March 17, 2004
Can Of Corn
Changing the Dodger WayFreshly minted Dodgers GM Paul DePodesta has plenty of challenges ahead of him. The Dodgers, a team historically accustomed to success, haven't made the postseason since 1996 and don't appear poised to break that trend in the upcoming season. If they don't, it'll be the organization's longest glory drought since they wallowed in mediocrity from 1921 to 1940.
This season, the club does have well defined needs, but those needs--offensive production of some kind--are sweeping and not easily addressed. Although there have been a few rumors floated by the press (Jose Canseco, Adam Dunn, Jason Kendall, Larry Bigbie), DePodesta has yet to make the headline-grabbing move that Dodger nation awaits with bated breath. Although his tenure in L.A. will certainly bring its share of major trades, I'm not so sure that one is in the immediate offing. A panic move isn't in order; a reevaluation of the "Dodger Way" most certainly is. The organization has famously relied on pitching since moving Westward, and it served them well for many years. Stockpiling quality arms is praiseworthy, but not when it's achieved at the utter neglect of the offense. The Dodger Way must change.
Earlier this year I wrote a column examining each organization's aggregate minor league park factor in relation to its major league park factor. One of the findings was that the Dodgers, a club not noted for its deft touch with hitting prospects in recent years, had one of the largest divides between how their minor league parks affect run scoring and how their major league park affects run scoring. The averaged park factor for the Dodger minor league affiliates (normalized to each level) was 1033, while the Dodger Stadium park factor was 911. That comes to a difference, from minors to majors, of -11.80 percent; only the Giants have a larger divide.
There aren't that many true pitcher's parks anymore at the major league level, and the Dodgers need to realize the distinct nature of their home environs. That entails gaining a deeper understanding of just how the "invisible hand" of Dodger Stadium alters the game on the field. From the not-as-good-as-BP 2004-but-still-pretty-good Scouting Notebook, we get the following three-year park factors (100 being league average):
AVG 92 2B 82 3B 52 HR 99 BB 103 K 106 LHB-AVG 93 LHB-HR 95 RHB-AVG 92 RHB-HR 101There's an overarching lesson here for analysts, fans and executives alike. Too often, we focus on park factors on a holistic level; that can be a problem. There are a number of different ways for a park to inflate or suppress run scoring, and, likewise, parks affect batters and pitchers differently depending upon their handedness. When we apply the run-scoring park factor indiscriminately to all players, we're neglecting the component element. The foibles of Dodger Stadium, as detailed above, provide an object lesson in this principle.
As previously mentioned, Dodger Stadium is a pitcher's haven of longstanding. However, as the above numbers demonstrate, this phenomenon is somewhat owing to the fact that the park suppresses batting average and mostly owing to the fact that it drastically cuts down on doubles and triples. The logical extension of this information is that Dodger Stadium isn't a particularly tough park, even for left-handed batters, for home runs. It's slightly above average for right-handed batters and only five percent below average for lefty clouters, which comes out to a total reduction of only one percent below the league mean. My assumption has always been that Dodger did in fact notably reduce home run numbers; that's plainly not the case.
So to better wield the nuances of Dodger Stadium in their favor, the organization should be targeting a particular kind of hitter: one who posts high OBPs not too dependent on batting average (that is, one who draws walks--no mystery there) and whose power numbers aren't built overmuch on a foundation of non-homer extra-base hits. To better determine whether a particular hitter fits this distinct power profile, it might behoove DePodesta and the rest of the Dodger braintrust to examine a hitter's power indicators on a component level.
By this, I mean taking slugging percentage (SLG) (or Isolated slugging percentage, which is SLG with batting average removed from the equation), and breaking it down to reflect only home runs (or only doubles, triples, etc.). We'll call it cSLG, or Component Slugging. For instance, take Sammy Sosa's 2003 SLG of .553. That .553 SLG breaks down as such:
The sum of all four components is .553, which, of course, was Sosa's SLG for the season. Additionally, his home run cSLG totaled 55.9 percent of his SLG. Also worth noting is that his HR cSLG exceeded his ISO for the season, which was .274. In terms of power, this is along the lines of the player the Dodgers need to target. I'm certainly not suggesting they attempt to trade for Sosa, a very good player, but an expensive one in his decline phase, but he fits the profile. His power numbers are heavy in the homer component, and that, according to the park data, is what plays well in Chavez Ravine.
On the flipside, a hitter like Bobby Abreu, for all his substantial merits, probably wouldn't be the ideal panacea for the Dodger offense. I say this because his HR cSLG of .139 constitutes only 29.7 percent of his total SLG and is notably lower than his ISO of .168. He'd likely take more of a statistical hit playing half his games in Dodger than someone of Sosa's stripe.
Roughly speaking, L.A. needs "Three True Outcomes" type of hitters rather than those whose SLGs comprise a high batting average and oodles of gap power.
Incidentally, Dunn, whom the Dodgers are rumored to have been ogling, may be a nice fit, provided his recent performance trends hold. Last season, he slugged .465 with an ISO of .250, which is a reasonably lofty total at the major league level. Breaking it down into components, we get a singles cSLG of .110, a doubles cSLG of .063, a triples cSLG of .008 and a HR cSLG of .283, which comes to 60.9 percent of his total SLG and is 33 points greater than his already high ISO. That's quite a bit of power devoted to only homers, and it's why, despite hitting from the left side, the Dunn of '03 might be a nice fit in L.A. Granted, his component power numbers from 2003 are out of step with his previous two seasons in the majors, but his recent self illustrates the profile quite nicely.
DePodesta's first step will be, novelty of novelties, to acquire better hitters than his recent predecessors have--but that's only the first step. Making personnel decisions in light of the team's playing environment isn't just a quandary for the Rockies; it may in fact be critical to DePodesta's success in reshaping the "Dodger Way."