LOS ANGELES -- The upcoming 2020 MLB season is going to be different from any before it, and not just because of its shortened duration of 60 games. It’s also the first time that the National League will see the designated hitter in its parks.
While the Dodgers might not have planned their roster around a universal DH, they are certainly well-equipped to handle it.
Under the leadership of president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers have become an organization that prizes depth and versatility. That leaves them flush with options at DH. Los Angeles is unlikely to have one particular player serve as its DH throughout the abbreviated season. Instead, it makes more sense for manager Dave Roberts to use the DH as an opportunity to keep certain bats in the lineup while allowing them to rest on defense. The 2020 season will feature few days off, which makes finding opportunities to spell players all the more important.
“We are very fortunate with our roster that’s very versatile,” said Roberts. “Our guys, to a man, play both sides of the baseball. … We just have that flexibility. Once the schedule comes out, the pitcher certainly matters, that particular pitcher that day, how guys are feeling after a certain amount of games, all that stuff, but I think that we fit that DH situation as well as any team in baseball.”
Players who could benefit from this include third baseman Justin Turner, outfielder Joc Pederson and infielders Max Muncy and Matt Beaty. In 10 Interleague road games last year, six Dodgers served as DH, including Turner, Beaty and Pederson, along with catcher Will Smith and outfielder A.J. Pollock (plus the now-retired David Freese). That mix includes three right-handed hitters (Turner, Smith, Pollock) and three left-handed hitters (Pederson, Muncy, Beaty), giving the Dodgers ample platoon options.
Here’s a look at why each is a good candidate to see time at DH:
1. Justin Turner
Although Turner has firmly embedded himself as the Dodgers’ starting third baseman, his history of leg injuries is reason enough to give him breaks in the field every so often. His ability to hit both righties (.852 OPS in 2019) and lefties (.939), paired with his consistent on-base numbers (.381 OBP in six seasons with L.A.), make his a bat the Dodgers want in there on a daily basis.
2. Joc Pederson
Pederson’s prowess against right-handed pitching -- .920 OPS in 2019 -- is something the Dodgers want to take advantage of whenever possible. Hip issues sidelined him during Spring Training, and playing him at DH rather than in the outfield could help prevent him from aggravating that. With Cody Bellinger set to regularly man center field and Mookie Betts in right, that leaves left field, where the Dodgers have a glut of options, making Pederson’s glove expendable.
3. Max Muncy
Similar to Turner, the Dodgers are not going to want to lose Muncy’s bat against any pitcher. Although Muncy leads L.A.’s depth chart at first base and displays versatility with his glove, it’s his offense, not his defense, that the Dodgers value most -- he has hit a combined 70 home runs over the past two seasons.
4. Matt Beaty
Beaty, who mostly played first base and left field (plus a little third base) in his rookie season last year, doesn’t really have a regular position open for him. While he might spell Muncy at first and Turner at third from time to time, DH is a way for him to regularly face right-handed pitching, against which he had an .840 OPS in 2019.
5. Will Smith
Although Smith, 25, has youth on his side, catcher remains the sport’s most physically demanding position. The Dodgers will want to give him days off there. But Smith, who posted a 134 OPS+ as a rookie in 2019, adds value at the plate, not just behind it. Since Austin Barnes is available as a backup, and Keibert Ruiz -- a likely candidate for L.A.’s taxi squad -- is waiting in the wings, Smith could take a few days off from catching without the Dodgers losing his bat.
6. A.J. Pollock
Pollock has an extensive injury history that has kept him from playing in more than 113 games in any season since 2015. That includes elbow inflammation that kept him out for two months in his debut season with the Dodgers in '19. Pollock was also a defensive liability for the Dodgers last season, with a -7 Outs Above Average, per Statcast. He does, however, have a .835 career OPS against lefties, including a .906 OPS in 108 plate appearances last season, making DH against southpaws a good fit for him.