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The Dodgers 2014 bench was in a word, historic. With a special infusion of youth, and just enough warts to keep them out of the starting lineup, the bench last season produced, and produced, and produced. Gone are the days of Juan Rivera, Elian Herrera, Jerry Hairston, Bobby Abreu, Tony Gwynn, and enter the two cornerstones of the bench for the 2015 season (and hopefully beyond). Justin Turner who was the most clutchiest of bench players the Dodgers have had in a long while, had strong positional versatility, and wasn’t Michael Young (progress!). Scott Van Slyke, who had a 160 wRC+ last season, minimum 200 PA’s are these players.
SVS was primarily used as a platoon player, so this isn’t exactly perfect, a 140 wRC+ in 600 PA’s is obviously better than a 160 wRC+ in 250 PA’s (even though he had a .767 OPS against same handed pitching), but still, Van Slyke ranked between part time hero Steve Pearce in Baltimore and a dude named Giancarlo Stanton, so he had a great year last season, and this season, he is going to be even more important than last.
Van Slyke has a reputation for mashing left handed pitchers, which is supported by his .892 career OPS against them. SVS had somewhat of a career awakening after he was DFA’d in the winter of 2012 for Skip Schumaker (time is a flat circle), he lost a lot of weight, worked on his swing, and worked himself into, a very relevant piece of the Dodgers.
That’s probably underselling him because in the 398 PA’s since then, he’s hit .276 with a .369 OBP and an obscene .501 SLG. If it weren’t for Adrian Gonzalez, Van Slyke might have worked his way to becoming the full time starter at 1b. Since he’s limited to the corners and first base, his bat will always carry him (despite his defense being not objectionable), and players who have a .263 isolated power and a .362 on base percentage against left handed pitching aren’t going to spend a lot of time looking for work.
Notice that Scott Van Slyke only got 246 PA’s last season, he was somewhat undervalued because of the players around him, Matt Kemp was a starter, Yasiel Puig was always going be an everyday player, these two are right handed. Adrian Gonzalez never gets a day off and the perception around him is that he mashes LHP’s, unlike many left handed batters.
Fast forward a year, and Matt Kemp is likely to be replaced by a left handed player (probably Joc Pederson), Adrian Gonzalez is coming off of a season where he hit .201 against left handed pitching, and Carl Crawford is, well Carl Crawford. Add in the fact that the A’s are historical platooners, and Andrew Friedman loves platooning players (Matt Joyce, anyone?), and there will be ample opportunities for Van Slyke.
SVS doesn’t need to repeat a season where he was 60% above average, but if Van Slyke can settle into a 130 wRC+ type player (which is what Joyce was against opposite handed pitching) from the right side, then the Dodgers will be able to spell Pederson/Crawford/Gonzalez against a tough left hander, maybe that’s Madison Bumgarner, maybe that’s Jon Lester, or Cole Hamels. I’d wager that Van Slyke receives over 250 plate appearances by virtue of the new front office and a predominantly left handed OF and 1b, and because Pederson, Gonzalez, and Crawford all own questions against left handers, and that’s a really useful player to have.