During the middle contest of a three-game series against the Padres last weekend, we noted a statistic on Twitter about how the No. 5 hole in the Dodgers lineup has been the least productive of all the spots in the batting order this season, excluding the No. 9 slot.
And that remark led to a small chain reaction of thought, basically implying that if opposing clubs were aware of this particular tendency, they would likely start to pitch around Cody Bellinger in the cleanup spot, at least in cases where the situation permitted.
As it turns out, it could very well be the case. The regular No. 1 thorough No. 4 spots in the Dodgers batting order could arguably be among baseball’s best quartets, however, there’s been a feeling lately that Bellinger isn’t getting as many good pitches to hit because of the players hitting behind him. He has walked four times in the past three games, including twice during Wednesday evening’s affair against the White Sox. Since July 4, Bellinger has walked a total of 19 times, a pace which would put him just shy of 100 before season’s end.
Anybody following the Dodgers closely is well aware of Joc Pederson‘s struggles — a slump which is likely the most horrific of his professional career. Over his last 38 AB, he has gone a mere 1-for-38, many of which came while batting fifth in the lineup. Skipper Dave Roberts moved Pederson to the No. 8 hole ahead of Wednesday’s game, and although he came up big by getting hit by a pitch in the eighth inning, failed to reach base yet again via the base hit.
Despite his superior glove work, second baseman Logan Forsythe occasionally takes his hacks in the five-hole and hasn’t quite lived up to his offensive expectations. Over his last 60 plate appearances, he’s hitting a mere .208, which is eerily similar to the combined total of all the Dodger batters who hit fifth this year. For the season, Forsythe is slashing just .237/.361/.312 — that’s right, a .312 slugging — in 253 AB over 79 games. Like Pederson, Forsythe was bumped down in the lineup on Wednesday, this time appearing in the six-hole.
Yasmani Grandal hit it the No. 5 spot on Wednesday for Los Angeles, and although his numbers are a bit more respectable than Pederson’s or Forsythe’s, he’s still one of those hitters who you don’t want around unless he’s red hot. When he’s in a groove, he’s one of the best bats on the club, but when he’s cold, can be almost as bad as Pederson’s current numbers. For the season, Grandal’s batting .264/.315/.470, however, he’s hitting only .247 in 77 AB when batting fifth. Based on his tendencies, he’s a hitter who could probably thrive in the seven or eight-hole, as made evident by his .316 average while batting seventh.
Yasiel Puig certainly figures to be a decent option for the five spot, but he’s hitting a horrid .033 in 32 plate appearances there so far this season. Puig has found success and has been invaluable batting lower in the order, where he has hit .301 batting sixth, .270 hitting seventh and .278 batting eighth.
One idea, as difficult as it sounds, is to try and get Austin Barnes to the plate more often, and perhaps give him a shot batting fifth. For the year, Barnesy’s slashing an impressive .295/.415/.521 over 176 PA. Another idea is to give veteran Adrian Gonzalez some hacks in the five hole upon being activated — a spot in which he should theoretically succeed, especially against right-handed pitching. Chase Utley could be another option, but he’s hitting a paltry .056 in 20 PA batting fifth in 2017 — to some, it seems like somewhat of a curse to whichever player hits fifth, sort of like the clubs struggles against lefty pitching last season.
As solid and productive as the first four spots in the order have been this year, the best bet is to let that particular part of the order untouched.
Regardless, giving Bellinger a tad more protection is something that the coaching staff is undoubtedly considering at the moment, as indicated by the most recent shuffling in the lineup on Wednesday. And with 44 games remaining on the regular season schedule, there’s more than enough time to fine tune an already extremely potent lineup just a little bit more.
(FOLLOW DENNIS ON TWITTER: @)