The Dodgers have faced a lot of left-handed pitching this month. Because of that, guys like Andre Ethier, Carl Crawford and, to a lesser extent, Joc Pederson, have gotten more days off than normal. Yet, people are clamoring for the Dodgers to play some of these guys more — specifically Ethier and Crawford.
The mantra by fans and certain post-game radio programs is, “Play Ethier and Crawford because of presence,” “Go with the guys who got you there,” “Go with the guys who have been there before,” and on it goes — you know, the typical crap.
Look, there’s no denying Ethier has been great this season. Not just good, great. He looks like a completely different player than he did last year. He’s hitting righties to the tune of .307/.383/.512 this season. That’s great. I understand why people want him to play more. But the fact is, Ethier still cannot hit left-handed pitchers (.214/.227/.262 in 44 plate appearances this season). If that sample size is too small, he’s hitting .234/.292/.345 for his career in 1,366 plate appearances, with most of that damage coming early in his career (.351/.378/.468 in 2006 and .279/.319/.396 in 2007). The reason Ethier has been so good this season is because he isn’t playing against left-handers. He is truly a platoon player, hence his sitting against lefties.
Crawford has been dealing with injuries most of the season, but in his time this and last season, he has hit lefties much better than Ethier. He hit .321/.381/.500 against them in 2014 (64 plate appearances) and .320/.370/.360 in 2015 (28 plate appearances). It’s a small sample size for sure, but if anyone should really at least get a shot against a left-handed pitcher, it’s Crawford. I wouldn’t be at all opposed to seeing him out there against southpaws, as it seems like he has a better chance for success than Ethier. Couple that with the fact Scott Van Slyke hasn’t been as good this season as he was last season and there is a case to be made. But Crawford also has to be healthy enough to play.
This doesn’t even consider defense, which is where Pederson comes in. Despite Enrique Hernandez‘s ability in center field, Pederson is the best center fielder on the roster. Period. It doesn’t matter what he’s hitting over whatever time frame you want to cite, he is going to be in the lineup a vast majority of the time because he plays good defense. If Hernandez hadn’t gotten hurt, I think we would have seen him in a strict platoon with Pederson. But Pederson has held his own against lefties this season. He’s hitting .209/.289/.365 against them in 128 plate appearances — not great on the surface, but when compared to Ethier, it’s a significant difference. And he has five of his 25 home runs against lefties, so there is precedence for him to be in there against lefties.
And when it comes to Adrian Gonzalez, Justin Turner and Chase Utley, getting them time off against lefties at times is a good thing (except when Alex Guerrero benefits from increased playing time). Gonzalez isn’t a 162-game player anymore and you don’t want to take him out against righties, so sitting him against some lefties makes sense. Turner actually hits better against righties than lefties and needs a day or two off per week to stay healthy anyway, so it’s natural. Utley has been able to hit lefties in the past, but he’s also 36 years old, is struggling worse than Ethier against southpaws and just not the same player he was just a few years ago.
The Dodgers are the best team against left-handed pitchers in the National League for a reason: They don’t play guys who can’t hit lefties when there is a lefty on the mound. It’s that simple. If Ethier were to play more against them, his overall numbers wouldn’t be nearly as good. That’s fine, but I just can’t wrap my head around the fact people want Ethier in the lineup against left-handed hitters.
Justin Ruggiano has been a Godsend since being acquired. He’s hitting .326/.380/.652 in 50 plate appearances, with exactly 10 of those coming against right-handed pitchers (and six of those have come in extra-inning affairs). He’s 1-for-9 with a home run and hit by pitch in his PAs. He has been successful because Don Mattingly, Andrew Friedman or whomever else is in on this lineup collaboration isn’t putting him in spots to fail. This is exactly how a platoon should work.
In the postseason, things will be different. But don’t bet on Ethier getting much time against lefties in October. With Hernandez back, he should get those at-bats (with Pederson in center and Van Slyke in right). That is, unless the Dodgers get crazy and include Ruggiano on the postseason roster — something that Mike says isn’t likely in the NLDS (and he’s right).
Bottom line is, people need to stop worrying about the platoon and the inconsistent lineups. It doesn’t make sense to setup players for failure. Playing Ethier and others against lefties actually hurts the Dodgers more than it helps. Not every player is going to hit same-handed pitching well enough to warrant a starting role. That’s baseball. Get used to it.