While most of the team progress surrounding the Dodgers so far this spring has been optimistically steady, one of the most frequent topics of conversation has been the nagging side injury of Joc Pederson and how it may affect the dynamics of the Opening Day roster.
According to most reports, Pederson will make his spring debut on Sunday in a minor league game. The plan is to have him play five full innings.
Whether Joc is healthy enough to compete in the regular season opener is really not the biggest issue at hand. If his current progress is any indication, he’ll be ready sooner than later, and he’ll likely slide into the role as the primary left fielder upon doing so.
Most people believe that a straight platoon between Pederson and A.J. Pollock will account for most of the reps in left field. Last year, though, left field was one of those filler spots that saw a whopping nine players see action there.
Obviously, gone are Alex Verdugo, Kristopher Negron and Kyle Garlick, but players like Matt Beaty, Enrique Hernandez and Chris Taylor will very much be part of the outfield conversation when discussing the active roster.
Beaty saw action in 34 games in left field last year, which accounted for most of his playing time defensively. He can also play first base, but he hasn’t quite established the trust of management yet to provide cover at third base. Taylor played 56 games in left field while Hernandez played 10.
Although it seems like the Dodgers are steering away from the “revolving door” type of platooning with Mookie Betts in right every day, Cody Bellinger in center and Corey Seager at short, there is enough flexibility at other positions (even to provide Justin Turner ample rest at third) for Taylor and Hernandez to see adequate playing time. If Beaty does indeed make the Opening Day roster, it should be interesting to see how his playing time is handled.
Nevertheless, the overlying concept is the fact that Pederson will be garnering most of the playing time in left based on the ratio that nearly two-thirds of MLB pitchers are right-handed. Using a hypothetical number of 648 overall PA for left fielders this year, that leaves Joc with 428 PA and Pollock with 220, assuming they’re both fully healthy for the entire season.
The idea that Pollock is earning $15 million this season—$12 million Luxury Tax salary and another $3 million bonus payment—makes it tough to keep him on the bench regularly from the standpoint of player value. He’ll be able to be utilized as a pinch hitter and moved around a bit when Bellinger and Betts need the occasional day off, but those scenarios probably won’t hugely boost his use by any standard.
Some folks have suggested giving Pollock reasonable opportunity against right-handed pitching—in essence, taking away a few AB from Pederson—but as long as Joc’s healthy, he should absolutely be seeing all the righty pitching possible.
Pederson OPS’d an impressive .876 last year, which happened to be the fourth highest total on the Dodgers behind Bellinger’s 1.035, Max Muncy‘s .889 and Turner’s .881. Conceivably, Pederson’s figure could have led probably quite a few rival clubs around the league—that’s just how potent the Los Angeles offense is. Some believe that an average OPS for a single player in the majors is somewhere around the .760 mark.
Anyway, Pollock hasn’t OPS’d above .850 since his signature season in 2015 when he hit .315/.367/.498 in 157 games for the Diamondbacks. He hovered right around .800 in 2017 and 2018, but Pederson posted a .843 mark in 2018, suggesting his numbers are trending upwards.
I’m fine with giving Pollock approximately 300 PA for the upcoming campaign, as it will provide him with enough opportunities to warrant his spot on the active roster. His career splits have been nearly equal against righty and lefty pitching, so it shouldn’t put him at a disadvantage if he sees mostly lefties.
With the addition of Betts, it will allow Joc to be bumped out of the everyday leadoff spot, which is a relief to some fans, especially myself. Pederson’s career-high 36 bombs represented a huge influence on his OPS last year. While moving him down in the batting order won’t necessarily affect his primary statistics, it could theoretically improve the team’s run production—especially with runners in scoring position.
Whichever way you look at it, the Dodgers are indeed the deepest team in the majors when it comes to talent, assuming the bulk of the active roster is healthy.
Left field gives plenty of credence towards that claim.