Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Dodgers Diamonds In The Rough Big Part Of Their Path To 90 Wins

Dodgers pitchers, including Clayton Kershaw, at right, before Wednesday's game. Photo by Jason Schott.

The Los Angeles Dodgers have raced out to 90 wins in the first 128 games this season, 

This Dodgers team is the second-fastest to hit the 90-win plateau, just behind their 2017 team, which did it in 136 games, and a lot of it is due to the big contributions from their everyday lineup, led by Mookie Betts, Freddie Freeman, Trea Turner, and Max Muncy.

It also has been massive contributions from their pitchers, especially names you wouldn't expect, more than making up for the big names on their injured list like Walker Buehler and, for a good part of the season, Clayton Kershaw, who will make his return on Thursday afternoon against the Mets.

Tuesday's starting pitcher, Andrew Heaney, looked nothing like what he did struggling through the final two months of last season for the Yankees.

Heaney started his career with the Miami Marlins, and then pitched for the Angels from 2015 to last season. He never had a winning record in Anaheim, with his best records being 9-10 in 2019 and 8-9 last season before he went 2-2 with the Yankees in five starts with a 7.32 ERA (earned run average).

This season, the big left-hander has made ten starts, due to two long stints on the injured list, and he has a 2-1 record with a 2.12 ERA.

Last night against the Mets, Heaney went five innings, and allowed three runs (two earned) on seven hits and no walks, with eight strikeouts. His performance was punctuated by three strikeouts of Mets first baseman Pete Alonso, all on high fastballs. They went on to win the opener of the three-game series, 4-3.

On Wednesday night, Los Angeles will send another left-hander, Tyler Anderson, who has had an amazing season in his first year with the Dodgers, as he is 13-2 with a 2.69 ERA in 24 games (22 starts), and he has 111 strikeouts in 140.2 innings pitched. He has allowed just 42 earned runs (45 overall) with 113 hits and 30 walks.

Before this renaissance, Anderson could best be described as a journeyman, as he pitched in Colorado (2016-19), San Francisco in 2020, and both Pittsburgh and Seattle in 2021 before joining the Dodgers. His only winning record came in the pandemic 2020 season, when he went 4-3 with a 4.37 ERA. That was his only winning record, with the closest he came in a full season being his rookie year, 2016, in Colorado, when he went 5-6 with a 3.54 ERA.

How is this possible? How do the Dodgers make aces out of castaways?

Mets Manager Buck Showalter was asked that in his pregame press conference on Wednesday, and he said, "One of the things that, uh, you know, certain assets that some teams have over others is that you are able to identify those guys. Yankees identified Heaney as looking for that same thing, but they're able to send them to this place where there's no time restraints and they say, 'this is what you do real well,' like you know, they shorten up his breaking ball, shorten up his stride, I mean, we see the short of things they did, get into a consistent place where you can play the high-ride fastball.

"They're able to take these guys and not try to teach them in the big leagues right away. They send them to, whatever you want to call it, a lab, you know, and they're not the only ones, but they've had a great return for it. They're looking at the same information everybody else is, you know, when you see a guy on waivers, you look at certain things and you say, 'maybe we can help this guy if we can get him to do this more.'  What you find a lot, though, is they already knew what you think you know. The ability to take it and slow it down and say, 'okay, we're going to give you one side session doing this and we show you all this video, now go pitch,' no, they're able to slow down the process for all these guys, sometimes it's a spring training with an Anderson, you know. 

"I would ask the question what happened to Heaney from the time they acquired him to what he's doing now. What did they do with him? I know what they did with him, so you know, some of the things they're able to do, you know, financially - one of the biggest things that they do well is their depth. They have great depth because they're able to acquire these guys and take their time, taking advantage of some of the things they can do that they may not realize. They realize it, it's just how do you get to it. How do you get to that pitch? There's a pitch that has great spin up in the zone, there's a slider that if you would do this to it, it would be a lot more effective; got to slow down the process to get to an endgame."

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