How Many Teams Might the Dodgers Backups Outhit?

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Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

When Andrew Friedman came over, hired Josh Byrnes, and Farhan Zaidi, the Dodgers roster figured to have turnover. December brought some significant changes for the club and a lot of the focus has been on not bringing back the “power” or “flashy” players, your Hanley Ramirez‘s, your Matt Kemp‘s, your Dee Gordon types. However the franchise has undergone some very significant changes on the fringes, to put it into perspective, 37.5% of the entire 40 man roster has been overhauled, some very productive players are no longer with the organization, but like true economists, the margins of the team have been completely overhauled.

The idea for this post comes from Grant Brisbee’s 2015 prediction article
they have contingency plans for everything. If they made a lineup out of their bench and prospects who will not be on the team

"Justin Turner – 3BAlex Guerrero – 2BScott Van Slyke – 1BAndre Ethier – RFCorey Seager – SSChris Heisey – LFScott Schebler – CFA.J. Ellis – C it would out-hit more than a few teams around both leagues."

So let’s explore how many teams they would outhit. You’ll note that two of those guys are prospects, and can’t accurately be projected, so we’ll set up a range of outcomes.

But first, let’s profile the players that would start on the Dodgers’ “B squad” with projected wRC+’s from ZiPS.

And for the record, these are the players that I assume the team would go to if they had to construct a team out of their backups for an entire season.

Catcher- A.J. Ellis

As far as backup catchers go, the Dodgers have a pretty nice situation. Obviously there’s a reason Ellis is a backup and not starting. (It probably has to do with two lower leg injuries suffered last season). But a .694 career OPS will work from the catching spot nowadays. If you assume that last season was somewhat of an outlier, then the Dodgers might get above average production from the catchers spot.

Projected Production:  95 wRC+

1b- Scott Van Slyke

Remember when Scott Van Slyke was designated for assignment in the winter of 2012? Well we went over that here, but since 2013, he’s hit .276/.369/.501. You can question the fact that he’s only got 400 PA’s since then, and you can question his .347 BABIP, but he has a reputation of a leftie masher, he can hit righties well enough to be a really valuable platoon piece at worst, and potentially an underrated starting first baseman at best.

Projected Production: 129 wRC+

2b- Enrique Hernandez

I’ll go ahead and assume that this is Hernandez’s spot, if by some unfortunate turn of events, Uribe and Kendrick both go down injured, the team probably wants the defense of Hernandez with his offensive upside. Keith Law was talking about Hector Olivera, and said that Guerrero absolutely cannot field, so during a long period of time, I suspect the team wants a guy who can actually play defense, so tweets like this make you feel real good about his future potential as a player on the team

The tweet’s missing an accent on the é, but he’s showing a lot this spring, and ZiPS likes him! He posted a 110 wRC+ last season, with good walk percentages, good power numbers, we’ll see if it continues, but he seems like a future major league player

Projected Production: 99 wRC+

SS- Corey Seager

This is the first guy that we can’t really project accurately, because he doesn’t have any plate appearances above AAA, and his AA production is a bit weird. You know Seager because he’s a consensus top 7 prospect in all of baseball, murdered Hi-A and AA pitching last season and showed some nice plate discipline this spring (albeit a small sample). He’s not quite ready, but will be soon.

Seager had a 154 wRC+ last season, however the issue is his plate discipline, a 6.2 % K%, and a 24.2 % BB% aren’t great. Lets not discount what he did, because those .411 BABIP and .450 BABIP figures in HI-A and AA, respectively are high, but that’s more a result of destroying pitchers who are worse than him. There are a couple of cautionary tales for Seager, Adrian Beltre (called up at age 21), and Matt Kemp (called up at age 22), Beltre posted a 75 wRC+ in his first season, and while there’s a valid argument that his experience allowed him to adjust to big league pitching (posted a 100 wRC+ in his age 22 season and got better from there), he wasn’t ready in his first season. Neither was Matt Kemp, considering he put up an 84 wRC+ in his debut season in 2006.

So Beltre and Kemp struggled in their first season, Seager has been described as the “best infield prospect since Beltre”, and is the same age as Adrian was when he was called up. Remember, Matt Kemp was also called up straight from AA (apparently the last Dodger position player to do so), there are certainly some cautionary tales here. However ZiPS projects him to post 98 wRC+, and of course, that’s not impossible, 5 shortstops aged 21 years old to have qualified for the batting title have hit or exceeded that mark. Xander Bogaerts put up an 85 OPS+ in his age 21 season, so let’s arbitrarily call that his floor, and his projection his ceiling

Production Range: 85-98 wRC+

3b- Justin Turner

Justin Turner hit .340 last year and was worth 21.3 runs above average on offense! And he isn’t a .404 BABIP type talent (spoiler alert, nobody is). But for a backup 3b, he had a career 94 wRC+ prior to his breakout season last year, so it’s not like he’s a bad hitter, but there has to be something about last season that sticks, and ZiPS agrees, it thinks he’s a 17% above league average hitter, i’ll probably take the under, but let’s assume ZiPS for the sake of argument.

Projected Production: 117 wRC+

LF-Chris Heisey

Getting Chris Heisey for Matt Magill is nice, it’s a move that increases the depth and keeps the team afloat if there’s a massive emergency. Heisey as your 5th OF is solid because he hits for power and while he doesn’t get on base nearly enough, that’s fine for a backup. His career OPS is .722 (career wRC+ of 95), trading a future middle reliever and getting major league production is a shrewd move.

Projected Production: 89 wRC+

CF: Scott Schebler

If the composition of the OF bothers you, Heisey can play a decent CF, so flip flop those guys, but it’s a good bet that Schebler can hit a little bit. He had an identical wRC+ to Seager in AA (along with 28 dingers). He lowered his K% almost 7% while facing better pitching, and scouting reports are starting to sound like he’s going to be a major league caliber player. Say what you want about prospects who are projection darlings, and nobody’s saying he will be a regular type player, but he doesn’t have to be for this exercise! ZiPS thinks he’s a 94 wRC+ type talent in year one, which seems reasonable, even if he strikes out a lot and doesn’t have AAA experience. It seems like he’d be better than Seager this year because of their respective ages and Schebler plays a less demanding position.

Projected Production: 94 wRC+

RF: Andre Ethier

Ethier is an interesting case because on one hand, he just looks so much worse now than he did in 2009. His ISO graph says it all, and i’ve sufficiently said that, but the goodish news is he’s only one season removed from a .272/.360/.423 season. He’s not going to hit for power, and there’s always the (increasing) possibility that he just never bounces back, but it’s unfair to expect him to be a completely useless player going forward, even if he’s overpaid

Projected Production: 107 wRC+

DH/PH: Alex Guerrero

To enhance this exercise, lets assume that Guerrero hypothetically plays DH in hypothetical games against non-hypothetical AL teams. Guerrero has had some mean things said about him, most notably about Kiley McDaniel

"He only got a handful of big league at bats in his age 27 season in 2014 and while he hit well in Triple-A, scouts don’€™t think he’€™s a big leaguer of any impact. Guerrero is already a bust"

Yikes. But there’s something positive, he’s improved this spring in almost every way and he’s going to be on the opening day roster. I don’t think that we can say whether he’s going to be as good as the projections say he is, but he’ll get a shot.

Projected Production: 107 wRC+

Mr. Brisbee seems to construct the lineup of backups accurately, even if you just substitute Hernandez for Guerrero on an everyday basis, so here’s the lineup with wRC+ values (100 wRC+ is league average)

3b- 117 wRC+

2b- 99 wRC+

1b- 129 wRC+

RF- 107 wRC+

SS- 85-98 wRC+

LF- 89 wRC+

CF- 94 wRC+

C- 95 wRC+

DH- 107 wRC+

That, actually somewhat resembles a major league lineup. What’s more fun is looking at that projected lineup, and compare each position to last season’s mean production.

The league average catcher had a 93 wRC+, so the projected Dodgers backup comes out ahead by 2 points.

The league average first baseman had a 109 wRC+ so the projected Dodgers backup comes out ahead by 20 points.

The league average second baseman had an 88 wRC+ so the projected Dodgers backup comes out ahead by 11 points.

The league average short stop had a 87 wRC+, it’s difficult to say what happens in terms of relative production, but Seager coming within a couple percentage points of the league average SS seems reasonable considering how little MLB talent occupies that position.

The league average third baseman had a 100 wRC+, so the projected Dodgers backup comes out 17 points ahead.

The league average left fielder had a 103 wRC+, so the projected Dodgers backup is 14 points worse.

The league average center fielder surprisingly had a 103 wRC+ also, so the projected Dodgers backup comes out 9 points worse.

The league average right fielder had a 100 wRC+, so the projected Dodgers backup comes out 4 points ahead.

The league average DH had a 106 wRC+, so the projected Dodgers backup comes out a point ahead.

So lets see, C, 1b, 2b, 3b, RF, and DH are better than the relative league average with SS, LF, CF ranging anywhere from way worse, to slightly below average (with upside), that’s a useable lineup, not one that will get a team into the playoffs, but the obvious teams that that lineup would outhit are:

Philadelphia

Atlanta

Philly’s obvious because their best hitter might be Carlos Ruiz depending on how much you think decline/injury hits Chase Utley, and while Freddie Freeman is a star, and Nick Markakis is okayish, they don’t have another player who figures to have an above average offensive season. Not Melvin Upton, not Christian Bethancourt, not Chris Johnson, not anybody!

Teams that the Dodgers B squad might stay competitive against:

Rays

Evan Longoria is sweet, everybody loves Steven Souza, Desmond Jennings is kinda cool, so is Kevin Kiermaier and John Jaso is, uh.. not a criminal! Everything else is underwhelming, Nick Franklin isn’t a finished product (and if he is, he’s just bad), James Loney is the same, Asdrubal Cabrera hasn’t really hit in 2 years, Rene Rivera had a 114 wRC+ in 329 PA’s last season, and STILL has a 76 career wRC+ in his career 673 plate appearances (that include last season’s!)

The teams that the B squad probably couldn’t outhit, but might!:

San Francisco

San Diego

There’s no way these franchises (or the Rays) would trade their starting lineup for the Dodgers backups, lets just get that out of the way. This is also an exercise, an exercise designed to highlight the Dodgers’ depth. Thinking, “oh my god the Dodgers B squad could never outhit two of their most competitive division rivals” is perfectly valid, but lets remember that two teams aren’t going to win with offense, they’re going to pitch/defend their way to division/wild card contention, and I don’t think people “get” how much the Giants lost.

Buster Posey is *looks around* the best catcher in baseball, Brandon Belt should improve from last season where he was injured for much of it, Nori Aoki is okay, Hunter Pence is really good when healthy, but he isn’t and that’s an issue. The lineup isn’t all that imposing after that, 33 year old Angel Pagan with a bad back is leading off with, Joe Panik is a slap hitter (albeit a useful one), Casey McGehee took a .335 BABIP to only a 102 wRC+ last season, Brandon Crawford‘s improved every season, but he’s still closer to average at best

Also on the Padres point, Matt Kemp and Justin Upton overshadow any hitter mentioned in this post, Derek Norris is fine, and while there’s concern for Wil Myers, he’s only 24 years old. The issue is the infield: Will Middlebrooks, Alexi Amarista, Jedd Gyorko, Yonder Alonso are all kinda bad, Middlebrooks doesn’t make enough contact, Amarista is bad enough that the Padres want to give plate appearances to Clint Barmes, Jedd Gyorko had a putrid sophomore season, and Yonder Alonso has a lot of James Loney (in a bad way) in him.

So the main point, is that the Dodgers have a ton of depth. There’s at least 2 teams in the league that would take the Dodgers’ backups over their own starting lineup, and the team could probably stay competitive with 3 others. Worry about the starting rotation, worry about the bullpen, those are legitimate worries. But lost in the hysteria of “right handed power” is the fact that the Dodgers are probably the deepest team in the league, and with that comes the ability to overcome the constant injuries that the team has suffered through in the Stan Kasten era.

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