Rod Barajas Is Going to Be a Dodger in 2012


You can mark that down right now, as we enjoy today’s 4-2 win over San Diego, which represents the eighth victory in nine games and finishes off the first winning month of the season at 16-11. As much as we might like to think that A.J. Ellis and Tim Federowicz might start next season as the backstop duo, it’s not likely to happen, nor should it: Federowicz has just 111 games of experience above A-ball. So while the out-of-options Ellis seems almost certain to be on the roster, the Dodgers are going to need another guy to pair with him. As Rod Barajas finishes off a smoking August (.357/.403/.750 with ten extra-base hits, including six homers) it seems more and more likely it’s going to be him, particularly with his professed love of playing in his hometown.

While we make fun of Barajas and his .293 OBP, I’m not entirely convinced that’s an awful thing. Don’t get me wrong; Barajas isn’t a great player, and I would love to have a better option than him. Just keep in mind how atrocious the state of the game is as far as offense from catchers is right now, because even lousy Rod Barajas is worth 1.2 WAR (in a rare situation where both WAR systems agree). The Dodgers have a .690 OPS from their catchers, which is pretty bad… except that 13 teams are even worse, and that’s even including the healthy dose of Dioner Navarro the Dodgers just suffered through. Sad as it sounds, a combination of Barajas and Ellis could possibly be average to slightly-above both at the plate and behind it.

That says a lot about the catching situation in the bigs, I think, but unless any of the guys on the 2012 free agent list thrill you (I joked recently that 41-year-olds Ivan Rodriguez and Jason Varitek are exactly the type of guys Ned Colletti would go after), it might be the best we can hope for.

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Eugenio Velez went hitless in two more at-bats; there is no reason for him to ever play again, ever. I’m serious about that, especially since Dee Gordon is back soon and rosters will be expanding. That said, thanks to Chad Moriyama and his smartly-named new site ChadMoriyama.com, we do have footage of the one thing Velez did hit today:

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MLB.com’s Mark Bowman reports that the Braves were the team who won the claim on Jamey Carroll, but the Dodgers said “they will not trade him”. It’s hard to know what, if anything, was discussed as the return from Atlanta (not much, most likely), but this does seem short-sighted. I like Carroll as much as anyone, yet having him around for another month isn’t going to add much. Ideally, he’d have been moved for whatever return was available, with the middle infield being handled exclusively by youngsters Gordon, Justin Sellers, and Ivan DeJesus, and third base dealt with from a grab-bag of whomever can walk among Aaron Miles, Casey Blake, and Juan Uribe. (Russ Mitchell can fetch coffee, I guess.) Again, it’s not that they were going to get a top prospect or anything in return for Carroll, it’s just that something would seemingly have been better than nothing.

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To the surprise of absolutely no one with a pulse, Dana Eveland will be recalled to start for the Dodgers on Thursday in Pittsburgh. Eveland appeared in three games for the Pirates last season, allowing 20 baserunners in 9.2 innings, though he was named a PCL All-Star this season for the Isotopes. DeJesus is also expected to join the team for the game, with further call-ups happening in the days ahead. (Update: now it sounds like it might be Mitchell instead.)

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As we’ve done here, ESPN looks at Clayton Kershaw against Roy Halladay for the NL Cy Young, and essentially declares it a dead heat:

Glancing at the remaining schedules, each pitcher appears to be in line for five more starts (although, with rotation shuffling and double-headers, it’s impossible to know for sure). Kershaw may have an easier go of things. Assuming regular rest, three of his remaining starts will come against the two worst offenses in the league by runs per game, the Giants and Padres. Entering play Tuesday, Kershaw’s probable remaining opponents had hit a collective .242/.307/.372 (.679 OPS). Meanwhile, Halladay’s likely slate sits at .261/.326/.400 (.726 OPS). It includes the Mets, Brewers, and Cardinals, all well above-average offenses. Don’t be surprised if Kershaw emerges from the 2011 season with his first piece of hardware. Either way, the NL Cy Young vote figures to be hotly debated and narrowly decided.

James and the Giant Streak


Not to totally shortchange Clayton Kershaw‘s fifth complete game of the season or Andre Ethier‘s 3-4 performance despite the whirlwind of controversy around him, but there’s no way either of those things interest me more than the fact that James Loney had two more extra base hits on Monday, including his ninth home run of the season. Over his last eight games, Loney has an absurd .541/1.000 OBP/SLG with four dingers and five doubles, and now that it seems this streak didn’t leave town with the Rockies, it’s time to take a look at what’s really going on here.

My first thought was that perhaps Loney had changed his mechanics, which is something we’ve heard endless times throughout the season from both Loney and Don Mattingly. I went through several of his games from his awful April and his amazing August, hoping to find some small change in his swing… and to be honest, I couldn’t, at least nothing worth pointing to and declaring that it was the cause of his recent success. Still, since I made several animated gifs, here’s two of them for you to look at and compare for yourselves.

This is Loney on April 8 in San Diego, where he went 0-5 with two strikeouts in one of his worst games of the season…


…and here he is crushing a homer off Colorado lefty Matt Reynolds last weekend against Colorado:

Other than the fact that he’s swinging at some bad balls from San Diego’s Cory Luebke and the Reynolds pitch is something of a meatball over the inner half of the plate, I don’t really see much there. He’s stepping in the bucket slightly in April, though he’s still doing that in August. That being said, I in no way consider myself a swing expert, so feel free to point out something I’m missing.

Still, even if it’s not mechanical, there’s clearly something going on, so what is it? Some suggest that the talk of his being non-tendered has somehow motivated him, but I have trouble buying into that, since there’s never been any negative whispers about Loney’s work ethic or personality and he’s been struggling for nearly two years now. There’s also the idea that replacing Jeff Pentland as hitting coach with Dave Hansen kick-started things; this is possible, though Hansen had been with the team all along and when people talk about how many more runs have scored since the move, they like to conveniently forget that Juan Rivera arrived at basically the same time. Maybe his struggles this year were so bad that opponents finally moved past the “but he’s a good RBI guy” myth and realized there was no reason to do anything but challenge him, allowing him fewer opportunities to chase bad balls and receive better pitches to hit. (The numbers don’t bare that out, though they’re for the full season; I don’t have any way of breaking them down within segments of a season.) All of these suggestions are possibilities, yet none stand out. (Edit: I also meant to mention, but forgot to do so, that his streak roughly corresponds with being moved up to the #2 spot in the lineup, which could also help him see better pitches in front of Kemp. Kudos to Wil in the comments for pointing it out. That said, it also has to be more than that, since he has batted sixth twice and fourth once in his streak.)

For the moment, I’m leaning towards our subconscious perception of Loney as being the main culprit. As hot as Loney as been lately – and make no mistake, he’s been excellent – it’s also been eight games and 35 at-bats. In his previous 37 at-bats, leading back to the beginning of the month, he’d hit .243/.341/.351 with two extra-base hits. In all of July, he hit .176/.225/.230 with four extra-base hits, all doubles. So as much as I’m enjoying the new and improved James Loney, this level of production is going to need to last for at least another week or two (if not the rest of the season) before I’m able to chalk it up to anything more than a very welcome hot streak.

That’s what brings me back to perception. Streaks happen in baseball. Anyone can have one, in either direction. Just as Loney is absolutely not as good as he’s been over the last week, he’s also not really as bad as he showed in April when we were all calling for his head. It won’t take too much more for this hot streak to basically counteract his frigid start; as Jon Weisman rightly mentioned at Dodger Thoughts, since Loney’s low point on April 24, he’s essentially been standard-issue Loney, with an OPS similar to his career marks.

The problem for Loney was the timing, since due to the daily nature of baseball, first impressions sometimes count for too much. Other than fewer RBI, in large part due to the low-OBP crew the Dodgers have assembled this year, Loney is probably going to end up with a season line very similar to what he’s put up in each of the last three seasons. Taken as a whole, whether he was cold in April and hot in August or vice-versa doesn’t really matter, since it all counts for the same over the course of a season. Yet since Loney got off to such a bad start, his batting average didn’t climb above .250 until the middle of June. That’s a whole lot of time for people to be looking at box scores and television graphics and seeing their first baseman hitting .190, .220, .240, etc. If he’d had the hot streak first, it might have taken him that long to get his average below .300, and you can bet that people would be thinking of him differently, even though overall his season might be completely identical.

We’ve seen this phenomenon happen before. Rod Barajas had essentially one good week in all of 2010, yet since it was in his first week as a Dodger, he didn’t receive a whole lot of criticism for the fact he did little in September – and it helped him get a hefty contract for 2011. In 2009, Orlando Hudson got off to a fantastic start, hitting .348/.429/.539 through the first 35 games of the season. Despite the fact that he played so poorly the rest of the year that he eventually lost his job to Ronnie Belliard in the playoffs, that first impression (and the fact his batting average looked pretty on the scoreboard every night), meant most Dodger fans remembered their first impression of Hudson as a second base superstar.

The point is, absent further information or the unlikely probability that Loney hits like this through the end of the season, he’s probably going to be the same James Loney that he’s always been. He’ll end up with 10-12 homers and a line somewhere in the neighborhood of .280/.335/.395, just like every year.  He was never as bad as we poked fun at him for being early in the season when he struggled to get the average above .200, nor is he as good as he’s seemed in the last week. He’s still going to be a likely non-tender following the season, simply because the Dodgers can’t afford to pay ~$6m to a non-star first baseman (though it’s possible they still attempt to bring him back after that for a lesser price.)

Streaks happen. Let’s enjoy this one.

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Some minor pitching news: the Dodgers are about to need two additional starting pitchers. Nathan Eovaldi‘s start on Saturday will be his last one of the season, says Don Mattingly, but in addition he’s shuffled the rotation so that Chad Billingsley will start on Friday and a minor league callup will start the Thursday makeup game in Pittsburgh. Thursday is September 1, so there’s no roster implications there, but presumptive choice John Ely started for Albuquerque on Sunday and I doubt they’d throw him on short rest. Ken Gurnick suggests Dana Eveland or Allen Webster; Webster is infinitely more fun yet has also been hit hard in his last few games, so it’s almost certainly Eveland, with he and Ely probably each getting starts in September.

Dee Gordon’s Rehab Delays Are Going to Save Eugenio Velez’ Pursuit of Infamy


This is relatively unimportant in the grand scheme of things, though I’m happy to be taking a break from the Andre Ethier firestorm for just a second (though do be sure to check out Tony Jackson’s latest must-read on the subject). Lost in a weekend of Ethier-mania, Matt Kemp walkoffs, and James Loney resurrections was this somewhat minor note that popped up yesterday: Dee Gordon‘s minor-league rehab stint has been extended to three games, rather than two. This is the second time his rehab has been slightly delayed, since he was originally supposed to start the rehab on Thursday and Friday in hopes of returning over the weekend. That didn’t happen, and now the earliest he’s going to be able to rejoin the team is Thursday’s makeup game in Pittsburgh, or maybe even Friday at home against Atlanta if he doesn’t make that long one-day trip to Pennsylvania.

As Jackson notes, it’s simply a “more conservative approach, nothing to be worried about”, and he’s right: alone, it’s barely even worth noting. But what it means is that not only is he not coming off the DL as soon as he was eligible (which was August 25), he won’t be back until Thursday – and Thursday is September 1, roster expansion day, meaning no corresponding move will need to be made in his place. And that means that instead of the long-welcomed DFA of Eugenio Velez (which was almost certainly going to be what would have happened, unless you really think that Justin Sellers was going down instead), Velez is going to be a Dodger for the rest of the season. Much fun as it might be to watch Velez chase down a historic mark for futility, I have a hard time enjoying it in the same way I was rooting for “most left fielders in a season” and “most players in a season”. Watching Velez flail isn’t fun; it’s just sad. He’s clearly not a big leaguer, and he doesn’t belong here. With every out he makes, it’s just more embarrassing for him and the team.

Since we’re talking about September 1, let’s put some expected names out there. Don Mattingly claims “fewer than 10″, though even that seems like a lot since (without doing any research at all) I believe the number has been between 5-7 in previous years. That being said, here’s who I think we’ll see:

C Tim Federowicz
1B/OF Jerry Sands
2B Ivan DeJesus
3B Russ Mitchell
OF Jamie Hoffmann
SP John Ely
RP Josh Lindblom (eligible Sept. 4)
RP Ramon Troncoso

As I said previously, I originally didn’t think Federowicz would come up this soon since they didn’t need to place him on the 40-man roster until after next season, but that plan changed as soon as Dioner Navarro was cut loose. (Since we now know that Navarro’s move was in the works for a while but just required Rod Barajas to be healthy first, I suppose Federowicz is who Ned Colletti was referring to when he said at least one prospect was coming up to get acclimated.) Other possibilities could be Jon Link or Dana Eveland, though neither are on the 40-man roster. I also wouldn’t completely rule out DeJesus not getting recalled, if the Dodgers prefer to see what Sellers can do at second base once Gordon returns to reclaim shortstop.

Late Dodger Comeback Falls Short as Andre Ethier Story Dominates the Day


Last week
, I praised the solid performance of rookie Nathan Eovaldi, while in the same breath pointing out that his low strikeout rate and unsustainably low BABIP meant that regression was likely coming. We didn’t have to wait long to see it: payback from the BABIP gods came in the first inning today, as the balls that had previously found their way into gloves for Eovaldi instead found open grass amid some questionable outfield defense, allowing Colorado to put up five before the Dodgers even came to bat.

To Eovaldi’s credit, he did manage to retire nine of the next eleven before being lifted after four, but the damage was done; despite the Dodgers scoring single runs in the first and third on hits by Justin Sellers and James Loney – yes, him again – the margin returned to five as the Rockies plated two more against Blake Hawksworth in the fifth inning, even as Los Angeles chased noted Dodger-killer Jhoulys Chacin with eleven baserunners in five innings. The Dodgers scored two in the seventh despite not having a hit (Chacin walked the bases loaded, followed by Eugenio Velez hitting into a fielder’s choice – that’s an RBI, not a hit – and Tony Gwynn adding a sacrifice fly. Two more scored in the eighth on hits by Aaron Miles and Trent Oeltjen, setting the stage for a nearly identical situation as Saturday: Colorado closer Rafael Betancourt looking to protect a one-run lead against Miles, Loney, and Kemp. (The batting order was slightly different, but each game had the same three hitters).

Unfortunately for the Dodgers, neither Kemp nor Loney could recreate their Saturday heroics – and as much fun as it might have been to see Loney tie the game on another homer, I’m not sure I could have lived in the world that would have ensued, where black is white, north is east, and up is west – and Miles flew out to left to end the game, ending the Dodger five game winning streak.

The big story, of course, is the fallout from T.J. Simers’ story about Andre Ethier‘s knee. Ethier was not in the lineup today, having met with team doctors for a further examination, and Don Mattingly had some choice quotes for Tony Jackson of ESPNLA:

“I got kind of blindsided by that (column),” Mattingly said. “To me, the way I read it was that Dre has been telling us he couldn’t play and we said play anyway. That definitely isn’t the case. For me, that is taking a shot at my integrity. Not just mine, but the organization, the training staff and Ned.

“His knee has been banged up, there is no denying that. But with that, we check with him. ‘Are you OK today?’ There have been times when I will get him in the weight room after a game and say, ‘I’m giving you the day off tomorrow,’ and then he’ll come into my office and say he wants to (play).”

Ned Colletti didn’t take the story well, either:

“I talked to Andre three weeks ago, one on one,” Colletti said. “We talked about the season, talked about the future and talked about the team. (The knee) wasn’t a topic.”

Colletti said he then received a call from Ethier’s agent, Nez Balelo, while the Dodgers were in Milwaukee two weeks ago informing him that Ethier was experiencing knee problems, that he might need a minor surgical procedure at some point to correct them and that they were affecting his offensive performance, which has been disappointing this season, especially since the All-Star break. “I said, ‘Can he play?”’ Colletti said. “(The answer was) yeah. I had a conversation with Nez again before the game (Saturday). We talked about a lot of different topics related to Andre and related to the knee. My impression was that it was something that would have to be looked at, but it wasn’t something that had to be taken care of right now.”

As we’d thought, the Dodgers were not simply shaking off the truth and forcing Ethier to play; in addition to the firestorm that’d bring from the player’s union, it also makes no sense at all. What’s most interesting, as noted by Vin Scully during the game and printed by Steve Dilbeck of the LA Times, is that Ethier never claimed that Simers misquoted him, (which may be a first for Simers), just that the story didn’t come out the way he’d wanted it to. It’s also worth noting that his knee is apparently such a problem that he considered surgery last winter, has felt “cracking and crunching” in the knee just when walking, and required three injections of synthetic fluid in the knee a few weeks ago. All of which seems to suggest that not only is the knee largely responsible for his lousy season, it’s something that isn’t going to get better unless he goes under the knife – and if that’s the case, I’m wondering what the point is in delaying it until after the season while trying to continue to play and potentially making it worse.

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Remember John Lindsey, last year’s heartwarming story? 2011 hasn’t gone quite as well, as he’s missed nearly two months with a variety of leg injuries and is all but certainly not going to receive a call-up next week. At 35 in January and with that big-league callup under his belt, you might think he’d be ready to move on, but Christopher Jackson of the Albuquerque Baseball Examiner shares with us that Lindsey has other ideas:

Lindsey has been limited to serving as a designated hitter, moving slowly and carefully out of the batting box any time he does connect with the baseball. Sometimes fans who are clearly unaware of his physical condition have given him an earful from the stands.

“It’s funny, I hear it but I don’t,” Lindsey said. “My teammates come in and tell me, ‘Hey, have they been to a game this year? Don’t they know you’re hanging on there by a thread?’ (But) it doesn’t affect me.”

Lindsey said he will return to his home in Hattiesburg, Miss., to rest and rehab his leg with the hope of being healthy enough to play in a winter league in Latin America later in the offseason.

“I’m just trying to stay positive, going into this offseason, working with the trainer and hoping I can erase father time a little bit,” Lindsey said. “It’s kind of strange how this hit me all of a sudden this year. But I feel if I can get myself in good shape, go to winter ball and show teams that I can play, then hopefully next season I can get another job and do what I can do.”

Is Andre Ethier Being Treated Unfairly?


Of the many things that have gone wrong for the Dodgers this season, among the most troubling is the total power outage from Andre Ethier, counted upon to be a lynchpin of the offense alongside Matt Kemp. Ethier’s 30-game hitting streak ended on May 7; since then, he’s hit just .255/.336/.373 with seven homers in 375 plate appearances. He hasn’t homered since July 25 (against you guessed it – Colorado) and August is shaping up to be an especially brutal month, with just three extra base hits and a .189 batting average in 89 plate appearances.

So what’s wrong with the longest-tenured Dodger hitter? T.J. Simers of the LA Times points to two issues, the first being his supposedly injured right knee:

Ask Ethier if he should still be playing on a right knee that will require off-season surgery, and he says, “If you’re expecting me to do what I’ve done in the past, no, there’s no possible way I can do that right now. You can say tough it out and give it your best shot, but it’s not going to happen.

There’s a lot more to get to in this piece, but let’s start with the knee. We’ve known that Ethier’s been dealing with a sore knee for a while, but this is the first time that I’m aware of that we’ve seen Ethier “will” require surgery on it. (It’s here where we note that Simers is generally a clownshoe who prefers to make fun of how to pronounce Marcus Thames‘ name than to actually break news, so consider the source, though it’s not his style to falsify a fact like that.)

I couldn’t remember a specific incident where Ethier had hurt his knee, and it hasn’t kept him out of the lineup for more than a game or two this season. A Google search turned up this Ken Gurnick story from July 19:

Andre Ethier was out of the Dodgers starting lineup Tuesday night, in part because he’s struggled against left-handed pitchers and in part because of a right knee that could require offseason cleanup arthroscopy.

“It’s just a day off,” said manager Don Mattingly. “Dre’s been battling lefties [.228] and I’m hearing a little more about his knee. It’s a good day to give him.”

Ethier hyperextended his right knee in Spring Training 2010 and ices it after every game. On an at-bat in Arizona over the weekend, he stumbled out of the batter’s box on a swing. Nonetheless, he’s played all but two games this year.

I couldn’t find any reference to Ethier hurting his knee in articles published in February or March of 2010, and it doesn’t appear in the Baseball Prospectus injury database. He was crushing the ball to start that season before injuring his finger in May; his struggles in the second half of the season were largely blamed on that injury. Still, I’m willing to believe that his underwhelming performance over the last year has to have a root cause, and as Gurnick notes Ethier has looked bad on several swings this year, so the idea that the knee was a small problem that’s progressively gotten worse passes the small test.

If that’s the case, that leads us to a larger concern, which is Ethier’s apparently deteriorating relationship with the team. (Assuming, again, that Simers is still pretending he’s a journalist and hasn’t completely inflated these quotes.) If Simers is to be believed, these quotes from Ethier sound as though player and team are at odds about the severity of the injury:

“It’s only going to get worse from this point. I’ve dealt with it all season long, but as the season goes on my body wears down. That’s just the way it is — I keep getting put in the lineup, so what am I supposed to do?”

The Dodgers played all season without a left fielder, so why not make a change in right, shut down Ethier and wheel him into the operating room?

“A million-dollar question,” Ethier says before catching himself. “But I think there is a value in finishing anything you start.”

and:

“Other than going into the training room every day and saying my knee hurts,” Ethier says, “and having six-inch needles stuck into it to make it feel better, I’ve told them my mechanics are messed up because of my knee. They know.

“But they’ve told me, ‘Grin and bear it.’”

That does seem to infer that the club doesn’t agree about how much pain he’s in, and the article also includes some less-than-supportive quotes from Ned Colletti on the situation. If the team really thought he was hurt, Don Mattingly probably wouldn’t be saying things like bumping him down to the 5th spot in the lineup was done to relieve some pressure on Ethier. That said, it’s hard to know who to believe here; Colletti may be the guy who foolishly called out Matt Kemp last year, told Xavier Paul that he needed to learn how to be a big leaguer, and announced on the radio that Jonathan Broxton was out as closer weeks before that was actually the case, but Ethier’s also well-known for his emotional outbursts, including dropping the thought that he might be non-tendered just 48 hours before the start of the season.

The point is, it’s impossible to determine the truth from these quotes, other than the seemingly unavoidable conclusion that Ethier and the organization may be at odds. If Ethier is hurt, then it does neither him nor the team any good to keep throwing him out there to worsen the knee and torpedo the offense. With Jerry Sands‘ return imminent, it’s not the worst thing in the world to throw Sands and Juan Rivera out there around Kemp every day, with Tony Gwynn, Trent Oeltjen, and Jamie Hoffmann around as depth. If Ethier’s not hurt, then that might even be worse – why, then, has his performance suffered so much?

Either way, I’ve long taken the opinion (unpopular among casual fans) that Ethier is not someone I want to see the team invest tens of millions of dollars into, since he’s nearly 30, less than a star-level hitter who can’t hit lefties, doesn’t play outstanding defense, and is a bit too vocal with his criticisms – particularly since Kemp and Clayton Kershaw both need to be taken care of, despite the uncertain ownership situation. Unfortunately, none of this is doing much to help his trade value.