For all the talk about the Royals, Braves, and Tigers, the hottest team in baseball over the last 30 days is actually the Los Angeles Dodgers. During that stretch, the Dodgers are 21-4 and have outscored their opponents 115-63. And as with any stretch of .840 baseball, it’s been a collective effort of great performances.
When it comes to run scoring, the Dodgers non-pitchers have posted a 124 wRC+, best in baseball during that stretch. On the run prevention side of things, their 61 ERA- is #2 in MLB during the past 30 days, trailing only the ridiculous pitching staff up in Detroit. You win 21 of 25 by scoring a lot of runs and not allowing your competitors to do the same, which is exactly what the Dodgers have done.
When it comes to individual performances, you’ve heard about Yasiel Puig — now drawing a bunch of walks, by the way — and Hanley Ramirez on offense and some guy named Clayton Kershaw on the mound. The Dodgers stars have been ridiculously great, justifying most of the big expenditures the front office made after new ownership took over. Brandon League and Josh Beckett might be overpaid and lousy, but despite all the jokes about the Dodgers reckless spending, most of the high paid players on the roster are earning their paychecks.
However, there are a couple of players in LA who have been a significant part of their recent dominance, and probably don’t get as much credit for the team’s success as they should. So, with all due respect to the Kershaws and the Puigs, let’s save a little recognition for Mark Ellis and Hyun-Jin Ryu.
Ellis is renowned mostly for his glove work at second base, and he carved out a nice career for himself as an underrated defender on some good teams. However, over the last month, Ellis’ bat has been one of the primary reasons the Dodgers offense has clicked. In that span, he’s hit .347/.390/.507, putting up a 154 wRC+ that is second among Dodgers regulars behind Mr. Puig. And despite Ellis’ reputation, he’s actually never really been the glove-only player that his reputation suggested.
For the season, Ellis has a wRC+ of 99. Last year, it was 98. For his career, it’s 96. Mark Ellis has been an average hitter for most of his career. Like everyone else, he has ups (135 wRC+ in 2005) and his downs (67 in 2011), but overall, he’s usually ended up right back around average. Like pretty much all of his teammates this year, he was lousy early in the season but has been pretty great lately, and getting quality offensive production from a second baseman can go a long ways towards beating your opponents.
Because Ellis’ production mostly comes through a barrage of singles, he can be easy to overlook, but in the last month, no second baseman in baseball has been more productive at the plate. With Matt Kemp on the DL and Adrian Gonzalez struggling, it’s tempting to think that Puig and Ramirez are carrying the offense, but relative to his position, Ellis has actually been the team’s best hitter.
Like with Ellis, Hyun-Jin Ryu also succeeds more through being good at many things rather than great at anything. His fastball sits at 90 mph, his breaking ball is kind of mediocre, and he gives up a decent amount of contact. However, Ryu’s command and excellent change-up have led him to a terrific overall season, and he’s been even better lately.
In that same 30 day time period, Ryu has made four starts and allowed a total of eight runs, and it hasn’t been because he’s been getting bailed out by his defense or batted ball luck. In those four starts, he has a 25/3 K/BB ratio while also running a 59% ground ball rate. His 59 xFIP- is third best in baseball in the last month, trailing only Matt Harvey and Jose Fernandez, who you might know as pretty good pitchers.
Ellis and Ryu aren’t going to keep up their recent performance, clearly. They’re playing at MVP levels, and going forward, they project more as a a solid role player and a quality mid-rotation starter. When they cool off, the Dodgers will stop winning games at an .840 clip.
But just like the Dodgers recent run has reminded everyone that they’re a pretty good team, we should also remember that Ellis and Ryu are significant reasons why this is a pretty good team. They might not be the headline grabbers on a team full of big name stars, but they’re quietly productive, and lately, it hasn’t been so quiet. Having contributing parts like Ellis and Ryu is what allows the Dodgers roster to work.
While the focus goes to all the guys making big money, and there will be plenty of folks claiming that the Dodgers bought this roster with their financial resources, Ellis and Ryu will make less than $8 million between them this season. Certainly, a $215 million payroll gives you the ability to waste money on guys like Brandon League without it being a real long term problem, but you still have to spend the rest of your money well in order to build a good team. The Dodgers are a good team because they spent a lot of money, but they also spent wisely on Ellis and Ryu, who have been quality producers at bargain prices.
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