The Dodgers are in desperate need of a spark. Since we’re well beyond the trade deadlines and there isn’t another Cody Bellinger on the farm, it’s going to have to come from players already in the organization.
Alex Verdugo might be an impact player one day, but that time probably isn’t this month. So no, I’m not talking about the top prospect, rather there’s one player capable of providing said spark: Austin Barnes.
Barnes needs to be in the Dodgers’ lineup every day. Period. It doesn’t matter how, but he is far too good a player to be relegated to a backup/part-time role. I called for him to be freed about 2.5 months ago, and while the Dodgers have gradually given him more playing time, it still isn’t enough.
Barnes, 27, is in the midst of a breakout season. He’s hitting .297/.412/.476 with a 141 wRC+ and a 14.5 BB% — the same as Cubs’ slugger Kris Bryant. If he had enough plate appearances to qualify (he’s at 221), he’d have the 20th-best wRC+ in all of baseball, tied with Nationals’ third baseman Anthony Rendon and others. While he has long since been considered the biggest prize from the Dee Gordon trade of a few years ago, it took him awhile to get his shot, but now that he has it he’s shining.
Barnes’ ascension paired with Logan Forsythe‘s season-long struggle having no end in sight and Yasmani Grandal becoming a different kind of hitter finally creates a legitimate excuse to get Barnes in the Dodgers’ every day lineup.
Grandal’s season line of .246/.305/.449, 98 wRC+ isn’t bad for a catcher — especially one as valuable defensively as he is despite the passed ball issues. But as the streakiest regular, he’s currently in one of those cold streaks. Since Aug. 25 (the last time his OPS was .800 or better), he’s just 7-for-53 with just six walks (four of which came in the last two games) and 22 strikeouts in 59 plate appearances. To say he’s struggling would be an understatement. Grandal might benefit from a little extra rest, seeing as Barnes has a 164 wRC+ against righties this season.
Taking away playing time from Grandal is one way to get Barnes in more, but the other way might be to start him at second base against righties. Forsythe’s nightmare season has included a massive struggle against right-handers: .191/.313/.260 with a 62 wRC+. Fortunately, he has been dominant against left-handed pitchers: .299/.437/.439 with a 143 wRC+. So despite any defensive misgivings they may have with this idea, the offensive gap is massive enough to deserve serious thought.
Speaking of defense, it’s not just his bat, either. Barnes is an elite framer. Grandal is a 20.9 runs above average, according to Baseball Prospectus’ framing statistics. That’s good for third in all of baseball. Barnes is at 12.4, good for sixth in baseball. If you extrapolate Barnes’ rate and give him as many chances as Grandal has had (5,694), Barnes would be 27.8 FRAA. That would be, easily, the best in the game. Grandal does have the clear advantage in throwing, though. At second base, there isn’t nearly the data available to determine how well he would fare defensively. In 77 2/3 defensive innings, Barnes has one defensive run saved and a 1.9 UZR/150. It’s almost not worth mentioning, but what is worth mentioning is the fact he’s athletic, quick and has good enough hands to theoretically handle second base.
Where Barnes plays would basically come down to who you’d rather see in the lineup against righties: Forsythe, Grandal or Utley. And it doesn’t have to be rigid since Barnes has versatility. Once a decision is made, it doesn’t mean that one day they can’t switch it up depending on matchups.
Most thought Chris Taylor moving to second base would be the resolution once Adrian Gonzalez came back, but the Dodgers need him in the outfield because of Curtis Granderson and Joc Pederson‘s massive struggles. Oh, and Gonzalez can’t really be counted on to be a big-time contributor the rest of the way.
It’s worth mentioning that this isn’t a losing streak panic decision either, as it definitely doesn’t just have to be for the regular season. What this is about is Barnes proving again and again that he deserves more playing time, so this should be the plan come the postseason, too.
In October (assuming the Dodgers are still the No. 1 seed in the NL), the NLDS breaks down like this:
- Game 1, Oct. 6
- Game 2, Oct. 7
- Game 3, Oct. 9
- Game 4, Oct. 10
- Game 5 Oct. 12
And the NLCS:
- Game 1, Oct. 14
- Game 2, Oct. 15
- Game 3, Oct. 17
- Game 4, Oct. 18
- Game 5, Oct. 19
- Game 6, Oct. 21
- Game 7, Oct. 22
And finally, the World Series (lol) is on the same schedule as the NLCS: Two days on, one off, three days on, one off, two days on.
Bottom line, if the Dodgers want to go with Grandal behind the plate in every game, they could. There’s plenty of built-in rest so the Dodgers wouldn’t have to rest him. But they could also get Barnes in there behind the plate if they wanted to. And if he played catcher against lefties (with Forsythe at second), those opportunities would be few and far between.
Here are some potential left-handed starting pitchers the Dodgers might have to face next month:
- Arizona: Patrick Corbin, Robbie Ray
- Chicago: Jon Lester, Jose Quintana
- Colorado: Kyle Freeland
- St. Louis: None
- Washington: Gio Gonzalez
Not many, which means we could see a lot of Barnes at second base, if the Dodgers were bold enough to go that direction. It might mean carrying Kyle Farmer on the postseason roster to guard against potential injury. That shouldn’t be a problem in the first round, but it would also mean taking him ahead of maybe Andre Ethier, Gonzalez, Pederson, Rob Segedin or Verdugo off the NLCS roster. None of those guys are exactly locks to produce, so it might not be the worst gamble if it means getting Barnes’ bat in the lineup.
One way or another, the Dodgers need to get Barnes’ bat in the lineup every day. The offense is sputtering and Barnes’ production has been incredible. I wouldn’t expect him to maintain a 141 wRC+ as a full-time player, but he’s a definitely better hitter than Forsythe and Grandal right now.