(Photo Credit: NBC Sports)
In terms of perceived baseball chemistry, it’s not easy for the Dodgers to establish a sense of continuity when a different batting order appears on the lineup card almost nightly. Conversely, if the squad is winning, it makes the management team look brilliant. However, as soon as the club falls victim to any type of losing skid, the concept of the platoon and the sabermetric philosophy in general are trashed by the majority of the fans — without hesitation.
Advanced statistics didn’t exist when I was a kid. I was a switch-hitter from the time I was eight years old, but pretty much focused on hitting left-handed exclusively by the time I was 12, because of the domination of right-handed pitching in youth leagues. Yet when I faced a southpaw on that rare occasion batting left, something in the back of my mind told me it just wasn’t right.
And, by the way, this was a time in history that youngsters were severaly scolded for even thinking about throwing a breaking pitch before the age of 16.
So of course, based on my age, I was a baseball traditionalist pretty much all my life, following offensive stats like batting average, home runs and RBI with a very keen eye. Call me stubborn, but early on I always thought the folks who supported the sabermetric revolution were uninformed fans who never actually knew how to play the game the right way.
Needless to say, any traditional fan with a little bit of common sense who supports the old school of baseball thought will eventually see at least a few rays of light. It took me a few years, but I finally realized that stats like ERA and wins are meaningless when evaluating relief pitchers, while measuring sticks like wOBA and wRC+ have become very important to me when studying the offensive tendencies of many players.
Still, being a very passionate Dodgers fan, I often curse under my breath when somebody like Chase Utley rides the pine amid a sizzling hot streak in favor of right-handed hitting Howie Kendrick whose average is lurking well below the Mendoza Line.
But if you look at the batting splits of an exceedingly high number of random players, from Hank Aaron to Andre Ethier to Mike Schmidt to Mike Piazza to Barry Bonds, you can ease your conscience by knowing that splits are indeed influential, and the platoon could quite often be the best approach to take when seeking success in the batters box.
I have no idea where Dodgers’ manager Dave Roberts thoughts lie in terms of platoon philosophies or sabermetrics in general. I do know that bench coach Bob Geren is highly respected for his statistical prowess, and that Andrew Friedman and his management crew study numbers, situations and player reactions that we as fans can only imagine or barely comprehend.
It’s understandable that some players may feel the effects of frustration when they’re not consistently on the lineup card, especially when they’re struggling with any type of cold streak.
“This is just the way it goes for me, when you’re not playing every day,” left fielder Carl Crawford said. “You have to just keep going and keep grinding it out. You don’t have the luxury of getting into a groove. You have to just play, and over time, it seems to get better.”
With all the fluctuation in the lineups and the division in playing time, some would expect at least a few players to throw a complaint or two at their manager, but Roberts said nobody on the squad has yet to approach him questioning his philosophy.
“I think we spelled it out from the very beginning. We’re going to play the whole roster, keep guys fresh. That’s what I believe is going to help us win a championship,” Roberts told Bill Plunkett of the OC Register. “Every guy should want to play every day and feel that they’re capable, more than capable. But with the makeup of our roster, that’s just not going to happen. I haven’t had anyone come to my office and complain about playing time. Not yet.”
In the end, the effects of a platoon or a sabermetric inclination cannot provide a player with the passion or drive to perform admirably. They do not dictate which players will have your back after an opposing pitcher throws at your head. Sabermetrics do not show how exactly a second baseman will pivot after taking an errant throw to avoid a slide, nor which route an outfielder will take to track down a gapper, or knowing which teammate will be behind you if the ball gets behind you. They do not influence leadership or motivation or attitude in the least.
Regardless, with these philosophies thoroughly intact over the course of the 2016 campaign, if the Dodgers do find a way to somehow claim a World Series Championship after 28 years, a whole new group of believers will once again be born, and the front office, with their own sabermetric driven intellect, will appear as heroes to everyone.