Dodgers: Defensive Questions Heading Into Spring Training

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 25: Austin Barnes
LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 25: Austin Barnes /

The Dodgers were one of the best defensive teams last season. A big part came from a player who ended up getting benched, and a player who the front office tried to trade this offseason.

Two of the Dodgers top defenders were benched towards the end of last season. One was Joc Pederson, who was replaced in center field by Chris Taylor. Though Pederson was benched, he made a solid claim to re-enter the starting lineup as a left fielder in the postseason. He is not the benched player mentioned above.

Yasmani Grandal is the other defensive stalwart that was benched due to virtually no production offensively. Grandal is one of the best defensive catchers in the league when he isn’t tired, and in 2016 he was exhausted from taking on all the work. In 2017, Dave Roberts did a solid job of splitting the workload between Grandal and Austin Barnes, and the latter’s offensive production eventually awarded him the starting job.

The former Hurricane has plenty of pop in his switch-hitting bat, but as with most power hitters, he just whiffed too much. That was also the case behind the plate. Grandal allowed a NL-leading 16 pass balls during the season.

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Austin Barnes will likely take the starting job at season’s opening, as he should, but there are two concerns that go along with that. First, Barnes’ arm is not something to fear for would-be base stealers. Second, his ability to call games was questionable at times during the postseason.

Yasmani Grandal was a catcher when he was brought up. He is used to pop time, footwork, power, accuracy etc. In 2017, he threw out 21 of the 44 runners that attempted to steal on him. On the other hand, Barnes only threw out seven of the 24 that ran on him. Though stolen bases have faded from the modern game, it’s still important to have the threat of an arm behind the plate, especially in October.

Barnes was brought up as a second baseman, which explains his lack of an arm and ability to put down the right fingers. Grandal had a solid catcher’s ERA at 3.24, while Barnes’ was a 3.80. Results aside, the World Series was not the best showing of the pitch-calling, decision making, and player execution. The Dodgers pitchers were not able to exploit the Astros hitters’ weaknesses (every hitter has at least one) and relied too much on one dimensional pitch-calling.

A few days ago, news broke that the Dodgers tried to trade Yasiel Puig to the Boston Red Sox for outfield guru Jackie Bradley Jr. The trade was quickly shot down, but the news showed the Dodgers are looking to trade Puig after a phenomenal 2017 season.

Puig turned his career around by smacking 29 home runs during the 2017 season. He also knocked in 10 in a very impressive October. Perhaps his most valuable improvement, however, was his defense. Puig narrowly lost the Gold Glove to Jason Heyward, but he definitely deserved it.

If the trade had gone through, the Dodgers would be losing the second-best right fielder in the National League, along with his power numbers. Bradley Jr. is a supreme center fielder which would solve the question as to who will start there in 2018, but his bat is something the Dodgers would miss Puig for.

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Don’t get me wrong, Austin Barnes should be the starting catcher when April rolls around. But the two questions around his game will be closely looked at throughout the season. As to the outfield situation, it might be best to hang on to Puig and have Chris Taylor start in center. He improved dramatically in his short time last season, who knows if he can transform himself into a full-time center fielder with more reps.