The Sad Decline of Scott Van Slyke: Can He Regain His Form?

Scott Van Slyke

I never like writing about a player’s failures. It’s not something I ever take joy in no matter how sarcastic my words are in said article. I find it depressing and I never take joy in somebody’s suffering. However as writers we have a responsibility to document everything from the good and bad, to the ups and downs of major league baseball players. It’s just a fact of life. Some players make it and some don’t. Their stories must be told regardless.

With that being said, let me ask you this…What in the world happened to Scott Van Slyke? Most players who see their batting and playing time decline normally happens due to injuries. This is what has happened to Van Slyke. It’s certainly sad to see a a once competent useful player have two unproductive seasons in a row.

Van Slyke reached the height of his career in 2014 when he slashed .297/.386/.524 with a .910 OPS and 11 home runs in 246 plate appearances. He played in 98 games that year and posted a 157 OPS+. His skill was killing lefties and he did particularly well in that department. That year Van Slyke posted a 1.045 OPS against left handers with a slash of .315/.415/.630 (34 for 108) and 8 home runs. Van Slyke has always hit left handers well. He owns a career .845 OPS against southpaws.

Van Slyke was never a great defensive player, but he worked hard and improved. With limited range he was quick for a big man. He spent time backing up Adrian Gonzalez at first base and eventually played all three outfield positions.

Then the injuries hit him, and hit him hard. Back and wrist injuries derailed his career over the last two seasons. Those injuries limited him to just 52 games and 113 plate appearances in 2016. In 2015 he batted just .239 and his OPS dropped to just .700. Last season he hit just .225, slugged only one home run and saw his OPS plummet to .606. After slugging .524 in 2014, he slugged .383 and .314 in 2015 and 2016 respectively. At the end of August his season ended early when he had to undergo arthroscopic surgery on his wrist.

On December 1 he signed a one-year 1.3 million dollar contract with the Dodgers avoiding arbitration. Van Slyke is out of options and faces some stiff competition for a roster spot this spring. If Van Slyke fails to make the major league club then the Dodgers will have to place him on unconditional waivers, meaning he could be designated for assignment or given his outright release.

Van Slyke will have to compete with several players this spring. The Dodgers recently acquired outfielder/first baseman Darin Ruf from the Phillies in the Howie Kendrick deal and just recently acquired lefty mashing Franklin Gutierrez via free agency. Van Slyke has served primarily as a fourth or fifth outfielder and backup at first base. However the Dodgers also have several other players that can play the outfield in a crowded mix.

Can Van Slyke return to form, especially against left handers? Last season he hit only .243 against left handers and his raw power dropped from .226 in 2014 to .088 in 2016. He hit only one home run last year.

Can Van Slyke regain his form in 2017? We’ll find out soon, but rest assured we’ll be here to chronicle his entire fate from beginning to end. Here’s hoping he makes it.

Scott Andes

Scott Andes

Scott Andes: Former Co-editor of Lasorda’s Lair. Longtime writer and Dodger fanatic

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32 thoughts on “The Sad Decline of Scott Van Slyke: Can He Regain His Form?

  1. Well decline do to injuries is not uncommon. A lot of players have had that happen to them. I for one do not think Ruf is any threat to Scotty because A. Scott is a much better fielder, and can play multiple positions and B. Ruf sucks. Gutierrez has as noted a condition that is degenerative and will probably at some point land him on the DL. If Scott is healthy and mashing the ball, he will beat out Ruf with no problem, he probably would beat out Toles who has options remaining. His versatility is a plus, and since I have always liked him anyway, I hope he goes to ST and kicks ass.

  2. One would think he would have passed a thorough medical examination before being paid $1.3mm. But, who knows. When it comes to Dodgers, medical exams are either not thorough or not of any real importance. We’ve been signing the infirmed for quite a few years now. But one has to look at the recent signing of Gutierrez and wonder which of those two guys is going to get the bulk of at bats against the lh pitchers in this league. We really didn’t need Gutierrez if SVS is whole. Those other guys, including Toles, are in the minors if Ethier and Van Slyke are healthy. Looking at this roster it wouldn’t be a stretch to say we may lead the league in 10 day DL visits.

  3. I must be stupid, I just can’t get hang of this new math. Supposedly we can’t sign any of the supposedly better players because we our salary level is in penalty territory. So we sign Kazmir ($16MM), trade for and resign Hill ($16MM) and add Ruf and Gutierrez at about $5MM (total $37MM). Why couldn’t we have signed Cuetto ($21MM), traded the THREE prospects to Pittsburgh for McCutcheon ($14MM) and been in a helluva better position and several million dollars ahead? FO is a genius, he conned these super rich but incredibly dumb, guys to overpay him to play Fantasy Baseball with the Dodgers.

    1. There was only one guy I remember insisting payroll was going to be dropped below luxury tax level. As he was saying that payroll went up, including the signing of some Cubans to obscene contracts. I do think they will keep it under what it was that first year here, but I don’t believe there is a real rush to do it. Why not Cueto? I have no answer other than they didn’t believe he was worth it. It’s clear to me FAZ is doing what they are doing because it’s what they know.

  4. I am very confused by the moves made by the Braintrust, especially the decisions to sign Utley and Gutierrez. If the latter remains on the roster then there is no place for Van Slyke or Ruf. I don’t care about Ruf, but Van Slyke is the right-handed 1B the team needs to spell Gonzalez against tough lefties and Gutierrez doesn’t play 1B. While Utley might he is another lefty so that doesn’t solve anything.

    If the team has lost confidence in Van Slyke to do the job then why resign him? If the Braintrust thinks he can then why sign Gutierrez? There is no place for both of them on the 25 man roster.

    As I posted yesterday, assuming no big trades between now and the start of the season, I see the starting OF as Ethier, Pederson and Puig. Assuming Gonzalez is the starting 1B as well. If the bench is 4 or 5 and Barnes is one, Utley another, a guy who plays SS another (probably Hernandez) that leaves 1 or 2 spots for the likes of Van Slyke, Gutierrez, Toles, Trayce Thompson, Ruf, etc. I have to believe that the Braintrust keeps Gutierrez which probably means Thompson on the 60 DL, Ruf gets DFA’d, Toles gets optioned, and Van Slyke gets optioned too. (He has one option left.)

    This bench doesn’t leave much room for flexibility; Utley only plays 2B and 3B, Gutierrez only OF, Barnes can’t play much as it would leave the Dodgers without a backup C on the bench. Only Hernandez can play SS and he’s not good there. Only lefty bat on the bench would be Utley.

  5. I don’t have a clue, but I have read that Kershaw, and the rest of the players, wanted Utley back, and that is why the front office, brought Utley back.

    And I read that Roberts, prefered veterans, on the bench.

    The thing about Scott, is that he has been injured quite a bit, considering he is only a part time player.

    But I see going with Scott, because he saves some room on the roster, since he can give Agone a day off, against tough lefties, and non of the other outfielders, can do that.

    And I don’t see any other rightie hitter, that can do what Scott does either.

    And isn’t always the outfield, that has to many players every year?

  6. Rick’s concerns are legitimate. We have a crowded house and several of these signings come without options. Utley looks like a clubhouse signing as much, or more, as help on the field. Maybe he spells Turner some. Gutierrez and SVS look like the same guy on offense, with resting AGon a few games as advantage SVS. But we have Squirrel for that job too. It’s all gonna sort itself out somehow. Guys like Taylor, Segedin and Culberson might become invisible. Seager is going to play 150+ so is there really a need for Taylor? Maybe Hernandez can fill in as a super utility guy. I don’t know. The good news is we have a lot of talented baseball players in camp this year.

    1. Badger

      I don’t think Grandal should play first, it would be better to give him his days off.

      Catching is way to physically demanding, not to make sure your catcher gets plenty of rest.

      And I believe Scotty will hit better and he gets plenty of rest, inbetween his starts, anyways.

      1. Don’t you want Grandal’s bat in the lineup every chance you can get it? I think playing first base on occasion is like a day off for a catcher.

  7. A nicely written article again Scott. You’re on a roll.

    Agree wit Dodger Rick (and many others) in regards to the bench. I understand Utley as a clubhouse signing, and while I have no problems with that, to be fair this does put us in a bind in terms of handedness off the bench.

    I think that the last bench guy will have to play shortstop so I think SVS is off the 25 man as well, assuming all of our AAAA players makes it through ST healthy and not totally sucking. I am also persuaded by Rick’s impeccable logic in the prior thread that, ceteris paribus, Gutierrez’s signing blocks Toles.

    So while it is early in spring training, I am not happy how the bench projects. Further, I am completely bummed about the (very likely) scenario of Toles starting in AAA. That is just the wrong signal to send. He has something the rest of the lineup lacks (speed) and wouldn’t he learn how to apply that more by sitting on the bench with one of the all time great baserunners in Utley? People talk about Seager being mentored by Utley, etc., but the guy that could really use Utley’s help in terms of hitting and running is Toles. I think just be watching how Utley runs bases and prepares to pinch hit will help Toles immensely. And Toles is a quiet, character guy who’s been praised as being hard working and coachable.

    As for Grandal spelling AGon at first, I’d rather have SVS if he is ready to go. Notwithstanding the optimism of a few, I don’t see Grandal playing 140+ games this year based on his history. Is it unfair for me to think that probably the most compelling reason that a young athlete would do steroids when he is a younger player is because he knows that he is (comparatively speaking) a slow healer?

    Anyways, even if Grandal could play 140 games, I don’t want him to, because we are likely to be playing past the regular season and I don’t want any reasons for him to be fatigued in the postseason. Same with the older guys like Turner and AGon, both of whom we really need in our lineup to do well. I don’t them getting tired either. Hence I can dig the Utley signing because I am hoping he and Forsythe can give Turner A-Gon enough days off so they are fresh come playoff time. Winning in the postseason is hard and I’d like more than half of our hitters to get on a roll in the postseason for once.

    Our team may be grinders by they are iron men. At some point we need to focus on bench to keep our best hitters fresh and just let the LH hitting problem play itself out. With the signings of Ruf and Gutierrez, it seems to me that we are over-doing it with the handedness, and if Gutierrez makes the 25 man roster, I don’t expect him to spell anyone much in the field with his medical condition. A fresh A-Gon, Turner and Grandal mashing in the post season is what is needed, even if we go a guy like SVS. I like Gutierrez and appreciate his work, but it is what it is.

  8. Grandal only caught 109 games last year. He played 1b in 4. He’s just 28 so why can’t he play his position like other catchers do? Yadier Molina is 6 years older than Yasmani and caught 145 last year. Salvador Perez, Russell Martin, Jonathan Lucroy, Brian McCann, Buster Posey all played in more games than Candypants Grandsquirrel. Put your big boy jeans on and get in the game Yasmani. Maybe if he gets more AB’s he can hit higher than .230.

    1. Badger, I agree and am frustrated about it, but I’ve resigned myself to the likely fact that Grandal is not a big boy, and I don’t want to risk this issue since Utley or SVS can back up first. If it were anyone else, or you or even me, then I’d be all for playing first base on off days and my batting would not suffer one bit (read: won’t be worse, or can’t be worse).

      I just don’t think Grandal is tougher than me or you or most people.

      1. YF

        I think the fact that Grandal leaves his glove in the strike zone so long, it makes him vulnerable to getting hit by a pitch, because he is trying to get a strike, and sometimes, I think it takes him out of position to protect himself on pitches, that are not in the strike zone, or are a little wild.

        In other words, he risks his body, to make sure he is presenting the pitchers pitch, in the strike zone.

        I would be happy if he could improve on his batting average, and improve on his throwing.

        Because it seems like he double clutched a lot of throws, toward the end of the season, last year.

        But he was coming back from a surgery, last year too.

        1. MJ, my concept of pitch framing is just the opposite of yours. I contend it is catching the ball outside the strike zone and quickly moving the mitt into the zone, hoping to fool the ump. Which is it, expurts? (Note deliberate mis-spelled word)

  9. Didn’t Forsyth play some shortstop in the past? Maybe in ST we can find out if he’s okay to play there when needed, with Utley playing second. He can’t be worse there than KiKi.

    1. Emerson

      I know Forsyth does play third base, so he could move over to third, to give Turner a day off, and Utley could play second.

      I would expect Forsyth might be able to play a little shortstop, at least a little better then Turner did, because he is a little younger, as long as he hasn’t had knee problems, or other types of injuries, that would affect his range.

    2. Jonah and Bluto

      From what I have heard and read, for a catcher to be a good framer, they shouldn’t have to much movement.

      They need to be as quiet as they can, and have as less movement as they can, behind the plate, so it won’t look like how you two, have just described it.

      Remember a catcher knows a head of time, where the pitch is suppose to be, so they already have there glove in that pricise place.

      Catchers do move the pitch, into the strike zone at times, but any big type of movement, will make it look like, the pitcher missed there spot.

      And umpires tend not to give pitchers strikes, if they are not consistently in the strike zone.

      1. I do think they give to much credit for framing, because it seems to be more important, then throwing, and blocking pitches, at times.

        I think Grandal was a little better at blocking pitches last year, but I think his throwing was a problem, at times.

        And I know they steal mostly on the pitcher, but I thought Grandal should have done much better throwing, then he did, last year.

        He had trouble, just getting the pitch, into his hand, to throw it.

        It seemed like he almost double clutched every throw he tried, in the later part, of the season.

      2. Ah. I have no idea what makes a good “framer.” I get how it’s measured by using pitch location data. And I fully get how important it can be.

  10. You know my position on pitch framing. The guy who trained me, a former AA umpire, ran several umpiring clinics in Northern California, said it’s simple “you don’t see a strike, you don’t call a strike”. Same with outs. If you’re not sure, it’s a ball or the runner is safe. Reducing it to that level made made it simpler for me. You don’t guess. One thing I KNOW about borderline calls – if the catcher moves his glove, he ain’t sure. I used to tell them if they’re not sure then it’s probably a ball. Most stopped doing it, some just did it automatically, but that was usually the younger ones. College catchers, semi pro catchers, those guys a little older learned how to “receive” an edge pitch. I called it a “quiet” glove. I worked with a few on it and most were grateful. Give me a good look, respect that I’m good at my job, and I’ll call the corners. The idea that a ML umpire can get fooled by a catcher moving his glove is laughable to me. But, somebody has algorithms to prove me wrong. Whatever. What I value in a catcher – I appreciate guys that can catch EVERYTHING, even pitches that bounce in the batters box, and can throw rocket strikes to all bases controlling the run game. From what I’ve seen, that ain’t Yazmanny McSquirrel.

    1. Badger

      That is why I said that the less movement, the better.

      These front office’s count framing, but like I said, I think there is a little to much, given to that particular stat.

      But I still think that Grandal tries to present the ball so much, that that causes him, to get hurt.

      Do you have your TV on, I can’t take it.

      1. Maybe everyone should look at it, like this.

        Some catchers do a better job of presenting a pitch, and that makes it easier, for an umpire, to see the pitcher’s pitches, and that makes it easier for the umpire, to see the strike zone, better.

        It isn’t necessarily, trying to trick the umpire into, calling a ball, a strike.

        And certain catchers, might get to much in the way, of an umpire’s, view.

        And because of this, an umpire, might not be able to see the pitcher’s pitches as well, or the true strike zone, and that makes it harder on an umpire, to call balls, and strikes.

        1. Presenting. Interesting choice of words. I called it a quiet glove. It doesn’t move. You just catch it, without any drama, like it came exactly where you expected it to. Remember, by the time the ball reaches the glove, an ump already knows whether it’s a strike or a ball because it went over the plate about 4′ ago. And you are right that a catcher needs to be aware of obstructing the blue’s view’s. Big catchers that stand up can be a problem.

          1. Badger

            Almost every catcher moves there mitt slightly, to try to make a pitch look better.

            An umpire might know it is a strike or ball, before it hits the mitt, but most umpires, don’t make the call, until after the ball, is in the mitt.

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