Dodgers' strong defense overlooked in 2015
Club led NL in fielding percentage, complementing strong rotation and offense
LOS ANGELES -- Though pitching and defense typically go hand-in-hand, relatively few fingers have been pointed admiringly at the Dodgers' gloves.
The Dodgers, who open their National League Division Series clash with the New York Mets on Friday (6:30 p.m. PT on TBS), are readily associated with their twin aces, Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke. Los Angeles' offense, which led the NL in home runs, ranked second in on-base percentage and finished third in slugging percentage, gained increasing respect this year. Less attention tends to be paid to the Dodgers' defense, which provided stability throughout the club's march to the NL West title.
:: NLDS: Mets vs. Dodgers -- Tune-in info ::"We've been a lot steadier club as far as limiting outs, and that's part of what we preach and talk about," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "You need to get 27. Let's not give them 30 or 31."
Usually, the Dodgers didn't. They yielded 42 unearned runs, compared to 63 last year. They led the Majors with a .988 fielding percentage, a statistic that only partially conveys quality since it doesn't incorporate elements such as range. It did, however, reflect consistency. If a defense's backbone traditionally consists of its up-the-middle personnel -- catcher, second base, shortstop and center field -- then the Dodgers' spine was a strong one.
Behind the plate, the Dodgers added Yasmani Grandal, who made his first All-Star team this season. A.J. Ellis remained a capable complement. Second baseman Howie Kendrick and shortstop Jimmy Rollins combined to form a steady double-play combination. There was no dropoff when rookie Corey Seager made his 21 late-season starts at shortstop.
Center fielder Joc Pederson delivered an uneven offensive performance, but his mere presence through 140 starts helped the Dodgers keep Yasiel Puig and Andre Ethier in the outfield corners where they belonged. Both dabbled in center last year. Finding an ideal outfield combination, said Dodgers outfield coach Lorenzo Bundy, is what happens "when you get the guy in the middle right."
Modern fielding metrics also demonstrated the Dodgers' upgrade. According to Fangraphs.com, their outfielders combined to save nine runs this year, compared with minus-25 last year. The latter figure was the NL's second-worst DRS (defensive runs saved).
Dodgers defenders overall also recorded a minus-25 DRS for an identical No. 14 rating in the NL last year. So their minus-two runs saved, seventh in the NL, represented another vast improvement.
Or simply forget statistics and listen to what players say. Dodgers left-hander Brett Anderson, who relies on defense as a ground-ball pitcher, noticed a difference this year. "Especially with the way I pitch, [the defense] has really been beneficial for me," said Anderson, Los Angeles' Game 3 NLDS starter who finished 10-9 with a 3.69 ERA. "They've done a tremendous job behind me. That gives me the confidence to do what I do."
If any Dodger knows defense, it's Kiké Hernandez, the team's "super-utility man" who played all three outfield positions and every infield spot except first base. "We had a really solid defense the entire season, and I don't expect that to change now in the playoffs," he said. "Playoff baseball is all about pitching and defense. Of course the team that's gonna win is the one that gets the clutch hit, but if you make mistakes, you make errors, then you make it easier on the other team. I feel good. We've been good all year, so I don't see why it's gonna change now."