’s 2008 in Review: Secondary Relievers

Yeesh. This is the review I was dreading, partially because there’s only so much you can write about guys who threw about six innings for the club this year, but partially because it’s a little worrisome to think that our readers might not really want to read an entire post on the dregs of the bullpen. That said, if we didn’t do it this way, we’d have had 11 relievers all bunched together in one post. On we go! No grades here, because they all fall under the “incomplete” heading.

87toppsbrianfalkenborgBrian Falkenborg
(2-2, 6.17 ERA, 1.286 WHIP)
Nothing sums up “Brian Falkenborg” more than the fact that when I did an AP image search for him, of the first eight results I got, one was the picture you see in the card, one was a shot of him fist bumping his San Diego catcher… and six were pictures that he wasn’t even in, but were tagged with his name because they were of other teams celebrating with a caption that inevitably ended “…with the game-winning hit off reliever Brian Falkenborg.”

Actually, for a guy who only pitched 11.2 innings (and somehow picked up 4 decisions in that time) in his second go-round in LA, we sure did talk about him a lot. To be fair, most of our problems with the Brian Falkenborg era weren’t with Falkenborg himself; we all know he’s just not very good, and it came as a surprise to no one that when he got a chance he didn’t really do much to change our minds. No, our problems were mostly with Ned Colletti and Joe Torre for even allowing Falkenborg to be on the roster in the first place. I mean, this is the very first mention of Falkenborg I could find on this blog:

On the other hand, they called up Brian Falkenborg, who already failed in one try with the Dodgers (7.53 ERA in 14.3 innings back in 2004) and has never really had any success in the bigs (5.74 ERA in parts of 5 seasons), while bypassing Mike Koplove, who’s got 222 MLB games of 120 ERA+ work under his belt. I’m sure that makes sense somehow… somewhere… in some reality.

From day one, I didn’t see why he was here, and according to the second post he shows up in (“But thanks to the bullpen blowing his lead tonight – and yes, Brian Falkenborg, even though two of those three runs got charged to Kershaw, it was you who gave up that three run bomb – Kershaw has now gone almost 11 months since his last professional win,”) it’s clear that his already lousy statistics should have been even worse.

I don’t really mean to make this all quotes from previous posts, but they really serve to illustrate the failure of the decision-making regarding Falkenborg all too well, because here’s the third post he was in:

Bringing in the guy who’s somewhere around 16th on the organizational pitching depth chart into a high-pressure situation despite having so many better options around. Brian Falkenborg? Really? The guy who’s been a failure at every MLB stop in his career, with a 5.74 ERA in parts of 5 seasons for 4 teams entering this year? The guy who gave up a 3 run homer in his 5 pitches his last time out? The guy who I said never should have been called up in the first place?

To put it as simply as possible, Joe Torre thought Brian Falkenborg was a better option to prevent the tying run from scoring than Joe Beimel. Falkenborg’s ERA of 3.60 in triple A was three and a half times higher than Beimel’s been able to do in the big leagues – yet somehow, he’s the superior choice here. To the surprise of absolutely no one except for Joe Torre (hell, I bet even Mrs. Falkenborg was covering her eyes when Joe walked out to the mound and raised his right arm), Falkenborg self-immolated on the mound. Sure, he got Aurilia to strike out, but then he gave up a game-tying single to Fred Lewis, walked Ray Durham, and then – because just letting them tie wasn’t good enough – allowed Randy Winn to drive in the go-ahead run.

You can blame Falkenborg here for not getting the job done. But really, there’s no way he ought to have been placed in that situation anyway. He’s the last man on the staff. He ought to be pulling mop-up duty, at best. How he gets put into a high-pressure situation that ultimately decided the game is completely beyond me.

And it’s that last paragraph there really shows the problem here. It’s not Falkenborg failing to get the job done that’s the problem here; he’s a fringe major leaguer at best precisely because he doesn’t get the job done. The problem is that instead of using him as the last man out of the pen or as a mop-up guy, Joe Torre inexplicably kept inserting him into high-pressure situations, in which no one should have expected good results.  The best part was, this kept happening for as long as Falkenborg was here (this post from weeks after the previous one):

What you don’t do is bring in veteran retread Brian Falkenborg ahead of all of these guys. Can we finally give up on the ”Falkenborg is a good pitcher” train that some people seem to be on? We’ve been pretty unhappy with him since day one (see here and here) and we’ve actually gotten some grief over it, and I just can’t understand why. Is it his 4.91 ERA coming into the game (that’s now 5.56 after it, by the way)? Is it his history of being unable to stick at the major league level? Even if you can justify him being on the team ahead of some guys we have in the minors (that’s a tough sell for me), I don’t see how anyone can say he’s any better than the last man out of the pen. Look, if we get to the 14th inning and it’s him or letting Russell Martin take the mound, that’s fine – if he gets hammered, what else could you have done? But there’s just no reason you let him pitch before every single other one of your rested and effective pitchers.

To no one’s surprise but Joe Torre’s, Falkenborg let the team down by allowing three of the four men he faced to reach base. Yeah, Joe Beimel hit Rick Ankiel to force the run in, and that was a pretty terrible job by Beimel (although he did rebound to get the next two outs with no further damage). But it’s a situation that never should have happened in the first place.

I suppose this is really more of a discussion for Torre’s review, and we’ll get there. Anyway, the point remains: Brian Falkenborg is a lousy pitcher, and lousy pitchers don’t magically improve when put into high pressure situations. Lousy pitchers DO get DFA’d, as Falkenborg eventually was. Let’s hope that after 2004 and 2008, we don’t have to suffer through this a third time in 2012.

87toppsjamesmcdonaldJames McDonald
(0-0, 0.00 ERA, 1.000 WHIP)
Now we’re talking! After about 1000 words on Brian Falkenborg, it’s time for some real talent, and James McDonald has more than a little of it. Quite a 12 months for Mr. McDonald, I’d say. It was just about this time last year that he was being named the 2007 Dodgers Minor League Pitcher of the Year, and he spent most of 2008 excelling at AA and AAA, in between having to see his name in constant trade rumors for CC Sabathia, among others.

So after that, coming up to get a quick cup of coffee is a pretty good cap to the year of the local product from Long Beach, right? All the better that it was a positive experience, notching six scoreless innings over four games. Hooray! A good end to a good year. Work hard in the winter, James, and maybe we’ll let you compete for a spot next spring.

Wait, what? We put him on the NLCS roster? And brought him in against the deadly lineup of the Phillies in the Little League field known as Citizens Bank Park? With the bases loaded? Against Pat Burrell? Well, geez, Joe. What an unfair thing to ask the kid to do. He’s going to get abused, and now you’ve ruined a prospect for good. THANKS, JOE. Except…

One amazingly huge bright point, if not so much for this postseason as for next year and beyond: James McDonald. The kid – he’s still only 23, although Clayton Kershaw has skewed our perception of “kid” a little – was a last-minute addition to the playoff roster after getting all of six September innings in four games. Almost exclusively a starter in the minors, even his relief appearances for the Dodgers came with him entering the game at the start of an inning. But tonight, having not pitched in two weeks, he comes in as the fourth pitcher of the third inning of NLCS Game 2… with the bases loaded, Phillies fans going nuts, and slugger Burrell at the plate in Philly’s bandbox park. Recipe for disaster, right? But no! McDonald strikes out Burrell, and proceeds to go three more scoreless innings, striking out four others and giving up just two hits. What an absolutely phenomenal effort by this kid, and he’s really thrown his hat into the ring for a starting rotation gig next year – he’s unscored upon in 8.1 MLB innings.

Really, I hate to base anything on three innings, but that performance was one of the most impressive things I’ve seen all year. Talk about being set up for failure; if he’d given up a grand slam, who could have blamed him? Yet not only did he get out of that situation, he went three more scoreless innings in an unbelievable pressure situation in the hardest pitching park around. Can’t say enough about the kid – that was phenomenal.

I think there’s a bit of a misconception about McDonald among Dodger fans, simply because we haven’t been hearing about him as long as we have Clayton Kershaw. I’m not suggesting that McDonald is as good as Kershaw is, but we tend to forget that McDonald is 4 years older than Kershaw is. It’s not time to let him cool his heels in AAA next year, it’s time to see what the kid’s got. Judging by what we saw in October, I’d say he’s got plenty.

87toppsscottelbertScott Elbert
(0-1, 12.00 ERA, 2.167 WHIP)
I tell you what, after the procession of veteran stiffs like Falkenborg, Sturtze, and the disappearance of Jason Schmidt, I just cannot get enough young talented pitchers. Now, Scott Elbert’s stat line up there looks pretty rotten, but you’ve got to keep two things in mind before judging it. First of all, when you only get into ten games, having one of those be a “giving up 4 runs while getting 0 outs” debacle as happened to him on Sept. 17 in Pittsburgh is really going to inflate those stats. There was a lot of good in there as well – I’ll take a 22-year-old lefty who strikes out 8 in 6 innings any day.

The second reason to cut Elbert a break here is that he’s pitched so little over the last two years. A shoulder injury cut short his 2007 campaign after just three games, and missing your entire age-20 season isn’t exactly the way to get the experience you need. Despite all that, the former starter came back as a reliever to dominate AA-ball in 2008 (2.40 ERA, 1.02 WHIP) and get called up to the Blue.

After missing so much time and having a bit of a rocky start to his MLB career, I wouldn’t be completely surprised to see Elbert start out in AAA Las V.. uh.. Albuquerque next year to get some more innings in. By the way, thanks guys. Don’t get me wrong, I love having a Simpsons joke as the AAA team, but having to spell Albuquerque instead of Las Vegas every time? Killer.

87toppsyhencybrazobanYhency Brazoban
(0-0, 6.00 ERA, 2.333 WHIP)
Hey, anyone remember Yhency Brazoban? Last seen fighting with Andruw Jones over the last Big Mac? Remember that time he was our closer of the future and set a Dodgers rookie record for saves (since broken by Takashi Saito)? No? With how little we’ve seen of him over the last three years, it’s really easy to forget just how long he’s been on this team. What’s more shocking? That he was aquired so long ago that it was to bring Jeff Weaver to town to start his Dodger career, or that it was the deal that sent Kevin Brown east? How’s about this: Brazoban made his major league debut against Pittsburgh on August 5, 2004. Other players in Dodger blue that day? Adrian Beltre, Shawn Green, David Ross, and Jose Hernandez.

The thing about Brazoban is… he hasn’t been any good since those last two months of 2004. The 2.48 ERA in 32.2 innings, I liked. The 5.33 ERA in 74 games the next year? Not so much, and 21 saves be damned. Sure, he’s managed to pitch in each of the last five years, but I’m hardly impressed by the 5, 4, and 2 games he’s thrown in the last three years either, sandwiched around injuries and fatness. You want 2008? He made it into 10 AAA games and put up a 2.40. “Not bad,” you say. Yeah. That’s a 2.40 WHIP, which is brutally awful, and helped him compile that 10.80 ERA.

He’s arbitration eligible this year. Sounds like a prime candidate for non-tendering to me. Ghame over!

87toppstanyonsturtzeTanyon Sturtze
(0-0, 0.00 ERA, 0.857 WHIP)
See that face Tanyon Sturtze is making over there in his picture? Yeah, that’s about the face I made every time I had to think about Tanyon Sturtze as a Dodger this year. It’s the kind of face that roughly says ”Oh no, I just ate Taco Bell, why did I eat Taco Bell, I know better than to eat Taco Bell, where’sabathroom where’sabathroom where’sabathroom.” That’s right, Mike Scioscia’s tragic illness: unafraid to make the occasional poop joke since 2007. I don’t want to put undue importance on a guy who pitched all of 2.2 innings this year, but just like with Falkenborg, it was an example of bizarre roster decisions by the management group. Let’s see…

Did we like seeing Sturtze come up?

Sturtze is 37 years old, and he actually had to start his 2008 at Jacksonville this year, which is an experience I can’t even imagine for a non-rehabbing pitcher of that age. Look, we all know why he’s here; he’s another one of Joe Torre’s unexplained relief pitcher mancrushes, despite the fact that he was never even very good for the Yankees. In his 3 seasons in New York (2004-06), he was reliably below average, posting ERA’s of 5.47, 4.73, and finally 7.59 in 18 games in 2006 before being shown the door. Sturtze hasn’t been even league average since 2001, and suffered through a brutal 4-18 campaign for the 2002 Devil Rays. Last year, he didn’t even get to taste the majors. He somehow spent time at four different levels of the Atlanta system and put up a glowing 9.53 ERA. He’s at least been better than that this year with a 4.70 ERA at Jacksonville and a 4.13 at Las Vegas, but it’s like that’s very good either. Why him to be the 42nd Dodger we see this year rather than, say, Matt Riley, who’s outperforming him in AAA by a good margin? Why not Mike Myers, who had a 166 ERA+ in 55 games for the Yankees last year and is outperforming Sturtze in the minors this year?

It seems we did not. Did we like seeing Sturtze stick over Stults?

That said, I have to ask: why was Stults sent down rather than Tanyon Sturtze? Neither had gotten into a game since they were recalled on the same day last week – Sturtze, in fact, still hasn’t pitched in the bigs since 2006. Stults has been outperforming Sturtze in the minors this season, but that’s almost irrelevant since Stults has had major league success this season – have we already forgotten his completely dominating complete game shutout of the White Sox earlier this year? In 6 starts, he had a 3.18 ERA, which is good for a 139 ERA+.

Not only that, now that Kershaw and Maddux are both in the rotation and both unlikely to go deep into games (for different reasons), the club could certainly use an effective multi-inning guy like Stults, rather than a busted veteran who hasn’t pitched in the bigs in over 2 years (and hasn’t pitched effectively in the bigs in 7 years!)

That’s a negative, Ghost Rider. Did we like keeping Sturtze over picking up another pitcher on waivers?

No, I don’t care about the Twins, and yes, the Dodgers bullpen has been excellent thus far. But the post got me to thinking – should the Blue have tried to go after Reyes? Excellent pen or not, he only has to be better than the weakest link, and when you’ve got Tanyon Sturtze on the payroll, that’s not a tough hurdle to clear. Using Gleeman’s own statistic of xFIP (basically a fancy way of predicting a pitcher’s expected runs allowed per 9 innings, independent of defense), maybe they should have: While Reyes has a xFIP of 4.33, Sturtze is at a truly awful 9.28. However, this doesn’t really mean that the Blue should have acquired Reyes; it just further proves what we’ve been saying all along – that Sturtze doesn’t belong in the big leagues at this point. Would Al Reyes be a better option for a roster spot right now? Sure he would. But so would Eric Stults, Mike Myers, Mike Koplove (once he gets back from Beijing), Matt Riley, and probably James McDonald, too. So that’s only half of the AAA Las Vegas team that’d be preferable – plus even AA lefty Scott Elbert. Passing on Reyes doesn’t really bother me; keeping an inferior option when you’ve got several better ones on the farm does.

And thus, God willing, ends any mention of Worcester’s Own Tanyon Sturtze on this blog or any other.

Finally, one more review. He’s not a reliever, but it was brought to my attention that I neglected to include Jason Schmidt in the starting pitching reviews. To which I say, he didn’t make an appearance in 2008, and I didn’t review Don Drysdale or Mickey Hatcher either. But if we must…

87toppsjasonschmidtJason Schmidt
(0-0, – ERA, – WHIP)
Sorry, this is the only picture I could find of Jason Schmidt as a Dodger. Happy?


(Tasteless? Oh, you better believe it. But come on. You laughed, just a bit. You know you did.)


(hat tip, Sons of Steve Garvey for the Dodger casket.)

- Mike Scioscia’s tragic illness msti-face.jpg