Maybe they were just lucky

When you break it down, Dodgers had a one-man offense

By Kenneth Broder

Los Angeles Herald Examiner

October 9, 1988

After watching Wednesday's game with the Mets slip through the Dodgers' fingers, you probably wouldn't guess that our local heroes were one of the luckiest teams in baseball this year.

They were sixth in the National League in scoring, but two highly accurate formulas that predict a team's run production based on its total bases, walks, stolen bases and outs had them pegged for ninth and 10th, respectively, with about 41 fewer runs than the 628 they actually scored.

There are a lot of reasons why a team outperforms its projected runs total -- clutch hitting, good lineup, savvy managing -- but the most prominent factor is luck. And looking at a list of the Dodger hitters in order of productivity, it's a wonder they ever score.

Mike Marshall's team-leading 82 RBIs notwithstanding, this is a one-man offense -- the most lopsided one-man offense in the league. Don't believe me? Take a look at the top hitters in the Dodger Dogs chart.

Kirk Gibson is first, of course. His offense, as measured by Bill James' Runs Created formula, produced about 108 runs for the Dodgers. That translates into more than seven net wins for the team. Then there's a huge dropoff to Marshall in second place and ... no ... could it be? ... It is. Rick Dempsey is in fourth place.

Well, you say, doesn't that prove the futility of this season-long statistical odyssey -- claiming a .251 hitter with a puny 167 AtBats is more productive than regular second baseman Steve Sax and his .277 batting average? Go ahead and scoff.

Sax's 175 hits, 19 doubles, 3 homers and 45 walks and other sundry offensive contributions obviously meant more to the Dodgers than Dempsey's 42 hits, 13 double, 7 homers and 24 walks. Employing a couple more James formulas, we can estimate that Sax's offense was worth about nine wins to the Dodgers, compared to Dempsey's three.

But Sax made 457 outs with the bat and another 12 on the base paths, and that's worth about nine losses, canceling out the plus side of his ledger. Dempsey's outs were worth only about one and a half losses.

Sax has a fairly low OnBase Average of .325 and zippo power. If you had nine Steve Sax's in a lineup, your team would score 4.1 runs per game. That's better than the league average of 3.89, but then again, that's an average National League lineup where the pitcher bats.

Oh, it probably wasn't all that bad a year for Sax, especially compared to your average weak-hitting second baseman. But the fact remains his was a negligible overall contribution to the Dodger offense. Dempsey's was almost as negligible, but we knew about him.

Like Sax, Marshall has a growing aversion to the base on balls and he's paying the price for it. Three years ago he walked once every 13.2 plate appearances. Last year that figure plummeted to one in 23.3 appearances. This year it was 23.6. Very few "good" hitters are allowed the luxury of such free swinging; you have to hit .356 like Kirby Puckett or 49 homers like Andre Dawson in '87.

Marshall does neither. The result was a Runs Created Per Game average of 4.92, a little below last year's 5.19 and his career average of 5.11. He's consistent, for sure; consistently 20 percent less effective than a cleanup hitter should be.

John Shelby is the only other regular who was an offensive asset on the team, due largely to a doubling of his walk total over the last two years, but it's hardly enough to cancel out what may be the biggest offensive liability in the National League: Alfredo Griffin.

Yes, Griffin was hurt this year. Thank God. In 340 plate appearances he was personally responsible for a theoretical two wins and eight losses. That's more than a full season's work for most mortals.

He's a .250 hitter with no power who doesn't walk. He's got speed, but doesn't know how to use it. (He was successful stealing a base 58 percent of the time; 65 percent is the break-even point.)

All of this is suppose to be offset by his slick fielding. It isn't.

John Thorn and Pete Palmer use a formula called Linear Weights to assess a player's defensive contribution to a win. Wile their methods are complicated, a tad suspect and different from Bill James' it's doubtful they're too far off the mark when they estimate that in Ozzie Smith's best defensive year, 1980, his glove alone was worth 4.5 net wins. And Smith's worst year is better than Griffin's best.

But why are we talking about hitting and fielding, anyway? Everyone knows why the Dodgers won the National League West.

Hershiser and Co. allowed the second-fewest runs in the majors (behind the Mets) and no matter what anyone tells you, that's exactly half the game. In fact, by using a formula baseball stat freaks like to attribute to Pythagoras you can predict with uncanny accuracy a team's won-loss record using equal parts of Runs and Opponents Runs.

In the case of the Dodgers, the formula predicts a 92-69 won-loss record (they finished 94-67). The formula was off by more than two games for only two team in the National League, the Expos (who came up five wins short) and the Giants (three wins short).

But if the Dodgers had scored the number of runs predicted by the Runs Created formula (587 instead of 628) their won-loss record might very well have been 86-75 -- good for second place, one game behind the Reds.

DODGER DOGS | |||||||
---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|

Name | RC | RC/G | Pct | Wins | Losses | Diff | |

1. | Gibson | 102.6 | 6.85 | .741 | 11.30 | 3.95 | 7.35 |

2. | Marshall | 74.3 | 4.92 | .595 | 9.18 | 6.24 | 2.94 |

3. | Shelby | 64.0 | 4.51 | .553 | 8.00 | 6.47 | 1.54 |

4. | Dempsey | 26.7 | 5.56 | .653 | 3.20 | 1.70 | 1.50 |

5. | Sax | 73.8 | 4.09 | .504 | 9.28 | 9.12 | .16 |

6. | Hatcher | 21.3 | 4.11 | .506 | 2.68 | 2.61 | .07 |

7. | Sharperson | 4.5 | 2.68 | .304 | .52 | 1.20 | -.68 |

8. | Stubbs | 27.1 | 3.69 | .453 | 3.39 | 4.10 | -.70 |

9. | Gonzalez | 0.7 | .85 | .042 | .04 | .83 | -.79 |

10. | Anderson | 29.7 | 3.57 | .437 | 3.70 | 4.77 | -1.06 |

11. | Heep | 13.3 | 3.05 | .362 | 1.60 | 2.83 | -1.23 |

12. | Woodson | 15.6 | 3.08 | .365 | 1.89 | 3.29 | -1.39 |

13. | Sciosci | 41.4 | 3.52 | .430 | 5.16 | 6.84 | -1.68 |

14. | Hamilton | 27.7 | 3.02 | .357 | 3.34 | 6.00 | -2.66 |

15. | Davis | 18.5 | 2.10 | .211 | 1.90 | 7.08 | -5.18 |

16. | Griffin | 20.2 | 2.04 | .202 | 2.04 | 8.08 | -6.04 |

WHAT THE CHART MEANS | |||||||

* 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/G = RC * 25.5 / (Hits + Caught Stealing) | |||||||

* Pct = (RC/G)^{2} / (RC/G)^{2} + (LeagueRuns/G)^{2}) | |||||||

* Wins = Pct x Games | |||||||

* Losses = Games - Wins | |||||||

* Diff = Wins - Losses |