Right Field was not up to snuff
Ever since Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp showed up to be the Dodgers right fielders in 2007 the position has been in good hands, and most times in great hands. From Kemp to Andre to Puig from 2007 to 2015 the position was always one of strength.
That was not the case in 2016. Puig continued his free fall from his heights of 2013/2014/June 2015 and was eventually demoted to AAA for possibly a combination of production and off-field issues. The Dodgers traded for Josh Reddick and made him the full-time right fielder against RHP on August 1st. Reddick put up one of the most anemic months in LAD history for an outfielder in August. By Sept, Puig was back and playing full time against LHP, while Reddick rediscovered his singles stroke.
The numbers say that Josh Reddick was very valuable in Sept of 2016 putting up a wRC+ of 161, but man alive, it sure didn’t seem like he was doing much but dropping a single into right or left field. Reddick batted 5th most of the time and still managed to drive in one run in August, and nine in Sept (5 in one game). I guess that should not have come as a surprise since he only drove in 37 in almost 400 at bats in 2016. I’d expect that from a banjo-hitting catcher who bats eighth, but a right fielder who bats 5th? How is that even possible when you have Justin Turner and Cory Seager on base all time? I know RBI is a stat no one cares about but driving in runs still seems like something a right fielder ought to do more than a bad hitting catcher.
LAD Right Fielders since 2007:
How about the right field offensive production in 2014? Those numbers were good enough to be the two best hitting right fielders with at least 200 at-bats in right field.
In 2016 we had two of the worst. Scott Schebler could have done what Josh Reddick did. For shit and giggles while sorting on right fielder stats on Fangraphs I decided to see who the best hitting right fielders were in the 2nd half. Number one was Matt Kemp with a wRC+ of 134. 3rd was Scott Schebler at 118.
When it comes to upgrading the team in 2017, the Dodgers have to start in right field. I’m going to assume that Josh Reddick is sent packing. That leaves the enigmatic Yasiel Puig, the shocking rookie Andrew Toles with a time share with Trayce Thompson, trade, or possibly Cody Bellinger.
Looking at Puig, I have no idea how the Dodgers view him anymore. When he was sent packing to AAA in August, many pundits felt he would never play for the Dodgers again. Supposedly he was put on waivers and claimed by the Brewers at which point the Dodgers tried to work out a trade involving Ryan Braun. It didn’t happen and Puig tore up AAA and evidently salvaged his behavior enough to prove the pundits wrong as the Dodgers brought him back up in Sept. Yet they didn’t really commit to Puig. He had always been a full-time player when healthy enough to play but the Dodgers refused to let him face right-hand pitching. He did whatever the Dodgers asked and possibly made the defensive play of the season in left field when he made a marvelous catch keeping Rich Hill perfect on Sept 11th.
Puig looked better in Sept than at any time since July of 2015. There is a myth that Puig hasn’t been good since 2013 but it isn’t true. Puig was brilliant in 2013, great in 2014, and on June 30th, 2015 doing pretty much what he had done in 2014. It is from July 1st, 2015 until July 31st, 2016 that Puig was a shadow of his future self. Given that is 1076 plate appearances of great compared to 425 or so of mediocre I’m still inclined to go with the idea that Puig is not someone the Dodgers should be giving up on unless his off-field behavior makes him intolerable in the clubhouse.
I hope Puig is the starting right fielder in 2017 or is traded for a starting RF because I’d hate to see them trade other resources for someone who isn’t likely to do what Puig can do. Strangely enough, Puig has never started 100 games for the Dodgers in right field in one season. I hope that changes in 2017.
That said, I expect him to be traded, and I expect the Dodgers to regret it.
Trayce Thompson started 22 games in RF when Puig was hurt early and did well. He hit five home runs in only seventy-three at-bats while putting up an OBP of .345. He profiled as a lefty killer but ended up hitting right-handers better than left-handers in 2016. He wasn’t the beautiful Center Fielder we had been told about, but he looked very comfortable in right field. I doubt he’s a full-time right fielder but he might be the perfect platoon mate for either Andre Ethier in Left Field or Andrew Toles in right field.
Andrew Toles had such a remarkable season he’s going to need his own column, but he certainly is a candidate to play some right field in 2017.
Cody Bellinger won’t be anyone’s 1st, 2nd, or 3rd choice to play right field but if injuries hit the players that the Dodgers expect to play right field, I would expect Cody to be the first one from the minors to get a shot.