LOS ANGELES — Left field at the moment is up for grabs on the Dodgers for 2017, and the one thing we know is that the leader in games and innings in left from 2016 won’t be around for a repeat with Friday’s trade of Howie Kendrick to the Phillies. But instability has been the name of the game for some time at the position.
Andrew Toles was the starter against right-handed pitchers in the playoffs, as well as most of September, and on Friday general manager Farhan Zaidi mentioned Andre Ethier, Trayce Thompson and Scott Van Slyke — all of whom were hurt for long stretches in 2016 — as left field options as well.
“Right now we actually feel good about the group of guys we have,” Zaidi said. "With Toles and the way he played down the stretch and in the playoffs and the guys who I mentioned that had some injury issues, it’s not a position that we are targeting right now in terms of bringing another guy in.”
Kiké Hernandez made 22 starts in left field and played 207 defensive innings at the position in 2016, second on the team. Darin Ruf, acquired from Philadelphia in the Kendrick deal, has averaged 40 games in left field between the majors and minors for the last four years, so he could be in the mix as well, at least in a pinch.
Kendrick, a career second baseman, started 79 games in left field in 2016 for the Dodgers and played 675⅓ innings there, 46.5% of the season. Whenever anyone checks the 2016 Dodgers page on Baseball-Reference.com, Kendrick will be listed as the left fielder.
Baseball-Reference determines the regular at each position by most defensive innings there. In some cases, a player might lead a team in innings in two different positions; in that case, that player would be listed at the position he played most, and the other position would list the player with the second-most innings. This happened in 2011 with the Dodgers, when Jamey Carroll led the club in innings at both second base (549⅓) and shortstop (504⅔). The 2011 Dodgers page shows Carroll at second base, with Dee Gordon and his 446⅓ innings as the shortstop.
Which brings us back to left field.
Dating back to 2001, the Dodgers have had 13 different regular left fielders in 16 years. The list:
2001: Gary Sheffield (141 starts, 1,195 innings)
2002: Brian Jordan (119, 1,020⅔)
2003: Jeromy Burnitz (48, 409)
2004: Jayson Werth (58, 526)
2005: Ricky Ledee (46, 390⅓)
2006: Ethier (99, 895⅔)
2007: Luis Gonzalez (126, 996)
2008: Juan Pierre (71, 622⅔)
2009: Manny Ramirez (99, 812)
2010: Ramirez (46, 359⅔)
2011: Tony Gwynn, Jr. (60, 624⅓)
2012: Shane Victorino (48, 411)
2013: Carl Crawford (96, 835⅔)
2014: Crawford (80, 736)
2015: Crawford (42, 346⅔)
2016: Kendrick (79, 675⅓)
Unless Ethier leads the Dodgers in left field innings next year, that will make 14 different regulars at the position in 17 years.
Looking at the list, that’s one person (Crawford) to start even half the games in left field in a season in the last seven years. And only one person (Gonzalez) to start 100 or more games in left field in the last 14 seasons.
Note: the 100-game cutoff is quite convenient, especially with two 99-game seasons (Ethier, Manny) and a 96-game season (Crawford) above.
To put that last part in perspective, here are the number of times the Dodgers have had a 100-game starter at each position from 2003-2016:
It is important to note that while relatively lacking in everyday left fielders over the last decade and a half, it isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and sometimes has been by design, and with good results.
In five of the last 13 seasons (2003-16), the Dodgers have gotten at least 4 Wins Above Replacement (FanGraphs version) out of left field. That includes 2014 (136 wRC+, 6.7 fWAR) and 2015 (114 wRC+, 5.6 fWAR), seasons that saw heavy platooning at the position.
In theory, the Dodgers have several pieces that — if healthy — could add up to one very productive season in left field.
Or they could spend $100 million or so on Yoenis Cespedes.