Have the Dodgers Found the Outfield of their Future?

Via AllinOneSports

Over the past 10 games, Yasiel Puig, Trayce Thompson and Joc Pederson have started eight together as the Dodgers outfield.  Manager Dave Roberts has clearly made an adjustment by playing all three players together far more often than he did at the beginning of the season when Pederson and Thompson were almost always platooned.  Although Pederson is still shielded from facing left-handed pitchers most of the time, (he only has 14 at bats against southpaws this season) Thompson has begun to establish himself as a quality consistent player.  Puig has struggled offensively this season but has started turning it around hitting .321 over the past seven days. So far in May, this trio is cementing its place as the Dodgers’ outfield of the future.

Joc Pederson DodgersRichard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Pederson has really bounced back from his second-half struggles last season.  He batting average has climbed to .254 and he is doing a great job of driving the ball to all parts of the field.  He is on pace for 30 doubles, a total that would dwarf last year’s mark of 19. Furthermore, Pederson’s percentage of balls hit to center field or left field is up a whopping 13% from last season. Pederson still has a vicious swing that leads to monstrous home runs and irritatingly high strikeout numbers, but he is no longer a strictly three-outcome player as he was in 2015.  Pederson’s offseason adjustments have turned him into a well-rounded offensive player that is a threat to find a gap, not just the right field bleachers.  Pederson is never going to be a guy who can hit for a high average due to his powerful swing, but if he can keep his average around .250 and combine that with a fantastic .370 on-base percentage and 15% walk rate, he will be a four to five WAR (wins above replacement) player. Additionally, if he ever develops the ability to be effective against left-handed pitchers his value will increase.  In terms of defense and baserunning, Pederson is about average in both.  Defensively he is much better to the naked eye than his metrics.  Whether it be poor routes or bad jumps, Pederson has already been 2.9 runs below average according to zone ratings.  He will likely never be able to become more than an average center fielder in defensive metrics, but that is easily overcome by his solid offensive numbers.  On the basepaths, Pederson has decent speed but he has not shown the instincts as a base stealer.  Since last season, Pederson has only stolen six bags in 14 attempts.  He may develop a better base stealing prowess as learns the nuances of the trade, but he will probably never be able to steal more than 10-15 bases in a season.  Base running is not all about stealing bags, however, and Pederson is pretty good at making smart decisions on the basepaths illustrated by his mark of 0.4 runs above average in this area so far this season. The sum of Pederson’s game is primarily based on the value he provides at the plate.  As he matures as a player, Pederson should be able to improve his base running and defending at least marginally.  All in all, the Dodgers have a solid young player in CF that looks to be a mainstay for now, and in the future.

Trayce Thompson DodgersJake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Last week I did an article discussing why I believe Thompson can be an everyday player .  Well, Thompson has continued to validate my claim with his slash line standing at .287/.351/.554 after 101 at bats.  Coming into the season, Thompson was not even expected to make the opening day roster until Andre Ethier fractured his leg.  He has taken advantage of this new opportunity playing tremendously and has now started each of the last ten games, signaling that Roberts may be acknowledging that the Dodgers could have their starting LF of the future in Thompson.  Ever since Thompson has been in the big leagues, he has ranked.  Last year he hit .295/.363/.533 in 135 plate appearances.  Most people did not think these numbers were sustainable since his career slash line in the minor leagues was only .241/.319/.429. However, it is becoming clearer by the day that Thompson is the perfect definition of a late bloomer.  He hits both righties and lefties equally well (.925 OPS versus RHP and a .897 OPS versus LHP) demonstrating a valuable ability to be more than just a platoon outfielder.  At just 25 years-old and having accumulated only 222 at-bats in the big leagues, Thompson’s current success may just be the beginning.  He has the potential and work ethic to improve on the numbers he is already providing at the plate.  Thompson also has the versatility to play all three outfield positions despite his defensive metrics being uncharacteristically poor this year.  He is definitely a much better defender than his -4.7 runs below average rating would indicate due to his excellent athleticism and past results (he was 1.4 runs above average last season in only 44 games according to FanGraphs.  This athleticism translates very well to the base paths, illustrated by his mark of 1.9 runs above average on the bases so far this season.  Thompson is already a very good hitter and baserunner, so if he can show improvements in his reads in the outfield, he could be a true five-tool player for the Dodgers.

Yasiel Puig DodgersKelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

The third outfielder of the trio is by far the most infuriating for Dodger fans.  Puig has gone from being an elite offensive threat in his rookie season to being below average three years later.  At just 25 years-old, Puig’s severe slump since the first week of the season has been extremely disappointing for a player with such tremendous natural ability.  That is not to say he has become a below average player, however.  Puig has hit .321 over the past week, raising his average from .232 to .247 in the process.  When clicking on all cylinders like he was in 2013 and 2014, Puig is one of the best right fielders in the game.  He can hit for average, decent power, terrorize the defense with lightning speed—not including the bonehead base running with last night being a prime example—and field his position at gold glove caliber.  Unfortunately, only his baserunning and defense have been effective so far this season.  Puig is second among all major league right fielders in defensive wins above replacement and his baserunning is already 1.1 runs above replacement level.  Puig has already contributed one win in a little over a quarter of the season, putting him on pace to be a 4 win player almost purely based off his defense alone.  This statistic illustrates just how valuable Puig can be if he can return to even a shadow of the hitter he was over the first two years of his career.  Puig simply has too much talent to continue hitting .250 over the course of a full season when healthy.  It is inevitable that he finally figures it out at the plate, and once this happens, Puig will once again be one of the most valuable players in the national league.

All three of these players are under the age of 26.  Once Puig returns to form at the plate, the Dodgers will have one of the most underrated outfields in the league.  Plus, all three players still have significant room for improvement.  With the Dodgers currently sitting at a disappointing one game above .500 with less than a week left in May, Dodger fans may be overlooking the tremendous outfield trio that is beginning to develop.  As these three players continue to improve, the Dodgers may have unearthed one of the best outfields in the league now and even more so for the future.


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