Funny How A Sweep Makes Everything Better


We all know where today’s focus is going to be, right? After the much-publicized benching, alleviated only by Manny’s hamstring injury, Matt Kemp came back today to get three hits, including a homer (plus a walk), drive in three, and make a few running catches in center field.

Clearly, Joe Torre’s benching/punishment/time out worked wonders, right?

That’s what the stories will say, anyway. As for me, I think it’s BS. Remember, Kemp got on base three times in his previous start, on June 26th against the Yankees. To act as though he was on an 0-40 streak headed into the benching, and that somehow Torre’s action snapped him into shape, just ignores the facts. Which is exactly why that’s how you’ll read it in Bill Plaschke’s column tomorrow.

But let’s not let this whole unfortunate situation overpower two performances which were just as important today. Vicente Padilla showed just how effective he can be when he’s right, allowing just three hits and a run over seven innings. Remember, his ERA has been misleading all season. After his first two lousy outings, in which he allowed eleven earned runs while not making it out of the fifth inning either time, Padilla’s allowed three, two, (DL stint), four, two, and one earned runs in the five starts since. It’s not ace-quality, but it is more than acceptable from your #4/5 starter, and better than what the majority of MLB teams are getting from that spot.

Suddenly, the Dodgers have five reliable starters again, and no wondering about which Haeger/Monasterios/Ortiz is going to have to be stuffed into a spot start. (Speaking of which, via Dodger Thoughts, Haeger will be joining the Isotopes. Glad he’s staying in the organization; I don’t think we’ve seen the last of him.) It’s a nice feeling to have.

Secondly, Rafael Furcal put up four more hits today. In his last five games, he’s got fourteen hits (and three walks), and he’s got his season average up to .333/.382/.488. He’s really playing some of the best baseball of his career, and the Dodger lineup just looks markedly different when he’s playing well and getting on base so often for the big guys.

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Still, as if this hasn’t been a bad enough week for Torre, only he could spoil an 8-2 sweep-capping victory over your biggest rivals. Kemp situation aside, you almost think this team is winning in spite of Torre sometimes. First, he hits Jamey Carroll (.397 OBP) 8th, while putting Garret Anderson (.197 OBP, and more on that in a second) 6th, above Reed Johnson and Carroll – both superior players.

However, that’s nothing compared to the bullpen usage. After Padilla went seven effective innings – and he’d thrown just 98 pitches, so I have no idea why he couldn’t have just stayed in – Ramon Troncoso came in for the 8th. I’m seeing others complain about that, but Troncoso hadn’t pitched since the Yankee disaster on Sunday, and it’s not the worst idea to let him go in a low-pressure situation, so fine.

Here’s what killed me, though. In the 9th, George Sherrill came in. He got Aubrey Huff to ground out, and then allowed singles to Pat Burrell and Pablo Sandoval (on a side note, note that this means he got the lefty out and let two righties reach base. Why does that sound familiar?) Remember, this is a seven-run lead. Rather than, you know, letting your struggling reliever try to work out of the situation against the likes of Juan Uribe and Eli Whiteside, here comes Torre with the hook, to bring in Justin Miller. I know there’s a day off tomorrow, but I also know that with a lead like that, you can give Sherrill the tiniest bit of rope. Or, as Chad from MOKM perfectly noted:

It’s like Joe Torre reads everybody’s blog and Twitter and just starts wasting the bullpen to troll us.

Still, none of that is the best part. When Miller entered the game, none other than Hong-Chih Kuo started warming. Yes, in the 9th inning of a seven-run game, by all means get your fragile superstar lefty up. Why not?

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Finally, Anderson went hitless in five at-bats today, striking out four times and popping out to first. I’m just completely out of things to add to this situation. I hate to bag on a guy on his birthday (he’s 38 now), but to say that he’s a waste of a roster spot is about the kindest way I can think of to describe it. He’s now hitting .180/.197/.287. What do we have to do to finally end this already?

Xavier Paul’s hitting .345/.402/.633 with 12 HR in AAA, by the way, and three of those homers have come in his last ten games. But no, I’m sure he’s not a better fit for this defensively-challenged, injury-prone outfield, right?

Manny’s Hurt, Ely Rules, & Sherrill Gets the MSTI Bump

So you might think the big news coming out of last night’s 4-2 win over the Giants was that Manny Ramirez, the hottest Dodger hitter in June (1.028 OPS), strained his right hamstring in the first inning, requiring him to leave the game and putting his status in doubt.

Or perhaps it was another fine start by John Ely, who has rebounded from a tough start to June to be effective once again - exactly as I said he would. Ely’s made 12 starts this year; he’s completed five innings in 11 of them, and allowed two earned runs or fewer in 8 of them. He’s basically been a gift from the heavens.

But neither of those things qualify as the “big news” from last night. No, that would be that that George Sherrill, just hours after I pointed out that he hadn’t struck a single man out in six weeks, struck out the first (and only) batter he faced last night, Aubrey Huff in the 8th inning.

I’ll try to continue to use my power for good, and not evil. Maybe.

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I can’t really let this Matt Kemp situation pass without commenting. Wasn’t the entire point of Joe Torre the fact that while he may be a terrible in-game strategist, he was supposed to be outstanding at avoiding clubhouse issues? Benching Kemp for one game was the right thing to do for a struggling hitter. The second game seemed odd, but more rest couldn’t hurt. But the third game in a row, well, that really set off the alarm bells.

Jon Weisman ran down the chronology of what happened here, and it’s #5 – emphasis Jon’s, because clearly I’m not the only one horrified by it – that really blows my mind.

1) Torre and Kemp talked.
2) Torre told Kemp he would start Wednesday.
3) Torre said Kemp is struggling and has been frustrated.
4) Kemp came to see Torre; Torre did not approach Kemp.
5) Torre said he didn’t know if Kemp would be starting Wednesday if Kemp hadn’t come to him.
6) Torre said if the coaching staff has something to say a player, they tell him. (I guess Torre had nothing left to tell Kemp without Kemp coming to Torre?)

The idea that Torre just tossed Kemp into the “time-out corner”, waiting for Kemp to come to him with his tail between the legs, is exactly the kind of manager I don’t want. You’ve got to either be able to manage the clubhouse, or do a good job on the field – preferably both. Right now, Torre’s not doing a great job at either one. But hey, at least he didn’t also use Ronald Belisario for the fourth time in five games as well. Oh, wait…

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Prepare yourself for what may be a hilarious outfield in this afternoon’s series finale: Manny is certainly out thanks to his hamstring pull, and Andre Ethier was scheduled to get the day off as well. No word yet on whether Manny’s absence will change Ethier’s day off, but you could be looking at a lineup that features both Garret Anderson and Reed Johnson.

In Which We Dissect George Sherrill

Let’s pour one out for Chad Billingsley, who was effective, though hardly electric, in helping the Dodgers shut down the Giants in his return from the DL. With all the talk about Matt Kemp getting benched (he’ll be back tonight) and Joe Torre mishandling Jonathan Broxton, a loss last night, or even just a bad start by Billingsley, could have led to a full-fledged disaster.

But as little as I think of Torre and his bullpen management, there’s one unavoidable truth:  some of the main cogs in the bullpen just aren’t as good as it was last year. I’ve already looked into Ramon Troncoso, but an even bigger culprit is George Sherrill. There’s no doubt that Sherrill’s 2010 has been a complete and total train wreck, to the point where Steve Dilbeck in the LA Times is openly campaigning for him to be sent to the minors. I won’t quite call this a Carlos Santana situation, since Josh Bell has just a .307 OBP for Baltimore’s AAA team, but Sherrill is just about a no-doubt non-tender situation this offseason.

How bad has Sherrill been? Part of me actually agrees with Steve Dilbeck.

Anyway, normally when we do these things I’ll give a bit of an intro about how good a player was, how far he’s fallen, and explain how I’m going to try to figure out what’s happened, including presenting the relevant stats.

But in looking at Sherrill’s game log, one thing jumped out at me so clearly that I can’t possibly bury it any further: George Sherrill hasn’t had a strikeout since May 17. That’s more than six weeks ago, ever since he struck out Houston’s Michael Bourn (who struck out 140 times last year) in the 8th inning of a 6-2 Dodger win in Los Angeles. By (a completely unfair) comparison, Clayton Kershaw has 56 strikeouts since Sherrill’s seen his last one. He’s clearly fooling no one. How can you succeed like that?

Well, you can’t – obviously. But before we discuss how bad he’s been in 2010, it’s important to remember that the fall isn’t as big as it seems, because his 2009 was a bit of a mirage. You’d know this already if you’d purchased the 2010 Maple Street Press Dodgers Annual and read my capsule on him, but Sherrill’s sparkling 0.65 ERA as a Dodger obscured some pretty discouraging truths. For example, did you know that after Sherrill left the brutal AL East to join the Dodgers:

- His strikeout rate decreased. Sherrill whiffed 8.49/9 as an Oriole in 2009; upon reaching LA it was just 7.16.

- His walk rate increased. He’d issued free passes to 2.83/9 in Baltimore, but that jumped to 3.58 as a Dodger.

- He got hit a little harder. In Baltimore, line drives were hit against him at a 15.4% clip. In LA, that increased to a career-high 22.7%.

Saved by a timely bit of luck (BABIP in LA dropped to .243) and the sudden and unsustainable ability to keep the ball in the yard (HR/9 rate half of his career average), it’s no surprise that his “real” ERA (by xFIP) as a Dodger last year was 3.98. That’s still far better than this year’s debacle, but it’s also not the startling Bob Gibson-to-Debbie Gibson transformation people think we’re seeing now, and that’s important.

There’s no such tomfoolery with the numbers this year, though. The fact that his ERA (6.75), FIP (6.19), and xFIP (6.55) align so closely show that his struggles this year have nothing to do with luck. Sherrill’s just been that bad.

It’s not that hard to see what’s causing this, either. He’s not throwing as hard (88.3 MPH average on his fastball, lowest of his career). He’s not getting anyone to chase junk out of the zone (swings on just 21.1% of his pitches outside the strike zone, tied for his lowest ever). He’s not avoiding bats on any pitches (85.1% of his pitches are met with contact, and he’s getting just 5.5% swinging strikes, each worst of his career).

So is he hurt? He claims no, despite missing time this season with a bad back. There’s been questions all year about his mechanics, theories that his offseason was too short, and stories about being “cured” by watching Billy Wagner on TV. Obviously, none of it has worked. Maybe it’s all of the above. Or none.

But here’s where I differ with Dilbeck, because I don’t think the minors are the right answer here. First of all, no pitcher has ever gone to Albuquerque to feel better about themselves, but also because his departure would leave the Dodgers with only one lefty in then pen, Hong-Chih Kuo, who can’t be used on consecutive nights. Now, I know you’re thinking that Sherrill is so bad that at this point it doesn’t matter if he throws lefty, righty, or with a cannon attached to his torso, but as long as he’s used in only certain situations, he can still be useful.

Sherrill has been unfathomably terrible against righties this year, allowing them to abuse him at a .405/.509/.714 clip. Despite the homer to Robinson Cano on Sunday – and let’s not forget, Cano’s probably the AL MVP at this point, so there’s not much shame in that – he’s held lefties to .206/.333/.353. I realize this is somewhat grasping at straws here, but unless you’re dying to see Juan Perez or Jack Taschner called up from ABQ, there’s not a lot of viable alternatives.

In the meantime, you pitch Sherrill only against lefties, preferably in low-pressure situations, and you pray. Because there’s not a whole lot else you can do right now.

The Aftermath

No shortage of hilarity on the intertubes after last night’s disaster, on both sides of the aisle, so let’s get right to it.

In the LA Times, Bill Shaikin nails it:

It is not news that Torre tends to overuse his favorite relievers — not to fans, not to the front office, not to ownership. If he hesitates to trust any relievers besides Broxton, Ronald Belisario and Hong-Chih Kuo, then the Dodgers either need to get another manager, or get their manager another reliever.

Bet you know which way I’m leaning! But if it does have to be the latter, MLBtraderumors wonders if that process is already ongoing:

If Colletti looks to make a deal, I imagine Kerry Wood, Kyle FarnsworthOctavio Dotel, D.J. Carrasco, Brendan Donnelly, and Javier Lopez can be had.  I also wonder about Brandon League, David Aardsma, Brandon Lyon, Matt Lindstrom, Jason Frasor, Scott Downs, Kevin Gregg, and Matt Capps.  The remaining salary on these contracts ranges from $413K for Lopez to $5.59MM for Wood. 

Back to last night’s game, Jon Weisman at Dodger Thoughts brings the logic:

Prior to Sunday’s game, Broxton had allowed one earned run in his previous 23 games (0.39 ERA) with no blown saves. In 33 games this season, he had allowed three earned runs and three inherited runs to score. He had surrendered two leads all year. He had over 50 percent more strikeouts than baserunners allowed.

But then the people come out and say none of this matters, because Broxton can’t perform on the national stage when it counts. Even though he had performed on the national stage in an identical situation one night before.

The people come out and say none of this matters, because Broxton can’t perform in the postseason. Even though he has in all but two games. Even though six of the other seven 2009 playoff teams saw their closer give up a lead in last year’s postseason. Yep – every closer but Mariano Rivera blew a postseason game last year. (Rivera got his out of the way in earlier years.)

Couldn’t possibly agree more.

But those “facts” and “numbers” aren’t good enough for all, according to LA Dodger Talk:

The Dodgers should have never been there if Broxton was not a choke artist!  For those of you who want to overwhelm me with stats, here is where FIGURES LIE!  Broxton blew the game, but he gets no blown save, which is BS!  TOTAL BS!  Jon Broxton blew what was the biggest game of the year for the Dodgers.  Remember this game because if the Dodgers don’t win, this game could have been a pivotal change in the Dodgers fortune, but Jon Broxton wrestled defeat from the jaws of victory.  When you mention the Yankees, Red Sox, Phillies and all the big name teams, Jon Broxton’s knees turn to jelly.  This loss wasn’t on Torre.  Joe wanted the win and brought what is his best pitcher in to seal the deal.  I’m no Torre fan, but this isn’t on Joe.  Quit making excuses for Broxton.  My wife calls him “a loser.”   He can pitch with the best, but I tend to agree – he’s a loser!

“I’ll take emotional-yet-irrational response for $800, Alex.”

Yankee blog River Ave. Blues knows exactly what the Joe Torre experience is like:

For years, Yankee fans bemoaned Joe Torre’s bullpen management. We saw him wear down reliable relievers, using them in unnecessary situations day after day. Scott Proctor, Paul Quantrill, Tanyon Sturtze, Steve Karsay. The early 2000s are littered with the discarded arms of the Torre Era. Tonight, we saw it benefit the Yanks.

In a curious move last night, Torre went with Jonathan Broxton, his stud closer (3-0, 0.83 ERA, 13.2 K/9 IP before tonight), with the Dodgers up by five. He later said he wanted to make sure the Yanks didn’t start to rally. It was, in his mind, a save without actually being a save situation. Tonight, with a four-run lead, Torre did the same thing, and it blew up in his face.

(snip)

An inning later, Torre’s bullpen management struck again. After Ramon Troncoso got an out on an A-Rod fielder’s choice, Torre went with the match-ups, bringing in George Sherrill to face Robinson Cano. The Yanks’ second baseman had been 0-for-11 vs. the lefty Sherrill, but as the announcers on ESPN noted, Sherrill’s fastball isn’t what it once was. Cano took an 88-mph fastball over the fence in left-center. The book isn’t always right.

Not depressed yet? They posted the win probability graph of the game as well:

But it’s not just about Broxton, because Chad from MOKM points out that Hong-Chih Kuo is getting close to Defcon 5:

In his nine appearances in June, five of them were of the multiple inning variety. This coming from a guy who has had four arm surgeries and whose arm turned blue in the bullpen during the playoffs the last time the Dodgers used him this way.

For comparison, can you guys guess how many times he was used over an inning in 2009? Zero.

Finally, help is on the way! Uh, sort of:

The Dodgers signed lefty reliever Jack Taschner to a minor league deal.  Albuquerque Isotopes GM John Traub confirmed in an email to MLBTR that the southpaw was added to the roster yesterday. 

Taschner, 32, posted a 6.05 ERA, 7.9 K/9, and 3.7 BB/9 in 19.3 innings for the Pirates this year before being designated for assignment on June 8th.  He later elected free agency after refusing an outright assignment to the minors.  Taschner’s line against lefties in his brief time with the Pirates was odd – he struck out nine and walked one in 6.6 innings, but also allowed eight hits and seven runs.

Don’t let the timing of this fool you, because I’ve already seen this picked up in multiple places that this was some how Ned Colletti’s “response” to last night. Taschner was signed in the last few days… early enough to give up a homer in his Isotope debut last night. So, there’s that.

Jonathan Broxton’s A Starting Pitcher Now, I Guess

I wanted to talk about how Clayton Kershaw really showed something on national TV tonight, going seven strong innings while not walking a batter for the first time in his career. Then I was going to laugh a bit at the Yankee defensive ineptitude in allowing the Dodgers to score three runs in the second while barely getting a ball out of the infield, and finally I was going to ask someone to tell me when the last time was that the Dodgers dropped down three bunts in a row. And I really wanted to laugh about Joe Morgan referring to OPS, but rhyming it with “stops”.

But let’s not pretend anyone cares about any of that right now, because obviously all of the focus is on the disastrous ninth inning from Jonathan Broxton. Because, things I’m not looking forward to tomorrow? Idiot fans and bloggers (yep, there’s those too) pointing to this as some sort of proof that Broxton doesn’t have the “guts” or “courage” or whatever you want to call it to close, as though A) he hasn’t been awesome 97% of the time, B) he’s not more awesome than 97% of the rest of closers in baseball and C) the blame is his alone.

Look, Broxton wasn’t good tonight. Four runs, four hits, two walks – I’m not pretending otherwise, even if I do think that only a steroid-fueled Eric Gagne can reasonably be expected to go entire seasons without blowing games.  But there’s quite the laundry list of blame to go around here. Without totally absolving Broxton – who, again, was lousy – let’s run this down quickly.

Joe Torre. #1. In the 9th, Broxton was brought on to pitch for the 4th time in 5th days, two of which were for more than one inning, despite the Dodgers having a four run lead. As Eric Stephen will happily tell you, “the last 3 [games were] with win expectancies of 95.5%, 98.8%, and 98.8%” when he entered. The point being, those are the kinds of situations in which you bring on your lesser relievers, at least to start. Even if you don’t trust them – as Torre clearly doesn’t, other than Hong-Chih Kuo – if they run into trouble, then sure, bring on the big man. And no, I’m not suggesting that Broxton should only be brought into save situations (which he hasn’t seen since June 9) but you have to measure his usage a little more carefully, especially in all of these non-vital situations.

So when the lead was pushed to four on Rafael Furcal‘s 8th inning double, that’s when you pick up the phone to the bullpen and say, “you’ve pitched enough lately, Jonathan, especially yesterday. Sit down and we’ll let the other guys pick you up, and only bring you in if there’s a disaster.”

But no, Torre brings in the clearly overworked Broxton, and we’re supposed to act surprised that one of the best teams in baseball fouled off pitch after pitch, dropped in hit after hit, and patiently drew walks. Broxton eventually tossed 48 pitches, topping his previous career high of 44 set on July 3, 2006.

If there’s any takeaway from this, it’s this: Broxton has thrown 99 pitches since June 23rd. By comparison, the Dodger starting rotation since then has these counts: Kershaw 101 (tonight 6/27), Kuroda 110 (6/26), Padilla 111 (6/25), Haeger 102 (6/24), Ely 97 (6/23). Because apparently, Broxton is a starting pitcher now.

(update: As Plaschke Thy Sweater Is Argyle points out, Broxton was warming up in the one game of that five game stretch in which he didn’t enter. I can’t verify that, nor do I know how long he was up, but if that’s accurate it’s an even bigger indictment of Torre’s usage.)

Joe Torre. #2. Kershaw has one of the most effective outings of his career, not walking a single man (for the first time ever) and throwing just 101 pitches through seven, and just ten in the 6th, yet he’s not even allowed to start the 8th despite rookie pinch-hitter Colin Curtis leading off. Ronald Belisario came in and just narrowly avoided getting himself into trouble, but even that was largely thanks to a fantastic 3-6 double play started by James Loney. We may not get to find this out now since it’s going to be all Broxton, all the time, but I’d love to know why Torre yanked him so quickly.

Joe Torre. #3. Okay, I may be reaching a little bit here because I’m so down on Torre, but he put Garret Anderson into the game as a “defensive replacement” for Manny in the 9th. The mere thought of that sentence is laughable. Now of course, there’s no way Torre could have known that the game would go on, meaning that Anderson would bat 2nd in the bottom of the 9th rather than Manny, but since Anderson’s just as terrible of a fielder, the move was totally pointless. If you really wanted to improve the defense, send Matt Kemp out to center and push Reed Johnson to left. Otherwise, don’t even bother, and still have Manny available to hit in the 9th.

James Loney. With men on first and third and one out in the 9th, and the Yankees trailing just 6-5, Curtis grounded to first base. At this point, Loney has two choices. He can either throw to second, attempting to start a 3-6-3 DP and end the game, or he can immediately throw home, possibly starting a 3-2-3 DP, but cutting off the tying run regardless.

Yet Loney chose to step on the bag first and then throw to the plate, despite having the speedy Curtis Granderson on third. The throw wasn’t perfect and was going to be late anyway, as you can see in the lead picture of this post, and the game was tied. Had Loney done either of the two correct options, instead of choosing option #3, this game might have ended far differently. Loney’s been playing fantastically lately, so let’s not get on him too much – but this was a poor choice, magnified by the situation.

And of course, Broxton deserves his share of blame for such a terrible outing, and you can’t entirely ignore that. I’m sure he won’t be putting blame anywhere else but on himself, which is nice. Just remember when you read all sorts of internet idiocy (and dear god, now that the Lakers are done I can just hear Bill Plaschke cracking his knuckles, scraping aside the Twinkie wrappers and cans of Jolt Cola and getting ready to tackle this), that Broxton’s a human being who was incorrectly used by his supposed Hall of Fame manager. Because it’s going to get ugly.

Anyway, after all that, George Sherrill comes in to allow a dinger to Robinson Cano and, well, that part doesn’t matter so much. We all knew that was going to happen, didn’t we? (At least this guy on my Twitter did.)

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This is going to get lost in the aftermath, but the 9th inning implosion deprived Kershaw of his 8th win, through no fault of his own. Wins are stupid. (Commenter dodgerbobble notes that if the Dodgers had come back in the bottom of the 9th, Broxton – of all people – would have gotten the win. Wins are doubly stupid.)

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Russell Martin went 0-4 is now hitting .241/.349/.327, which is awful, yet he’s been allowed to catch more innings than anyone in the NL (and 2nd most in MLB). As I said on Twitter as he was being tossed for arguing a strike 3, “I think Martin cracking his bat on the ground was the most solid contact he’s had in weeks.”

This is going to require an entire post devoted to it, and soon, but for now let’s note that he’s 162nd of 173 qualified big leaguers in SLG, and the names below him aren’t exactly pretty (Pedro Feliz, Jason Kendall, and Gordon Beckham).