2012 Dodgers in Review #6: 1B/OF Juan Rivera

October 20, 2012 at 9:00 am | Posted in 2012 in Review, Juan Rivera | Leave a comment

.244/.286/.375 339pa 9hr -0.8 fWAR D-

2012 in brief: “RBI machine” somehow underwhelmed even the incredibly low expectations we had for him.

2013 status: Dodgers hold $500k buyout of $4m team option which is unlikely to be picked up… we hope.

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When the Dodgers committed millions towards bringing back Juan Rivera, a player who was awful enough in 2011 to get DFA’d by Toronto and had one good month the entire season, we were, oh, let’s say, “unhappy”:

While I’ve said that I’m okay with Rivera on this club as a OF/1B platoon bat against lefties, no one pays that much for someone to be a backup. That means that Rivera is almost certainly going to be your starting left fielder, and that pushes Jerry Sands to AAA unless there’s an unlikely Andre Ethier trade in the works. That’s a guy who didn’t even make Keith Law’s top 50 free agents list and who had a total 2011 OPS of .701, worse than Jamey Carroll and Casey Blake‘s marks last year. While it’s true that he was far better with the Dodgers than he was in Toronto, that’s hardly a high barrier to clear, and it appears that once again, the Dodgers have been sucked in by a favorable first impression that the new acquisition was unable to maintain. (Yes, I’m looking at you, Rod Barajas.)

Rivera’s first 31 games with Dodgers
115 PA  .327/.365/.481 .846 OPS  .364 BABIP

Rivera’s second 31 games with Dodgers
131 PA .226/.305/.339 .664 OPS .240 BABIP

His true talent level is probably somewhere in between, but unfortunately that’s not what you want from a starting corner outfielder or someone you’re paying nearly $5m to. Did anyone really think that you absolutely had to lock up Rivera during the exclusive negotiating period before a line of other teams drove dump trucks full of cash to his house? There’s this narrative going around that Rivera was some sort of “savior” or “RBI machine”, and while his contributions were welcomed, the facts just don’t fit that story.

If I was wrong about anything, it was saying that his “true talent level was somewhere in between”, because he matched that .664 OPS almost exactly with a .661 mark this year. And start he did, on Opening Day and in 15 of the first 18 games, beginning the season as the primary left fielder, just as we’d all feared. You know, we talk a lot about how worried we were about first and third base headed into the season, but it can’t be understated how much of a mess left field was when the best option to start the year was Rivera.

#RBImachine jokes aside, Rivera was hitting only .247/.276/.358 on May 8 when he fell to the most Dodger of injuries, a pulled hamstring. He returned in June, starting 19 games as one of the few healthy players remaining at that point and hit a respectable .278/.325/.347, with a particular highlight coming via a tie-breaking three-run homer against the Angels on June 12:

Tonight’s hero? None other than the much-maligned Juan Rivera, of course. And why not? He did little before being injured, he missed a good chunk of the season, has done little since returning, so in the new reality that is the 2012 Dodgers, it makes all the sense in the world that he’d be the star of the game – it’s basically his turn, after all.

Remember when the season was still full of hope and anything could happen? Seems so long ago now. As the season progressed, Rivera’s role continued to change. For most of July & August, Rivera rarely saw time in the outfield, becoming almost exclusively a platoon first baseman as James Loney continued to struggle and Shane Victorino took over in left. Not that it helped; between July 1 and the arrival of Adrian Gonzalez in late August, Rivera hit only .207/.248/.355, poor enough that when added with his lousy defense it actually made us prefer having Loney in the lineup.

Once Gonzalez took over first base, Rivera’s role became extremely limited, spending the last six weeks of the season mainly coming off the bench and occasionally getting a start in left when Victorino was needed to cover for Matt Kemp in center field. Though I can’t seem to find the link right now, there were grumblings – laughable, from my perspective – that Rivera was privately unhappy with his new role.

All told, Rivera’s year was incredibly poor, with a .282 wOBA that was only just barely better than middle infielders like Brandon Crawford & Alexi Casilla, yet without the plus defense at important positions that those players provided. The sad part is, this absolutely could have been predicted – and was, not just by me – prior to the season. Signing Rivera was a waste of money and a roster spot from the day it happened, and it didn’t have to be that way.

Rivera’s 2013 team option will almost certainly be declined, and hopefully that’s the last we’ll see of him. What’s scary, however, is that the team badly needs a righty-swinging corner outfielder to help spot for Ethier & Carl Crawford in 2013, and there’s not really anyone on the current roster who can back up Gonzalez at first base. Were Rivera not awful, it’s a role perfectly crafted for him. Can Ned Colletti resist the temptation?

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Next up! Mark Ellis got hurt while I wrote this!

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