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Dodgers: Why A.J. Pollock Is A Better Fit Than Yasiel Puig

A.J. Pollock photoshopped into a Dodgers uni. From Blake Williams (@BlakeW47)

If you somehow missed it, the Dodgers agreed to terms with center fielder A.J. Pollock on a multi-year deal.

While many fans were happy with the move, some still questioned why the Dodgers would replace Yasiel Puig with Pollock.

After the trade with the Reds, the Dodgers created the need for a right-handed bat. Now that they’ve added that, you can now look at the full deal like this:

Offense

Pollock makes more sense than Puig simply because he can hit left-handed pitching. The Dodgers needed a right-handed bat for the top of their lineup. While Puig is right-handed, he had to be used like he was a left-hander because of his reverse splits.

Pollock did struggle a little vs left-handers last season (.221/.277/.464, 91 wRC+) but he has been very good in his career vs southpaws (.275/.327/.498, 116 wRC+). You could make the case that 2018 was an outlier for him. Puig’s last above-average season against left-handers came in 2016. Last season, he hit .209/.268/.360 with a 70 wRC+ against them and he was even worse in 2017 (.183/.317/.265, 61 wRC+).

Adding Pollock immediately strengthens the lineup against left-handers while only losing a little production versus right-handers.

Pollock has also shown the ability to be one of the best players in baseball. His last full season in 2015, Pollock hit .315/.367/.498 with 20 homers, 39 stolen bases, a .371 wOBA, 131 wRC+ and 6.8 wins above replacement. While he probably won’t get to that again, he is still an incredibly talented player.

Besides for the righty bat, they’re also adding baserunning skill in Pollock. Pollock’s BsR (baserunning runs above average) of 3.9 was greater than Puig’s 0.1 and his career 15.7 BsR is better than Puig’s -7.2. Pollock still has the ability to steal 30 bags a year while Puig has sat at 15 the past 2 seasons. Their stolen base success rates are also dramatically different in their careers. Pollock has successfully stolen 103 out of 126 attempts (82%) while Puig has stolen 60 out of 91 (66%).

Defense

Pollock is also a major defensive upgrade for an outfield that really needed it. He plays the more premium position of center field and he’s better at it than Puig is in right field.

Pollock has rated as an above average center fielder every season of his career. Puig has been a negative defender every season but 2017, which looks like an outlier.

By outs above average (OOA), the statcast defensive metric for outfielders, Pollock ranked as the 24th best defensive outfielder in baseball. His 6 OOA were tied with Cody Bellinger, Mike Trout, and Gorkys Hernandez.

Puig ranked 68th of 87 qualified outfielders with -5 OOA. Even in his best year, 2017, he still ranked 56th of 90 outfielders with -1 OOA. The Dodgers really needed defensive help for their outfield as Puig was joined near the bottom of the list by Matt Kemp (-6) and Joc Pederson (-7).

An outfield with Pollock, Cody Bellinger, and Alex Verdugo could be one of the best defensive outfields in baseball. It also gives them the versatility to play Bellinger at first base and Muncy at second base more.

Injuries

Fans have also made the case that Pollock is too injury prone. Yes, he has missed a lot of games recently due to injuries but you also can’t predict an injury. And don’t forget it’s not too long ago that Puig was considered injury prone due to his hamstring and other nagging injuries.

The good news is Pollock’s injuries haven’t been chronic problems, like Puig’s hamstring or Clayton Kershaw’s back. There’s more reason to believe he can avoid the injury bug since it hasn’t been the same injury causing him problems.

Here’s something interesting from Eno Sarris in his article for The Athletic.

Pollock has qualified for the batting title once. He’s broken his elbow and re-broken it. His strained his groin and broken his thumb. He gets hurt, it’s true.

But for one, position player injuries are very difficult to project. There’s evidence that we use the injury-prone tag too often. For example, Rob Arthur found a rubric with which to project injuries for hitters … and if you plug in Pollock’s age and days missed over his career, it projects Pollock to miss 17 games next year. One disabled list stint.

Yes, we can’t predict injuries but we can look at how similar players have fared in their careers. It could mean nothing but it’s also a sign of hope. A player is only an iron man until they get hurt and a player is only injury prone until he isn’t.

The point is, there is a lot of randomness to staying healthy or getting injured.

Long Term

The Dodgers now have a star outfielder locked up for at least the next 3 seasons. Puig is on the final year of his deal and he was reportedly unhappy being platooned.  They weren’t going to re-sign him so they decided to replace him with a better fit.

Another part of that trade is the Dodgers added 2 quality prospects in Jeter Downs and Josiah Gray. They could be used to bring in another good player or they could stay with the team and remain in their top 20 prospects.

Matt Kemp and Alex Wood didn’t have a spot on this current team. Turning Puig into Pollock and 2 quality prospects is an all-around win for the Dodgers.

Their long term outlook is brighter after these deals.

Recap

The Dodgers were able to strengthen their lineup versus left-handers and improve their outfield defense. They also added 2 good prospects while doing so.

When Pollock stays healthy, he has shown he can be one of the true superstars in baseball.

Time will tell whether this move works out but there are a lot of good reasons for it.

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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!

16 Comments

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  1. While it’s hard to argue with the stats presented here, what was left out was that Pollock is 31 and all the declines in players over 30. About all the bases he could steal? Don’t count on it for a couple of reasons, 1-age and 2-the stolen base doesn’t play an important part of the game as it did in past years. Remember when Joc came up? It was predicted it would steal 30+ but has only stolen 15 bases in his career. In addition, is Pollock really an upgrade over Bellinger? On most of the crazy fielding metrics they pencil out pretty close to a tie. We are told that Bellinger is the best outfielder on the team but his time there just got reduced.

    If the FO promised A. J. that he wouldn’t be platooned but if it happens, who know how he will react. Couldn’t the FO made the same promise to Puig and then extended him for 3 years with an opt-out and incentives? Still would have been cheaper and the FO is all about cheaper these days.
    As I commented yesterday, release H. Bailey or Kemp same diff and I’m sure they could have traded A. Wood easy enough. The two prospects the team received from the Reds are just that, prospects. I wan’t the president of the Yasiel Puig fan club but I thought trading him for 2 prospects was a loss. Until they produce in the ‘show’ or are traded for someone that can they are just speculation.

    Bottom line is that I think the FO just preformed a couple of headline machinations that will result in a push throughout the season.

    • CNB, the return for Puig was indeed disappointing, but the team has had him on the trading block for years and had no takers.

      I think the Reds really wanted Wood, had to take Kemp to get Wood and decided that for one year, Puig was worth the gamble. Plus, they got rid of Homer Bailey, the worst starter in baseball. There have little to lose and if Puig takes off in that rocket-launcher ballpark, he will sell tickets. If the Dodgers had had a better offer they would have taken it.

      I doubt the two prospects the Dodgers got will ever make an impact in MLB but they’re young and might develop.

      Also, you are spot-on with your analysis of Pollock’s age. The most disturbing thing about this signing was spending money on a FA for what almost surely will be his declining years.

      This makes sense only if the Dodgers now add another, better, player, like Kluber or Realmuto. Otherwise it’s not much of an upgrade.

    • Most likely the Dodgers wanted to unload Kemps contract, so they probably had to include Wood and Puig Very similar when the Dodgers wanted Agon, they had to take other players. The players they sent to Boston never did much.

  2. No way you trade a 25year old for a 31 year old when both hit about about the same. Don’t give me left hand hitting stuff when we were flat and needed some lady MO, Puig is the energy you can’t replace. It don’t have a stat for it

  3. Another big factor is that Pollock won’t make boneheaded throws like Puig continued to do–after SIX big league seasons. In Game 1 of the World Series last year, Puig led to the Dodgers immediately being in a 2-0 hole in the first inning–all because he still refuses to learn to throw to the right base.
    I think the Dodgers were weary of his antics and that is partly why he is gone. He is massively talented. But he is like Raul Mondesi–a frustrating player that you knew could be much more. He seemed a charitable and sensitive guy.
    But the lack of discipline cost them. I won’t miss him.

    • I agree with you ElysianPark that Puig thinks he can throw Every baserunner out. MLB network continuously shows the 2018 WS Game 1 that you referenced. I just hope the 67hrs. from Puig, Kemp, and Grandal won’t be too missed.

      • Ya know something, those 67 HR’s from Puig, Kemp, and Grandal won’t be missed if Dodger pitching can somehow do better at keeping the baseball in the yard themselves. while I realize that the HR is more prominent these days for all teams, remeber that Dodger Stadium is still considered a pitcher friendly park.. However in 2018 only 6 NL teams pitching staffs allowed more than the 179 HR’s Dodgers gave up. And where it counts the most???? In these past 2 WS (12 games combined) this staff of ours allowed 23 of them!!!!!!!!!!!

  4. I will miss Puig’s passion and knowing that fly balls to right are going to be caught. Won’t miss his poor basic knowledge of throwing to correct bases and when to throe in front and behind the runner….Best of Luck Yasiel!!

    • Remember one other thing too, that Puig certainly will find it easier for HR’s to hit in that little hitter friendly park that the Reds play half their games in. So I can only hope that we fans here can keep that in mind, should Puig hit more HR’s for the Reds in 2019. he is also a FA after this year too.

  5. Pollock has power against both left and right pitchers but his average drops more than 50 points. Pollock is 31. Pollock is injury prone. This is at best a very minor positive move if only to get some minor league talent (and only if he stays healthy). Now, if it frees up Joc being traded for realmuto then it is a net positive move.

  6. I agree with you about Puig, but by what measure is Pollock a “true superstar?” You may have let your enthusiasm run away with you.

    Per OPS+ Pollack’s been an average or below average player for 5 of his 7 seasons. His last above average season was three years and many injuries ago. His numbers for 2018 are quite similar for those of Chris Taylor and Enrique Hernandez. In fact, Taylor and Hernandez posted better OPS+ and oWAR. Are they “superstars?”

    While his many injuries may not be chronic, they are cumulative. It may be that the combined effect of all those broken bones led to a discernible regression last year in his hitting vs. LHP and his defense. And, as others here have pointed out, at 31 he is entering a period when most players decline in skills, especially running and fielding, and become more susceptible to injury. Yet the Dodgers have tethered this guy to the team for five years.

    Puig had to go; he hasn’t hit LHP for 2-3 years but resented being platooned, which boded ill for his ability to be a team player. The team clearly needed an upgrade against lefties. I’m just not sure Pollock is the answer. People remember his 2015 and overlook everything since. That’s like looking at Puig’s first year and forgetting everything since. Pollock has his strengths, but he’s no savior and he may be a bench player by the time this contract runs out.

    Adding Realmuto would be a plus, but ultimately, we have to hope that at least two of the three left hand hitters who still form the heart of the lineup, Seager, Bellinger and Muncy, can consistently hit same side pitching. If not, the search for a right handed bat will resume at the trade deadline.

    • D C Turner, good points about those 3 LHB doing better against the same side in pitching. But let me say this…. Both Pollock and Realmuto, should we obtain him will not by themselves improve this team’s performance against LHP.. It is going to be a team effort, as it should be in the first place. BTW, even if Pollock had never been injured, and stays healthy throughout this year , neither he or any other player will be expected to play in all 162 games.

  7. Puig was the anchor of the outfield. His arm and range forced baseruners into station to station advancement. When Puig hit the late inning 3 run home rub in game four of the last World Series he could have been in dodger lore forever. Instead the dodgers mismanaged the last two innings. That manager got a new contract and Puig was cut loose. I have seen this type of personnel mismanagement over the forty some years as a season ticket holder and a fan of the Dodgers since their move in 1958. This one will prove to be just another miscalculation and will surely take some joy out of going to the games.

  8. Nice try, but Puig is better than Pollock and it’s on the Dodgers that he couldn’t reach his full potential. You get better by regularly playing against lefties and righties instead of playing musical chairs. Don’t be surprised when Puig becomes that superstar for the Reds.

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