So according to Alex Angert of MLB.com, the Dodgers are winning because they like each other … or something to that effect.
But in the Dodgers’ clubhouse, it provides the best possible answer as to why this mixed-and-matched bunch of journeymen and callups have been able to string together the best record in baseball at 42-25.
Not a surprising article, and quite frankly, I expected one sooner.
Whenever a team achieves something above what was expected, the media generally takes the easy way out and attributes the success to chemistry or some other intangible. It’s a simple justification for a complicated reality, and it basically amounts to saying, “We were wrong, but not actually wrong, we just couldn’t see the things that nobody else could have seen either!” But that’s lazy to me, and it’s almost completely devoid of responsibility.
For my part, I predicted the 2012 Dodgers to check in at 81-81, and I actually thought I was being optimistic due to the projection models of everyone else.
As for my mea culpa, I’ll simply say that I was wrong, but for quantifiable/real reasons.
Quite simply, they are winning because they are good on paper, not because of mysterious forces. The team’s Pythagorean record is 40-27, they are 42-25. Their third-order wins record (factors in opponent quality/statistical normalization) is 39-28, good for second in the NL and fourth in the MLB. Their performance thus far shows that they’ve simply been legitimately good.
Now whether the talent level is legit is a different story. Nobody had the Dodgers as one of the most talented teams in the majors, which is still probably true. So what accounts for their success? Heart and grit and stuff, right? Not really.
They have shown to have more talent than projected, despite certain positions still remaining mediocre. While Clayton Kershaw has come back to Earth a bit, Matt Kemp not only didn’t regress but actually progressed (while healthy), and Andre Ethier is on pace for the best season of his career. Jerry Hairston Jr., Bobby Abreu, Elian Herrera, Chris Capuano, and Aaron Harang, despite impending regression, have all shown to have talent levels above their projections as well. Not to mention that the bullpen has been rock solid despite being almost entirely reliant on team controlled arms from the farm system.
That talent, however, hasn’t succeeded on its own, as the team currently own the second highest BABIP in the majors at .318. Furthermore, while their ERA is second at 3.13, their FIP is sixth at 3.65 and their xFIP is 11th at 3.86. On an individual level, Abreu has a .431 BABIP, Herrera has a .410 BABIP, and I’ve already pointed out that the rotation has overachievers as well.
So the Dodgers have been winning because they’ve been partially extremely good and partially extremely fortunate. It’s an excellent combination that has powered the team to the best record in baseball despite injuries and mediocre talent at multiple positions. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with being both lucky and good. The fact that they are treading water without the guy who carried the team for April is amazing, and in a fortunate bit of timing, if they can continue to tread water until Kemp comes back, the team shouldn’t actually regress as hard as they would normally be expected to.
So while I do believe that Don Mattingly is a great clubhouse guy and I do think his work has factored into the team’s success, I also believe that winning creates chemistry, not the other way around. It’s not hard to love each other when you hold the best record in baseball.
It’s easy to just assign a magical season to outstanding team chemistry or due karma now that the team is without Frank McCourt or the gravitational pull of Todd Coffey‘s gut helping to align the planets, but there are quantifiable reasons for their success without having to resort to intangibles and superstition.
Hopefully people recognize that, because doing otherwise sells the quality of their achievements short.