The Dodgers have been near the forefront of the analytic movement, and part of that includes an emphasis on defense and numbers.
While publicly available defensive data isn’t nearly as in-depth or reliable as private data, there’s one thing that doesn’t lie: Defensive positioning.
That has been a big story in the first two games of the World Series, as the Dodgers have allowed a few runs because of poor defensive positioning in the outfield.
In Game 1, Yasiel Puig was guilty of playing too deep, and it showed when he threw home on an Andrew Benintendi RBI single in the first inning. He was playing so deep that he had absolutely no shot of throwing out Mookie Betts at home. If Puig is playing in more, maybe he gets to the ball quicker and holds Betts at third base. That isn’t terribly likely, especially since he threw the ball home with no chance of it being cut off.
Dave Roberts acknowledged in Game 1 that the Dodger outfielders (center- and right fielders) were playing a little too deep and vowed to change that in Game 2.
Funny thing about that...
The Dodgers making a big deal about how they were going to position their players less deep then losing on a two run dunker one step in front of Puig is a particular brand of infuriating— Daniel Brim (@DanielBrim) October 25, 2018
Puig was 319 feet deep on Martinez's hit.— Mike Petriello (@mike_petriello) October 25, 2018
Average RF vs JD Martinez: 302 feet.
Average RF in Fenway vs RHB: 294 feet.
What happened to LA insisting they'd stop playing so deep tonight?
Turns out, the positioning was not fixed. There’s no guarantee if Puig is playing 15-20 feet shallower that he catches Martinez’s bleeder. It was a batted ball that had a 51 percent hit probability — a literal coin flip. For what it’s worth, Puig’s average depth for the season was 292 feet.
Here it is in visual form.
Puig had a long way to run, but for a ball that had a 51 percent hit probability, he should have had a better chance to catch it than he actually did.
The poor positioning in Game 2 could have cost the Dodgers two runs on the scoreboard. The margin of victory for Boston was two runs.
It’s one thing to be beaten by the better team, but the Red Sox didn’t force the Dodgers to play their outfielders too deep. For a team that thrives and lives by data and analysis, the fact that they didn’t adjust, after explicitly saying they would, is infuriating and inexcusable — in the World Series, no less.
Perhaps the Fenway factor is to blame. The Dodgers are unfamiliar with the dimensions and it could partially explain some of the misplacement. But you’d think that would be rectified after the first game of the series.
Roberts gets his fair share of criticism. Most of it is unwarranted, but this series has not been his finest moment. From removing Pedro Baez for Alex Wood in Game 1 to going with Ryan Madson in Game 2 in the highest-leverage spot of the series, it hasn’t been a good showing for him.
There are many reasons the Dodgers are down 2-0 in this series. It isn’t all because of the outfield positioning, but it certainly hasn’t helped matters. Let’s hope that if this series gets back to Boston, we’ll never have to use the word “positioning” again.