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Dodgers Defense: Los Angeles is Not Utilizing Best Defensive Alignment

And it isn’t even related to Joc Pederson at first base.

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LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 28: Chris Taylor #3, A.J. Pollock #11 and Alex Verdugo #27 of the Los Angeles Dodgers celebrate in at the end of the game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Dodger Stadium on April 28, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. Dodgers won 7-6. (Photo by John McCoy/Getty Images)

The Dodgers have one of the best team defenses in baseball. They currently lead baseball with 93 defensive runs saved, however, most of that was with a solid defender in centerfield.

While filling in for A.J. Pollock, Alex Verdugo took over in center and accumulated four defensive runs saved. By Statcast’s “outs above average” metric, he ranked as an average defender with zero.

Now, with the return of Pollock, who has been worth -3 defensive runs saved with -2 outs above average, Verdugo has moved to left field and it’s already hurt the Dodgers.

This is important because centerfield is a premium defensive position and the Dodgers are choosing to play their worst defensive outfielder there.

We saw it hurt them on Tuesday in the ninth inning when Scott Kingery of the Phillies hit a popup to center that Pollock couldn’t get to. The single had a launch angle of 49 degrees and an exit velocity of 76 MPH. Balls hit like that produce a batting average of .070. Instead, Pollock couldn’t get to it and the Phillies’ rally continued.

The following hit was an RBI double from Bryce Harper, which most outfielders don’t get to, but Pollock misplayed it, giving the Phillies a walk-off win.

One game is a small sample, and it should be taken with a grain of salt, but it is a reoccurring theme with Pollock. According to Statcast, of all the balls hit to him in centerfield, 89% were expected to be caught. His actual catch percentage on them is 87%, a drop of -2, which ranks 155 of 226 outfielders.

For comparison, Alex Verdugo has made all the plays he is expected to make (89% expected, 89% caught).

Pollock’s main problem has been his inability to get a good jump and react quickly. According to Statcast, his jump covers 2 feet less than an average outfielder (ranked 108 of 142) while Verdugo is right in the middle at -0.5 feet (71 of 142). By reaction, Pollock is ranked 134 of 141 outfielders and Verdugo is ranked 23.

The only thing saving Pollock from being a truly awful defender is his speed of 28.2 feet/second, which is above Verdugo’s 27.3 feet per second.

If the Dodgers are truly committed to playing Pollock in centerfield, they should try playing him deeper in the outfield. His biggest problem has been going back to get a ball (-2 outs above average when going back, 0 when coming in), so playing him deeper could help offset his defensive struggles.

Still, the best thing for him and the team is a move to left field. There’s also a chance moving him out of the taxing position would help him stay healthy. We have already seen the Colorado Rockies do it with star outfielder Charlie Blackmon so it isn’t a crazy concept.

Putting Pollock in left field and sliding Verdugo back to center is a must for the Dodgers.

Written by Blake Williams

I graduated with an Associate's Degree in Journalism from Los Angeles Pierce College and now I'm working towards my Bachelor's at Cal State University, Northridge. I'm currently the managing editor for the Roundup News and a writer for Dodgers Nation. Around the age of 12, I fell in love with baseball and in high school, I realized my best path to working in baseball was as a writer, so that's the path I followed. I also like to bring an analytics viewpoint to my work and I'm always willing to help someone understand them since so many people have done the same for me. Thanks for reading!

2 Comments

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  1. Great idea! I really hope someone in the Dodgers organization is reading you. Looks like he’ll hit the ball enough and more and more I think Pederson is a valuable trading chip. Please let go of Caleb Ferguson…we’ve let him create enough messes for Floro to enhance his horrible inherited runners scored.

  2. Metrics aside, Pollock did not catch the bloop, because he was playing too deep and from my view it looked like Muncy had the best chance to catch it. For the rest of this year, I think the best overall defense would have Bellinger back at 1B, with Pederson in LF and Verdugo in RF. This is of course against Righty starters. Different story against Lefties, when Freeze should be in lineup and maybe Hernandez.

    As far as the comment about Ferguson, he is still like 22-23 and has dominated at AAA, so he needs the chances to get straightened out, even as frustrating as he has been.

    Please don’t trade Lux, Ruiz, Smith or May and don’t overpay for any reliever as most are fickled from year to year when it comes to success.

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