Dodgers: How Much Can Superstitions Affect On-Field Success?

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SAN FRANCISCO, CA - SEPTEMBER 12: Yasiel Puig
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - SEPTEMBER 12: Yasiel Puig /
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Though everyone in the Dodgers’ camp couldn’t find an answer, one thing was clear. Even the best team isn’t safe from the stroke of bad luck. The Dodgers have the talent and the chemistry, but they need to keep an eye on their superstitions to ensure capturing the prize that’s eluded them for 29 years.

It seems unorthodox to write something entirely dedicated to superstitions, rituals, and pre-game ceremonies, but this last string of losses will make Dodger fans want to listen to anything that might prevent it from happening again.

A lot was going wrong, and retrospectively looking at the streak, two small things could’ve been contributing factors. The first is the lineup. If the offense isn’t set up for rallies, they won’t score runs. The second is the six-man rotation that gave starters an extra day of rest. On paper, it seemed like a good idea, but history has shown that some starters, like Clayton Kershaw, don’t do as well on extra rest. Pitchers are finicky so throwing off their routine by one inch can send them on a downward spiral.

First, let’s look at the lineup. Keeping the same lineup isn’t just a superstition. Statistics show some hitters are better in certain spots than others. The ideal Dodgers lineup has a consistent first four in Chris Taylor, Corey Seager, Justin Turner, and Cody Bellinger. The rest of the lineup has been shuffled numerous times, except for one spot. Yasiel Puig hit in the eighth spot for a majority of the season until he was moved up to fifth. Ironically, his success actually led to the slow decline of the offense as a whole.

Among Dodgers who had at least 35 ABs in the eighth spot, no one was as successful as Puig. It’s a hard place to hit, with the pitcher behind you, but Puig thrived there. In 200 ABs, he slashed .280/.361/.545. When hitting fifth, he’s slashing .175/.268/.397 in 63 ABs. Unfortunately for Puig, it’s like the case of the employee who does so well at his current position, that it would better the company if he wasn’t promoted.

Puig hitting eighth benefits those around him as well. Yasmani Grandal has been shifted between fifth, sixth, and seventh the most out of anybody. Although it may seem not to matter where he hits, his numbers change dramatically depending on how close he is to Puig hitting eighth. When Grandal hits fifth, he slashed .216/.290/.362, sixth .278/.350/.656, and seventh .294/.341/.471. If Roberts wants a higher slugging Grandal, hit him sixth, and if he wants his average, hit him seventh. However, if Roberts doesn’t want anything, he should keep him hitting fifth.

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This should matter more in October than now, with Austin Barnes seeing more time. Luckily for the Dodgers, Barnes hits well anywhere in the lineup. As for the rest, Logan Forsythe hits best in the fifth spot and Chase Utley in the seventh spot. Curtis Granderson and Kike Hernandez look to platoon depending on the starting pitcher, so Roberts can fit them in where he sees best.

Having a consistent lineup boosts the confidence of the players like Austin Barnes credits his successful season to knowing his place on the team. Similarly, having a set routine also boosts the confidence for starting pitchers. For most of the season, pitchers throw on four days rest. During the break between starts, they have schedules for each day. Adding that extra day in a six-man rotation can throw them off course.

The dangers of switching to a six-man rotation are that starters go over 100 games on a certain schedule, and after a season’s worth of throwing the body starts to break down. That leaves little room for sudden adjustments both physically and mentally. Dave Roberts seems to have already reverted to a five-man rotation, swapping Kenta Maeda and Hyun-Jin Ryu in pushing back starts.

Since going back to a five-man rotation, the Dodgers lost the next few games until the rotation went to the top again. Clayton Kershaw and Yu Darvish looked like their old selves in their two wins, giving the bullpen a much-needed rest. If the starters go deeper into games as they did, the bullpen will be restored to its dominant form.

Lastly, one of the most important things going into October is the pre-game rituals. The Dodgers tried everything during the losing streak, and one seems to have worked. Before the game starts, the team huddles up in the dugout. The first time the social media eye caught an eye of this was when the Dodgers snapped the losing streak. This could be their new thing.

Next: Why the Dodgers Should Not Re-sign Kershaw

Whether it be lineups, rotations, or pre-game huddles, the Dodgers seemed to have found the answer to their struggles. Perhaps this losing streak was a good thing because it allowed the Dodgers to find the superstitions that worked. As much as baseball is about winning it on the field, there is a lot of luck involved. The difference between a bloop hit or a pop-up, or the ball taking one bounce this way or the other way, can be the difference between winning the entire thing or going home early again. Best the Dodgers find a way to please the Baseball Gods before the cold winds of October arrive.

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