Offense

Overview: .200/.266/.319, 2.4 runs per game

Yuck. Let’s take a look at the major culprits.

  • Corey Seager, .231/.231/.269: Seager hasn’t played much during the 16 games with just 26 at-bats as he has battled a sore right elbow. He did hit a double this past Friday, his first extra-base hit since Aug. 15. Obviously, they need him to be healthy.

  • Cody Bellinger, .213/.260/.447: He missed the first few games of the stretch with a sprained ankle, and was probably due for a little slump anyway. I don’t think this is a fatigue issue — he slugged .615 in August — but after improving his strikeout-to-walk ratio in July and August, he has fallen off to two walks and 13 strikeouts in September.

  • Chris Taylor, .217/.230/.350: He was clearly due for regression after riding a .400-plus BABIP for much of the season.

  • Yasmani Grandal, .143/.178/.214: You always worry about catchers hitting the wall down the stretch, but Grandal actually finished strong last year. The Dodgers love his pitch-framing, so it seems unlikely they would suddenly give the starting job to Austin Barnes.

  • Logan Forsythe, .132/.250/.237: Other than a good walk rate, he has been a big disappointment all season, hitting .228 with just five home runs, after slugging 37 the past two seasons for Tampa Bay.

  • Curtis Granderson, .085/.204/.149: With Joc Pederson struggling, the Dodgers acquired Granderson on Aug. 19. It made sense. From May until the time of the trade, Granderson had been one of the best hitters in baseball (after an awful April). But he has hit just .114 in 70 at-bats since joining the Dodgers.

Even in looking at the big picture, this isn’t an offensive powerhouse. The Dodgers are tied for fifth in the National League in runs per game and the offense is driven somewhat by two guys (Bellinger and Taylor) probably playing over their heads. The biggest concerns here are Seager (injury), Taylor (simply played out of his mind for four months) and Granderson (streaky hitter in the depths of a big slump).

Pitching

Overview: 139.1 IP, 145 H, 63 BB, 173 SO, 26 HR, 5.81 ERA

Here, let’s do a “before” the breakdown and “during” the breakdown.

The most interesting thing here is the strikeout rate has actually increased as the team went 1-15. Everything else is worse. Some of this is expected regression, most notably an unsustainable strand rate of nearly 80 percent. The .341 BABIP does suggest there has been some bad luck on balls in play.

That said, there is some legitimate concern about several key members of the pitching staff:

  • Clayton Kershaw: One good start, one bad one since his return from the DL. He’s probably fine.

  • Alex Wood: Has a 5.10 ERA over his past eight starts. Considering he threw 119 innings in 2015 and just 60 last year and he’s at 134 this year, it’s certainly possible some fatigue has set in, even though the Dodgers have handled him very carefully.

  • Yu Darvish: He just hasn’t been that impressive, with a 5.34 ERA in six starts with the Dodgers, and that includes his dominant debut outing against the Mets. It’s all about shaky command: In his past start, he threw 90 pitches in just 4⅓ innings and in the start before he threw 88 in just three innings. You can’t dismiss the pressure on him: He’s not only pitching for a big contract as a free agent, but was viewed as the final piece of the puzzle.

  • Pedro Baez: Manager Dave Roberts lashed out at fans after they booed him the other night, citing Baez’s 2.53 ERA on the season. That ERA is basically a stone-cold fluke: He has a 4.63 FIP as he has walked 25 in 57 innings and allowed nine home runs. Those issues have finally caught up to him.

What’s it all mean? It’s important to note that there isn’t a strong correlation between September record and what happens in October. There’s data that I’ve tracked going back to 2006 for playoff teams. Two of the “hottest” teams in September won the World Series: the 2008 Phillies and 2012 Giants. And one of the “coldest” teams won the World Series: the 2006 Cardinals went 12-17 the final month.

On the other hand, the only other World Series winner since 2006 to finish under .500 the final month of the season was the 2015 Royals, who went 15-17. Six of the 11 winners had a better winning percentage in September than over the entire season (one had the same). Overall, the 11 World Series winners played .597 baseball the final month, slightly better than over the entire season.

I mentioned this the other day, but the best example of finishing poorly and then winning it all was the 2000 Yankees, who lost 15 of their final 18, including their final seven (that stretch included losses of 15-4, 11-1, 11-3, 13-2 and 9-1). Still, you don’t want to head into the playoffs playing like that.

If there’s good news for the Dodgers, there are still 19 games left in the regular season. Dodgers fans have a simple message for those 19 games: Make us love baseball again.



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