Revisiting The Second Base Platoon

gordon_2014-03-08

In February, I wrote about the potential for a platoon at second base after Don Mattingly stated that it was a possibility. I was a bit dismissive of the idea, citing the lack of combinations that made sense based on past hitting performances. My conclusion was that it was fairly likely that Alex Guerrero would start the season at second, so the platoon didn’t matter much.

Now that it’s pretty clear that Alex Guerrero will start the season in the minors, it’s worth revisiting the platoon idea. The Dodgers seem convinced that they should use Dee Gordon in some capacity, and he has hit just .221/.267/.232 against left-handed pitching in 204 plate appearances. Finding a platoon combination that reduces that impact is important.

Assuming that Guerrero is demoted to the minors, the Dodgers have three players capable of playing second base: Dee Gordon, Justin Turner, and Chone Figgins. What would a platoon among these players look like? First, I took each candidate’s past performance and split up their batting runs against each handedness of pitcher. Given a full season of 600 plate appearances, 173 will be against left-handed pitching and 427 will be against right-handed pitching (using the league-wide plate appearance ratio from last season). The batting value is also park-adjusted to account for each player’s different offensive environment.

Since Dee Gordon adds a bit of offensive value with his speed, base running value is also included in the platoon value calculations. Some scaling is applied* to get base running value against each type of pitcher. The overall offensive value is a sum of batting runs and base running runs.

 Table 1: Platoon performance using past hitting only
 Player Batting Runs/173PA vs LHP Batting Runs/427PA vs RHP Base running runs/173PA v LHP Base running runs/427PA v RHP Offense runs/173PA v LHP Offense runs/427PA v RHP
Dee Gordon -10.85 -6.58 0.83 2.06 -10.02 -4.51
Justin Turner -3.43 0.00 -0.13 -0.19 -3.55 -0.19
Chone Figgins (career) -3.04 0.00 0.32 0.72 -2.73 0.72
Chone Figgins (2010-2012) -4.95 -15.50 0.16 0.33 -4.79 -15.17

The first thing that sticks out is how awful Dee Gordon looks against lefties. Even after accounting for his baserunning, he’s worth -10.2 runs on offense. Chone Figgins is the best option on both sides, but only if his entire career is included. If only the last four seasons are used (sensible, given his age), then Justin Turner is the best option on both sides of the ball. Choosing Dee over Turner on the left side of the plate costs 6.47 runs, and choosing Dee over Turner on the right side costs an additional 4.32 runs.

The method used to find platoon value in table 1 has a flaw. It only looks backwards. It doesn’t take into account the instability of platoon splits or projected future performances. Luckily, Fangraphs outlined ways to apply regression to future platoon split forecasts using methods found in The Book. If we use those methods for the three options and the mean projected wOBA for each player from Steamer, we get slightly different results:

Table 2: Platoon performance using split regression and Steamer forecasts
 Player Batting Runs/173PA v LHP Batting Runs/427PA v RHP Baserunning runs/173PA v LHP Baserunning runs/427PA v RHP Offense runs/173PA v LHP Offense runs/427PA v RHP
Dee Gordon -8.17 -7.49 0.50 1.50 -7.68 -5.99
Justin Turner -1.46 -7.43 -0.15 -0.27 -1.61 -7.70
Chone Figgins -7.68 -12.41 0.20 0.24 -7.66 -12.17

The adjusted numbers are pretty interesting. Justin Turner’s reverse platoon split flips**, predicting that he will hit better against left-handed pitching than right-handed pitching. The change in methodology results in a clear platoon pairing: Justin Turner against left-handed pitching and Dee Gordon against right-handed pitching. Choosing Turner over Gordon against lefties results in six fewer offensive runs lost over the course of a season.Choosing Gordon over Turner against right-handed pitching results in 1.71 fewer runs lost. Figgins does not appear to be viable in either half of the platoon based on his Steamer projected wOBA.

The methodology isn’t perfect. Steamer is a very good projection system for batting value, but it is fairly conservative on baserunning value estimates, which hurts Gordon a bit. Additionally, this methodology completely ignores defensive value. This is intentional, since we know almost nothing about how Gordon will handle second. Defensive metrics don’t like Turner’s defense at second, but the sample is too small to come to any definitive conclusions.

I really like it when data surprises me. Before this article, I was convinced that Turner would be a better choice for second than Gordon on both sides of the plate. After doing the math, using Gordon against right-handed pitching makes a lot more sense. However, using him against left-handed pitching is a mistake. As I was writing this, news broke that Turner will be playing in tomorrow’s game against lefty Wade Miley. Maybe the platoon talk wasn’t just talk. In any event, it’s probably only temporary, until Guerrero gets a bit more playing time in the minors.

Footnotes:

*Baserunning value scaling: There is a penalty for stolen base success rate if a left-handed pitcher is on the mound. That was accounted for when scaling stolen base value (wSB on Fangraphs) to apply to platoon values. The scaling factor for wSB was the percentage difference in overall stolen base success rate against each type of pitcher. Results also had to be scaled based on batting success rate (more times on base means more positive value from baserunning). In order to account for this, total baserunning value (wSB and UBR combined) is scaled by platoon OBP changes.

**Reasoning for Turner’s platoon split flip: Justin Turner has had a reverse split (hits better against same-handed pitching) during his career. However, right-handed batters show less platoon variation than left-handed batters, so the Fangraphs/Book regression method gives a higher weight to the league-average split. The regression brings Turner’s split far enough towards the league average platoon split that it passes the break-even point.

This post uses the following statistics:

  • wOBA: Weighted on-base average, a statistic used to calculate overall offensive value by using unique weights for different types of hits. Explanation here
  • wSB: Weighted stolen base runs, a statistic used to calculate the value gained by stolen bases only. Explanation here
  • UBR: Ultimate base running, a statistic used to calculate the value gained by all other events on the bases. Explanation here

Reminder: Second Basemen Bat Second

turner_2014-02-26I’ve been making the “second basemen bat second” joke about Don Mattingly for so long that I’m not even sure when it stopped being a joke and started turning into reality. Now, either the joke has become self-aware, or Mattingly is just enjoying messing with us all, as he did the other day when I was part of a group of reporters who were told that Sam Demel was absolutely starting the game that Julio Urias ended up starting barely 24 hours later.

Why? Because this:


Bet you didn’t think “neither” would be the answer to “does Alex Guerrero or Dee Gordon start the first game of the season at second base,” did you?

The merits, or not, of Turner over Gordon for a single game aren’t all that interesting to me, though it’s not really a selling point that a team worth eleventy billion dollars is starting a guy who the Mets — the Mets! — decided they didn’t want. (Also, since Arizona starter Wade Miley is a lefty, maybe Mattingly really is going with his “platoon” idea at second base, which Brim will have much more on in the morning.) This has no bearing on Guerrero, either, since I think we all knew he was headed to Triple-A.

Scott Van Slyke will hit fifth in left, two spots ahead of Andre Ethier, and… well, look. We’ll get to the lineup stuff closer to the game. Right now, I like focusing on the idea that the second baseman is, in fact, hitting second.

As it turns out, Mattingly did not do this the most of any manager last year. He merely did it the sixth-most:

Rk Tm #Matching
1 SFG 123
2 NYM 116
3 HOU 88
4 COL 87
5 PIT 77
6 LAD 68
7 SEA 67
8 TBR 65
9 CHW 65
10 MIA 54
11 CLE 54
12 ARI 50
13 PHI 47
14 WSN 44
15 NYY 43
16 KCR 35
17 MIN 26
18 TOR 25
19 CIN 25
20 OAK 20
21 CHC 17
22 MIL 13
23 STL 10
24 ATL 8
25 LAA 7
26 TEX 6
27 SDP 5
28 DET 2
29 BOS 2
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 3/20/2014.

(Baltimore was the only team not to, since Manny Machado started at the No. 2 spot 154 times.) The Giants, with Marco Scutaro, and the Mets, with Daniel Murphy, had a second baseman in the position regularly. The Dodgers, like several other teams, had a lineup in flux.

So maybe the second baseman doesn’t always hit second, because last year they did only 41.9 percent of the time. So far in 2014, it’s happening 100 percent of the time. Based on this totally relevant sample size, I predict it will happen in every single game of this season, until it does not.

Dodgers Announce Australia Travel Roster

The Dodgers are leaving for Australia tonight and the opening day roster is starting to take shape. The team has announced the 30 players who will be travelling with the team.

In a prelude to announcing the travel roster, Justin Turner was added to the 40-man roster this morning. Turner was probably the best utility infielder candidate coming into the spring, and he secured his roster spot after hitting .355/.459/.452 in Arizona. He won’t live up to those lofty spring numbers during the regular season, but he looks to be a capable replacement to the Nick Punto sized hole on the roster. In order to clear room for Turner, the Dodgers moved Onelki Garcia to the 60 day disabled list. Garcia is recovering from knee and elbow surgeries and hasn’t pitched at all during the spring.

The Dodgers also optioned Miguel Olivo to the minors this morning. Olivo responded by requesting to be released. Normally this wouldn’t be an issue, but the Dodgers are perilously thin at catcher and Drew Butera is out of options. If Butera doesn’t make the 25 man roster after Australia and doesn’t clear waivers, the Dodgers are an injury away from J.C. Boscan being a major league catcher. This might take some time to resolve, since the Dodgers don’t necessarily need to release Olivo until his opt-out in June.

After this afternoon’s game, the Dodgers announced that Chone Figgins‘ contract was purchased, making his spot on the final roster official. In order to make room for Figgins on the 40-man roster, Javy Guerra was designated for assignment. Guerra has been on the chopping block for awhile, buried on the depth chart behind the Dodgers’ free agent reliever signings and better young talent. Guerra was out of options, and there wasn’t any chance of him making the majors. Guerra had a decent stint for the Dodgers, producing a 79 ERA-, 92 FIP-, and a 108 FIP- in 102.1 innings pitched. However, only 10.2 of these innings were last season. Given Guerra’s previous major league experience, it seems fairly unlikely that he’ll clear waivers. If the Dodgers trade Guerra, the most desirable target will probably be minor league catching depth.

Aside from the obvious starters and the players who were already discussed, the following players will travel to Australia: Mike Baxter, Seth Rosin, Jose Dominguez, Zach Lee, Red Patterson, Joc Pederson, Miguel Rojas, and Alex Guerrero.

Baxter is an extra reserve outfielder, which is necessary since Crawford will be on paternity leave. The extra roster spots allow the Dodgers to defer a final decision on Rosin’s fate. Dominguez and Withrow are slated to be in the bullpen for the trip, though both will likely be optioned once the roster is compressed for the stateside opener. Guerrero travelling with the team is a bit of a surprise, since he could have been optioned to the minors to get additional playing time in Arizona.

Zach Lee, Red Patterson, Joc Pederson, and Miguel Rojas will be travelling as well. All four are non-roster players. Since the 40 man roster is full, it is doubtful that any of them will play outside of the exhibition game against team Australia. Either Lee or Patterson will start the game.

The roster rules for the Australia trip also allow the Dodgers to leave three roster players behind without putting them on the disabled list or designating them for assignment. As of now, six players are staying in Arizona. Dan Haren, Zack Greinke, and Brandon League will likely be the “exempt” players. Matt Kemp, Josh Beckett, and Chad Billingsley will likely be placed on the disabled list. Disabled list assignments will be retroactive to March 19th, so players on the 15-day DL are eligible to return on April 3rd.

To recap, this is how the overall roster stands:

Travelling

Starting Position Players (8): Ellis, Gonzalez, Gordon, Ramirez, Uribe, Puig, Ethier, Van Slyke

Reserve position players (6): Federowicz, Butera, Turner, Figgins, Baxter, Guerrero

Starting pitchers (3): Kershaw, Ryu, Maholm

Bullpen (9): Jansen, Wilson, Wright, Perez, Rodriguez, Howell, Withrow, Rosin, Dominguez

Also on plane (4): Patterson, Lee, Rojas, Pederson

Not travelling

Likely Exempt (3): Haren, Greinke, League

Likely DL (3): Beckett, Kemp, Billingsley

Paternity (1): Crawford

What Would A Platoon At Second Base Look Like?

Is he better in a platoon? (Via)

Is he better in a platoon? (Via)

Earlier today, Don Mattingly made some waves when he said the following about the Dodgers’ second-base situation:

I like platoons because, basically, it gets you good matchups if you get the right guys for it. It keeps guys involved, keeps them fresh and they know when they will be starting. I actually like it, so definitely, no question.

It’s a bit worrying that the Dodgers still haven’t named Alex Guerrero as the opening day second baseman, but they’ve made a point to avoid doing so all winter. In theory, Mattingly is right, a platoon can increase the total offensive output at a position. Where was this attitude when the Dodgers had James Loney? And, more importantly, what would a potential platoon at second base even look like?

Before continuing, there’s one important thing to establish: Alex Guerrero shouldn’t be in a platoon at second base. The only reason for the Dodgers to turn to a platoon in the first place would be if Guerrero isn’t ready for major league games. After such a long layoff, he needs to play every day. If he isn’t, the Dodgers will be making a huge mistake. The same can be said of Erisbel Arruebarruena, whose contract isn’t even official yet.

Are there any obvious platoon options among the potential second basemen that Mike outlined in his second base preview? Below is a table of possible options, with their wRC+ against left-handed and right-handed pitching. A higher wRC+ is better, and a wRC+ of 100 is league average. I’m using each player’s career totals since platoon split statistics take a long time to stabilize.

Player wRC+ vs LHP wRC+ vs RHP
Justin Turner  82 100
Dee Gordon  43  86
Chone Figgins  84 100
Brendan Harris 92  82

Miguel Rojas minor leagues vs LHP: .229/.304/.264, vs RHP: .236/.298/.292
Justin Sellers minor leagues vs LHP: .353/.426/.660, vs RHP: .262/.337/.419

The only player on the major league list with a severe platoon split is Dee Gordon, which I didn’t realize until writing this post. So far in the majors (in a limited sample size of 204 plate appearances), Dee has hit only .221/.267/.232 against lefties. His minor league splits can provide some additional sample size; between 2011 and 2013, he hit .291/.357/.330 against lefties and .319/.385/.421 against right-handed pitching, according to the split data at Minor League Central. That’s not as severe as his major league numbers, but does verify the presence of a platoon issue.

If we take the best wRC+ from each side of the major league portion of the table, the “optimal” batting platoon would be pretty uninspiring: Brendan Harris against left-handed pitching, and Chone Figgins/Justin Turner against right-handed pitching. Harris hasn’t hit well since 2009 (and isn’t great on defense), and we all know about Figgins’ past. Turner has been league average against right-handed pitching and has less risk than Figgins, so he seems like the ideal option against right-handed pitching.

Since there’s no obvious platoon partner for Turner among the major league options, the search could be expanded to the Dodgers’ minor leaguers. Both Rojas and Sellers are known for their gloves and not for their bats, potentially allowing for them to make up for having lower hitting numbersr. Rojas is terrible against all pitchers, but Sellers is an interesting option since he hits lefties better. The raw values of his minor league statistics are nearly useless (since they’re from Albuquerque), and even if we use three years of split data, Sellers has only had 178 plate appearances against southpaws. The sample really isn’t large enough to definitively say that Sellers has a big platoon problem, but it still could be an advantage for the team to exploit.

If the Dodgers pick two players from the above list, there’s no clear-cut way to use platoon splits. Turner seems like the best option from both sides of the plate. If they want to limit Turner’s plate appearances, I’d probably use Sellers against left-handed pitchers (which shocks me as much as anybody). It seems pretty unlikely that the Dodgers would use Sellers in place of a veteran, so a sub-optimal arrangement of Turner and Figgins seems like the most likely platoon pairing. It probably isn’t worth worrying about too much, though, since the most likely scenario is that Guerrero is starting at second base on opening day.

This post uses the following statistics:

  • wRC+: Weighted Runs Created Plus. Compares a player’s offensive output to the league average position player, and is neutralized for park and league. 100 wRC+ is an average offensive player, 110 wRC+ is 10% above average, etc. Explanation here.

Report: Dodgers Sign Justin Turner. Finally.

I feel like we’ve been talking about Justin Turner for so long — months, if we’re including the old MSTI — that the fact that news just came out that they have in fact signed him seems more anti-climactic than anything. This seemed pretty obvious a few days ago, when the Dodgers let loose that a signing of an infielder was imminent, that there was just about no one available, and that Turner and his wife have strong ties to the Los Angeles area.

So a quick reminder in case you’re not already familiar with him: Turner turned 29 in November and has played in parts of five years in the bigs, almost entirely with the Mets after a brief debut in Baltimore. He’s a decent if unexciting hitter, with a career .260/.323/.361 line that’s good for a 93 wRC+, so just below average, and while he’s primarily a second baseman (88 starts), he’s also played third (50), short (21), and first (9). Unfortunately, he doesn’t rank as better than average at any of them.

Still, on a minor league deal — which hasn’t been confirmed (update: has been confirmed), but seems like a safe bet — Turner seems like a perfectly adequate utility guy to throw into the mix. It’s not like you don’t know enough about the uncertainty at second base, so the more the merrier, and at the moment, the only other option to backup third base is Chone Figgins, so Turner will get his chance.

Or he’ll play in Albuquerque. Whichever, really. At this point, getting a guy who might not kill you is all you can hope for. So, finally, welcome aboard, Justin.

Dodgers Expected To Sign Unknown Utility Infielder, So Let’s Get Ready To Welcome Justin Turner

I think we all knew that the Dodgers were going to need to bring in some additional infield depth, because it’s all we’ve been talking about lately. This team may or may not have a second baseman, they have a shortstop who can’t stay healthy for more than ten minutes at a time, and they have a third baseman who just put up two of the worst seasons we’ve ever seen before rebounding last year.

Pitchers and catchers report in seven days, so time is drawing short, and that’s why this isn’t surprising:

So.. who is available to fit that description? (No, not Emilio Bonifacio, who is suddenly a hot name after being DFA’d by Kansas City, because he’s not a free agent, though we’ll probably have a post on him tomorrow.)

I was originally planning to come up with a list of names and sort through them, but then I looked over at MLB Trade Rumors‘ list of free agents, and saw this:

Second Basemen

None

and…

Shortstops

Stephen Drew (31)
Nick Green (35)

Oh. So let’s dispense with the games and guess that there’s a 99% chance this is going to be Justin Turner, who is listed on MLBTR with the third basemen along with Brandon Inge and Placido Polanco. I say this not because I have any particular inside information, but because the pieces just fit. First of all, the options are so, so limited, at least if we’re assuming that the player at least saw some amount of big league time in 2013. Yes, Inge counts, even if he hit .204/.261/.321 over the last three years and is 37, but he can’t really play the middle infield. Polanco is 38 and hasn’t played anywhere but third with any sort of regularity since 2009.

Turner isn’t at all great, but he’s only 29, can sorta play second, short, and third, and reportedly received interest from several teams this winter. There’s also this: he’s a Long Beach native and a Cal State Fullerton alum, and he’s married to a UCLA alum, with whom he currently lives in the LA area. No, “being from LA” doesn’t automatically make someone a Dodger, but I can’t imagine that it hurts that his wife is constantly tweeting with and at good friend Cat Belanger, who works in the Dodgers marketing department.

I’m just making connections that may not be there, but if he’s unable to find a guaranteed deal, I don’t imagine that he’s going to do better than come home to a team that has a chance to win, a big chance of playing time, and family connections. Again, though, there’s just not that much else out there. Ramon Santiago found a job. Cesar Izturis found a job. (!) Yuniesky Betancourt is employed. (!!) Chris Nelson is off the board. Omar Quintanilla is gone. Jayson Nix is gone. That leaves Turner and… Cody Ransom maybe? (Update: Cody Ransom will be playing in Japan next season, per Chris Jackson) There’s also Jeff Baker, who I’ve long said I would love for his ability to crush lefty pitching, though he may yet get a major league deal, and can’t handle shortstop.

Separately, Dylan Hernandez adds that the team may sign an “international player” to increase the infield depth, and while it’s fruitless to attempt to guess on that — considering the huge possibility it may be someone we’ve never heard of — it wouldn’t be at all unexpected if it were Rusney Castillo, who Dustin profiled in January.

With Attention Focused on Masahiro Tanaka, Utility Infield Remains Dodgers Biggest Hole

(Via)

(Via)

As Dodgers fans wait for the second-by-second updates on Masahiro Tanaka Decision 2014, I’m turning our collective attention to a role that could be just as valuable: the utility infielders. Or, the current lack of them.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve said previously that I’d love to snag Tanaka, and he would indeed be an exciting impact acquisition for the team. But he’s still a luxury, because the Dodger rotation projects just fine without him. The same can be said for every other position except second base, but even the questions there tie-in with the utility infielder issue.

No matter what moves are made going forward, the Dodgers are a quality team on paper, and the infield is no different, with Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez, and Juan Uribe all anchored at their positions. But with second base still up in the air, A-Gon aging and having dealt with nagging injuries in 2013, Hanley missing extensive time last year, and Uribe likely requiring regular rest, the utility infielders become increasingly important.

The 2013 utility infield combination of Nick Punto, Dee Gordon, Justin Sellers, Michael Young, Luis Cruz, Skip Schumaker, and Jerry Hairston Jr. combined for 1,281 plate appearances and -2 wins. And the only reason that win total wasn’t -4 or worse was because of Punto’s production, and he’s now wearing an Athletics uniform. Therefore, if the Dodgers can upgrade the bench just by finding solid or average utility guys, that could end up having almost as much value in 2014 as a Tanaka signing.

So now that we’ve established that it’s an important issue to address, what options are even left for the Dodgers?

Utility Infielders 2013 Statistics 2014 Projections (ZiPS/Oliver)
Name wOBA Defense WAR wOBA Defense/600 PA WAR/600 PA
Alexander Guerrero N/A N/A N/A .313 -1 Runs 2.3 (Z)
Justin Sellers .237 0 Runs -0.1 .276 0 Runs 1.2 (Z)
Dee Gordon .273 -4 Runs 0.0 .281 -5 Runs 1.0 (Z)
Brendan Harris .268 -6 Runs -0.6 .279 0 Runs 0.4 (O)
Miguel Rojas N/A N/A N/A .237 11 Runs 0.2 (O)
Justin Turner .309 0 Runs 0.5 .304 -7 Runs 1.3 (Z)
Chris Nelson .266 -3 Runs -0.7 .296 -3 Runs 0.7 (O)
Placido Polanco .279 0 Runs 0.0 .275 5 Runs 0.7 (Z)
Elliot Johnson .240 7 Runs 0.3 .277 2 Runs 0.6 (Z)
Jeff Baker .389 -5 Runs 0.4 .319 -7 Runs 0.4 (O)
Ramon Santiago .268 6 Runs 0.4 .278 -2 Runs 0.0 (Z)
Michael Young .320 -20 Runs -0.7 .289 -13 Runs -0.1 (Z)
Chone Figgins N/A N/A N/A .282 -5 Runs -0.5 (O)
Yuniesky Betancourt .257 -4 Runs -1.6 .280 -9 Runs -1.4 (O)

Internal Options

Alexander Guerrero – 2B/SS

The team was hoping to get an extended look at him in the Dominican Winter League, but he was limited to 12 games due to hamstring issues. In 40 plate appearances, he put up a .289/.325/.447/.772 line. Scouting reports on Guerrero thus far range from potential solid MLB regular to terrible bust, so there’s always a possibility he could end up in a utility role long-term.

ZiPS certainly buys into him, but the accuracy of those projections are iffy at best since he didn’t even play the 2013 Cuban season. So much is still unknown about him, but with the significant contract he inked in the off-season, he’ll be in the mix for the job at second base to start the year, regardless.

Justin Sellers – SS/2B/3B

Sellers is somehow right back in the thick of the race to make the roster, this after largely being relegated to organizational depth in 2013. He could never hit much (.199/.278/.301/.578 for his career), but survived by providing ample defensive value, especially with his ability to play short. However, ever since his back surgery, he seems to have lost even some of that luster.

While ZiPS is confident his bat will bounce back, I find that hard to believe given his actual performance to date. So if his defense never returns to previous levels, he could end up leveling off as a replacement level player or slightly worse, which fits best in AAA as organizational depth.

Dee Gordon – 2B/SS/CF

The possibility of him being an impact major-league player broke down rather quickly, but Gordon may get one last chance to establish himself as a regular, this time at second base. Chances are slim he’ll eventually win that job, but he’s setting himself up to carve out a utility role in the bigs with his willingness to move to second and center.

The currently given ZiPS projection would head south if his playing time went to second or center, but if Gordon could shore up his defense a bit, he has the makings of a decent utility guy that can impact the game with his feet.

Brendan Harris – SS/3B/2B

Currently a non-roster invitee, Harris’ situation is looking up as the roster stands now. While he was mediocre with the bat last year and performed poorly defensively, he figures to acquit himself defensively in 2014, and his offensive production is not much different than the other current options.

So if the Dodgers remain static on the utility front, and he impresses in Spring Training, he seems like the type of player to earn a roster spot over a younger player with options remaining. And then after he does, we spend all year complaining about why he has a roster spot as he hits .170.

Miguel Rojas – SS/2B

Why is Miguel Rojas a thing? Because Ned Colletti made it so.

His mention was surprising, primarily because the Dodgers have a payroll of eleventy billion dollars and Rojas has a career slash of .236/.300/.282/.583 … at AA. I’m sure his defense is indeed legit, but if he’s on the roster (much less the starter at second), I’m assuming every other option got vaporized.

Free Agent Options

Justin Turner – SS/2B/1B

Turner hit .280/.319/.385/.704 with the Mets in 2013, and he’s probably the best utility infield bat remaining. Better yet, he’s performed essentially the same since 2011 and is only 29, so he’s a rare utility candidate that seems like a safe bet to produce going forward. His defense isn’t the greatest, but it’s tolerable in a player with his offensive skill and versatility.

Chris Nelson – 3B/2B

Non-tendered by the Angels after a .220/.277/.349/.626 line last year, there wasn’t a whole lot to like from him in 2013. However, the reason he’s worth mentioning is because in 2012 he put up a .301/.352/.458/.810 line with the Rockies, so he’s a year removed from producing like a quality regular with the bat.

Oliver sees the upside as well, and he projects to bounce back offensively. The problem lies in how he’ll handle defensive assignments, but if the Dodgers have utility glove guys already in the fold, Nelson could be an attractive option off the bench.

Placido Polanco – 3B/2B

As the years have gone by, Polanco has stopped hitting, and he posted a .259/.309/.313/.623 line in the 2012-13 seasons. Now, going into his age 38 season, his solid defense is starting to turn downwards as well. Still, ZiPS projects him to be an effective utility man next year.

Of course, the problem isn’t necessarily his skills, but rather whether he’s even going to play. And even if he does, he wants to do it close to home. I’ve seen his name thrown around a bit, but he doesn’t seem likely to land with the Dodgers even if they want him.

Elliot Johnson – 2B/SS/LF

Johnson hit poorly for the Braves in the 2013 NLDS against the Dodgers, and that’s not surprising, because it just matches what he did for all of 2013. He put up a .218/.273/.319/.592 line for the year, but his offensive production should regress back to 2011-12 levels (.225/.287/.346/.633) in his age 30 season. That’s still not great, but his real value lies in his defense, where he has flashed plus at both short and second.

Jeff Baker – 2B/3B/1B/OF

Baker raked in a Rangers uniform in 2013 to the tune of a .279/.360/.545/.905 line, and has always hit very well for a bench guy, as evidenced by his .267/.321/.440/.760 career line. Furthermore, he has a significant platoon split, hitting .298/.353/.522/.875 against lefties and .236/.288/.358/.647 against righties. As a regular, that would be problematic, but as a bench guy, that actually makes him more useful since he can be deployed situationally.

Defensively, he’s decidedly below-average overall, but besides grading out poorly at third base, he handles every other position respectably and even rates as above-average at second. Baker could potentially serve as a platoon partner for the corner outfield spots and second base, also fitting in at third and first if necessary.

Perhaps most importantly though, he possesses the best ‘smirk face‘ in the game. 80 grade.

Ramon Santiago – 2B/SS/3B

Santiago was the longest-tenured member of the Tigers in 2013, and he put up a .215/.290/.279/.570 line with the team in 2012-13. Offensively, there’s basically no upside, as he’s unlikely to rebound to even below-average levels going into his age 34 year. However, despite the odd defensive projection from ZiPS, he has consistently played second, short, and third effectively, thus providing a ton of cover for the team. Additionally, he was one of the few utility possibilities that was actually effective in his role in 2013, along with Johnson and Turner.

Michael Young – 3B/2B/1B

Young’s defense was never his calling card, but it’s his offense that has declined in recent times. Over the past two seasons, he’s put up a respectable .278/.322/.381/.704 line, but that’s a shell of what he used to be. Even still, it’s one of the best offensive projections out of the utility candidates, so why the negative WAR projection?

Quite simply because Young is a DH that hits like a utility guy. I mentioned his defense has always been poor, but it’s only getting worse with age. Young has cost his teams about 128 (!!!) runs defensively over his career, and rates out as a poor defender at all four infield positions. If he was a better hitter, it would be tolerable, but the Dodgers bench doesn’t really have the luxury of taking on a declining DH that has the bat of a utility player.

Chone Figgins – 3B/2B/LF

Chone was last seen batting .185/.249/.253/.502 in 2011-12 for the Mariners. He then latched on with the Marlins but couldn’t make the team. So yeah, he didn’t play in 2013 because he got cut by a team that gutted its entire roster … and now he’s 36. That’s not good.

His Oliver projection of negative WAR is actually rather kind considering his woeful performances and the year off, and I’m honestly not even sure I see the upside here given that he’s three years removed from even being a mediocre player. Maybe scouts will see something they like in his workouts, but other than name recognition, there’s little to indicate he would be worth consideration.

Yuniesky Betancourt – 3B/1B/2B

Why? Why is this a thing? With the Brewers last year he hit .212/.240/.355/.595 and was worth about negative a billion WAR. Yet somehow, through devil magic or something, he still manages to generate a lot of interest. The longer he stays out there on the market, lurking in visible range of Colletti, the more I fear the Dodgers might take a flier on him.

Worse than his hitting though, he’s about a -62 run defender over his career, and he managed to post a negative defensive mark at FIRST BASE last year. He’s going into his age-32 season, but it seems like he’s 39.

So who should occupy the utility roles for the 2014 Dodgers?

There are admittedly limited options left on the market, and I think the oddest decisions were letting Punto and Mark Ellis go despite apparently no immediate plan to replace them. I’m still puzzled about that. But with the choices remaining, I’d want the team to go out and get either Justin Turner or Jeff Baker and one of Ramon Santiago or Elliot Johnson. Whoever loses out on the second base battle would head to the minor leagues, and hopefully Brendan Harris would agree to be sent to AAA.

By signing a quality utility bat and a quality utility glove, not only do the Dodgers project to upgrade on their two most-used 2013 utility options, but they also end up guarding against the problem that plagued them last year: having a ton of below replacement level options in reserve. In comparison to 2013, where every utility guy was replacement level or lower besides Punto, the 2014 potential backups of Guerrero, Harris, Gordon, and Sellers all project as at least serviceable depth.

Whatever direction the team decides to go in, something has to be done to improve the bench, because right now the 2014 utility guys are some combination of Gordon, Sellers, Harris, and Rojas, and if any of them run into some bad luck or get injured, the team would be looking at easily surpassing the -2 wins last year’s group produced.

So even though bench signings are nowhere near as sexy as the Tanaka chase or the Kershaw/Hanley extension talk, all runs and wins still count the same. And though nobody wants to hear a promo with a line hyping ‘improvement through mediocrity’, the Dodgers should do exactly that, because there’s a lot of value to be found in it.