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Is the Dodgers Lefty-Heavy Lineup a Problem?

Sep 22, 2017; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers first baseman Cody Bellinger (35) celebrates with shortstop Corey Seager (5) and left fielder Chris Taylor (3) after hitting a three-run home run against the San Francisco Giants in the third inning at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

It’s no secret that the Dodgers roster is currently heavy with left-handed hitters. If the season started today, you could say that five of their eight position spots would be filled with a lefty. Signing the likes of Bryce Harper, a move that many Dodgers fans are still hoping might happen, would add yet another left-handed bat into the mix.

Of course, the Dodgers could still add a right-handed bat before the start of the season to even things out a little. Marlins catcher J.T Realmuto would probably be the biggest name available to fill that void. Other players like A.J Pollock and Nick Castellanos have also been linked to the Dodgers as possible acquisitions this off-season.

However, if they don’t add another right-handed bat, the question could be asked; Are the Dodgers too heavy with left-handed hitters, and if so, is that a problem?

Last season the Dodgers were in the middle of the pack against left-handed pitching, finishing 8th in the N.L in team OPS (.733) against southpaws. That was a decrease from 2017, when they were 2nd best in the league (.789 OPS) but it was still better than their dreadful 2016, when they finished dead last against lefties (.622 OPS.)

The Dodgers lineup is no stranger to platoons, and Dave Roberts employs them very often. Some would say to a fault. Nonetheless, it’s been a part of the team’s offensive strategy, and it will be interesting to see if it’s used to the same degree next season.

Below, we take a look at how the main left-handed hitters on the Dodgers have fared against left-handed pitching, and project how they’ll be utilized for this upcoming season.

Corey Seager

Lifetime splits vs LHP: .284/.346/.464, .810 OPS

After missing practically all of the 2018 season due to injury, Corey Seager should be fully recovered and ready to go for opening day. He’s one of the few lefties in the lineup that will undoubtedly not be platooned. He’s hit southpaws well over his career, sporting a nice .810 OPS against them, and there’s no reason to think he can’t continue to produce well.

Projected usage against LHP:  Seager will play nearly every day, barring the occasional rest day. He is pretty much the only left-handed player you can say that about at the moment.

Max Muncy

Lifetime splits vs LHP: .250/.357/.509, .866 OPS

Dodgers
Aug 2, 2018; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers first baseman Max Muncy (13) hits a double against the Milwaukee Brewers in the seventh inning at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Last year was a breakout season for Max Muncy, who led the team in OPS, wRC, wOBA, and homeruns. Glancing at his splits, they look very good. However, it should be noted that his MLB career has been brief so far, and those stats only span over 126 plate appearances against lefties. Still, those are great marks, and if he can keep it up, those aren’t platoon numbers.

So far, Muncy has actually hit lefties better than righties over his career (.843 OPS vs RHP & .866 OPS vs LPH.) Last year, his .891 OPS was the 4th best in baseball by a left-handed hitter against left-handed pitching, behind only Christian Yelich, Freedie Freeman, and Robinson Cano.

The question is whether Muncy can keep that type of production up. Dave Roberts didn’t seem too convinced last year, as he still platooned Muncy more often than not down the stretch. Some would say that’s fine considering David Fresse was the right-handed option, and has always hit lefties well.

However, if you look at the actual numbers, as good as Fresse has been, Muncy has been even better. Fresse’s lifetime OPS against LHP is .848 and last season it was .876. By comparison, Muncy’s lifetime mark is .866 and it was .891 last year. Again, it’s been a short sample size, but so far, Muncy has been very good against lefties.

Projected usage against LHP:  At this point, it’s really up in the air as how Roberts plans to use Muncy. If had can hit lefties like he did last year, it would seem very questionable to keep platooning him. Although, there are other factors like Muncy’s defensive capability that may come into play as well. It’s conceivable that he’ll get a shot to play almost every day, at least to see if last year was an fluke or not.

Cody Bellinger

Lifetime splits vs LHP: .246/.319/.463, .782 OPS

It’s going to be very interesting to see how Cody Bellinger’s upcoming season plays out. His production against left-handed pitching fell off drastically last year compared to his rookie year. Bellinger slashed a disappointing .226/.305/.376 with a .681 OPS in 2018 compared to .271/.335/.568 with a .903 OPS in 2017.

Bellinger’s numbers slipped across the board though, not just against lefties. He went through some sophomore slumps at the plate and perhaps his numbers against left-handed pitching are simply a microcosm of his overall struggles.

It’s still very early in Bellinger’s career, and his future is unquestionably bright. But he definitely needs to be more consistent against left-handed pitching if he wants to be an everyday player. Roberts has shown that he’s not afraid to platoon anyone if he think it benefits the team, and if Bellinger puts up similar splits to last season, he’d be a liability in the lineup. If he can replicate anything close to 2017, however, he’d be a huge asset.

Projected usage against LHP:  Roberts has said he plans to play Bellinger every day, but that remains to be seen. It will surely be based on his production, so hopefully, Bellinger can right the ship. He has too much talent to not be in the lineup.

Joc Pederson

Lifetime splits vs LHP: .181/.266/.317, .583 OPS

To put it simply, Joc Pederson has been terrible against lefties over the course of his career, and his numbers reflect that. Entering his 5th full season now, it’s hard to imagine that changing too much. The Dodgers have appeared to accept this though, and are fine with playing him strictly against righties.

In a system that utilizes platoons frequently, Pederson still offers plenty of value. It’s just got to be against right-handed pitching.

Projected usage against LHP:  Pretty simple… Joc will not play much against lefties.

Alex Verdugo

Minor league splits vs LHP by year:

2018: .396/.442/.542, .984 OPS.

2017: .277/.378/.436, .815 OPS.

2016: .255/.314/.377, .691 OPS.

2015: .355/.397/.421, .818 OPS

Alex Verdugo hasn’t had much major league experience just yet, but that figures to change in 2019. Assuming the Dodgers don’t trade him before the beginning of the year, he could be in the starting lineup on a regular basis.

During his minor league career, Verdugo hit lefties very well. Whether that same success translates to the majors remains to be seen, but with Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp out of the picture, it seems like a full time spot is available in the outfield if Verdugo can make the most of his opportunities.

Projected usage against LHP:  This is a tough one to gauge because of how much Roberts loves to platoon. Even with Kemp and Puig gone, he may prefer to go with Kike Hernandez or Chris Taylor in the outfield against lefties. With his track record though, it would make sense to at least give Verdugo the chance to play full-time.

Andrew Toles

Minor league splits vs LHP by year:

2018: .227/.268/.379, .646 OPS.

2017:  N/A (injured)

2016: .208/.260/.292, .551 OPS.

Like Verdugo, Andrew Toles hasn’t had very many at-bats against left-handed pitching at the major league level, and limited minor league at-bats as well (only 144 ABs vs LHP in the last three years.) He hasn’t fared particularly well against lefties so far, but it still may be too early to tell either way how Toles will handle lefties.

Projected usage against LHP:  With so many players ahead of him on the depth chart, Toles doesn’t figure to grab anything more than a bench spot to start next season. Opportunities could always arise though, and Toles has shown he can hit right-handers well enough. With that said, it’s hard to envision him getting much playing time against lefties at this point.

Conclusion… is the left-handed heavy lineup a problem?

I don’t think so. In my opinion, the only Dodger player that should be platooned without question is Pederson, and the Dodgers have guys like Taylor and Hernandez that can play against lefties. Seager has proven himself. Muncy should get the benefit of the doubt after last year, and so should Verdugo based on his minor league numbers. Bellinger has too much talent to not at least give him a shot. If he does happen to struggle against lefties like last year, you can make the necessary adjustments and changes then.

[button link=”https://www.dodgersnation.com/dodgers-rumors-multiple-teams-interested-in-alex-verdugo-trade/2019/01/10/” type=”big” color=”red”] Dodgers Rumors: Multiple Teams Interested In Alex Verdugo Trade[/button]

Written by Brian Robitaille

Originally from Southern California, and currently stationed in Northern Virginia, Brian is a devoted Dodgers fan, and has been since he was a kid. He's an Active Duty member of the U.S Air Force, and has been serving for the last 16 years. While he loves all things sports related, and supports all his teams (Lakers, Steelers, L.A Kings, & USC) his true passion is the Dodgers, and loves writing about the boys in blue.

13 Comments

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  1. Brian thanks for the statistics and the analysis. I have said all year I believe the Lefty problem was way over stated with the Dodgers. Muncy and Seager can hit. I really like what I have seen and read on Verdugo.

    I also hope that the new hitting coaches can help Bellinger, Pederson, Toles, Barnes and Taylor get better contact. I know they are working on it.

    SoCalbum had suggested they might bring up Beaty to fight for a roster slot and although he is another left handed bat he can hit and is another utility guy that can even catch in an emergency. But he is another contact type guy.

    Overall this team will be fine and I think the “We need a right handed player group” will settle down and realize that most of the regulars on the Dodgers will be fine no matter what side the pitcher is throwing from.

    As your stats show…Thanks

    • Thanks for reading. I agree, I don’t think it’s that much of a problem right now. It could change if Belly sturggles like he did last year and/or Muncy regresses. But until then I think they’ll be fine.

      Great point on Beatty. I really like him but unfortunately, he’s another lefty and really no position for him at this moment. Still glad they protected him from the Rule 5 though.

  2. YES THIS LH HEAVY LINEUP IS OR WILL BE A PROBLEM! Case closed! Watch what happens when Dodgers see tons of LHP and the struggles mount because most of these guys won’t get much opportunity subsequently as a result of team struggles. In case you forgot that when it mattered the mos (the WS) Dodgers failed miserably against Boston’s LHP. Yes there were other reasons as to why the team once again were on the short end in the 2018 Fall Classic.

    • I disagree. The WS is such a short sample size and is no way a better indicator than a 162 game season. I presented all the stats, so I’m not sure where the disagreement is. As I mentioned, Joc is really the only one that 100% can’t hit LHP.

        • So have others. And in 2016, Dodgers were last in almost every offensive category during the regular season. they did improve in 2017 but regressed in the regular season in 2018 against them. But dodgers themselves have contributed to this by not letting many LH hitters go against LHP. My point is mainly to balance the lineup more and if they do, then I would bet the offense would be better PROVIDED they stop moving players, RH or LH in and out of the lineups on a daily basis.

    • That’s the thing… they all DO hit LHP (expect Joc.) Bellinger didn’t hit them well last year, but he was unbelievable against them the year before. He surely needs another shot before you chalk him up to a platoon player. Although, I will agree that Robert and/or the Front Office might need a change in philosophy.

      • Brian, now that I am fully on board with. the problem therein lies with their philosophy of not allowing players enough chances against one side of a pitcher or the other. Bellinger, to his credit realized his fall back against them and is workingh on that this off season.

  3. Seems to me it’s not a real problem during the regular season, but rears it’s ugly head during the postseason when teams can stack quality LHP’s against us. Machado, Kemp, and Puig couldn’t get us over the hump last year.

    • To compare, in 2017 Dodgers batted a respectable .253 against LHP and led NL with 65 HR’s against them. In 2018 they dipped to .240 but oddly enough and not too surprising, being they play in Coors Field, the Rockies were the only NL team with more HR’s against LHP with 71. Dodgers last year were 2nd with 67 of their 235 HR’s against LHP.

    • The post season is too short of a sample size to make any real conclusions about anything. Just because the stakes are higher, people tend to want to place a lot of emphasis on it but it reality, a series is only a handful of game. You wouldn’t judge a player for a handful of regular season games, right? That’s why the playoffs are such a crap-shoot.

      • Brian exactly the Playoffs are a crap-shoot…A team needs to get there and then depending on injuries and who gets “HOT” a team wins or loses. All the teams that get through the grind of the 162 game schedule and playoffs are very good teams and can easily win it all.

        The Giants won a couple of years when at least on paper they were not the strongest team but they got hot and in one case rode a Hot Pitcher and momentum to win it all.

        The Dodgers just need to win the NL West and then evaluate if they need any help. They made a valiant effort this year in trading a lot of talent for Machado and it did not work out. But it was a great try.

        You just never know how the playoffs will play out. Sports are very much dominated by the momentum of a win or great play. Can’t predict it in a short series. In a 162 game grind you can be reasonably accurate in predicting wins. But in a 5 or 7 game series? Too short…

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