No team in the NL West is much good this season. The Arizona Diamondbacks have taken a slim lead into the All-Star break, but their margin over .500 is all one-run wins and home-field advantage. Breaking things down by park-adjusted runs above or below average for various team components, the strongest single unit in the entire division is the Rockies’ infield defense, which is a bit embarrassing for all involved.
I want to talk, though, about the weakest unit: the Dodgers’ outfield defense. The Dodgers’ opponent RBBIP (reached base on balls in play) in the outfield is a too-good .397, which means the outfield has been, collectively, 26.9 runs below average in half a season. (These numbers, by the by, courtesy of the excellent and unheralded StatCorner.com.)
That’s obviously a huge problem unto itself, but the real big-picture problem for LA in both the near and the long term is this: It’s going to be damn near impossible for them to fix.
Los Angeles Dodgers Outfielders
Years Remaining (incl. 2013)
Dollars remaining (incl. 2013)
Now, those are four pretty good outfielders. The money due to them is not even all that onerous, especially for the Dodgers, although only Puig has a chance to rate as any sort of bargain. Ethier still abuses right-handed pitching, especially bad right-handed pitching. Crawford is a perfectly good defensive left fielder. Kemp still has the tools, although it seems that (like Crawford) his offensive peak may be permanently truncated by injury at this point. Puig is, well, Puig, and we won’t really know what that is until he compiles a larger sample from which to draw conclusions.
The thing is, none of those players can be easily gotten rid of, and not even the Dodgers are likely to find benching those salary commitments and track records palatable. And while each still has merits, especially as offensive assets, none of those four can play center field. I mean, it’s ugly. It’s not even close. Puig is erratic, but acceptable in right field. Crawford is fine in left. Of Ethier, Kemp and Puig, though, there isn’t even a center fielder who can avoid catastrophe. There isn’t even a guy who can fake it there. Ethier is the current choice of manager Don Mattingly, with Kemp shelved, but Ethier is actually the worst of the bunch. He isn’t even a decent corner outfielder with the glove, let alone a center fielder.
The Dodgers have a studly outfield prospect in Double-A, Joc Pederson, a guy with big tools himself who caught the eye of many at Sunday’s Futures Game. I asked Baseball Prospectus prospect tracker Zach Mortimer, though, and no, Pederson can’t handle center field.
There are utility guys all over the roster, but Jerry Hairston is no center fielder. Neither is Skip Schumaker. Scott Van Slyke can’t hack it. Dee Gordon is still trying to be a shortstop, for some reason. And even if any of them were good defenders and tenable hitters, the Dodgers would have a hard time (both politically and logistically) moving any of the incumbent regular outfielders into a permanent backup role.
No, there just isn’t a very good solution there for the Dodgers. They could try to trade Ethier to a contender in need of a left-handed bat, but they would have to simultaneously acquire a more useful center fielder than the guys listed above. It’s hard to find a fit out there.
I could see Ethier going to Boston for Jacoby Ellsbury, if the Red Sox had confidence in Jackie Bradley to take over center field. But that’s a real long shot. Ethier’s bat would be welcome in Kansas City, but one has to wonder what (if anything), beyond either Lorenzo Cain or Jarrod Dyson, the Royals would be willing to give up for him. It’s also an open question whether Kansas City can afford Ethier, and whether or not the Dodgers would eat money if necessary to facilitate that deal. The Athletics have center-field capable Chris Young on hand, but need Ethier not at all. The Rangers could use Ethier, but the center fielder they might send back to LA, Engel Beltre, is just not helpful.
Could a three-way trade be hammered out somewhere? Are there other guys who could become available as the deadline draws near? Maybe. But for now, the Dodgers are stuck with their overinvestment in prime and past-prime corner outfielders, and the acquisition of fly-ball hurler Ricky Nolasco is not going to make fading their poor outfield defense any easier. Luckily for them, they play in such a flawed division that they might just reach the playoffs while searching for long-term answers to their dilemma.Next post: Jose Altuve Gets a Contract Extension, or: Statement Spending in Baseball
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