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The Dodgers are an organization that has always prided itself on the abilities of its starting pitchers. Koufax, Drysdale, Valenzuela, Hershiser, Sutton, all of these names resonate and instill hope among the organization and its fans. It is on the shoulders of pitchers like these that the Dodgers have succeeded in the past; their names echo throughout Chavez Ravine, their impact never forgotten.
That is why when Dodger fans woke up to news that Clayton Kershaw, their long-time ace, was to be placed on the disabled list due to bicep tendinitis in his throwing arm, whatever little hope still existed in Los Angeles vanished like a whisper in the warm Southern California wind.
At the time of Kershaw’s DL placement on Sunday May 6, the Dodgers were 15-18 in the standings. As of this writing the Dodgers are now 16-22, having dropped their last two games to the Cincinnati Reds, the team with the worst record in the National League.
Needless to say, the Dodgers have been off to a terrible start this first quarter of the season. Many fans, and parts of the organization itself, have lost hope and are ready to watch the Dodgers’ season slowly burn into ash, accepting of their fate.
But out of ashes rise phoenixes.
Dodgers fans, ye of little faith, non-believers, this is for you. Not hope all hope is lost for the Dodgers. Their record may not show it, their injury report may say the opposite, but the numbers have a different narrative about them, especially when looking at the team as a whole.
wRC+ is used as a benchmark to analyze a specific player’s performance relative to league average. By setting the league average production at 100, any number above or below it denotes how well a player is doing relative to their fellow ball players. Other than looking only at a specific player’s performance, it can also be used to analyze an entire team’s production.
Currently in the National League, there are only three teams who have a team a wRC+ over 100. The Dodgers, though still sub-100, have a team wRC+ of 97, ranking them fifth in the National League.
In fact, when it comes to most offensive statistics, the Dodgers, believe it or not, are not the worst team. They are currently fifth in walk percentage, sixth in runs scored, and sixth in positive strikeout percentage. So far, the Dodgers have not been bad, they’ve just been average.
If the Dodgers’ offensively still have the capacity of being one of the top contenders in the National League, then it must be their pitching that has caused them to suffer these terrible losses, correct?
In actuality, the Dodgers’ terrifically terrible start to the season can be simply attributed to bad luck. The Dodgers’ pitching staff has one of the lowest xFIPs in the league (3.66), second only to the Nationals. Their average FIP is ranked fourth in the National League at 3.82. Based on just these two numbers, Dodgers pitchers are actually doing better than most of the league.
But, the pitching staff has one of the worst home run to flyball ratios (13.9%) and have allowed 46 homeruns on the season, third most in the league. Dodgers pitchers also have one of the highest BABIPs, allowing more hits on balls in play than most teams in the National League. It is very possible that these numbers are signs of bad luck for the team, and that the Dodgers have the capacity to begin outperforming opposing teams as the season progresses.
The Dodgers, despite their grueling and tumultuous losses, are still performing at reasonable levels. If they can adjust for their injuries and focus on the intangibles, they might just make up for what is potentially their last season with Clayton Kershaw. With Walker Buehler showing impressive numbers at the start of his career and Justin Turner soon returning to the lineup, the Dodgers will have to anchor themselves in the assets that can lead them toward success in the remainder of the season.
Don’t count them out just yet.