By many metrics, the Los Angeles Dodgers boasted the best offense among National League teams during the 2018 season. The club paced the NL in FanGraphs’ WAR (33.0) on top of posting highs in home runs (235) and wRC+ (111).
To achieve that level of success, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts relied heavily on platoons for much of the year. The method proved effective until the postseason, when the club struggled to score runs against some of the better pitching staffs in all of baseball.
Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman defended platooning and believes the strategy is vital in order to maximize offensive production but also stressed it’s not an approach the franchise is married to. “Our process is fluid,” he said.
“It’s very much a reflection of the players and putting them in the best position to succeed. How we did things in ’16 were different than how we did things in ’18. How we’ll do things in 2020 will be different. I think it’s so much a function of your base of talent at that point and specific players. I don’t think there’s any one process that we are beholden to.”
Given the Dodgers’ stacked roster last season, the club was able to construct separate lineups depending on which hand the opposing pitcher threw with. Only Justin Turner and the now-free agent Manny Machado were regularly penciled in each lineup.
That means on any given night, a notable bat would be left on the bench. Whether it was David Freese with a right-hander on the mound, or Max Muncy and Yasiel Puig when the Dodgers faced a southpaw.
“Obviously, from an organizational standpoint, as many guys that you have are really good against left-handed and right-handed pitching, is great,” Friedman acknowledged. “It’s great for roster construction, it’s great for wining games, it’s great for having balance, it’s great for having depth in case someone gets hurt.
“From the player development side, every year we have very active discussions about strengths of our players and goals. The goals are things to work on and the idea being the next year you can rip that up and set the goals even higher. To a man, we’ve got a clubhouse of really good competitors who want to continue getting better and have that thirst and drive to do that. And I think our coaches are prepared to aid in that.”
Friedman added that in order for platoons to succeed, players must receive a sufficient amount of opportunities. “Up and down our lineup, our guys got to play a lot,” he said.
“Everyone had a role, a had in our success and probably got more opportunities than guys, nine through 13 on other teams, probably get. It helps that our nine through 13 were really talented, capable players.”
Former Dodgers general manager and current San Francisco Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi echoed similar sentiments and pointed out how the 2018 World Series champion Boston Red Sox regularly deployed platoons, citing key contributor Steve Pearce.
“The World Series MVP was a guy who matched up some and platooned some,” Zaidi said. “All credit to him, too. We’ve talked a lot about putting our players in what we think is the best position to succeed.
“Part of it is we’ve always had a deep roster. We think it’s actually a positive for our culture these guys have roles and everybody knows they’re going to get a chance to come into a game and make an impact.
“I would kind of turn it around and say, the Red Sox pitching was unbelievable. From the starters to the relievers, and the starters as relievers, they threw a lot of good arms at us. We had an approach we believed gave us the best chance to succeed, and they were just a little better.”
Now tasked with upgrading the Dodgers’ roster this offseason, Friedman believes the club’s depth that will carry over into next year puts them in an excellent position for further success.
“I think the jumping off point as we start this offseason is something that gives us a lot of confidence,” Friedman said. “We have a really good core of talent in place. As we go about looking to supplement and round out our roster, it puts us in position where we feel really good about what 2019 looks like.”