With the Dodgers having won six of their last seven games, there’s really not much for fans to complain about these days, especially since the team is now only 3-1/2 games out of the division lead. However, when considering the overall scope of the 25-man roster, many people familiar with the club are still wondering if the team is indeed using the best available players at the big league level.
I think the bullpen is an animal of it’s own. It’s probably going to take quite a bit of trial and error before management gets a feel for which eight-man combination works the best. It could take most of the season, or it may require the organization to make a move or two as the trade deadlines approach over the summer. Aside from Kenley Jansen and maybe Ross Stripling—assuming the club’s best five starting pitchers are healthy—there aren’t any spots at all set in stone right now.
One particular thought I had, though, revolved around the position-player portion of the active roster. When considering the frequency which Cody Bellinger has been playing center field lately, I wondered which left-handed hitter would be better to have on the 25-man roster—Max Muncy or Alex Verdugo.
There are many factors that could apply to this debate. First and foremost, while Muncy’s glove isn’t as nearly as good as Bellinger’s at first base, it is his natural position, and he does provide adequate cover there—probably a bit more effectively than Chase Utley, Logan Forsythe, Enrique Hernandez or Yasmani Grandal. But as far as I can see, that may be the only clear cut advantage in Muncy’s favor.
One could also argue that Muncy has the ability to spell Justin Turner at third base. And while Forsythe undeniably has the skills to handle defensive duties at the hot corner, the same person would contend that keeping him at the keystone could take pressure off his game and perhaps ignite his otherwise slumbering bat.
While Muncy definitely has a bigger offensive sample size than Verdugo, I’m not so sure who has the better offensive tools. Verdugo hit for a better average earlier in the year, but Muncy has a much higher success rate when it comes to reaching base. Consequently, Muncy is one of those guys who also seems to come through in the clutch. With runners in scoring position this year, he’s hitting an amazing .368/.500/1.237, which is extraordinarily impressive when considering the team’s overall tendency to struggle in such situations.
But as far as overall defense goes, although we’re comparing apples to oranges, I think Verdugo may have the upper-hand. He’s probably the second-best defensive outfielder in the organization next to Yasiel Puig. And while most fans already know that Verdugo can capably handle all three outfield spots, there aren’t many who realize the strength of his arm. In impressive fashion, he was tabbed as having the best outfield arm in the PCL by Baseball America for the 2017 season, which I think speaks volumes when taking into account the amount of talent at that level.
Furthermore, for the number of times we’ve seen Muncy at the top of the order lately, it’s certainly conceivable that Verdugo’s speed would play much better in those spots. Verdugo hardly ever strikes out, and his bat control is fantastic. At Triple-A Oklahoma City this year, Verdugo has whiffed only 17 times in 110 plate appearances.
Taking everything into consideration, the end result could be a push any way you look at it. Perhaps management has already made their own evaluations, and maybe the final decision came down to several intangible factors such as work ethic, attitude or clubhouse presence—elements which we as fans are often not privy to knowing. Or perhaps Verdugo’s spot eventually whittled down to a direct comparison between him and fellow outfielder Joc Pederson.
Either way, it’s an interesting debate, and it’s something the club may examine as the season progresses, especially if Mucy’s .234 average continues to drift downward.