2015 Positional Review: Left Field

Next up in our 2015 positional reviews (because we’re terrible people who are insanely behind on this series) is left field. Once a spot for Manny Ramirez, it’s Andre Ethierwood. Ironically, he will not be included in this write-up.

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How Dodger left fielders fared (MLB ranks in parenthesis):

AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ WAR
.261 (14th) .326 (13th) .443 (5th) 8.0 (16th) 21.6 (15th) 113 (8th) 5.5 (5th)

These statistics, undoubtedly, include Ethier’s production. Since we don’t know a way to make it just production while playing left field, this is as good as it gets. Ethier got most of his looks in right field, so he’ll be included in that review. Despite Carl Crawford‘s worst season and Scott Van Slyke‘s injury-plagued season, the Dodgers still got decent production out of the position.

Carl Crawford

 

AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ WAR
.265 .304 .403 5.2 21.2 95 0.4

Believe it or not, Crawford was the Dodgers’ primary left fielder in 2015. Yes, he played the most innings at the position and garnered the most starts. Unfortunately, those were below-average innings. It should come to the surprise of absolutely no one that Crawford spent some time on the disabled list. He suffered a strained/torn oblique when sliding into third base on a triple off Tim Lincecum at the end of April. He hurt his side while sliding … That’s So Carl! It kept him out almost three months. Because of that, he didn’t have any real impact moments in 2015.

There was some talk of guys like Crawford and Ethier playing late in the season against all pitching because they had “been there before.” I touched on Crawford a bit in that regard.

“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.”

After his return from the oblique, he hit .273/.319/.402 in 54 games (30 starts). He just wasn’t a good player, and 2015 ended up being, by some measures, the worst of his career. He’s heading into the 2016 season with two years and $41.8 million left on his contract. If the Dodgers could find a taker for him, they’d trade him in a heartbeat. That seems highly unlikely. He’s already been told he’ll be the backup left fielder this season and his future in terms of being a productive baseball player doesn’t look to great.

Scott Van Slyke

 

AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ WAR
.239 .317 .383 9.1 24.5 95 1.2

 

The original Destroyer of Lefties had a rough go at it in 2015. After a spectacular 2014, Van Slyke struggled to stay healthy and to put up league-average numbers.

He had a chance to get a nice share of the playing time when Crawford was hurt. Yasiel Puig was struggling and/or hurt, meaning Andre Ethier played a lot of right field. That opened up left field for Van Slyke, but he didn’t take advantage of the opportunity. From April 29 through July 21, he hit just .213/.302/.380 with just nine extra base hits.

“The similarities are somewhat present, but to expect Van Slyke — a guy who was removed from the 40-man roster just three winters ago — to turn into Werth (minus the reckless driving, hopefully) is quite optimistic.

The numbers since 2009 (Werth’s first season as a true full-time player) tell a different story. Let me preface this by saying Werth has a more than 10-to-1 lead on Van Slyke in terms of plate appearances against right-handed pitchers (2,641 to 238), but the rate stats are close.

Player BA OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+
Werth .273 .361 .455 11.1 21.8 124
Van Slyke .269 .342 .453 9.2 29.0 126

All pretty similar, except for Van Slyke’s alarming strikeout rate. But he actually has the slight advantage in weight runs created-plus. That’s surprising.

And they both destroy left-handed pitchers (Werth also has a 3.6-to-1 advantage in plate appearances).

Player BA OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+
Werth .300 .413 .527 16.1 19.0 154
Van Slyke .268 .368 .517 12.6 22.3 150

There is no denying Van Slyke’s ability, and he probably should get a chance to start. But that won’t come with the Dodgers, unless there are significant and long-term injuries. Where Van Slyke has an edge against Werth is, surprisingly, on defense. He has been positive in the corners in terms of defensive runs saved and UZR/150, while Werth has been negative in both.”

Jayson Werth he was not, unfortunately. Van Slyke dealt with back and wrist issues from about the end of May through the rest of the regular season. His best moment came on May 11, when he hit a walk-off home run against the Marlins.

He’s also an underrated defender. He had 11 defensive runs saved and a UZR/150 of 30.3. Those numbers would be good for fifth and first in the majors, respectively. It was a small sample size (303 2/3 innings), but it’s still pretty impressive.

Van Slyke is looking for a healthy 2016 season. If he is, he could, somewhat realistically, replicate his 2014 production. He should see most of his time in left field, with right field and first base also being options.

Justin Ruggiano

 

AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ WAR
.291 .350 .618 5.0 23.3 166 0.7

 

Things came full-circle for Ruggiano in 2015. The Dodgers drafted him in the 25th round in 2004 before he was traded away. His 21-game stint with the Dodgers was downright impressive. Nine of his 16 hits went for extra bases and he provided an offensive boost against left-handers since Van Slyke and other struggled a bit against southpaws in 2015.

Mike (who?) wrote about his acquisition.

“Ruggiano was acquired late last night from Seattle, where he’d spent most of the year tearing up Triple-A. Before that, he’d been with the Cubs (2014), Marlins (2012-13), and Rays (2007-08, ’11), where he’d arrived in 2006 after being traded from these very Dodgers, who had drafted him in the 25th round in 2004. Dig the names in this trade, one of Andrew Friedman’s first with Tampa Bay: Ruggiano was the player to be named later in the deal that sent Dioner Navarro and Jae Weong Seo for Toby Hall and Mark Hendrickson. Before the deal, Ruggiano was actually on the 2005-06 Double-A Jacksonville teams that included Matt Kemp, Jonathan Broxton, James Loney, Russell Martin, Chad Billingsley, and A.J. Ellis, though I haven’t gone so far to see if he suited up with all of them.

It’s a very weird thing to see him in the lineup right now, is all, and hey, no pressure, you get to return to the Dodgers against Madison Bumgarner. That’s really the point, of course; with Yasiel Puig & Enrique Hernandez injured, the outfield is suddenly lefty-heavy, and you can’t have an all-lefty trio of Carl Crawford, Joc Pederson, and Andre Ethier against the lefty Bumgarner. (This is also why Chris Heisey was brought back, though he’s not been activated.) For his career, Ruggiano has hit lefties at .266/.331/.505, though most lefties aren’t Bumgarner.”

Ahh, memories. He was utilized correctly and it paid off with a 0.7 wins above replacement. Not bad for 60 plate appearances. Ruggiano also had four plate appearances in the National League Division Series and went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts … you know, because he’s Justin Ruggiano. He is now in camp with the Rangers and will probably do something at some point this season. Or he won’t.

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I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Scott Schebler and Chris Heisey. Schebler, since traded to the Reds, popped three home runs in 40 plate appearances (also struck out 13 times). Heisey hit that grand slam that one game. That was really about it from them. The 2016 left field should be mostly an Ethier-Van Slyke joint, with a little Crawford sprinkled in — you know, seeing as left fields are mostly platoons anyway.

Next up: Center Field

About Dustin Nosler

Dustin Nosler
Dustin Nosler began writing about the Dodgers in July 2009 at his blog, Feelin' Kinda Blue. He co-hosts a weekly podcast with Jared Massey called Dugout Blues. He is a contributor/editor at The Hardball Times. He graduated from California State University, Sacramento, with his bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in digital media. While at CSUS, he worked for the student-run newspaper The State Hornet for three years, culminating with a 1-year term as editor-in-chief. He resides in Stockton, Calif.