The biggest news of the day for the Dodgers came shortly before the game, when it was revealed that first baseman James Loney had thrown a bullpen session, since Saturday night’s extra inning affair had exhausted much of the Dodger relief corps. (Why exactly this was a preferable solution to simply shooting the useless Eugenio Velez into the sun and getting an arm from Albuquerque to Denver overnight is unknown, but I’ll try to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that travel concerns for today’s day game made that implausible, and not that Velez is just too valuable to replace.)
This of course led to the usual spate of jokes that if the need arose, Loney would be a more valuable pitcher to the Dodgers than he’s been a hitter this year. Don’t forget, he’d entered the day with the 17th-worst seasonal OPS+ by a first baseman since Jackie Robinson integrated the game in 1947, and he’s lost a portion of his starting job to Juan Rivera, having entered five of his last ten games as a defensive replacement or pinch-hitter.
And then Loney went out and got four hits, including a double and a homer, good for his second four-hit game of the season. Because of course he did.
What we’d forgotten, of course, was that this game was played in Coors Field, and James Loney loves hitting in Coors Field. This is more than just your usual “inflated Denver offense” situation; the homer was his 9th in Colorado in 187 career plate appearances. That’s nearly halfway to his Dodger Stadium career total of 20, which he’s needed 1429 plate appearances to accumulate. Of Loney’s six homers in 2011, four have either come in Colorado (three) or against them (one).
Of course, all this focus on Loney obscures the bizarre day Chad Billingsley put forth in picking up his tenth loss of the season. With the bullpen in shambles, Billingsley absolutely, positively had to put up innings, something which has traditionally been tough for him in Colorado. When he allowed a Mark Ellis single and a Carlos Gonzalez homer within the first three batters of the game, you could almost hear the wheels turning to get Loney out to the bullpen. But Billingsley got Troy Tulowitzki and Jason Giambi to end the first, and then faced just one batter over the minimum through the next five innings. In fact, Billingsley went 7.2 innings, and allowed just one hit after the first frame; unfortunately, it was a Seth Smith homer to right, following a walk to Giambi, in the 7th inning. The non-Loney Dodgers managed just four hits against the corpse of Kevin Millwood, and that’s how Chad Billingsley allowed just three hits while going into the 8th inning in Colorado, yet still came away with the loss. As Jon Weisman notes at Dodger Thoughts, this is only the third time in Rockies history they’ve won a home game with three or fewer hits.
Baseball’s a funny game sometimes. But not as funny as it would have been to see James Loney pitching.
I’ve tried to stay away from the “why is guy X playing over guy Y”, since the day-to-day machinations in a lost season don’t really matter too much, particularly when there’s not a ton of great alternatives. But seriously, Dioner Navarro, after another 0-4 today (along with a throwing error), is now at .193/.276/.324. He’s had his chance to prove that his terrible last few years were the fluke, as opposed to his solid 2008. It hasn’t happened. Why exactly are we not seeing A.J. Ellis play every day for the last six weeks?
In the LA Times this morning, Ben Bolch delves into new-fangled stats like WAR, VORP, BBQ, and LOL, little of which will be news to most of you. Unfortunately for Don Mattingly, because I’ve generally been a supporter of his this season, I’m obligated to share with you that he’s making me sad:
Don Mattingly, the Dodgers’ manager and a former American League batting champion, said he preferred runs scored.
“Think about it,” Mattingly said. “You have to be on base to do it; you have to be getting yourself in position [to score]. If you’re scoring 100 runs, you’re out there a lot, so it means your on-base [percentage] is up there, it probably means you have some extra-base hits or been a guy that can steal a bag.”
Though the flaws in Mattingly’s argument are obvious, I don’t need to explain why, because Ned Colletti, of all people, is on the case:
Colletti’s rebuttal: Runs scored are influenced by other hitters in the lineup, so they’re not the most valuable measurement.
Well, there’s something you don’t see every day: right on, Ned.