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Offense looks to improve against a lefty – Dodgers Digest

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Dodger Stadium Sky
Photo by: Cody Bashore

The Dodgers’ first series outside the NL West didn’t exactly go as hoped, with the team totaling six runs on 16 hits in three games against the Cubs, earning the lone win of the series as they strung together three of those hits in the 9th inning on Saturday night.

After I dared to point out the Dodgers offense had been second in baseball in a variety of offensive categories ahead of Dustin May’s start back on Tuesday, the team proceeded to score 16 runs through the next five games with 10 against the Giants on Wednesday really doing the heavy lifting. The Dodgers are now fifth in runs scored (85), tied for sixth in run differential (+18), tied for fourth in fWAR (2.9), seventh in bWAR (2.5) and fifth in OPS (.794).

The other four runs came on solo home runs by Chris Taylor and Max Muncy on Friday, as well as another solo home run by Taylor and a Mookie Betts single on Sunday.

Oh, and there’s a left-handed pitcher on the mound for the Mets tonight as the Dodgers start a three-game series with New York. The good news is the Padres aren’t any better (for now) at 8-9 while the D-backs lead the NL West at 9-7, so there’s little ground to make up if this is just simply a cold stretch.

Or at the least the struggles of the whole division just leaves plenty of time for fans to continue telling themselves it’s not actually that bad.

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Image
7:10 PM Los Angeles
CF Nimmo (L) RF Betts
RF Marte 1B Freeman (L)
SS Lindor (S) 3B Martinez
1B Alonso DH Taylor
2B McNeil (L) LF Muncy (L)
LF Canha 2B Vargas
DH Vogelbach (L) CF Thompson
3B Baty (L) SS Rojas
C Nido C Wynns
P Peterson (L) P May (R)

As for tonight’s lineup, there’s just two lefties in the order with Freddie Freeman and Muncy. James Outman is on the bench with Taylor in left and Trayce Thompson in center. Not only is Taylor in the cleanup spot, it is just his third game batting higher than eighth this season. The other Austin, Austin Wynns, is getting the start behind the plate which will allow me to include him in a Let’s Remember Some Guys post a few years from now.

As mentioned above, the Mets will send out the left-handed David Peterson tonight which might mean the offensive struggles from the weekend aren’t behind the Dodgers just yet. A .179 average against left-handed pitching has the Dodgers currently dead last in baseball, with 23 walks (a league-best 17.0 BB%) and four hit batters really helping the other totals not look as bad. A .174 BABIP isn’t helping, with the .746 OPS and 106 wRC+ both ranking 14th.

The contact against lefties has been hard (40.8%, third in baseball), but primarily in the air (46.1 FB%, second highest in baseball) and rarely a line drive (11.8%, second lowest in baseball). For comparison’s sake, the Dodgers have hit .245 against righties to rank 17th, with a .292 BABIP (17th), 119 wRC+ (T-5th) and an .819 OPS (4th) while leading the league in hard contact at 38.6% with 21.4% line drives (T-10th) and 36.2% fly balls (15th).

Since I’m on the topic (and the FanGraph’s page for batting splits), the Mets have hit not hit right-handed pitching that well so far this season, with a 90 wRC+ (23rd), a .660 OPS (27th) and a league-worst .199 batting average.

Sitting at 10-6 entering tonight, the Mets are coming off a sweep of the horrendous soon to be Las Vegas A’s, with Sunday’s win coming on a two-out wild pitch to score the runner from third.

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Peterson, a 27-year-old drafted by the Mets in the 1st Round of the 2017 MLB Draft, is now in his fourth season in the majors after moving up straight from Double-A back in 2020.

The Dodgers saw him for the first and only time last June in New York, when two hits and four walks led to four runs (one earned) in 3 2/3 innings for Peterson. Needing 89 pitches to record 11 outs, Peterson’s trouble really just came in the second inning.

A leadoff walk for Justin Turner and a one-out single by Hanser Alberto put runners on the corners for Cody Bellinger. An error left Bellinger safe at first, Alberto at second and Turner in for the lone earned run. After Gavin Lux drew a walk, Mookie Betts’ two-out double cleared the bases.

Those would be the Dodgers’ only four runs in that game as the Mets’ bullpen allowed four hits and one walk over the final 5 1/3 innings.

Peterson finished the 2022 season with 1.4 fWAR in 105 2/3 innings, starting 19 games with 28 total appearances in addition to six games down in Triple-A. José Quintana’s absence allowed Peterson to open the season in the rotation, where he has allowed eight runs in 14 2/3 innings for a 4.91 ERA. That’s pretty deceiving as five of those runs came in 4 innings against the Brewers on April 5th.

Through his 235 2/3 career innings in the majors, Peterson has been a bit better against left-handed batters (.210/.306/.354/.660) than righties (.249/.341/.413/.754) with a 30.8 K% to the former versus a 23.1 K% to the latter. Peterson’s slider is pretty strong to batters on both sides of the plate, generating 56 strikeouts in 107 PAs for righties and 22 strikeouts in 43 PAs for lefties in 2022.

Oddly, his sinker to left-handed batters created an unsustainably low exit velocity last season and he has upped its usage in 2023.

All five of his pitches to batters on both sides of the plate finished with exit velocities of 87 mph or higher in 2022 except for the sinker to left-handers, which came out to 67.4 mph. That was in just 8 PAs and was never the case in previous seasons, but Peterson has upped the usage to 28.9% from 12.6% last season (with a career-high of 19.6% coming in 2021) and it hasn’t allowed a hit in 5 PAs this year.

Again, that’s all pretty small for a sample, but he has elected to cut back the usage of his four-seamer to lefties in favor of the sinker while the slider remains the preferred pitch. The velocity on his slider is up 1.4 mph, with it now sitting at 85.8 from his debut at 81.3 in 2020.

Only a few batters have seen Peterson more than a few times, with Freeman at 3-for-12 with five strikeouts and Miguel Rojas 5-for-9 with a home run.

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And as for May, it seems like I continue to draw the game thread when he’s starting so I don’t have much to add this time around other than he continues to use his four-seamer to lefties at a much higher rate than any other season. Now at 57.0%, every other pitch to left-handed batters has dropped while the fastball is up 26% this year. In total, it’s 84.9% fastball/cutter/sinker with 8.4% curve and 6.7 change to lefties.

As for right-handed batters, May leads with the sinker at 54.7% and in total it is 67.2% sinker/fastball/cutter and 32.8% curve to righties.

While he did not have his command early on his last time out against the Giants, walking four which led to both of the runs in the first inning, May still managed to last 5 1/3 innings. He still did not miss many bats against the Giants, with just three strikeouts and five misses on 32 swings and now has 12 strikeouts in 18 1/3 innings.

There’s been little change in May’s Chase % from the past few seasons but through his three starts, his Chase Contact % is up at 78.8 which is considerably higher than the 47.7% from 2022, 41.9% from 2021 and even 64.4% from 2020. That’s helped lead to his Whiff% being down at 18.2% this season from 29.7% in 2022 and 31.6% in 2021. The Swing % is up against him so far, around 3% from the past two seasons, but the 31% increase in Chase Contact still stands out.

As it stands right now, May is among at least the Top 5 in the league in contact on pitches outside the strike zone, but it just hasn’t mattered much thanks to a BABIP of .143 (which is also well under his .237 from 2022, .255 from 2021 and .234 from 2020).

That of course seems unsustainable unless you are Tony Gonsolin’s .223 BABIP that remains the second lowest in the history of baseball among pitchers with at least 250 innings. May is somehow also tied for the 42nd-lowest among pitchers with at least 160 innings.

With all of that said, May’s 117 Stuff+ ranks eighth on FanGraphs, with his sinker second at 128, his curve fifth at 129 and his fastball tied for eighth at 117.

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After going 15 games without making a roster move, the Dodgers have now made two in as many days. Andre Jackson was sent down after tipping pitches in his last time out with Justin Bruihl coming up from Triple-A OKC. Bruihl last pitched in the majors back in September and threw 6 scoreless innings for Oklahoma City with nine strikeouts to one walk. Honestly, that might be the best option for Jackson right now to get that all worked out and in my opinion he was likely to be headed down to Triple-A soon with the following update.

Once Gonsolin is back and bumps Michael Grove from the rotation, it would seem likely Grove would have taken over Jackson’s spot in the bullpen. As for the other injured starter, Ryan Pepiot hasn’t made much progress while working out in Arizona.

And probably the most important injury update of the day…

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If you’ve been reading Josh’s prospect notes, you’re aware of Andy Pages‘ strong start in Tulsa.

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First pitch is scheduled for 7:10 p.m. PT on SportsNet LA and MLB Network.





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