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.
— Ken Schott #ThePartingSchottsPodcast (@slapschotts) July 17, 2019
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.
Bryce Harper ends Dodgers’ comeback with walk-off double. ?
— theScore (@theScore) July 17, 2019
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.