A couple weeks ago, the Dodgers were coming off a stretch where they had lost 15 of their last 20 games, a low-point examined here at the site. Los Angeles fell off their record-chasing pace for a handful of reasons. Injuries decimated their depth; David Price, Tony Gonsolin, Cody Bellinger, Corey Seager and Zach McKinstry have spent time or are still on the injured list while Dustin May and Edwin Rios are out for the year. The bench pieces that are healthy haven’t been performing at the usual “starter for any other team” level the Dodgers are accustomed to. This was all despite typical, excellent production from the regulars with the exception of one: Gavin Lux.
Before that article went up on May 11, Lux was hitting .209/.247/.267 for a 42 wRC+. Lux missed time with wrist soreness in April, but this followed a shortened season where the infielder put up a 63 wRC+. The injury certainly made things worse, but he wasn’t that far from where he was seven months ago. He had yet to prove what he could do when healthy.
In parts of three big league seasons, Lux had never really put things together, posting a .210/.266/.335 slash line in 244 plate appearances before this hot streak. In the longest postseason ever, the Dodgers used him as a pinch hitter just once and left him off the World Series roster entirely.
On May 11, Lux snapped out of it going 2-for-4 with his first home run of the season, a game-altering blast that ended the Dodgers’ skid. Since that night, Lux is hitting .364/.417/.636 for a 189 wRC+. The Dodgers, meanwhile, have gone 11-1, launching themselves to within one game of the first-place Padres with a three-game sweep of the Giants over the weekend.
Coming into the season, the Dodgers were confident that Lux would turn things around eventually. He’s a player with a pedigree, a first-round pick in the 2016 draft and a 70 overall grade from FanGraphs. Again, he’s only 23 and that he came up as a 21-year-old meant more for his future success than anything he did on the field. The question was never ‘if’ but ‘when’ he would fully arrive. Is the answer to that ‘now?’
A couple weeks of plate appearances is hardly enough of a sample size to answer that with any sort of certainty. During his hot streak, Lux has been more swinging more aggressively and making better contact.
In 2020, Lux was one of the more passive hitters at the plate. Among batters with 50 plate appearances, Lux’s 41.5 percent overall swing rate ranked in the 19th percentile. That alone isn’t a bad thing, but Lux was letting a lot of hittable pitches go by. Looking at what Baseball Savant defines as the heart of the zone, Lux only swung at 61.8 percent of pitches that caught a lot of the plate.
This year, Lux’s swing rate is up to 49.1 percent overall. This aggression has meant an increase in chase rate, but he’s gotten to punishing mistakes. His swing rate on pitches in the heart of the zone has shot up to 80.1 percent.
Of course, increased aggression doesn’t do much good without the quality of contact to back it up, and in the first part of the season, Lux didn’t have that. In April, Lux put up -3.8 runs against pitches in the heart of the zone as he struggled to hit them with authority. In May, he’s put up 5 runs against pitches over the plate.
The difference there just appears to be health. Again, Lux was dealing with wrist soreness in the beginning of the season, and few hitters can hit for power without healthy wrists. This is apparently what he can do with a more aggression and better health.
It’s still too soon to declare that Gavin Lux has fully arrived, but the worst appears to be over. The Dodgers’ confidence has paid off and after watching him the past couple weeks, it looks like that confidence has passed to Lux himself. Now that he’s shown he can do it, it’ll be easier to do it again.
Kenny Kelly is the managing editor of Beyond the Box Score.