MSTI’s 2010 in Review: Left Field

Would you believe that nine different players started a game in left field for the Dodgers in 2010? We’ve already discussed Jamey Carroll and Russ Mitchell in the infield, and you’ll see Trent Oeltjen in center field. Then, even though they had more starts in LF than anywhere else, I’m putting Reed Johnson and Xavier Paul with Andre Ethier in right field just to balance out these articles a bit. That still leaves four men here…

Manny Ramirez (C)
.311/.405/.510 .915 8hr 1.3 WAR

I feel like I wrote a pretty definitive review of Manny’s time in LA back in August, and as little as I want to write more about him, that’s about as much as you probably want to read more about him. So let’s just look at the 2010-only section of that piece:

Heading into 2010, expectations were high. The expected controversy over whether Manny would exercise his opt-out clause never came, as he quietly acknowledged he wouldn’t be passing up his guaranteed 2010 payday on November 6. With that out of the way, conditions were ripe for a comeback. Manny had had the entire winter to rest his hand, he was in a contract year, and if the thought of playing for his next payday didn’t motivate him, the embarrassment he’d suffered in 2009 certainly would.

Well, it didn’t work out exactly like that. Manny landed on the disabled list with leg issues three separate times, and played just 65 games with the Dodgers, the fewest in his career other than a cup of coffee as a 21-year-old with the 1993 Indians. Eight homers, 232 plate appearances, months on the disabled list, and far more Scott Podsednik and Garret Anderson in left field than we ever could have dreamed. That’s not exactly what we’d hoped for, I’ll grant you.

Classic Manny? Clearly not.

But again, nor was it the post-steroid disaster that the media liked to portray it as. Manny’s .915 OPS was 13th in MLB, among players with at least 225 PA. That’s higher than players like Adrian Gonzalez, Joe Mauer, Prince Fielder, Ryan Zimmerman, and Evan Longoria. Remember, PED suspension or not, we’re still talking about a guy who’s 38 years old. A .915 OPS is 91% of his career average 1.000 OPS; for a 38-year-old to get that close to matching his usual Hall-of-Fame level is impressive. In fact, it was the 21st highest OPS+ of any ballplayer 38 or older (220 PA or more) in history, and the list above is littered with names like Ted Williams, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, and Ty Cobb.

I’m not saying he was worth every penny this year; it’s hard to do so with how much time he missed. But to keep up the facade that he could no longer produce is just wrong. If the numbers above aren’t convincing proof of that, how about the fact that they’ve scored more than 5 runs per game with him in the lineup, and fewer than 4 without him? If he’s not classic, “in his Boston prime” Manny, or superpowered “just got to LA” Manny, he’s still an effective force in the lineup, one the Dodgers have proven they cannot win without.

Manny ended his Dodger career with a bizarre ejection after just one pitch while pinch-hitting with the bases loaded, which is oddly appropriate. He also ended his Dodger career atop the team’s all-time leaderboards in OBP, SLG, OPS, and OPS+ (minimum 500 at-bats), all in exchange for a failed third baseman, a mid-level pitching prospect, and a ton of heartburn. Now, he’s gone, dropped onto the White Sox for nothing but salary relief, and no matter how you feel about Manny’s time in LA, there’s not much argument we got exactly what we signed up for. Dominant offensive performance, more than a little controversy, and a less-than-glorious exit? Yeah, that sounds about right.

None of that’s really changed, with the exception of this week’s revelation that Manny had hernia surgery to fix a groin issue which had bothered him all season. To put up the line he did despite all of the leg issues he had is impressive, though of course all the time he missed due to them balances that out quite a bit.

Scott Podsednik (D)
.262/.313/.336 .648 1hr -0.2 WAR

When Podsednik came to town, I didn’t hate the deal as much as you might think, reasoning that he could be of value as depth in LF and CF and as speed off the bench. (Let me clarify that by saying that I didn’t hate his acquisition; the team overpaid to get him, but that’s not his fault.)

That’s not how it worked, however. Podsednik basically became the everyday LF until he was hurt, a role he was woefully unqualified for, especially since he’s about one-tenth the hitter that Manny was. This was clear less than a month after he arrived:

So here’s all I ask of the team: whichever path you choose, don’t half-ass it. If you think you really have a shot, then don’t trade Manny. There’s no question that his presence fundamentally changes the lineup, and you can’t really be saying you’re trying to win if you’re playing Scott Podsednik (one of the three worst .300 hitters this year, according to baseball-reference) in left field instead of Manny, because that’s a huge dropoff in production. There’s no way you can let Manny go, and act as though you’re still a contender.

But pretend they did, and Podsednik didn’t really do much to contribute before his season ended due to plantar fasciitis in early September:

If this is indeed it for Podsednik’s season, his Dodger tenure ends as a disappointing one. His line of .262/.313/.336, with 5 steals and 3 caught stealing, comes out to just a 79 OPS+ (and -0.2 WAR), well below his 107 OPS+ line for Kansas City. By comparison, Lucas May had an .878 OPS with 5 homers in 24 games for the KC AAA team. So there’s that.

Podsednik will be 35 in March and showed zero power, poor defense, and mediocre on-base skills with the Dodgers. There’s absolutely no way he should be back in 2011. So of course he’ll be back in 2011.

Garret Anderson (those damned kids are on my lawn again!)
.181/.204/.271 .475 2hr -1.1 WAR

Like with Manny, I’ve already spent far too much time this season discussing a late-30s outfielder who didn’t even last the season. So we’ll just point out that it was a bad idea when the rumors surfaced in January

Yes, I don’t like him because he’s old (38 in June). Yes, I don’t like him because he’s coming off the worst year of his career despite having just moved to the easier league (.705 OPS, the third year in a row that decreased). Yes, I don’t like him because he is by all accounts a horrible fielder (-16.5 UZR/150 last year). Hey, a senior citizen who can’t hit or field? Sign me up?!

But what I like even less than the fact that Garret Anderson is a terrible baseball player is the idea of Garret Anderson. Let’s say he was where he was three or four years ago, when he was past his peak but still an average-ish hitter. That’s still valuable, but you’re not playing that guy over Manny, Kemp or Ethier, right? Nor was his glove so good that he’s really a huge upgrade over Manny in the late innings, agreed? And since he’s not much of a LF, you’re sure not going to put him into center or right to rest those guys either.

It was a bad idea in March when he was signed…

Since then, the Dodgers have imported Reed Johnson to be the 4th outfielder, plus Giles and others to battle for the last bench spot.  What Garret Anderson adds to that mix is… well, not “quality” exactly… I don’t know. Formaldehyde?

It was a bad idea at the end of April when he had proven he had nothing left…

Speaking of Manny’s absence… Garret Anderson needs to be cut. Now. Not when Manny comes back. Today. After another 0-4 last night, in which he didn’t even get a ball out of the infield, he’s hitting an almost unbelievable .122. This experiment was a terrible idea from the beginning, and it’s a terrible idea now. The pinch-homer he hit on April 22 is the only hit he’s had in nearly three weeks. How much more do we need to see here? He’s had a nice career, but he’s cooked, and it’s time to acknowledge that. And for the love of GOD, Torre, if you must play him, can you please stop batting him second? The thought process here is almost unfathomable.

And how did it all end up? With arguably the worst season by a Dodger hitter in 100 years:

The list you’re looking at above is of the ten worst seasons by OPS+ in Dodger history, among hitters with as many plate appearances as Anderson’s 163. You’ll notice that of the six seasons worse than Anderson’s, not a single one came after World War I. Let me put that another way: none of those seasons were even recent enough to take place in Ebbets Field, which didn’t open until 1913. Jul Kustus played just that one season as a backup for the Dodgers, never returned to the big leagues, and was dead six years later. Bill Bergen was so historically bad that he still holds the record for the longest hitless streak by a non-pitcher (0 for 46 in 1909), though he was regarded as an outstanding defensive catcher. Not exactly the company you want to keep if you’re Anderson, especially when you’re not contributing at all on the bases or in the field.

The whole experiment was actually pretty painful to watch, just because of the respect Anderson had earned in his long career in Anaheim. He never should have been out there, and knowing that the Dodgers chose to not go with their best 25 men for two-thirds of the season was infuriating. I’ll be shocked if we see Anderson in the big leagues again.

Jay Gibbons (∞)
.280/.313/.507 .819 5hr 0.1 WAR

Here’s how little I thought of Gibbons being signed to a minor-league deal in the spring: if you search “Gibbons” on this blog, you’ll first see a mention from December of 2007, when he was mentioned in the Mitchell Report. Though he was doing well in the minors, he didn’t even warrant a second mention until July 8, 2010, when I noted that he would be taking part in the AAA Home Run Derby. (That’s how come he gets “infinity” as a grade. How can I say he bested a preseason expectation when I didn’t even spend one brain cell thinking about him? It’s like dividing by zero. It’s dangerous.)

Of course, then I mentioned him several times over the next month, pointing out that he kept raking as Garret Anderson kept failing, until he was finally recalled when Anderson was DFA’d on August 8. At the time, I tried to discuss what you could expect from him:

Still, simply besting Anderson isn’t a high bar to clear, and the fact that Gibbons can play 1B as well as LF or RF offers some much-needed bench flexibility. As with any Isotope, you have to look at the home/road splits to see how much the Albuquerque environment helped him. It certainly has – his OPS is nearly 200 points higher at home – but he’s also been effective on the road as well, hitting .306/.335/.503.

Hey, if he works out, great. If not, you bring back up Xavier Paul or try someone else. Either way, he’s far more deserving of the opportunity right now than Anderson is, and this is an experiment which should have been tried months ago.

Gibbons bashed a homer in his first start and stayed hot before tailing off at the end, and though he drew just four walks and did a hilarious impression of “defense” in left field, his bat made the decision to keep him on the farm in favor of Anderson look all the worse. Or as I said on September 6

If you look at #5 on my list of things I wanted to see over the rest of the season, you’ll see “finding out if Jay Gibbons is worth a roster spot for next season.” So what happened? Gibbons got the start on Saturday and collected his third homer of the season. Someone remind me again why it took so long to get rid of the corpse of Anderson and get Gibbons up here – not like many of us hadn’t been calling for just that for months – because I sure as hell can’t come up with a good reason.

Gibbons almost certainly earned himself a spot on the 2011 club, and with good reason; with six double-digit homer seasons under his belt, he’s got the track record, and the defensive versatility is great to have on the bench, though he’s hardly a plus at either. Just keep in mind that, like Rod Barajas, one hot month does not make an All-Star. Gibbons as a power bat off the bench? Love it. Gibbons as your full-time left fielder? Not good. That said, he’ll likely sign for the minimum or something close to it, and that’s great value to add to your reserve corps.

******

Next! Matt Kemp disappoints everyone! And who the hell is Trent Oeltjen?! It’s center field!

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