With the Los Angeles Dodgers carrying a surplus of outfielders in 2014, it took manager Don Mattingly just over half the season to settle on an alignment that solved some defensive issues and gave the team their best chance at succeeding.
Despite not having experience in center field, Mattingly opted to move Yasiel Puig over from right field, where he then placed Matt Kemp. The change gave the Dodgers speed and a strong arm in center, and it appeased Kemp, who was unhappy earlier in the year when he was benched and moved to left field.
In the time before Puig was handed the reins, Andre Ethier platooned with Scott Van Slyke in center field. Although he watched from afar, Dodgers general manager Farhan Zaidi saw enough to form an opinion on Ethier and Puig as center fielders, via Pedro Moura of the OC Register:
Farhan Zaidi said he believes Ethier and Puig performed comparably in CF last season, speaking strictly about defense.
— Pedro Moura (@pedromoura) December 10, 2014
Zaidi’s comments came as part of Tuesday’s discussion at the Winter Meetings in which he also addressed Kemp trade rumors. While was serviceable at the position, he wasn’t the dynamic game-changer Puig represented.
Ethier committed just one error in 121 chances over 68 games, compared to Puig’s two errors in 114 chances across 53 games. However, Puig recorded eight assists, whereas Ethier failed to get one (his lone assist in 2014 came as a right fielder).
Though still below the 2.48 league average for both stats, Puig had superior numbers in range factor per nine innings (2.28) and range factor per game (2.11) than Ethier’s 2.13 and 1.76, respectively. With the Dodgers believed to be shopping Carl Crawford, Ethier and Kemp, it’s unclear where the new regime intends on playing Puig moving forward.
Last season Mattingly referred to Joc Pederson as the best center fielder in the organization, but he may not yet be ready for the everyday responsibilities at the Major League level.