The National League pennant winning Dodgers were a great team in 2017. But they had to improve in several areas from the previous season in order to do that. Two major areas come to mind and it’s important to take a look back and recognize how much that helped the Dodgers advance to the World Series. Those two areas were hitting against southpaws on the offensive side and getting more innings out of the starting rotation.
The bats were much better against left handers in 2017. If you remember it was one of the Dodger’s glaring weaknesses in 2016. The Dodgers were putrid against left handers that season and it was not a secret with opposing clubs. Other teams would end up sending out a parade of lefties in the late innings to stymie the Dodger sticks. It usually worked.
It’s important to point out how much the club worked on this from spring training through the regular season. Early on during exhibition season the club focused on hitting left handers and the strategy worked very well. As a matter of fact it changed the opposition’s approach to the Dodger’s lineup. No longer could they just send out the southpaw brigade to stop the Dodger sluggers.
Dodgers vs. left handers
2016- .214/.291/.333 .623 OPS 37 HR 148 RBI 159 Runs scored
2017- .253/.342./.447 .789 OPS 65 HR 222 RBI 227 Runs scored
As you can see by the numbers above the difference between 2016 and 2017 is like night and day. The Dodgers were dead last in the majors in 2016 against left handed pitching. Last year they were considerably better. It’s not even close. Just compare their wRC+ from the 2016 season to the 2017 campaign. It’s pretty obvious. You gotta be able to hit left handed pitching if you want to succeed. The Dodgers were finally able to get that problem taken care of.
Dodgers wRC+ vs. lefties
The other major issue was the lack of innings from the starting rotation. I still think this was a problem last season but it was slightly better. More often than not we still saw 4-5 inning outings from the starting rotation but the Dodgers were able to squeeze a few extra innings out of the rotation and it made a big difference.
The Dodger bullpen pitched more innings than any other club in 2016. As a direct result their starting rotation averaged the least amount of innings that season as well. The Dodger starters that year tossed 862.1 innings averaging a little over 5 innings per start, and ranking 29 out of the 30 clubs. The bullpen that season led all of MLB with 590.1 innings pitched. In contrast the rotation logged 885 frames that ranked them 17, middle of the pack. The relievers notched 559.1 innings which ranked the 11 out of the 30 teams.
As I’ve said many times on this blog, the more innings you get out of your rotation, the less strain you put on your bullpen. Otherwise your relievers get tired in September and become unreliable from overuse in October. Those extra innings given by the rotation thanks to Clayton Kershaw, Alex Wood, and Rich Hill ended up playing huge in the postseason.
The Dodger’s focus on these areas was laser sharp in 2017. The improvement in these two categories played a big part in the Dodger’s pennant winning season. Give credit to everyone involved from the management, coaching staff and players. What areas will the Dodgers work on for the 2018 season? I’ll give you a hint; it has to do with limiting home runs.