MSTI’s 2011 in Review: Relievers, Part 3

Mike MacDougal (B+)
2.05 ERA, 3.96 FIP, 6.5 K/9, 4.6 BB/9

Sentences I never thought I’d write: “Along with Matt Guerrier, Mike MacDougal was one of only two Dodger relievers to spend the entire 2011 season on the active roster.” Think about that for a second.

Like with Aaron Miles, when MacDougal was given a non-roster invite in January it hardly warranted much attention, since he hadn’t been a useful pitcher for years and he didn’t figure to make much of an impact with the big club. Yet thanks to a solid spring and a bullpen that was far more unsettled at the end of camp than the start of it, MacDougal broke camp with the club and stuck around all season. When it became clear that he might be coming north in March because people were putting far too much importance on five scoreless spring innings (to that point), I looked at what was realistic to expect from him:

Remember, this is a guy who over the last four seasons has pitched in 144 major league games, and has a K/BB rate of 99/95, while allowing more than a hit per inning, and his minor league numbers haven’t been much better. I’m not immune to the idea that guys can get healthy or fix a mechanical issue that brings improved results, but rarely does that happen at 34, and in this case, the nice ERA isn’t really justified.

“The nice ERA isn’t really justified” was a recurring theme throughout the season, as “MacDougal allows inherited runners to score without affecting his own ERA” became something of a running joke, as you can see by the large gap between his ERA and his FIP. Just as an example, here’s part of a recap of a randomly selected game from June, though know that this could (and did) apply to a whole lot of MacDougal appearances:

I’d like to take this opportunity to once again point out how silly ERA can be. Kershaw left the bases loaded, and while starting that mess is definitely on him, once he left the game he had absolutely no control over whether those runners score. If Elbert wiggles out of that mess, Kershaw allows three total earned runs, which doesn’t look so bad. Elbert (and MacDougal) couldn’t, and so Kershaw’s line looks like a disaster. MacDougal, by the way, faced three batters without retiring a single one. He wasn’t charged with any earned runs. Remember that when someone looks at MacDougal’s 2.14 ERA and tries to tell you he’s any good. Hooray, ERA!

Now again, like Miles, MacDougal gets a lot of credit for being a zero-risk scrap-heap pickup who made some contributions this year, even briefly being elevated to the role of main setup man in front of Javy Guerra when injuries took down Kenley Jansen and Blake Hawksworth. When a team brings in the usual collection of has-beens and never-weres over the winter, this is exactly the sort of “good enough, but not great” performance you’re hoping for. So good on MacDougal for that, because a 3.96 FIP for a minimum salary is eminently usable.

That doesn’t change the fact that he was clearly overrated by many because of that shiny, clearly faulty ERA, of course. He barely struck out more than he walked over the season, and he was constantly hurting other pitchers by letting their inherited runners to score. Never was this demonstrated more clearly than in one of Don Mattingly’s worst managerial decisions, bringing MacDougal into a 1-1 game in Milwaukee on August 16:

With the game tied at one in the bottom of the ninth, Hong-Chih Kuo started the frame off by walking Prince Fielder on six pitches. Kuo didn’t look good doing it, and with righties Casey McGehee and Yuniesky Betancourt following, Don Mattingly strode to the mound and called to the bullpen for his righty, which was absolutely the correct move.

Unfortunately, coming in wasn’t Javy Guerra, who hadn’t pitched since Friday and has allowed just one earned run in the last two months. It was Mike MacDougal, who threw 2/3 of an inning last night and is, you know, Mike MacDougal. I’ve defended Mattingly a lot this season, but much of this loss lies on him, as he fell victim to the same mistake that managers have been making for decades, which is saving their closer for a lead in a tie game on the road.

Or as I put it on Twitter at the time,

Whenever you can bring Mike MacDougal in to a tied game with a man on in the bottom of the 9th, you have to do it.

I bet I don’t have to tell you how that ended, right? MacDougal is a free agent, but I think we all believe the Dodgers will show interest in retaining him. Let’s hope that’s for less than $1m, or even better, another non-guaranteed deal.

Ramon Troncoso (D-)
6.75 ERA, 5.19 FIP, 5.6 K/9, 1.6 BB/9

Geez, does anyone still remember 2009, when Troncoso was one of the more reliable non-elite relievers in the NL? That seems so long ago now. It’s easy to look back at 2010, when he pitched in 16 of the first 24 games, and conclude that Joe Torre ruined him like he did so many others, but that was a theory we investigated and largely discarded last season.

2011, Troncoso’s fourth season with the Dodgers, saw him have three different tours of duty with the big club, though his season numbers were ruined when he allowed 12 hits to just 17 batters in his first two appearances in April. He wasn’t seen again for a month, in which he had eight relatively good outings in May and June sandwiched around two disasters, and then spent all of July and August in the minors before returning in September to contribute five good outings and one nightmare.

As you can tell, Troncoso in 2011 was either hit or big, big miss. He’s under team control in 2012, but is out of options, meaning that he must break camp with the team (or be on the DL) or otherwise exposed to waivers before being sent down. It’s not altogether unlikely that we’ve seen the last of him as a Dodger.

Josh Lindblom (A-)
2.73 ERA, 2.35 FIP, 8.5 K/9, 3.0 BB/9

Was it really over two years ago that Lindblom was a fast riser, nearly breaking camp with the club in 2009 after just nine MiLB games in 2008? Apparently it was. Lindblom went back to ABQ and was successful in a relief role, but then was sent back to AA Chattanooga in an attempt to convert him to starting. The results were mixed for the remainder of 2009, and then 2010 was an absolute disaster, putting up a 6.54 ERA and allowing 13.5 hits per nine, and granted that’s in ABQ, but still not good. The Dodgers finally gave up the ghost on “Josh Lindblom, Starter”, and allowed him to return to the bullpen in June, where he was solid to end 2010 back in AA and excellent in 34 games for the Lookouts to start this season – earning himself a recall on May 29 when Kenley Jansen made a trip to the disabled list with shoulder inflammation.

Overall, the results were good. Lindblom got into 27 games across multiple stints with the team (generally going up and down as Jansen was available and not), and allowed more than one earned run just one time, which is solid. I remember saying to myself, about halfway through his tenure, that I liked him but that he didn’t miss enough bats, because over his first 13 games, he’d struck out just 9 in 16 innings. Over his final 14 outings, he whiffed 19 in 13.2, puncuated by striking out five of the six Diamondbacks he faced after replacing Clayton Kershaw following the ace’s ejection on September 14.

Looking ahead to 2012, Lindblom probably doesn’t have a job completely sown up out of camp, but with his 2011 performance and minimum cost salary, there’s no reason to think we won’t be seeing quite a bit of him.

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Next! Kenley Jansen is unhittable! Hong-Chih Kuo falls apart! And oh good lord, I have to write something about Lance Cormier? It’s the final installment of relievers – part 4!

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