MSTI’s 2010 in Review: Relievers, Part 2

Continuing our “three random relievers” method of doling out bullpen reviews…

Hong-Chih Kuo (A+)
1.20 ERA, 1.81 FIP, 11.0 K/9, 2.7 BB/9, 2.9 WAR

Kuo started the year off by winning the MSTI fan balloting for best lefty reliever of the decade, but started the season in the place that terrifies us the most: on the disabled list with soreness in his left elbow. He missed most of April, and I spent most of the rest of the season worrying about his continued health.

June 28:

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.

June 30:

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?

July 23:

It’s also absolutely terrifying that Kuo has been allowed to either pitch or warm three consecutive nights, and I’m not lying when I say I’m terrified for him each time he’s out there now. Remember when he wasn’t allowed to do that for even two nights in a row? Now he’s up to three, and I don’t think I’m alone when I say, there’s just no way that can end well.

August 5:

I would love to go one game, just one, without dropping some negativity about Joe Torre. I don’t really enjoy it as much as it probably seems I do. It’s just, we all know about Hong-Chih Kuo‘s injury history. When you have a guy like that, you know that his arm could go at any second, and you use the bullets he has on high-value innings. So after needlessly using him last night (Ted Lilly had only set down twenty Padres in a row), Torre had Kuo (and Jonathan Broxton, for that matter) warming up in the 8th inning in what was at the time a four-run game.

Kuo, of course, was never needed, but since he had to throw two days in a row, it’s fair to question his availability for tomorrow’s game. Every pitch rolls on that odometer, so for the one millionth time this season, leave Kuo alone unless you need him.

It’s understandable that no conversation about Kuo can really take place without a healthy dose of worry about his health, but it’s also a little unfair to him for that to take precedence over what he did on the field this season, because after missing most of April, his 2010 was record-setting.

That 1.20 ERA? It was only the lowest in the 127 years of recorded Dodger history (minimum 50 IP), and even that doesn’t tell the entire truth. A rusty Kuo gave up 2 ER in 0.1 IP in his season debut on April 22, and allowed just 6 ER the rest of the year – that’s a 0.91 ERA. He also became the first native of Taiwan to make the All-Star team, and set an MLB record by retiring the first 36 left-handed hitters of the season who faced him.

Kuo’s unbelievably ridiculous line against fellow southpaws can’t be overstated – .095/.159/.111 – yet he was dominant no matter how you break down the stats. Righties only had a .460 OPS. At home, opponents had just a .312 OPS. During the day, it was .385, and at night it was .411 – frankly put, no one hit Kuo, any time, any place. By August, with Jonathan Broxton proving unreliable, Kuo moved into the main closer’s role, and ended up notching nine saves in the last six weeks, and he’s likely to see time there next year as well.

For a pitcher with a long history of arm woes who pitched just 30 IP in 2009 and started 2010 on the DL with yet another arm problem, it wouldn’t have surprised anyone if Kuo had just hung them up and went home. Yet not only did he persevere, he was outstanding. You can never count on him any further than his next pitch, but I’m not sure the A+ is even high enough here.

Justin Miller (C)
4.44 ERA, 4.11 FIP, 11.1 K/9, 3.0 BB/9, 0.0 WAR

He’s soon to be known as the “other” Justin Miller, as the Dodgers have a 23-year-old prospect by the same name in AA but the funny thing is, I wasn’t really excited about his arrival, and then I wasn’t sure why he was let go.

When he was signed to a minor-league deal last December, I was relatively indifferent:

If you haven’t heard, the Dodgers signed righty reliever Justin Miller to a minor-league contract today.  You’re probably thinking that I’ll be frustrated with this, as I have been with the rumors of the last few days. I mean, all of the signs are there, right? Signing an over-30 reliever with increasingly mediocre performances – and who is yet another ex-Giant, no less – is exactly the sort of thing I should hate.

But I don’t hate this. No, it’s not because Justin Miller is any good. If he’s good at anything, it’s being a poster child for how ERA (especially for relievers) can be unreliable. I guarantee that there’s Dodger fans out there who read about this signing, saw his 3.18 ERA, and think he’s a stud. Nothing could be further from the truth, of course. After spending 2006 in Japan, Miller’s pitched in at least 44 games in each of the last three seasons, the first two with Florida. How’d that work out? Well, there’s been a declining strikeout rate each year (10.8->8.3->5.7), an increasing walk rate (3.5->3.9->4.3), and an increasing homer rate (0.7->0.8->1.1). That nice ERA in 2009 was largely due to luck, since his BABIP was a far-below-average .227. Put that all together, and his FIP was 4.91, which sounds a whole lot more like it should be.

Still, as I said, I don’t hate this. Yeah, he’s not any good, but it’s encouraging to see that guys like this aren’t being evaluated strictly on misleading ERA’s anymore. And it’s a minor league deal, so how can I complain? With bullpen turnover so high from year to year, it’s smart to pile as many arms like this as you can in the minors.

After starting the year with some success in ABQ – 25/8 K/BB in 18 games – he was called up in late May when the club finally put Ramon Ortiz out of our collective misery. Miller didn’t pitch wonderfully as a Dodger – 4 homers in 18 games is a bit high – but nor was he a disaster, holding batters to a .244/.320/.433 line. And what’s wrong with 30 K in 24.1 IP? So when he was DFA’d in July, I didn’t quite think that he ought to have lost his job, especially considering that there were other lesser performers and those who still had minor league options. Still, it’s only Justin Miller, so I wasn’t that upset. He returned to ABQ, but didn’t get a call-up in September.

He’ll always have this, though. You now know the answer to this trivia question: who did the Dodgers cut to bring up Kenley Jansen?

Jack Taschner (inc.)
27.00 ERA, 30.08 FIP, 0.0 K/9, 81.0 BB/9, 0.0 WAR

Taschner pitched to just six batters in three July games as a Dodger, retiring only one. He threw just 33 pitches in a Dodger uniform, and was basically completely forgettable. So while I don’t want to spend too much time acting as though Taschner was in any way important, it is fun to look back and remember how we always realized this was going to be a terrible idea.

June 28:

Don’t let the timing of this fool you, because I’ve already seen this picked up in multiple places that this was somehow 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.

July 23:

I didn’t mention the other day that Jack Taschner had been recalled from ABQ, but if I had, I would have laughed at it. Taschner was so bad that he was DFA’d by the Pirates, of all teams, in June. The fun part is, not only was he not good this year, he’s never been any good (career 4.47 FIP and 4.82 BB/9), his velocity has dropped four years in a row (down to 88.8 MPH this year), and he wasn’t even any good in AAA after signing with the Dodgers (four home runs allowed in ten innings.) Yet he’s somehow a better choice than Kenley Jansen, or if you must have a lefty, Juan Perez (9.3 K/9, 3.19 ERA for the Isotopes)?

Anyway, his simple recall isn’t what set me off here, it’s this bit of news, also from  Hernandez:

Tashner taking over as lefty specialist

That’s without throwing a pitch for the club, by the way. But not only is a guy who cut dumped by Pittsburgh being given an important role, what’s even funnier is that he’s completely unqualified for it. Despite being a lefty, Taschner has no discernible platoon split. For his career, he’s been hit by righties at a .796 clip, and lefties at .778. That comes out to a .292/.361/.416 line, and that’s just not all that good.

July 24:

It’s no surprise to see the non-Broxton and Kuo contingent fail, though Weaver had been generally reliable, and in particular watching Taschner fail was basically the most predictable thing ever.

July 29:

Weaver allowed a single and a double while not getting an out, Travis Schlichting allowed four runners and two runs in his inning of work, and Jack Taschner… well, I still can’t figure out what the hell he’s here for. He entered the game having not retired any of his first three batters in two games as Dodger, and promptly walked his first two tonight. He finally got his first out on his sixth batter, but even that was on a well-hit ball that happened to be directly at Matt Kemp. You’re going to have to make at least one roster move in the next few days (when Scott Podsednik arrives) and probably a second as well (if John Ely comes up to start), and there’s just no way that Taschner should remain – getting rid of him is perhaps even more vital than getting rid of Garret Anderson.

July 29:

Jack Taschner faced six batters as a Dodger, and he retired just one. Shockingly, he’s unemployed, as he was DFA’d just now to make room for Scott Podsednik.

Boy, who could have ever predicted that a guy who got cut by the Pirates and couldn’t keep the ball in the park in AAA would have been a huge failure?

And thus ends the long and storied Dodger career of Jack Taschner.

******
Next! Kenley Jansen bursts on the scene! James McDonald gets traded for magic beans! Jeff Weaver tries to stick around! It’s relievers, part 3!

 

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  1. [...] dominating left/right combo in baseball history, and if you don’t buy that, just go back and remember how great Kuo was in 2010. Unfortunately, Kuo never got untracked, sidetracked by issues both physical and [...]