Welcome back, Howie!
— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) February 4, 2016
By Jon Weisman
The Dodgers’ lineup might be defined less by the absence of a traditional leadoff hitter than by the absence of a traditional No. 8 hitter.
Of their eight most likely 2016 position-player starters — and we’ll count newly resigned second baseman Howie Kendrick among them — none has a projected on-base percentage below .311, nor a weighted on-base average below .319.
In 2016, according to Fangraphs, the average No. 8 hitter in the National League had a .302 OBP and .283 wOBA.
“We feel like the length of our lineup will be a strength of ours, in terms of one through eight,” president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said today. “We feel like the depth of our lineup will be a strength of ours. In terms of the exact lineup configuration, that will probably be more of a topic of conversation in Spring Training.”
No doubt, the Dodger batting order will continue to shift based on pitching matchups, and it doesn’t make sense for the same guy to hit first every game, as Dustin Nosler of Dodgers Digest noted the other day. In the average week, you might see several different leadoff hitters, none of whom will necessarily evoke Rickey Henderson in combining power, speed and on-base skills (not to mention swagger), but all of whom will give the team the best chance to start things off right on a given day.
The front office’s mission has been to create a lineup and roster that will withstand the rigors of a long season and finally conquer October. Kendrick’s February return to the team plays into that.
“We’ve stayed in contact with Howie throughout the winter, but we didn’t think it was all that likely (he would come back),” Friedman said. “We obviously liked Howie a lot from the standpoint of what he brought on and off the field, and Howie also loved playing here. So I think that allowed the dialogue to continue. And as we got into January … he expressed an openness, a willingness to play different spots, which just adds to the versatility of our roster, and that’s when things kind of accelerated.”
The least of Friedman’s worries is how playing time at second and third base will be divided among Kendrick, Chase Utley, Kiké Hernandez and Justin Turner (the latter two returning from offseason surgery).
“Between second and third base, there’s a significant number of plate appearances — 1,300 to 1,400 between those two spots,” Friedman said. “Even when everyone’s healthy, there’s a lot of playing time to go around. And all it takes is one injury, which we don’t know when it will happen or who it will happen to. But inevitably it happens over the course of a season, and the depth that we’ll have on hand is really attractive to us.”
The 32-year-old Kendrick came to the plate 495 times last season, which was no small potatoes but represented his lowest total since 2009. Like Yasiel Puig, a hamstring got the best of Kendrick last season for a lengthy stretch (pun unintended but acknowledged).
“Each guy is different,” Friedman said. “We’ve obviously talked about Yasiel at length. It wasn’t a weight issue in the classic sense, as much as just putting his body in the best position to play 155-plus games, and hopefully staying strong and healthy through October, as it relates to soft tissue injuries.
“Howie hasn’t had very many soft tissue injuries, (though) obviously he had one near the end of last year. I know he does all he can to put himself in position to play every day, and we’re excited to have him. He’s anxious to get with Dave Roberts and the coaching staff and work at different positions and figure out how he can help us win.”
The 2016 Dodgers’ first full-squad workout at Camelback Ranch takes place only three weeks from today. Are the Dodgers done making moves? Are they ever done?
“We feel good about our roster, where we are right now,” Friedman said. “That being said, if we can figure out ways to improve for 2016, we’ll be aggressive to do so.”