Constructing the Playoff Roster – The Bench
In contrast to the bullpen which we looked at previously, the bench has been a real strength for the Dodgers again this season. President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman and the rest of his team have done an exceptional job building roster depth on the club – a skill that no doubt stems from their time with small market clubs. Having viable players on the bench allows you to spell guys throughout the season and adequately fill holes left by injury, something that has major implications at the pointy end of the season. With Yasiel Puig, Kiké Hernandez and Jose Peraza currently out with hamstring problems, Jimmy Rollins struggling with a knuckle issue and Yasmani Grandal dealing with left shoulder soreness the bench is sure to play a major role down the stretch and into October. Let’s start as always with a look at how we got here.
Firstly, Justin Turner graduated to the starting lineup, and Juan Uribe was traded to the Braves (and subsequently to the Mets). Austin Barnes and Kike Hernandez were acquired from the Marlins in the Dee Gordon deal, with Chase Utley and Justin Ruggiano coming over at the waiver trade deadline. The arrival of Yasmani Grandal and Andre Ethier‘s return to form meant that A.J Ellis and Carl Crawford were relegated to the bench while Scott Van Slyke maintained his platoon role. Meanwhile top prospects Jose Peraza and Corey Seager were called up late in the season and have made an immediate impact.
With 10 players fighting for 6 spots lets see how it works out. For the sake of the exercise, I’m going to assume that all players will be healthy simply because we can afford to be optimistic in September.
The Contenders: Austin Barnes, Alex Guerrero, Jose Peraza, Chase Utley, Carl Crawford, Justin Ruggiano, Scott Van Slyke, Corey Seager, A.J Ellis, Kiké Hernandez.
So here it is:
Kiké Hernandez UTIL – .308/.350/.492, 6 HR, 21 RBI
Hernandez’ value lies in his versatility, displaying average or better defense at 2b, 3B, SS and all three outfield positions. He’s also no slouch at the plate – something that his 131 OPS+ can vouch for. If his hamstring can recover in time, Hernandez will be a real weapon coming off the bench for the Dodgers.
Chase Utley INF – .217/.284/.333, 5 HR, 30 RBI
Unfortunately age catches up to everyone eventually. At the age of 36 Chase Utley is a shell of his former self. Thankfully when your former self is a 6 time All-Star that shell is still pretty darn good. A World Series Champion with the Phillies, Utley provides value both on and off the field. The much improved baserunning by the Dodgers has been largely attributed to his arrival and will be a steadying influence on the club. His offense hasn’t been great this year but he can still play defense and is a luxury to have on the bench.
Carl Crawford LF – .263/.296/.421, 4 HR, 15 RBI
After missing serious time to an oblique tear, Crawford lost his starting job to fellow lefty Andre Ethier. Crawford has certainly been productive when healthy however and has a legitimate case to start over the injured Yasiel Puig. Like Utley, age has stolen some of his speed on the base paths, however, he has still managed to 9 stolen bases in limited action this year. Crawford could very likely find himself in a platoon in left, at the least he will be a dangerous all-round threat coming of the bench in the playoffs.
A.J Ellis C – .230/.347/.385, 6 HR, 17 RBI
Following a dreadful year with the bat in 2014, Ellis was replaced by switch-hitter Yasmani Grandal on Opening Day. After struggling to adjust to his new role, Ellis has found his stroke in the second half. Ellis may find himself in the starting role once again depending on the health of Grandal’s shoulder, if not, Ellis may very well be the best backup catcher in the playoffs.
Justin Ruggiano OF – .259/.336/.482, 5 HR, 14 RBI
A last minute acquisition at the August waiver trade deadline, Ruggiano may just be the hottest hitter on the club. Ruggiano has crushed opposite handed pitching (L) to the tune of a .315/.367/.589 slash line with an OPS+ of 163. That is elite production by any measure and as a result he knocks the incumbent Scott Van Slyke out of his platoon role on the bench.
Corey Seager SS – .359/.468/.578, 2HR, 11 RBI
Ok we all saw this coming…
The former first-round pick has been nothing short of stunning since his call-up earlier this month. The Dodgers have known for a while now that the kid is the shortstop of the future and for Seager the future is most certainly now. With the well veteran Jimmy Rollins currently the starting shortstop, politics may get in the way of Seager starting in the postseason. I would personally suspect that playing time will be split between the two, with Seager seeing most of the at-bats against right-handed pitching. Seager has one of the most potent bats on the roster and handles his position more than capably. As a result, Seager is my prediction for the Dodgers X-factor come October.
So there’s your bench (finally). Who’d I miss? Who do you like? Let me know below