Winning With The Long Ball: Dodgers Proving Small Ball To Be Overrated

‘They’re both good, but neither of these teams work a pitcher like the Dodgers; to me” I recently told my father, watching game four of the ALDS between the Yankees and Red Sox. Rick Porcello was at just 41 pitches starting the 5th inning, and having a relaxed evening.

After watching around almost 200 Dodgers games this season – they pass my eyeball test in terms of being able to wear out a pitcher even on his best night. Even though I felt this way, I was without any concrete data that this was actually taking place. Until recently, that is.

This Sports Illustrated article by Tom Verducci hit the wire a few hours after that Red Sox-Yankees tilt finished. It details well the point I want to drive home. These Dodgers aren’t predicated on ‘small ball’, they live and die by the long ball. And they’re my kind of team.

Weary is the pitching coach who must contend with the depth and power of the Los Angeles Dodgers lineup. Slogging through rush hour traffic, babysitting a colicky infant and enduring dental surgery come to mind, at least if you saw the face of Atlanta Braves pitching coach Chuck Hernandez after four games of trying to stop them. Nineteen pitching changes and 624 pitches were not enough.

“You have to be in the strike zone,” Hernandez said, “because they will not go outside of it. They make you work. They’re like those old school Yankees and Red Sox teams that just wear you out.

“They’re very good at pitch recognition. And those pitches that are just off the edge, they just don’t swing at them. And when you make a mistake, they make you pay.”

If the two teams that will face off Friday night in the NLCS are any evidence, small ball in the National league could be a thing of the past. The final series of the year in the NL will feature the two teams that finished first and second in the league in home runs in the Dodgers and Brewers.

Is Hitting With RISP Overrated?

Los Angeles’ NLDS series victory over the Atlanta Braves in four games was powered exclusively by the long ball.

So deep and powerful are the Dodgers that they had 108 home runs on their bench in Game 3–just 25 fewer than the entire Marlins team. They scored 70% of their runs in the series on home runs (14 of 20). They posted a .210 batting average, which is increasingly becoming a meaningless statistic.

“It’s tough to make a living trying to string hits together today,” Friedman said.

The Braves tried to do that. Here’s all you need to know: they were outhomered, 8-2. End of story.

Much is made of the Dodgers ability to ‘RISP’ – that is how they hit with runners in scoring position. However, is this notion simply overplayed at this point? While Los Angeles finished ninth in the league in that category (.253), the Brewers were even lower; checking in 14th with a .246 average in that category.

A Team Built Around The Long Ball Is A Team Built For The Postseason?

The Sports Illustrated article points out that if you play for rallies and stringing hits together in the playoffs off elite pitching, you may die a slow death. Here is a part of the article that excited me in regards to the 2018 Dodgers, how they’re built, and our fears about their ability to small-ball.

You want rallies? You want balls in play and moving runners? You want a game that is virtually extinct. The Braves and Dodgers had 69 turns at bat in the series. Only once in those 69 turns did either team manage three hits in one inning–the Dodgers game-breaking, two-run sixth inning Monday, and that improbable rally needed a bloop single by Puig that was in the air for 4.9 seconds and carried only a 4% hit probability.

The Dodgers are going to see a Milwaukee bullpen that has specialization arms of all shapes and sizes. Baseball today is about how well a team can counter that match-up in the big spot. If you have the right chess piece at your disposal in your lineup – think David Freese’s big two-out hit in game four in Atlanta – you have a legitimate shot at advancing to a World Series.

The Dodgers General Manager seems to think this team is well-equipped.

“I was thinking about this a little bit,” Friedman said about how this Dodger team may be better equipped than the last two to win the franchise’s first title since 1988. “I do think this is a deeper team than last year, a more well balanced team.”

Furthermore, we all know that the 2018 Dodgers feature ten players on their postseason roster that had double-digit home run totals within the regular season. Can the most homer-happy team in Los Angeles history do what so many run-manufacturing squads before cannot? Will patience at the plate trump the ability to bunt, hit with RISP, and steal bags at reckless abandon?

Wise minds within the game believe that this Dodgers team is as dangerous as any ever assembled. This is a direct correlation to the frequency that they leave the yard against a pitcher throwing right or left-handed.

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  1. What a joke. How does the team do with RISP? What is saber-nerd favorite Kike hitting with RISP? We have a manager that can’t manufacture a run to save his life because he has no managerial skills. Dave sits on his hands and waits for someone to hit the long ball and that’s about it. How does station to station Dave do when the team doesn’t hit a homer? They normally take the L.

  2. The Dodgers recent success is due to them taking walks and stealing bases. Dodgers have a 13 deep line up that can all mash and that gives the dodgers the capability to have a left and right handed line up.

  3. Sorry, I don’t think you get the whole picture from that article you read. Patient and disciplined hitters and strike zone? Machado didn’t look too patient nor disciplined when swinging against Vizcaino in the 9th inning of game 3 of the NLDS. Strike 3 was a wild pitch! To me the timely hitting does pay off, more so in the playoffs than during the regular season. Game 3 was an example of not bringing in the RISP leading to a loss. Dodgers had more than their fair share of chances but too many free swingers proved wrong. That Braves bullpen was ready to give the game back to the dodgers. In game 4 it was Freese’s big hit that won the deal. That was timely hitting, not swinging for the fence with 2 strikes. Manny’s 2nd homer provided cushioning. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a dodger’s fan. But this lineup full of free swingers doesn’t make me confident. Dodgers should win the NLCS. But the game has to be won on the field.

    1. Fair points. I thought I took the article linked in pretty well, but maybe I need to go back over it. Go Dodgers.

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