Daily batting orders always seem to be quite the volatile topic among fans of the Dodgers everywhere. Overall, I would probably say there are more fans who express criticism than those who do not. Despite all the grumbling, the Dodgers, as a team, find themselves atop most of the offensive categories in the National League.
The most critical team category as far as offense goes is runs scored. The math is pretty simple. Teams win games by scoring more runs than their opposition. Offenses, pitching and defenses are independent of one another (obviously), so the job of the offense is to score as many runs as possible by whatever means possible. As it stands now, the Dodgers are third in the National League with 492 runs scored as a team. The Braves are first with 503, and the Rockies are second with 502. However, we might as well put an asterisk besides Colorado’s ranking because we all know how the ball behaves in Denver.
The second-most important team stat on offense—at least in my opinion—is on-base percentage. Teams need runners to get on base (by whatever means possible) to score runs (to win games). Currently, the Dodgers are first in the NL with a .342 OBP. Primarily, this means there are a few other squads out there who are better than the Dodgers when it comes to production with runners on base. The Rockies, for example, are sixth in the league in OBP, but they are second in runs scored. We knew for years that the Dodgers had this periodic, subconscious dilemma when it comes to driving runners home, and this is a great example. Nonetheless, overall success is not just about offense. Because Los Angeles is a much more well-rounded squad, the Dodgers have the best record in the majors and the Rockies are under .500.
Anyway, in the first game back from the All-Star break, fans saw Corey Seager hitting first and Alex Verdugo hitting much lower than his recent promotion to the two-hole. Coincidentally, Verdugo was responsible for the team’s only run on Friday as the rest of the club went quiet. On Saturday night, Verdugo did not start, yet the team erupted for eleven runs. Both starting pitchers for Boston were lefties.
As far as logic goes, I really don’t think there’s much to apply to the performance of the Los Angeles offense, primarily because it’s tremendously streaky—as seen in the difference between the first two games of the Boston series. Regardless, I’ve always believed in hitting players with the best OBP high in the lineup, specifically for the sake of optimization.
It makes sense, because those players will ultimately receive the most AB and give the squad a better chance to score more runs. Team RBI are also important, but it doesn’t matter which players are driving them in as long as the runs are scoring. When players get on base consistently, they should score—unless the bats freeze up with runners in scoring position.
That’s the main reason I don’t like hitting Joc Pederson leadoff. His season OBP is .331—which is probably in the window of “average” around the MLB. But, Chris Taylor has increased his OBP to .334 while Verdugo is holding steady at .352. Even Seager (.348) has a higher OBP than Pederson, which could have been part of the logic for his positioning in the lineup on Friday night and Taylor leading off on Saturday.
Perhaps the most disconcerting thing is that there are three everyday players right at or below the .300 OBP mark—A.J. Pollock, Enrique Hernandez and Austin Barnes. There’s definitely logic in having Barnes in the daily lineup (for his superb game-calling and his ability to block balls), but to have all three players in the same, exact lineup could prove to be detrimental (see Friday night). Pollock’s career numbers suggest he might turn things around, but Hernandez already has 290 AB and his OBP levels seem to be at a standstill.
Once the postseason begins, fans will mostly see consistent lineups that really don’t fluctuate, especially against righty pitchers. That’s been a playoff staple of Dave Roberts and Andrew Friedman over the last several years. Still, in the regular season, any conceivable batting order fair game, as some days there isn’t much logic visible at all.
At the end of the day, though, maybe all the variation and diversification in the daily lineups is a big reason behind the Dodgers having the best record in the majors,
Or, perhaps it’s simply talent.