Wednesday, February 23, 2011
5 Dodger Questions Before Opening Day: What's Going on Left Field?
While most of the Dodgers lineup appears to be stable, with the only major questions being, "How does Don Mattingly plan to give Rafael Furcal and Casey Blake rest consistently?", and "Just how bad is the Catcher position going to be this year?", the glaring hole is at Left Field. Traditionally, Left Field is a place where you can dump a great offensive player who plays average-to-terrible defense, such as Manny Ramirez in 2008-2010. This year, the Dodgers are going to (likely) send out the trio of JaMarcus Gwybbons Jr. (Credit to MSTI for that brilliant nickname), or separately, Jay Gibbons, Marcus Thames, and Tony Gwynn Jr., who are all much less fearsome on their own.
First off, I'd like to point out, that the first name of JaMarcus scares the bejeezus out of me, because of a certain other JaMarcus wasn't what you'd call distinguished, but hopefully the Dodgers won't have to worry about it being that bad in Left Field.
This trio isn't going to scare too many Major League pitchers, because Gibbons had been out of Baseball for three years before his inspiring second half last year, and Tony Gwynn Jr's hitting leaves quite a bit to be desired, to say the least. Thames is solid for sure, and he should do well against lefty pitching in this platoon, and Gwynn Jr. is an amazing defender, and will make for an excellent late-inning substitution. The real key to the success of this platoon is Jay Gibbons, who plays slightly below average defense according to Fangraphs, and Slugged over .500 in his short Dodger debut last year. The defense isn't changing anytime soon, and again, not everyone needs to be Carl Crawford at Left Field to be good, but Gibbons isn't likely to slug over .500 again over the course of a full season. He's got a career .787 OPS against Right-Handed Pitching, which isn't likely to be much different next year, and overall, he's just not that inspiring. Gibbons is probably going to get the most at bats, because generally, there are more Right Handed Pitchers than Left Handed Pitchers, and Thames will obviously be batting against Lefties. Does the outlook look pretty grim? Yeah probably. Left Field doesn't look to be a spot of amazing production in the Dodger lineup, but the good news is, it likely won't have to be.
The main reason for this is, the "traditional" offensive weak spots of Shortstop and Second Base, are going to be manned by All-Star Rafael Furcal, Juan Uribe, and Jamey Carroll. Furcal is one of the best Shortstops in the game when he's healthy (Note: he's not going to be healthy all year), and Uribe hit 24 Home Runs last year, which was 21 more than Dodger Second Basemen hit last year. While Uribe's not good at all when it comes to getting on-base, and he's really only a .250 hitter at best, he's still very capable at driving in runs, and hitting home runs fairly often. Plus, like Furcal, he's a great defender. Jamey Carroll, also a solid defender, can't hit for power, but can hit for average, and take plenty of walks, which is all that's needed out of the bench guy anyway. The Dodgers Middle Infield looks to be very good next year, which should help make up for the lack of offense in Left Field. And if nothing else, the Dodgers have 5-6 good Outfielders working their way up the minors, as well as Xavier Paul if he plays well enough in Spring Training.
I do intend to talk about 5 separate areas of the Dodgers before Opening Day, at a rate of 1 area per week. I'm going to try to be more specific than "The pitching should be solid top to bottom next year.", because really, you can hear that anywhere. If you have anything to say, feel free to leave a comment.