Dodgers’ struggles vs. lefties tied to underperformers who hope to improve

It’s no secret the Dodgers have struggled mightily this season against left-handed pitching. They’re 14-14 against lefty starters, even after taking down Eduardo Rodriguez and David Price over the weekend, and the overall hitting numbers are quite poor.

This is surprising considering they were 25-19 in game started by left-handed pitchers and had a 111 wRC+ against them in 2015 — the best in the National League and third-best in baseball. This season, they have an 83 wRC+ against southpaws, thanks partly to a league-worst .270 BABIP against them, but there are some individual performers who aren’t exactly performing this season.

Player 2015 wRC+ 2016 wRC+
A.J. Ellis 156 80
Adrian Gonzalez 119 93
Yasmani Grandal 128 151
Enrique Hernandez 234 120
Howie Kendrick 100 106
Yasiel Puig 155 80
Justin Turner 110 88
Scott Van Slyke 122 99

There are a couple guys who are actually doing better this season against lefties, namely Grandal, who has been criticized in the past for not handling them better as a switch-hitter. But, most everyone else is down — some quite significantly. When you see the names and the number of plate appearances they’re getting, it makes sense that this team is struggling against lefties.

On the surface, a 120 wRC+ looks really good for Hernandez, but when he posted an MLB-best 234 (minimum 80 plate appearances), it stands out. Van Slyke’s decline has been more noticeable, even if he’s down just 23 points from last season. He just doesn’t seem like he’s firing on any cylinder right now, and if he can’t hit lefties his usefulness on the roster is questionable. Also, Puig’s decline has been well-chronicled, but his production against lefties has been sorely missed in 2016 after he killed them in 2015. Ellis is borderline unplayable at this point, but Grandal certainly can’t catch every game (#FreeAustinBarnes). And Turner’s struggles against left-handed pitching has been a bit surprising, but there are the occasional times when a right-handed hitter doesn’t hit lefties well (Adrian Beltre in his Dodger days comes to mind).

From the other side of the plate, Gonzalez’s dip has been across the board (but he is hitting better of late). A once above-average hitter against lefties, now he’s struggling to be even league-average. In fact, his 93 wRC+ would be the worst number he has posted against lefties since 2008 (80, and his career mark is 110).

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With the non-waiver trade deadline come and gone, it won’t be as easy to upgrade this weakness

The Dodgers could probably have bested the Orioles’ offer for Steve Pearce at the trade deadline, but with two of the best right-handed hitters in baseball against LHP in 2014 (Van Slyke, 193 wRC+) and 2015 (Hernandez), they have opted to hope the players who are supposed to hit lefties rebound rather than bringing in a player who could be viewed as redundant if the others perform as expected. Regardless of if the Dodgers acquired Pearce or not, Hernandez and Van Slyke have to start doing the things they’re capable of doing anyway for this team to perform better against lefties. Given their past performance, it’s not unreasonable to expect improvement, but those guys getting there sooner rather than later would be awfully nice to calm everybody’s worries.

If not, the Dodgers might be able to bring in someone this month, ala Justin Ruggiano last year, but with an already full roster and the recent addition of Rob Segedin (who, honestly, should just be used against left-handed pitching), that doesn’t look too likely.

Fact is, there are enough guys on this roster who have performed against left-handed pitchers in the recent past, and there is a reasonable expectation that they will regain at least some of that prior form. If that doesn’t happen, then this team deficiency could come into play down the stretch and/or in October. However, it should correct course at least a bit, and that could be enough to make a world of difference.

There have been signs that they’re starting to turn it around against lefties recently, and hopefully that trend continues down the stretch.

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 does contracts and depth charts for FanGraphs and 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 one-year term as editor-in-chief. He resides in Stockton, California, and has yet to be shot.