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About Jon
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1) using profanity or any euphemisms for profanity
2) personally attacking other commenters
3) baiting other commenters
4) arguing for the sake of arguing
5) discussing politics
6) using hyperbole when something less will suffice
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The Great Race
2003-06-05 08:46
by Jon Weisman
Note: The Dodger Thoughts blog has moved to the Los Angeles Times.

Pennant race not enough? Here's something that will keep your interest in September.

Will the Dodgers finish the year with more home runs or more sacrifice hits?

Citizens of the other 29 great major league cities - especially Toronto - will be shocked to find such an uncertainty could exist:

HR SH Team
91 10 ... Texas
87 05 ... New York Yankees
87 26 ... Atlanta
85 23 ... Cincinnati
68 33 ... St. Louis
67 02 ... Toronto
66 25 ... Milwaukee
64 20 ... Houston
64 30 ... San Francisco
63 13 ... Anaheim
63 21 ... Colorado
63 24 ... Florida
62 13 ... Boston
62 17 ... Kansas City
61 13 ... Chicago White Sox
61 13 ... Seattle
60 13 ... Minnesota
59 09 ... Oakland
56 19 ... Baltimore
55 25 ... Chicago Cubs
54 26 ... Arizona
53 20 ... Montreal
51 10 ... Cleveland
51 17 ... Philadelphia
47 25 ... San Diego
46 24 ... New York Mets
45 29 ... Pittsburgh
42 31 ... Detroit
39 14 ... Tampa Bay
35 32 ... Los Angeles

Little Ball doesn't come any Littler than that.

Can you imagine the last time a team had more sacrifice bunts than home runs? Without having the data handy right now to answer the question, my first guess would be pre-Babe Ruth times. Perhaps one of the Dodger teams of the 1960s did it, but I even have trouble believing that.

Paul Lo Duca, the Dodgers leading hitter in batting average, on-base percentage, and OPS, a player who has struck out once every 12.1 plate appearances and hit into a double play once every 54.5 plate appearances, is third on the team, behind Kazuhisa Ishii and Odalis Perez, with four sacrifices. That doesn't seem smart.

The majority of the Dodger sacrifices do come from the pitchers, who have 19.

Meanwhile, the Dodgers are on pace to finish the season with 98 home runs. No major league team has hit fewer than 100 home runs since Philadelphia hit 94 in a labor crisis-shortened 144-game season in 1995. In a full season, it's been 10 years since a team dropped below the century mark: Florida with 94 in 1993.

Robert from Priorities and Frivolities and I have had more than one e-mail discussion about the Dodgers' self-proclaimed need to play Little Ball and scratch across runs. I'm all in favor of the hit-and-run - that's how the Dodgers scored their only run Wednesday night, for example.

However, I don't believe that the scenario of winning by getting runs on a succession of single/sacrifice/single is a viable strategy. I would argue that opportunities for a base hit are even more precious for a team that isn't talented.

If the Dodgers somehow get a runner on first, does it really make sense for them to give up any chance at a hit just to move the runner up 90 feet?

If they deliver a single the next time up, all that delivers is a run. But they're down an out - a real sacrifice. If the third batter singles, they're probably way worse off than they would have been (unless the batter who bunted would otherwise have hit into a double play.) They've squandered the potential for a big inning.

If any other batter in the inning hits for extra bases, they're definitely way worse off than they would have been.

I can't help but wonder how the Dodgers would do if they banned the sacrifice from their arsenal for a month. Even banning the pitchers from doing it.

Ultimately, that won't happen. But the Dodgers' offensive problem is not their inability to scratch across a run in some random inning. It's that they can't get three runs. It's that they're having a power crisis of historical proportions.

Do keep in mind that this is a problem with the Dodger offense, not with the Dodger team as a whole. As Tim Kurkijan writes today, the Dodger pitching is also on a historic pace:

Through Wednesday, they led the major leagues with a 2.96 ERA, 1.36 runs below the major-league average. Their bullpen ERA is 2.04, around two runs below the league average.

The next best ERA in the National League is the Cubs' 3.63, a a gap of .67. Only four times in league history -- and not since 1953 -- has a team finished a season with an ERA .50 lower than the next best in the league. The 1907 Cubs hold the league record for the largest gap between first and second in ERA: .56. The Dodgers are on a pace to smash that.

It's a decent team. Remarkably imbalanced - remarkably strange - but decent.

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