The Dodgers Outfield Has Been Very, Very Bad to Start the Season

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

For more than a decade now, the Dodgers have reigned over Major League Baseball through a combination of top-end talent and robust depth. Versatile role players like Enrique Hernández and Chris Taylor have complemented stars like Clayton Kershaw, Corey Seager, and Mookie Betts, while excellent scouting and player development departments have meant that the team has never had to scrounge for spare parts. That mix has usually kept Los Angeles clear of our Replacement-Level Killers series. This season, however, the Dodgers have a giant hole: the entire outfield. Dodgers outfielders have accrued -0.5 WAR, tied with the Phillies for dead last in baseball. Next time someone tells you to imagine trading Mookie Betts, take a moment to feel sorry for the Los Angeles outfielders, which didn’t even get to trade Betts to the infield; they just gave him away without getting so much as a Jeter Downs in return. Let’s take a look at what’s going on out there, courtesy of our the shiny new splits on our leaderboard.

Dodgers Outfield Ranks
Stat Actual MLB Rank
wRC+ 64 T-29
wOBA .263 28
xwOBA .284 27
BSR -0.9 28
Def -1.9 21
Mookie Betts 0 T-30

Well, that’s simple enough. The offense has been terrible, the defense has been not great, and Mookie Betts is a shortstop now. Before we go any further, it is time for me to shout the word April a few times. The stats above are based on just 239 plate appearances. Lots of things are going to change. In fact, one thing has already changed: On Tuesday, the Dodgers called up prospect Andy Pages and started him in center (presumably because they hacked the FanGraphs Slack and knew I was writing about their outfield needs). He knocked an RBI single on his first pitch.

That said, it’s not too early to look at what’s going on and ask some questions. First of all, Jason Heyward is on the IL with lower back tightness. He hasn’t played since March 30, which means the Dodgers have only gotten to run out their preferred outfield lineup five times. According to Dave Roberts, Heyward’s injury is not improving enough for there to be a firm timetable on his return. Following the injury, the Dodgers claimed Taylor Trammell off waivers from the Mariners, but have only given him six plate appearances. With Heyward gone, Teoscar Hernández has been the everyday right fielder. James Outman and Enrique Hernández have platooned in center. Chris Taylor has started in left, with Enrique Hernández also getting a few starts there against righties. With none of that working, Roberts said on Tuesday that Pages will likely see significant playing time against both righties and lefties.

This seems like the right place to acknowledge how confusing the landscape is in terms of names. There are two Hernándezes, a first-name Taylor and a last-name Taylor, and an Outman who is suddenly living up to his name after all.

Dodgers Outfielders
Name PA BB% K% wRC+ BsR Def WAR
Teoscar Hernández 83 7.2 32.5 138 0.2 -1.9 0.5
James Outman 63 11.1 31.7 73 -0.4 0.5 0
Enrique Hernández 43 4.7 23.3 42 -0.1 0.1 -0.2
Chris Taylor 42 14.3 42.9 -25 -0.1 -0.8 -0.6
Jason Heyward 15 0 6.7 11 0 0.3 -0.1
Taylor Trammell 6 0 50 -100 0 0 -0.1
Andy Pages 4 0 50 40 0 0 0

Let’s start with the good. Teoscar Hernández is crushing it right now. After a down year in Seattle — possibly the result of having trouble seeing the ball at T-Mobile Park — Hernández signed a one-year deal in January, and is off to a running start. However, it’s early and he has a .314 xwOBA, which would be his worst mark since 2019. So far, Hernández is chasing much less, making a lot more contact, and not sacrificing any contact quality. He may not stay lucky forever, but those underlying numbers are encouraging.

In 2023, James Outman put up a four-win rookie season by doing what we nerds so often ask of hitters: making the most of his hard contact by pulling the ball in the air. As a result, he launched 23 homers and ran a great barrel rate despite below-average contact quality and lots of strikeouts. That also made him a likely regression candidate. Despite a 118 wRC+, he ran a DRC+ of 84. The D stands for Deserved, and this season, his DRC+ is 81. However, it’s way too early to assume that Outman can’t replicate his 2024 performance or find ways to get better in his sophomore campaign. So far this season, he’s hitting the ball a bit harder and his contact rate has improved from infinitesimally small to merely microscopic. Outman isn’t going to run a .242 BABIP all year, and it’s too early to panic about him. However, he needs a platoon partner, and right now, he really doesn’t have one.

Chris Taylor isn’t going to keep running a hilariously low .069 BABIP or a not at all funny -25 wRC+. Even over a short sample size, those are astoundingly unlucky numbers. He’s been extremely aggressive on pitches in the strike zone. That should be a good thing, but he’s made contact with them just 67.7% of the time, leading to a 42.9% strikeout rate. Because he’s walking and striking out like Joey Gallo, Taylor has put only 18 balls in play. That’s a tiny sample size, so it’s too early to do anything more than note that his contact quality has been dreadful. Taylor is coming off a 104 wRC+ in 2023, and he’s only been below 100 once in the last eight seasons.

Enrique Hernández hit his first homer of the season Tuesday night. Maybe the Dodgers can help him find his swing; after all, he hit much better following the trade that sent him from Boston to Los Angeles in 2023. But please understand how big a reclamation project that would be. From 2022 to 2024, Hernández has run a 72 wRC+, making him the sixth-worst hitter in all of baseball (minimum 700 PAs). The players below him could all be more or less described as defensive specialists; they’ve all put up positive WAR totals thanks to good defensive marks (with the exception of Martín Maldonado, whose defensive value is invisible to defensive metrics and quite possibly visible only to MLB managers). But Hernández has been worth -8.9 runs in the field, and -0.9 WAR overall, making the seventh-worst position player overall. That’s not just a replacement-level killer. His ugly defensive numbers at shortstop in 2023 were eye-opening, and if he doesn’t have the glove for center or the bat for left, that’s a big problem.

Lastly, there’s Pages (pronounced PA-hez), who was called up Tuesday. The 23-year-old Cuban missed most of the 2023 season due to surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder, but he’s already hit five homers at Triple-A this season. We have him ranked seventh in the Dodgers system. MLB Pipeline has him ranked higher: third in the system and 96th overall. After discussing Outman and Teoscar Hernández, Pages’ profile might sound familiar. His swing is designed to generate lift, allowing him to do plenty of damage even though he doesn’t boast tons of raw power. Like Outman and Hernández, that also means he’s going to strike out quite a bit. He started in center on Wednesday and has played there some in the minors, but he’s destined for a corner spot long-term, with a big arm that makes right field most likely.

Pages brings one more thing that the Los Angeles outfield sorely needs: youth. Until the arrival of Pages, Outman was the baby, but he’ll turn 27 in a week. Prorated by plate appearances, Dodgers outfielders are 30.5 years old, making them the third-oldest outfield in baseball. The oldest players are also the ones with the biggest question marks. Can Heyward stay healthy, and if he does, can he repeat his 2023 breakout? Are Taylor and Enrique Hernández still useful pieces at this stage of their careers? The overall strength of their roster means that the Dodgers can likely coast to the playoffs even if they keep getting absolutely nothing from their outfield, but that’s not usually how they operate.

Davy Andrews is a Brooklyn-based musician and a contributing writer for FanGraphs. He can be found on Twitter @davyandrewsdavy.

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CC AFCmember
1 month ago

Put Shohei in the outfield, cowards!

J. Paquin
1 month ago
Reply to  CC AFC

Would love to see him chase down a ball in the gap, soft toss it to the CF so he can gun it into the infield!

Roger McDowell Hot Foot
1 month ago
Reply to  CC AFC

Or, you know, Betts? I never thought I’d type this combination of words, but their best option right now might be getting Miguel Rojas’s bat into the lineup more often.

1 month ago

Yeah i would much rather see Betts in the OF with Rojas at SS. Its just a much better defensive team with those two there. Sure Betts can play SS but Rojas is just way better at it than him and we need him in the OF

1 month ago
Reply to  qrusher14242

The team is almost certainly better offensively with Betts at SS, Lux at 2B and Heyward in RF

1 month ago
Reply to  filihok

Maybe, but Heyward isn’t going to be an option anytime soon. Even then, Rojas might still be a better hitter than any of their CF options aside from Betts.

Last edited 1 month ago by Lanidrac
1 month ago
Reply to  CC AFC

“$50 says they won’t do it.”

~anonymous Dodger DH

1 month ago
Reply to  Sleepy

That seemed to lose something in the translation

Dave from DCmember
1 month ago
Reply to  Binyamin

*slow clap*

1 month ago
Reply to  CC AFC

This would work out so well for them if possible (and maybe will be possible later this year?). They could DH Will Smith when Barnes catches, or Muncy some of the time. It shows how someone who only plays DH actually has limited value, because otherwise the DH gives so much flexibility. They’re obviously not paying to have Ohtani be merely the best DH in baseball.

1 month ago
Reply to  CC AFC

He’s so athletic that maybe it’s not crazy for him to learn to make OF throws with his other arm.