In case you haven’t heard, the Los Angeles Dodgers seem to have problems facing left-handed starters. It’s an issue that persisted throughout the 2016 season, and many worry it may continue throughout the 2017 season. However, the Dodgers have acquired even more depth to help adapt their lineup every day to best suit the match-up they face in that given day. So far, through four games, they’ve done just that. The Dodgers have faced a RHP, a LHP, then back to a RHP in the final two games of the series. Their lineups corresponding to each game have clearly reflected which arm the opposing pitcher throws with.
On Opening Day, against a righty, (Option A) Jhoulys Chacín, the lineup looked like:
The following day, against a lefty, (Option B) Clayton Richard:
On Wednesday night, against righty Trevor Cahill, the Dodgers’ went right back to their lineup from Opening Day.
Thursday, at noon, the Dodgers faced Jered Weaver, a RHP. Their lineup, while different, was very similar to Option A. They gave Grandal and Turner the day off and let Austin Barnes and Chase Utley (shifting Forsythe to 3B) get a start in the opening series. Occasionally giving players some rest is a key part in the players performing effectively and not getting as fatigued in the long run, especially in a day game following a night game.
Will they always hop between these two basic lineups depending on the pitching match-up? Even ignoring the inevitable injuries and breaks for rest, like on Thursday, it’s highly unlikely. One could definitely argue for Option A to remain a constant, as close to an everyday lineup as possible, at least against righties. This mindset is completely understandable as they put up a total of 17 runs, 20 hits, and led the team to their first two wins of the season. Even with a few of the big bats resting, on Thursday, the Dodgers scored big again with a mostly similar lineup. Though the stellar performances from Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill, and Brandon McCarthy clearly helped, the offense, in both those games, worked smoothly and struck early. Everything seems so much easier when you score early, doesn’t it?
So far, in just a singular outing, Option B has not looked so hot. They only put up 5 hits and were shutout. This could be simply due to them facing a LHP (sound familiar?), or it could be any number of other reasons. There exists very few smaller sample sizes in a 162 game season than a single game. However, baseball fans panic; I’m convinced it’s a prerequisite at this point. It’s simply too early to know for sure if the Dodgers will truly struggle against left-handed pitching yet again this year. One thing that can be known is how the Dodgers have tried to fix this issue, and how they still can.
The immediate example that comes to mind is Logan Forsythe. Along with his filling-in of the hole at 2B, his leadoff capabilities, and his defensive versatility, he has also historically hit LHP quite well. In his short time so far with the Dodgers, he has lived up to that potential. Specifically on Tuesday night, against a LHP, he went 2-3 with two singles, a walk, and even the out he made was a sharp line drive to centerfield.
Franklin Gutiérrez is another player acquired with the goal of improving against left-handed pitchers. He’s only started in the one game, and provided one of just three hits not hit by Logan Forsythe. He went 1-3 with a single and a strikeout. More on Gutiérrez here.
Another way the Dodgers hope to improve against lefties this season is by certain players returning to their pre-2016 form. For example, Kiké Hernández, a career .267 hitter against LHP, only hit for an average of .189 last season against them. While a small sample size of just 87 plate appearances, in 2015 against LHP he hit .423. Hopefully Hernández can remain focused and live up to the potential he has shown before. He has serious potential value as he can play virtually anywhere on the field, with speed and above-average defense, particularly in the outfield. Another player who underperformed in 2016 is Scott Van Slyke, a career .260 hitter against lefties. Although his average against lefties only dropped to .243 in 2016, the bigger concern is in his wrist injury. The wrist irritation that shelved him for all but 52 games ended up requiring arthroscopic surgery to clear cysts and scar tissue out of his wrist. There will be no way of knowing for sure if it had long-term effects until he plays more. However, two things are clear. One being that he was cleared by the medical team, and made the Opening Day roster. The other being his outfield versatility and ability to cover for Adrián González at 1B, presumably against LHP mainly, will provide a lot of value in a full and healthy season.
Despite the fact that the Dodgers are expected to improve against lefties with these returns and acquisitions, it may still remain an issue. However, looking back to 2016, though the issue of hitting against left-handed pitching was a year-long issue, it wasn’t made particularly apparent, and certainly didn’t make many headlines, until the end of the year. This year, if the matter continues to be a thorn in the side of the Dodgers, the front office can be expected to make a roster move or two to provide assistance. In other words: don’t panic. Not yet, at least.
As the Dodgers head out on their first road-trip of the 2017 season, they can see ahead on their schedule that they are set to face lefties in four of their next six games. This is a perfect opportunity to show they may just have it in them to triumph over their greatest apparent weakness.