Recapping 2018: Los Angeles Dodgers Edition | The Process Report

Recapping 2018: Los Angeles Dodgers Edition

With the end of the regular season comes a time for reflection for the majority of baseball fans. What went right? What went wrong? You probably have a few ideas where your teams fell short or exceeded expectations, but what about a completely emotionless point of view? Throughout this season I have shown what batter and pitcher production looks like when we regress balls in play to look more like what the players should have seen using exit velocity and launch angle. The offseason will be no different as I take a team by team look at how the season fared for the team, while going a little deeper on a handful of players from each. The order will mirror the final team rankings running in reverse order so you can expect to find some depression leading to elation here. It’s going to take some time, but I would like to get one to two of these out each week which should allow for every team being covered before our glorious game returns to continue threshing our hearts. Here’s a link to the report for this club from last offseason. Here’s the final results:

Past:

30 – 21: BAL CWS MIA TEX KCR SFG SDP DET MIN CIN

20 – 11: ARI LAA PIT CHC SEA ATL NYM TBR COL PHI

10 – 1: MIL TOR STL WAS OAK CLE NYY  HOU BOS LAD

Stretching this chart to it’s outer limits you can see how much the Los Angeles Dodgers have spent on payroll over the last few years even putting all of them on an even-keel by adjusting for inflation. As the y-axis gets scrunched the meaningfulness of the win columns begin to lose significance. There is a metaphor here for reality, but let’s avoid living there a bit longer by looking at how unreal this Dodgers team has been the past few years without holding their massive revenue advantage against them. Focusing on enormous payroll might cause you to miss just how good the Dodgers have been with six straight seasons of 90 or more wins. Yes, they have failed to win the whole enchilada, but in many ways the more impressive feat is sustaining a long run of winning the division.

Boasting the third best offense and second best pitching in the game the Dodgers were incredibly balance at a high level, but it was the pitching that was slightly ahead so that’s where we’ll start. The second half really stands out as their worst blips took them back to the average with plenty of time spent in the very good range. The first half was a bit of a different story as the team oscillated around the average. A team built upon a depth of quality arms, it took some time to sort out roles and get guys in a groove, but by the end of the year they were clicking on all cylinders. It’s easy to say that the teams rather pedestrian start to the season was driven a good deal by this poorer start, but it’s not like they were an awful outfit. Merely less good.

Leading the charge was a guy who might have won the Rookie of the Year in a season without so many other strong candidates. A top prospect since turning pro, Walker Buehler has had few questions about the quality of his offerings. However, with a Tommy John surgery already under his belt the team has been ultra-cautious, even by their standards, in massaging his workload to this point. Then he went out and threw 177 innings last year including a deep run into the World Series. That might leave some trepidation as to what to expect this year, but last year’s results speak for themselves. There was a poorer run in the second quarter of the season when his strikeout rate dipped a bit, but by being less aggressive in the zone he was able to right the ship trading more walks for more strikeouts and better production. There was even a bit of over-performance at the end of the year, but even his regressed expectations look very strong. He gives up almost no shots, while throwing plenty of pop ups to go with the 30 percent strikeout rate. Young, talented, with the sun on his face in a great city. Who wouldn’t want to be this kid as he attempts to somehow get even better or at the very least ratchet up the volume without losing himself.

Walker Buehler

A continuing theme throughout will be how the team sought to manage workloads with nobody facing even 650 batters. A couple of more benefactors of this legitimate strategy were Ross Stripling and Alex Wood. The former benefitted from avoiding lineups a third time through, though it looks like teams did start to get a book on him over the course of the year after a phenomenal start. The latter perennially features enough injury issues to choke a pig, though he did face the second heaviest workload on the team. Stripling’s production went with his strikeouts with a near 40% rate early on showing his ability to be one of the best in the game, but it would not last as he settled in as more a little above the average throughout the rest of the season. What really helped that play up was the fact that he walks so few batters creating a massive chasm between his strikeout and walk rates. Diminished walk rate is one thing, and perhaps to be expected after so loudly declaring his arrival, but in conjunction with the continuously increasing exit velocity might lead some to be a bit concerned. Of course, even at his worst he was something like a league average pitcher, and as a starter that means more mid-rotation or better than worse, but there should be enough flags for folks to not completely buy in for next year.

Wood showed much more consistency in his strikeout rate with only only a short-lived bubble into worse than average land as the lone black mark on his production. The tails of the season were very strong. The walk rate showed a good bit of volatility leading me to believe he’s a bit of a tinkerer, possibly driven by the arm issues that have plagued his career. Slight alterations on the hill might cause more dramatic effects sixty feet away, but he also did a fairly good job of avoiding pipe shots. A good reminder that it’s often better to issue the free pass rather than give in to an awaiting slugger. He has since been moved to the Cincinnati Reds where his low trajectories should give him a chance to have some success in a park where that is awfully difficult for a pitcher.

Ross Stripling

Alex Wood

Despite once again missing time with back issues, Clayton Kershaw somehow managed to lead the team in batters faced, which says more about the other guys including those in charge. There were a couple spikes where he was a little worse than average, but most of the time he was either really good or at least merely good. The strikeout rate stayed under 30% across the board for probably the first time in his life, but he still sat in the average or better range throughout with walk rates ranging from average to practically non-existent. He also managed contact extremely well with tons of balls on the ground, and very few hit extremely hard. The future Hall of Famer is clearly in the descent portion of his career, but he also showed the capability to go out there and dominate quite often. Scant reps in Spring Training point to another year with a reduced workload, but a deep roster like this doesn’t need any pitcher to go wire to wire as long as they’re ready for when it matters.

Clayton Kershaw

Injury mentions have been rife so far, but the previous issues pale in comparison to the life-threatening heart issues that Kenley Jansen dealt with yet again that hopefully will not crop up again after offseason repairs. While his season might have felt like a stepback for many, it’s plain to see how incredibly good he was by these metrics. The second half showed some outlier bad performance that pushed him to the average, and yeah, his expectations were a little worse, but you’re still looking at one of the best relief aces in the game. He struck out around 30% of batters for most of the season, and was another guy who hardly walks anyone creating a massive gap in his K-BB. You can also see a big gap in his rolling batted ball data, though these two things are unlinked, with an extreme flyball rate that manifests much more often as harmless pop flies than the more dangerous nitro zone pokes. He did give up a few of those, and a few more in the space between, but generally at exit velocities that do not portend egregious damage. Fingers crossed that his heart is now fully healthy he might have become a bit of a forgotten guy amongst the elite relievers. It would be a mistake to feel that way.

Kenley Jansen

Two more mid-rotation guys who can almost be thought of as tandem starters due to missed time for Hyun-Jin Ryu and a conversion to the bullpen for Kenta Maeda due to, you guessed it, wanting to control his wear and tear. Ryu pitched quite well before a severe groin injury put him on the shelf for awhile. Upon return the strikeouts fell off a bit from great to good, and his production similarly closed on the average, while staying in in better graces. On the flipside his exit velocity drove downward with trajectories increasing in angle so this could be an example of a guy changing his mix on the fly in order to trade strikeouts for weaker contact. No matter the weather, however, he showed one of the best walk rates in the league nearly completely avoiding the free pass. Maeda showed more volatility in his production, and especially his strikeout rate. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t good as he drifted between pretty good and a little worse than average with a fairly massive over-performance during his most extended pedestrian run by the expectations. He does a remarkable job of avoiding hot, hot heat on contact, though that seems to simply put him in the same barrel as the rest of the guys on this staff. The absurd strikeout spike pushing to near-40% territory might have been brief, but should be something he seeks to bottle going forward as he continues to be a solid mid-rotation guy.

Hyun-Jin Ryu

Kenta Maeda

A couple more relievers worthy of coverage give us a guy from each side that were leaned upon fairly heavily. The lefty, Scott Alexander, wasn’t used as a LOOGY seeing plenty of northpaws, but did show the kind of split that would lead a team to want to put him in that kind of role. The wide gap is owed more to his utter obliteration of same-handers as he was a little worse than average against the right-handed batters, though production was solid across the entirety of the season. The strikeout and walk rates were fairly ordinary, but you can see just how difficult it was for batters to get the ball off the ground against him. Throw in few balls hit all that hard no matter the trajectory and it’s easy to see why the team is happy to put him out there. It took Pedro Baez some time to get things going with the kind of ordinary start to the season that a championship-calibre club needs to find a way to improve upon, but instead of outsourcing they promoted from within by sticking with Baez. Getting the walks under control mirrored his increasingly better production as the walk-avoidance helped his average to quite good strikeout rates play up. He really couldn’t be more different from Alexander with oodles of balls in the air, but that sort of diversity is exactly what modern bullpens want to throw at over-matched batters.

Scott Alexander

Pedro Baez

Like many of the other teams that make their bones with strong evaluation the Dodgers showed an innate ability to pull the chute on those who showed little hope of turning things around meaning truly bad performances cannot snowball into killing the team. As such, average pitchers like Rich Hill get pushed down to the bottom of this list, but it should be noted that being the last player worth covering doesn’t mean he was a bad performer. Well, not the entire year. Coming out of the gates, Mr. Blister showed that FINALLY age had caught up with him. Except the team stood by their man and he figured it out to be a mostly average or better performer over the rest of the season. All those masterful curveballs piled up the strikeouts with long stretches where he was sitting down 30% or more batters, though the walk rate was also a little higher than his league-mates, too. Thrown enough curves and you’re going to hang one, which we see with the well-peppered nitro zone, below, but the below average contact is offset by the lovely strikeout rate.

Rich Hill

Moving on to the hitters you can see that there were some below average stretches in the third quarter, and the first was more a little better than well above average. On the plus side there was an outstanding run in the middle with a strong close to the season, as well. It feels a lot like picking nits to point out the poorer runs since they were often around the average, short-lived, and belie how strong the offense was on aggregate, but they also show just how normal the team was over the first two months of the season. Losing the left side of the infield, two 4+ WAR players in Corey Seager and Justin Turner, very early on explains a lot if not all of the issue. Turner eventually came back to be a lineup center, but the team also cycled through some players until they were able to hit on a couple of wild cards. A team without much of a handedness split purposely driven by an aggressive platooning system, the Los Angeles Dodgers also featured plenty of guys that were above average against both. Much gets made of their gimmicks and gadgets, but the motor was sound because of the numerous players that provided well above average performance regardless of which hand the guy on the hill throws with.

Leading the charge for the offense was Max Muncy who the team had signed to a minor league contract the April prior after limited run in Oakland. Finally given the opportunity to play with some frequency he was one of the best hitters in the game over his first 300 or so plate appearances. He walked at an incredible rate while striking out around the average, while showing a wonderful ability to carry his 100+ MPH drives to the kind of higher contact that all but assures a home run. You can see the back half of his season was less pleasant with a flip in the strikeout and walk rates to go with an accelerating decrease in exit velocity. The production shows some bounceback to close, and the nadir is merely a bit below the average, but there is enough here to see why folks aren’t totally buying back in. Whether the lesser performance was driven by injury or the league starting to figure out a plan of attack should be borne out over this upcoming season, but Muncy will always have those first few months where he absolutely carried the lineup.

Max Muncy

Muncy’s contributions were even more impactful, because they were only required at the hot corner after perennial All Star Justin Turner busted his wrist in Spring Training. Recovery and rehab meant a start delayed until mid-May, and you can see below that it took the batter a bit to get going. Patience was rewarded as he found another gear or three showing a nearly continuous uptick in production over the rest of the season. Lost power might have been a concern early with expected production exceeding actual for a long stretch, but he more than made up for it with a gap going in the other direction immediately after. Turner’s base starts with strong zone discipline that leads to a sustainably high walk rate. His strong contact ability means when he does swing at a pitch he likes he often puts it in play as evidenced by his good bit better than average walk rate. The exit velocity shows us that contact ability isn’t founded upon merely slapping the ball around, though the early wrist injury seems to have sapped some of that quickness. All the better to see him build hand strength over the course of the season to get back to the lightning quick bat that can put balls on ideal trajectories. One of the very best hitters in the game due to few weaknesses he may someday get his due if he could stay on his feet for a full season.

Justin Turner

Once a gifted all around player for the Dodgers, Matt Kemp signed an enormous deal, put on weight then saw multiple teams play hot potato with his contract. A journey that saw one more stop for the 2019 season with his recent trade to the Cincinnati Reds, though the final year of the deal means he can get off the ride after this year. Coming into camp last year looking more spry due to some multiple dozens of pounds shed Kemp got off to a great start to the season much like the year prior. Just like then he also couldn’t hold up to the grind as the second half fell off with actual production falling much shorter, perhaps, indicating a player who had lost his legs. Early aggressiveness was traded for later passivity helping boost the walk rate with no ill effects for the averagey strikeout rate. This was likely in response to diminishing exit velocity that went from a strength to a weakness over the course of the year. In an even further reduced role it is likely Kemp can be a contributor for his new club without even factoring in the offensive nature of Great American Ballpark, but will the role that keeps him fresh be large enough to still make a difference. Time will tell.

Matt Kemp

Another player saying hello to a new team is Yasmani Grandal who signed a one-year deal with the Milwaukee Brewers during the interminable portion of the free agency period. Most catchers you’re just happy if he hits well for a catcher, but Grandal drops the qualifier as he’s flat out a strong contributor in any lineup. This analysis won’t touch on his otherworldly defensive abilities, either, but suffice to say the Brewers are getting a real difference-maker both ways. He’ll battle the strikeout during his lesser runs, though generally make up for it with an even better walk rate, relatively. Some of this is driven by batting before the pitcher with some frequency, but that same thing might be likely next year, too. You can see a bit of a shelf in what had been increasing exit velocity later in the year, which seems fairly common for any catcher tasked with this heavy of a workload. Lesser time might help eliminate that later drop, but he’s just too good both ways for his new club to not put him out there as often as possible.

Yasmani Grandal

Moving along with Matt Kemp was Yasiel Puig, a similarly derided player for much of his tenure, but without the long journey as the Dodgers had been his only MLB home. His 2018 was little different from the past, in that, he missed some time, while being generally pretty good when able to get out there. Average strikeout and walk comes along with a ton of balls over 100 MPH and even a dozen or so above 110. Puig’s problem, though, is that most of his extremely hard contact is down or on a line. He very rarely carries his higher exit velocities to the more homer-happy zone above. Not to say he doesn’t have his share of pokes, as you can see several balls firmly entrenched in the green-zone. Guys like this always tease folks who wonder why they can’t just climb a few more degrees on their trajectories to turn some of those singles and doubles into highlight homers, but a man’s swing is a man’s swing. He’ll likely benefit next year with a few more of his softer fly balls carrying out of an uber-friendly yard, but if Puig is ever to become one of the best in the game, as his talent portends, it will be due to staying healthy, figuring out how to generate a bit more angle off the bat, and hitting a cutoff man once in a while.

Yasiel Puig

Once it was apparent that Corey Seager wasn’t going to play following his surgery the Dodgers through some spaghetti at the problem before splurging on the whole enchilada. Over his couple of months in Dodger Blue (TM) Manny Machado likely did what he has done throughout his career. Polarized fans with his incredible play on the field, but enough knucklehead stuff to make it hard to want to fully buy in to the player. His expected production was amongst league elites during his stint with Los Angeles, though you can see a fairly large gap across the board where his actual fell well short. When things did coalesce it was at that lower actual level, and with awful timing as the playoffs approached. Hard to blame his strikeout rate as that improved linearly during his time with strikeouts ranging from average to well below. His exit velocity figures jive with what you see with your eyes, tons of hard contact, but you can also see that shelf later on that coincides with his fall off in expected production. Like Puig, a lot of his best contact is on the lower angles that often mean doubles more than trots, though he did throw in several no doubters at the lower-end required velocities. Machado signed for likely the rest of his career with the San Diego Padres this past offseason where his personality quirks shouldn’t be chastised by reporters looking to climb a shit ladder, and he can just go about being one of the best all around players in the game.

Manny Machado

It’s common knowledge that Joc Pederson and Enrique Hernandez are platoon players, but like most channels in that common feed the story is only half true. Pederson remains a woeful hitter against lefties, and not a strong enough defender to force the team to play him against that type, but Hernandez made real strides last year to bury the idea that he can only hit lefties. In fact, the handedness breakout below shows he actually hit righties a bit better last year with nary a sign of it being a fluke. Both showed hot and cold stretches with the lesser runs putting them around the average if not a little worse. Pederson’s strikeout rate looks much more correlated, negatively, with his production as the gentle accrual over the season led to a much higher place by the end. Hernandez went the other way, but without much of a difference in his production. Both players saw their trajectories fall off over the course of the season, but Pederson showed much higher exit velocities that help him offset the worse strikeout and walk rates. Unlike many, both will be back next year looking to stake as much playing time as they can for themselves.

Joc Pederson

Enrique Hernandez

A couple of guys with the positional flexibility that helps the team stay optimum on the field and in the lineup are Chris Taylor and Cody Bellinger. Both might be further down this list, but that just shows the depth of the lineup as they combined to be around a dozen runs better than average. Taylor can play anywhere, but you can see the bat was a lot better in the first half when he walked a ton while keeping the strikeouts in check. When the levees broke the strikeouts rushed higher to unsustainable levels with a corresponding drop in walks leaving a large chasm. It’s rather surprising that he accrued the second most plate appearances on the team, but Taylor makes an impact even when the bat is held back by injury or simply not performing. In his sophomore season Bellinger didn’t quite get back to the levels seen in the year prior as he traded a good bit of his power to drop his strikeout rate a couple ticks. He showed some in-season adjustment, a good thing, but outside of a brief spike in the middle he traded a couple above average runs with for others with similar length and amplitude below average. It’s likely he will be better than this version going forward, but those expecting his extremely strong 2017 will probably feel left wanting.

Chris Taylor

Cody Bellinger

Below you will find the rest of the prominent players from this past season and how they broke out in four different ways. I will save the commentary here as the charts speak for themselves once you’ve got an idea of what you’re looking at, and by cutting down on the verbiage it allows for looks at more players. Each chart looks at a rolling 100-plate appearance (or ball in play) average with the top left showing each player’s true and actual wOBA* over the course of the season. Top right shows the rolling strikeout and walk plus hit by pitch rates, and the bottom left shows the exit velocity and launch angle combinations for every ball in play. Lastly, the bottom right quadrant shows each player’s exit velocity and launch angle over the course of the season. Feel free to start a conversation on twitter if you have any questions or want to talk about any of these players. More than happy to have those chats.

Caleb Ferguson

Daniel Hudson

Josh Fields

 

Brian Dozier

Chase Utley

Logan Forsythe

Austin Barnes

 



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