Are Poor Hitting Approaches At Home Causing the Dodgers Problems?
By Scott Andes
Last night’s Dodger game was the proverbial representation of being kicked in the nut sack over and over again until your balls are so sore that you can hardly stand. Then after the pain seemed to subside, someone kicks you in the balls again, only harder.
Watching the game was just as painful. What’s even more frustrating is when you know exactly how the Dodgers will lose, and then they lose in the exact same way that you predict. Nay I say, the exact same way you know they will lose before the game even begins. During the first inning of the Dodgers annoying 2-1 loss to the hated Giants, I was talking to Stacie. As soon as Kershaw allowed that first inning run I knew the game was instantly over and the Dodgers would lose. Stick with me here before you tar and feather me.
After that first run scored so easily in the first inning, I remember saying to my sister that the Dodgers would lose either by a score of, 2-1, or 2-0. Of course I was exactly right. As soon as that first run was allowed seemingly so easily. Angel Pagan doubled on nearly the first pitch, was sacrificed to third, and then scored on a sac fly. Just like that. So the question is, how did I know instantly how the Dodgers would lose, and the score?
Considering I follow the team every day, watch, cover, and write about every single outcome, I know how the team plays. I can see patterns. When you watch and cover a team every single day you begin to notice those patterns developing. When you watch a game on television you can see angles that you couldn’t normally see when attending the game in person, unless you have box seats or something. Anyways, with the camera technologies they have in today’s current TV coverage, you can pick up a lot of stuff during games. You notice the little things. This is how I instantly knew the Dodgers would ohfer the night away.
Let’s consider some factors here. First of all, if I were to be general I would say the Dodgers hit very well on the road, and can’t hit at home for the life of them. The Dodgers have been just awful at home since the all-star break. The Dodgers are 6-10 at home in the second half, and 14-6 on the road. Why is this? It’s Because they can hit on the road and don’t hit at home. This is very disappointing considering the Dodgers started out 21-5 at home, and looked nearly unbeatable at Chavez Ravine. On the road though, they were so-so. They were hitting at home before the break. Now things have reversed. The Dodgers go on these long road trips, where they score a ton of runs, tear the cover off the ball, win seven of ten, then return home and completely and utterly suck. So again, I think only the why is important here. Why can’t the Dodgers hit at home?
Let’s get the obvious cliché’s out of the way. First, Dodger Stadium is a pitcher’s park. It’s a very hard place to hit for any team. The balls tend to die in the cool night air. However the Dodgers weren’t hitting a ton of long fly balls that were just dying at the wall. No, they couldn’t even get the bat off of their shoulders. When Clayton Kershaw has two of the team’s five hits on the night, you know you are in for a very frustrating game.
Don’t get me wrong here. This is not to discredit Madison Bumgarner in any way. He was very good last night. But come now, are you telling me that Madison Bumgarner was un-hittable? I don’t believe that.
If you eliminate other factors from last night’s loss, then we get to the reason why the Dodgers don’t hit at home. BAD HITTING APPROACHES. Now keep in mind here, when the Dodgers are on the road, there are many different factors that come into play. For example, Different hitter’s backdrops, different weather conditions, other ballpark factors. However the most important factor of all is… (stay with me here folks because I just may be onto something)…is the count! The count may be the single most important factor in all of Baseball. Getting ahead in counts, making the pitcher work, and not swinging at bad pitches is key.
Here is the kicker, Bumgarner fell behind to a lot of the hitters last night. He had six three ball counts in his eight innings of work, and threw 45 balls, yet still did not walk a single batter, and still whiffed ten Dodgers. In comparison, Kershaw threw only 28 balls, through his eight innings of work. Kershaw also did not walk a single batter, and also whiffed ten Giants.
When the Dodgers are on the road, I notice their approaches at the plate are different then at home. On the road they get ahead in counts, and when they get ahead in counts, they either take the walk, or they make the pitcher come back with a strike, and when that happens they are ready for it. They’re able to turn on that 3-1 fastball because they know it’s coming. They get guys on base and generally score runs on the road. They have smarter at-bats. At home however suddenly it is a different story. For some reason they have changed their approach. When the Dodgers are ahead in the counts, they rank 26 in batting. When they have two strikes, they are only hitting .181. When they are behind in the count, they are hitting a blistering .216. This shows how important the counts are, and why a strong aggressive hitting approach can make a big difference.
If Bumgarner had over six three ball counts and threw nearly twice as many balls as Kershaw, then how in the world did Bumgarner not walk anyone? Bad hitting approaches. If the pitcher starts you off with pitches out of the strike zone, then what do you think will be coming next? Most pitchers who fall behind 3-1, or 3-0, are going to come right back with a fastball right down the pipe, because they are not going to want to walk you.
Here is an example of more lousy hitting approaches. It looks like the Dodgers are trying to be too selective at the plate, and are trying to “wait for their pitch”. Then when it is obvious the pitcher is going to come right back with a four seam fastball right down the pipe, they are caught off guard because they’re too busy looking for that “specific pitch”. They’re being way too selective. Most of the time last night, Bumgarner was just throwing four seam fastballs, and sliders. He would occasionally mix in a changeup or a curveball, but otherwise it was four-seamer, and sliders all night. The four-seamer was his out-pitch, but normally he would start almost every hitter with two sliders right down the pipe. Then setup with the fastball. If he starts you off with two sliders in for strikes, then what do you think is coming next? If he starts you off with two sliders that miss the zone and falls behind in the count, then what do you think is coming next? Bumgarner has only walked 32 guys all season, so we know he doesn’t walk many guys. He’s always around the plate. So if you know that you’re ahead in the count, and he has to throw a strike, be prepared, or if he’s ahead and trying to set you up for his out-pitch, either way, a fastball is coming and get the bat off the shoulders.
I’ll give you an example of two important at-bats in last night’s game. The first at-bat was from A.J. Ellis in the bottom of the second. Juan Rivera was hit in the foot, and Luis Cruz singled him to third with two outs. The Dodgers had runners at the corners, and down 1-0. Bumgarner started AJ with the typical slider, slider for the first two pitches. The whole at-bat lasted six pitches, and AJ swung at three of them. After the first two pitches were sliders, the next three were four-seam fastballs. One for a ball, one was a swinging strike, and another a foul ball. With the count at 2-2, and three fastballs in a row, one that AJ fouled off, what do you think is going to come next? Yep, the slider, in which AJ was way out in front and whiffed. But at least he swung the bat. Bumgarner was only throwing two pitches 90% of the time.
Perhaps one of the most frustrating at-bats of the night was Mark Ellis‘s AB leading off the bottom of the ninth. With Sergio Romo on the mound, and the Dodgers down 2-0, Ellis whiffed on a called third strike. But have a look at this pitch sequence.
Mark Ellis’s at-bat
Pitch 1-four-seam fastball for a called strike
Pitch 2-slider for a called strike
Pitch 3-slider for a ball
Pitch 4-slider for a ball
Pitch 5-four-seam fastball for a called third strike
If you remember, Hanley Ramirez homered, and if M.Ellis had been on base, like per say via a walk, then the game would have been tied. The Dodgers are swinging at balls off the plate, and looking at called strikes right down the pipe. (This is also referred to as the Jerry Sands hitting disease). Perhaps maybe, the Dodgers should stop taking the first two or three pitches of every at-bat? On the road, they’re approaches are different. They have more aggressive, intelligent at-bats. They get ahead in counts, and make pitchers work. Even when they do fall behind in counts, they don’t just sit there and look at pitches down the middle of the plate, like at home, they hack. They hack and protect the plate with two strikes. Perhaps the pressure at home Is playing a part in the lousy home hitting?
I’m not trying to pick on AJ, and M.Ellis , I am only using their at-bats as an example. It was a team loss last night. Again, I take nothing away from Bumgarner who pitched very well. (I hate you Bumcrapper, I hate you). This tells me, that as soon as they return home, they fall right back into old habits, of being too selective, and then not being selective when they need to be. They start swinging at bad pitches, while taking strikes right down the middle of the plate. The coaching staff should be aware of this?
Or maybe they were just tired from a long road-trip, and or just had a bad night? Or a combination of being tired from a long trip, a bad night, and a hot pitcher on the mound? Maybe? Or maybe I should just shut-up? The real test comes on Tuesday night when they face the struggling Tim Lincecum. Will they continue with these bad hitting habits? They better figure it out. With the useless and decrepit Joe Blanton on the mound, they are going to need to score as many runs as possible.