The Dodgers Need Yasiel Puig Whether They Want Him or Not

In the eighth inning of Monday night’s game at Yankee Stadium, Yasiel Puig was asked to pinch-hit against a left-handed relief pitcher named James Pazos. With two outs, nobody on and the Dodgers already winning 6-2, the stakes weren’t terribly high. However, with Puig’s recent return from purgatory Triple-A, it was a good opportunity to give the right-hander an at-bat off the bench over the left-handed Joc Pederson. The result was the first pinch-hit home run of Puig’s career. However, beyond the actual outcome of this one at-bat, Puig’s pinch-hit performance served as a reminder of exactly how important he can be for the Dodgers in September and October.

The latest whispers and rumors indicate that, leading up to the August 31 waiver trade deadline, the Dodgers and Brewers were tantalizingly close to completing a deal that would have sent Puig to Milwaukee and Ryan Braun to Los Angeles. Reportedly, it’s a trade scenario that may be revisited this offseason. For now, however, Puig remains a Dodger. Whatever discord does or doesn’t exist between the player and team ought to be put on the back burner for now because the Dodgers have a role that needs to be filled and Puig is the one here to fill it.

There are a lot of different directions in which the Dodgers could go as they construct their postseason roster, but one of them includes taking the five pure outfielders currently with the team. Did you ever watch Sesame Street either growing up or with your own kids? You know that “One of these things is not like the other” song? Go ahead and sing it in your head while taking a look at the Dodgers five outfielders: Andre Ethier, Joc Pederson, Josh Reddick, Andrew Toles, and Yasiel Puig. (Yeah, that song will be in your head all day. Sorry.)

Who is not like the others? Okay, obviously it’s Puig. This article is about him, after all. But it’s striking to see it laid out like that because those first four outfielders listed are all left-handed batters and Puig is the sole righty. To be fair, that list absolutely overstates the lefty situation in the outfield because there are two other super-utility-type righties who have gotten significant playing time in the outfield for the Dodgers this year: Howie Kendrick and Enrique Hernandez. However, if you’ve watched the Dodgers this season you know that the list of left-handed batters doesn’t end in the outfield. There’s also first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, second baseman Chase Utley, and shortstop phenom Corey Seager. The only unmentioned starters to provide at-bats from the right side regularly are Justin Turner and switch-hitter Yasmani Grandal.

It’s very much worth noting that the Dodgers offense is among the best in the league even despite their left-handed tilt. Only the Cardinals and Cubs have a better team wRC+ than the Dodgers’ mark of 99. If it’s working for them, is it even necessary to worry about their options from the right side? Well, yes, very much so.

The Dodgers are an offensive force that should make any opponents they face this October nervous, but they’re far from infallible. Take a look at their team performance against right-handed pitching relative to the league:

Team wOBA vs RHP

Now take a look at what they’re doing against southpaws:

Team wOBA vs LHP

Oh. Yeah, that’s less than ideal. The Dodgers are vulnerable to left-handed pitching and if they want to win the World Series, chances are they’re going to have to get through any of a variety of challenging lefties. Perhaps it will be Madison Bumgarner or Jon Lester in the NLCS. Or maybe they’ll go up against Cole Hamels or J.A. Happ or David Price in the World Series. There’s also the prospect of facing tough lefty relievers like Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller or even Zach Duke and Kevin Siegrist. Lefties are coming and the Dodgers need a counter attack.

So what are the Dodgers’ options for facing left-handed pitchers? Below, I’ve provided some generic estimated platoon splits for the most likely possibilities, based on ZiPS rest-of-season wOBA projections. (I’ve assumed roughly two-thirds plate appearances against right-handed pitchers.)

Projected Platoon Splits, Dodgers Hitters
Name Bats ZiPS wOBA vs. RHP vs. LHP
Justin Turner R .352 .345 .366
Yasiel Puig R .341 .334 .355
Yasmani Grandal S .338 .338 .338
Corey Seager L .348 .357 .329
Howie Kendrick R .315 .309 .328
Joc Pederson L .336 .345 .318
Adrian Gonzalez L .333 .342 .315
Trayce Thompson R .297 .291 .309
Austin Barnes R .296 .290 .308
Enrique Hernandez R .295 .289 .307
Andre Ethier L .322 .331 .305
Josh Reddick L .321 .330 .304
Carlos Ruiz R .291 .285 .303
Chase Utley L .297 .305 .281
Derived from rest-of-season ZiPS wOBA projections.

After Turner, the impact options against left-handed pitchers are few and far between. Gonzalez, Pederson, Seager, Turner: all four are projected to produce a .340 wOBA or better against right-handers. Against left-handers, however, it’s only Turner and Puig. In other words: whether or not Puig is the additional right-handed threat they want on their team right now, he’s the one they have.

Puig was demoted at the end of July, but that month he hit .283/.389/.417 in 72 plate appearances with the major-league squad. Since being recalled when rosters expanded on Septermber 1st, Puig is hitting .278/.391/.778 with three homers and four walks in just 23 plate appearances. Overall, he’s posted a 113 wRC+ against lefties this season and a 97 wRC+ against righties — and ZiPS sees success in his future, as well. Not too bad for a troubled season that led to a demotion.

Considering Puig’s role with the Dodgers is always tricky, as there is clearly so much more than meets the eye. The fact that Puig was performing well and still was sent to Triple-A for a month makes it perfectly clear that the team is not completely content with his performance in a major-league clubhouse. Making a trade to give a fresh start to both the team and Puig this winter may be the right move for both parties, but for now he’s a guy they need. They need him to be able to make those pinch-hit at bats against lefty relievers and they need him to make starts against lefty starters. Sometimes he’ll hit a home run like he did against Pazos on Monday night and sometimes he’ll pull an 0-for-4 like he did last night with a start against CC Sabathia. The Dodgers can only hope they’ll see more of the former performances than the latter ones throughout the rest of their season.

Corinne Landrey writes for FanGraphs and's Cut4 site. Follow her on Twitter @crashlandrey.

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6 years ago

After Turner, the impact options against left-handed pitchers are few and far between. Gonzalez, Pederson, Seager, Turner: all four are projected to produce a .340 wOBA or better against left-handers. Against right-handers, however, it’s only Turner and Puig. In other words: whether or not Puig is the additional right-handed threat they want on their team right now, he’s the one they have.

A couple of edits to make.

Great article though.

Carson Cistullimember
6 years ago

Ack. This is my fault. Landrey is blameless! In any case, duly edited. Thanks!