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Dodgers Dugout: Time to open up the reader mailbag

Dodgers catcher Austin Barnes falls the ground after catching a foul ball.
Austin Barnes
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Hi, and welcome to another edition of Dodgers Dugout. My name is Houston Mitchell. The Dodgers have played only 13 games, but that’s over 20% of the season. It will be over before you know it.

I get a lot of reader questions every day, so let’s open up the old reader mailbag and answer a few.

Why can’t the Dodgers develop a catcher who can hit?

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Wow, we’re giving up on Will Smith a little quickly there, aren’t we?

Before we get to Smith, let’s talk about Austin Barnes. First, let’s look at his combined numbers from 2018-20. In that span, he has had 503 plate appearances, which is basically the equivalent of a full season. In that “season”, he has hit:

Avg: .199
OB%: .305
SLG%: .306
OPS+: 66 (which means he is 34% worse than the average hitter)
2B: 17
HR: 9
RBIs: 40
BB: 56
K’s: 131

Defensively, he is slightly below league average at throwing out base stealers (which is not always the fault of the catcher, I mean, a coordinated 4-year old could basically steal second off some of these Dodgers pitchers because they are so slow to the plate).

But let’s move on the another important defensive category: Pitch framing. I’m sure you’ve heard talk about this during games. It’s basically catching a pitch that is a bit outside in a way that fools the ump into calling it a strike. Pitchers like to work the corners of the plate, so any catcher who can help them earn an extra strike or two during a game in invaluable. The difference between a 2-and-1 count and a 1-and-2 count during an at-bat is immense. And who is one of the best pitch framers in baseball?

Austin Barnes.

He is fifth this year (55 catchers qualified for the list). In 2019, he was 24th among 65 catchers and in 2018 he was 12th among 60 catchers. The luxury that the Dodgers offense allows them to carry a player who is not strong offensively if he plays great defense. Now, I don’t quite understand how pitch framing is counted because I’m not sure how you can read an umpire’s mind to say he called it a strike because of how the catcher caught it. And, I’m not sure if pitch framing counteracts a .199 batting average, but the Dodgers probably have other internal numbers that tell them more about Barnes’ worth.

Last season, by the way, Russell Martin was 10th in pitch framing.

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As far as Smith goes, he’s four for 22 with a homer. He has also walked six times and struck out only three times. Last year he hit, .253/.337/.571. And while he did slump in September last season, it is far too soon to give up on Will Smith. If he continues to slump, and they bring up Keibert Ruiz and he can’t hit, then you might have something. But not yet.

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Why do they keep batting Max Muncy second?

The Dodgers have won a whole lot of games batting Max Muncy second. So far this season, he is hitting .194/.324/.516 in the second spot. For his career, his numbers there are .253/.393/.559. Do we really think Max Muncy is going to hit .194 this season? Again, this is start-of-season bias. If he had started with his normal numbers, and then went into this mini-slump after Game 40, most people wouldn’t have said a word. But because numbers are magnified at the start of a season, it’s far easier to become concerned. Dave Roberts may at some point may decide to drop Muncy in the order, but there’s little fault I can find in keeping him in the No. 2 spot right now.

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I keep seeing players in the dugout without a face covering, or players spitting. I thought the Dodgers were being more careful?

Yes, there is still a bit of sloppiness in the coronavirus procedures throughout all of baseball. There’s still some high fiving after games or after great plays. Some guys have been spotted wearing masks without their nose covered, which sort of defeats the purpose. But, we are talking about changing years of ingrained behavior. They are grown men, and really all you can do is tell them what to do and hope they do it, unless MLB wants to start fining players for improper procedure.

Andrew Toles update

The attorney representing Andrew Toles was granted a continuance until Sept. 30 in the trespassing trial of the Dodgers outfielder in Key West, Fla. The case had been scheduled to go before a jury Aug. 17.

Going down

Teams had to reduce their active roster from 30 to 28 on Thursday, and the Dodgers did that by sending pitcher Adam Kolarek and utility man Zach McKinstry to their alternate training site at USC.

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It’s a bit of a surprise to see Kolarek sent down, as he was 2-0 with a 0.00 ERA, giving up two hits and striking out three in 3.1 innings. That’s an admittedly small sample size, but he pitched great for them down the stretch last season too, giving up one earned run in 11.2 innings.

The Dodgers still have Scott Alexander, Jake McGee and Caleb Ferguson as left-handers in the bullpen.

MLB and the players’ union came to an agreement earlier this week that allows the roster to remain at 28 players for the remainder of the season, instead of cutting down to 26 in a couple of weeks, which was the original plan.

Who’s in the playoffs?

The top two teams in each division, plus the next two with the best record make the playoffs. After Thursday night’s games, here is the NL playoff list:

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NL East
Miami
Atlanta

NL Central
Chicago
Milwaukee

NL West
Colorado
Dodgers

Next two in
San Diego
Washington

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Ask Ross Porter

Former Dodgers broadcaster Ross Porter is back for another season of “Ask Ross Porter.” We have a new email address this season for it. Ross will have access to this email address and will get your questions without me having to forward them. So, if you have a message (like thanking him for his years as a broadcaster) and not a question, feel free to let him know. Send your question or comment to rossporterdodgers@gmail.com.

Jerry Dalley asks: If the Dodgers win the World Series, do you think David Price will get a ring and/or a share?

Ross: Good question, Jerry. His teammates hold a vote and decide how much of a share he will get. My guess is that he would receive a ring, and if not a full share, probably a three quarters share. Usually, players are generous with their teammates, and in this case COVID-19 is a factor in Price not playing so that could make the difference. Also, since he’s new to the team and has a multi-year contract, the other players want to keep him happy and not resentful. Only my opinion.

John Bennett asks: Like Gil Hodges’ situation, it’s a disgrace Steve Garvey is not in the Hall of Fame. What are his chances of getting in?

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Ross: Not good in the immediate future. Garvey has never come close to being inducted. Garvey dropped off the writers’ ballot in 2007. He is now on the Modern Era Committee ballot. Last year was Steve’s fourth time since 2010 to be considered by the Modern Era committee. It has 16 voters so 12 votes are needed. Garv has never gotten more than seven votes. On the writers’ ballot, his best showing was 42.6% in his third year (1995). He fell to 21.1% in 2007, his final year of eligibility with the writers.

Jim Lawson of Santa Barbara asks: Hi, Ross. If you are scoring the game, how did the runner get to second base to begin the 10th inning?

Ross: The designated runner is considered to have reached second on an error, though no error will be charged. If the runner scores, it is ruled an unearned run and the runner is not charged with an at-bat.

Irv Zakheim of Spokane asks: Ross, I love college baseball. It was the thrill of a lifetime for me to play second base for NCAA Division II national champion San Fernando Valley State (now CSUN) in 1970. Which colleges have sent more players to the major leagues this season?

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Ross: Since each team is allowed to carry 60 players on its roster this season, a maximum of 1,800 jobs are available. Zack Pekale of NCAA.com says 806 played college baseball. They represent 237 schools. Irv, the Florida Gators lead the way with 19 players while Virginia has supplied 17. CS Fullerton, LSU, and Vanderbilt have 16 each. The SEC has supplied 151 players, ACC 104, and Pac-12 81.

Bill Caplan of Granada Hills asks: As fantastic as Vinny was, I would welcome your innings because you would give us statistics no one else had. I named you King Stats. Nowadays everyone has them in their laptops, but how in the world did you get yours back in the Stone Age? I still miss you on the broadcasts.

Ross: I’m very appreciative of your kind remarks, Bill. It was difficult to obtain the stats in the Stone Age which was over three million years ago because I lost my cellphone.

Up next

Friday: San Francisco (Jeff Samardzija) at Dodgers (Julio Urias*), 6:30 p.m., SportsNet LA, AM 570

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Saturday: San Francisco (TBA) at Dodgers (Clayton Kershaw*), 6 p.m., SportsNet LA, AM 570

Sunday: San Francisco (TBA) at Dodgers (Walker Buehler), 1 p.m., SportsNet LA, AM 570

*-Left-handed

And finally

Breaking down the Chris Taylor throw that ended Wednesday’s game. Watch and read about it here.

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Until next time...

Have a comment or something you’d like to see in a future Dodgers newsletter? Email me at houston.mitchell@latimes.com, and follow me on Twitter at @latimeshouston. To get this newsletter in your inbox, click here.


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