Puig, Pederson, & Scarl Van Slawford: Dodgers Outfield

This post continues our Depth Chart Discussions. You can find the Depth Chart Discussion posts gathered here.

The Dodgers made a lot of moves this off-season. Exciting, savvy moves. One of the biggest shipped Matt Kemp and a bunch of cash down the Pacific coast to San Diego, reducing some of the outfield clog. Joc Pederson, most assume, will assume the starting centerfield role, while the one newcomer, Chris Heisey, will serve as a defensive specialist.

So, the Dodgers outfield is comprised of one of the most athletic and electric young players in the game today (PUIG), a top prospect seemingly handed a starting job in his age 23 season, and a potentially very interesting platoon in left field.

Pos. Starter Platoon/Backup Depth
LF Carl Crawford (v.RHP) Scott Van Slyke (v.LHP) Chris Heisey
CF Joc Pederson Chris Heisey Andre Ethier
RF Yasiel Puig Andre Ethier Chris Heisey

The Starters

2014 640 16 92 69 11 .296 .379
Steamer 619 22 85 74 13 .291 .375
ZiPS 656 22 102 85 15 .293 .376

We’ll start with the Puig, because It Starts With PUIG.

Some might look at 2014 as a step back for Puig, and based on results, it was, slightly. But you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who doubts his talent, and he just turned 24 in December.

More specific cause for encouragement are the improvements he made in his approach at the plate in his sophomore season. He reduced his O-Swing% from a higher-than-league-average 37.0% to a lower-than-league-average 28.7% in 2014. When he did swing at pitches outside the strike zone, he made much more contact. He also swung at fewer pitches in the zone, and made more contact there, too. These changes were reflected, predictably, in his walk and strikeout rates.

More contact doesn’t necessarily mean better contact, however, and on Wednesday August Fagerstrom wrote about how Puig’s batted ball profile doesn’t bode well for him maintaining his very high career BABIP. Given Puig’s strength, you’d like to see him hit fewer ground balls, and he could make the necessary adjustments to his swing or approach to achieve that. He’s already made significant adjustments to his approach, which Jeff Sullivan discussed back in November. The low number of fly balls he hits is of more concern to me than his low HR/FB%, my reason being that he actually increased his HR+FB distance in 2014, up to 294ft, good for 38th in the majors. (Indeed, Mike Podhorzer tagged Puig as a HR/FB underachiever last month.) When Puig does elevate, he elevates hard. That’s why he should do it more!

But what of his fantasy value? Well, you know, he’ll contribute across the board in 5×5 leagues, and his newfound plate discipline on top of his good AVG will be a boon in OBP leagues. Steamer and ZiPS see him making good on his power potential this year, and that’s the missing piece for me. If you believe he’ll meet or exceed 22 homers, then he’s definitely that top-25 overall player that he’s being drafted as, perhaps more.

Joc Pederson PA HR R RBI SB AVG wOBA
2014 (AAA) 553 33 106 78 30 .303 .439
Steamer 542 20 58 61 17 .224 .312
ZiPS 573 22 80 73 20 .239 .333

The 2014 numbers in the above table are what Joc Pederson did as a 22-year-old in Triple-A. Granted, the Pacific Coast League tends to favor hitters, but that’s a pretty awesome line regardless. The Dodgers’ brass traded a former All-Star this off-season, entrusting the 2015 centerfield job to Pederson when he has just 38 MLB plate appearances to his name.

Neither ZiPS nor Steamer is very optimistic about Pederson in the batting average department (my favorite department at Macy’s, btw), probably because of his strikeout rate at Triple-A and during his brief stint in the majors last year. But before 2014, he never had K% above 22%, and his BABIP has been solid thanks to his speed and avoidance of pop-ups. I’ll definitely take the over on both of those projections; the FanGraphs Fans projection of .261 is more reasonable to me. In OBP leagues, his affinity for the free pass will come in handy as well.

Pederson might not have quite the power or stolen base upside as George Springer, but Pederson is younger and hasn’t had the same level of swing-and-miss as Springer either. So far in mock drafts, Springer is being taken as a top-15 outfielder and a top-50 overall player. Meanwhile, Pederson is barely in the top 200 overall and not in the top 50 outfielders. To me, this difference is egregious, especially considering the difference in the respective lineups in which these two players play. Pederson is projected to bat 7th for the Dodgers right now, but he might be more deserving of the leadoff or second spot than Jimmy Rollins or Carl Crawford, and he might quickly earn one of those spots in short order, if not out of spring training. If that happens, he has the potential to reach 100 runs scored. Combined with a 20-20 projection from ZiPS, that’s value.

In short, I’m bullish. If I could have Springer with the #50 pick in 5×5 draft or Pederson at more than 100 picks later, I’ll take Pederson every time.

Carl Crawford PA HR R RBI SB AVG wOBA
2014 370 8 56 46 23 .300 .338
Steamer 465 10 56 50 20 .273 .319
ZiPS 385 7 55 45 15 .278 .320

Carl Crawford is still a useful player in real life given what he adds on defense and with baserunning, but his penchant for the disabled list has sapped his value in fantasy leagues in recent years. Couple that with the presence of a fourth outfielder who pretty much needs to be in the lineup against left-handed starters (more on that below) and Crawford’s own struggles against southpaws, and, well, one just can’t trust Crawford to rack up enough plate appearances to get excited about.

When he is in the lineup, he can be a good source of steals, batting average, and perhaps runs. But he’s best employed in daily leagues as a platoon, and he’s best acquired at the very end of standard drafts if you need outfield depth. He’s a long ways removed from his MVP-caliber 2010 campaign.

The Others

Scott Van Slyke PA HR R RBI SB AVG wOBA
2014 246 11 32 29 4 .297 .398
Steamer 292 10 31 34 4 .236 .322
ZiPS 388 14 49 52 6 .263 .352

As much as I like Joc Pederson, at the onset of writing this post I was more excited to get to Scott Van Slyke. To be clear, he’s not likely to be more than the short end of a platoon with the Dodgers, and his plate appearance projection from ZiPS strikes me as something of a ceiling. Though, he will be the primary backup to Adrian Gonzalez at first base, too, which could add a few games.

In addition to going all E.T.-Elliott on lefties last year (193 wRC+ in 130 PAs), he was good against righties, too (122 wRC+ in 116 PAs). The latter, however, was propped up by a .413 BABIP that produced a high number of singles. Against southpaws, the opposite was true: Van Slyke sent about a quarter of the fly balls he hit out of the yard. While that number is likely to regress, one can regress a long way from Van Slyke’s 2014 achievements [vs. lefties] and still be plenty good.

I kept Scotty Von Slyzzike in both of my continuing ottoneu leagues (in one league he cost $4) because I am so in love with the idea of platooning him. In a league with five OF slots, deep benches, and daily lineups, he can be a nice boost for little to no cost.

Andre Ethier PA HR R RBI SB AVG wOBA
2014 380 4 29 42 2 .249 .307
Steamer 221 4 23 23 2 .260 .322
ZiPS 472 9 50 61 2 .259 .316

I’d be surprised if Ethier reaches the number of plate appearances that ZiPS has projected for him. Then again, Pederson could bust (or at least need more delicious Triple-A seasoning), and Crawford could camp out on the DL, opening up some real playing time. But even then, how valuable would Ethier be? He was just about league average against right-handed pitching in 2014, whereas he used to crush righties. If he falls into some playing time with the Dodgers or ends up on a different team, keep an eye on him as possible platoon bat. He’s not worth drafting in anything but deep NL-Only leagues.

Chris Heisey PA HR R RBI SB AVG wOBA
2014 299 8 34 22 9 .222 .284
Steamer 75 2 8 8 2 .233 .288
ZiPS 308 8 38 31 6 .239 .292

ZiPS sees something of a repeat of Heisey’s 2014 line; Steamer sees far less playing time. He’s an excellent defender at all three OF positions and will likely see most of his playing time as a defensive replacement with the occasional spot start. His defense and speed make him a nice 5th (or 5.5th?) outfielder for a contending major league team, but he’s a zero quantity as far as fantasy leagues go.

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7 years ago

I have Pederson and Polanco as options for my final keeper slot. Polanco is going about 60 picks before Joc in NFBC, but Steamer prefers Pederson. As an unabashed dodger fan, my choice is clear but Joc seems to be underrated as a power/speed source.