(Photo Credit: mlb.com)
Depending on how the dust settles on all of the Dodgers‘ trade ventures at the end of the winter, Los Angeles should have at least several viable options to hit at the top of the batting order in 2017, creating more mathematically favorable alternatives when writing out the lineup cards.
Things were extremely blurry at the beginning of last year’s campaign, so much so that the club had almost settled on outfielder Andre Ethier batting first for at least part of the time — up until the moment he ripped a foul ball off his right shin which eventually kept him on the shelf for the majority of the season.
Ultimately, second baseman Chase Utley admirably filled the leadoff role for the bulk of the year against right-handed pitching, having hit .264/.329/.416 in 112 games when hitting at the top of the lineup. Although both his sophistication and perseverance at the dish were very key in the club’s success last season, Utley’s slash line against lefties, .154/.206/.264, suggests his offensive game is fading just a tad after hitting .254/.357/.439 in more than 2200 plate appearances against southpaws over his 14-year career.
Even if the Dodgers and Utley agree on a contract for 2017, the team may decide to look at a few other options hit first in the order, most specifically utilizing a young duo of outfielders in Andrew Toles and Trayce Thompson.
While it’s entirely possible the club makes more than one deal involving a player from its seemingly crowded outfield corps, the idea that Tolesy and Thompson are productive, young, controllable and cheap suggests they may be viewed as keepers in the eyes of the Dodgers’ front office crew. What’s more, both players have already proven that they’re capable of covering all three outfield spots, further adding worth to their overall player values.
When taking into consideration a potential platoon split at the top of the lineup, Toles hit an impressive .326/.382/.511 with a 141 sOPS+ in 102 plate appearances against right-handers last year, while Thompson was equally effective against all throwers in the early portion of the season, having slashed .279/.362/.566 with 10 home runs in 138 plate appearances through mid-June before fizzling offensively and falling victim to a severe back injury.
As the role of the leadoff hitter is being redefined by many of today’s managers, coaches and front offices, analytics have shown that getting on base more frequently and hitting the ball harder are actually more beneficial to a team’s success than the traditional values and perceptions. Manned with the ability to show patience at the dish and barrel-up the ball in key situations, both Toles and Thompson still posess the gift of stealing a good number of bases, though, one weapon the Dodgers have lacked at the top of the order over the past few seasons.
In the end, it may indeed be a bit early to start thinking about lineups heading into 2017, yet in regards to some of the current resources that are available to the Dodgers in terms of player personnel, all of the troops in the club’s front office may want to visualize some sort of workable batting order before trading away key pieces of the roster.