COMMENTARY | The Los Angeles Dodgers have won eight of their last nine to pull within four games of the NL West-leading Arizona Diamondbacks. The team has finally gotten healthy and for that reason and many more they are alive and well as we head towards the second half of the season.
One recent change that has greatly affected the team's performance and trek out of the NL West cellar is their move towards a more youthful lineup with greater upside and potential than the over-the-hill and never-were veterans they were trotting out even before injuries began to mount.
If it is youth and the 2013 Dodgers we're talking about, there's only one place to begin.
The Dodgers recalled 22-year-old Cuban sensation Yasiel Puig in early June. It was a move made out of necessity, as both Matt Kemp and Carl Crawford had hit the DL and the Dodgers were in desperate need of warm bodies.
Somebody had to be recalled and with the Dodgers' startling lack of medium to high-upside depth in center and the outfield in general at the higher levels of the minor leagues -- as I outlined -- the choice came down to Puig or Joc Pederson.
The Dodgers went with the highest-upside minor leaguer in their system, and thus far Puig has delivered on the offensive side of things with some spectacular defensive plays mixed in. He's still raw and needs to be more selectively aggressive, as I recently discussed, but he's clearly better than the veteran filler Ned Colletti rounded the bench out with to begin the season.
Scott Van Slyke has -- for the moment, at least -- found a permanent spot on the Dodgers' bench. That could change when Carl Crawford returns from his hamstring injury, though the Dodgers would be wise and better served to keep him and part with either Skip Schumaker or Nick Punto.
Van Slyke provides the only legitimate power threat off the bench and can play either corner outfield spot as well as first when Adrian Gonzalez needs a day off. Scott would be an excellent platoon partner for Andre Ethier in the interim as well, thus increasing his value to the squad.
SVS has walked in 10 percent of his plate appearances; is slugging a robust .569 with six homers; has a .374 wOBA; and has an insane .333 isolated power in 2013. There should easily be a bench spot for any player with those power numbers on a team starving for bench production and power.
Jose Dominguez and Chris Withrow
The Blue Crew recently revamped their middle relief with the demotion of Peter Moylan to AAA and the DFAing of Matt Guerrier. To take their places, Jose Dominguez and Chris Withrow were recalled. The two youngsters -- 22 and 24, respectively -- have quite a bit in common.
Both are right-handed relievers who will add great stuff and great swing-and-miss ability to a Dodgers' bullpen which has struggled this season beyond Kenley Jansen and Paco Rodriguez. Both have a long track-record of striking guys out but are also prone to control problems and issuing a plethora of free passes.
While there will be innings in which the pair struggle and can't find the plate, they have so much more upside than either Moylan or Guerrier that continuing to hold them back in favor of the struggling vets would have done nothing but force Don Mattingly (who's not a great bullpen manager to begin with, as he comes from the Joe Torre School of Pen Mismanagement) into further overworking his relief corps.
While Tim Federowicz is just a backup catcher, every position on the 25-man roster should be contributing something to the team and Tim's predecessor, Ramon Hernandez, was doing nothing of the sort.
The job of the backup backstop is simple: defend. FedEx's entire reputation has been built on being a great defensive catcher, while Hernandez hadn't produced anything of value with the glove since President George W. Bush was in the Oval Office.
Final Thoughts: Youth vs. "Veteran Grit"
Throughout the Ned Colletti Era, the Dodgers have leaned towards veterans over young players for both starting roles and bench spots. Not coincidentally, the Dodgers' bench throughout Colletti's tenure has been one of the least productive aspects of these Dodgers' teams.
This is not due to the fact that veterans can't hit or field, but because by and large the veterans Colletti attaches himself and the team to can't hit or field. "Veteran grit" and know-how and all of those tired clichés are great in theory, but in reality what matters most is being a productive player, and this 2013 L.A. team has finally begun to trend away from those flatlining vets to more productive youngsters.
Greg Zakwin is the founder of Plaschke, Thy Sweater Is Argyle, a Dodgers' and sports card blog. He writes with an analytical tilt about The Blue Crew at ChadMoriyama.com. You can find and follow him on Twitter @ArgyledPlaschke. A graduate of UCLA in 2011 with a Bachelor's in History, he's been a follower of the Dodgers since birth and still mourns the loss of both Mike Piazza and Carlos Santana.
- Sports & Recreation
- Los Angeles Dodgers
- Yasiel Puig
- Ned Colletti
- Scott Van Slyke