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Spring Training Battle: Lefty on the Bench

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With pitchers & catchers scheduled to report to the cool side of Camelback Ranch on Saturday, spring training is just around the corner.  The Dodgers have a few battles ahead of them, but for today I will concentrate on the bench, specifically the primary left-handed pinch hitter.

I'm going to make a few assumptions regarding the bench, namely that three spots are already etched in stone:

The battle for starting second baseman is between Ronnie Belliard, Blake DeWitt, and a scale, as Belliard's contract becomes guaranteed if he weighs in at 209 pounds or less at any point during spring training.   I believe Carroll was signed to be the backup at second and third, starting occasionally at both positions.  Carroll's role would have been the same whether DeWitt or Belliard was the starter.  Much like last year with Orlando Hudson, the market for second baseman tanked and as the winter dragged on Belliard drew closer and closer to the Dodgers' price range.

If general manager Ned Colletti has established any type of trend in roster building, it's that he prefers veterans for bench roles, with the theory that the development of younger players would be better served by playing everyday in the minors rather that playing sporadically in the majors and sitting on the bench most of the time.  Thus, even though the 24-year old DeWitt bats left-handed, I don't consider him a candidate for a bench role.  He will likely either win the second base job or get the DeWitt Discount on yet another flight to Albuquerque.

Xavier Paul is the only other player on the 40-man roster that fits the bill as a potential left-handed pinch hitter, and he also provides flexibility with the ability to play all three outfield spots.  However, he is much more likely to spend his age 25 season playing everyday in Triple A, for the reasons noted above.

Of the 14 non-roster batters, there are two switch hitters: JD Closser and Alfredo Amezaga.  I don't even want to know all the dominoes that would have to fall for Closser to fill this bench role; if anything his shot of making the big league roster is as backup catcher, which would require a few injuries as well.  Amezaga has hit better from the left side in his career, but his .687 OPS from that side isn't likely to win him this role.  Amezaga, who is recovering from micro-fracture surgery on his left knee, is more likely to make the club as the backup shortstop (and occasional outfielder) than as the primary lefty pinch hitter.

That leaves us with two likely veteran options: Doug Mientkiewicz and Brian Giles.  Here is a quick look at their stats against right-handed pitchers over the last three years:

Doug Mientkiewicz
Age:  36
Year PA 2B HR BA/OBP/SLG OPS wRC+
2007 159 11 5 .286/.351/.471 .822 118
2008 281 14 2 .283/.384/.376 .760 109
2009 17 1 0 .333/.412/.400 .812 129
 
Brian Giles
Age:  39
Year PA 2B HR BA/OBP/SLG OPS wRC+
2007 367 19 11 .286/.368/.458 .826 126
2008 424 29 11 .309/.399/.485 .883 146
2009 165 8 2 .221/.309/.321 .630 79
 Thanks to Baseball-Reference & FanGraphs

Both missed significant time last season with injuries.  Mientkiewicz separated his shoulder stretching a single into a double in April, and didn't come back until September.  Giles has an arthritic right knee and he didn't play after June 18 last season.  Mientkiewicz might have some sort of advantage as the incumbent, and ordinarily I would credit him for having defensive versatility, but I'm not sure this bench role will require much glove work.  Mientkiewicz also has more experience coming off the bench, with 107 career pinch hitting plate appearances versus 57 for Giles.

Giles has the benefit of having the more potent bat, specifically in the power department.  He has been hampered by Petco Park, and has an ISO (isolated power) of .168 on the road over the last three years, versus just .100 in San Diego.  Over that same period, Giles hit a home run every 35.8 plate appearances on the road versus one every 117.8 PA at home.  The Dodgers haven't had a real power threat off the bench since Olmedo Saenz (although Wilson Betemit had a nice run in 2007), so the allure of a healthy Giles might be too strong to ignore.

This spot pretty much comes down to health.  If Giles is healthy, he will hit, and he'll win the job.  If not, Mientkiewicz likely will get the role, at least for as long as he remembers to slide feet first.