Yeah, that’s right. “Secondary Starters & Swingmen.” Look, with 22 men having thrown a pitch for the Dodgers in 2008, we had to come up with some way to break it down over several posts, and after the main five starters the other day, these are the remaining six guys who made a start for the club this year. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I’m feeling like this part may not be as popular as the first group. Relievers will be broken down into two groups as well, and then we’ll finally be done with this eternal death march to start off the offseason.
Greg Maddux (C)
(2-4, 5.02 ERA, 1.16 WHIP)
“Something’s weird here,” you think. “But what is it? And what’s with this bizarre ‘typing the story between two images thing? No sir, I don’t like it.”
So here’s the deal on this one. As you may or may not have noticed, I thought it’d be fun to kick up the pictures of each player by putting them into the greatest card series of all time, 1987 Topps. I’d gotten about halfway through when I realized that Greg Maddux is so old… that he was actually in the 1987 Topps set, complete with a ridiculous mustache. If a man is so old that he’s actually got his own entry in something two decades old that I’m referencing, then damn it, he deserves to get both of them put up here.
But I suppose that people are more interested in Maddux’ on the field performance rather than baseball card trivia. If anything, I’m imagining that people are wondering why I gave him a C, when his ERA jumped over a run after his trade north from San Diego. The truth is, sometimes ERA doesn’t tell the entire story. Much of that was inflated by two disaster starts in which he gave up 7 runs in each (on the other hand, when you only make 7 starts, being terrible in 2 of them isn’t exactly a point in your favor.) Maddux’ WHIP actually fell from 1.220 to 1.156 after the trade, which if kept up over a whole season, would have been his best mark since his 2001 campaign for Atlanta. Plus, he did put together a fantastic start – in Coors Field, of all places – managing seven innings on just 68 pitches. How many times have we seen guys barely get through 2 innings on that pitch count?
The truth is, Maddux has been basically the same guy ever since 2003. He’ll give you 30+ starts (remember, the last non-strike season in which he didn’t get over 30 starts, Bill Buckner hadn’t booted that ball yet – and Bill Buckner was a Dodger in 1969) and about 200 roughly league-average innings. That’s a pretty valuable thing to have these days, and absolutely amazing from a guy in his 40s. If Maddux was 29 with those stats (and not, you know, Greg fucking Maddux, who went 19-2 with a 1.63 ERA that year), he’d be getting a 4-year $50 million deal. Hell, I’d be happy to give him $5 million or so to come back next year to be the fifth starter, and probably that much just to have him sit next to Chad Billingsley, Clayton Kershaw, and James McDonald all year. Why not? It’s not like there’s no room in the rotation for him. Unfortunately, the prevailing thought is that he’s going to call it quits, or so said his agent Scott Boras, in between bites of delicious infant. Too bad for all of us, Dodger fans or not.
Eric Stults (A)
(2-3, 3.49 ERA, 1.32 WHIP)
Ah, Eric Stults. The eternally forgotten 8th starter, except for places like here. But he gets a nice big A anyway, if only because he of all people may have pitched the single best game of the year for the Dodgers, back on June 25 against the White Sox:
Eric Stults: first shutout by a lefthanded Dodger since Kaz Ishii in 2004. There’s not a whole lot to add to this one, except to point out that it was pure domination. The Sox only managed four hits and a walk; not only that, Stults drove in a run of his own on a sacrifice fly.
In his two starts now, Stults is 2-0 with a 0.64 ERA, which is just one ER over 14 innings, and an excellent K/BB ratio of 4/1. Look, Stults isn’t a mega-prospect, and he’s not a kid. He’s 28 years old. His time, if he is to have one, is now. Let’s hope the Blue give him a shot to see what he can do.
About that last part… look, if you’ve got a lefty with the talent to shut out an American League contender, and that lefty gives up 4, 1, 3, 3, and 3 earned runs in his other starts, doesn’t that sound like a guy who’s worth a look? No, he won’t be an ace; probably never anything more than a decent #5. But probably a guy worth keeping up over the likes of Tanyon Sturtze, isn’t it? One would think. But no, after Joe Torre prematurely pulled him from a blowout win against Colorado because Stults wasn’t being aggressive enough, Stults rotted in AAA for the rest of the year, save for one token appearance in September. I don’t neccessarily want to see him anointed a starter for 2009; but I would certainly love to see what he could do if given a chance. Why do I feel like that’s never going to happen?
Chan Ho Park (B+)
(4-4, 3.40 ERA, 1.40 WHIP)
First of all: congratulations, Chan Ho, on reviving that corpse of a career you had going on there. After six disastrous years bouncing around from Texas to San Diego to the Mets, which not-so-coincidentally happened to be the six years since he’d left the Dodgers, you turned a non-roster invite into a renaissance. The 3.00 ERA in April was a pleasant surprise; the 1.93 in May was a jaw-dropper. 2.70 in June was a great help, and by the time you were posting a 2.12 in July we’d allowed ourselves to believe, in some dark corner of our minds, that you were back. That maybe Dodger blue really does hold some magical qualities, at least in your case.
And then as quickly as it had come, it was gone. A 6.00 ERA in August. 6.52 in September. A fluke? Lack of stamina from so many partial years? We might never know, because you’ve also written your own ticket out of town. First of all, by being so awful over the last two months, which only convinces your doubters that your first half was a mirage, and second, by almost literally writing your own ticket out of town: (hat-tip FNCN)
At his homecoming press conference, Chan Ho Park announced that he was unlikely to return to the Dodgers and also unlikely to play for South Korea in the World Baseball Classic. Park wants to be a starting pitcher again and believes the Dodgers would return him to a swingman role. Assuming he gets a one-year deal to start for a new team, he’d like to focus on that rather than pitch in the WBC.
Well, Chan Ho, that’s a brilliant idea! I mean, it’s not like you were just about twice as effective in Dodger Stadium as you were anywhere else in 2008. A 2.18 ERA vs. a 4.50 ERA do anything for you? No? It’s okay. It’s not like this has been a pattern that has lasted you for your entire career, with that 2.96 career ERA in Chavez Ravine. So you go right ahead, and enjoy that 4th starter role in Kansas City, or Pittsburgh, or whatever barren outpost decides to take a shot on you. Because that worked out so well the first time, leaving Los Angeles, didn’t it? Buzz, your career choices… woof.
Hong-Chih Kuo (A+… ow, my arm!)
(5-3, 2.14 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 4 elbow surgeries)
I believe Mr. Kuo needs to get a better lawyer to review that deal with the devil. Tons of people say they’d give their left arm to be a dominating major league pitcher – they just usually make sure the deal explicitly says that they get to keep the arm long enough to have a major league career with.
Seriously though, what an absolutely incredible story we’ve got here in Hong-Chih Kuo. He’s been one of my favorites since he came up alternating blazing heat with crippling arm injuries, and then really sealed the deal with his most excellent bat flip on the back end of back-to-back-to-back homers against the Mets in 2007. But still, enjoyability does not a career make, and just as a reminder of what we were expecting out of him this year, this is what I said on March 5:
And that just as the sun rises in the East, Kuo is feeling discomfort in his repeatedly surgically-repaired left elbow. Besides, as much as I want to see him succeed, he’s got as many MLB wins as he does Tommy John surgeries. It’s insane to count on him for anything, ever.
Now if you were to tell me on March 5 “Kuo will miss most of September and the NLDS with an arm injury,” I’d probably have replied with something like “and Thanksgiving will be in November, I know.” But in between? It’s absolutely unreal how dominating he was, particularly in the middle of the season – monthly ERA’s of 1.12, 0.69, and 1.84 in May, June, and July. You think that’s good? He held fellow lefties to a .557 OPS… but righties were just as helpless, putting up only a .569. During a nearly three month stretch from May 17 to August 14, Kuo may have been the hottest pitcher in the game, allowing just 5 earned runs over 44.1 innings in that time (1.01 ERA) and striking out more than a man per inning. Even C.C. Sabathia wasn’t as good over that time (1.92 ERA), and he’s going to get about a bajillion dollars soon. Hell, maybe it was just me, but for a good part of the summer, Kuo coming in was almost as good as Manny time – you dropped whatever you were doing to watch, because you knew he’d just blow people away… and because you were never sure whether it was going to be his last pitch.
Oddly enough, he continued his long-standing pwn3rship of the Mets by tossing ten more scoreless innings, which makes his career total against New York one run allowed in 26 innings, with 26 strikeouts. It’s almost as if the homer against the Mets was a penance to make up for that one blemish.
But what does the future hold for Kuo? He’s still just 27, and while he finally stayed healthy for most of the year, he couldn’t quite make it all the way through. (And what the hell was with that stuff about his arm turning colors when he tried to warm up? I’m no doctor, but that can’t be a good sign). He’s long said he prefers starting, because he never has to worry about warming up more than once every few days, and the thought of him in a rotation with Billingsley, Kershaw, Kuroda, and McDonald is pretty fantastic – though the Dodgers don’t seem to view him as a starting option, more than just as a spot guy. Seeing him at the end of a game would be great as well, because could you imagine having to come out in the 9th inning against this guy? Or as part of a tag-team with Broxton? I can’t think of two scarier sights coming out of the bullpen, but that does raise the spectre of injury if he’s overused, because he really is a fragile piece of china. It almost seems a waste to have such a sublime talent be a middle reliever rather than an ace starter or shutdown closer. On the other hand, if those roles causes him to be lost entirely, I suppose we ought to be happy to have a weapon that most other teams don’t.
Esteban Loaiza (he puts the F in DFA)
(1-2, 5.63 ERA, 1.21 WHIP)
Yes, I know. Esteban Loaiza’s WHIP was lower than Chad Billingsley’s. I see, and I do not care. Chad Billingsley is a young All-Star. Esteban Loaiza may be mowing the grass at your local Little League field right now.
Speaking of not caring, this is about the time when I regret saying that I’m grading every player. This is particularly the case for Esteban Loaiza, because it’s already been four months since I said this:
But hey, at least for the $8 million or so the Dodgers paid him, he gave them 2 wins in 8 starts over the last two seasons before being unceremoniously kicked to the curb. Did he really pitch 24 innings for the Dodgers this year? I mean, I know he did, but doesn’t that seem like it was about 40 years ago?
So now it’s even four months past that. Frankly, I refuse to acknowledge that Loaiza was a Dodger in 2008. Or, ever, really. Moving on…
Jason Johnson (F-)
(1-2, 5.52 ERA, 1.50 WHIP)
Hey, look! It’s Jason Johnson! Look at him over there! He… sure is looking like he just gave up a big hit! You know why? Because he most likely did. Unlike in Maddux’ review, when I said that his high ERA is less important than his low WHIP, and in Loaiza’s review, when I said his low WHIP doesn’t excuse his crapulence, Jason Johnson has a high ERA and a high WHIP. Do you know why this is? It’s very simple. It’s because Jason Johnson is not very good at the game of baseball. To be honest, I have no idea how the hell he’s managed to last this long. This was somehow his 11th year in the bigs, in which he’s accumulated 1357 innings, 100 losses against just 56 wins, a career ERA of just about 5, and the thing is – he’s never been good. Ever. Hell, even in the minors he was lousy. If it’s not a good sign when you go 2-12 in A-ball, it’s really not a good sign when three years later you’re still in A-ball. Yet somehow he carved out a career that’s lasted this long despite only one year in which he could even buy a bus ticket within ten miles of respectability – and even that was a 10-12, 4.09 ERA season for Baltimore in 2001. Yes, I know that he had a better ERA in 2003, but his WHIP was 1.561, so I decree: suck on an epic level. And he’s not even a lefty! I just don’t get it.
I’ve gotten a little off track here, because this is supposed to be a review of Johnson’s 2008 with LA, not his entire mediocre career. But really, what do you want me to say? He pitched 29.1 mostly lousy innings, and even the one outing that may have earned him credit (six shutout innings in July 29) came against the AAA offense of the Giants. I suppose I’m just disappointed that a pitching staff that was ostensibly so strong ever had a place for him in the first place.
Uh… nothing personal, though, Jason.
(He wasn’t even the best Dodger to wear #54 this year!)
- Mike Scioscia’s tragic illness