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.
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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.