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Dodger First Half Review: Simply The Best

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No matter what happens between now and the end of the season, the 2009 Dodgers will be one of the most memorable clubs in franchise history.  Even with all the ups and downs of the de facto first half, the Dodgers head into the All-Star break with the best record in baseball.

The Dodgers began play as the Brooklyn Atlantics in the 1884 American Association.  This is the 126th season of the franchise.  Through 88 games, the 2009 club is tied for the 11th-best record at 56-32, which also stands as the fourth-best 88-game start since moving to Los Angeles.  Here are the top records through 88 games in franchise history, along with the final winning percentage of each club:

Year W-L Pct Final %
1955      
61-27 .693 .641
1952 61-27 .693 .627
1942 61-27 .693 .675
1899 60-28 .682 .682
1974 60-28 .682 .630
1892 59-29 .670 .617
1899 58-30 .659 .679
1941 57-31 .648 .649
1977 57-31 .648 .605
1962 57-31 .648 .618
1953 56-32 .636 .682
1951 56-32 .636 .618
2009 56-32 .636 ???

The lowest winning percentage with this kind of start in Dodger history is .605, which equates to 98 wins for the season.

Phil, Brendan, and I voted on a couple of Dodger awards for the first half of the season.  The first award is the Mike Piazza Award, given to the club MVP, named after the rightful winner of the 1996 & 1997 National League MVP awards.  We each picked and ranked five candidates, with points awarded on a 5-4-3-2-1 basis.  The second is the Sandy Koufax Award, named for the greatest pitcher in franchise history (so far).  We each picked three for this award, and points were given on a 5-3-1 basis.

Mike Piazza AwardMatt Kemp has been the man for the Dodgers in the first half, perhaps one of the most productive lower-third-of-the-batting-order hitters ever (57 of his 85 starts have come in the 7th spot or lower).  The Bison has combined stellar hitting -- leading non-suspended Dodger regulars in Equivalent Average (.313), wOBA (.386), slugging percentage (.495) and OPS (.879) -- with amazing defense.  Kemp is second among major league centerfielders in Ultimate Zone Rating, a cool 10.2 runs above average.  Kemp has had a well-rounded first half, having scored from second base on a bunt, ending a game with a Willie Mays catch, and already tying the Los Angeles club record for grand slams in a season with three (Kal Daniels 1990, Mike Piazza 1998, and Adrian Beltre 2004). Here's how the voting broke out:

Player 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th Total
Kemp 2 1 -- -- -- 14
Billingsley   1 1 1 -- -- 12
Blake -- 1 1 1 -- 9
Broxton -- -- 1 1 1 6
Hudson -- -- -- 1 1 3
Pierre -- -- -- -- 1 1

Sandy Koufax Award:  This one was a slam dunk, as Chad Billingsley has taken the reins as staff ace and put together an All-Star first half.  He has struggled of late, having been stuck on nine wins for five straight starts.  However, Billingsley still leads the club in innings (125.1), wins (9), FIP (3.51), Pitching Runs Created (57), and strikeouts (119).  Jonathan Broxton, who was lights out before his recent toe injury, finished in second place.  However, if Clayton Kershaw keeps up his recent great pitching, this award will be up for grabs as the season comes to a close.  Here's the voting:

Pitcher 1st 2nd 3rd Total
Billingsley 3 -- -- 15
Broxton -- 3 -- 9
Kershaw -- -- 1 1
Wolf -- -- 1 1
Troncoso -- -- 1 1

First Half By The Numbers:
56-32 record (.636, best in MLB)
443 runs scored (5.03 per game, 7th in MLB)
338 runs allowed (3.84 per game, 2nd in MLB)
.632 pythagorean winning percentage, 1st in MLB
.337 wOBA (9th in MLB)
3.88 FIP (4th in MLB)
.718 Defensive Efficiency (1st in MLB)

Don't Get Swept Away:  The Dodgers have yet to have a losing streak of three games.  In fact, the club has played 29 different series so far, and has only lost six of them.  The club is 8-3-3 in 14 home series, and 10-3-2 in 15 road series.

Start Me Up:  The Dodgers are second in MLB with 70 first inning runs (Philadelphia and their 846 All-Stars have scored 73 first inning runs).

Pleading The Fifth:  This is the answer you might get from Joe Torre if asked why Matt Kemp bats so low in the order.  Dodger 5th-place hitters are 29th in baseball in OPS, hitting .235/.333/.323, with three home runs and 40 RBI.  However, the Dodger 8th-place hitters lead MLB in OPS, hitting .336/.394/.525, with 14 homers and 50 RBI.  Thanks to the amazing Baseball-Reference.com, we can see the breakdown of different parts of the Dodger batting order (pitchers not included):

Batting Order BA OBP SLG OPS
1-2 spots .285 .355 .400 .755
3-6 spots .269 .356 .401 .757
7-9 spots .305 .380 .494 .874

The Giants (.739 OPS from 3-6, .752 from 7-9) and Pirates (.733, .740) are the only other clubs in baseball with a more productive bottom of the lineup than middle.

Pitching In:  The Dodgers have used 19 pitchers this season, and 17 of them have at least one win.  The club record for pitchers with at least one win is 18, set last season.

Back End of the Rotation:  Coming into the season, the Dodgers top four starting pitchers were Chad Billingsley, Hiroki Kuroda, Randy Wolf, and Clayton Kershaw.  Those four have done fine, averaging 6.04 innings per start while putting up a 3.46 ERA.  The Dodgers are 40-25 in games started by these four pitchers.  Meanwhile, the other four pitchers to start -- Eric Stults, Eric Milton, Jeff Weaver, and James McDonald -- haven't been as effective, averaging only 4.58 innings per start while putting up a 4.78 ERA.  However, the club is an amazing 16-7 in starts made by this back end of the starting staff.

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I don't know how you can look at this team and see anything but an unqualified success.  When Manny Ramirez was suspended for 50 games, things looked bleak for the Dodgers, and they were expected to fall back to the pack somewhat.  However, the Dodgers actually widened their lead in the division, which solidified this club as a legitimate World Series contender.  With a seven-game lead over the Giants, the Dodgers have a nice cushion with which to play in the second half.  Baseball Prospectus currently has the Dodgers' playoff odds at 99.25%.

No matter the challenge, this team has responded.  When the offense sputtered (3.6 runs per game in June), the pitching picked up the slack.  When the pitching struggled, the offense had their back.  The Dodgers lost their best hitter for 50 games, they lost their opening day starter for two months, and their two expected main setup men coming into the season have been injured, ineffective, or both.  However, here they are with the very best record in baseball.  This is a very good team, with a tough lineup and pitching staff from top to bottom, and one that will be reckoned with, even as presently constructed, in October.

First Half Stats

Player AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SB/CS BA/OBP/SLG OPS wOBA EqA
Manny
121 30 43 11 0 9 29 31 0/0 .355/.487/.669 1.156 .476 .394
Kemp
325 48 104 12 6 11 50 34 19/4 .320/.384/.495 .874 .386 .313
Blake
288 47 82 18 2 12 55 36 2/1 .285/.364/.486 .850 .362 .300
Pierre
259 39 85 15 4 0 25 19 23/8 .328/.387/.417 .804 .361 .293
Hudson
343 53 97 24 2 7 48 38 6/0 .283/.353/.426 .779 .346 .282
Ethier
324 49 81 17 1 18 56 39 4/3 .250/.338/.475 .813 .344 .283
Loney
331 43 93 17 1 7 54 37 6/1 .281/.350/.402 .752 .330 .273
Martin
283 37 73 10 0 2 27 48 8/4 .258/.373/.314 .688 .317 .259
Furcal
317 46 81 16 1 4 21 36 5/4 .256/.331/.350 .682 .305 .245
Ausmus
56 7 16 2 0 1 5 4 1/0 .286/.355/.375 .730 .334 .268
Loretta 106 14 26 5 0 0 16 15 0/0 .245/.344/.292 .637 .295 .235
Castro 71 14 25 3 0 1 9 6 0/0 .352/.397/.437 .834 .365 .302
DeWitt
23 2 4 0 0 1 1 2 0/0 .174/.240/.304 .544 .245 .181
Hoffmann 22 2 4 2 0 1 7 0 0/0 .182/.167/.409 .576 .226 .201
Paul 14 3 3 1 0 1 1 2 0/1 .214/.313/.500 .813 .317 .255
Jones 13 1 4 1 0 0 0 0 0/0 .308/.400/.385 .785 .361 .289
Mientkiewicz 5 0 2 1 0 0 2 0 0/0 .400/.400/.600 1.000 .430 .342
Ellis 4 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0/0 .000/.000/.000 .000 .000 -.237
Pitchers 158 8 20 4 0 1 13 9 0/0 .127/.181/.171 .352 --- ---
Totals 3063 443 843 159 17 76 419 356 74/26 .275/.354/.413 .766 .337 .277

 

Pitcher G W-L Sv IP H R ER BB K ERA WHIP FIP x-FIP
Billingsley     19 9-4 -- 125.1 99 51 47 55 119 3.38 1.229 3.51 3.98
Wolf 19 4-3 -- 114.2 101 47 44 33 85 3.45 1.169 4.25 4.39
Kershaw 18 7-5 -- 99.2 68 35 35 59 99 3.16 1.274 3.52 4.28
Kuroda 10 3-5 -- 54.0 50 30 28 12 38 4.67 1.148 3.60 3.88
Stults 9 4-2 -- 45.0 46 24 24 25 30 4.80 1.578 4.12 5.64
Milton 5 2-1 -- 23.2 30 12 10 6 20 3.80 1.521 3.56 4.60
Broxton 38 6-0 20 40.2 21 14 14 17 65 3.10 0.934 1.59 1.93
Troncoso 41 3-0 5 56.2 51 15 11 21 34 1.75 1.271 3.30 3.93
Belisario 43 1-3 0 48.1 37 15 13 20 46 2.42 1.179 3.01 3.44
Weaver 15 5-3 -- 44.0 49 19 17 20 34 3.48 1.568 3.93 4.35
Mota 38 3-2 -- 41.0 31 16 16 16 23 3.51 1.195 3.85 4.51
Leach 33 2-0 -- 19.0 11 9 9 9 17 4.26 1.053 3.82 3.86
McDonald 17 2-1 -- 28.2 24 15 15 19 19 4.71 1.500 5.37 5.73
Wade 27 2-3 -- 27.2 28 17 17 10 18 5.53 1.373 4.12 4.89
Ohman 21 1-0 1 12.1 12 8 8 8 7 5.84 1.622 7.92 5.65
Elbert 4 1-0 -- 9.0 10 5 5 2 9 5.00 1.333 6.14 3.53
Kuo 7 1-0 -- 5.1 5 4 4 4 4 6.75 1.688 7.45 6.33
Schlichting 2 0-0 -- 2.2 1 2 1 5 2 3.38 2.250 12.14 9.38
Vargas 2 0-0 -- 2.0 1 0 0 1 0 0.00 1.000 4.64 6.05
Totals 88
56-32 26 799.2 677 338 318 3.85 7.53 3.58 1.274 3.88 ---