A couple years ago, Scott Van Slyke was pretty much an afterthought. He was designated for assignment to clear a spot on the 40-man roster. No team took a flyer on him. Now, it seems the Dodgers were quite lucky for that.
Van Slyke hit the then-go-ahead home run in the second game of the Dodgers’ doubleheader against the Twins on Thursday night. It was his third of the season, and the power is real.
On opening day in Australia, Van Slyke drew the start and hit a double that would have been a home run in the Northern Hemisphere and a wind-blown home run in his next at-bat (so things evened out). He’s been “on” since that day, and the numbers back it up.
In 43 plate appearances, Van Slyke is hitting .309/.419/.722(!) with three home runs, four doubles, one triple and a .381 isolated power mark (league-average is .145). Eight of his 11 hits have gone for extra bases, and 15 of his 31 hits in 2013 were of the extra-base variety. When he gets a hit, he makes it count.
He has also improved his plate discipline this season. It’s a small sample size, but he’s walking in 16.3 percent of the time and is only striking out about 4 percent more than his career mark — more than worth it, considering the increased power.
Van Slyke has been worth 0.7 wins above replacement in 16 games. He was worth 0.8 WAR in 53 games (152 plate appearances) last season. There is value in this guy’s bat, which makes it even more infuriating when Don Mattingly refuses to use him late in games at times — especially in place of Carl Crawford and Andre Etheir against left-handers.
This season, he has a 1.399 OPS against lefties. That isn’t a typo. But he’s just 2-for-12 against righties this season, which also isn’t a typo. But, he owns a career .727 OPS against righties, so he could be more than just a lefty masher, if the Dodgers need him to be (i.e. Crawford and Ethier are injured/traded and Joc Pederson isn’t on the team). But he fits perfectly fine as a weapon against those pesky left-handers.
Van Slyke rededicated himself to baseball after, admittedly, he didn’t take the game seriously in his first couple seasons in the minors. Now, he’s one of the more valuable bench pieces in all of baseball. Seriously, if there were a “Sixth Man” award in baseball, he’d be the early leader in the clubhouse.
Much has been written about the Dodgers’ four-outfielder problem. Van Slyke and Pederson are making it a six-outfielder problem. Van Slyke, coupled with whomever is sitting on a day between Crawford and Ethier (and, on the rare occasion, Matt Kemp), head a pretty decent bench.
Oh, and he has a 70-grade mountain man beard working this season. That doesn’t hurt things.