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Dodgers Dugout: Here’s why defense could be the Dodgers’ downfall

Max Muncy
Max Muncy
(Associated Press)

Hi, and welcome to another edition of Dodgers Dugout. My name is Houston Mitchell, and, I mention I don’t understand why Billy McKinney is playing every day and that very night he hits a home run. Never underestimate the power of the newsletter. I must use it for goodness and niceness and not evil and destruction.

A troubling trend has struck the Dodgers this season: Shaky defense. I’m not talking tough plays that just bounce off the tip of a fielder’s glove. I’m talking missed pop flies. Throwing to the wrong base. Taking the wrong route to a ball. Mental mistakes the Dodgers haven’t really made since their run of division titles began.

There is a stat out there called Total Fielding Runs Above Average. Basically, it condenses all of a player’s fielding stats into a single number that shows how many runs that player has saved, or allowed, on defense, compared to an average defensive player. If you are a 10, that means you have saved your team 10 runs over an average defensive player at that positions. A minus-10 means you have cost your team 10 runs compared with an average defensive player. You can read more about it by clicking here.

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Let’s see where the Dodgers rank at each position among the 15 NL teams. We’ll list the top five teams, where the Dodgers rank if not in the top five, and the worst team. These numbers are through Tuesday.

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Catcher

1. Washington, 7 runs

1. New York, 7

3. San Francisco, 6

4. Arizona, 4

4. Philadelphia, 4

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13. Dodgers, -1

15. Atlanta, -5.

Neither Will Smith nor Austin Barnes have been particularly brilliant on defense.

First base

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1. Dodgers, 14

2. San Diego, 7

3. San Francisco, 5

4. Colorado, 4

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5. St. Louis, 3

15. Pittsburgh, -11

Another arrow in the “Max Muncy for MVP” quiver.

Second base

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1. Atlanta, 12

2. Colorado, 9

3. San Diego, 7

4. Dodgers, 4

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4. Miami, 4

15. Arizona, -6

Gavin Lux, Muncy and Chris Taylor have all been +3 or better, but Zach McKinstry (-4) and others drag them down.

Third base

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1. Colorado, 16

2. Washington, 7

3. St. Louis, 6

4. San Francisco, 5

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5. Chicago, 4

5. Pittsburgh, 4

8. Dodgers, -1

15. Cincinnati, -7

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Shortstop

1. New York, 10

2. Colorado, 7

3. San Francisco, 4

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3. St. Louis, 4

5. Miami, 3

12. Dodgers, -5

15. Milwaukee, -8

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Using this metric, Corey Seager grades out as the worst fielder on the team among those who play regularly.

Left field

1. Atlanta, 18

2. San Francisco, 17

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3. Milwaukee, 14

4. New York, 11

5. St. Louis, 8

11. Dodgers, -9

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15. San Diego, -17

AJ Pollock grades out at 0. But this number is dragged down by Matt Beaty, McKinstry, Luke Raley and Zach Reks, who are all below average.

Center field

1. San Diego, 23

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2. Milwaukee, 13

3. Cincinnati, 6

4. Dodgers, 5

4. Miami, 5

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4. San Francisco, 5

15. Colorado, -12

Cody Bellinger is responsible for much of that positive score.

Right field

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1. Atlanta, 12

1. Miami, 12

3. Milwaukee, 11

4. Washington, 9

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5. Chicago, 6

6. San Francisco, 4

7. Dodgers, 3

15. San Diego, -19

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The Dodgers have used 12 right fielders this season. The best defensively: Billy McKinney. The worst: Sheldon Neuse.

Pitcher

Five tied for first: New York, Miami, St. Louis, Atlanta and San Francisco.

15. Dodgers, -2

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Team

1. San Francisco, 45

2. Milwaukee, 27

3. St. Louis, 25

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4. Colorado, 23

5. New York, 20

9. Dodgers, 10

15. Philadelphia, -35

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As you can see, the Giants are in the top five at every position except second base (12th) and right field (sixth). The Dodgers are in the top five at three positions and the bottom five at four positions. Which is probably why this is happening:

Most unearned runs given up, NL
through Tuesday

1. Dodgers, 63

2. Arizona, 60

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3. Washington, 57

4. Chicago, 55

5. New York, 54

15. St. Louis, 38

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The league average is 48 unearned runs given up. The Giants have given up 49 unearned runs. So, as you can see, using both those metrics, there is a big gap between the Giants and Dodgers defensively. Enough to explain the Dodgers being four games behind? That would explain a lot and that would put the Dodgers in a one-game playoff, where anything can happen, instead of a best-of-five playoff series. Defense wins championships goes the baseball cliche, and this season is definitely proof of that.

Hall of Fame: the second basemen

We continue our look at who the top Hall of Fame candidates at each position are in Dodgers history and whether they deserve entry or not. To determine the top candidates, we look at two stats, WAR (wins above replacement), which gives us a good idea of how players with long careers compare to each other, and JAWS (Jaffe WAR score system), which is their career WAR averaged with their seven-year peak WAR. It was created by Jay Jaffe and is detailed in his excellent book, “The Cooperstown Casebook.” It can be used as a way to measure a player’s Hall of Fame worthiness by comparing him with the players at his position who are already in the Hall, using advanced metrics to account for the wide variations in offensive levels that have occurred throughout the game’s history. For example, of the top 10 second basemen in JAWS, eight are in the Hall of Fame, one, Robinson Cano is not yet eligible, and one, Bobby Grich, was not elected to the Hall. And again, like I always say, no one stat is perfect. But this gives us an easy comparison, and, this is supposed to be the fun part of the newsletter. Debating stuff like this should be enjoyable.

Those 10 second basemen, with their JAWS score:

1. Rogers Hornsby, 100.7

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2. Eddie Collins, 94.3

3. Nap Lajoie, 83.5

4. Joe Morgan, 79.8

5. Charlie Gehringer, 68.8

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6. Rod Carew, 65.5

7. Robinson Cano, 59.4-x

8. Bobby Grich, 58.7-y

9. Frankie Frisch, 58.2

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10. Jackie Robinson, 57.7

x-not yet eligible for Hall; y-not in Hall of Fame

There are 21 players in the Hall of Fame as second basemen. Here’s where the other 13 Hall of Famers rank in JAWS:

11. Ryne Sandberg, 57.5

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14. Roberto Alomar, 55.0

15. Craig Biggio, 53.6

17. Joe Gordon, 50.4

18. Billy Herman, 47.6

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22. Bobby Doerr, 44.3

23. Nellie Fox, 43.3

27. Bid McPhee, 41.0

28. Tony Lazzeri, 40.9

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30. Johnny Evers, 40.5

36. Red Schoendienst, 38.5

50. Bill Mazeroski, 31.2

One Hall of Fame second baseman is not listed above because he was not allowed to play in the majors: Frank Grant. You can read more about him here.

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A couple of notes here:

Now, let’s look at the top 10 highest JAWS totals for second basemen not in the Hall of Fame:

7. Robinson Cano, 59.4

8. Bobby Grich, 58.7

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12. Chase Utley, 56.9

13. Lou Whitaker, 56.5

16. Willie Randolph, 51.1

19. Dustin Pedroia, 465.

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20. Ian Kinsler, 46.1

21. Jeff Kent, 45.6

24. Tony Phillips, 42.5

25. Ben Zobrist, 42.1

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And now, the top second basemen not in the Hall who spent some years with the Dodgers:

12. Chase Utley, 56.9

21. Jeff Kent, 45.6

33. Eddie Stanky, 39.5

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37. Jim Gilliam. 37.7

42. Davey Lopes, 36.3

78. Steve Sax, 23.8

We’ll stop there.

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The strongest former Dodgers candidates to make the Hall are Utley and Kent, but it seems unlikely they would go into the Hall as Dodgers. Utley had the great majority of his success with Philadelphia, and Kent with San Francisco. Kent has been on the ballot eight years and never received more than 32.4% of the vote (you need 75% to be elected). Utley won’t appear on the ballot until 2024.

After that there are no real strong Hall of Fame candidates. But I want to point out one thing about Davey Lopes. He may have been the best base stealer in history. He didn’t steal the most bases in history, but he combined number of steals with success rate about as well, if not better, than anyone in history. He stole 557 bases, one of only 20 players with at least 500 steals, and was caught only 114 times, good for an 83.01% success rate, trailing only Tim Raines, 84.7% and Willie Wilson, 83.29%. At the age of 40, with the Chicago Cubs, he stole 47 bases and was caught only four times. That doesn’t make him a Hall of Famer, but it does make him one of the more underrated players of the last 50 years.

Next week: Third base.

NL West standings

San Francisco, 78-43,
Dodgers, 75-46, 3 GB
San Diego, 67-56, 12 GB
Colorado, 55-66, 23 GB
Arizona, 40-81, 38 GB

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Wild-card standings

Top two qualify for the wild-card playoff game to advance to NLDS

Dodgers, 75-46, +9
San Diego, 67-56,—

Cincinnati, 65-57, 1.5 GB
St. Louis, 61-58, 4 GB
Philadelphia, 61-59, 4.5 GB
New York, 60-60, 5.5 GB

Other voices

If you are a wise Dodgers fan, you have multiple sources you turn to for Dodgers news and analysis. First should be our great crew of reporters at latimes.com/sports/dodgers. But, occasionally, I like to spotlight good works others are doing, sort of like when Santa recommended Gimbel’s over Macy’s during “Miracle on 34th Street” (and I mean the Edmund Gwenn version, accept no substitutes).

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With that in mind, I highly recommend the “Blue Heaven” podcast hosted by Clint Pasillas and Brook Smith. They provide recaps and analysis of Dodgers news, often make it entertaining and humorous, and give a good perspective on what and why the Dodgers are doing things. You can check out their podcast by clicking here. It’s good to listen to while you are commuting.

In case you missed it

Grueling 12-hour testimony from Trevor Bauer’s sexual assault accuser comes to a close

Dodgers memo: Team had no knowledge of previous Trevor Bauer order of protection

These names look familiar

A look at how players from the 2020 Dodgers who are no longer on the team are faring this season (through Wednesday):

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Pedro Báez, Houston, 0-0, 0.00 ERA (2.1 IP, 1 hit, 1 strikeout)

Dylan Floro, Miami: 4-4, 3.02 ERA, 5 saves (47.2 IP, 41 hits, 20 walks, 45 strikeouts)

Kiké Hernández, Boston: .251/.339/.452 (28 doubles, 3 triples, 15 HRs, 45 RBIs, 111 OPS+)

Adam Kolarek, Oakland: 8.00 ERA (9 IP, 15 hits, 5 walks, 4 strikeouts), in minors

Jake McGee, San Francisco: 3-2, 2.79 ERA, 26 saves (51.2 IP, 35 hits, 9 walks, 54 strikeouts)

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Joc Pederson, Atlanta: .241/.317/.423 (16 doubles, 3 triples, 14 homers, 52 RBIs, 98 OPS+)

Josh Sborz, Texas: 3-3, 4.46 ERA, 1 save (42.1 IP, 38 hits, 22 walks, 53 strikeouts)

Ross Stripling, Toronto: 5-6, 4.34 ERA (93.1 IP, 86 hits, 28 walks, 91 strikeouts), on 10-day IL

Alex Wood, San Francisco: 10-3, 4.14 ERA (115.1 IP, 105 hits, 35 walks, 121 strikeouts)

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And now, how players who were with the Dodgers this season are faring elsewhere:

Josiah Gray, Washington: 0-1, 2.45 ERA (22 IP, 18 hits, 5 walks, 22 strikeouts)

DJ Peters, Texas: .163/.173/.388 (2 doubles, 3 homers, 9 RBIs, 52 OPS+)

Jake Reed, New York Mets: 0-0, 0.00 ERA (4 IP, 2 hits, 0 walks, 5 strikeouts)

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Dennis Santana, Texas: 2-2, 4.91 ERA (22 IP, 19 hits, 12 walks, 20 strikeouts)

Yoshi Tsutsugo, Pittsburgh: .250/.250/.500 (2 doubles, 8 at-bats)

Up next

Tonight, New York Mets (Taijuan Walker, 7-7, 3.75 ERA) at Dodgers (TBD) , 7, Sportsnet LA, AM 570

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Friday, New York Mets (Carlos Carrasco, 0-1, 10.32 ERA) at Dodgers (TBD), 7 p.m., Sportsnet LA, AM 570

Saturday, New York Mets (*Rich Hill, 6-4, 4.08 ERA) at Dodgers (TBD), 1 p.m., Sportsnet LA, AM 570

Sunday, New York Mets (Marcus Stroman, 8-12, 2.84 ERA) at Dodgers (TBD), 1 p.m., Sportsnet LA, AM 570

*-left-handed

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And finally

Vin Scully tells the story of the national anthem. Watch it here.

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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