In Autumn of 2014, Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi collectively inherited the main reins of the Dodgers’ front office, and all the criticism that comes with it (deservedly so, or not.) One of their most notable tactics is their wide net-casting in acquiring depth that they view as undervalued, potentially high-upside players. A notable example of such players is Trayce Thompson. As of a few years ago, it would be unlikely for even a fairly knowledgeable Dodger fan, let alone the average Dodger fan, to know him by name, though you may have known his brother Klay, or father Mychal. Yet, in 2016, he suddenly emerged and made quite the impression. While the big names of Joc Pederson, Yasiel Puig, and Andre Ethier loom large above his head, Thompson is vying for a starting spot in many games this upcoming season.
Trayce Thompson was first drafted by the Chicago White Sox in 2009 and made his MLB debut with them in 2015. Just a few months later, however, he was traded to Los Angeles in a three-team deal, including the Cincinnati Reds, which most notably sent Todd Frazier to Chicago. When Thompson joined the Dodgers for the 2016 season, he quickly made himself known and earned a spot on the Opening Day roster. He appeared in 84 games during the season and started 61 of those games.
Although his defense wasn’t always quite fantastic, he still showed strong athleticism and versatility with an ability to cover any of the three outfield positions. His offense, and more specifically his power, was what really grabbed most people’s attention. Even though an initial glance at his slash-line of .225/.302/.436 (BA/OBP/SLG) doesn’t look particularly exciting, there are a few things to look at beyond that.
First of all, that is over the course of just 262 plate appearances – a far cry from an everyday starter’s totals.
Next, his BABIP (batting average on balls in play) was significantly lower than his career average. Over his career his BABIP has been .286, yet in 2016, it was just .255. This can be due to many possible variables. For example, he could have just been getting unlucky, either in simply where his batted balls were going, or the defenses he was facing were better than he had historically faced before. Another option is that he wasn’t hitting the ball as hard. Let’s compare his 2015 and 2016 seasons when it comes to BABIP and how hard he was hitting the balls. According to FanGraphs:
|Hard-hitting Stats||2015 Season||2016 Season|
Looking at these numbers, one can clearly see that although he was hitting the ball harder, fewer of them dropped for hits. This would make it seem that he was likely facing tougher defenses or simply hitting the balls where the defenders were. Either way, this is something that should eventually average out and help his numbers as he gets more playing time.
Finally, back into the main stats. Thompson was also likely playing through an injury for awhile. He suffered from multiple fractures in his back, which was first diagnosed as a simple sore back. His numbers dropped significantly in June and July, most likely when he first started to feel the soreness. However, if we look into his production in May of 2016, we can get a glimpse into his capabilities if he is truly healthy and fully recovered from those fractures.
First, let’s take a look at his standard cumulative numbers:
|Cumulative Stats||May 2016|
Next, let’s look at some percentage stats:
|Percentage Stats||May 2016|
Finally, some more advanced stats, for those interested:
|Advanced Stats||May 2016|
Whatever numbers you prefer to look at, there’s no denying one thing: Trayce Thompson was very good in the month of May last season. It’s no secret the Dodgers have a crowded outfield, and many deserving players won’t make the cut for the Opening Day 25-man roster. However, with recent news of Andre Ethier’s back injury, that could potentially open up a spot for Thompson, in case he doesn’t already have one. Now, obviously, everyone hopes for Ethier’s return as soon as possible, and he is apparently set to return in 7-10 days as of Tuesday. This is evidently a milder form of the same injury, a herniated disk, that shelved Clayton Kershaw for a few months last year, so it could be longer than just about a week. That said, this is where all that depth really makes an impact. If Thompson is healthy, having him on the roster is not a bad thing; quite the opposite really. There is an “if” there, and a big one, considering the Dodgers’ injury woes we’ve all heard about ad nauseum. He had a delayed start in Spring Training as he was still recovering from his back injury, but in his limited, small-sample of playing, he has looked pretty solid offensively. Let’s take one final look at some numbers:
|Overall Offensive Stats||Spring Training 2016|
Although it’s far too small of a sample size to fairly judge, it sure would be nice for him to perform to the potential we saw him play at last May. He would offer another right-handed option for any of the outfield positions. Plus, maybe he’ll show some of his clutch hitting again and again.