John Ely Could Be Just What the Dodgers Need

Okay, let’s not get too excited. John Ely’s been up for just three starts, the first one mediocre, sandwiched around a fake demotion to the minors. He was never seen as a top prospect in the minors, and even in the bigs his fastball is averaging just 87.2 MPH. Right-handers, with incredibly rare exceptions (think Greg Maddux), don’t tend to get by with such low velocity unless they’re bringing something gimmicky to the table like a knuckleball. Even in the minors, he was never a big strikeout guy, whiffing 7.2/9 in AA last year despite going 14-2. If you’re only striking out 7 per 9 in Double-A, that doesn’t tend to translate well to the majors.

Still, on this staff, at this time, Ely may have found a home because of the one thing he’s extremely good at: getting the ball over the plate. Look at the rest of the Dodger staff. Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley have many times the natural “stuff” that Ely does, but each has had their share of control problems – particularly Kershaw, walking an untenable 6.3/9. Then you’ve got (okay, had) Charlie Haeger, who lost his job thanks to walking 7.7/9, and in the bullpen, Ramon Troncoso, Ramon Ortiz, George Sherrill, Ronald Belisario, Jeff Weaver, Russ Ortiz, and Jon Link all have or had BB/9 rates north of 4 (though some clearly in small sample sizes). Even Hiroki Kuroda, known for his control, has seen his walk rate rise from 1.8 last year to 2.7 this year – still good, of course, but not an improvement.

The point is, as a whole the Dodgers have the fifth highest rate of free passes in all of baseball, and that’s only because one of the teams worse than them – the Mets – employs Oliver Perez. So in steps Ely, and in his 18.1 MLB innings, he’s walked just two (yes, the number is actually three, but one was intentional), and all came in that first game in cold, windy New York. In his last two games, he’s struck out thirteen and walked zero. For a team that’s been watching its pitchers put men on base for free all year, this, friends, is a welcome sight, and it’s a large part of how he was able to outduel Dan Haren last night, despite Haren getting his first nine outs via the K. Be sure to temper your expectations, of course – he’s not going to beat guys like Haren every time out, that’s for sure – but on a team dying for any glimmer of pitching hope, he’s providing at least a small spark. Finally – and I promise I won’t harp on this all season – Juan Pierre, whom Ely was traded for along with Jon Link, is hitting .244 with one extra base hit for the White Sox. Where are all the fans who thought trading him was a massive mistake now?

On the other side of the ball, how awesome is it that Andre Ethier can hit two doubles with an RBI, and it’s almost par for the course? His OPS is now up to 1.175, which is just inhuman. But it wasn’t just him; James Loney had four hits, including a homer. Manny got on base four times as well, and Russell Martin, Ronnie Belliard, and even Jamey Carroll all chipped in with two hits. When this offense is humming, it’s a sight to see.

Of course, not every hit is a productive one. Garret Anderson finally got on the board with a single, and even though it was just a grounder to the right side that got through off a pitcher with a 9.00 ERA this year, Joe Torre and Ned Colletti were sure to latch on to it and make all the excuses in the world. Such as…

Before the game:

Joe Torre told reporters today that if Garret Anderson were “sitting in the other dugout, he’d scare me coming off the bench.” (via DodgerThoughts)

and after the game:

“I see a player struggling to adjust to a new role,” general manager Ned Colletti said. “One at-bat five times a week, it’s very tough.”

Said manager Joe Torre: “We’re trying to get him as many at-bats to make it easier on him. I see a timing thing. Is he the same player he was at one time? No. But he comes out of the dugout with a couple men on base and he’ll scare the heck out of me. That’s a big part of having him as a weapon.” (via dodgers.com)

Sigh. How are you making excuses for this guy, while calling out Matt Kemp, and making no mention of the ridiculously bad offseason they put together? (edit: I see Chad at MOKM basically said the exact same thing. That makes it double-true.) Anderson’s been so bad that even Steve Dilbeck at the LA Times blog ran a piece just collecting all the negative comments about him on the internet (I made it, hooray!), yet Torre and Colletti are really going to try to convince us that a 38-year-old guy with 7 hits on the year, hitting .137/.167/.216, and offering no value on defense or on the bases just needs more time? What is it going to take to put this horse out to pasture?

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