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Dodgers Dugout: A closer look at the fielding issues

Austin Barnes
Austin Barnes
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Hi, and welcome to another edition of Dodgers Dugout. My name is Houston Mitchell and it’s far too humid for my liking.

Everyone is focusing on the Dodger bullpen, but one other important area has been in a bit of a slump since the All-Star break: The defense. So, let’s table bullpen talk until after the July 31 trade deadline and talk about something we usually only notice when it goes wrong. Namely….

Fielding

The Dodgers have had one of the best defenses in the league the last couple of seasons. But lately the defense has been a bit porous. Balls haven’t been caught that should have. Balls that should have been scooped up are rolling under gloves. Most people I have talked to who know about these things say that teams go into defensive slumps just like they do hitting slumps, or pitching slumps.

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Let’s take a look at some fielding numbers this season:

Errors made, National League (through Sunday)

1. Dodgers, 73

2. San Diego, 72

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3. Chicago, 71

St. Louis has made the fewest errors, with only 41.

The Dodgers are on pace to make 116 errors this season. How does that compare to the last few seasons?

2019: 116 (projected)

2018: 100

2017: 88

2016: 80

2015: 75

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I wasn’t a math major, but I believe that is what we call a downward trend.

Is the defense actually getting worse this season, or are we imagining things? Let’s take a look:

Runners who reached on error each month

March/April: 6

May: 9

June: 16

July: 10

Unearned runs each month

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March/April: 6

May: 12

June: 18

July: 12

And July isn’t over yet. So, yes, the Dodger defense has regressed during the season. From June 29 to July 15, they allowed three unearned runs. In the six games since then, they have allowed 10.

One final list because I know some of you are getting bored with numbers. SABR has something they call the Defensive Index. It is a metric that combines three stats, Defensive Runs Saved, Zone Rating and Runs Effectively Defended into one overall number. It is so respected that it is one of the criteria used to determine Gold Glove award winners.

To give you an idea of the range, the best defensive player by this metric is Arizona shortstop Nick Ahmed at 12.0. The worst is Colorado center fielder Ian Desmond at -10.7.

Here’s the top three in the NL and where individual Dodgers rate at each position:

Catcher

1. Austin Hedges, San Diego, 9.1

2. J.T. Realmuto, Philadelphia, 8.5

3. Austin Barnes, Dodgers, 3.9

17. Russell Martin, Dodgers, -0.9

And that’s why the Dodgers stick with Barnes despite the fact he can’t hit all that well.

First base

1. Christian Walker, Arizona, 5.2

2. Anthony Rizzo, Chicago, 4.6

3. Garrett Cooper, Miami, 2.0

4. Max Muncy, Dodgers 1.7

Second base

1. Kolten Wong, St. Louis, 8.0

2. Adam Frazier, Pittsburgh, 3.5

3. Addison Russell, Chicago, 2.9

5. Kiké Hernandez, Dodgers, 1.6

Third base

1. Nolan Arenado, Colorado, 7.8

2. Brian Anderson, Miami, 4.5

3. Evan Longoria, San Francisco, 1.4

16. Justin Turner, Dodgers, -2.6

Shortstop

1. Nick Ahmed, Arizona, 12.0

2. Paul DeJong, St. Louis, 8.2

3. Javier Baez, Chicago, 7.3

7. Corey Seager, Dodgers, 1.9

Left field

1. David Peralta, Arizona, 4.7

2. Jay Bruce, Philadelphia, 4.4

3. Hunter Renfroe, San Diego, 3.8

4. Joc Pederson, Dodgers, 2.7

Center field

1. Harrison Bader, St. Louis, 6.1

2. Lorenzo Cain, Milwaukee, 3.4

3. Ketel Marte, Arizona, 2.8

6. Alex Verdugo, Dodgers, 1.9

Right field

1. Cody Bellinger, Dodgers, 7.6

2. Bryce Harper, Philadelphia, 3.7

3. Jason Heyward, Chicago, 3.3

Now, you may be wondering how the Dodgers can do so well in Defensive Index but make so many errors? That’s where a bit of bait and switch comes in. It’s because the Dodgers aren’t as bad at fielding as you think. The Dodgers do well in defensive index because they get to more balls than most teams. The Dodgers lead the NL in defensive efficiency, which is the percentage of ball in play converted into out. They also lead the NL in Fielding Runs Above Average, which is basically the number of plays their team made and the runs they have saved compared to other teams.

You have to ask yourself this: Who is the better fielder, the guy who gets to five balls and makes one error, or the guy who, in the same situation, gets to one ball and makes no errors? It’s easy to focus on the first guy because he made an error, but he’s actually better defensively and saves more runs than the second guy.

Most fans love Yasiel Puig because he would run half a mile and dive for the ball, with it just eluding his grasp. He would get all the cheers for an amazing attempt. But he was actually out of position. But if the same ball his hit to Alex Verdugo and he takes three steps and catches it, no one goes crazy. But Verdugo is the better fielder in that instance. He paid attention and knew where to stand. The Dodgers are filled with guys who pay attention and know where to stand. But we only focus on the errors and not the plays they make other teams wouldn’t make. The errors need to be cut back, but the defense isn’t bad at all.

Joe Davis and Orel Hershiser

I still get emails from readers who are convinced that Joe Davis and Orel Hershiser don’t like each other. Here’s a story that might finally convince you that they are great friends.

Season ticket prices go up

Bill Shaikin wrote a story on season ticket prices going up next season. The Dodgers asked for the first payment by Aug. 22, with the renewal price rising even higher thereafter. The prices posted on the team website reflected increases of 3% to 17% in most categories, although some fans reported receiving invoices with a larger increase.

I periodically get emails from readers who are unhappy with rising ticket prices. They want to know what they can do about it. The answer is simple and is based on simple economics: don’t renew.

Behind the scenes, the Dodgers are a business like any other. No different than Disneyland, going to a movie, watching a play. Prices will continue to rise until they reach a tipping point where season-ticket sales decline so much that they are forced to bring the the price back down again. But if they raise your price and you say “How dare they!…. Here’s my money,” Then why should they stop increasing prices? It’s capitalism.

I am a firm believer that consumers have to power in most situations. It’s no different here. Baseball is a sport, but Major League Baseball is a business. I wish it were like the old days, where the O’Malleys kept prices down, but those days are long gone.

Ask Fred Claire

Former Dodgers GM Fred Claire was kind enough to answer questions from Dodgers Dugout readers. We got hundreds of questions and I sent a select group to Fred to answer. If your question wasn’t chosen, I apologize, but we will hopefully do this again next year. Some questions were asked multiple times, in which case I went with the name of the reader who asked the questions first.

Ken Sax asks: The GM responsibility that most fans are familiar with is negotiating trades with other teams and negotiating contracts with players and their agents. What are a GM’s biggest responsibilities and how does he typically spend most of his day?

Fred: Discussions of trade possibilities with other teams and the negotiation of contracts represent a small portion of the GM duties. That being said, taking the time to get to know other GMs and other team personnel is very important in establishing trust. During my time the role of the GM was to oversee all baseball operations —player development and scouting in addition to the Major League roster. Communication with both the players and their agents is important in terms of being current with all of the areas that might impact a player and his performance. The working relationship with the team doctors and trainers is of great importance. I placed an emphasis on being directly involved with our scouts—particularly those at the Major League level—and player development people with weekly calls with our minor league managers and coordinators. My policy was to be with the team for almost all road games to be as tuned into the team as possible. There is time that should be spent to meet media requests so that the fans have information they deserve. It is 24/7. And it is the best job in baseball.

Bruce Simpson: How is your health after your cancer scare?

Fred: Bruce, thanks for asking. Cancer, as we know, quite often turns out to be an ongoing battle. I’m doing well thanks to the great team at the City of Hope. I have been inspired by both the patients and medical team at City of Hope and have had the opportunity to help in fund raising with two celebrity golf tournaments featuring many former Major League players. A book titled “Extra Innings” will be published in December to feature the great work at City of Hope.

Patrick Kennedy: Could you give examples -- now that time has passed -- of some almost-made trades and what kept them from happening?

Fred: I really don’t recall many of “almost-made” ones but one that does come to mind is a deal that would have made Randy Johnson a Dodger when Hideo Nomo requested a trade. It appeared things were close until Seattle declined in the final stages.

Steve Banner: I read a book recently where Steve Sax said he signed with the Yankees after the 1988 season because he felt disrespected by you. Can you share your version of those events?

Fred: Steve, I’m not familiar with the book or reference. I can only say I always have had great respect for Steve and consider him a friend. We have had the chance to visit on several occasions through the years, including the 30-year reunion of the 1988 Dodgers.

Chris Raines: We all are quite aware that the trade for Delino DeShields that cost the Dodgers Pedro Martinez, didn’t work out (not all trades do obviously). My question is simply, what went wrong with Delino in your estimation? I was a big fan of us before the trade, and while I hated to lose Pedro, I could see the upside.

Fred: Chris, it may be that only the player himself can explain what takes place after changing teams. Delino had talent, had been a leader for a young Expo team and then never really found himself comfortable as a Dodger. I’m happy Delino has stayed in the game as a minor-league manager and would like to see him get a chance at the Major-League level.

Scott Walden: From your experience as a GM how much of the trade chatter from analysts in the media had some truth to it and how much was just speculation? And do GM’s allow possible trades to be leaked to see what the fan reaction is?

Fred: I think the main beat and national baseball writers do a good job in getting information about possible trades. They have good sources and know the signs that could signal some trade activity is in place. My philosophy was to hold everything very close to the vest. I never attempted to mislead the media. And I certainly would never have permitted anything to be “leaked.” We are talking about the lives and careers of players and the players and their families deserve respect.

Warren Maas: I’ve always felt that Jody Reed’s ridiculous decision to not re-sign with the Dodgers in 1994 started a chain reaction that basically led to Peter O’Malley selling the team and all the nonsense that occurred after that. What happened in those negotiations that turned sour and what was he thinking?

Fred: Warren, I don’t believe there is any connection between Jody Reed turning down a very fair and even generous contract offer and the ultimate sale of the Dodgers. In my view, Jody lacked an experienced agent and I did my best to try to convince the agent he would make a major mistake in turning down our offer. It was a very unfortunate turn of events for both Jody and the Dodgers.

Andy Juarez: Besides a glaring need in the bullpen, what other move would you make (if any) to strengthen this year’s ballclub for the homestretch and possibly playoffs?

Fred: Andy, I leave this question to those making the decisions today regarding the Dodgers. And I think the front office team has done and is doing a very good job. I like the team and have great respect forDave Roberts.

Carlos Mestas: As a former Dodger GM, are you aware of actions and lobbying that the Dodgers are doing to get Maury Wills into the Hall of Fame? He belongs.

Fred: Carlos, my view of Maury is that he is a Hall of Fame player. He changed the game with his base stealing ability. I would love to see the official designation of Maury a member of the Cooperstown group. We met 50 years ago and our friendship has grown through the years.

Paul Goodwin: Mr. Claire, I was wondering about your relationship to the Dodgers today. Does the current ownership reach out to you, Mr. O’Malley, and other alumni of the O’Malley era and welcome you back to the Stadium?

Fred: My passion for my years and experiences with the Dodgers will be with me forever. I have a good relationship with the Dodgers of today and appreciate the courtesy the team has shown to me and my family. I’m also very grateful to the fans of the Dodgers who have treated me and my family with great respect. It was an honor to be a member of the Dodgers for 30 years.

Fred Claire remains active today on several fronts. He is a patient speaker for City of Hope; active in the community as a member of the Rose Bowl board, First Tee of Pasadena and LA Sports Council; and an advisor to the Long Beach State sports management graduate program. He has helped to launch and taught sports classes at USC and Caltech and last month was selected as an Honorary Member of the Caltech Alumni Association. He also is part of a podcast to assist young people with an interest in sports: www.lifeinthefrontoffice.com.

As noted above, Fred’s journey at City of Hope will be published later this year in a book titled “Extra Innings.”

These names seem familiar

Here’s how players who were with the Dodgers last season and earlier this season are doing around the majors this year (through Sunday):

Travis d’Arnaud, Rays, .262/.319/.517, 118 OPS+

Brian Dozier, Nationals, .237/.335/.434, 95 OPS+

Kyle Farmer, Reds, .237/.279/.430, 79 OPS+ (on injured list with a concussion)

Logan Forsythe, Rangers, .256/.361/.430, 102 OPS+

Yasmani Grandal, Brewers, .256/.372/.505, 124 OPS+

Daniel Hudson, Blue Jays, 5-2, 2.72 ERA, 2 saves

Tim Locastro, Diamondbacks, .256/.366/.333, 84 OPS+.

Matt Kemp, released by Mets.

Manny Machado, Padres, .268/.337/.511, 122 OPS+

Yasiel Puig, Reds, .261/.306/.496, 102 OPS+

Alex Wood, Reds, on IL with sore back. Currently on rehab assignment.

Up next

All times Pacific

Tonight: Angels (Felix Pena) at Dodgers (Kenta Maeda), 7 p.m.

Wednesday: Angels (Jaime Barria) at Dodgers (Ross Stripling), 7 p.m.

*-left-handed

And finally

Fernando Valenzuela is honored as a “Legend of Dodger baseball.” Watch it here.

Have a comment or something you’d like to see in a future Dodgers newsletter? Email me and follow me on Twitter: @latimeshouston.


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