Yasiel Puig is struggling mightily, but he is only a microcosm of the Dodgers' team-wide inability to do what many of them are being paid mucho dinero to do: Hit. Vin Scully bemoaned the Dodgers' troubles with runners in scoring position over the course of their lost series vs. the Angels, especially so last night. And while the Dodgers' inability to get the big hit is certainly enough to drive fans bonkers, the real problem is that they aren't creating enough of those situations in the first place, which is why they find themselves out of first place as they head to San Diego to start a three-gamer with the Padres tonight.
As Vinny might say, it's interesting to note that as he was dutifully chronicling the Dodgers struggles w/RISP against Los Angeles of Anaheim Which Is Not In Los Angeles, he was also busy spending the late inning tallying the eleven straight Dodgers who failed to reach base from the sixth inning through the eighth inning. That's where the game was really lost. It speaks to one of the biggest myths in the game, "clutch" hitting, and we need to clarify it before we delve into the rank pool of the Dodger offense's problems.
The National League slash as of today (5/20/16) with runners in scoring position is .254/.339/.400. The Giants, who have put together a far more productive offense than the Dodgers thus far in 2016, are slashing .255/.331/.378 with runners in scoring position. So, essentially, they have been a league average team, yet they've outscored the Dodgers by 30 runs already this year. One could argue they have even been a bit below average in this scenario. The Dodgers, conversely, are slashing .242/.313/.358. The Giants OPS with RISP is .709 (9th in the NL), whereas the Dodgers are at .671 (12th). They have clearly not been good with runners in scoring position, but not so much worse as to account for their offensive woes. No, the Dodgers have been bad in all scenarios, and that's the issue.
The Giants have been better than the Dodgers at scoring because they have been better than the Dodgers at creating scoring opportunities. It's been quantity, not quality. To wit: San Francisco has drawn 30 more walks than the Dodgers, and their OBP is 30 points higher (.348 to .318). The Giants line drive percentage is only slightly better than the Dodgers (21.6% to 20%), and while that is the difference between 4th and 12th in the Senior Circuit, it's still not a huge margin. Further more, both teams' hard hit ball percentages are very comparable with the Dodgers actually having the higher ratio (32% to 31% for SF). Finally, both teams are hitting roughly the same amount of grounders per fly ball (LAD: 1.53 SFG 1.48).
Plate discipline starts with swinging at strikes, and taking pitches out of the strike zone. The Dodgers have been swinging at pitches outside the zone at a 26.3% rate, as compared to the Giants' 24.4% rate. Neither of those numbers qualify as the numbers of a free-swinging team. The problem is that the Dodgers are making far less contact than the Giants, both inside and outside the strike zone. The Dodgers contact rate outside the zone is 60.8% (11th in the NL) while the Giants' is 64.1% (5th). The Giants make the most contact on pitches inside the strike zone, at 90%, best in teh National League. The Dodger bats are only making contact in 87.2% of those situations. IT all adds up to a 9.6% swinging strike rate for the Dodgers, and a 7.8% rate for the Giants, lowest in the league.
And how are pitchers doing this? The same way they are doing it to Puig: Sliders. The Dodgers are tied for fifth in the NL in sliders seen. 16% of the pitches they see are sliders. The Giants see only 13% sliders, second fewest in the league. Sliders are awful, nasty, evil weapons, and until the Dodgers can lay off of them, their offense does not stand to improve. It really all starts there. The Giants have proven that they can lay off sliders on the whole, so they see less of them. The Giants are making more contact, not necessarily better contact. This is leading to more runners, which is leading to more runs.
This lack of plate discipline has haunted every doomed Dodger postseason since 1988, and it's hobbling an offense that cannot afford to struggle with a patchwork rotation and a mystery meat of a bullpen. Talk launch angles all you want, but launch angles are largely determined by the pitches you swing at, and the Dodgers too often are swinging at the wrong ones, and too often missing the right ones.