Squaring up the Dodgers roster

There’re five players (was six until Blevins signed a minor league deal with A’s recently), I believe, the Dodgers should give serious consideration acquiring. No, they’re not Machado, Harper, Kluber/Bauer or any other notable names…well, one could be somewhat considered as such, but this off-season has been considerably cruel to a lot of free agents and unfortunately for them, it’s opened the door for teams to shop bargain deals. Anyhow, the main purpose of this article is to point out players that’ll provide depth and/or fill a hole in the roster.

First, I’ll start with the lack of left-handed relief pitchers on the 40 man. The Dodgers only have five — Caleb Ferguson, Scott Alexander, Tony Cingrani, Adam McCreery and Julio Urias — on a roster that holds potentially eighteen relievers in total. Even if there’s speculation on how the Dodgers plan to use Urias and Ferguson, it’s reasonable to assume they’ll be relief options regardless. Still, adding one or two lefties can provide depth as a contingency to any unforeseen event(s). This leaves the option of combing through available free agents to sign minor league deals with spring training invites. Two popped up on my radar: Aaron Loup and Tony Sipp. They’d be used as lefty out only guys (LOOGY’s) which I’ll proceed to show why. Here’s a look at both for the last 2 seasons combined along with the league average and the stats reflecting their performance versus left handed hitters:

Loup  –  Sipp  –  League avg                                                          

1.80  |  3.29  |  3.55  Earned Run Average (ERA)

2.69  |  4.39  |  3.58  Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP)

23.5  |  22.4  |  24.7  Strikeout percentage (K%)

7.5    |  7.0    |  8.7    Walk percentage (BB%)

58.6  |  49.0  |  48.3  Groundball percentage (GB%)

3.8    |  17.6  |  11.1  Homerun to Flyball percentage (HR/FB%)

20.3  |  28.7  |  29.5  Hard Contact percentage (HC%)

The obvious choice seems like Loup. But I dug a little more and found some glaring differences in the results between the pitches they use. Sipp is primarily a slider/ fastball pitcher but he throws the former over 50% of the time (via Brooks Baseball) when facing LHHs. While Loup is mainly a sinkerball pitcher, hence his high ground ball rate. He’ll mix in a cutter and curveball evenly approximately a combined 30-35% of the time. Here’s a few outcomes of their pitches versus lefties since 2017 sans Loup’s CT/CB:

       Sipp                Loup

vs SL  –  vs FB         vs SI

.194  |  .260          .301   Batting Average against (BA)

.203  |  .279          .224   Expected Batting Average Against (xBA)

.389  |  .520          .345   Slugging percentage against (SLG%)

.290  |  .483          .267   Expected Slugging percentage against (xSLG%)

Those numbers prove they can both be effective options. But if the Dodgers would take it up a notch and add a LHP that has proven the last couple of seasons the ability to match up against lefties and righties, then let me present you Richard Bleier. He’s one of only two relievers that posted a wOBA against under .300, HC% under 30.0 and BB% under 10.0 against both RHH and LHH in the last 2 seasons combined, minimum 40 innings pitched versus each handedness. The other being Sean Doolittle. Here’s a quick breakdown of Bleier for the last two seasons:

vs LHH  –  vs RHH

2.63   |   1.47  ERA

4.57   |   3.23  FIP

10.3   |   10.3  K%

6.3     |   2.7    BB%

66.2   |   64.7  GB%

12.5   |   5.7    HR/FB%

25.9   |   23.4  HC%

He’s entering his fourth season in the majors and has four more years of low-cost control left. That may lead to the easy assumption of his market value being high, making him an unlikely match with the Dodgers. But he’s coming off a lat injury which he sustained in the middle of the 2018 season and opted for season ending reparative surgery. He began a throwing program sometime around early November and reportedly has had no setbacks. He imagines to be ready for opening day but it’s still too early to be sure of that. Either way, it’s safe to presume that his effectiveness is in question, lowering his value and making him a high risk, high reward, albeit at a low cost, target. Still, the odds are low he gets moved before the season starts. It would behoove the Orioles giving Bleier the opportunity to improve his stock. He would also be considered a RP that deserves a spot on the active roster which brings up the question of who he’d replace. Still, whatever debate looms as to how he’d fit or his health, it’s not going to take a haul to acquire a pitcher like Bleier who can enhance the Dodgers bullpen.

Moving on to the next glaring issue which is adding one more right-handed hitter. It’s no mystery that the Dodgers like to match up depending on a pitcher’s handedness and with good reason. I can go into why but that’s not what this piece is focused on so, maybe I’ll save that for one further down the road when the topic is more relevant and demanding. In the meantime, trust that the numbers prove it’s a prudent strategy. But I digress. The starting lineup versus a lefty could look like this in no particular order and excluding the pitcher:

1B David Freese

2B Kike Hernandez/Chris Taylor

3B Justin Turner

SS Corey Seager

C Austin Barnes/Russell Martin

OF AJ Pollock

OF Chris Taylor/Kike Hernandez

OF Cody Bellinger

Of the two LHHs in this lineup, Bellinger is the one who’s showed to struggle more against lefties. His first year was a success but in 2018 he got worse as the season went on which lead to him being platooned. Could he repeat how well he did in 2017? Sure. Would it be safer bet just to sign a righty who’s mashed left handed pitchers throughout his career? Put my money on Danny Valencia, who has a career 134 wRC+ (Weighted Runs Created Plus) over the Cody’s 109 versus left handed hitters.

Valencia was released by Baltimore on August 15th last season and no team picked him up. And there hasn’t been peep about him since he was let go by the Orioles. No word of injury or anything that would stand to reason as to what would prevent teams from signing him. Of course, you can consider him in line with the other free agents who have been shunned, so to speak, this off-season. He is a below average fielder but his higher OAA (Outs Above Average via Statcast) since ’17 compared to Joc Pederson, Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp plus his production versus LHP in a platoon role proves his worthiness of at least a minor league deal with a spring training invite. Again, the quandary of where to fit a player into an active roster that seems filled raises it’s ugly little head. Let’s not forget injuries happen all the time. It’s almost a fact that about a handful of players will have to go on the disabled list…excuse me…”injured list”…as early as spring training (see Tom Koehler), opening a spot for whoever needs to fill it. So, Dodgers can go the low risk, high reward route, giving Valencia a chance or they can make a bigger splash, landing a switch-hitting super utility player that’s also been more successful at hitting LHP than Cody.

Enter Marwin Gonzalez, whom I consider a prototypical Dodgers player. He’s sluggs both lefties and righties but has also plays 7 different positions and has done so as recent as last season. He’s played them all at either an average or above average capacity. Well, maybe you can argue that he’s had some trouble playing the left side of the infield but that’s fine. Because he’s more comfortable and more valuable playing in the outfield. Since 2016, he’s posted an 8 DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) and a 3 OAA in the OF. Now take a look at his offensive stats, again since ‘16, between playing IF and OF:

As an outfielder-

vs LHP   |   vs RHP

.290      |   .275  BA

.824      |   .821  OPS (On Base percentage Plus Slugging percentage)

.354      |   .350  wOBA (Weighted On Base Average)

As an infielder-

.246      |   .270  BA

.727      |   .770 OPS

.311      |   .330 wOBA

There’s a dramatic difference between the two. In the infield, he’d be considered a bottom to middle of the lineup bat where as an outfielder, most teams could figure him towards the top. Either way he’s a valuable asset. Also, acquiring him would almost certainly excel trade discussions in moving one of the outfielders on the team, most reportedly Joc or Alex Verdugo.

All these moves, regardless of the magnitude, can be essential to the Dodgers reaching another World Series. The holes are there. Whether the team considers them a need to be filled is something we’ll have to wait and see. And even if these players don’t land in L.A., might as well keep them on your radar ’cause it could happen down the line.