The Dodgers’ bench/depth struggled in 2021. It struggled so much that 41-year-old Albert Pujols was looked at as a massive upgrade when they signed him in mid-May.
The loss of Edwin Rios (who was, admittedly, struggling at the time) hurt, and the fact Gavin Lux was hurt and forgot how to hit early in the season didn’t help matters. The Dodgers had to turn to the likes of Zach McKinstry, Sheldon Neuse, Luke Raley and Zach Reks to try to replace Enrique Hernandez and Joc Pederson. A championship-caliber team usually finds ways to replace guys like Hernandez and Pederson, but for whatever reason, Andrew Friedman had a tough time doing it in 2021.
Looking forward, Lux is going to be counted on more and Rios should come back, but his ability to contribute like he did in 2019-20 is a question after a rough 2021. If you’re looking at the upper minors, the Dodgers have Michael Busch on the way, but he’ll need some time in Triple-A before a big league assignment. Jacob Amaya‘s bat took a big step back and might not be protected from the Rule 5 Draft. James Outman could be the next guy up, but there’s no guarantee he’d fare any better than the McKinstrys, Neuses, Raleys and Rekses.
For this reason, the Dodgers need to do a better job of improving the depth this winter. There are a couple of guys I, specifically, have my eye on.
The Marlins’ corner outfielder/first baseman drew the Dodgers’ interest last winter, but nothing came of it. It’s too bad, because LA could have definitely used his bat off the bench. Cooper, 31 next month, hit .284/.380/.465 with a 134 wRC+ in 250 plate appearances. His season was cut short after he partially tore his UCL. The typical recovery time is nine months, so that would put Cooper back in May. He’s a free agent after the 2023 season, so the Dodgers would be bringing him in to strengthen the bench this year and next.
Cooper hit lefties to the tune of a .344/.408/.563, 165 wRC+ clip and more than held his own against righties — .258/.369/.424, 121 wRC+. Here are his career numbers in that regard:
- vs. LHP: .293/.341/.510, 127 wRC+
- vs. RHP: .277/.359/.429, 115 wRC+
He has never amassed more than 421 plate appearances in a season, and when he did, he was a solid contributor — .281/.344/.446, 111 wRC+ in 2019. However, to maximize his value to a team, he’s probably better suited in a part-time role — in that 300-400 plate appearances range.
While the production is apparent and attractive to a team like LA, the peripherals are exactly what the Dodgers look for in a hitter. His average exit velocity in the last three seasons have all been above the league-average of 88.3 MPH:
- 2019: 89.1 MPH
- 2020: 90.1 MPH
- 2021: 91.1 MPH
He also has a career 43.1 HardHit%, besting the league-average of 35.4. The only thing that’s a bit of a detriment is that he hits the ball on the ground a bit too much for a guy with his profile (he’s not a burner). We’ve seen the Dodgers work wonders with launch angle, so the peripherals combined with the potential to coach him up could unlock some things for an already good hitter.
Pinder is a little more under-the-radar than Cooper because he’s hasn’t been particularly good over the last three seasons, but his underlying metrics show there’s a potential breakout candidate contained within.
The 29-year-old utility player is a free agent after the 2022 season, so his acquisition cost should be minimal. That, and the A’s would love to save the $2.8 million he’s projected to make in the arbitration process, because John Fisher isn’t wealthy enough, apparently.
Pinder is a lite-version of Chris Taylor, and if Taylor leaves, he’d be an ideal replacement. He’s more in the role of Hernandez in terms of ability and profile (minus the ability to play center field), but you can’t really expect much more from bench pieces on a championship-caliber team.
Despite his struggles in the last few seasons, he has always shown the ability to hit for power. He has a career .181 ISO, including .171 from 2019-21. This is thanks, in large part, to his ability to hit the ball hard. He had an average exit velocity of 92.6 MPH in 2021, which would put him in the company of guys like Rafael Devers (92.7 MPH), Paul Goldschmidt (92.6) and J.D. Martinez (92.1). His average launch angle of 7.4 degrees leaves a bit to be desired, but he’s capable of elevating pitches. He had an average launch angle of 12.3 degrees in 2017 and 14 degrees in ’18, both of which were his best offensive seasons overall.
There’s a bit of swing and miss that comes with Pinder’s profile. He has a career 26.2 K% against just a 6.5 BB%. I think the Dodgers would accept the swing and miss if it comes with well above-average exit velocity and HardHit% numbers (54.2 in ’21, 45.4 for his career). And he’d be much more of a platoon guy than a guy like Cooper would be. He has just a career .228/.278/.403 batting line (84 wRC+) against righties, versus a .265/.333/.458 (116 wRC+) against southpaws.
The fact Pinder can play second- and third base, as well as both corner outfield spots, makes him the perfect candidate for a Dodger bench that lack pop in ’21 and could need to replenish. He’s not the above-average or better fielder that Taylor is and Hernandez was for the Dodgers, but he’d be plenty sufficient.
The bottom line is, the Dodgers can’t go into 2022 with a bench as weak as they did when they broke camp last spring. Injuries played a factor, but it was more the young players not taking the projected step forward that had the Dodgers scrambling. They lost Pederson’s hard-hitting ability last winter and they’re probably going to lose Seager’s hard-hitting ability this winter. Barrels may be overrated sometimes, but I’ll take the hard-hit ball over the broken-bat batted ball every time.