Dodgers a complete mess offensively

With Shawn Green mired in a season-long slump, the Dodgers are a team with little offensive punch.

Originally Published: July 21, 2003
By Rob Neyer | ESPN.com

Thirty-two, and ten.

Ten, and thirty-two.

If you want to know what's wrong with the Los Angeles Dodgers, those two numbers are probably the best place to start.

Shawn Green
Right fielder
Los Angeles Dodgers
Profile
2003 SEASON STATISTICS
AB R HR RBI OPS AVG
378 50 10 46 .747 .254

Shawn Green leads the Dodgers with 32 walks.

Shawn Green and Fred McGriff lead the Dodgers with 10 home runs.

The Dodgers have other problems, of course, but most of those problems are subsets of their collective inabilities to hit home runs and draw walks.

Green, mired in the worst season of his career, is on a pace to hit 17 home runs for the season. It would be pretty amazing, in this day and age, for a team with a $100 million payroll to feature not even a single player with at least 20 home runs.

Excluding the strike-marred 1981 season, to find a Dodgers team that didn't feature at least one 20-homer man we have to go back 31 years, to 1972. That season, Willie Davis and Frank Robinson led the club with 19 homers apiece, and nobody else managed even 10. That was a pitcher's year, though. And the Dodgers actually ranked seventh in the league in runs scored, ahead of five teams.

In 1970, Billy Grabarkewitz (Billy Grabarkewitz?) led the Dodgers with only 17 home runs, but that was a good-hitting club, as seven of the nine regulars batted .286 or better and the Dodgers finished fourth in the league in runs scored.

I've heard people compare the 2003 Dodgers to the Dodgers of the 1960s, teams that won three National League pennants (1963, 1965, 1966) despite finishing near the bottom of the league in runs all three seasons. But the comparison really doesn't work, because those Dodgers were actually a pretty good offensive club, a fact that was masked by the time (the 1960s) and the place (Dodger Stadium).

No, for a decent parallel we have to get in our Way Back Machine and travel rearward only 11 seasons, to 1992. The Dodgers scored 548 runs that year, fewest in the major leagues by a respectable margin. They hit 72 home runs and slugged .339, both figures easily the worst in the league.

Eric Karros hit 20 homers, but 1) otherwise he wasn't very good, and 2) no other Dodger hit more than six home runs.

Leadoff man Brett Butler batted .309 and drew 95 walks, resulting in a .413 on-base percentage that ranked third in the league. But nobody else drew more than 57 walks, and it was thanks only to Butler (and part-timer Mike Sharperson) that the Dodgers managed a .313 team OBP that was actually better (though not by much) than those of six other National League teams.

Unfortunately, the 2003 Dodgers don't have anybody like Brett Butler, so there's no danger of them finishing with a better OBP than six other NL teams. Or even one other NL team; the Dodgers' .304 team on-base percentage was 14 points worse than the next-worst New York Mets.

Which is to say, without running a truly sophisticated analysis, there's a very good chance that this Dodgers team will be the worst-hitting Dodgers team that's ever played in Los Angeles.

Should we have seen it coming? Yes and no.

A year ago, the Dodgers were quite respectable, scoring 713 runs to finish seventh in a 16-team league. This year, nobody could have predicted that Green would "hit" like he has, and absent an injury there's obviously a pretty good chance that he'll do better over the next couple of months. Brian Jordan was playing well before he got hurt, and McGriff wasn't terrible before he got hurt. Paul Lo Duca's a good hitter, especially for a catcher.

Adrian Beltre
Third baseman
Los Angeles Dodgers
Profile
2003 SEASON STATISTICS
AB R HR RBI OPS AVG
321 26 8 39 .661 .231

On the other hand, while the Dodgers were seventh in runs scored last year, they weren't all that far from 13th place, and have to figure you might have trouble scoring runs when your lineup includes Cesar Izturis, Alex Cora, and Adrian Beltre. While center fielder Dave Roberts did well last season, 1) he was 30, and 2) he didn't do that well (.353 OBP with scant power). The Dodgers needed to get better in the offseason, and adding McGriff really wasn't enough.

What does the future hold? Rickey Henderson and Jeromy Burnitz probably are not long-term solutions, and they might not be short-term solutions. So what about the farm system?

According to Baseball America, entering this season the Dodgers' three best hitting prospects were first baseman James Loney, outfielder Reggie Abercrombie, and second baseman Joe Thurston.

Loney's hitting decently in Class A, but at 19 he's not exactly on the fast track to Dodger Stadium.

Abercrombie's in Double-A this season, and his statistics are full of ones . . . 11 walks, 111 strikeouts. It's said that before the season, Abercrombie was regarded by some in the Dodgers organization as their best prospect, which seems a bit strange considering that last year in Class A, he drew 27 walks and struck out 158 times in 132 games. I wouldn't stick the No Prospect label on him just yet, but his chance of becoming a good major-league player is quite small.

Thurston hit .334 last season with Triple-A Las Vegas, but 1) that was easily his best season, 2) Las Vegas is a great place for hitters, and 3) he's back in Las Vegas this season, and not faring nearly as well.

Putting it bluntly, the Dodgers don't have any hitting prospects who are likely to help them this year or next year, and the year after next looks pretty dicey, too.

The Dodgers will score more runs next year, because they'll have to. But to score enough runs to win, they're going to have to go outside the organization, and either sign free agents or trade some of their minor-league pitching for major-league hitting. Because the way things stand now, it's hard to see the Dodgers staying much above .500 any time soon.

Senior writer Rob Neyer writes four columns per week during the baseball season. His new book, "Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Lineups," has just been published by Fireside. For more information about the book, visit Rob's Web site.

ALSO SEE