Monday, March 14, 2016

Hallelujah: Dodgers Are Off & Running

This sure ain't Mattingly's Dodgers.
The Don Mattingly era is officially over. Watch the Dodger spring training games and it is abundantly clear: the team actually has a legitimate running game in the works. Thank you, Dave Roberts! If I sound overly excited about this development, well, there is good reason--so let's get right to breaking it down.

No, we haven't reacquired speedster, Dee Gordon, but that's just fine.
Keep dreaming. Dee's still gone.
Sure, it would be great to have a true leadoff hitter at the top of the order like Gordon, doing anything and everything to get on base and then wreaking complete and total havoc once there, but Roberts & company are doing the next best thing. He has everybody on the team--lead-footed A.J. Ellis included--thinking run, run, run from the second they drop the bat to every second they are on base. Aggressive-minded base-running, Kansas City Royals-style. Remember those guys? Following the running model of last year's champs is not a bad idea at all. 

Seriously, even A.J. is scoring
from first base.
Need proof that the Dodgers are actually engaging in some old-school baseball?
Yesterday's game against the Colorado Rockies is a great example of the new-found running game. Not only were they running hard down the first-base line, but every Dodger was turning the first-base corner like they really ACTUALLY were thinking about going to second (no b.s. jogging up the line with the cursory, baby left-turn). This mode of running puts pressure on the outfielder to make a clean play on the ball with even one tiny bobble giving the runner an excellent chance at taking second base. Balls that were hit in the gap had every runner thinking extra bases, including Andre Ethier, who tripled on a hit to the outfield that would have had him settling for a double in seasons' past. Even Ellis got in on the action: he was on first base when Cody Bellinger lined a shot in the gap, and he chugged all the way home. In the Mattingly era, A.J. barely makes it into third on that hit. If this type of play doesn't signal that station-to-station baseball is a thing of the past for the Dodgers, than I don't know what does. 

Even more evidence of the Dodgers' new running game.
Ethier leading the way with base
running savvy & hustle.
In the same inning that Ethier legged out a triple, he and A.J. Ellis combined to put on a clinic on how to execute the squeeze. As Ellis squared and bunted the ball toward the pitcher, Ethier hustled down the line and slid by the catcher, avoiding the tag by grazing the plate with his left hand as he went. I seriously don't recall Donnie ever putting on a squeeze play. It was a thing of beauty. In a different game earlier in the weekend, the Dodgers were able to score from third base twice on wild pitches; neither ball scattered particularly far from the plate, but being "ready to go" allowed the runners to get the jump they needed to score.

In Roberts' new system, Puig should be
safe more often than out. In theory.
Don't worry, this philosophy doesn't mean running into Puig-like outs.
There is a big difference between reckless base running and educated base running, and Dodger fans understand this very well after watching Yasiel Puig's first season. What Roberts is promoting will cause some outs that might not have occurred during Mattingly's reign. Aggressive base running does lead to mistakes at times because there is more risk involved. However, the theory is that a team will score more when it runs with purpose. I think most fans will be willing to endure some outs from trying for extra bases rather than watching flat-footed guys get left on base inning after inning. LOB is one of those stats that makes you queasy--just knowing that runs COULD HAVE scored is SO frustrating. You gotta love Roberts for making a push to weed out the American League notion that Mattingly brought with him from his Yankee-playing days; this year, the Dodgers won't be standing around waiting and praying for somebody to hit a home run to score. Heck, maybe this type of proactive baseball will finally lead the team to the promised land again. At the very least, it will be exciting to watch them in their pursuit.

1 comment:

  1. I am SO excited to watch the Dodgers this year with this new mindset! Donnie-ball was so boring and frustrating, and this is going to be some high octane baseball. Yeah, there are going be times where we're going to run into out, but I'd rather watch a close aggressive running play than watch a strikeout or double play with a bunch of runners left on base any day of the week! Great post - can't wait to watch blue score some runs!