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Dodgers in July: Historically bad month for starting pitchers

But the offense and bullpen were good enough for a winning month anyway

MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at Texas Rangers Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Dodgers made history in July! Sure, it was for the wrong reasons, having a starting rotation struggling so bad that adding the highest ERA in baseball among qualified pitchers via trade made actual sense.

But it’s also all relative. Despite the terrible, horrible, no good, and very bad starting pitching, the Dodgers got pretty good work out of the bullpen, and the offense was good enough to sweep a lot of the mistakes under the rug.

In all, the Dodgers were 13-10 during July, which is nearly a 92-win pace over an entire season. That’s good, even if it doesn’t measure up to the triple-digit-win pace of the bulk of the previous six seasons. It was also an improvement over a very middling June that saw the Dodgers lose as many games as they won.

That 13-10 July was also good enough for the Dodgers to turn around a two-game deficit in the National League West to open the month into a two-game lead in the division entering the final day of the month, with the Dodgers off Monday.

Dodgers in July

13-10 record
133 runs scored (5.78 per game, 2nd in MLB)
113 runs allowed (4.91 per game, 20th in MLB)
.574 pythagorean win percentage (13-10)

Year to date

59-45 record
578 runs scored (5.56 per game, 3rd in MLB)
490 runs allowed (4.71 per game, 19th in MLB)
.575 pythagorean win percentage (60-44)

Previously monthly reviews: April | May | June

I wouldn’t say I’ve been missing it, Bob

Dodgers starters had a 6.18 ERA during July, compared to 2.93 for the bullpen. part of that can be explained by Clayton Kershaw not throwing a single pitch during the month, out with left shoulder soreness. He may be back soon. But both Julio Urías and Tony Gonsolin, nominally the Dodgers’ two best healthy starters, each had ERAs over six in the month.

The 6.18 ERA is the second-worst by Dodgers starters in franchise history in a month with at least 15 games, trailing only the 7.31 ERA put up by Brooklyn’s rotation in July 1944 during World War II.

Dodgers pitching strikeout rates

Month K rate MLB rank
Month K rate MLB rank
April 21.56% 24th
May 22.45% 15th
June 23.88% 11th
July 23.16% 13th

New acquisition and returning old friend Joe Kelly wants to expand beyond the basics.

“The numbers that really matter to winning I think is what’s not shown on the board,” he said Saturday. “All they see is wins, losses, and ERA. They don’t see the numbers that ultimately really matter, that shows how good a pitcher is. Like FIP, BABIP, slug, and all those numbers.”

Using FIP, Dodgers starters were at 4.47 in July compared to 3.45 for relievers. That’s not as wide a gap in performance, but still not particularly appealing either. Los Angeles starters FIP ranked 18th in the majors during the month, while the bullpen ranked fourth.

However, another July stat could offer a clue to the Dodgers’ activity at the trade deadline.

Dodgers pitchers in July struck out 23.16 percent of batters faced, down from 23.88 percent in June and ending an upward trajectory since the start of the season. But most importantly, the July strikeout rate ranked just 13th in MLB, very middling. On the season, LA’s 22.7-percent strikeout rate ranks 18th.

Friday’s trade with the White Sox brought two pitchers who should help this. Kelly has the best strikeout rate of his career (32.3 percent) this season — “I would argue his stuff is even better than it was when he was with us,” Dave Roberts said. “The velocity, the curveball, all that stuff.” — and Lance Lynn’s 26.92-percent strikeout rate ranks 17th among qualified pitchers and is more than three ticks higher than any other Dodgers starter not named Kershaw.

Driving forces on offense

It’s no surprise that Freddie Freeman (.359/.438/.685, 201 wRC+) and Mookie Betts (.305/.426/.585, 168 wRC+) were the Dodgers’ two best hitters in July, since they are the team’s two best players. But both reached higher gears for extended stretches during the month.

Betts had 14 hits in 29 at-bats (.483) with five home runs in seven games surrounding the All-Star break. Freeman had a 15-for-24 (.625) stretch with seven extra-base hits from July 17-24, in which he reached base 21 times in a 30 plate appearances.

OPS & wRC+ by month

Month Max Muncy James Outman
Month Max Muncy James Outman
April 1.070, 180 .991, 165
May .675, 81 .552, 54
June .481, 43 .551, 54
July .906, 142 .904, 155
Source: FanGraphs

But the Dodgers also got turnaround months from both James Outman and Max Muncy. Outman went through rookie struggles in May and June before finding it again in July, hitting .309/.434/.471 with a 155 wRC+ and four stolen bases.

Muncy also struggled in May and June, and missed time in the latter with a hamstring injury. But he recovered to hit nine home runs in July, hitting .217/.340/.566 with a 142 wRC+ and a team-leading 22 runs batted in.

Both Outman and Muncy had incredible Aprils before struggling, making for quite the performance curve this season.

The month ahead

In August, the Dodgers play 17 games at home and 12 on the road. After a month with more American League opponents than National League foes, plus no division games, the Dodgers in August get back into the National League West with five games against the D-backs, four against the Padres, and four against the Rockies.

In the final weekend of the month the Dodgers head to Fenway Park, which serves as a return to Boston for Kiké Hernández and Ryan Braiser. And a couple of other dudes, too.