Better Outfield Option: Trayce Thompson or Carl Crawford?

(Photo Credit: Jon SooHoo)

When a team is succeeding and winning at a very high rate, very few statistical aspects of the game are carefully analyzed under a microscope, at least by the fans. Yet when the same squad is underachieving or playing below a set level of expectations, constant scrutiny tends to soar to incredible levels.

Fans of the Los Angeles Dodgers seem to be complaining excessively these days. Topics range from the need to upgrade the starting pitching staff to rebuilding the entire bullpen to constructing better batting orders. The good news is that the season is still very, very young. The bad news is that if the Dodgers set their current standard of playing as the norm over the course of the entire season, a fourth straight NL West division title may eventually fall out of reach.

One such conversation picking up momentum amongst the fan base is whether or not veteran left fielder Carl Crawford should see decreased playing time, considering the current production of 25-year-old utility outfielder Trayce Thompson.

Crawford explained to Andy McCullough of the LA Times that he’s unable to establish any type of hot streak offensively because he’s not in the lineup on a daily basis.

“This is just the way it goes for me, when you’re not playing every day,” Crawford said. “You have to just keep going and keep grinding it out. You don’t have the luxury of getting into a groove. You have to just play, and over time, it seems to get better.”

Except for the rotation at catcher, the batting orders in the first half dozen contests of the season were nearly identical. Although the offense was firing on all cylinders at that juncture, management continues to stress the importance of pitching matchups and resting players regularly. However, based on the appearance of several lineups against left-handed pitching recently, whomever is constructing the everyday batting orders looks to be taking these philosophies to the extreme — or perhaps attempting to appease the players by spreading out playing time evenly.

“There’s things that I do every single night that go against ‘the Book,’ or whatever,” Dodgers’ manager Dave Roberts said. “I’m mindful that every game is a different game. Although momentum is important, and rhythm certainly is important, but a streak or momentum is based on the next day’s starting pitcher.”

In 48 plate appearances through 16 games this season, Crawford is hitting .200/.229/.289 with three extra-base hits and four RBI. Only five of those PAs have been against left-handed pitching, so there’s really no significant data to analyze his performance in the splits. Over his 14-year career, though, he’s been much more productive against right-handed pitching, hitting .303/.340/.460 with 109 home runs over 5110 PAs, compared to .261/.308/.376 with 27 HRs in 2029 plate appearances against lefties.

Not bad career numbers against RHP, but just for the sake of comparison, they’re still just a tad below those of injured teammate Andre Ethier, who is batting .304/.383/.507 with 137 home runs over 3991 career plate appearances against righties.

In contrast to Crawford, Thompson is hitting a robust .273/.304/.530 overall in 69 plate appearances this season, including a clutch, walk-off shot against the Mets on Tuesday evening. He’s hitting .313/.333/.656 when facing LHP, while batting .235/.278/.412 against right-handed pitching.

So despite being extremely small sample sizes, the current splits suggest a platoon is more beneficial offensively, yet do not consider defensive range or glove work, the ability to generate production on the basepaths with speed and quickness, or the potential of creating much needed positive energy in the clubhouse.

Consequently, with Ethier about halfway through his recovery from a cracked tibia, and Scott Van Slyke about two weeks away from a rehab assignment, the Dodgers may be faced with more complex roster decisions down the road. All that being said, many roster determinations sometimes have a magical way of working themselves out as other related injuries have tendencies to come and go. Crawford has a propensity to land on the disabled list often, as 2016 is his fifth consecutive year interrupted by a significant injury, having suffered from back soreness in early April.

In any event, the club needs to determine the best daily option, and ultimately may have to choose between Crawford and Thompson for one spot on the 25-man roster, if the full compliment of outfielders is 100% healthy later in the summer. Should offense based on certain pitching matchups trump the ability to make run saving catches in the deep outfield alleys? Should experience outshine the unseasoned? Should leadership outclass energy and youth?

These questions will seemingly grow with intensity over the next few weeks, especially if the Dodgers continue to stroll along at the .500 mark or below. The good news is the club won’t be faced with any important roster decisions regarding position players until Van Slyke returns, allowing Crawford and Thompson the opportunity to trigger additional data to fuel our respective debates.

We’re not even at the first quarter mark of the 2016 season, and the real fun has yet to begin.

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