The Miracle 1988 Dodgers vs. The Free-Spending 2012 Dodgers
My good friend Josh Suchon is working on a book for the 25th anniversary of one of the most inspirational teams in sports history – the 1988 Los Angeles Dodgers, to be released early next year. (Check out a sneak preview by clicking here.)
That was one of those halcyon years no matter what kind of Dodgers fan you are. Whether you were three years old, or 33, that is a team that has become legendary for the David vs. Goliath odds they took on to win the whole schebang.
Now that the Dodgers have made splashy headlines over the past two months – with three new everyday players and four pitchers added since July, not to mention nearly $300 million in additional salary – it’s interesting to think that this 2012 “Wonder Team” (as Vin Scully called them early on) wouldn’t even make the playoffs should the season end today.
Meanwhile, the 1988 version was a tattered group of retreads, never-have-beens and never-would-bes that rode the power of two individuals all the way to the World Series. On paper and in any simulator, such as whatifsports.com, the 2012 team would dominate a seven-game series or a 162-game season.
So let’s break down each player, position by position, and see how many people you would trade from the 1988 team to the 2012 version with all things being equal …
2012 – Shane Victorino: .248 batting average/.303 on-base percentage/.356 slugging percentage; 8 extra-base hits, 7 RBI, 7 stolen bases
1988 – Kirk Gibson: .290/.377/.483; 25 HR, 76 RBI, 31 SB; 1988 MVP
Advantage: Gibson. Obviously.
Victorino’s numbers are only with the Dodgers; as will be Hanley Ramirez’s and Adrian Gonzalez’s.
2012 – Matt Kemp: .337/.404/.583; 17 HR, 54 RBI, 8 SB
1988 – John Shelby: .263/.320/.395; 10 HR, 64 RBI, 16 SB
Advantage: Kemp. Shelby was a good defender. Kemp is one of the best all-around players in baseball.
2012 – Andre Ethier: .290/.357/.463; 14 HR; 75 RBI; 2 SB; 3 assists
1988 – Mike Marshall: .277/.314/.445; 20 HR, 82 RBI, 4 SB, 4 assists
Advantage: You could argue for a push on this, but Ethier is the better player.
2012 – Juan Uribe/Adam Kennedy/Luis Cruz/Jerry Hairston: .252/.311/.379; 7 HR, 60 RBI, 6 SB; .966 fielding pct.*
1988 – Jeff Hamilton: .236/.268/.353; 6 HR, 33 RBI, 0 SB; .942 fielding pct.
Advantage: If you have to pick one from either team, you go with Hamilton. But, the 3B by committee this season is superior.
* – The Dodgers have had a revolving door at 3B. The players listed have played the most there; the stats are for the team at that position for the entire season
2012 – Hanley Ramirez: .283/.343/.520; 7 HR, 32 RBI, 2 SB; .979 fielding pct.
1988 – Alfredo Griffin: .199/.259/.253; 1 HR, 27 RBI, 7 SB; .965 fielding pct.
Advantage: Hanley. Griffin was a terrific defender and his fielding percentage is probably so low because he got to a ton of balls he probably shouldn’t have, but Ramirez is a shortstop of the new era, not the little slap hitters who can field well.
2012 – Mark Ellis: .265/.356/.372; 5 HR, 24 RBI, 5 SB; .991 fielding pct.
1988 – Steve Sax: .277/.325/.343; 5 HR, 57 RBI, 42 SB; .981 fielding pct.
Advantage: Sax. A better leadoff hitter, a better threat on the bases, a better offensive player. And as much as he’s maligned defensively, that happened early in his career and he became a better-than-adequate second baseman.
2012 – Adrian Gonzalez: .200/.333/.400; 1 HR, 4 RBI, 1 SB; 1.000 fielding pct.
1988 – Franklin Stubbs: .233/.288/.376; 8 HR, 34 RBI, 11 SB; .978 fielding pct.
Advantage: Gonzalez. One of the best players – not just first basemen – in the game.
2012 – A.J. Ellis: .281/.384/.424; 10 HR, 37 RBI, 0 SB; .993 fielding pct.; 34% caught stealing
1988 – Mike Scioscia: .257/.318/.324; 3 HR, 35 RBI, 0 SB; .991 fielding pct.; 41% caught stealing
Advantage: Scioscia had the second-biggest hit of the 1988 postseason (homering off Dwight Gooden in Game 4 of the NLCS) and he was the glue of the mid-1980′s Dodgers teams, but based purely on stats, A.J. Ellis is your starter here.
2012 – 48-46, 3.53 ERA; 1.24 WHIP, 7.53 K/9
1988 – 67-51, 3.22 ERA; 1.23 WHIP (team), 6.0 K/9
Advantage: 1988. The 1988 team rode Orel Hershiser all the way to the title. Think of this – Hershiser had 15 complete games, went 23-8 with a 2.26 ERA, and threw 267 innings. Two middle-of-the-rotation guys (think Joe Blanton and Chad Billingsley in 2012) in Tim Leary and Tim Belcher each had ERA’s of 2.91.
2012 – 21-15, 3.34 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 8.95 K/9; 33 saves, 17 blown saves
1988 – 27-16, 2.35 ERA; 1.15 WHIP, 7.2 K/9 (team); 49 saves, 19 blown saves
Advantage: Push. The 1988 team had Jay Howell, Brian Holton, Jesse Orosco and Alejandro Pena who all played huge roles throughout the season. The 2012 team has never had a solid closer but has a lot of solid pitchers like Ronald Belisario, Kenley Jansen, Brandon League and Randy Choate.
1988 – 4.5 (Gibson, Hamilton, Sax, starting pitching, half the relievers)
2012 – 5.5 (Kemp, Ethier, Ramirez, Gonzalez, A.J. Ellis, half the relief corps)
Adding it up, I initially thought it would be the entire 2012 team and then Orel Hershiser and Kirk Gibson. It’s crazy to think how bad the 2012 Dodgers are at some positions.
We all know that the 2012 Dodgers have immense star power, but it takes more than a few individuals to make a title run. You need a team. The 1988 squad was a team, through and through that rode an incredible starting pitching group – led by Hershiser – all the way. The funny thing about Hershiser is that his WAR (wins above replacement) was actually higher in 1989 after he was completely overused in 1988 (6.9 to 7.2). Can you imagine a guy who had a year like he did actually ended up being more valuable the following season? It’s unreal.
The 1988 team was an unheralded bunch who didn’t care about stats, salaries, numbers or highlights. They just knew how to win.