There are two plays that eat me up about the fourth inning of last night's 7-6 Dodger loss, and neither one is the ill fated fielder's choice off the come-backer. That play, when Kuroda didn't hear Martin's directive to throw to first, resulted in the bases being loaded with one out. It was a breakdown in communication, but not an exposure of weakness. I'm not worried about a play like that happening again this season. It's a freak play; the communication is usually there.
I am worried about Jeff Kent's range. His failure to snare a ball hit up the middle last night was not surprising and did not reveal anything new about Kent's defense. That ball can only be described as being hit up the middle because it got through, more properly it would be described as being hit to Kent's right, a likely double play ball. I suppose I should be fair: to get to that ball and start the double play, or at least get one out somewhere, would require a good play. But most major league second basemen will make the good plays consistently.
Kent's defensive failure was a reminder of just how damaging bad defense can be. I tend to think of bad defense by the Dodgers as a minor flaw in an otherwise harmless inning, or as a minor irritant that let in an extra run. In other words, I expect the pitcher to always compensate for bad defense. When the error is made, or an expected out is botched into a gift hit, just get the next guy. If one hitter could be induced into hitting a ball that should have been an out, then surely the next batter can be similarly induced, with the expectation that this time the defenders will record the out.
But hitters can't always be induced. They can't always be made to hit the ball poorly. Sometimes they are induced to hit it poorly and it's still a hit. Sometimes everyone is safe because the pitcher didn't hear the catcher yelling to throw to first. Balls batted into fair territory always carry a risk for the defensive team. The lesson: strike them out if you can. Especially when there are already runners on base.
I am worried about Kuroda's failure to strike out the pitcher in the fourth inning last night. Kuroda has had three bad starts in a row. He's a guy who seems to either be great or awful. But his numbers point to mediocrity.
Here is a modest chart showing batters faced per strikeout for selected Dodger pitchers, as well as the major league average. A lower number is preferred, clearly.
3.3 -- Kuo
3.5 -- Broxton
4.1 -- Billingsley
5.2 -- Park
5.4 -- Kershaw
5.5 -- Wade
5.7 -- Lowe
5.8 -- Major League Average
7.3 -- Kuroda
7.5 -- Beimel
8.1 -- Penny
Relievers tend to have a strikeout advantage over starters because they don't have to worry about sticking around too long, but still, this is an impressive group of relievers the Dodgers have. Even my favorite early season whipping boy Park has an impressive strikeout ratio. Billingsley is a stud, Kershaw is solid and likely to get better, and Lowe's slightly better than average ratio works for him because of all the ground balls he induces. Penny has been hurt and ineffective and it shows in his strikeout numbers. I've given up trying to understand how Beimel can be such an elite reliever with his strikeout totals, but he does it year after year. And then there's Kuroda, holder of a sub 4 ERA for most of the year, and also holder of a pretty awful strikeout ratio.
There's more to being a pitcher than strikeouts. Still, making hitters miss, or mostly miss ( for a pop up or weak grounder ) is the most important part of it. The 1-2 pitch Kuroda gave to Correia last night was not a pitch to make a batter miss. It was up, about waist high, on the outer half of the plate. Exactly the sort of pitch that can be easily hit for a line drive the other way, even by a poor batter. That hit was the most frustrating moment of the inning for me. There's no use crying over a freak play earlier when you had a chance to escape the inning with the pitcher batting and didn't take it.
Kent and Kuroda aren't going to get any better. Kent is old and stiff and a poor defender and nothing will change that. Kuroda is old and unlikely to suddenly start striking out a lot more batters than he is right now. The Dodgers just have to live with them, and hope Kent has a few more home runs and doubles in him, and Kuroda has a few more complete game gems in him. And hope, also, that the weaknesses of Kent and Kuroda don't conspire again with some freak plays to lose any more games for the Dodgers.