Opinion of Kingman's Performance

Monday, October 1, 2018

2018 Division Champions

It took 163 games.  It required a full allotment of 40 players on the roster in the end and the team playing essentially a brand of playoff baseball their final five weeks of the season. But the Dodgers did it, and what they accomplished over their final 35 games showed the makings of a championship ball club.
The Dodgers celebrate their 6th straight NL West Division Title (AP Photo by Jae C. Hong)

Finishing 25-10 during the stretch run, including going 6-1 over their division rival Colorado Rockies in the month of September, the Dodgers came out on top.  And just barely at that too.  Colorado played lights out baseball against every team EXCEPT the Dodgers, and that proved to cost them the division.

This was a Dodger team with deficiencies when hitting with runners in scoring position.  This was a team that didn’t perform well in one-run games.  Los Angeles’ bullpen showed some vulnerabilities as well.  This team had only one starter with double digit victories, and it was a ball club that rarely fielded the same lineup each night.  But they overcame it all and were still able to win  the division flag in what might be remembered for years to come.  

Consider this: runner-up Colorado won eight straight after being practically left for dead in a Dodger Stadium sweep from Sept. 17-19th.   With the Dodgers playing a respectable 10-3 over their final 13 games in the schedule, a resurgent and scalding hot Rockies team caught them (and briefly overcame them) in the standings.

With the Dodgers trailing the Rockies in the standings by one game heading into their final series at San Francisco, the whole situation seemed like a recipe for disaster, as many Dodger fans simply hoped for a wild-card birth.  The Dodgers have a history of failing against their hated rivals, especially in San Francisco. I have to admit, it didn’t look good.  I had tickets to the first San Francisco game on Friday against a a fired up Madison Bumgarner.  The Giants ace asked his manager to hold him back a game, giving him the start against the Dodgers in the start of the season's final series.

L.A. held serve.  Battling against the lefty as their own southpaw, Hyun-Jin Ryu, outpitched him in a 3-1 victory.  What was I to do?  Two games left, the Dodgers still down 1 game in the standings.  I purchased a ticket to the second game.  The Dodgers won again in a 10-6 slugfest, catching Colorado who finally lost a game at home against Washington.

Entering game 162 in a dead heat tie with Colorado, the Dodgers decided to pull Walker Buehler from starting the series finale, to hold him back for a potential one-game playoff or possible wild card game start.  Rich Hill would start, and I would buy a ticket to the last game.

Chris Taylor is congratulated after scoring the first run in the Dodgers' 15-0 win on Sunday. (USA Today photo)

What a performance it was.  With their backs against the wall, the Dodgers destroyed San Francisco 15-0 in an epic and memorable season finish.  Hill was stellar and the offense completely superb.  The Rockies were up to the task on Sunday as well, demolishing the Nationals in their home finale 12-0 to set up today's game # 163 at Dodger Stadium.

Such was the back-drop before today's historic one-game playoff.  With some trepidation, Dodger fans watched today's game recalling Dodger history reminding them of heartbreaking playoff losses in 1980, 1962 and even 1951.  Today, October 1, 2018, was different.

Winning as they have all year, with the home run, the Dodgers took game # 163 with a 5-2 victory, backed by an ace-like pitching performance by Walker Buehler and a pair of two-run homers, one each by Cody Bellinger and Max Muncy.  Buehler took a one-hitter into the 7th before being lifted with a five-run lead.

Today's win was huge for a number of reasons.

1) A loss meant a wild-card play-in game as a visitor in Chicago.  Facing Jon Lester on the road would have been a very tough chore.
2) The ball club gets two days off to set the pitching order in place and rest up after a rigorous stretch run.
3) They clinched a home field advantage in the first series, and against all teams except Milwaukee.
4) They remain at home through Friday night while others are all traveling, a huge advantage.
5)  Their first opponent, Atlanta, is a young and inexperienced team, completely beatable.  Facing Milwaukee initially would be facing a team even hotter that the Dodgers.

So October baseball has begun.  Eleven wins will be required.  Last year's team went 10-4 in post season play, one game short of the brass ring.  The Dodgers know that there is one thing on their minds and that is winning the whole thing.

 On San Francisco radio this morning, former Giant pitcher and current broadcaster Mike Krukow, one who is usually reluctant to spread praise on the Dodgers, did just that.

"They're the best team in the National league.  Their offense is hitting it's stride.  We just finished a series against probably the best team in baseball.  15-0 tells you that."


  

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Is It Possible that the Dodgers Are Finally Hitting Their Stride in September?

Some Dodger teams in the past five years during their division title streak have had a tendency to get hot in unprecedented fashion.  This is something that has avoided the 2018 ball club.  But maybe, just maybe, they are now starting that historic win steak.  This time at the perfect time of year.

Few will forget 40 wins out of 50 games in the months of June and July in 2014.  And then there was last season's summer run where the Dodgers went 55-11 between June 7th and August 25th.  Both were unforgettable hot streaks and at record levels.  Most would agree that both those teams peaked too soon.  Could you imagine if one of those team had that incredible run in September/October?  I may be going out on a limb with this observation, but perhaps we are about to see it now.

2018 has been frustrating for those if us used to watching the blue have a torrid hot streak the past few years.  Just when things have seemed to get on track this year, they get swept by the likes of the Cardinals at home.  With a crucial road trip in September, they started fine with two wins out of three in Colorado, only to drop two in a row in Cincinnati to the last place Reds.  Things looked pretty bleak on Wednesday of this week.  By tonight, (Saturday), all those bleak predictions are out the window.
Yasiel Puig hits his third homer of the day (photo by Bill Boyce/Associated Press)

Suddenly, when the team really needs a hot streak, they are on it.  It is make or break time.  A failure here means no October baseball.  After the last four games, none of us can imagine an October without Dodger baseball.  These guys are clicking on all cylinders.

How so?  Look at these numbers in the last four games:

39 runs scored,  including a .348 Batting average with runners in scoring position (15 for 43).  This is quite the turnaround.  Small sample size?  Sure, it's only four games, but a trend is developing.  Hitting in the clutch is something that has been lacking all year.  Perhaps it is their time now.  Look at some of the offensive production over those four games:

Puig   15 AB, 7 R, 9 H, 9 RBI, 5 HR
Turner 14 AB, 4 R, 7 H, 4 RBI, 2 2B, 1 Sac Fly, 3 BB
Machado 17 AB, 3 R, 4 H, 5 RBI, 2 HR, 1 2B, 1 Sac Fly
Bellinger 14 AB, 4 R, 4 H, 6 RBI, 1 HR 
Grandal 12 AB, 1 R, 4 H, 3 RBI
Pederson 14 AB, 3 R, 5 H, 1 RBI, 1 HR
Hernandez 10 AB, 2 R, 3 H, 2 BB
Muncy 6 AB, 4 R, 2 H, 1 RBI, 8 BB

What shouldn't be overlooked  are the 8 innings of shutout-2 hit ball that Walker Beuhler pitched on Friday night.  

There was one event over the past four games that stands out to me, and I'm hoping it will be talked about in the future as the "catalyst" that launched the Dodger championship season.  I'm talking about the "At Bat of At Bats" by David Freese.

On Thursday night, with the Dodgers facing a dominating Cardinals club that completely manhandled them in a 3-game sweep at Dodger Stadium in late August, former Cardinal David Freese came to the plate in the first inning with Turner and Machado in scoring position.  

This is the typical situation we have seen all year where a Dodger would fail to deliver, stranding runners on base.  Not this time.

In a 14 pitch at bat, reminiscent of Alex Cora's 18-pitch masterpiece against Matt Clement back in 2004,  Freese laced a triple down the left field line to start the Dodger offensive onslaught this weekend.  Cardinal starter Austin Gomber was ineffective after raising his pitch count to over 30 in an effort to get the first three outs of the night.  

Perhaps I'm wrong, but the David Freese at bat may turn out to be the catalyst to lift the Dodgers season.  Meanwhile, let's sit back and enjoy some pennant race baseball.  There are 13 games to go, and if the Dodgers are hitting their hot streak stride right now, October baseball should be mighty fun to watch.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Dodgers Hold Serve with Win Vs. Cardinals, Still 1 1/2 Back in Division

On August 22nd of this confusing, inconsistent and tumultuous Dodger season I made a mental note that the Dodgers would need to win 24 of their remaining 34 games to qualify for post-season play. 

At the time, it seemed like a daunting task.  The club was coming off being swept at home by what appeared to be a superior St. Louis Cardinals team.  Kenley Jansen was getting smacked around, obviously not himself.  The offense wasn't hitting with men in scoring position and the team was a mere six games over .500 at 67-61, 4 1/2 behind first place Arizona.  They had a day off to think about things, regroup and start over against a couple of last place opponents, (San Diego and Texas). 

So now, 19 games later, the Dodgers have played at a 13-6 clip, still behind in the division standings, but certainly in the running for a playoff spot.  They continue to frustrate us losing to cellar dwellar Cincinnati in 6 of 7 on the year, but taking a series on the road from first place Colorado, in a respectable performance over the past weekend.  This is a Jeckyll and Hyde team that is impossible to predict.  My confidence in them taking the National League Pennant again isn't high, yet then there are signs every once in a while that the magic has returned, only to see the team to fall back into bad habits.

Let's take last night's 9-7 win at St. Louis for instance.

Kershaw started striking out 6 of his first 7 outs recorded, but a homer surrendered to relief pitcher Tyson Ross opened the flood gates.  He gave up 4 runs over six innings in earning his 5th straight win.  (Associated Press photo)

The team looked fantastic.  Kershaw was dominant in early innings.  Striking out Cardinals at a clip we hadn't seen all year.  The offense clicking, hitting with runners in scoring position, at one point 5 for 7 with men in scoring position.  Even hitting back to back sacrifice flys, a rare occasion this year.  Up 8-1 in the 5th, this game was in the bag, right?  Not this year.

Kershaw started getting hit.  The defense sloppy.  The base-running, stupid, (what were you thinking Barnes?). Relievers struggling.  Offense stranding runners again.  Kenley Jansen - lost.  By the ninth, this laugher has turned into potential tragedy. 

A win in game one at St. Louis should have raised confidence, but the way it ended put a damper on that.  Last night's game was 2018 in a nutshell.  It should have been an easy win.  Instead it was a roller coaster ride.

They go at it again tonight with Walker Beuhler.  Another "must" win.  With a victory, the Dodgers ensure themselves of at worst a .500 season with their 81st win.  I continue to believe that 91 wins takes the division.  That'll require an 11-4 close out to the season.  Again, not impossible, but a formidable task.  Do the Dodgers have it in them?  Again, the 2018 team raises doubts.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Changes in the game: How pitchers are used (Part 2)

(continuation of previous article on changes of the state of pitching in MLB)

Radar gun infatuation:

There was a time when velocity wasn't the first measuring stick used when scouting pitching arms.  There was the belief that if a teenager had respectable velocity, that it would eventually develop to major league caliber.  Everyone can hit the fastball, but off speed stuff, breaking pitchers and overall deception played a major role when recruiting arms.  Not so much anymore.

In 2007 there were only eight major league starters that had a fastball that averaged more than 95 MPH.  By 2014, that number rose to twenty.  The radar gun readings were difficult to find on major league scoreboards in the 1990s.  Now they are a "must see" for fans watching the game in house.

Today when evaluating pitchers, the first measure of consequence for scouts is based on the speed from the radar gun.  If you are not hitting 90 on the gun, you probably don't get a second look.  This has resulted in the increase in injury and the meteoric rise of ulnar collateral ligament surgery, most commonly known as Tommy John surgery.  

As of 2014 it is estimated that 33% of all MLB pitchers have had TJ surgery.  In fact, most teams believe that it is only a matter of time before every pitching arm breaks down and requires the procedure.  How much of this has to do with overthrowing is unknown, but I'd speculate that the radar gun infatuation of scouts is a major cause.

Then there is the recklessness of young kids who will air it all out in efforts to gain scouts attention because they al know that if they are injured, there is TJ surgery around that can fix them.

The end of the 200 inning starting pitcher and as a result, the big money contracts for starters:

As of today, August 25, 2018, there are only three pitchers in the National League that will likely hit the 200 innings pitched mark.  Scherzer (with 181), deGrom (with 174) and Nola (with 169).  Perhaps Greinke hits the mark as well, but he'll need to step up his game in his final six outings and average 7 innings per game.  Such is the stat of the modern starting pitcher.  

(source USA Today Sports illustration)

Arms are fragile, a lot of money is invested in them and management of teams takes a cautious approach to ensure they are able to get their money's worth for these high salaried elite starters.  The recent decrease in innings pitched by starters most likely will result in decreases in money spent on these elite starters.  As great as Clayton Kershaw has been, his decrease in innings combined with his fragile back and plantar fasciitis has definitely lowered his stock as an elite starters.  I doubt he opts out of the $71 million remaining on the final two years of his deal.  Seriously, who is going to be willing to pony up more than $35 million a year for a 31 year old pitcher that hasn't pitched enough innings two of the past three seasons to qualify for the ERA title?

Saving the arms, results in more position players taking the mound:

As of July 24, 2018, forty-one position players had taken the mound in what was essentially mop up duty in blow out games.  The previous record for a season was 2017 when 31 position players pitched.  Then there was the concession game where Dave Roberts put Enrique Hernandez on the mound when he ran out of pitchers in Philadelphia, coughing up the 16 inning July 24th  game as a result.

Don't be surprised to see multi-dimensional players that can pitch and hit in the near future.  Guys like Shohei Otani.  Or players such as Darren Dreifert, Rick Ankiel, James Loney and most recently Alex Verdugo who were all equally adept on the mound as they were with the bat out of the draft.  Perhaps teams will seek out players that have the skills to do both in order to save beleaguered bullpens that now pick up many more innings than they used to in the past.


__________________________________________________________________


The current state of the Dodgers appears bleak but when you consider that they only need to make up a game in the standings per week, a post-season appearance is certainly doable.  With that said, the troubled bullpen and the lack of clutch hitting has decimated the team this month of August.  There's no cushion for error anymore.  The boys need to step things up or they will certainly be viewed as one of the largest disappointments of the 2018 season.

It's nice to see blow out games, but the Dodger's inability to push across runs in close contests is proving to be their downfall.  11-1 and 12-2 victories are rather hollow when they come in conjunction with extra inning defeats and late inning one run losses, a rather common thread this season.  It is time for this team to dig deep and have a victorious run, particularly against division rivals.  All is not lost, but time is running out.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Changes in the Game: Starting Pitching, A Change in Philosophy (Part One)


The next series of blog pieces will deal with notable changes in the game, particularly with the handling of pitchers.  Baseball isn't what it was three years ago and as players salaries rise and injuries are on the upswing as well, primarily to pitchers.  As this occurs we are seeing a change in philosophy with regard to their use and the protection of the pitching assets that teams possess.

If trends continue as they are, 2018 will be the first year that a Dodger pitcher will fail to tally a complete game.  Is this a result of bad performance?  Not likely. It is mainly a combination of several factors. 

1) Organizations are coddling arms, meaning that there is so much money spent on high level pitchers, they are to be protected.  Walker Buehler never sniffed a nine inning start in the minors.  In fact, his longest outing was 5 1/3 innings.  That my folks is protecting your assets.  Which is why when Buehler had a no hitter through six against the Padres back in May, there was nary a word said when he was removed in the 7th inning.

2) Managers such as Dave Roberts will not allow his starters to make it to the ninth inning, save that their pitch count is extraordinarily low.  By extraordinarily low, we are talking about less than 90 pitches, an extremely rare feat through eight innings of work.  Even with an established starter such as future Hall of Famer Clayton Kershaw, Roberts will lift him out of concern for their overall health, very often in the 5th and 6th innings.  As a result, team hitting strategies are to remain  patient against top tier starters.  It is imperative to get their pitch count up to remove them from the game.

3) The latest trend in managerial strategy is to remove a pitcher before he faces a hitter for the third time.  The metrics show that player batting averages rise significantly the third time around.  This makes perfect sense.  A pitcher is tiring, a batter has had a couple of looks and notices patterns and recognizes pitches.  Now with bolstered bullpens, it is perfectly logical that teams will opt to throw a fresh arm out in the 5th inning to keep the opposition off balance.

4) Bullpens are deeper and roles of bullpen arms are more defined.   You've got your long guy, your sixth inning guy, 7th inning guy, 8th inning guy, closer, lefty on lefty guy, ground ball specialist, etc, etc... With these defined roles and relievers that can air it out because they are only facing three or four hitters, it is becoming less advantageous to allow a tiring starter to pitch deep into games when teams have stronger options out there.
"A quality start is shaking hands with the catcher at the end."  - Sandy Koufax

5) As time goes on, even the most experienced starters are accustomed to only pitching 7 innings at most.  Reigning Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer only has one complete game, and that leads the league.  Clayton Kershaw, especially with his recent back problems, now is often out of gas by the 6th inning.  Stamina hasn't been built up on many starters, and the past mentality of finishing what you start is for players from a by-gone era.  This is shown in the numbers.

Last year there were 59 complete games in the major leagues. In 1979, the Milwaukee Brewers alone  had 61 complete games on the season.  Just to give you an idea how things have changed, six years earlier in 2011, the total of major league complete games pitched was 173.  That 2017 total is a decrease of almost 200%.   Last season the most CGs a team had was seven (7) by the Cleveland Indians.  Compare that to any Dodger team in the 70s.  See below:

Dodger team complete games:
1979 - 30
1978 - 46
1977 - 34
1976 - 47
1975 -51

Compare those numbers to more recent Dodger team totals:
2016 - 3
2017 - 2
2018 - 0 (so far)

With all these changes, a decrease in complete games pitched does not equate to poor performance on the field.  To the contrary, the Dodgers won an LA franchise record 104 games last year in the season with a team record number of pitchers used (26) and least amount of complete games (2).  Barring a miraculous finish, we won't see a repeat of 104 wins this year, but it still looks to be a Division winning ball club, despite the fact that their starting pitching metrics have changed to mirror those of the modern game.

What to look for in the upcoming blog pieces:

  • Radar gun infatuation and their ramifications
  • The end of the 200 IP pitcher
  • Decreases in spending for starting pitching
  • More position players will be taking the mound ( and the record number of them this season)
  • The inevitable change in the National League: The introduction of the designated hitter

*************************************************
Manny Machado smacked his first home run as a Dodger on July 26, 2018. (AP Photo)

The road trip from hell is almost over.  Through nine games, the Dodgers are 6-3 and remain in first place.  A trip that possibly could define this 2018 Dodger team.  This is a resilient group.   Alex Wood has been returning to the 2017 version we saw.  Rich Hill and Clayton Kershaw are coming to form.  Their early season injuries may have been a blessing in disguise because those starting pitchers don't nearly have the wear and tare that they would normally have as August approaches.

The tough road isn't done yet with one remaining with the Braves in Atlanta and then a difficult home stand vs. Milwaukee and Houston.   Then they're back on the road against the two hottest teams in baseball, the Oakland A's and Colorado Rockies.  Watch for another key trade deadline deal as the Dodgers front office tries to pull the trigger on a deal to get them that one additional win in the post season.










Sunday, July 22, 2018

In Defense of Logan Forsythe

I have to be honest and say that the outline of this piece was written before Logan Forsythe's three hit game today.  The timing of Forsythe's best offensive game this season was appropriate, though it's not as if one day's performance that included a hit off a position player would change anyone's opinion on him.

Uniformly there seems to be one topic of discussion that Dodger fans have agreed upon and that is that Logan Forsythe has to go.  His offensive output has been pretty much that, offensive.  Social media, specifically twitter, Dodger message boards and blogs, have blasted him for at least two months now.  Trade deadline rumors have thrown him into virtually every deal imaginable, as if he was a caveat to any trade in which the Dodgers potentially gave up valuable prospects.  ("If we give you prospect A, B and C, you'll have to take Forsythe and his contract along with it." -Those types of deals).


(getty Images

So I'll be the voice of contrary opinion and say that Logan Forsythe can be a valuable member of this ball club.  Not only as a defensive rock in a Dodger infield that has its flaws, but as a veteran influence that will deliver and be a valuable piece in this post season run.

Dave Roberts plugs him into the lineup almost everyday and unnoticed by the masses is that Forsythe makes both the routine and difficult defensive plays day after day.  Defensive metrics tell the baseball world he has regressed this year with the glove.  I don't see it.   Metrics told us that Machado was a statue at shortstop, and then we saw unbelievable defense today.  

If there are flaws with sabermetric stats, it's on the defensive end of the spectrum.  My eyes see a hard hit ball in Forsythe's direction, and usually he comes up big.  Can the same be said about infield play by Muncy, Taylor and Hernandez?  Let's put it this way.  If a spectacular play needs to be made, which Dodger player do you want the ball hit to?  I'd put my money on Forsythe over just about any Dodger player outside of Bellinger.

Defensive metrics list his dWAR at 0.1, a significant regression over his career high dWAR in 2017 that was 1.2.  This statistical fall off is caused primarily by inconsistent play and 4 errors committed at third base.  As the season progresses and his innings in the field increase, these numbers are bound to improve.  

I'm not of the position that it is time to let the club's best defensive infielder loose.  There is a value to a steady glove down the stretch.  There have been players on championship clubs in in the past that served a purpose with steady defensive play, even if they brought little to the team with the bat.  Cesar Geronimo with the Big Red machine in the 70s Reds, (two championships and four pennants).  Mark Belanger served as a defensive strength around his teammates in Baltimore from the late 60s into the 80s.  (one Championship, four pennants).  Even the Dodgers of the 70s-80s rode out a long stretch with one dimensional Steve Yeager behind the plate.  He was hardly a threat with the bat, but arguably the best defensive catcher in the game during his prime.

With regard to Forsythe's offensive production.  He has struggled more than any season he has experienced thus far.  He has had reduced playing time, which is undoubtedly a factor.  His OBP has decreased due to his failure to keep up with the walks he drew last season.  There are those that are quick to criticize him for taking too many pitches.  This has probably resulted by his attempt to replicate lat season;s .351 OBP.  After todays' game, Logan's OBP is at .280, hardly acceptable but it is a number that is steadily rising in his three games since the break.  Perhaps we are starting to see a change in his fortunes.

Are we so quick to forget last year's post season?  Forsythe's .425 on base percentage over 14 games was second best on the club (of those with regular playing time).  He was amongst the team leaders in several offensive categories.  When it was time to shine, Forsythe delivered much more consistently than other Dodger starters.  His value in post season play is something that should not be overlooked.

It will be interesting to see if the recently concluded Milwaukee series serves as a catalyst to Forsythe's season.  Sitting under the Mendoza line for most of the year, Logan has emerged from the All Star break raising his average to .219.  That five day break may have been what the doctor ordered,  It certainly will be interesting to see if he's able to go on that offensive run that has been missing all season.  




Friday, July 20, 2018

It's Not "Make or Break" Time, But it's Close


The next 17 days the Dodgers play out a brutal schedule without a day off.  They start off today with ten consecutive days on the road, only to return home and play another seven without a break.  All this added to the fact that their NL West rivals all have at least one day off.  Some having as many as three rest days during this same stretch.  

We can complain that this is not really fair, but we all know that the schedule evens out over the 162 game marathon they each play.  It's a tough road ahead, but at least they’ll face some weak opponents, right?  Au contraire my friend.  Here goes:

This afternoon, in Manny Machado's Dodger debut, the Blue Crew faces the Brew Crew.  That will be three games at Milwaukee, a resurgent team with a 55-43 record.  Add to that they're a hungry team for a victory after being swept in five games at Pittsburgh prior to the break.
Phillie manager Gabe Kapler (AP Photo/Todd Kirkland)

This initial series will be followed by three games at East Division leading Philadelphia, where former Dodger Director of Player Development, Gabe Kapler, has the young Phils playing their best baseball in years. And just when you think the Dodgers would catch a break, they Dodgers fly into Atlanta for four games against a Braves club that is 1/2 game behind the Phillies.  They don't call it Hotlanta for nothing too.  Humidity in Georgia is expected to be aroung 80%. 

The team returns home for a short stretch against the Brewers again for three and then the 2017 World Series rematch against the Astros, another three game series.  The Houston series is bound to receive a nationally televised game and inevitable national attention as well.

That’s seventeen games against first and second place clubs with a combined .623 winning percentage.  Not ideally what we wanted coming out of the All Star break, but there are two ways to look at this.

1) There is the potential of  being buried.  
2) There is the opportunity to make a statement. 

Let’s hope for the latter.

Manny Machados arrival couldn't have come at a more opportune time.