July 5, 2011; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers center fielderMatt Kemp
(27) leaves the dugout after striking out for the last out of the game as the New York Mets defeated the Dodgers 6-0 at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE
For this longtime Dodgers fan, one of the most frustrating aspects of the Dodgers’ second half offensive collapse has been the lack of willingness to make some changes to their anemic offense besides increasing the payroll. In particular, there are two non-changes that come to my mind.
The first non-change is playing the same players each game despite how much they struggle.
During this second half offensive collapse, the Dodgers have basically started the same eight players (Mark Ellis, Shane Victorino, Matt Kemp, Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez, Andre Ethier, Luis Cruz, and A.J. Ellis) every game. The exceptions are Matt Treanor giving Ellis a day off at catcher, and Juan Rivera replacing Victorino in left field during the recent Cincinnati series due to Victorino’s ailing wrist.
Repeatedly, Dodger Manager Don Mattingly has kept Victorino, Kemp, Ethier, Gonzalez, and Ramirez in the lineup, and repeatedly each one has failed to produce at the plate. Not once did Mattingly sit one of them down to switch things up, inject some new blood and energy into the team, or give the everyday player a day off to relax so they will not press as much as they seemingly are. Options include Elian Herrera, Bobby Abreu or Juan Rivera in left for the struggling Victorino (hitting .132 from September 9th to September 20th). Victorino is no longer the leadoff hitter so there are no worries about these guys’ lack of ability to lead off. There is also Herrera in center for the ailing and struggling Matt Kemp (hitting .214 from September 13th to September 23rd). Herrera injects speed into the lineup and plays a defensively sound outfield. I remember him giving us a lot of good games early in the season. Another less viable option is either Juan Uribe or Dee Gordon for Hanley (hitting .250 from September 13th to September 23rd). Gordon could add some speed and energy to the top of the lineup and set the table for Kemp, Gonzalez, and Ethier. Regarding Uribe, I know that he is a .191 hitter. However, I was at the July 21th game against the Mets when he led the Dodgers’ offense.
I subscribe to the following. First, if the everyday players aren’t producing, sit them down. Give them a day off to relax and possibly curb their pressing. Also, let the non-producing guys know that if they are not contributing, they will not be in the lineup. As Ned Colletti said last year, “you point to yourself that I’ve got to be better at what I do”. Second, utilize the entire roster in creative ways (such as Dee Gordon as more than a pinch runner). Third, put each player (even Juan Uribe who contributed a pinch hit single in yesterday’s pinch hit appearance) in a position to contribute. As many state, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting the same result. Also, how many times in my thirty plus years of baseball watching do I remember it being the guy who was just inserted in the lineup who made the difference or was a sparkplug?
The second non-change is keeping hitting coach Dave Hansen.
On July 20, 2011, the Dodgers fired hitting coach Jeff Pentland and replaced him with current hitting coach Dave Hansen. It was the third midseason change of hitting coaches in General Manager Ned Colletti’s then six years as general manager. Colletti also replaced Eddie Murray with Bill Mueller in 2007 and Mike Easler with Don Mattingly in 2008. At the time of the Pentland firing, the Dodgers’ offense was anemic. It ranked second to last in the major leagues in scoring. Currently, the Dodgers offense is also weak, ranking 26th out of 29 teams in runs scored.
After Pentland was fired, Colletti stated that he was hopeful that the firing would shake up the team’s hitters. Below is an excerpt of Colletti’s comments.
“It’s a lack of results, and in some cases a lack of focus…. You hope with a new voice, somebody sees that a good man was let go and you point to yourself that I’ve got to be better at what I do.”
“Look at the offensive production of the club and certainly some guys have fallen short, not of expectations not warranted but by the type of performance of the past. This is not about blame. It’s being a new voice and a realization that it’s got to be better.”
These comments are relevant to the current situation and why Dodger fans such as me wonder why Hansen remains as hitting coach. We know that it’s the players, in particular Matt Kemp, Andre Either, Shane Victorino, Adrian Gonzalez, and Hanley Ramirez, who actually hit the ball. However, we also know, like Colletti did when he fired Pentland, that sometimes there is a scapegoat such as a bullpen coach, a hitting coach or a pitching coach who takes the fall for the players’ failures in order to shake things up and send a message that play needs to improve now. For example, on July 30th, the Milwaukee Brewers fired bullpen coach Stan Kyles after the bullpen repeatedly blew leads and games. Coincidence or not, the Brewers are ahead of the Dodgers for the second wild card after being 18-12 in August and 16-6 in September.
I get that the Dodgers added three players to their offense since the end of July with Ramirez, Victorino and Gonzalez, and some may contend that Hansen needs time to work with the new players. My counter to that is the continued offensive struggles of Matt Kemp from the end of July to current, which should be plenty of time for Hansen. During the end of July series with the St. Louis Cardinals, Dodgers Broadcaster Steve Lyons outlined the problem with Kemp’s then hitting struggles. In particular, Lyons spoke of Kemp’s lack of balance at the plate when he made contact with the ball – how he ended at bats striking out reaching way out in front for a ball or in the dirt for a ball. According to Lyons, Kemp has one of the most balanced postures there is in the major leagues. Fast forward to nearly two months later, during the Dodgers 4-1 loss to the Washington Nationals, when MLB Network Analyst Harold Reynolds spoke of Kemp’s offensive struggles and outlined basically the same thing, the lack of balance at the plate when he made contact and Kemp’s need to wait for pitches to come to him. As I sat watching Reynolds speak, I replayed Kemp’s recent at bats in my mind, and I realized that this was still occurring and wondered why this had not been fixed, which turned my attention to Hansen and his role in Kemp’s at bats.
One difference between the current situation and when Pentland was fired is the ownership situation and the high payroll. When Ned Coletti fired Pentland, the Dodgers were in the Frank McCourt years and lacked the current availability of dollars to bring in new players as they did this second half with Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez, Shane Victorino, and Carl Crawford. However, as far as this Dodger fan is concerned, if a team is not producing offensively, the remedy should not be only bringing in new players. It should also entail, if need be, sending a message to the players as Colletti stated, that “it’s got to be better”.
Tell me, what is your biggest frustration with the Dodgers’ offense during the second half offensive collapse?