The Dodgers don’t have a lot of open positions coming into the 2018 season. Of the starting eight positions only one is up for grabs as spring training approaches. As of right now Left field will be a battle between three players. The three men competing for the spot are Joc Pederson, Andrew Toles, and rookie Alex Verdugo. You can make a case for all three, but all three players come with strengths and weaknesses. Joc and Verdugo may have a leg up on Toles because of health.
Joc had a rough year in 2017. Injuries and poor conditioning derailed him. The left handed hitting outfielder appeared in only 102 games and garnered 323 plate appearances. He posted a .212/.331/.407 batting line with 11 home runs and 35 runs batted in.
Joc’s plate discipline fell off quite a bit from his 2016 campaign to his 2017 season. His swinging strike percentage was 10.3% in 2016. That fell to 9.5% in 2017. But Joc didn’t swing at more pitches outside the strike zone. Actually it was the opposite. According to the numbers Joc swung at 24.9% of pitches outside the zone compared to 27.5% in 2016. However his line drive percentage (20.6% in 2016, 18.9% in 2017) and Hard hit rate (38.7% in 2016, 33.0% in 2017) all dipped considerably.
His defense, which was once stellar, fell off the map as well. According to the defensive metrics, Joc cost the Dodgers 12 runs and was 10 runs below average. It’s hard to cover ground when you’re hurt and overweight. An early season collision with Yasiel Puig and a groin injury prevented Joc from being able to patrol center field like he normally was able to do. Joc was able to redeem himself by hitting three home runs in the World Series. Pederson hit .333 (6 for 18) with 6 runs scored and five extra-base hits in 20 Fall Classic plate appearances.
It’s important to note that Joc posted a 3.4 war in 2016. However in 2017 he posted a negative war for the first time in his young career.
Then there’s Toles. The speedy versatile outfielder came out of nowhere in 2016. That year he batted .314 (33 for 105) in 115 plate appearances providing a line drive bat with some good plate discipline. Toles was starting to hit well in May after a slow start, Before tearing his knee banging into the Dodger Stadium left field wall while going after a fly ball. He was hitting .360 in May before the injury. Overall Toles batted .271 with 5 home runs in 31 games last season. Unfortunately we don’t know if he’ll be ready by spring training, but if he is he should be a strong candidate in left field. Toles is still young enough (25 years old) to come back from a serious injury like the one that ended his 2017 season. After all he was bagging groceries before the Dodgers called him. The guy is very familiar with overcoming adversity.
Finally there is rookie Alex Verdugo. The Dodgers drafted the 21-year old in the second round of the 2014 amateur draft. Verdugo isn’t a huge power hitter but is more of a contact hitting and defensive specialist. He had a terrific year in triple-A with the Oklahoma City Dodgers. He batted .314 with 6 home runs and posted a .389 OBP with 62 runs driven in.
The toolsy athletic kid didn’t perform well in his first MLB callup. The Dodgers waited until rosters expanded before promoting Verdugo to the major league roster. He batted an unimpressive .174 (4 for 23) with 1 home run in 25 plate appearances. You would think the lefty swinging youngster would be able to adjust to major league pitching easier opening the season with the big club.
All three players bat left handed so there’s no clear platoon advantage. Although Joc has a history of struggles against left handers. All three players will be competing for the left field job in spring training, unless the Dodgers make a move before then. So who’s your left fielder?