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How Will Don Mattingly Manage the Outfield Situation?

February 15th, 2014 at 5:00 AM
By Jimmy Reynolds

'Don Mattingly' photo (c) 2013, Keith Allison - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Don Mattingly will eventually have to deal with his surplus of starting-caliber outfielders in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ clubhouse. Due to injuries, there were only two games throughout the 2013 season in which Mattingly had Matt Kemp, Yasiel Puig, Carl Crawford, and Andre Ethier all ready and able to play. While it was wise to keep all four in place as Dodgers this offseason due to obvious injury concerns, one has to wonder how Mattingly will manage to keep them all happy and productive throughout the season if they are all indeed healthy.

'Andre Ethier, Don Mattingly' photo (c) 2013, Keith Allison - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

It has long been known that Ethier could benefit from a platoon situation. Throughout his career, he has hit a meager .235 against southpaws, and 2013 saw even worse production from Ethier as he slashed .221/.275/.338 on the season against them. Mattingly has mentioned that Crawford will require regular rest, but it does not make sense to use him as a platoon partner with Ethier, as both players struggle against left-handers. For his career, Crawford has averaged .259 versus lefties, but his 2013 was similar to Ethier’s as he slashed .206/.261/.290 against them. That leaves Kemp and Puig.

It should be safe to assume that Puig should be an everyday player. While there may be the potential for injury due to his style of play, he does not have the injury baggage that Crawford and Kemp do. Currently, Puig is the best and most balanced hitter of the bunch, hitting .340 against lefties and .312 against righties in 2013. It seems like an unpopular choice given Kemp’s stature, contract, and popularity, but perhaps Mattingly and the Dodgers may be best served by using Kemp in a platoon situation with Crawford and Ethier.

Boasting a 2013 slash line of .320/.373/.480 and a career average of .342 versus left-handed pitching, Kemp would more than adequately complement both Either’s and Crawford’s deficiencies against lefties. Ethier and Crawford could then mask Kemp’s own deficiencies against righties, against whom he slashed .250/.309/.362 in 2013 to go with a career average of .275. Both Ethier and Crawford excel against righties, with Ethier posting a slash of .294/.394/.460 in 2013, and Crawford posting .308/.351/.445.

'Matt Kemp' photo (c) 2013, Keith Allison - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Against righties, Mattingly could opt for an outfield lineup of Crawford, Ethier, and Puig while subbing in Kemp semi-regularly when any of the other players are in need of a rest day. Against lefties, Kemp, Puig, and either one of Ethier or Crawford would fill out the lineup card. While this may potentially be the most productive offensive lineup, it leaves something to be desired in terms of defense. It also gives Kemp disproportionately less playing time, especially given his recent comments about being an everyday player. The playing time can be mitigated by rotating Kemp in against starting pitchers that he has been successful batting against, but it would be shocking if Kemp would be willing to sacrifice so much playing time. In fact, he essentially said as much at Spring Training:

"I'm not a fourth outfielder. We can cut that off right there," Kemp said. "I won't accept that role. I can't accept that role."

The notion that Kemp could be a role player clearly neglects his obvious potential. If Kemp is able to return to the player he was in 2011, there is no question that he should be in lineup frequently regardless of who may be pitching on that day. During his MVP-runner up campaign, Kemp was hard on righties too, slashing .319/.380/.560. The past two seasons have been marred by injury, and his ankle injury was considered serious enough that it was termed “career-threatening.” It may be wishful thinking at this point to imagine Kemp as an everyday and productive player in 2014, especially early in the season. If he is, it certainly benefits the Dodgers significantly. If he is not, then he can still be incredibly useful as a rotating piece in the Dodger outfield. While Ned Colletti said Kemp is not a fourth outfielder, Colletti made reference to the mitigating circumstances on ESPNLA 710's "Max & Marcellus Show," saying:

"After I see that everybody's really healthy, and nobody needs a break, and everybody's hitting both sides, both left-handed and right-handed pitching, and everybody's having a tremendous year and nobody seems to need any break, I guess then I'd consider [a trade]," he said. "But until I get to that point … I got nothing to consider."

This much is clear: It is unfair to make any designations until Mattingly and Colletti have seen what all four outfielders are able to do. Dodger fans should rejoice that Kemp is so competitive that he has bristled at every notion that he may be resigned to a reduced role on a Dodger team with championship aspirations. Ultimately, having four outfielders capable of All-Star production is not a bad problem to have.

 

Tags: Andre Ethier, Baseball, Carl Crawford, Don Mattingly, Joc Pederson, Los Angeles, Los Angeles Dodgers, Matt Kemp, MLB, Platoon, Yasiel Puig

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