2014 Spring Training Preview: Left Field

carl_crawford_openingday2013

Age   BA OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ WAR
Carl Crawford 32 2013 (Dodgers) .283 .329 .407 .322 108 2.9
’14 ZiPS .266 .308 .412 .314 N/A 1.5
’14 Steamer .274 .324 .414 .322 108 2.1
Andre Ethier 31 2013 (Dodgers) .272 .360 .423 .340 120 2.9
’14 ZiPS .261 .340 .405 .319 N/A 1.5
’14 Steamer .269 .348 .431 .338 119 2.3
Scott Van Slyke 27 2013 (Dodgers) .240 .342 .465 .353 129 0.9
’14 ZiPS .249 .325 .420 .325 N/A 1.6
’14 Steamer .245 .332 .408 .327 111 0.2
Joc Pederson 21 2013 (AA) .278 .381 .497 .398 155 N/A
Jeremy Hazelbaker 26 2013 (AAA – Pawtucket) .257 .313 .374 .311 90 N/A

During our spring training preview series, the general refrain has been “(Insert starter name here) really can’t get injured, because the options behind him aren’t very good.” Finally, as we get to the outfield, things are starting to look up a bit. The Dodgers still don’t seem interested in trading an outfielder, so they aren’t exactly lacking depth.

We start in left field. Carl Crawford saw the most time there last season, and will again this year if he can stay healthy. Crawford’s 2013 season was pretty strange. In the middle of it, he missed over a month with a hamstring injury. Before the injury, he hit .301/.358/.470, and was one of the few bright spots during the miserable opening months. After returning from the injury, he hit .270/.307/.361. He hit five home runs before May 7th, didn’t hit another until September 27th, then hit four in the playoffs.

Crawford only stole 15 bases last season, below what would be expected given his playing time. He was still worth 5 baserunning runs above average, which isn’t too far from his average his average of 7.8 during his time in Tampa (especially when rated on a per game basis). Hopefully Crawford will be more comfortable stealing bases next season, but his continued health issues probably means that his seasons of 40+ steals are a thing of the past.

Crawford’s 2014 projections are pretty mixed. ZiPS projects for his value to be halved from last season due to a reduction in plate appearances and offensive value. Steamer is more positive, projecting him to produce offensive numbers nearly identical to those he produced in 2013. Steamer’s WAR reduction between 2013 and 2014 can almost completely be explained by a 7 run decrease in defensive value.

A good portion of Crawford’s offensive value next season will depend on how he’s used. Crawford has a big platoon split (career 82 wRC+ vs LHP, 114 against RHP). If the Dodgers can take advantage of their outfield crunch to limit Crawford’s usage against lefties, he’s likely to produce better offensive numbers. However, given Ethier’s similar (and more severe) platoon issues, this could prove to be difficult.  

If Crawford isn’t playing, Andre Ethier will probably be the next choice. Ethier has only played 52 innings in left since 2008, all of which occurred last season, mostly with Kemp in center and Puig in right. My guess is that this will continue to be the preferred alignment with that combination of outfielders. Since Ethier isn’t primarily a left fielder, we’ll discuss him in more depth in a later preview.

Scott Van Slyke seems likely to make the roster out of spring training. He can play both left field and right field (and some think he can play center, too), but he’ll probably play left more consistently in 2014. Van Slyke didn’t have any issues with PCL pitching last season (hitting .348/.479/.627), and had pretty decent results in the majors as well. His season was a pleasant surprise after he cleared waivers in 2012.

Van Slyke has a career UZR/150 of 13.0 in the outfield, which rates him as nearly elite. This conflicts a bit with the “eye test.” He only has 383 innings worth of sample size, which is nowhere near enough to get an accurate measurement. His defensive value will probably regress next season, which is backed up by conservative defensive projections for next season.

The projection systems are also predicting Van Slyke’s offensive numbers to regress, but not by much. ZiPS still projects Van Slyke to have the best wOBA (and WAR) of any of the left field options. Despite Van Slyke’s improvement in 2013, he remained buried on Don Mattingly‘s depth chart, rarely making high-leverage pinch hitting appearances. If Van Slyke is going to make an impact in 2014, Mattingly will need to trust him more.

Joc Pederson is the minor league prospect most likely to play outfield for the Dodgers this season, though it isn’t particularly likely unless something has gone wrong (other than a potential late season call-up). He’s primarily a center fielder, but if Ethier and Crawford are injured for a long period of time (not an unrealistic possibility) Pederson could see some time in left.

Jeremy Hazelbaker is the least familiar name on the list. He was acquired from Boston in exchange for Alex Castellanos after Castellanos was designated for assignment. Hazelbaker isn’t really a prospect, and isn’t going to make the major league roster. He’s likely to play left for the Isotopes this season.

Even though left field has a few question marks, the Dodgers have the depth to overcome at least one serious injury. If the Dodgers end up with two simultaneous injuries, then things will get more interesting. That kind of depth is usually tough to come by, so the Dodgers are in a pretty good place.

Next up: Center field

About Daniel Brim

Daniel Brim
Daniel Brim grew up in the Los Angeles area but doesn't live there anymore. He still watches the Dodgers and writes about them sometimes.