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Dodgers are band of overachievers

By Kenneth Broder
Los Angeles Herald Examiner
July 24, 1988

No, it's not an illusion. Call it luck, call it clutch hitting, call it crafty managing. But so far this year, the Dodgers' total offense is greater than the sum of its parts.

The team has managed to reverse a decade-long trend established under the tutelage of Manager Tommy Lasorda and is actually scoring more runs this year than they're really entitled to. The Runs Created formula (an all-encompassing stat that sucks up a player's hits, extra-base hits, walks, stolen bases, etc. and spits out a single, theoretical number representing the runs he contributed) predicts the Dodgers should be scoring about 4.15 runs per game; they're actually scoring 4.34.

Ominously, only the Dodgers' closest competitors, the Giants and the Astros, are doing better. But like the Giants and Astros, the Dodgers aren't translating this charmed hitters' life into wins.

As of July 18, the Dodgers had outscored the opposition 391-312, which should translate into a .611 winning clip. Instead, they were playing .600 ball, which is obviously good enough for first place and an indication there's nothing lucky about their record.

That's more than you can say for the hapless San Diego Padres who, in spite of their pathetic 42-50 record, are probably playing over their heads. The ratio of their runs to opposition runs indicates a 39-53 record would be more in order and, if the Johnson Effect holds true, the Padres may be whipsawed into oblivion in the second half of the season.

The Johnson Effect, named for a Canadian scribe who first speculated about it, essentially predicts that a team whose won-loss record one year is not in proportion to the ratio of the runs it scores and gives up will experience a boomerang effect the following year and have a disproportion in the other direction.

In other words, the Law of Averages will catch up to them.

If the Dodgers expect to keep on producing in the second half of the year, they better pray the Law of Averages doesn't catch up to their hitters. Because the top three producers on the team, Gibson, Shelby and Sax, are all playing well above their established career levels.

Until this year a lineup of nine Kirk Gibsons would theoretically have scored 6.05 runs per game. I explained how that number was divined in last week's column; this week you'll have to read the teeny-weeny print about Runs Created Per Game beneath the accompanying Dodgers chart. Or you can trust me when I tell you he's boosted that number to an impressive 7.63 RC Per Game. Keep in mind the average National League team is scoring about 4.05 runs per game, down almost half a run from the year before.

Gibson has raised his game to a new level by improving in almost every category. His walks are up from one every 9.5 plate appearances to one per 8.5. His batting average is up and so is his isolated power (slugging percentage minus batting average).

In short, he's having a Pedro Guerrero kind of year while the injured Guerrero (career 7.29 RC Per Game) is having a Kirk Gibson kind of year (6.01 RC Per Game.)

Gibson's heightened run production translates directly into wins for the Dodgers. I won't go into the messy details of how that's done (I did it last week), but basically the formula treats positive things like hits as contributing to wins and outs as contributing to losses.

In Gibson's case, the formula allows you to combine his high productivity per plate appearance with his durability to establish that he has probably contributed about five more wins than losses to the Dodgers.

Steve Sax hasn't raised his game as much as Gibson (about two more wins than losses), but like Kirk he's improved nearly every aspect of his offense. Only his walks have slipped a bit, from one every 12.6 plate appearances to one every 13.1. He could take a tip from John Shelby, who has seen his career rise from the ashes, and his walks per appearance soar from a career one per 20.6 to one per 10.21.

Most people point to Shelby's power surge the past few years (a career high 22 homers in '87) when accounting for his resurrection. But the fact is his career and '88 Isolated Power marks are exactly the same, a not-too-impressive .139.

It's more than a little scary having three overachievers leading your offense, but I guess that's what makes some teams memorable. I suppose that's better than being remembered for having the arguably worst hitter in the National League at the top of your lineup.

Before he got hurt, Alfredo Griffin was producing runs at half his anemic career rate of 3.22 RC Per Game. As usual, he was walking about once every five games, and his Isolated Power was a typically invisible .076. Normally singles are an enormous 70 percent of his offense, but his batting average was so low even that number fell to 54 percent. (Usually that's a good sign, but not here.)

Every sign would point toward keeping this guy stapled to the bench when he finishes his recuperation in Albuquerque -- every sign except one. His replacement is Dave Anderson, whose career RC Per Game is actually lower than Griffin's, 3.15.

Anderson has finally dragged his RC Per Game up to a respectable level in '88, 4.55, though this career year hardly fulfills the expectation everybody had for him following his super season at Albuquerque in '82 when he batted .343. But, as Bill James points out, when you adjust that year for the hitter's ballpark and league he played in, his season was equivalent to a .285 hitter with no power and few walks.

Sound familiar? It's Alfredo Griffin with a bad back. If I had to choose between the two, well, can Pedro play shortstop?

DODGERS AT THE PLATE
NameRCRC/GPct.WinsLossesDiff

1.Gibson66.97.63.7806.971.975.00
2.Shelby42.75.79.6715.052.482.57
3.Sax50.65.02.6056.224.062.16

4.Guerrero25.26.01.6872.941.341.60
5.Marshall45.74.70.5063.041.451.59
6.Dempsey13.66.01.6871.590.720.87

7.Anderson23.34.55.5572.912.310.61
8.Scioscia30.24.38.5393.783.240.54
9.Heep13.64.91.5951.661.130.53

10.Hatcher11.34.66.5691.411.060.34
11.Sharperson3.94.39.5400.490.420.07
12.Gonzalez0.83.25.3910.090.14-0.05

13.Stubbs13.73.57.4371.712.21-0.49
14.Woodson0.20.32.0060.000.66-0.66
15.Hamilton16.83.09.3672.033.50-1.47

16.Davis13.82.28.2401.484.68-3.20
17.Griffin7.51.61.1360.644.10-3.46

CHART FACTS
* RC is Runs Created. RC = (Hits + Walks - Caught Stealing) x (Total Bases + .55 x Stolen Bases) / (AtBats + Walks)
* RC/G is Runs Created Per Game. RC x 25.5 / (Hits + Caught Stealing)
* Pct = RC/G / (RC/G + League RC/G)
* Wins = Pct x Assigned Games (Sorry you've got to read the column for this one.)
* Losses = Assigned Games - Wins
* Diff = Wins - Losses
* Statistics are for games as of July 10. Discrepencies between Diff and Won-Loss stats are due to rounding off.