Dodgers Should get Creative to Find Playing Time for Alex Verdugo

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.

More at Dodgers Nation

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.

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    • They only benched Pederson because they faced 3 lefties in a row. They’ll continue to do that. As I pointed out in the article, Joc really really really can’t hit lefties. So yeah, unfortunately he shouldn’t be started against them. Verdugo on the other hand has proven he can hit lefties. So I say play him instead of Taylor when they face them and continue to let Joc start vs righties as long as he keep hitting.

      • Brian, as you pointed out, just because Verdugo hit LHP well in the minors DOES NOT mean he will automatically do so here in MLB, where both the LHP and RHP are FAR superior to what is seen in the minors. Again , sitting Joc even though the Dodgers were facing 3 LH starters in a row after his hot start, and the Dodger’s propensity to sit the hot bats because of which hand the pitcher throws with is sort of ludicrous. As you can see I am not a fan of platooning but do understand that Joc hasn’t shown much at all against LHP, but at the same time he does not or won’t get many AB’s anyway against them.
        Remember too, that this philosophy of the Dodgers may get them by in a division that is not so great, but it will FAIL AGAIN when games count the most…like in the WS.

        • Well thought out article Brian. I agree, however, with Paul as I just don’t think you sit a really hot hitter like Joe when they are on a run like his. When he cools off, it’s OK to go back to platooning. They could have at least started him against one of the lefties to see if he was hot against them as well.

          • I would normally agree with not sitting a hot bat but not everything is so black and white. Players are different. In Joc’s case he has absolutely proven that he just doesn’t fare well against LPH. And not just by a “little bit” either. His stats are downright awful. Here they are again. .181/.265/.326 over his career. You can’t just ignore them because he has a hot 2-3 game stretch against RHP which has nothing to do with his career numbers against LHP.

  1. Finally someone has a good solution for using Verdugo. Not a big Taylor fan as I see him as a defensive player only. No matter how many HRs he has doesn’t make up for leading the league in SOs. Tired of seeing him come up with a runner on 3rd and less than 2 outs and swing for the fences, only to strikeout leaving the runner stranded. He had a good first half of season when he 1st came over but has gone downhill ever since. Time to give the rookie a chance.

    • Thanks for reading Ed. I agree. Time to give the kid a shot, and there’s really no reason not to at this point. If Taylor was hitting like he did back in 2017, that would be one thing. But he’s not. He should fill that bench player who can play all around the field and give different guys days off. But as far as starting every game against a lefty? Naw. I’d rather see Verdugo and find out what he’s got.

  2. These Dodgers decision-makers will not give Verdugo a shot, the only way is if Pollock, Taylor, Pederson(oh, he’s not playing right now because of LHPs) are placed on injury-list. BTW, the Rockies will start Tyler Anderson-LHP, so Pederson will Not start for 4-straight games.

    • Yeah they’re really ensuring that joc gets cold as ice. They have to know teams will pile the lefties on. 4 or more days in a row on the bench for Joc will happen quite often this year. He’s doomed imo and that’s a shame cause he’s hitting great

      • I don’t think opposing teams are “pilling on” the lefties… it just happen that’s how they were lined up this week. I’m pretty sure they won’t face 4 lefties in a row too often. But even if they do, that’s just what Joc has to accept. Personally, I don’t like platoons unless it makes sense, and in Joc’s case, it does. He’s had a 5 year career now. That’s plenty of sample size. And he just can’t hit lefties, plain and simple. He’s one of the few and only players on the team that I’d agree is a legit platoon player.

        So the bigger question in my opinion, is what do they do then vs LHP? Continue to start Taylor in left? I’d rather see them go with Verdugo, as he’s shown he can hit them.

          • Brian, I meant it is still too small a sample size for Verdugo up here against MLB LHP. Not Joc. he has been given his shots over the 5 years but it just almost appears they don’t want him to be able to hit LHP… Yes that may be a reach but what a player does in the minors is NOT guarantee of success up here.

          • I think giving up on Muncy would be a mistake. He could be a star in the making. You can’t assume he is a one year wonder based on what he’s done so far this year. This is essentially his sophomore season, in which many players regress because the pitching making adjustments. If we trade him away and he continues to crank out 30 plus home run seasons, we will regret it.

          • Yes, Verdugo’s sample size at the major league level is small. That’s why I went back and looked at his minor league numbers and it shows that he’s hit LHP very good. Majors are obviously a different ballgame, but as I said in the article, if you do that well in the minors, it seems like you should at least get a chance to prove yourself at the next level

            Regarding Muncy, I agree with Bob. I don’t think it’s time to give up on him just yet. Still very early and he was a top-5 hitter in ALL of baseball last year. Was it a fluke? I don’t know but for that kind of production, I want to wait and see. Certainly more than just a few games into the year. Unlike Joc, Muncy should not be platooned imo. He hits lefties well. The other day he went 0-4 but had two ABs where he hit balls very hard, just right at someone.

  3. I agree. Taylor hasn’t ran away with the job; so Verdugo needs to get some cracks at it. I think that would also make Taylor rethink his 2 strike approach. Man! The guy is really fast. Put the ball in play and take your chances. Bellinger topped that ball with 2 strikes the other night, and beat it out. It was HUGE for us. Anyway, Verdugo should be getting at least one start a week in left. And when Belli plays 1st, a start in right.

      • If Muncy is traded, do you believe Freese(at this point of his career) can withstand 130-150 games at 1B? Even if Yes, you would still need someone to back him up i.e. injury or day-off? Dodgers could call-up someone from AAA to spell Freese. OK, Bellinger is in RF(right now), Kike has played 1st but is the 2nd baseman. I know place Bellinger at 1st, Verdugo in RF. The Dodgers brain-trust won’t do this, they’re inept.