Thursday, August 15, 2013

Inside the numbers of the Dodgers' 40-8 surge

Breaking down the Dodgers' last 48 games, of which they have won 40, it seems as if there is no kind of a game or circumstance in which the Dodgers are likely to lose. The Dodgers are defying every tried and true indicator out there. No matter who scores first, the Dodgers are likely to win. No matter who hits the most, the Dodgers are likely to win. No matter how little the Dodgers score, they're likely to win.


These days, the Dodgers are winning games that teams just don't win (public domain image).

By BILL PETERSON
Big Leagues in Los Angeles

Let's just say something unpleasant right off the top: The Dodgers aren't really this good. No team is really this good.

The Dodgers have won 40 of their last 48 games, the first time any team has done that at any point in any season in 71 years. This is historic stuff we're seeing out there, night after night. With wins in their next two games -- and their scheduled pitchers are Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw -- the Dodgers would become only the fifth team ever to win 42 of 50 games. During this run, the Dodgers are 12-2 against clubs that are positioned, right now, to be in the playoffs.

Much virtual ink has been spilled on explanations for how this team has become so formidable so quickly. Remember, if you will, that the Dodgers were 73-89 in their last year's worth of games when they started play on June 22, the day they began this historic surge. The team included most of these same players for most of that time. They gave no indication of being able to win. There were injuries, of course, but there also have been injuries since. They've done almost all of this without Matt Kemp, after all.

Anyway, the ink that has been spilled, virtual and otherwise, is for naught, because the explanation for what has changed with the Dodgers is simple.

Everything. There’s simply no point in trying to isolate causes or reasons, because everything is going absolutely right for the Dodgers like we’ve never seen it go right for anybody.

There is no aspect of the game at which the Dodgers aren't dramatically improved and playing very well. And they're lucky. Just say it. The Dodgers are lucky. Carlos Marmol pitched two shutout innings for them in their 5-4, 12-inning win against the New York Mets Wednesday night at Dodger Stadium. The Chicago Cubs couldn't wait to get rid of Marmol, and now he's notching big outs for the hottest team in the game.

Attempting to quantify this remarkable run by the Dodgers, we shall extrapolate from a section of records commonly found in the game notes provided to the media by each team before every game. This stuff is wild.

For example, before June 22, the Dodgers were 21-17 in games during which they scored first. Not very good. Year by year, the team that scores first wins about 65 percent of the time. From June 22, though, the Dodgers are 28-0 when they score first. That's an awful lot better than 65 percent. When the opponent scores first, the Dodgers were 9-25 through June 21. Since then, they are 12-8, which is just a couple ticks worse than teams have generally done through the years when they score first.

Through June 21, the Dodgers were 23-7 when they led after six innings. Since then, they are 28-0. Through June 21, the Dodgers were 25-4 when they led after seven innings. Since then, they are 28-0. Through June 21, the Dodgers were 28-2 when they led after eight innings. Since then, they are 30-0. When the opponent led through six, the Dodgers were 0-26 through June 21. Since then, they are 5-8. When the Dodgers trailed through seven, the Dodgers were 0-29 before the surge and they're 4-8 since. When the Dodgers trailed through eight, they were 0-33 and they're 4-8 since. Notice that those eight losses in each case are the only eight losses, so no one has come back on them.

When games were tied after seven, the Dodgers were 5-8 through June 21, and they were 2-6 when they were tied after eight. Since then, the Dodgers are 8-1 and 6-1 under those circumstances. Before June 22, they were 3-4 in extra innings. Since, they are 4-0. The Dodgers had 11 comeback wins through June 21, and they have 15 since. In games decided in the final at-bat, the Dodgers were 1-5. Since June 21, they are 4-0. In one-run games, the Dodgers were 7-12 through June 21. Since then, they are 12-0.

Winning every time they score first, winning 60 percent of the time when the other team scores first, winning one-third of the time when they trail after seven innings, the Dodgers are winning games that teams just don't win. And there are many more such examples.

Presumably, the team with the most hits will win most of the time. That certainly was true in Dodgers games before June 22. The Dodgers were 22-10 when they had more hits than the opponent and 6-25 when they had fewer hits. From that point though, it doesn't matter who gets the most hits, because the Dodgers are likely to win. Starting with June 22, the Dodgers are 29-2 when they have the most hits, and a pretty snappy 10-5 when the other team has more hits. Somehow, the Dodgers were only 16-15 when they had 10 or more hits through June 21. Since then, they are 25-1 when they collect at least 10 hits.

Other measures give us an even sharper sense of how much better the Dodgers are playing. For example, through June 21, they were 17-18 when they didn't make an error. So, not only did they tend to squander errorless fielding, but they were errorless in fewer than half of their games. Since June 21, they are 24-4 when they make no errors, so they are errorless 58.33 percent of the time and they win almost all of them.

Through June 21, the Dodgers were 22-20 when they homered and 7-4 when they homered twice or more. Since then, the Dodgers are 24-2 when they homer and 11-1 when they homer more than once. Through June 21, by the way, the Dodgers batted around twice all year. Since then, they have batted around five times.

Remember how the Dodgers used to squander quality starts? Through June 21, the Dodgers were 21-16 when their guy went six or more innings and allowed three or fewer runs. Thus, only 29.2 percent of their games were quality start victories. Since then, the Dodgers are 26-3 when they get a quality start, so in 54.2 percent of their games the Dodgers received a quality start and won.

Decades of reading media game notes have made one truism clear, especially in the National League. The tipping point between winning and losing is scoring four runs as opposed to scoring three. Just as surely as the sun rises every day, team after team after team will have a winning record when it scores four or more, and a losing record when it scores three or less. Even an excellent team is in a jittery position when it scores three runs. Consider the Atlanta Braves, who have the National League's best record at 74-47. The Braves are second in league ERA at 3.20 and second in league scoring at 4.50 runs per game. But when the Braves score three runs or fewer, they are 15-38, and when they score exactly three, they're 8-10. When they score four or more, they're 58-9.

It would be helpful to see some good numbers on the matter, but when the league ERA is around 4.00, it would seem that four runs is where most games will tip. Consider the Houston Astros, who are 39-81. They can't even win one-third of their games. But when the Astros score four or more, they're 28-28. When they score three or fewer, they're 11-53.

You get the idea. The team that scores four or more has an excellent chance of winning. Even the Astros break even when they score four or more. And the team that scores three or fewer probably will lose. Even the Braves lose when they score three or fewer.

Now dig. Through June 21, the Dodgers were 11-33 when they scored three or fewer. And they were 19-9 when the scored four or more. They also were 24-9 when they allowed three or fewer and 6-33 when they allowed four or more. Since June 21, not surprisingly (and not even remarkably, considering some of the other numbers we've seen), the Dodgers are 29-1 when they score four or more and 29-3 when they allow three or fewer. But they're also 16-7 when they score three or fewer 10-5 when they allow four or more.

Those last two numbers are the most stunning of all. You just don't see teams win, let alone win two-thirds of the time, when they score three runs or fewer, or when they allow four runs or more. Call it magic, call it history, call it luck, call it damned good baseball, call it anything. But know this. It won't last. It's can't. That's nothing against the Dodgers. No team is this good.

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