The Unsung Heroes of the Dodgers Crazy Run

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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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.


44 Responses to “The Unsung Heroes of the Dodgers Crazy Run”

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  1. That guy says:

    HeroEs, right?

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  2. my jays are red says:

    as a korean, more background on Ryu would have been nice. he’s had a FIP just over 3 all year, i don’t know if he’s actually an “unsung” hero or not

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  3. Tim says:

    Drew Butera’s presence in Albuquerque is clearly the primary factor in the Dodgers’ success.

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  4. Dan says:

    Man, Puig haters are real quiet now. He’s now walking at a more than acceptable rate while still maintaining his hit skills and power.

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    • Joe says:

      well there’s still the beyond absurd .475 BABIP

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      • Bronnt says:

        This is one of the key points.

        And there’s a difference between being a Puig-hater, and being someone who saw the low walk rate and high BABIP and wondered if he might not be as good as he seemed. There was (and still may be) plenty of reason to wonder if he would follow Jeff Francoeur’s career path.

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        • Dan says:

          No there isn’t. Frenchy never showed the patience Puig is showing now. Hell, Puig bb rate in the minors trumps Frenchy’s at every level.

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        • Bronnt says:

          Well, sure, but it’s not like we had an extensive minor league profile of him either. He had fewer total plate appearances during his entire time in the minors than Francoeur had in 2005 alone-the year he was called up. We still don’t have an extensive idea exactly what he is as a hitter yet, either. What’s his true-talent BABIP? .400? .350? And is he going to mess up his swing mechanics if he ever hits a slump?

          I’m not a Puig hater, but I remain a Puig doubter. I can take nothing away from how well he’s played so far, but I still need to see more.

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    • Sam says:

      I don’t think they’re so much quieted as quietly waiting.

      I wouldn’t consider myself a “Puig-hater”, but still think the attention on him is a bit much. He’s good. He is a great athlete, and has some serious potential. But the number of hot-starting rookies who didn’t pan out, or players who had one hot streak is not insignificant.

      Every extra month he does well is ‘proof’ he is legit. But as of right now, give him some more time. He’s good, but until he hits as good as Miguel Cabrera for several years, don’t say he is the best hitter in baseball.

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      • Dan says:

        See, there’s the problem. Why are you comparing a rookie to The best hitter in the game?

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      • Bip says:

        His hot streak has been hot enough and long enough that he’s proved he’s legit. There isn’t enough luck in the world to allow a non-legit player to post a .475 BABIP over 60 games. His opposite-field power is not something a mediocre player can just stumble upon.

        As for whether he will keep it up, of course there is no way to know. However, that can be said about players who aren’t even rookies. Albert Pujols? Josh Hamilton? (Sorry Angels.) Puig has given enough signs of his true talent that his likelihood of continuing to excel is better than just “wait and see.”

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      • atoms says:

        He’s playing extremely well. He’s fun to watch. He’s not the best player in baseball, he’s just a really talented player on a very good team. What’s not to like (unless you’re a Giants fan)?

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    • Gyre says:

      so quiet that I ate my words and jumped on the wagon, Vinnie still creeps me by sounding EXACTLY the same as in the 60s, but this team is on a mission from some god…tonight, they only showed up for half the game and the Mets still went down.

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  5. Xeifrank says:

    Relative to position, Zack Greinke has been the teams best hitter. :)

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    • Bip says:

      Relative to any position, Greinke has been baseball’s best hitter. At least that’s what it feels like.

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      • nd910 says:

        I’m not so sure about wRC+ plus for pitchers, but he’s currently at 166 (wOBA at 0.405). His bat alone has been worth 1.1 WAR (again, not sure how much weight this can be given), and the best part is that we can confidently expect him to keep this up. His BABIP is only 0.455!!

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  6. Emcee Peepants says:

    You must have missed ESPN’s article today, Gonzalez isn’t struggling, he’s the NL MVP. You’ll probably want to rewrite this post.

    /s

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  7. Cole says:

    What’s with the no-apostrophes approach?

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  8. Enrique Robles says:

    I agree with most of your article, however, you are very wrong about Adrian Gonzalez struggling. Gonzalez has actually been the Dodgers most consistent player all year. He’s been hitting over .295 the whole year. He leads the team in HR’s, Avg, RBI’s, and runs scored. Hardly the numbers for someone who’s struggling.

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    • Table says:

      He has a .277 OBP in August

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    • Eric Feczko says:

      A-gon has almost 500 plate appearances this year and only 16 HRs. In less than half of those appearances, Hanley Ramirez has had 11. Going by homerun rate, A-gon ranks third behind the two.

      His position in the lineup practically ensures that he will have the greatest number of RBIs. Furthermore, Gonzalez has been struggling since last year. His power is was down from his peak with the Padres; he’s on track to hit 25 HRs this year, tops.

      I’m sorry but the punto trade turned out to be a bad one for the dodgers; Gonzalez, and Beckett have not lived up to expectations, while Crawford is being paid to produce like he was for the 2010 rays. The dodgers are winning despite these players, not because of them.

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      • BearHunter90 says:

        Yes because power is all that is important. Gonzalez has been neither terrible nor great he is has been simply good. He has also played most everyday which is a valuable skill and can be expected to play this way well into the future. The punto trade appears to be a clear win-win for both sides. The Dodgers got the first baseman they really wanted and Boston got to clear out some money and get a couple ok prospects.

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        • Dave says:

          I’d argue that Ruby De La Rosa and Allan Webster are better than OK prospects. They should both wind up at very least middle of the rotation starters, and both COULD wind up as #1 starters.

          I wonder if the Dodgers could’ve held on to one, but I still think it’s a huge win in both directions.

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      • SB says:

        I’m pretty Gonzalez has lived up to the expectations of being tremendously better than the black hole of offense that was James Loney at 1B. Do you think that the Dodgers would be anywhere near as good as they are with Loney at 1B this year? And let’s not talk about hypotheticals like how TB has rejuvenated Loney’s offense; it just wasn’t happening in LA for whatever reason.

        Punto: Better bench shortstop than Justin Sellers or Dee Gordon.

        Gonzalez: Way better than Loney was for the Dodgers for years.

        Beckett: Eh, I’ll give you Beckett.

        Crawford: Barring his slump after coming off the DL, in what world has Carl Crawford not been better than a rotating Hairston/Van Slyke/Schumaker rotation in LF?

        In return for bolstering the lineup, LA gave up a pair of arms that aren’t really doing much of anything for Boston and you want to say the trade turned out to be a bad one? Just not seeing it, sorry.

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  9. Nice, interesting article.

    Another unsung hero is their bullpen. For a long while now, they have put up a great ERA, like around 1, and that has been a huge factor in the Dodgers keeping the runs allowed low enough so that when their offense struggled for 11 games, the team still went 9-2 during that stretch. That is the main reason they are so far ahead right now, even though they averaged like 2.7 runs scored per game during that 11 game stretch.

    In fact, their pitching staff has been a huge factor in their sudden surge, the team ERA was in the mid-to-high 3′s, then suddenly they are in the mid 2′s for an extended period.

    Much like Puig’s BABIP, none of this is sustainable in the long term, but they could continue that for the rest of the season and be a big factor in the playoffs.

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  10. jeremy harrell says:

    What about AJ Ellis? Unsung MVP in my opinion.

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  11. Antonio Bananas says:

    Lol “for all the talk about the braves, tigers and royals” more like “by now you know the dodgers are very hot, you might not know that the Braves, Tigers, and Royals have also been hot, they have, but this article is about the Dodgers”

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  12. EDogg1438 says:

    The hot stretch is really much longer than 25 games. The Dodgers are 37-8 in their last 45 games.

    What is the hottest 50 game stretch for a team?

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    • The Harlem Globetrotters says:

      We won 8,829 in a row from 1971 to 1995.

      (Allegedly.)

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    • LookItUp says:

      45-5, by the 1906 Cubs.

      In case anyone’s curious, here’s a list:

      Most wins over 50 game stretch, by franchise
      (current franchises only, 1901-present):

      Ari 38 (1999)
      Atl 39 (1993, 2002)
      Bal 38 (1966, 1969, 1970)
      Bos 40 (1946)
      ChN 45 (1906)
      ChA 39 (1983)
      Cin 41 (1975)
      Cle 40 (1951, 1954)
      Col 35 (2009)
      Det 39 (1984)
      Hou 37 (1998, 2004)
      KC 40 (1977)
      LAA 37 (2009)
      LAN 41 (1953)
      Mia 34 (2003)
      Mil 36 (2011)
      Min 38 (2006)
      NYN 38 (1969)
      NYA 42 (1941)
      Oak 41 (1931)
      Phi 37 (1976, 1977, 2010, 2011)
      Pit 41 (1909)
      SD 35 (1998)
      Sea 40 (2001)
      SF 42 (1912)
      StL 42 (1942)
      TB 34 (2008, 2010)
      Tex 35 (1977)
      Tor 35 (1985, 1999)
      Was 35 (1994, 2012)

      I suppose it’s possible a team in the Federal League or American Association tied or bettered the ’06 Cubs, but I doubt it.

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  13. Fastpiece says:

    Surprises like this are what happen when you take Kershaw for granted

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