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Series Preview: This one neat trick has cemented the Dodgers’ supremacy

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Sure, the Dodgers are good, but do you know why? The answer is pretty simple, but it’s not one the Giants can duplicate.

Chicago Cubs v Los Angeles Dodgers Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

Why are the Dodgers so much better than the Giants? Simple: they hit the ball hard and they hit the fastest balls harder than everybody else.

The Giants are about to park in LA for four games against a Dodgers team they’ve played tough this year, but who really don’t seem to struggle much on offense and have the pitching to match. An examination of just how the Dodgers are better seems relevant at this point, especially if you’re reading this and wondering what it will take for the Giants to go from second division to top of the league again.

Statcast is able to measure the batting average of balls put in play on pitches of a certain velocity. Let’s just look at 95 mph, since that’s pretty fast but at the same time not quite that common, although modern pitching has gotten to the point that we’re very close to 95 mph being the average fastball velocity. Excluding the pitchers, the Dodgers are really good against 95+ mph fastballs with a .348 batting average. That breaks down like this:

LAD BA vs. 95 mph+

Player Hits / ABs BA
Player Hits / ABs BA
David Freese 4 for 6 0.667
Matt Beaty 5 for 11 0.455
Justin Turner 12 for 28 0.429
Russell Martin 6 for 14 0.429
Chris Taylor 5 for 13 0.385
Alex Verdugo 5 for 14 0.357
Cody Bellinger 12 for 34 0.353
Max Muncy 7 for 21 0.333
Joc Pederson 5 for 15 0.333
Corey Seager 7 for 23 0.304
Austin Barnes 3 for 10 0.300
Will Smith 1 for 4 0.250
Enrique Hernandez 5 for 21 0.238
Kyle Garlick 0 for 1 0.000
A.J. Pollock 0 for 6 0.000
Total 0.348

Because our time is precious, I’m not going to jump around the league and compare the Dodgers to everybody, so let’s just take a look at how the similarly talented Yankees lineup stacks up against the same kind of fastball:

NYY BA vs. 95 mph+

Player Hits / ABs BA
Player Hits / ABs BA
Tyler Wade 1 for 1 1.000
Kendrys Morales 5 for 10 0.500
DJ LeMahieu 13 for 30 0.433
Aaron Judge 5 for 12 0.417
Luke Voit 13 for 37 0.351
Gio Urshela 10 for 29 0.345
Didi Gregorius 2 for 6 0.333
Cameron Maybin 4 for 12 0.333
Clint Frazier 7 for 26 0.269
Gary Sanchez 7 for 27 0.259
Mike Tauchman 3 for 13 0.231
Miguel Andujar 1 for 5 0.200
Gleyber Torres 5 for 26 0.192
Brett Gardner 5 for 26 0.192
Aaron Hicks 2 for 11 0.182
Thairo Estrada 1 for 6 0.167
Austin Romine 1 for 8 0.125
Greg Bird 0 for 2 0.000
Mike Ford 0 for 1 0.000
Kyle Higashioka 0 for 1 0.000
Troy Tulowitzki 0 for 1 0.000
Total 0.293

So, that at least partially establishes the Dodgers’ bona fides against this kind of velocity. And now... here are the Giants:

SFG BA vs. 95 mph+

Player Hits / ABs BA
Player Hits / ABs BA
Donovan Solano 1 for 2 0.500
Buster Posey 9 for 20 0.450
Tyler Austin 3 for 11 0.273
Yangervis Solarte 5 for 14 0.357
Joe Panik 7 for 28 0.250
Stephen Vogt 3 for 13 0.231
Brandon Belt 5 for 25 0.200
Evan Longoria 6 for 27 0.222
Mac Williamson 1 for 5 0.200
Kevin Pillar 7 for 34 0.206
Steven Duggar 4 for 25 0.160
Brandon Crawford 6 for 30 0.200
Gerardo Parra 2 for 14 0.143
Mike Yastrzemski 3 for 18 0.167
Pablo Sandoval 2 for 22 0.091
Alex Dickerson 0 for 1 0.000
Aramis Garcia 0 for 1 0.000
Connor Joe 0 for 2 0.000
Erik Kratz 0 for 4 0.000
Mike Gerber 0 for 4 0.000
Total 0.213

Doesn’t compare, really. The .213 mark (less the pitchers) is actually a bit better than the Giants’ average against 94+ mph. Drop down that one extra mile per hour and the batting average drops to .211. Again, pitchers excluded. Bumgarner and Dereck Rodriguez actually both have hits against 94 mph fastballs.

So, while this alone doesn’t account for the Dodgers’ NL-leading .350 wOBA (pitchers excluded). They have an MLB-leading team OBP of .354, in part because of a 10.5% walk rate. They’re patient, they hit the ball hard, and as a group, they can handle the highest velocity pitches.

Just to make one more comparison: the Twins have the best lineup in baseball right now (.357 wOBA) and have even out-homered the Dodgers (135-110). But against fastballs of 95+ mph, their team batting average is just .300.

Success against this one specific type of pitch doesn’t have to determine the entire course of the franchise, but it’s helpful to see why the Giants have been left behind in the power trend that has overtaken the league: they literally can’t keep up. And to really drive the comparison home, which of these things is not like the other?

BA vs. 95+ and Lineup Age

Team BA vs. 95+ Lineup Avg. Age
Team BA vs. 95+ Lineup Avg. Age
Dodgers 0.348 28.2
Twins 0.300 28.0
Yankees 0.293 28.0
Giants 0.213 30.2

Getting younger can only help the Giants at this point.

Meanwhile, four days in LA means we’re going to get at least one full day of the Max Muncy-Madison Bumgarner cove shot beef that led to two “Go Get It Out of the Ocean” shirts:

I think two shirts covering the same event is a bit much, but this is Hollywood, and if you don’t make a sequel or reboot of an original property immediately, the franchise dies. But also — oof. Look at them. They’re so happy. So pleased with themselves. Do you taste bile?

Anyway, the Dodgers do not care about The Rivalry, but they do love bonding over t-shirts inspired by their encounters with Madison Bumgarner. And Dodgers fans, who also don’t care about The Rivalry, will still get a kick out of mocking a team they know the fan base for which actually does care about The Rivalry.

Yes, the Giants have played the Dodgers tough this year (4-5 so far) and the Giants are playing better overall lately, and yes, the Giants are 3-2-3 this century in four-game series at Dodger Stadium, but — ah, screw it. This is Giants-Dodgers. It’s not supposed to go according to plan. The Dodgers have the best everything and the Giants might just ruffle their feathers enough by getting their grimy fingers on their fine dining ware or something that it might just get in their heads.

Plus, if this winds up being a trash-talk heavy start that might favor the Giants, too. The Giants are a slow, deliberate team that plays without emotion or energy. The Dodgers might be young and impudent enough to overplay their hand and go for an excited kill shot early, letting the tortoise-esque Giants get the better of them to start the series. Win one of the first two, then who knows?

Hitter to watch

Matt Beaty was a 12th-round draft pick by the Dodgers in 2015 and along with Willie calhoun (who went to the Rangers in the Yu Darvish trade) and Walker Buehler are the first players from that draft to make it to the big leagues.

(That was the Phil Bickford, Chris Shaw, Andrew Suarez, and Steven Duggar draft for the Giants)

He’s going to get more playing time now that Corey Seager is on the IL for 4-6 weeks with a hamstring strain. The Giants saw him in one plate appearance opening weekend (he singled off of Ty Blach as a pinch hitter) but have missed him since because of his up-and-down roster status. He hit his first major league home run on Friday night against the Cubs and has nine RBI in 50 plate appearances.

It’s expected at this point that the Dodgers can just reach into their farm system and call up a shiny new present to unwrap, and of course the Giants struggle against players they’ve never seen before, so this seems like it could be an interesting matchup for the rookies, Tyler Beede and Shaun Anderson especially. Beaty is essentially one of their contemporaries. It feels like it has been the Giants’ fate for their veterans to be flummoxed by rookies while their rookies are flummoxed by veterans.

Pitcher to watch

Game one of this series will mark one full week since reliever Joe Kelly last pitched and if you’ve checked in on the Dodgers at any point this season, then you know why: he’s been really bad, and he’s the only player Dodgers fans don’t like:

He’s like if Nick Vincent and Derek Holland merged. I feel this merge comparison works because their combined salary is just a little bit more than Kelly’s and their combined ERA (6.14) is actually worse (7.59), although we’re talking about a difference of roughly sixty innings more pitched by that bad back of of the bullpen combo. Anyway, Kelly’s last scoreless appearance came on June 8th against the Giants!

This is a four game series. While it’s entirely possible the Dodgers’ four starters each go seven innings, there’s a nonzero chance that one of these games gets weird enough that Dave Roberts has to deploy Joe Kelly.

Prediction

Bumgarner will make that start on Thursday against Walker Buehler in a “Get Out of the Ocean” Game rematch, and if it goes well (6 IP 0-3 runs), it will be his last start as a Giant.