SAN FRANCISCO -- They’re not exactly the ’27 Yankees. Heard that one before?
It comes to mind because, as it just so happens, these Los Angeles Dodgers are, in fact, the 1927 New York Yankees, or at least they’re producing runs at a similar rate, which is astonishing when you think about it. It’s even more astonishing when you remember that the Dodgers’ projected best hitter, Yasiel Puig, has been limited to 11 games because of a balky hamstring.
Blogger Mike Petriello dug it up and ESPN’s David Schoenfield explored the issue in depth here. According to a stat called weighted runs created-plus (or wRC+ for short), which adjusts for eras and ballparks, the Dodgers of Adrian Gonzalez and Andre Ethier are doing exactly what the Yankees of Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth did.
If you remove the pitchers’ hitting from the equation, the Dodgers have a wRC+ of 135, identical to the ’27 Yankees’ and more prolific than any other team in baseball. Ever.
Even after an anemic weekend in which they could manage just two runs in two games against the Colorado Rockies of all teams, the Dodgers are averaging 5.02 runs per game. The rest of baseball is averaging 4.18 runs per game.
That’s all impressive, sure, but is it even moderately sustainable or is it a simple reflection of a small sample size? Remember a year ago, when everybody was gaga over the San Francisco Giants’ new jacked-up offense, powered by Michael Morse, Brandon Belt, et al? The Giants averaged 4.38 runs per game while racing out to a 43-21 start, then went in the tank for the next 56 games, scoring an average of 3.25 runs per game while losing 36 of those games to fritter away their division lead.
They had to settle for the wild card and we all know how impossible that is to overcome. Oh wait.
Anyway, at first glance, the Dodgers haven’t been racking up all these runs because of ridiculously good luck. Their batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is .297, which ranks 16th of 30 teams. Their line-drive rate is 21.8 percent, ranks 10th in the majors and suggests they might just be good at hitting baseballs. Their strikeout rate (19.5 percent) is lower than average despite a leadoff hitter, Joc Pederson, who is striking out in nearly one-third of his plate appearances.
So, that’s all good. On the other hand, they can probably expect a little bit of regression toward the mean from a good chunk of their lineup, another way of saying, "some of these guys probably ain’t this good."
For example, what happened to Justin Turner when he turned 29? Before 2014, Turner bounced around, then became a scrappy part-time player on the New York Mets who was known for grinding out at-bats and playing hard. He had a .684 career OPS. Then, last year, he batted .340 and, this season, he’s getting more playing time than ever and has been demolishing baseball’s to the tune of a .981 OPS.
Scott Van Slyke was designated for assignment by the Dodgers a few years ago. Now, he has an .848 OPS, which is just a tick above his career norm of .824. It’s harder to know what to make of the fast starts by Pederson and Alex Guerrero, because until now almost all their work had been done in the minor leagues. Pederson has a .922 OPS. He had a .929 OPS all through the minor leagues. Guerrero has a 1.051 OPS. In one season in the minors, interrupted by a long layoff after a teammate bit off part of his ear, he had a .994 OPS.
The biggest outlier, of course, is Andre Ethier, who has replaced Puig with greater production than the Dodgers could have expected of one of the game’s most exciting talents. Ethier, 33, went from a player the Dodgers probably would have traded for salary relief to one of the league’s most dominant hitters. His .947 OPS is 126 points higher than his career OPS before 2015.
Put that all together and you get the suspicion that the bulk of the Dodgers’ lineup is due for some settling in. Then again, Puig is probably going to return some time next month (but what happens to Ethier then?) and Jimmy Rollins doesn’t figure to have a sub-.200 batting average all year, judging by one of the league’s most-punishing BABIPs (.213).
So, to summarize, are the Dodgers going to continue producing at the same level as the original murderer’s row? Probably not, but there’s also no cliff in sight.