Entering the 2019 season, the Dodgers had a decision to make with Alex Verdugo. After tearing up the minor leagues for the last few years and proving as much as he could at that level, he was undoubtedly major-league ready. It was time to play him or trade him.
Despite never-ending off-season trade rumors that always seemed to circle around Verdugo’s name, the Dodgers held on to their young prospect. The question then turned to how much playing time he’d get this year with such a deep Dodgers’ roster.
Even with the trades of Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp, the Dodgers’ outfield remained somewhat crowded. Although they platooned Cody Bellinger a bit last season, they were committed to giving him an opportunity to play every day in right field this year. The signing of A.J Pollock gave them an everyday center-fielder as well. So, with left field being the only option remaining for regular playing time, it seemed like Verdugo and Joc Pederson would battle it out in spring training.
Neither player ran away with the job during the spring, but Pederson really turned it on to start the regular season. Entering play Wednesday, he was 7-16 with three homeruns, including two on opening day. He’s always hit righties well (career .853 OPS vs RHP) and if he continues to produce at a high level, it might be hard for Verdugo to find anything more than a few spot starts in the outfield.
That is unless the Dodgers want to think a little outside the box when it comes to platoons.
With both Verdugo and Pederson being left-handed hitters, it seems rather intuitive to think that both guys would get a majority of their at-bats against right-handed pitching. And for Pederson, that makes complete sense. He’s never hit lefties well, posting a .181/.265/.326 slash line against them over the course of his five-year career. The Dodgers have faced some criticism at times for how often they like to rotate players, but even the most anti-platoon person can’t really argue when it comes to platooning Pederson.
Of course, not all lefties struggle against left-handed pitching. Verdugo has hit them well over his minor league career. Below are his stats against southpaws over his last five minor league seasons:
- 2014: .333/.400/.444, .844 OPS
- 2015: .355/.397/.421, .818 OPS
- 2016: .255/.314/.377, .691 OPS
- 2017: .280/.371/.421, .792 OPS
- 2018: .368/.410/.509, .919 OPS
As you can see, Verdugo has had pretty good success against lefties, and in a couple of those seasons he even hit them better than he hit right-handed pitching. Obviously, minor league success doesn’t automatically equate to success at the major-league level. Still, with such a strong track record, it seems like he deserves a shot. On Monday night, in his first and only at-bat against a lefty this year, Verdugo hit a pinch-hit homerun.
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If Pederson is going to get the majority of starts against right-handed pitching, the Dodgers should really consider giving Verdugo a change against lefties. So far, Roberts has been giving that playing time to Chris Taylor. This week, when the Dodgers faced three consecutive left-handed starters, Taylor was in the starting lineup playing left-field for each game.
Last year, Taylor led the league in strikeouts and there’s no secret that he struggled a bit offensively. But even putting those struggles aside, his splits show that he doesn’t necessarily excel vs left-handed pitching anyway. In fact, he hits them slightly worse than right-handed pitching.
For his career, Taylor has a .765 OPS against right-handed pitching and a .762 OPS against lefties. Last season, there was a slightly bigger disparity, as he slashed .265/.333/.453 (.786 OPS) against righties and only .232/.327/.427 (.754 OPS) vs lefties.
Although Kike Hernandez won the starting second base job this spring, Taylor is still going to get plenty of playing time moving around the field as different players need off days. He remains one of the most versatile players on the team. However, giving him every start against left-handed pitching simply because Taylor bats right-handed, doesn’t seem to make the most sense.
If Pederson continues to produce well against righties, the only real option for Verdugo to get starts is against lefties. Although a lefty on lefty platoon isn’t very common, and a bit unconventional, the stats show that it could indeed be the preferred option.
On such a deep team like the Dodgers have, it was never going to be easy to find Verdugo regular at-bats. Nonetheless, the Dodgers should try to find different ways to get him opportunities. He’s been one of their top prospects for years now, and a bench role doesn’t figure to showcase his full potential.