Matt Beaty in 2021 provided above-average offense in what morphed into an increasingly specialized role for the third-year player.
Beaty started games in left field, first base, and right field this year, totaling 44 starts in the field plus one more at designated hitter. His 75 games played in reserve were most on the team.
His most playing time came in the middle of the year, when the Dodgers were forced to fill in for several injuries to regulars. But over the final two months of the season, as the cavalry began to return, Beaty started only three of 56 games — once each at first base, left field, and right field.
Beaty in previous years said himself his best position was “the batter’s box,” and that role manifested in the final two months of the season. Manager Dave Roberts made things clear on September 23 in Colorado.
“I like Matt Beaty on the bench. I don’t see him as a defender,” Roberts said, per Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register. “I see him taking a great at-bat against a right-hander.”
Beaty first made the majors in 2019, and even as a rookie earned the trust of Roberts off the bench, with his 32 pinch-hit plate appearances tied for second on the time, only four behind veteran David Freese. This year, Beaty’s 59 PA in that role were 18 more than anyone else on the team, even though he struggled, hitting .180/.305/.240.
Pinch-hit PA per game
But overall in 2021, Beaty was just fine offensively, hitting .270/.363/.402 with a 114 wRC+, exactly the type of bat a team needs, especially over a long season. He had the most plate appearances on the Dodgers among non-regulars, and owned the eighth-best wRC+ on the team.
In between, Beaty only pinch-hit three times, and totaled just 54 plate appearances in a 60-game season, compared to 268 and 234 plate appearances in his other two full years. There was a universal designated hitter in 2020, and pinch-hitting opportunities dwindled in the National League, down over one full PA per game.
If the universal DH returns, what does that mean for Beaty, with his main role (pinch-hitter) somewhat neutered?
For one, 2020 seems like an outlier in terms of playing time. Outside of a hamstring strain for Justin Turner, the Dodgers were almost injury-free during the shortened 60-game season on the position player side, and Beaty just fell victim to the depth chart, spending a good chunk of the season at the alternate training site.
As it stands, the Dodgers still definitely need to add position players, especially with Corey Seager and Chris Taylor currently free agents. But it’s hard to see a 2022 bench without Beaty in some fashion. Beaty only started five times at DH in 2020, but with a higher slot on the depth chart, perhaps there would be more starts there for Beaty in 2022.
However often he plays, Beaty’s role with the Dodgers is fairly clear. Ninety percent of his plate appearances in three years in the majors have come against right-handed pitchers, against whom he’s hitting .267/.339/.440, a 107 wRC+. Beaty against left-handers is a career .224/.286/.310 hitter, a 65 wRC+ in all of 63 plate appearances, which includes his 7-for-20 with a home run in 2021.
Those splits are an extension of Beaty’s numbers in 2017-18 in Double-A and Triple-A, when he hit .344/.407/.529 against right-handers and .241/.288/.350 against southpaws.
Beaty was optioned twice during 2021, once for a week in April, then for two weeks at the end of August into September, heading to Oklahoma City along with Gavin Lux in what Roberts called a “roster crunch” as the Dodgers scrambled during an especially busy time for bullpen roster churning. Beaty returned for good on September 10, and was an easy choice for the postseason roster.
Platoon preference played out during the playoffs for Beaty, who started three times and totaled 11 plate appearances in the Dodgers’ 12 games. That included getting burned as a pinch-hitter twice because of a pitching change. Of those 11 total PA, 10 came against right-handed pitchers. He had one hit in 11 at-bats, an RBI single.
Stats: .270/.363/.402, 114 wRC+, 7 HR, 40 RBI, 234 PA, 0.1 bWAR, 0.8 fWAR
Game of the year
Beaty had a career day on May 2 in Milwaukee, batting with runners on base in all six of his at-bats. He beat out an infield single to score a run in the first, then hit a grand slam in the second. With runners on second and third in the fourth, Beaty singled home two.
He added an eighth-inning single for his fourth hit, completing a seven-RBI day. His first out — naturally with two runners on in the sixth — was a 99.1-mph liner to center, his hardest-hit ball of the day.
Beaty wasn’t alone in fueling a 16-4 win over the Brewers that day. AJ Pollock drove in eight runs of his own, including a grand slam, the fourth time the Dodgers had two players hit a grand slam in the same game.
With two years, 115 days of major league service time, Beaty isn’t yet eligible for salary arbitration.