With the first “half” in the books after 88 games of the best record in the majors, it’s time to revive an MSTI tradition and do a quick first half review. Today we run through the offense, Tuesday it’s pitching, and Wednesday it’s the coaching and overall review.
First, some quick ground rules. Completely unscientific and arbitrary, this is how we’ve seen the results of the season. One important distinction, is that the letter grade is based upon what we reasonably could have expected of the player entering the year, not comparing him to other MLB players at his position.
That last part’s important, because otherwise no one who’s not Albert Pujols would be getting an A. Anything less than 50 at-bats get you an “incomplete”.
Russell Martin (.258/.373/.314 2hr 27rbi) (F…. ML)
Holy hell. Where do you even start here? It’s inconcievable to me that in last year’s first half review, Martin got an A+ and the high praise of “Without question, the best offensive player so far.” Turtle nose-dived through the rest of 2008, and fell so far this year that by mid-June, I was openly wondering how long we could stick with him. Seriously, how lousy has he been? This is what I wrote last month:
Martin is at: .625
Which puts him: 160th in MLB (of 172 qualifiers)
Behind the likes of: Howie Kendrick (just demoted to AAA), Jhonny Peralta (just benched), and magical pixie elf David Eckstein (is David Eckstein).
And that means… what’s worse, that he’s hitting worse than guys who are losing their jobs, or that he’s less potent than David Eckstein? The truly scary part here is that his .347 OBP is still pretty respectable thanks to the walks he draws, which means that when you look at just his slugging percentage…
Granted, Martin’s been much better over the last month (.308/.438/.397), but it’s taken just that to get him to 17th in catching VORP. Is that enough to kick him up from an F? No, it just kicks him up to an F, rather than the jokey non-letter grade he might have otherwise received.
Brad Ausmus (.286/.355/.375 1hr 5rbi) (B)
Well, he’s not Gary Bennett or Danny Ardoin, so that’s something. I didn’t really like the idea of giving a million dollars to the geriatric Ausmus, and he’s been predictably punchless, with just three extra base hits. That’d all be a recipe for a solid “C”, as in, “exactly what I’d thought he’d be”, but he may have actually turned Guillermo Mota around, so that’s worth a kick in the grading pants.
And hey, if Bill Shaikin gets his way, he’ll be the starting catcher!
A.J. Ellis (.000/.000/.000 0hr 0rbi) (inc.)
Three games, four at-bats. I’m sure there was a reason I decided to grade every player, but talk about being the definition of “incomplete”. But hey, at least his AAA OPS has dropped 162 points from last year’s impressive figure!
James Loney (.281/.350/.402 7hr 54 rbi) (C-)
Loney continues on his “not bad, but not all that great, either” streak of last year. It’s odd when you think about it, because a .281 BA is acceptable, and a .350 OBP is fine. But they’re not enough to overcome the .402 SLG – especially when you consider how stacked 1B is otherwise. Quick, off the top of your head – how far down the list of 1B do you have to go before you get to Loney? In a league that has guys like Pujols, Gonzalez, Howard, Fielder, Votto and Berkman right at the top, it’s not hard to see that Loney’s below-average. The stats back it up; he’s 11th of 13 NL 1B in OPS, and 14th in VORP. Even worse, this is the third year in a row his stats have declined. Sure, his glove has been great, and he’s never been killing the team at any point… but first base is hardly a highlight of the Dodgers right now.
Orlando Hudson (.283/.353/.426 7hr 48rbi) (B)
Okay, I’m not above admitting I may have been wrong, and when I was so fervently against giving up a first-round pick to sign Hudson this offseason, that may have not been a high point on this blog. In my defense, there were still huge questions about his health (remember when we were reading that he couldn’t even bend his left wrist back?) and no one could have predicted the hot start he’d get off to. Plus, while his defense may not be what it was at his peak, compared to what we’d seen from Jeff Kent in years past, it’s like upgrading from Jessica Lange to Jessica Alba.
So why just the B grade? Because while Hudson may have made an enormous first impression (come on, a cycle in your first home game for your new team? Who does that?) I think it may have obscured just how horrible he’s been over the second half of the first half. (Shut up, that’s a thing.)
For some reason baseball-reference hasn’t updated to include yesterday’s games yet, so I am missing his 2-homer outburst in that latter section, but still: the difference is glaring. You’d like to think that was the start of something, because at some point he’s going to need to turn this around, or all of the good feelings of April are going to dissipate.
Casey Blake (.285/.364/.486 12hr 55rbi) (B+)
Say this for Casey Blake, the man knows that timing is everything. On May 6, the day before Manny was suspended, Blake was hitting just .225/.324/.427. In the 46 games Blake played during Manny’s absence, Blake really stepped up, putting up a .319/.371/.530 line, with 6 homers. As the 11th most valuable 3B in MLB by VORP, the Most Interesting Man in the World has been more than serviceable at the hot corner.
Fortunately for Blake, we’re just grading the first half, because he’s notorious for running out of steam down the stretch – losing 50 points of OPS in the second half over his career. At least he’s still got that beard!
Rafael Furcal (.256/.331/.350 4hr 21rbi) (D)
Well, the good news is he hasn’t had to hit the DL with any back problems, so that’s nice. Look, I never expected him to repeat last year’s ridiculous hot start, but I think we were all hoping for a little more than this, right? He’s just 12th in the NL in VORP, which is bad enough in a 16 team league – until you realize that Juan Castro is 11th, and that’s just downright depressing. Furcal’s OPS of .681 would be the worst of any season of his career, if it holds.
Now, the good news is that he finally seems to be turning the corner, hitting .417/.488/.556 in July. Whatever it is, he’d better keep it up – you just can’t have a guy who struggled as hard as he did hitting leadoff for a playoff team. Not exactly what we expected when we all celebrated his signing in December, is it?
Oddly enough, he’s split his year pretty equally between hitting first and hitting second, and while he was dreadful batting second behind Juan Pierre (.548 OPS), he’s been pretty effective as the leadoff man (.719 OPS). I have no idea why that would be, but with Manny’s return, Pierre is of course nailed to the bench, so Furcal should get plenty more leadoff at-bats.
Mark Loretta (.245/.344/.292 0hr 16rbi) (D)
You know, when Loretta signed, I was totally in favor of it - a quality veteran, crushes lefties, can play all over the infield? Considering the deal was only for $1.4m over one year, it was perfect. But here’s the funny thing; I never really noticed it until just now, but Loretta hasn’t even been all that great. If it holds, his 73 OPS+ would be the worst he’s had since his second year, back in 1996. Actually, part of the problem may lie with Joe Torre, because while Loretta’s still doing pretty well against lefties (.792 OPS), he’s been terrible against righties (.600 OPS). I know the D seems harsh, but remember our grading scale – he’s not been as good as we’d hoped, so that counts as below average.
Juan Castro (.352/.397/.437 1hr 9rbi) (A….re you kidding me?!)
Where’s the outcry for drug testing of Juan Castro? We’ve got a guy with a career OBP of .271 who has never put up an OPS+ of more than 79 in his entire life. Now, at 37, he’s putting up Manny numbers? Don’t get me wrong, I dig it, and I know it’s a small sample size of 70 at-bats; I just can’t concieve of a reality in which Juan Castro may possibly be a better shortstop than Rafael Furcal – and that’s without even considering that Castro is absolutely the better defender.
What a world we live in. You better believe that’s an A.
Blake DeWitt (.174/.240/.304 1hr 1rbi) (inc.)
Talk about a guy who’s seen his fortunes change from last year; here’s part of what I had to say about him in 2008′s mid-year review:
Just like Kent, this is a tough grade to assign. I know it seems like a long time ago now, but do you remember how desperate this team was at the hot corner at the end of March? Nomar was hurt, LaRoche was hurt, Abreu was hurt, and the trade options were either unavailable or unappealing. So we turn over the job to the guy who was guaranteed to put up Hu-like offensive numbers. Except that.. he was good. Really good, slugging .517 in May. He was a lock for Rookie of the Year and surprise of the year. Go Blake!
Of course, he couldn’t keep it up, got sent down, replaced by Casey Blake at 3B, and then resurfaced as the 2B in the playoffs, before getting replaced there by Orlando Hudson. So far in 2009, he’s spent more time traveling between LA and Albuquerque than he’s actually spent playing in either place.
My prediction? He gets traded before the month is out as part of a deal for a pitcher.
Doug Mientiewicz (.400/.400/.600 0hr 2rbi) (inc.)
If Eyechart was getting a grade, it’d probably be a 5.8 for the swan dive into second base that caused him to get injured in the first place. More importantly, it gives him plenty of time to be the most active athlete on Twitter I’ve ever seen. He had to fly through Detroit to get to Miami from Milwaukee yesterday!
Mitch Jones (.308/.400/.385 0hr 0rbi) (inc.)
If you remember Mitch Jones’ sad, sad song, then the fact that he even got a big league at-bat should be considered a huge victory. In fact, he got thirteen of them – eleven as PH or DH – and actually put up some production in that short time, before he was DFA’d to make room for Manny. See? If Manny doesn’t get himself suspended, Mitch Jones might still be waiting for that first at-bat. Last I heard, Jones cleared waivers and reported back to Albuquerque, so we might yet get to see him again.
Manny Ramirez (.355/.487/.669 9hr 29rbi) (D… cup)
Without question, the most difficult grade to assign by far. I mean, when Manny’s played, he’s been all you could have asked for, and more. Just look at those numbers; if he had enough at-bats to qualify, that SLG would be second only to alien cyborg Albert Pujols. He’s 5th among NL LF in VORP, which is nice enough until you remember that VORP isn’t a rate, it’s a counting stat, which means that he’s been done that even despite missing half the season.
Of course, you can’t ignore the fact that the fifty games he missed were, you know, entirely his own fault. (Though, I haven’t ruled out the idea that Bill Plaschke planted the test results, worried that he might have nothing to complain about all season otherwise.) So yeah, huge demerits for that, and that’s how a guy who’s continued to terrorize NL pitching ends up with a D for dumbass.
Juan Pierre (.328/.387/.417 0hr 25rbi 23sb) (A)
I was so tempted to give Pierre a lousy grade, just to be contrary to all of the writers who act as though his three week hot streak overrides two and a half years of overpaid futility. Remember, just because Pierre was great right after Manny was lost in May, you can’t forget that he was completely horrible in June – worse than usual.
But then I realized something important; the three great weeks Pierre gave us is about four more good weeks than I ever could have reasonably expected from him. So, screw it! Give the man an A.
Matt Kemp (.320/.384/.495 11hr 50rbi) (HOF. I mean, A+)
Well, I did call him the best center fielder in baseball just a few days ago, so there’s that. What more can you say? He’s striking out less, he’s walking and hitting more, and his defense and baserunning have improved markedly. Plus, he’s shown the rare ability that few players have to completely take over a game – and yes, I am talking about the “extra-inning grand slam/over-the-shoulder basket catch” in Milwaukee from the other day.
I’m sure there’s a reason that he’s still hitting 8th and not forming an absolutely brutal middle of the order combo with Manny, right? Right?!
Andre Ethier (.250/.338/.475 18rbi 56rbi) (B-)
If Ethier knows anything, it’s a fantastic sense of drama. The man loves his walk-off homers, and of his 18 homers, 11 have come in just 5 games. The only thing is, his season has been unbelievably up-and-down.
April: .976 OPS
May: .601 OPS
June: .952 OPS
July: .612 OPS
So how do you grade that? The unexpected power barrage (10th in the NL, but it’s almost not fair that there’s four Phillies ahead of him, playing in that park) has been a very pleasant surprise, and it’s likely that he’s going to be the first 30-homer Dodger since Adrian Beltre in 2004. And as you can see by his monthly breakdown, there’s been stretches where he’s absolutely carried this team. Unfortunately, there’s also been just as many times where he’s completely buried the offense, and if you don’t know which Andre you’re going to get, that could be a serious problem come playoff time.
Still, it’s hard to give a bad grade to a guy who’s finally put some power into the offense – and, really, is there anything more fun than walkoff wins?
Jamie Hoffmann (.182/.167/.409 1hr 7rbi) (inc.)
Xavier Paul (.214/.313/.500 1hr 1rbi) (inc.)
I’m grouping these two guys together, because the Dodgers have used their backup outfielders so rarely this year there’s not all that much to differentiate them. These two combined for just 36 plate appearances, and save for one start and two at-bats by Mitch Jones in right field, that represents the sum of the backup outfield work in LA this year. As for their play, each had their moments, putting up their first major league homers and displaying excellent arms in the outfield. Paul is still on the disabled list thanks to the crazy staph infection he suffered in May in Florida, and when he’s ready, he’ll join Hoffmann down in Albuquerque.
Don’t forget to come back tomorrow, when Vin checks in with the pitching grades. Remember the simpler times of yore, when I could just bash Brian Falkenborg all day?