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Chris Taylor’s spring training struggles are a concern

Taylor has only has one extra-base hit this spring

Los Angeles Angels v Los Angeles Dodgers Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Chris Taylor hit his first extra-base hit of 2023, a two-run home run against the White Sox March 18. The Dodgers’ jack of all trades had two hits, drove in three and struck out twice. Although the high strikeout rate is still there, Taylor’s two-hit day looked like a promising pivot from the poor offensive spring he’s had thus far.

Taylor before spring training was slated to be the Dodgers to see regular time in left and center field, especially after the January trade with the Miami Marlins for Miguel Rojas this offseason. Rojas would ensure the Dodgers had a solid shortstop to back up Gavin Lux, allowing the Dodgers flexibility as far as where they could play Taylor. But after the Dodgers signed David Peralta to play left field (at least against right-handers) and Lux’s devastating season-ending ACL injury, Taylor’s now the backup shortstop to Rojas, and back to more of a utility role.

Taylor has always been versatile defensively. He only played one game at shortstop last season for the Dodgers, but he’s played a game shy of 2,000 major-league innings at short over his nine career seasons.

This spring Taylor’s been struggling at the plate and is slashing a paltry .125/.263/.188 with only one extra-base hit in 57 plate appearances. Since the home run, Taylor has one hit in 11 at-bats, with seven strikeouts. During spring training, Taylor’s 23 strikeouts are one shy of the major league lead, with a 40.4-percent strikeout rate.

The Dodgers lost a big chunk of offensive production from the lineup when Trea Turner, Justin Turner, Cody Bellinger, Joey Gallo, and Edwin Rios left over the offseason. They really need Taylor to bounce back and have a strong season to help fill the offensive holes left by those departures. Even though it’s a small sample size, and it’s spring training, it’s difficult not to be worried about Taylor’s lack of production at the plate after his dismal 2022 campaign.

In fact, Taylor’s offensive production has been on a downward trajectory since his first half of 2021 after which he was selected to his first All-Star Game. Since then, he’s dealt with neck injuries at the end of the last two seasons, had elbow surgery before the 2022 season and missed a month with a broken foot last year.

Dodgers all-time strikeout leaders

Player PA K K rate wRC+
Player PA K K rate wRC+
Matt Kemp 5,002 1,179 23.6% 127
Duke Snider 7,633 1,123 14.7% 142
Gil Hodges 7,937 1,108 14.0% 121
Eric Karros 6,624 1,105 16.7% 109
Andre Ethier 5,425 938 17.3% 122
Pee Wee Reese 9,470 890 9.4% 103
Ron Cey 6,108 838 13.7% 127
Chris Taylor 2,898 830 28.6% 111
Willie Davis 8,035 815 10.1% 106
Steve Garvey 7,027 751 10.7% 122
Source: & FanGraphs

Last season Taylor struggled at the plate mightily. He hit .221 and OPS’d .677, the lowest of his career since 2016. His strikeout rate ballooned to 35.2 percent. Joey Gallo (39.8 percent) was the only major leaguer with at least 400 at-bats to strike out at a higher rate in 2022. Taylor’s 167 strikeouts led the team in 2021, and his 160 strikeouts were tops again in 2022. by plenty. In fact, Taylor has already broken into the Top 10 in all-time career strikeouts with the Dodgers.

In the 2022 NLDS against the San Diego Padres, Taylor went 0-for-7 with five strikeouts. Most of the lineup struggled in the NLDS last year, but Taylor’s hitless performance was a far cry from his 2021 postseason when he hit four home runs and drove in 12 in 11 games. It wasn’t that long ago that Taylor posted a 4.6 fWAR season and won the NLCS MVP Award in 2017, helping to propel the Dodgers on their way to clinch their first NL pennant since 1988. Third baseman Justin Turner and Taylor were named NLCS co-MVPs.

Taylor’s versatile defense and offense has been a valuable asset for the Dodgers since they made that now infamous summer 2016 trade with the Seattle Mariners in exchange for Zach Lee. Taylor’s spring struggles have become more concerning when we look into his stats from the second half of 2021 and could be a sign of a larger trend. Taylor’s defense will keep him in the lineup, but the Dodgers really need his bat to heat up going into opening day.