The Dodgers Lineup Likely To Be More Competitive In Late Innings


Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Matt Kemp, Dee Gordon, Hanley Ramirez gone. Justin Turner, bound to regress, Juan Uribe is 37, Jimmy Rollins is 36, Yasmani Grandal hasn’t been worth more than 2 fWAR since his rookie year. On the surface, that is the literal recipe for regression. However, there was one shortcoming that the Dodgers offense seemed to have last season and Eric Stephen reminded us of it:

It’s painful to reminisce about, this was written at one point last season, things were not good, and in fact, didn’t get that elusive win until August 21st! And obviously with the improvement/emphasis on single inning relief pitchers, a stat like that might not be so abnormal today, heck the Royals didn’t blow a game while leading after the 6th inning in last year’s playoffs so that stat is definitely a product of how the game is shifting.

But the Dodgers did their best job to address the flaw their offense had, and they did it by acquiring an entirely new approach at the plate.

To be clear, this isn’t at all a knock on some of the players the Dodgers shipped out. Dee was really good last year and Hanley/ Kemp are some of the best hitters of this generation. The issue with these players stems directly from their performance in the 6th inning and later. So lets look at the players performance in the 7-9th innings as opposed to their regular numbers. baseball reference has a really nifty tool called tOPS+, which is essentially a player’s performance in a certain context (in this scenario it’s hitting in the 7th-9th innings), relative to his average that season.

For example Hanley Ramirez had a 105 tOPS+ in the 7th-9th innings last season, meaning that he was 5 percentage points better in a “clutch” context than he was in other situations. I’ll use another stat called sOPS+ which means that we can analyze how a player did in those situations relative to the league. The first one is useful because we can see if the Dodgers hitters did well relative to their own mean production, the second one is useful because we can compare performance to the league.

It seems only fair to look at the positions that the Dodgers experienced major turnover at:

Leaving, tOPS+ In Innings 7-9, sOPS+ In Innings 7-9:

Hanley Ramirez, 105 tOPS+ (5% points above his average) 148 sOPS+ (48% above the league average)

Matt Kemp, 42 tOPS+ (58% below his average) 75 sOPS+ (25% below the league average)

Dee Gordon, 83 tOPS+ (27% below his average) 92 sOPS+ (8% below the league average)

Incoming, tOPS+ In Innings 7-9,sOPS+ In Innings 7-9:

Jimmy Rollins,  103 tOPS+ (3% point above his average) 116 sOPS+ (16% above the league average)

Howie Kendrick, 85 tOPS+ (15% below his average) 105 sOPS+ (5% above the league average)

Joc Pederson, inconclusive

for good measure, Puig had a 72 tOPS+ (28% below his average) 118 sOPS+ (18% above the league average)

Take these figures with a grain of salt, they aren’t predictive at all because of the sample sizes. While the idea of “clutchitude” exist, it’s so difficult to peg a certain hitter as certainly clutch in certain situations, but basically after the 7th inning, the Dodgers, had a really good “clutch” hitter in Hanley Ramirez (even though his sOPS+ and tOPS+ split has more to do with the fact that he’s an MVP type hitter who performed like he always does after the 6th inning). However the most concerning thing about those numbers were Kemp and Gordon’s inability to produce in the late innings.

The hitters that went away seem to have something in common, Kemp Hanley and Dee all had the ability to get by on raw talent. Kemp’s hitting ability means he doesn’t need to develop a great approach, Hanley’s raw talent means that he doesn’t need to have one either, Gordon’s speed means that his production wouldn’t go underwater if he scrapped his approach (he often did), as long as he hit enough ground balls to get on base 33% of the time.

Similarly, the hitters that were brought in appear to have something in common as well, and that’s the approach. Jimmy Rollins had a 10.5% walk rate last season. While he doesn’t have a high enough average to be a leadoff hitter, Rollins knows how to work the count in a game situation (hello, 8 pitch dinger against Shawn Kelly), and saw a ridiculous 4.15 pitches per plate appearance last season (5th in the NL), whereas Hanley only saw 3.79 pitches per plate appearance.

Matt Kemp’s -6.63 clutch in his career probably had something to do with the fact that right handed specialists are really difficult to hit. Mix in the constant “low and away slider” type pitch that he faces almost every time a right hander is on the mound against him, and it might be a reason for his loss of production in high leverage situations. Kemp’s career walk rate sits at an averageish 8.1%, Kemp’s bread and butter has and will always be getting good pitches to hit and driving them, when that doesn’t happen, the results can be frustrating. Joc Pederson on the other hand, has a reputation for working the count, and maybe being a little bit too patient. Joc owned a 18.9% walk rate last season in AAA and walked 8 times in 38 plate appearances last season in the big leagues.

And granted, Kendrick has never been a high walk rate type of player, but neither was Gordon, they both make similar amounts of contact, they don’t walk, ever, but Howie has always been more of a hitter for average, and that’s very valuable to have in the late innings. Making hard contact against anybody is a valuable skill and one that Kendrick brings to the late innings.

Look, the type of numbers we’ve dealt with can’t tell us whether the Dodgers are suddenly going to comeback in every game, because much of it is sample size noise. We can just look at the type of position players Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi have brought in this offseason. They all have better overall approaches, they play better defense, they all are productive (which is normally a given, but Yasmani Grandal over AJ Ellis is something that will make a difference in the late innings this season).

Last season the Dodgers came back to win after training in the 6th inning or later twice (!), much of that was sample size nonsense/noise/harder pitchers come in later in games, but some of that was the fact that the leadoff, cleanup and 5 hole hitters had a difficult time carving out an approach and sticking to it. This season the Dodgers have tied the game twice when trailing in the 6th inning or later, they lost last night, but that was more of a result of the bullpen having an off night. One of the most frustrating issues that plagued the Dodgers lineup last season appears to be fixed, and that isn’t getting enough play.