AJ Pollock logged 237 games between 2016, ’17 and ’18. His track record for staying healthy was about as dodgy as a weatherman in a weekly forecast and the Dodgers, looking to make significant additions for the 2019 season, signed the oft-injured centerfielder to a four-year contract with a fifth-year team option.
It felt odd. Pollock has a good bat, great defense and the stories out of the Arizona clubhouse suggested that the 31-year-old outfielder was a leader in the clubhouse and someone younger players could look up to and learn from. However, Pollock was hurt and hurt often and the Dodgers inked him through what could be his age 36 season.
But, the Dodgers were calculated in their decision. They knew whole-heartedly that the chances of Pollock getting hurt, even if it were for a few games, were significantly higher than for the average player. Pollock was a high powered magnet, his strength to play was huge but he attracted injuries, most of which weren’t his fault in the first place, more than most other players did.
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“If he gets hurt, we have the depth and versatility to handle that,” Andrew Friedman said on Pollock’s health. “We signed him to be our everyday centerfielder and to provide right-handed balance to the lineup.”
Friedman’s statement on the morning of fanfest, just a few weeks before spring training this year, was true and meaningful. Pollock was signed to provide balance to the lineup and he was signed to be an everyday centerfielder. He was just signed with an asterisk next to the word every day and Friedman alluded to it in his opening remarks.
“If he gets hurt, we have the depth and versatility to handle that,” Friedman said suggestingly.
The Dodgers were banking on Pollock getting hurt. In a way, they were counting on it and if he did get hurt they would be able to fall back on the rest of the already strong roster to win games over a long and sustained period of time.
Pollock signing wasn’t for the long hall, it was for the smaller moments where he could come back at full health, play at his best and get hurt again all while leaving the team not better or worse than when he rejoined it.
So, on April 30 when the Dodgers would put Pollock on the injured list for what would end up being the next two and a half months, the plan was, in a way, in full swing. The Dodgers lost Pollock to a severe injury. He needed midseason surgery to clean up an infection in his elbow and spent weeks with a PICC line in his arm yet the Dodgers find themselves on pace to win 102 games, an MLB best, according to FanGraphs’ wins projector.
When Pollock played just recently in Boston and finished the night with a 3-6 line that included a home run, four runs batted in and two runs scored it was a microcosmic example of exactly what the Dodgers were looking for. They need Pollock to play the flash in the pan performances and with those the team gets a huge boost.
Pollock has played in 31 games this season. His overall numbers are not overwhelming although, with how sporadic his playing time has been, you can’t really blame him. The Dodgers on Monday finished game 96 of the season and with 66 remaining, a healthy Pollock has a chance to fill the role the Dodgers were looking for him to serve.
The naive expectation would have been that Pollock played 130+ games this season when the reality is, if he can hover around 100 games played, maintain and OPS+ around 100 and have nights sporadically sprinkled in as he did on Sunday in Boston, the Dodgers come out the winners of a signing that made little sense when it happened.
Pollock has a body less predictable than a coin toss. His injuries come up randomly and often yet the constant truth is unchanged. If the 31-year-old outfielder can produce over roughly 100 games played each season, on a winning team he is a success and a contributor. The Dodgers are still on pace to have found that in Pollock in 2019.