2019 Preview of the Dodger Hitters

I’ll be referring many times to the Zips projections for this column.

Catcher – Austin Barnes and Russell Martin. For the first time in a long time, the Dodgers lost a key position player to free agency when they let Yazmani Grandal walk to the Brewers. Austin Barnes had a horrible season in 2018 but many pundits expect him to bounce back in a big way in 2019. This is a sample from Paul Sporer of Fangraphs.

He had a brutal 2018 after big expectations following his 2017, but the 28% K rate doesn’t make sense with a 6% swinging strike rate. He still took his walks and also has some sneaky speed for the position with 4 SBs each of the last two years. He’s going to be the full-time option with Russell Martin backing him up and I like him to hit .275 with 12 HR, 8 SB, and 50+ R and RBI.

For the past four years, this has been a position of strength, it probably won’t be in 2019, but it shouldn’t be a position of weakness either. I expect the Dodger get average production from their catching duo.

1st Base – Max Muncy is out to prove that 2018 was not one of the flukiest seasons in baseball history.  He doesn’t have much room for error because the Dodgers have four outfielders for three spots and one of them is an outstanding defensive 1st baseman.  Max had a power-free spring which is not what you want from your 1st baseman.  I don’t know how long the leash will be for Max and I honestly have no idea what to expect from him. Another season like 2019 would be fantastic, a drop of 100 points in his OPS toward .850 would still be a successful season. Zips thinks he can do it pegging him for .836. I’m not so sure.

2nd Base – Kiké Hernandez won the starting gig. Giving full-time attention to 2nd base should make him an even better defender so expect to see more high light plays.  Since being acquired by the Dodgers Kiké has seen his plate appearances get higher and higher (218, 244, 342, 462). He might top 500 plate appearances for the first time in 2019.  The Athletic did a pool of players and they found that Kiké was considered one of the funniest teammates.

6. Who is the funniest teammate you’ve ever had?

Top result: (Tie) Kiké Hernández, Dodgers; Gerardo Parra, Giants; Derek Holland, Giants; Stephen Vogt, Giants (3.1% each)

Zips thinks that Hernadez will put up an OPS of .771. If he does that as a starting second baseman,  Dodger fans will be happy.  Remember, last year at this time Logan Forsythe was the Dodger starting second baseman with Chase Utley expected to spell him against right-hand pitching. Forsythe is now a utility player for the Texas Rangers and barely holding onto a major league job. Chase retired. By letting Brad Miller go, the only left-handed option the Dodgers have for 2nd base is Max Muncy. They used that in the postseason last year. I’m not sure how much they will use that option in 2019.

ShortStop – I’ll admit to being concerned about the health of Corey Seager heading into this spring. Especially when it took him so long to finally play a major league spring game. His defense in the few games we saw was spotty but he’s healthy and that might be the best thing the Dodgers have going for them this year. It will not shock me if Corey Seager has a top-five MVP season. That may seem obvious but Vegas put the MVP odds on Corey at 40 – 1 heading into this spring. Zips agrees with Vegas giving him a pedestrian OPS of .805. I think he crushes that.

3rd Base – Justin Turner is the best Dodger 3rd baseman in history. He just is.

Player             WAR/pos OPS+   PA   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
Justin Turner         23.3  141 2352 .305 .383 .505 .889
Ron Cey               47.7  125 6108 .264 .359 .445 .804
George Pinkney        20.4  111 4203 .271 .353 .352 .706
Red Smith              9.0  111 1667 .279 .344 .399 .743
Adrian Beltre         23.4  108 3818 .274 .332 .463 .794
Casey Blake            9.2  108 1608 .260 .338 .431 .768
Cookie Lavagetto      12.1  105 3242 .275 .372 .384 .756
Joe Stripp             9.4   97 2800 .295 .335 .384 .719
Tim Wallach            1.5   95 1525 .251 .312 .409 .721
Juan Uribe             7.5   93 1391 .260 .306 .381 .687

Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 3/27/2019.

Center Field – A.J. Pollock was acquired to be the Dodger Center Fielder for the next few years. He might be playing CF but he’s basically replacing Yasiel Puig in the outfield with Bellinger moving over to right field. Whatever Pollock does will be compared to what Puig does in Cincinnati. When healthy he can be good, sometimes great, and for a month at a time can be brilliant. Overall though, he’s a very average offensive player whose career OPS+ is propped up by his great seasons way back in 2014 and 2015.  If he simply does what he did in 2017/2018 Dodger fans won’t be very excited, if he can somehow bring back the offense he displayed in 2014 and 2015 the Dodgers will have made a great acquisition.  He’s a good defensive center fielder but Puig was a good right fielder. Is the Dodger outfield better with Pollock/Bellinger than with Bellinger/Puig? Maybe, but you won’t be very vested in the throws to get baserunners as you were before because that arm is now in Cincinnati. Oh, and Zips is predicting a sub .800 OPS which would be his worst OPS in any full season since 2014. Probably because he’s going to be 31.

Right Field – The 2017 ROY is now a right fielder. As a first baseman, Cody Bellinger was unique in his athletic ability. As a right fielder, he’s simply another RF. Like many other right fielders, he has a good arm, good speed, and can hit home runs. For Cody to stand out he will need to hit more like his 2017 ROY (.933 OPS) season than his sophomore season (.814 OPS).  Cody is the 15th player in major league history to have hit at least 60 home runs by the age of 22.

Player               HR From   To   Age   PA
Mel Ott             115 1926 1931 17-22 2644
Eddie Mathews       112 1952 1954 20-22 1874
Frank Robinson       98 1956 1958 20-22 1967
Bryce Harper         97 2012 2015 19-22 2143
Giancarlo Stanton    93 2010 2012 20-22 1498
Bob Horner           91 1978 1980 20-22 1369
Johnny Bench         87 1967 1970 19-22 1963
Andruw Jones         80 1996 1999 19-22 1890
Miguel Cabrera       78 2003 2005 20-22 1716
Orlando Cepeda       76 1958 1960 20-22 1906
Albert Pujols        71 2001 2002 21-22 1351
Hank Aaron           66 1954 1956 20-22 1834

Cody Bellinger       64 2017 2018 21-22 1180
Cesar Cedeno         64 1970 1973 19-22 2227
Justin Upton         60 2007 2010 19-22 1728

Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 3/27/2019.

Cody also has the most home runs by any Dodger by the age of 22.

Player           HR From   To   Age   PA   AB
Cody Bellinger   64 2017 2018 21-22 1180 1037
Adrian Beltre    55 1998 2001 19-22 1918 1718
Willie Davis     35 1960 1962 20-22 1140 1027
Corey Seager     30 2015 2016 21-22  800  725

Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 3/27/2019.

The Dodger season doesn’t depend on Cody Bellinger being great, but it sure would be fun if he was. Zips thinks he will be the Dodgers best hitter in 2019. I think they are right.

Left Field – Joc Pederson is the starting LF against right-hand pitching and Chris Taylor will be the starting left fielder against left-hand pitching.  For now, Joc has held off Alex Verdugo for his part of the timeshare. No one might have a shorter leash than Joc simply because a viable replacement is on the bench.  Joc made great strides last year and bounced back from his horrid 2017 season to have his best season.  The OPS+ mark of 125 was almost exactly the same as 2016 but in 2016 Joc struck out 130 times in 476 plate appearances which translated to a 27% strike out rate. In 2018 Joc dropped that rate to 19% while putting up the same level of offensive production.  I expect more of the same from Joc in 2019. Chris Taylor is probably being wasted as a platoon left fielder. On many teams, he could start at 2nd/SS/LF/Cf but for the Dodgers, he is their insurance policy and platoon mate for LF.  He doesn’t have significant splits and over that past two years has been a better offensive player than Pollock.

Bench:

David Freeze – the Dodgers best hitter in Sept was David Freeze. Don’t expect that again, but he should be a valuable bench option as a someone to play 1st again tough lefties, and pinch hit.

Alex Verdugo – not sure how he gets in a game other than as a pinch hitter. No one needs a defensive replacement and he’s not exactly a burner on the base paths. He’s waiting for his chance, I’m not sure if Joc is going to give it to him, his best option might be an injury.

 

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