As a lifetime fan Dodgers fan, I’ve experienced my fair share of pain caused by this team. I was at Dodger Stadium when the Red Sox won the World Series in 2018, but something about this particular cold streak hurts more. At the time of this writing, the team has dropped five straight series. This has included series losses to the Reds, who lost seven straight before coming to Dodger Stadium, the Angels, who lost five straight going into their series with the Dodgers, and the Cubs, who were 3-7 in their last 10 games before playing the Dodgers. So who is to blame for this recent stretch? The offense? The Bullpen? Dave Roberts? The answer is… complicated.
A lot of blame has been heaped on the offense during this particularly bad stretch, but is it warranted? During this 5-13 stretch, six of the eight regulars have a WRC+ of 100 or better, meaning that they have been above average at run creation during this stretch. Meanwhile, Matt Beaty with his 187 WRC+ has emerged as an elite pinch hitting option, as well as a great fill-in during scheduled off days for our starters. The team has posted 0.339 on base percentage over that stretch, second to only the White Sox (0.340) over the same stretch. This is mainly being carried by the team’s 12.4 walk percentage, which is second to only the Yankees over the same stretch. Despite getting more runners on base than basically every other team in baseball, the Dodgers are right in the middle of the pack in runs scored over this same stretch. The main reason for it is the team’s lack of hitting, ranking 23rd in team average over that same stretch. On top of that the team ranks 4th to last in team slugging over that stretch. However, most of the regulars in the lineup are hitting above the league average. So, what does all this number soup mean? Quite fittingly, the team’s wRC+ over this stretch has been exactly league average at 100, yet several of the team’s hitters have been above-average. Deep down it seems that the team’s offensive woes can simply be broken down as team not being able to get singles and extra base hits.
The bullpen has received a lot of malice for its poor performance at the start of the season, with the team leading the league in blown saves by an unfortunately healthy manner. The main culprits have been Kenley Jansen, Mitch White, and Blake Treinen accounting for half the team’s blown saves. While it may be tempting to blame this trio for all the bullpen’s malfeasances, further digging partially exonerates them. The group had a combined 1.93 ERA and an ERA+ around 200, meaning they were twice as good at run prevention as a league-average pitcher. On top of that, the trio has been put in a seemingly lose-lose situation, with Treinen being brought into situations with a leverage index of 1.71, which is defined as high-leverage. Jansen and White, meanwhile, have leverage indexes of 2.75 and 2.24, and more specifically with Jansen, dangerously close to being classified as extremely high-leverage. On top of that, the entire bullpen has -1.6 Wins Above Average – the number of wins added or subtracted by a player, as compared to an average player. Ultimately, the bullpen should be performing at good level, but the team really seems to be hampered by a lack of high leverage specialist, as the trio of guys Dave Roberts has tapped for that role thus far have been less than stellar. Which leads us to what may be at the core of all the team’s issues.
It’s no secret that Dave Roberts has faced a lot of scrutiny for his management of this team over the years. Whether it be his quick hook of some starters (see: Rich Hill in the 2018 World Series) or his very questionable bullpen management (See Game 5 of the 2019 NLDS). Through it all, the former Manager of the Year has led the Dodgers to five division titles, three pennants, and a World Series title during his five-year tenure as the manager of the Dodgers, so it feels weird to say that the teams woes may all be due to his coaching. Going back to the team’s offensive woes – batting and slugging woes, more specifically – we’ve seen how he deploys his lineups and pinch hitters in key situations has been a key contributor to the team’s offensive struggles. One particularly puzzling habit is the instance of relying on Edwin Rios as regular pinch hitter. During this difficult stretch Rios has been mired in an 0-for-29 slump, which has brought down the team’s batting average down by seven points. Without his “contributions,” the team would be tied with Yankees for 15th, right in the middle of the pack. The upside of Rios is obvious – his home run rate in 2020 was comparable to other team stalwarts, such as Max Muncy and Cody Bellinger, but Rios has shown that it is more of a flash in the pan that anything resembling sustained success. While there has been no good option of the bench for the team during this stretch, all of them have contributed multiple hits while Rios has driven in no runs. The bullpen has also been a point where Roberts’ management has been less than optimal. He’s been looking for a pitcher to be the bridge to Kenley Jansen since Corey Knebel went down. Blake Treinen has seemingly filled that role with Mitch White taking over Treinen. Meanwhile, Scott Alexander has put up elite numbers out of the pen, but hasn’t seen much work in high-leverage situations. He is the perfect candidate to take over Victor Gonzales’ role in bullpen, with Gonzales transitioning into either the setup or stopper role, as Gonzales has posted a 1.42 ERA with 9 holds and no blown saves in 2021.
The team will be fine in no time. The hitters while starting getting more and more base hits, and those base hits will become more and more extra base hits. This will make the margins less tight for the bullpen in the late innings, allowing for them to shine in no short order. However, the longer the team struggles, the longer the hitters will continue to leave runners on base. The longer key bullpen pieces continue to blow it, the more we should look at the role Dave Roberts has played in this team’s struggles, and ultimately to discover whether he is the right man to take the reins of a sinking ship.