Hi, and welcome to another edition of Dodgers Dugout. My name is Houston Mitchell and by the time you are reading this I will be watching “Avengers: Endgame” at my local movie theater.
Tinker with Taylor?
I took a brief 10-day vacation, and in that span, I got some questions from you, the loyal readers. Let’s cover the topics most often brought up.
Q: When are the Dodgers going to give up on Chris Taylor?
Not for a while yet, if you believe Dave Roberts, who was asked if Taylor might hit the bench against lefties soon in favor of Joc Pederson or Alex Verdugo:
“This is not, for me, enough runway for Chris for what he’s done for us in the past. It’s not nearly enough time for me to even broach that. Chris has done it for us for two years at this level. For me, he’s going to get more leash because I believe in the person.”
Taylor is hitting .164/.250/.246 this season, usually starting against lefties. His average soars to .217/.280/.391 against lefties.
Pederson is hitting .091 (1 for 11) against lefties this season and is hitting .178/.260/.309 in his career against them. We know that Pederson can’t hit lefties and even in this slump, Taylor hits lefties better than Pederson does. The intriguing person here is Verdugo. He is 4 for 9 against lefties this season, with a double, two triples and a homer. He is hitting .267 against them lifetime in the majors, but in only 30 at-bats, an extremely small sample size. In the minors in 2018, he hit .368 in 123 plate appearances against left-handers. In 2017, he hit .280 in 124 plate appearances. So, he has shown the ability to hit lefties.
This leads us to the old problem: When do you give up on a player who has been productive in the past? The Dodgers are very slow to give up on players.
Just look at Pederson. Many were calling on them to get rid of him at the beginning of last season. They didn’t, and he has been one of their most productive players (as long as he isn’t hitting against lefties). Taylor was an above average hitter the last two seasons, with an OPS+ of 123 in 2017 and 110 in 2018. He hit .345 in the final month of 2018. He hit .282 in the playoffs.
I think he has earned a bit more time to get on track. We’ll check back in a couple of weeks and see if things have changed.
Q: Why did the Dodgers not upgrade their bullpen?
This falls under the category of “Why are you surprised by this?” Andrew Friedman believes in cheap arms who throw hard in the bullpen, and it’s Roberts’ job to sort out the arms and ride the hot hand. And in years past, it has worked well.
In 2016, the Dodgers were first in the NL in bullpen ERA (3.35) and used Joe Blanton as their main setup man in the last month. In fact, they used him so much that his arm basically fell off in the playoffs and he is now out of baseball.
In 2017, the Dodgers were first in the NL in bullpen ERA (3.38) and used Brandon Morrow as their main setup man in the last month. In fact, they used him so much that his arm basically fell off in the World Series and he has barely pitched since. (Do you detect a pattern?)
In 2018, the Dodgers were fifth in bullpen ERA (3.73) and used Pedro Baez as their primary setup man the last month of the season. They made it to the World Series, where for some reason they decided they liked Ryan Madson better than Baez and it cost them.
This year, the bullpen ERA is 4.93, 11th in the NL. But if you remove Dennis Santana, Brock Stewart and J.T. Chargois, who all stunk up the joint when they were with the team and are back in the minors, then the bullpen ERA falls to 4.00, sixth in the NL.
The Dodgers actually did splurge a bit in the offseason, signing Joe Kelly to a three-year, $25-million deal. And Kelly has been horrible. He was rarely good before they signed him unless he was pitching in the World Series, in which case he pitched like Sandy Koufax. Maybe the Dodgers can put him on the IL for the season and activate him for the World Series.
So, there’s no real surprise here. I stopped being frustrated about it, because this is obviously their philosophy, and I stopped getting frustrated over things I couldn’t control long ago. I mean, if I hit myself in the head with a hammer, I stop being surprised after a while that it hurts.
I suggest doing what I do now. Wait until after the game ends and see what has happened. If the bullpen blows the lead and they lose, don’t even watch.
What would I would have done? Well, Craig Kimbrel is available, but he wants to be a closer. I’d try to persuade him to sign anyway, saying he’ll get some save opportunities and stands a good chance to pitch in the World Series.
Q: Is Cody Bellinger for real?
Well, the odds of Bellinger hitting .424 this season are long. I’m also going to go out on a limb and say he won’t hit 75 home runs, which is his current pace.
But he is a better hitter. He has a much greater command of the strike zone and is laying off pitches he used to swing at and miss. I think the improvement is for real; the question is what realistic level he will settle in at. I’d say he could definitely hit .300 with power every season. So, when he goes into an inevitable slump, just relax and be patient; he’ll work his way out of it.
Q: What’s wrong with Justin Turner?
Nothing, other than the calendar still says April. He hates April for some reason. He has 93 career homers, but only two in April. He has double digit homers in every other month. He is a career .291/.366/.459 hitter, but a career .285/.349/.371 in April.
Q: What’s wrong with Kenley Jansen?
His cutter is a little slower and has a little less movement at times, leading to a lot of home runs allowed. This is the new normal for Jansen. The good news is his strikeout rate has ticked back up a little, and he is second in the league in saves. He’s actually just a good closer now instead of the incredible closer he was a couple of seasons ago. Hey, even Josh Hader blew a couple of games against the Dodgers, so try to keep the big picture in mind.
Q: There’s no way the Dodgers win the NL West this season. They are too streaky.
Um, they are streaky every season. If you’re ready to throw in the towel after 27 games, turn in your fan card and find some other hobby. They were 16-26 at one point last season, and they still got to the World Series. They are on pace to win 96 games this season. Why not give them until at least the All-Star break until you give up?
Russell Martin should be off the injured list this weekend, which means Rocky Gale will go to the minors. Rich Hill will be activated on Sunday and start then. They will make a corresponding roster move that day. Ross Stripling will move from the rotation to the bullpen.
Ask Ross Porter
Ross Porter will once again answer reader questions this season. All you have to do is email me your question at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will forward the email to Ross, and he will answer some each week. Take it away, Ross.
Laura Stegman asks: Hi Ross. Are the Dodgers always home on April 15 to celebrate Jackie Robinson Day? I can’t remember when they weren’t.
Ross: Excellent observation, Laura. The Dodgers play their first seven and their last five at home. Overall, 13 of 16 and the team is 13-3 on Jackie Robinson Day games.
Jay Rubenstein of Canoga Park asks: Ross, when was the last year the Dodgers did not win 90 games?
Ross: 2012. Since then, 92, 94, 92, 91, 104, and 92 victories. A seventh in a row this season would make them just the fourth major league club to ever achieve the feat. Over the past three years, only the Cubs have won more regular season games than the Dodgers.
Ray Flowers asks: In 1977, four Dodgers set a major league record by hitting 30 or more home runs. Did any of them almost miss doing it?
Ross: Yes, Ray. Entering the final weekend, Dusty Baker needed one more to join Reggie Smith, Ron Cey and Steve Garvey as the first foursome from one team to clout 30 in the same season. Houston was the opponent at Dodger Stadium. On Friday night before the first game, Reggie used the clubhouse phone, called the Astros dressing room, and asked to speak with James Rodney Richard. The 6-feet-8 Richard dominated the Dodgers more than any pitcher in the National League, beating them 13 straight times over the final 4½ years of his career. When J.R. got on the phone, Smith told him a lie, “Dusty is over here saying he’s going to hit his 30th off you Sunday.” When Reggie hung up, he went to Baker and told him what he had done, and a terrified Dusty replied, “Reggie, you are going to get me killed.”
Baker did not homer Friday or Saturday. On Sunday, he was down to his last two at-bats of the season. In the sixth inning, Manny Mota slugged a pinch home run off Richard, and with two out, Dusty got a pitch he could handle and slugged it over the left-field wall. After crossing the plate, an excited Baker gave a high five to the next hitter, Glenn Burke. It was the first ever high five. Burke then belted his first career homer and the third of the inning off Richard to put the Dodgers in front, 3-2. Houston scored four in the seventh and James Rodney won, 6-3.
Richard suffered a stroke in 1980 and had to retire.
Dominic DeFazio asks: I have followed the Dodgers since 1947. They used to be called “the flock” in the New York papers. Where did that moniker come from and why?
Ross: The Dodgers had several names before 1913, including the Bridegrooms (after four star players got married during the 1888 off-season). That stuck for a year, then the Grooms, Grays, Superbas and Robins. The Robins were the most popular because, even until the 1950s, newspapers still called them “the flock.” A group of birds is called a flock.
Tim Knoch asks: Do you think, Ross, the days of the single baseball announcer, without a color commentator/ex-player are gone forever?
Ross: Yes, Tim. Red Barber grieves.
You can follow Ross on Twitter: @therossporter
KTLA will televise six more Dodger games during the season. They are:
Saturday vs. Pittsburgh, 6 p.m.
Saturday, May 11, vs. Washington, 6 p.m.
Monday, May 27, vs. New York Mets, 5 p.m.
Thursday, May 30, vs. New York Mets, 6:30 p.m.
Saturday, June 1, vs. Philadelphia, 7 p.m.
Saturday, June 15, vs. Chicago Cubs, 6 p.m.
Tonight: Pittsburgh (Chris Archer) at Dodgers (*Hyun-Jin Ryu), 7 p.m.
Saturday: Pittsburgh (Joe Musgrove) at Dodgers (*Clayton Kershaw), 6 p.m.
Sunday: Pittsburgh (Trevor Williams) at Dodgers (*Rich Hill), 1 p.m.
Dusty Baker hits a grand slam in Game 2 of the 1977 NLCS. Watch it here.