Predicting the Dodgers Opening Day Lineup
By Alex Campos
Heading into Spring training, the Dodgers figured to have a very similar lineup to their lineup last season. Injuries have derailed that plan, so let’s speculate.
One of the major issues many had with former Dodger manager Don Mattingly was his unwillingness to stick with one lineup. It’s really illogical to not use all information available and mix-and-match, but fans don’t like change and prefer normalcy. There was hope that new manager Dave Roberts would bring some consistency in his day-to-day lineups, but that doesn’t seem to be the case if Spring training is any indication.
The Dodgers don’t have a prototypical leadoff hitter and haven’t really shown their hand much in Spring training in terms of setting an everyday lineup. With Cactus League finally over and the Dodgers playing games in LA, albeit exhibition games, the regular season is coming up and it’s time to guess how the lineup will shape up on April 4th against right hander Tyson Ross and the San Diego Padres.
Leadoff Hitter- Carl Crawford LF
Already not feeling great about this. Despite his speed, Crawford isn’t exactly a great leadoff candidate. He doesn’t walk a lot and seemingly swings early in the count more often than not. But steals!
Crawford was headed towards a bench role until Andre Ethier fouled a ball off his leg and broke his tibia. Ironically enough, Ethier had led off for a few spring games and looked good doing it, but his fractured leg opens up the leadoff spot and the starting spot in left field. Crawford seems like the most likely candidate to start against right handed pitchers. Scott Van Slyke will get starts against lefties, as he would have with Ethier in the lineup as well. Trayce Thompson may have a chance at making the roster, but look for Crawford to start in left while Ethier is sidelined.
OK, so I wrote this part before this news came out. I still think Crawford leads off, but mainly I’m just stubborn.
#2 Hitter- Yasiel Puig RF
Again, not exactly a prototypical number two hitter. When healthy, Puig is one of the most dynamic all around players in baseball. He’s pretty much always a little hurt and even missed a couple spring games last week, as they reportedly chose to be extremely cautious with his hamstring.
Puig isn’t really the professional hitter that usually hits second in the lineup. He doesn’t/should never be asked to bunt and he’s never been the type of hittr to just make contact to get the leadoff runner over, but he has good speed and hitting him higher in the lineup gets him more plate appearances, which is always a good thing if he’s healthy. He’d also see more pitches to hit with the three and four hitters hitting behind him, as opposed to hitters farther down in the lineup.
#3 Hitter- Justin Turner 3B
Remember how Turner was hurt and there were questions about him being ready for spring training? Well, he was ready. And all he’s done is rake. For the millionth time, spring stats are dumb and we shouldn’t put too much weight into it, but Turner leaves Arizona with 11 hits in 20 plate appearances. Six of those hits were doubles, and one was a grandslam. IMO, if Turner slashes .647/.700/1.176 in the regular season, he will be one of the better third basemen in the NL West.
It’s crazy to think that a guy that was released by the Mets when their offense was terrible is the number three hitter on the Dodgers, but here we are. He’s been incredible in his time with the Dodgers, and locking him up should be one of the top priorities going into next offseason. This spot and the following spot were confirmed by Roberts, so I’m at least going two for eight in these.
Cleanup Hitter- Adrian Gonzalez 1B
The butter and eggs man, Gonzo is the last person Dodger fans have to worry about. He’s old and this could be the year he finally slows down, but other than his age there’s no reason to really think he’ll decline. He’ll give the Dodgers timely hitting, 20 or more homers and hit in the .270 range and be a gold glove candidate at first. He failed to steal a base last season for the first time since 2010, so maybe that’s the sign of his impending decline.
#5 Hitter- Corey Seager SS
I contemplated hitting Seager second, as that’s the type of hitter I can really see him being. He would also get better protection hitting higher in the order, but I get the feeling Seager will succeed wherever he hits.
It might be asking much of him in his rookie year, but I can see him putting up Gonzalez-esque numbers throughout his career. Throughout his 12-year career, Gonzalez has a triple slash of .290/.323/.479. Would it really surprise anyone if this was the type of hitter Seager became? Gonzalez has 290 career homers, giving him an average of just over 24 per year (including his first two seasons, when he had fewer than 200 plate appearances each year). If Seager can become a Gonzalez-type of hitter at a usually-weak-hitting position, the Dodgers will have a cornerstone for at least the next seven years.
#6 Hitter- A.J. Ellis C
I originally had Yasmani Grandal pegged as my starter on opening day, but Roberts stated that Ellis would catch.
Grandal should be able to avoid the DL and should be active, but it does make sense to let Clayton Kershaw throw to the catcher he’s more comfortable with, especially if the other option is coming off an injury. They were both in small sample sizes, but Kershaw actually had better ERA, strikeout/walk rates and allowed a lower slash line to opposing hitters while throwing to Grandal than he did while throwing to Ellis. Kershaw literally struck out 301 batters last season despite throwing most of his pitches to the ninth-worst framing catcher in baseball, according to StatCorner. Imagine what he would do throwing to the third-best (out of 117 if my math is correct).
Either way, Ellis will catch for Kershaw in game one. I hope he wont be Kershaw’s personal catcher throughout the season, but we’ll have to wait and see how Grandal’s arm progresses.
#7 Hitter- Chase Utley 2B
With Howie Kendrick likely to miss a little time at the beginning of the season, the Dodgers will probably turn to the platoon of Utley and Enrique Hernandez at second until Kendrick is back. This isn’t a terrible option, as it seemed to be the Dodgers’ original plan before Kendrick fell into their lap.
For the millionth+1 time, Spring training stats aren’t a great indication, but Utley has looked like the Utley of old in the spring. He’s been good defensively and has swung the bat well, and that could be huge if it carries over to the regular season. He should get the start against the right handed Ross and is probably a bottom-of-the-order bat at this stage of his career.
Roberts called Utley a candidate to leadoff, and it does make a little sense. He has surprising speed for a 37-year-old and usually puts together a good at bat, so flipping Utley and Crawford might be more accurate. I’m too stubborn to do it, but don’t be surprised if that’s how Roberts’ first lineup card looks.
Next: Frankie Montas Season Preview
#8 Hitter- Joc Pederson CF
Pederson should absolutely be in the everyday lineup, except there’s no logical place for him to hit. He probably has the best eye of any hitter, and pitchers will pitch around him if he’s hitting in front of the pitcher. It will probably negate his power, but should help him see the ball well and iron out whatever changes he’s making to his swing.
Of Pederson’s 585 plate appearances last season, 311 came as a leadoff hitter and 158 came as the number eight hitter. He hit the ball much better out of the leadoff spot, but he also struck out 91 times while drawing only 36 walks. In roughly half the number of plate appearances in the eighth spot in the lineup, Pederson struck out 44 times, but drew 31 walks. His disastrous second half makes it tough to find him a spot in the lineup, but hitting eighth should allow him to get on base at a high rate and earn a spot hitting higher in the order.