LOS ANGELES — Historic issues necessitate impactful maneuvers, which would explain the aggressive actions the Los Angeles Dodgers seem to be exploring early this offseason.
Multiple reports have the Dodgers linked to a pair of impact second basemen in the Detroit Tigers’ Ian Kinsler and the Minnesota Twins’ Brian Dozier. Neither would come cheap via trade, and Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal reports Kinsler might require a contract extension beyond his option year in 2018 to come to the Dodgers.
The rumors are a clear sign the Dodgers are not taking their struggles against left-handed pitching lightly, even if they did come two victories away from their first World Series appearance since 1988 despite those issues.
Just how bad were the Dodgers against lefties? Their .213 regular-season batting average against left-handers was the worst in baseball by 31 points. Their on-base percentage of .290 was also the worst in the league, while the World Series champion Cubs led baseball in that category at .357.
And in OPS, the Dodgers again were the worst in baseball at .622, 45 points worse than the next-closest club.
Comparing to 2016 is one thing, but how did the numbers compare to teams historically? It seems to be a mixed bag.
The team’s .332 slugging percentage against left-handers was also last in baseball in 2016, but that number was not among the 10 worst season totals going back as far as 1958. The Dodgers’ OBP was also not among the 10 worst in baseball since that 1958 season, the year the club moved to Los Angeles.
But that is not to say the struggles against left-handed pitching were not historically bad. That .214 batting average was the worst of any team to make the playoffs in the past 100 years, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Putting that batting average up against non-playoff teams of recent years, it was the worst in a season since the 2013 Houston Astros batted .213 against lefties. That was the same Astros team that lost 111 games, the most losses by a club in nine years.
The Dodgers actually felt they had the area covered when the season started, yet it never came close to happening.
“At some point, as you construct a roster and guys go out and play 162 games, it’s about performance, for all of us, from the managing side, the coaching side, the front office side to the players’ sides, and our guys, to a man, understood that,” manager Dave Roberts said in addressing the issue at the end of the season. “As we get into the offseason, we understand some of our shortcomings.”
With Howie Kendrick now traded to the Philadelphia Phillies and the left-handed-hitting Chase Utley now a free agent, the Dodgers have targeted second base as the spot to help remedy their issues against lefties.
Kinsler’s .309 batting average against lefties was 10th best in the American League this past season (among hitters with at least 150 plate appearances), and his .369 on-base percentage was 14th. He is also a highly rated defender. Dozier’s .613 slugging percentage was second best in the AL; his OPS of .965 was fifth best.
But what is a 34-year-old Kinsler or a 29-year-old Dozier worth? A report from MLB Network’s Jon Morosi says the Tigers would be interested in acquiring the Dodgers’ top power prospect, Cody Bellinger, a first baseman who is in line to be the eventual replacement for veteran Adrian Gonzalez.
The Dodgers must decide if Kinsler is worth saying farewell to a potential dynamic player such as Bellinger, while also extending Kinsler’s contract into his late 30s.
“It’s one of those things that, obviously, the results this year were disappointing, and I think as we assess things going forward, we’re going to have to look into what we think will continue and what we think is just noise,” Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said two days after the season ended. “There are a number of guys who we will bet on next year, and not to overreact, either. It’s that balancing act.
“We’ll spend a lot of time talking through it. It gets back to creating the most well-balanced roster that you can and that speaks to hitting RHP as well as LHP, being able to defend, adding value on the bases, keeping runs off the board … that will obviously be a big focal point for us.”
Other help for the left-handed-hitting issue is on the way. The Dodgers did acquire right-handed-hitting Darin Ruf from the Phillies in the Kendrick trade. He is a career .299 hitter with a .921 OPS against lefties (271 at-bats) and does have 76 career games in left field, where he could platoon with the left-handed-hitting Andrew Toles.
And if Bellinger is dealt to land somebody such as Kinsler or Dozier, Ruf is primarily a first baseman, who could then be Gonzalez’s eventual replacement. Ruf led the minor leagues in home runs in 2012 with 38.
Other help against left-handed pitching could come from the return of right-handed hitters Trayce Thompson and Scott Van Slyke, both of whom missed significant time in 2016 because of injuries. Utility man Enrique Hernandez also had a down year against lefties in 2016 after thriving against them in 2015, so improvement from him in that area could be projected.
Also of interest this offseason is how the Dodgers handle the Yasiel Puigsituation. The club was intent on trading the polarizing outfielder during the season but could not find what they considered reasonable value in return.
Of any Dodgers player who had more than 10 at-bats last season against left-handers, Puig led the club with a .784 OPS and a .471 slugging percentage. If the Dodgers decide to move on from Puig this winter, his departure will actually hurt the team in a significant area of need.
If there is an area on the roster where the Dodgers are stacked, it is in the outfield.
“First of all, having a good number of talented outfielders is a great problem to have,” Friedman said. “We have time to work through it and see what makes the most sense, and if we’re starting from the point of having a lot of talented players at a position, we’ll take it.”