MSTI.com’s 2008 in Review: Second Base

On to our second base review, and no, I didn’t forget Blake DeWitt – he’ll be included under third base, since that’s where he played most of the season.

Jeff Kent ()
(.280/.327/.418 12hr 59rbi)
What a wild year for Mr. Friendly, right? When summing up a season, I always like to look back and see what we thought about him at various points in time. But few players have had all of these things written about them in the course of the same season:

May 21: “Just in Case Jeff Kent Needs Some Motivation…

Think about that. If Jeff Kent keeps up his current pace and Joe Torre continues to bat him cleanup, he’s going to be the second worst cleanup hitter of the last fifty years – and as the THT article explains, Aramis Ramirez was only so bad in 2002 because he played all year on a destroyed ankle.

July 13: “Too Many Problems, Whatcha Gonna Do

Back to Joe Torre, I implore you to read this carefully, because it just might be the greatest thing ever uttered:

On Jeff Kent: “He’s the perfect example of a player. He’s struggling, but we know we’re going to get a professional at-bat every time he gets in the box.”

“He’s the perfect example of a player.” I love this sentence. I want to get it tattooed on my back. I want to take it out behind the middle school and get it pregnant. I want it to be prominently displayed on all forms of United States currency from now until the end of time. “He’s the perfect example of a player.” As opposed to, say, Russell Martin, who is the perfect example of a 1920s vaudeville singer, and Brad Penny, who is the perfect example of a hamster.

Aug. 30: “Eight is Enough

You would think that a knee injury so painful that he’s missing the biggest series of the year would explain why Kent’s having the worst season of his entire career, right? But Kent says that he’s been playing with pain for a month – a month in which he’s been excellent, hitting .357/.394/.439. Whether that’s Manny-aided or not, that’s impressive, but who gets hurt and then has their performance improve?

Aug. 31: “Jeff Kent’s Dodger Legacy” (Dodger Thoughts)

Jeff Kent, whose Dodger career began at age 37, is the greatest-hitting second baseman in Los Angeles Dodger history.

Sept. 2: “Are the Dodgers Better Off Without Jeff Kent?

This is hardly a solid cause-and-effect, but with Kent, the Dodgers had lost 10 of their last 11 games. As soon as he was out of town (and not just out of the lineup. The whole point here is the idea that just his presence may have been detrimental), they’ve ripped off four wins in a row, starting with Saturday’s game, since as the article notes, he left before it.

Sept. 21: “Sunday, Bloody Sunday

Say friends, did you also know that, yesterday, the Dodgers activated Jeff Kent?  You know, the one who just had knee surgery TWO weeks ago.

And so forth. I could go on, but I think you get the idea – Jeff Kent’s (likely) swan song was a wild ride of ups, downs, injuries, downs, postseason benchings, and downs. For the record, his 77 OPS+ out of the cleanup spot merely ties him for the third worst cleanup season of all time, and he’s still a lousy defensive second baseman (last of 16 qualified MLB 2B in range factor, 14th in fielding %, 12th in zone rating), although it’s not like anyone thought he’d be anything otherwise.

That said, 2008 wasn’t a complete debacle for Kent. Any discussion of his statistics has to of course begin with the standard age-related disclaimer: the man is 40 years old. In that light, putting up a seasonal 95 OPS+ isn’t that bad. Only five 40 year olds have managed to play most of a full season at second base since 1961, and the most productive of that group was Tony Phillips for the 1999 A’s, who put up a 108 OPS+, so Kent’s not that far off. Simply put, it’s pretty rare for anyone his age to still be a starting second baseman, and the fact that he very nearly was a league-average hitter is pretty impressive. Among all 2008 second basemen, his .745 OPS ranks him 16th, which is just about the middle of the pack, but still above names like Rickie Weeks, Robinson Cano, and Akinori Iwamura. And just like any old man, Kent was wildly unpredictable. Sometimes he’s fondly remembering his date with that cute nurse right after V-E Day (OPS of .750 or better in April, June, and August), and sometimes he’s wildly cursing at John F. Kennedy and the damn Demmycrats ruining the country (.551 OPS in May).

Almost as importantly, Kent seems to have not ignited any clubhouse fires this season, although I’ve always felt that most of the “young immature guys” vs. “get off my lawn!” battles were hugely media-driven because they make for good copy. Hell, Matt Kemp even said that he and Kent listened to Lil’ Wayne before games to get pumped up, and while I’m not sold that that’s 100% true, Kemp probably wouldn’t have even joked about if it he was afraid Professor Kent was going to sit him down, rap his knuckles with a ruler, and educate him about the days when men were men and all we needed to toughen up the god damn hippies was to send them to ‘Nam.

You know, the more I write these things, the more I realize that I think of Jeff Kent as Red Forman from That 70′s Show.

Anyway, Kent doesn’t get a letter grade. You can’t give him an A or a B because he simply wasn’t all that great, but I can’t see giving him a C or a D because he’s doing things at his age and position that almost no one has done before. So Jeff, take your gold watch and ride off into the sunset of Texas on your motorcycle. We’ll miss you (his 2005 was excellent, he now holds the Dodger record for homers at ages 37, 38, 39, and 40, and as DodgerThoughts said, he might be the best LA 2B ever), but I can’t imagine that anyone is really pining for you to return next year - and we will respectfully stay far, far away from your lawn.

Luis Maza (inc.)
(.228/.282/.278 1hr 4rbi)
Ah, Luis Maza, the 2008 winner of the “Token Minor League Lifer Who Gets Called Up That Even MSTI Has Never Heard of Before”. Previous winners include Wilson Valdez, 2007, and Brian Myrow, 2005. Maza was only up for about two months from mid-May to mid-July, and to no one’s surprise, he didn’t really do much at the plate, which is basically what you expect from a middle infielder who’s making his major league debut at age 28. To his credit, Maza destroyed the PCL (.378/.450/.492) in 2008, but here’s the really odd thing about him: when you have a middle infielder who can’t hit big-league pitching, you really expect that he’s a plus glove. There’s been about a billion of these guys over the years, to the point that they really ought to start their own union like the backup catchers club. But Luis Maza may have had the worst throwing arm of any middle infielder I’ve seen in my entire life. This is what I said after his first game, a start at shortstop on May 16:

If you saw his start against Milwaukee yesterday, you’ll know that it won’t matter if he’s hitting .402 or .902 – we need him to never be at shortstop ever again. I’ve never seen a shortstop with such a weak arm, to the point that the Milwaukee broadcasters were trying to figure out what he was even doing in the majors.

Oh yeah. It’s always good when the opposing team’s announcers are making fun of your shortstop’s lollypop throws. I suppose the defining statement on the Dodger career of Luis Maza is that he was DFA’d not to make room for a returning injured player like Rafael Furcal or Nomar Garciaparra… but to get replaced by the equally dreadful Pablo Ozuna. Yikes. If that’s not a sign that it’s time to start working towards that carpentry degree, I don’t know what is.

Pablo Ozuna (inc.)
(.219/.242/.375 1hr 3rbi)
I’ll say this for Pablo Ozuna – I’ve never heard of a player making the playoff roster a month after getting DFA’d. And it wasn’t just a standard DFA, it was a “yeah, we could wait four more days until rosters expand and recall Blake DeWitt without losing you, but we’d rather just be rid of you right now.” I don’t want to be too harsh on Ozuna here, but let’s not mince words: he has no business being on the major league roster of a contending team. His career OPS+ is 76 (largely aided by his incredibly fluky 105 in 2006, since he never even hit 90 in any other season) and at 34, it’s not like there’s a lot of time for him to improve. Oh sure, he can play a lot of positions. Big deal, it’s not that hard to find a utility guy, and you could throw darts into the stands and hit at least twenty people who are better hitters.

At least we were consistent with him, though. I said his “continued presence blows my mind” on August 11th, called him “a stiff” and asked “what value he brings” on August 13th, “endlessly mediocre” on August 17th, and “completely useless” on August 27th.

Damn, I had no idea I laid so much hate on Pablo Ozuna in August. Nothing personal, Pablo. It’s just that I find you useless as a baseball player, and you’re the early lead for my “least favorite Dodger of 2008 (human division)”, and while I know what you’re thinking, what Andruw Jones accomplished this season was so monumentally awful that I don’t think any human could have done that if they tried.

- Mike Scioscia’s tragic illnessmsti-face.jpg

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