A Season to Remember

60 regular season games and 2 playoff rounds were played until fans were allowed into stadiums in any capacity. For Dodgers fans, the trade was well worth it.

Globe Life Field – Arlington, Texas – October 18, 2020

The 2020 National League Championship Series was 4 innings away from ending the Dodgers’ hopes to win a World Series for the first time in 32 years. For three and a half of the first five games of the NLCS, the Atlanta Braves flat out dominated the Dodgers. Max Fried’s curveball, Ian Anderson’s changeup, and Freddie Freeman’s (ridiculous) bat had Dodger Blue in deja vu.

And then, suddenly, everything changed.

Will Smith must hate his name because the act he committed against the Atlanta pitcher of the same name was nothing short of criminal. Smith’s 6th inning home run in Game 5 marked a change that Dodger fans were not ready for – a change that was more than welcome. From that moment, truly, the Dodgers had everything under control. Less than 2 weeks later, the Commissioner’s Trophy changed its address to Vin Scully Avenue. Home sweet home.

The 2021 season represents an opportunity. An opportunity that only one team in baseball history truly has had. If the Dodgers are able to defend their World Series championship, with the roster the team enjoys, they undoubtedly will have become a juggernaut dynasty. I, along with all of my loyal Dodger Blue, am beyond excited to see what this season has to bring. More than anything, I look forward to returning to my seat at Dodger Stadium. Home sweet home.

Quick Pitch 8/12: Is Small Ball Back?

It’s no secret that Austin Hedges is absolutely atrocious at the plate. His career wOBA is .260 (MLB average = .321). In 2019, he set a personal record for K% at 31.4% of his at bats. As bad as he is at the plate, Hedges keeps a Major League job due to his incredible framing ability.

Source: Baseball Savant

Hedges is aware of his inability to contribute offensively, so he (and some of his teammates) has tried to get on base in less “conventional” ways.

Safe to say that Chicken Strip left that chicken raw. But how does he and his team respond?

Hmm. Another Padres bunt. An even worse Dodgers defensive play. This trend isn’t looking too good for the Boys in Blue, so if you’re Fernando Tatis what do you do?

At this point the Padres may as well lay down bunt every pitch for the rest of the game at least until the Dodgers prove they can get someone out. Tatis eventually singled to right, loading the bases. Then comes Manny Machado. Other than his bunt in game 7 of the 2018 NLCS on a 3-2 count, I don’t think anyone has ever seen this guy bunt.

News flash: he didn’t bunt.

The Padres’ 3rd inning last night reintroduced the question: Is small ball dead? Should it be?

The Dodgers obviously did San Diego a major favor by playing subpar Little League defense on the two bunts; however, credit has to be given to Jayce Tingler, Austin Hedges, Jurickson Profar, and even Manny Machado for recognizing and taking advantage of an opportunity to catch Stripling and the Dodgers off guard.

Small ball may be “dead,” but it shouldn’t be. There is always a time to throw down a bunt; this game is all about creating runs. The Padres did that, and because of it, they created a win.

Is Corey Seager the Best Hitter in the NL?

Our first Deep Dive of the 2020 season has arrived!

This year’s Los Angeles Dodger to get off to a ridiculous start is not nearly as surprising as last year’s. Cody Bellinger took the league by storm in 2019, outperforming projections to a degree rarely ever seen. By contrast, Corey Seager’s start to 2020 should not come as a shock to those who have followed the young shortstop’s career to this point.

Seager made his mark early in MLB with a rookie season for the ages. Both his wOBA and OPS were a full standard deviation above the league average, and among qualified batters, he finished 13th in wOBA, 13th in OPS, and 10th in wRAA. Not bad for a first attempt at Major League pitching.

Season stats for Seager not including his 2015 cup of coffee or 2018 injury-shortened season. Sources: Baseball Reference, FanGraphs, Baseball Savant

His 2017 numbers were in line with his rookie campaign, which made the baseball universe believe that he was going to be a perennial All-Star and perhaps MVP candidate. Unfortunately, as most know, the world had other plans for Seager in 2018. Surgeries on his hip and his elbow cost him not only the 2018 season, but also much of the offseason leading up to 2019. Due to this, the 2019 season was not up to the same level that we had seen from Seager in 2016 and 2017, but the numbers were by no means bad. He led the National League in doubles. His wOBA and OPS were still above league average despite never feeling right during the season.

Fast forward to 2020. Through 11 games, Seager has a .459 wOBA, a 1.132 OPS, has already added nearly a full win to the Dodgers, and is hitting nearly 2/3 balls hard. This is not to say that the entire season will go like this for Seager, but there so far has been no sign of slowing down. In fact, his .375 batting average is under-performing. He has an expected batting average at this point of over .500. Like I pointed out in Quick Pitch, every ball that Seager hits is leaving the bat with a fury. Even his outs look good right now.

Source: Baseball Savant

Contact like this shows why his xBA is so much higher than his actual even at this point in the season. The best part for Dodger fans is that the ball is getting sprayed to every field with this kind of power.

Source: Baseball Savant
Source: Baseball Savant

From the examples, one can see that Seager is hitting all kinds of pitches in different zones. In his career, Seager has been ruthless not only against the fastball but the slider as well. This sets up to be a two-headed monster that plagues relievers especially in this new era of high velocity fastball/slider repertoires. He even shows that the changeup isn’t safe in the SF game facing Tony Watson.

The short answer to the original question is still at this point no, Corey Seager is not yet the best hitter in the NL; however, based on his underlying numbers from 2016 and 2017 as well as the start to his 2020 season, there is no reason he can’t be. Keep an eye on this guy.

Quick Pitch – 7/27

Coronavirus Outbreak

The first weekend of the 2020 MLB season is in the books, and it’s fair to say that it didn’t exactly go as planned. With news that at least 14 individuals inside the Miami Marlins organization have tested positive for coronavirus, the league office has its first true test. The 60-man player pool was created in order to combat the effect of an outbreak occurring throughout an organization. The main issue here, however, is and always should be protecting the health of the highest risk individuals inside MLB’s universe. It isn’t time to freak out yet. It’s time to sit back and see what Commissioner Manfred and the league will do to keep this season going in a safe manner.

Corey Seager…

Let’s talk about baseball. The Dodgers no doubt will be disappointed with an opening series split with the woeful San Francisco Giants, but there were a couple very encouraging signs that deserve some attention. 

When Corey Seager broke his body in 2018, many thought it would be unlikely that he would come back to be the same player that he was prior to the injuries. This claim was not necessarily debunked in 2019 when Seager had a very good but not great season at the plate and didn’t flash great arm strength at shortstop. Many Dodgers fans wanted Seager to be traded in the offseason or even at the deadline last year for someone like Francisco Lindor, but I was not one of these people. Seager’s approach at the plate is quite different from other Dodger batters; it’s well known that he relishes attacking the first pitch especially when it is a fastball. 

In this weekend’s opening series, Seager had 16 official at-bats. 12 of these 16 at-bats resulted in a hard-hit ball (95+ mph exit velocity). What’s even more interesting to me is that his approach at the plate has not changed despite calls for him to do so from fans. Seager is mashing the ball, and he’s doing so on the first pitch regardless of where it is.

With the exception of the ball that hit his wrist/bat in the last game, all of these balls were “hard-hit.” Source: Baseball Savant

If he keeps this up, he will be in the running for MVP at the end of the season. Eventually these hard-hit balls will find space in the field of play or leave the yard. It may still be a little premature to say so, but I’m going out on a limb to say that Corey Seager is back.

Article image sourced from LA Times.

Quick Pitch

Opening Day 2020 Edition

  1. The Ball is Still Flying

The Los Angeles Dodgers scored 27 runs in three Summer Camp games against real MLB opponents. Of those 27 runs, 16 of them were scored via the 6 home runs the team hit in those games. Historically, Dodger Stadium, as we all know, is not exactly home run hitting paradise with its large dimensions and notorious marine layer. The only evidence we need to justify that marine layer is Joc Pederson’s “I hit that ball to Pasadena” (thanks Joe Davis for the quote) reaction to a walk-off home run last year on Jackie Day. That ball got out by about 3 feet LOL. 

When MLB was accused of modifying the baseball to facilitate more home runs last year, the league responded by saying it just had gotten more efficient at coring the baseball. Well, so far in 2020, the coring of the baseball seems to be just as if not more efficient. It’ll be interesting to follow the home run trend this season, especially in a 60-game season.

2. Brusdar Graterol is Insane

So, this observation is even more obvious to those watching the Dodgers than the home run one. Graterol, originally a top prospect in the Twins organization, has long been touted as a flamethrower with starting potential, but I didn’t realize how hard this dude could throw until Monday night. The Diamondbacks may as well have been the Bad News Bears in the batter’s box. Graterol touched 101 mph with his 2-seam/1-seam fastball, and his command looked like it was in mid-season form. 

Source: Statcast, Baseball Savant

With the main struggle of the 2018 and 2019 Dodgers being the back end of the bullpen leading to Kenley Jansen, command and velocity like Graterol’s would be a welcome addition to the 2020 squad. The best part of this for the Dodgers is that originally Graterol wasn’t even coming to LA originally in the Betts deal, but Boston basically gifted him to the Dodgers when they didn’t like Graterol’s medical history. Thanks boys.

3. The New Rules Suck

I know the season hasn’t even started yet, but I already hate the new rules. Being a baseball purist, I love the idea of bringing pitchers in to face one guy. I love that pitchers hit in the NL. I love that games aren’t decided in extra innings until someone gets a guy who starts in the batter’s box across home plate. I get that 2020 is weird, but these rules didn’t need to happen. Let baseball be baseball. Those who actually follow the game are not worried about it. Leave it alone.

Mix It to Fix It: The (self-created) Kenley Jansen Problem

New seasons often lead to pretty extreme overreactions. Since 2016, it’s been even tougher to analyze the early months of the season due to the changing characteristics of the ball. In the case of Kenley Jansen, however, a troubling trend seems to have emerged. Since the end of the 2017 season, Jansen has not been the same guy. 2018 represented his work statistical year in terms of K%, BB%, ERA, Chase% and Whiff%. His patented cutter has led to his dominance since 2015 with some naming him baseball’s greatest reliever. The lack of success in 2018 has so far continued into this young season. Five of Jansen’s last six outings have resulted in opponents getting at least one run off of the big closer.

What led to the decline in 2018? Some say velocity on the cutter. Despite a near 1 mph drop in 2018 from 2017 levels, Jansen maintained the same BAA and average EV on his cutter. When he located the pitch where he wanted, it was as dominant as ever. Just ask Nick Martini.

That cutter was 91.3 mph according to Statcast. Location and actual movement on the pitch seem to matter more for Jansen, especially as his career progresses and as chase rates continue to climb across the league.

The real key for Jansen will likely be developing a secondary pitch as his velocity goes down. Here’s the good news for Dodgers fans: HE HAS ONE. He just doesn’t use it as much as he used to or as much as he should. Jansen’s slider is a truly elite pitch. It runs between 82-84 mph, a ~10 mph difference from his cutter. Over the past two years, the slider has been Jansen’s best whiff-inducing pitch – missing 57% (!) of bats in 2017.

As of April 22, Jansen had thrown seven sliders in 2019 out of 188 total pitches. If this trend continues through the season, it will be the lowest rate at which he has thrown sliders in his career. Garrett Hampson would love if Jansen would avoid the slider the rest of the season.

So would Lorenzo Cain.

In fact, just about every player in Major League Baseball would prefer to keep the slider away from Kenley’s good side as the last time he surrendered a home run off of the pitch was in July 2015. Home runs have recently been a thorn in Jansen’s side, and the slider would help to alleviate some of the issue. In order to keep his cutter elite and keep batters puzzled, more of a true pitch mix would likely help the closer return to the peak of baseball’s bullpen elite.