In July, the LA Dodgers found themselves with the best record in the entire league, and were on top of the NL West by as many as 9 games. Then August’s 11-13 record came, and now the Blue Crew finds itself in the thick of a division race with the Rockies and Giants bearing down (Bobby Thompson anyone? Great MASH episode). With just a three-game lead on the division, there’s no doubt the home stretch is going to be nerve-wracking for Dodger fans, but is there reason to relax a little? Never…you’re Dodger fans.
Dodger pitching has been excellent all season, and their defense is playing much better than in past years according the Fangraphs’ UZR ratings. Interestingly, LA is actually allowing less runs per game in August than during the better part of its season. While their ERA is good, often times luck factors can make that a deceptive stat. Punching some numbers into my ERA predictor, Dodger fortunes have leveled out nicely this season, so there’s no reason to expect a relapse (barring the ever dangerous bad luck, of course). Since defense is not the culprit of a declining lead in the West, it must be during the other half of each inning that the Dodgers are losing it.
August has seen a slight decline in run scoring for Joe Torre’s sluggers, from 4.9 runs/game down to 4.5. Are players just not getting it done? Are they bored because they’ve gone out and done the same damn thing for 127 games? Not likely, seeing as they are in the thick of a playoff race, and their roster has a nice combination of experience and youth. So they’re a bunch of choke artists? Probably not. In fact they are on pace for more home runs in August than any other month this season.
The biggest difference in offensive statistics for August is their batting average on balls in play (BABIP). This is the batting average on everything that’s not a home run or a strike out, measuring the ability to reach base safely on balls that the defense could hypothetically make a play on. While BABIP tends to roam up and down randomly, it just about always returns to a team’s long-term average. August has brought the Dodger’s offense some bad luck in the form of a slightly low BABIP, and there’s no reason to expect it to stay that low.
Overall, even with a relatively poor offensive month, the Dodgers are still outscoring opponents by 1.2 runs per game in August, a figure that is actually better than their season run differential! So how are they losing? Some might blame poor clutch performance, arguing that the Dodgers are beating teams by a ton, then losing the close ones. While this is probably true, the culprit is not likely anything they have much control over. Studies have shown that clutch hitting is a myth, and I have done studies showing an extremely strong correlation between run differential and win-loss record. Basically the Dodgers should have been about 16-8, but poorly timed scoring led to their 11-13 record.
Though arguing bad luck won’t change the team’s record now, Dodger fans rejoice in the fact that luck doesn’t accumulate. This means that your team is likely to win 60% of its games from here on out, taking the division by 5 games. Now that I’ve written this, there’s no doubt that Ethier and Loney will collide going for a ball in foul territory. There, now I’ve balanced out the karma.