Scott Van Slyke’s Time To Shine

After a successful weekend series in San Francisco, the Dodgers continue their road trip by heading into Denver and Chicago, and something stood out to me when I looked at the expected pitching matchups:

That’s four consecutive lefty pitchers lined up to face the Dodgers. Scott Van Slyke exists primarily to destroy lefty pitching. This ought to be fun.

I don’t really believe that Don Mattingly is going to actually start Van Slyke four times in a row this week, though you could certainly make an argument that he should. Figure Van Slyke gets one or two starts in the outfield, one at first base, and one on the bench, but either way he should see considerable playing time, which has been somewhat hard for him to come by lately. As the Dodgers have seen plenty of righty starters, Van Slyke has started only 11 of the team’s 39 games since August 1.

He has, of course, done everything we’d hoped for against lefties and more. (Some of it not even coming against poor Wade Miley!) Despite the inexplicable protestations of some fans that Carl Crawford shouldn’t be platooned out against lefties because “he’s hitting .320,” which is such an affront to sample sizes and Crawford’s fragility and the flaws of batting average that I can’t even comprehend it, Van Slyke is easily the most dangerous Dodger hitter against lefties, with an outstanding 182 wRC+. Whether you truly believe that to be the case — the sample sizes aren’t exactly on Van Slyke’s side either, and Matt Kemp & Hanley Ramirez have something to say about it — the point remains that he’s been such a great asset off the bench, and sometimes I think that’s forgotten a bit.

Remember how we got here, of course. Van Slyke was the 436th player taken in the 2005 draft — that’d be the draft where the Dodgers selected and failed to sign Luke Hochevar, leaving them with Ivan De Jesus and Josh Wall as their top two picks — then stagnated in the minors for years. In 2010, his sixth year in the organization, he was demoted back to Single-A after three months of struggles (.235/.300/.350) in Double-A. Not everyone is going to be Clayton Kershaw, getting to the bigs two years after the draft. Not a lot of big leaguers find themselves in Single-A six years into their career, either.

Van Slyke’s second crack at Double-A in 2011 went much better, and he found himself quickly in Albquerque, putting up ridiculous numbers in the inflated offensive environment of the Pacific Coast League, even earning a shot with the Dodgers in the summer of 2012. He did little, didn’t even get a token September recall, and when they needed a roster spot to add Skip Schumaker after the season, it was Van Slyke who was DFA’d. No one cared. Literally. Any team could have made a move for him, and no one did.

That ended up being good news for the Dodgers, because Van Slyke got himself into better shape, improved his plate discipline, and ended up being a nice bench piece on the 2013 Dodgers, though Mattingly seemingly forgot he existed in the playoffs. Now, among the 198 players with at least 100 plate appearances against lefties, Van Slyke’s wRC+ is essentially tied for ninth, and the guys ahead of him are the giants of the sport: Victor Martinez, Jose Abreu, Giancarlo Stanton, Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista, etc. Bautista is a fun name there, because he didn’t have his first breakout season until 29, giving hope to late bloomers everywhere.

No one is saying that’s what’s in store for Van Slyke; since he couldn’t even be a free agent until after 2019, it’s possible he’ll never get a full-time opportunity to try. If unfortunate for him, that’s good for the Dodgers, because for almost no cost whatsoever, they have a multipositional power bat who can do things like this to Miley back in May, the second-longest home run of the year for the team and just outside the top 30 in baseball. (Yes, Vin calls him “Andy Van Slyke.” No, I don’t care.)

We’ll see how often Mattingly plays Van Slyke this week against a ton of lefty pitching. It’ll probably be less than you want him to, honestly. But at least this year, I think it’s safe to say that Van Slyke won’t be completely forgotten in the playoffs. The Dodgers, remember, don’t have five outfielders. They have six.

About Mike Petriello

Mike Petriello
Mike writes about lots of baseball in lots of places, and right now that place is MLB.com.