’s 2008 In Review: Shortstop

Ahh, shortstop. Or as we like to think of it in 2008, “the Valley of the Damned.”

Angel Berroa (D+)
(.230/.304/.310 1hr 16rbi)

I have to say, I never expected to be reviewing Angel Berroa as the shortstop who got the most at-bats for the Dodgers this season. To be honest, I think this grade might be the one that differs the most from the mainstream perception. How many times did we have to read stories saying how great Berroa was in stepping in for Rafael Furcal? In particular, there was the heart attack I nearly had in August when Joe Torre started spouting insanity like “I tried to reason who was going to give me the better at-bat – Berroa or Loney.”

On the other hand, you’ve got me, who thought acquiring him was a terrible idea in the first place, laughed when he went his first 21 games without an RBI, and campaigned in August to give Chin-Lung Hu another shot.

Look, I’m not blind to the circumstances that caused Berroa to get such playing time in the first place, and sure, I enjoyed his decent hot streak where he hit .333 in 20 games between 8/24 and 9/17. I just don’t understand why so many people considered him to be, well, good. I mean, we’re talking about a guy who was so bad that even though the Royals signed him to a 4-year contract and had indisputably the worst shortstop in baseball (Tony Pena), they still wouldn’t let Berroa out of Triple-A. Despite that track record, he still underperformed in 2008 – his BA and SLG was far under his career averages, and while his OBP was almost identical to his career number, at .304 that’s hardly anything to be proud of. Putting up a 62 OPS+ when the career average that got you demoted was 77 is hardly a good thing, nor is the fact that of the 42 shortstops who had at least 200 plate appearances, Berroa’s VORP was 35th, at -3.7. That’s right, negative.

“But MSTI,” you might say. “Everyone knows he can’t hit. At least he was a good fielder, and that’s what was most important.” Which is all well and good, except that it’s not particularly true. Baseball Prospectus has his FRAA (Fielding Runs Above Average) at 0, which makes him exactly average. I suppose that’s a nice step up from his career -44 number in that regard, but it’s certainly not the sublime level with the glove that Chin-Lung Hu offers, which is basically what I was saying in August when I wanted to replace Berroa with Hu.

Really, there’s a reason that Berroa gets a D+ and not a straight F, and that’s because we all knew he was a terrible player as soon as he was acquired, so it’s hard to act surprised when he was terrible and somehow underperformed his already lousy career marks. If anything, it’s the media that deserves the F for trying to fool people into believing that Berroa was a useful player. His 2009 option was declined, but that doesn’t neccessarily mean the end of Berroa in LA – it just means that he’s clearly not worth $5.5 million. Let’s hope the front office realizes he’s not worth a roster spot, either.
Rafael Furcal (I take the 5th)
(.357/.439/.573 5hr 16rbi)
Well, I don’t even know where to start with this one. After the worst season of his career in 2007 (thanks, Jason Repko!), Furcal got off to an absolutely blazing hot start. Just how good was he over the first month? Remember, VORP is a counting stat, and despite playing in just 36 games, Furcal still was the 14th-best shortstop – beating out guys like Miguel Tejada and Orlando Cabrera, who played full seasons. I don’t need to tell you what happened after that, with his back injury keeping him out for nearly five solid months, and nearly taking the Dodger season along with it.

But you know what the worst part was? The uncertainty. It’s one thing when you see a guy blow out his knee or break his arm, because you know right then and there he’s out for quite a while. You mourn the loss, but you move on and start making plans to get by. However, with Furcal, at first he was just kept out as a “precaution”; then it was “he’ll be back this weekend”, and then “in a week”; and then the next thing you know we’ve been watching Berroa, Nomar, and Hu suck the life out of shortstop until practically October. It’s not too much of a stretch to say that of everything that didn’t go right for the 2008 Dodgers, this one stung the most – even more than Andruw Jones’ epic chokejob.

It really makes you wonder what a Dodger offense with a healthy Furcal and a happy Manny could have looked like, right? I’m still holding out hope that we’ll see that in 2009, but it sounds like we’ll at least get Furcal back, since interest in his return is mutual. Hey, maybe we’ll get one benefit out of Furcal’s injury and it’ll drive his price down a little.

Nomar Garciaparra (D)
(.264/.326/.466 8hr 28rbi)
Man, and I thought Jeff Kent’s 2008 was eventful. Remember, at the beginning of camp, the biggest question was, “who’s going to win the third base job – Nomar or Andy LaRoche?” Well, that lasted as long as March 7, when both Nomar and LaRoche got hurt in the same spring game, with Nomar suffering a microfracture of his right wrist.

So okay, Nomar’s season debut is delayed until April 16th (injury #1), at which time he reclaimed the starting 3B job from Blake DeWitt…
…which Nomar kept for all of 9 days before injuring himself again. But hey, at least during those 9 days he hit .226 and asked Chip Caray if he could shake left-handed because that’s how much his right hand hurt! On April 26th, Nomar popped his calf (injury #2) and missed over two months. Okay, so far: nothing crazy, because Nomar gets hurt all the time.

But this time, Nomar returns on July 4th….as the starting shortstop! Which is doubly hilarious when you remember that half the reason a red-hot James Loney couldn’t get out of AAA in 2007 is that first baseman Nomar was deemed too fragile to move across the diamond and replace Wilson Betemit at third base. This time Nomar lasts all of 18 games before injuring his knee on July 27th (injury #3). He returned on August 12th and regained his starting SS job for the next few weeks until August 29th (hitting .167 over that time) before being benched for Angel Berroa’s one sign of life. He miraculously made it all the way until September 27th before…

injuring his knee again (injury #4), though this one didn’t land him on the DL, thanks to expanded rosters. Finally, other than one start at 1B against Jamie Moyer in the NLCS, he was last seen riding the bench for all of the playoffs and striking out feebly to end games. In the rare moments Nomar was actually able to play this year, he wasn’t completely terrible: a 105 ERA+ is actually slightly above average, and his .466 SLG was higher than anyone except for Manny, Ethier and Furcal. He did also mash lefties (1.067 OPS), although I’m hesistant to call that a repeatable skill because in 2007, he was actually markedly worse against lefties than righties.

I don’t like to blame Nomar for all the injuries, but he gets the grade he does simply because he wasn’t there when we needed him to be. We needed him to hold down third base at the beginning of the year with LaRoche hurt, and his absence contributed to the Dodgers having to turn to Blake DeWitt (and remember, DeWitt’s success doesn’t make it right – there were plenty of us who thought he was going to put up Jonesian numbers). We needed him to take over from DeWitt when the league started to catch up, and Nomar couldn’t answer the call. We needed him to prevent having to play Berroa at shortstop every day, and he was unable.

As for the future? Well, Nomar hasn’t decided if he’s retiring or not. But if he chooses to return, I can’t imagine there’s a whole lot of other teams clamoring for his services; conversely, I would think he wouldn’t want to leave his young family and his hometown. If he’s willing to play on a one-year deal at a markedly reduced salary, with the understanding that he’s the backup at 1st and 3rd (i.e., the new Big Sexy), I would find that acceptable – if only so I can keep using that picture!
Chin-Lung Hu (F)
(.181/.252/.233 0hr 9rbi)

This, I must say, is one review I’ve really not been looking forward to, because I had such high hopes for Hu entering the season, and he couldn’t possibly have failed more miserably. Just to show I’m not above bashing myself, this is what I said in last year’s season reviews after Hu had a breakout 2007 in the minors, which won him the Dodgers Minor League Player of the Year award:

So now in the space of one season, Hu has gone from “great glove/might not hit enough to stick” to “great glove/may be one of the better hitting SS around”. So much so that I wouldn’t mind seeing Furcal get dealt for something good and letting Hu get a crack at SS.

Hold on a second, it’s hard to type with all that egg on my face. There we go. After starting the season as Jeff Kent’s caddy at second base, Hu got the first crack at the shortstop job when Rafael Furcal was lost in early May… and it’s hard to overstate just how badly he fared. At the time of his first start at SS on May 6th, Hu was hitting .229/.325/.229 in mostly part-time duty. 76 at-bats later, he’d nabbed just 10 hits and was at .159/.224/.206 when he was sent down on June 7th. Really, if Hu had been able to just be decent, we might have been able to avoid the Angel Berroa era entirely. On the plus side, his glove was as good as advertised – in 75 career games, he’s made just 2 errors.

Hu’s brutal 2008 clearly torpedoed any chance of him getting the starting gig in 2009, but I’m not ready to give up on him yet, and there’s two reasons why (besides for his fantastic defense):

1) Hu’s lousy hitting might be traced back to vision problems. In last season’s review, I noted that Hu had a terrible offensive 2006, was diagnosed with an eye issue, and had a monster 2007. In August of this year when I campaigned for his return, we’d heard that the exact same thing had happened this season:

Hu hit the minor league DL with vision problems soon after he got there, and since getting that taken care of has been killing the ball, putting up a .361/.400/.475 line. There’s precedent for this with him, too; after struggling through 2006 (.660 OPS) problems with his vision were first made public, and after getting his eyes healthy in the offseason, he busted out with an .871 OPS in 2007.

Now I know it’s a small sample size, but in eleven plate appearances after his recall to LA in September, he reached base six times. I don’t know what keeps going on with his eyes, and obviously if he can’t get this taken care of more permanently it’s going to seriously impact his career, but it really seems that there’s a clear cause-and-effect relationship here, now that it’s happened twice. If he can get this fixed, he might be able to return to his 2007 form. Besides, while no one expected him to OPS .871 in the majors this year, I have a hard time believing that the same guy who did that in the minors in 2007 could only put up a .485 mark in 2008 unless there’s some other issue involved.

2) He’s only had 145 career at-bats, and is still just 24. I hope that Hu’s absurdly poor showing at the plate hasn’t completely poisoned him to the average Dodger fan, but 145 at-bats is hardly enough time to give up on a player who could be a rare blend of excellent defense and productive offense. That said, his lousy 2008 has almost forced the Dodgers to try and retain Furcal, but it remains to be seen what that deal will be. If it’s only a one or two year deal, then maybe Hu gets a chance to regain his prospect standing in AAA or on the LA bench until Furcal is gone. But if it’s longer than that, Hu probably will have to get his shot elsewhere, and personally I don’t wish to see that – regardless of my including him in a trade in my offseason plan.

- Mike Scioscia’s tragic illness msti-face.jpg’s 2008 in Review: Second Base

On to our second base review, and no, I didn’t forget Blake DeWitt – he’ll be included under third base, since that’s where he played most of the season.

Jeff Kent ()
(.280/.327/.418 12hr 59rbi)
What a wild year for Mr. Friendly, right? When summing up a season, I always like to look back and see what we thought about him at various points in time. But few players have had all of these things written about them in the course of the same season:

May 21: “Just in Case Jeff Kent Needs Some Motivation…

Think about that. If Jeff Kent keeps up his current pace and Joe Torre continues to bat him cleanup, he’s going to be the second worst cleanup hitter of the last fifty years – and as the THT article explains, Aramis Ramirez was only so bad in 2002 because he played all year on a destroyed ankle.

July 13: “Too Many Problems, Whatcha Gonna Do

Back to Joe Torre, I implore you to read this carefully, because it just might be the greatest thing ever uttered:

On Jeff Kent: “He’s the perfect example of a player. He’s struggling, but we know we’re going to get a professional at-bat every time he gets in the box.”

“He’s the perfect example of a player.” I love this sentence. I want to get it tattooed on my back. I want to take it out behind the middle school and get it pregnant. I want it to be prominently displayed on all forms of United States currency from now until the end of time. “He’s the perfect example of a player.” As opposed to, say, Russell Martin, who is the perfect example of a 1920s vaudeville singer, and Brad Penny, who is the perfect example of a hamster.

Aug. 30: “Eight is Enough

You would think that a knee injury so painful that he’s missing the biggest series of the year would explain why Kent’s having the worst season of his entire career, right? But Kent says that he’s been playing with pain for a month – a month in which he’s been excellent, hitting .357/.394/.439. Whether that’s Manny-aided or not, that’s impressive, but who gets hurt and then has their performance improve?

Aug. 31: “Jeff Kent’s Dodger Legacy” (Dodger Thoughts)

Jeff Kent, whose Dodger career began at age 37, is the greatest-hitting second baseman in Los Angeles Dodger history.

Sept. 2: “Are the Dodgers Better Off Without Jeff Kent?

This is hardly a solid cause-and-effect, but with Kent, the Dodgers had lost 10 of their last 11 games. As soon as he was out of town (and not just out of the lineup. The whole point here is the idea that just his presence may have been detrimental), they’ve ripped off four wins in a row, starting with Saturday’s game, since as the article notes, he left before it.

Sept. 21: “Sunday, Bloody Sunday

Say friends, did you also know that, yesterday, the Dodgers activated Jeff Kent?  You know, the one who just had knee surgery TWO weeks ago.

And so forth. I could go on, but I think you get the idea – Jeff Kent’s (likely) swan song was a wild ride of ups, downs, injuries, downs, postseason benchings, and downs. For the record, his 77 OPS+ out of the cleanup spot merely ties him for the third worst cleanup season of all time, and he’s still a lousy defensive second baseman (last of 16 qualified MLB 2B in range factor, 14th in fielding %, 12th in zone rating), although it’s not like anyone thought he’d be anything otherwise.

That said, 2008 wasn’t a complete debacle for Kent. Any discussion of his statistics has to of course begin with the standard age-related disclaimer: the man is 40 years old. In that light, putting up a seasonal 95 OPS+ isn’t that bad. Only five 40 year olds have managed to play most of a full season at second base since 1961, and the most productive of that group was Tony Phillips for the 1999 A’s, who put up a 108 OPS+, so Kent’s not that far off. Simply put, it’s pretty rare for anyone his age to still be a starting second baseman, and the fact that he very nearly was a league-average hitter is pretty impressive. Among all 2008 second basemen, his .745 OPS ranks him 16th, which is just about the middle of the pack, but still above names like Rickie Weeks, Robinson Cano, and Akinori Iwamura. And just like any old man, Kent was wildly unpredictable. Sometimes he’s fondly remembering his date with that cute nurse right after V-E Day (OPS of .750 or better in April, June, and August), and sometimes he’s wildly cursing at John F. Kennedy and the damn Demmycrats ruining the country (.551 OPS in May).

Almost as importantly, Kent seems to have not ignited any clubhouse fires this season, although I’ve always felt that most of the “young immature guys” vs. “get off my lawn!” battles were hugely media-driven because they make for good copy. Hell, Matt Kemp even said that he and Kent listened to Lil’ Wayne before games to get pumped up, and while I’m not sold that that’s 100% true, Kemp probably wouldn’t have even joked about if it he was afraid Professor Kent was going to sit him down, rap his knuckles with a ruler, and educate him about the days when men were men and all we needed to toughen up the god damn hippies was to send them to ‘Nam.

You know, the more I write these things, the more I realize that I think of Jeff Kent as Red Forman from That 70′s Show.

Anyway, Kent doesn’t get a letter grade. You can’t give him an A or a B because he simply wasn’t all that great, but I can’t see giving him a C or a D because he’s doing things at his age and position that almost no one has done before. So Jeff, take your gold watch and ride off into the sunset of Texas on your motorcycle. We’ll miss you (his 2005 was excellent, he now holds the Dodger record for homers at ages 37, 38, 39, and 40, and as DodgerThoughts said, he might be the best LA 2B ever), but I can’t imagine that anyone is really pining for you to return next year - and we will respectfully stay far, far away from your lawn.

Luis Maza (inc.)
(.228/.282/.278 1hr 4rbi)
Ah, Luis Maza, the 2008 winner of the “Token Minor League Lifer Who Gets Called Up That Even MSTI Has Never Heard of Before”. Previous winners include Wilson Valdez, 2007, and Brian Myrow, 2005. Maza was only up for about two months from mid-May to mid-July, and to no one’s surprise, he didn’t really do much at the plate, which is basically what you expect from a middle infielder who’s making his major league debut at age 28. To his credit, Maza destroyed the PCL (.378/.450/.492) in 2008, but here’s the really odd thing about him: when you have a middle infielder who can’t hit big-league pitching, you really expect that he’s a plus glove. There’s been about a billion of these guys over the years, to the point that they really ought to start their own union like the backup catchers club. But Luis Maza may have had the worst throwing arm of any middle infielder I’ve seen in my entire life. This is what I said after his first game, a start at shortstop on May 16:

If you saw his start against Milwaukee yesterday, you’ll know that it won’t matter if he’s hitting .402 or .902 – we need him to never be at shortstop ever again. I’ve never seen a shortstop with such a weak arm, to the point that the Milwaukee broadcasters were trying to figure out what he was even doing in the majors.

Oh yeah. It’s always good when the opposing team’s announcers are making fun of your shortstop’s lollypop throws. I suppose the defining statement on the Dodger career of Luis Maza is that he was DFA’d not to make room for a returning injured player like Rafael Furcal or Nomar Garciaparra… but to get replaced by the equally dreadful Pablo Ozuna. Yikes. If that’s not a sign that it’s time to start working towards that carpentry degree, I don’t know what is.

Pablo Ozuna (inc.)
(.219/.242/.375 1hr 3rbi)
I’ll say this for Pablo Ozuna – I’ve never heard of a player making the playoff roster a month after getting DFA’d. And it wasn’t just a standard DFA, it was a “yeah, we could wait four more days until rosters expand and recall Blake DeWitt without losing you, but we’d rather just be rid of you right now.” I don’t want to be too harsh on Ozuna here, but let’s not mince words: he has no business being on the major league roster of a contending team. His career OPS+ is 76 (largely aided by his incredibly fluky 105 in 2006, since he never even hit 90 in any other season) and at 34, it’s not like there’s a lot of time for him to improve. Oh sure, he can play a lot of positions. Big deal, it’s not that hard to find a utility guy, and you could throw darts into the stands and hit at least twenty people who are better hitters.

At least we were consistent with him, though. I said his “continued presence blows my mind” on August 11th, called him “a stiff” and asked “what value he brings” on August 13th, “endlessly mediocre” on August 17th, and “completely useless” on August 27th.

Damn, I had no idea I laid so much hate on Pablo Ozuna in August. Nothing personal, Pablo. It’s just that I find you useless as a baseball player, and you’re the early lead for my “least favorite Dodger of 2008 (human division)”, and while I know what you’re thinking, what Andruw Jones accomplished this season was so monumentally awful that I don’t think any human could have done that if they tried.

- Mike Scioscia’s tragic illnessmsti-face.jpg’s 2008 In Review: First Base

Welcome to day 2 of MSTI’s 2008 Season In Review.  Today, we continue on the diamond to first base, where we evaluate first base, beginning with Crazy Legs James Loney.
Now before I get into this, let us get some perspective.  Last year, in our reviews, I gave James an “A Fucking Plus” (the “fucking” part, of course, gave some authority!) due to his monster 2007 season where he put up just Godly numbers (.331/.381/.538), especially a sick September, where he hit .382/.429/.709 with 9 HR’s.
In fact, here was most of my 2008 outlook on James:

2008 Outlook: I don’t necessarily think that the James Loney that we saw this past September is the one we’ll see all year in 2008 (he did finish 2007 with a .352 BABIP), however, I don’t see James being all that far off, either. Simply put, he is such an awesome hitter. The ball just explodes off his bat and even his outs seem to be hit hard. I fully expect 2008 to be the first of many years that he will compete for batting titles along with Gold Gloves.

Err… O.K., so maybe not quite 2008.  Which brings us to our final grade:
James Loney = D+

(.289/.338/.434, 13 HR’s, 90 RBI’s)
I know, I know… “how dare you, Vin!  What, do you secretly wear a Nomar jersey to bed, every night?!”  I don’t, but I do want to clarify a few things.  First off, this was a hard grade to give and I’m more somewhere between D+/C-, and even I wasn’t expecting to give this grade, until I looked through everything.  Secondly, keep in mind that when I make this grade, it isn’t to say that he had this really crappy year.  He didn’t.  However, on the other hand, when I look at his overall numbers and after watching him this year, my reaction to his 2008 season was more… meh?  For someone who had such a strong season in 2007 after building some solid foundation to end an impressionable, albeit brief, 2006, you expected him to continue on that plateau, but, instead, like Russell Martin, took a step back this season.  In fact, they’re similar cases.  Because of their previous years, high expectations were set, but, alas, neither succeeded in fulfilling them.  And remember, we primarily base these grades relative to expectations.
So why the D+?  Well, as much as it pains me to say it, in 2008, James Loney was one of the worst first baseman in the National League.
It’s really hard to say it, because he started off the year so promising.  Remember, he began his 2008 campaign with a 15 game hitting streak and did have some torrid months in June (.362/.425/.500) and August (.330/.371/.468), but, alas, these are also inbetween a decent month (July = .277/.343/.479), a couple of below average months (April = .272/.322/.398, May = .267/.315/.446) and just a downright terrible month (September = .209/.229/.297).  Amongst NL first baseman to have at least 450 at bats, Loney ranked dead last in VORP (17.0) and MLV.  I know, I know… you must be asking: “What is this MLV you talk about, Vin, you nerd you?”  Well, basically, what MLV shows is how many additional runs a player adds over the course of a season if you had a lineup of completely average players. For instance, Albert Pujols was the best first baseman in the NL, and he added 89.2 runs above average.  Loney added 9.8 runs over the course of the season, the only NL first baseman to be in single digits in this category.  Just to illustrate the drop from last year, in 2007, Loney had a VORP of 30.7 to rank him 9th amongst NL first baseman with at least 350 at-bats (if 450, he wouldn’t have qualified due to not being called up until June), and also ranked 9th in MLV at 25.7.  His EqA this year was .269 (league average is .260) which is a drop from his .305 EqA of 2007.
But even if you’re into the more traditional stats, Loney doesn’t fare much better.  His .289 batting average was quite good, but it’s marred by his low .338 OBP, which ranks him 2nd to last amongst NL first baseman and also a big drop from his sweet .381 OBP, last season.  His slugging percentage of .434 also ranks him last amongst NL first baseman, and is a .104 point drop off from his .538 SLG%, last year and his 102 OPS+ (100 is average) is a big drop from his OPS+ of 131, last year.  His RC27 (basically, how many runs a full team of James Loneys would score per game, hence the 27, as there are 27 outs in a 9 inning game) dropped from 7.9 in 2007 to 4.7 in 2008.
Still, while he wasn’t particularly productive relative to his peers at first base, he was still a bit more productive relative to his team, albeit the results are still somewhat disappointing.  Amongst Dodgers who have enough at-bats to compete for the batting title (which counts Manny out, since he wasn’t here long enough), there are four: Russell Martin, Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, and James Loney.  Remember, we had some shuffling at 2B, SS, 3B, LF, and CF (which raises the question: how the hell did we make the NLCS again?!), so that explains the low number.  Still, with this criteria, Loney ranked 3rd in BA (.289), 4th in OBP (.338), 3rd in SLG% (.434), 4th in OPS (.772), tied for 4th in HR’s (13, also Martin’s total), but, to his credit, ranked 1st with 90 RBI’s.  And, as we’ve said before, yet another reason not to take RBI’s as an indicator of a player’s value.
So, it’s safe to say: the bat just didn’t cut it, this year.  However, when we turn to look at the defensive side of things, we get a much different story.  As has been said before and probably will many times again, defensive statistics are a bit murky and are not as definitive as offensive statistics.  So, what do we do?  Well, we can look at how other players relative to his position are doing and get a general idea of what’s going on, as well as using some of various statistics.  So, let’s do that:
Amongst all qualified NL first baseman, James Loney ranked 7th in fielding percentage at .991 (Berkman, Adrian Gonzalez and Pujols are tied for 1st at .996), while ranking 2nd only to Pujols in Range Factor at 9.81.  His Zone Rating isn’t as high, though, as Loney ranks 7th at .857.  His Rate2 is 101 (100 is league average).  The good news about all of these statistics is that they are all upward trends from 2007.  In 2007, Loney had a fielding percentage of .989, a Range Factor of 9.13, a Zone Rating of .809 and a Rate2 of 100.  So we’ve seen some improvement in areas; some far bigger than others.
So, when we put all these fangled statistics together, what do we get?  Well, simply, we get a player who had a regression and, offensively, was average at best.  But don’t get me wrong: I still love James Loney and have hope, and while this season does give me some slight concerns going forward, I am mostly optimistic.  He will barely turn 25 at the beginning of 2009 and let’s remember: despite the fact that he’s been up with the Dodgers in some capacity since 2006, this was his first full season.  That does take some adjustment and it is unreasonable to expect him to start becoming Don Mattingly reincarnate so soon, despite his flashes of brilliance.  But, while we weren’t expecting Mattinglyesque numbers, we did expect better, hence the grade.  Though speaking of flashes of brilliance, even though postseason performance doesn’t factor into grades, the “old Loney,” if you will, did show up with the big grand slam in game 1 of the NLDS and was one of the very few who decided to show up for the NLCS, going 7-16. So we at MSTI give James big props for that.  And, also… speaking of Mattingly, I do like the fact that he is paired up with Loney now and as James advances forward with a full season under his belt, I do expect an improved 2009.
God, I hope my prediction doesn’t turn out as crappy as last year; that one defined crapulence, I think.
Speaking of crapulence, this brings us to…
Mark Sweeney = F-
(.190/.250/.163, 0 HR’s, 5 RBI’s)
So you might say: “Vin, you DO know Sweeney only had 92 AB’s this year, right?”  Yes, I say.  But, like Gary Bennett, he was so fucking crappy this season, he HAS to get some sort of grade.  And so he does.  And, yes, the “-” part of the grade is tongue and cheek, although if I could go lower, I would.  But we’re saving that for another person… guess who!  But back to Sweeney…
I admit… after watching Sweeney play this year, I think I have officially run out of different ways to describe his sucktitude.
Actually, no, I haven’t.  He was sucky.  Shitty.  Shitty McShitty.  A waste of roster space, and, hey, even Olmedo Saenz version 2007 was better.
I mean, do I really need to show you all these fancy statistics to demonstrate why he was so miserable?  He couldn’t hit lefties, righties, at home or away.  In fact, the only associations I have with the words “hit” and “Sweeney” were most of the 92 times this year he made me want to hit a freaking bong after the painful at-bats he would give us.
However, while we have liked to rag Sweeney, because 1. it’s usually justified and 2. it’s just too damn fun, I do put quite a lot of blame on Joe Torre for this one.  While Sweeney can’t help the fact that he, well, sucks now, it’s not like he’s going to refuse to go up to the plate if he’s asked.  Torre had complete control on who would be in the lead pinch hitting role and he continued to send Sweeney out there, due to “swing paths,” “body language” and “demeanor,” rather than… I don’t know… whether he could hit the ball or not.
Yes, I have to ask again: how the hell did we make the NLCS?
To Torre’s credit, though, he did finally get it once the postseason started and regulated Sweeney to the more apt role: cheerleader.  Awesome, but, still, that move should have happened by at least June.
Outside of a brief moment of douchebaggery this season, Sweeney does seem to be a good guy and one of the pranksters in the clubhouse.  He’s had a very good career, but all careers come to an end, and it’s time for him to hang it up.  Or at least play for another team…
See ya, Sweeney Poo…

- Vin vinscully-face.jpg’s 2008 in Review: Catcher

That’s right, it’s that time again! Just like we did last year, we’re going to give a review to everyone who played for the Dodgers this year. I’m sure I’ll regret this when it comes time to discuss Luis Maza.
Remember, each player’s grade is in relation to what we could have reasonably expected from them and them alone, not as compared to other players. So even though Blake DeWitt and Andre Ethier are both getting A’s, it doesn’t mean that I think DeWitt did as well as Ethier did. Besides, if I did it the other way, Manny would get an A and no one else would even rate a letter grade.
Less than 10 IP or 100 at-bats gets you an “incomplete”. Fun new twist this time around, rather than just put up pictures of everyone, I’ve whipped up some modern day versions of the indisputable best baseball card set ever, 1987 Topps. Hope you all enjoy these as much as I did making them.
Russell Martin (C-)
(.280/.385/.396 13hr 69rbi 18sb)
It’s hard to give a guy I like so much a grade like that, but a lot of this is due to the incredibly high expectations we had for Martin this year. Although his OBP is outstanding, his power really dropped off this year (three-year SLG from .436 to .469 to .396) and his 2008 OPS dropped markedly every single month from April to August before a September resurgence. Now as we said many times, I place a lot of the blame for that on Joe Torre and his insistence on playing Martin at 3B on his “days off” rather than actually letting him get a breather. I really think there’s more to this than people realize, because if you remember from July’s first-half review, I gave him an A+ and said,

Without question, the best offensive player so far. There were actually some inane stories out there that I won’t even subject you to linking to saying that he’s been off his game this year, but that’s mostly thanks to his very slow start to the season, hitting .197 as late as April 20th. But you know what? Martin’s actually having the best offensive year of his career overall.

Which, at the time, was true. The problem was that his second-half OPS dropped 122 points. While his OBP was still pretty good, his slugging dropped 100 points and he hit only 3 HR after the break. If that’s not a sign of a catcher who’s running out of gas, I don’t know what is. Pay attention, Joe! Also a matter of concern is Martin’s slipping defense, because he “led” the NL with 11 errors. Granted, the fact that he plays so often gives him more chances to make the errors, but still – that’s tops in the league. It’s sort of difficult to come up with a lot of defensive catching stats, especially since we all agree that caught stealing numbers mostly lie with the pitchers, so you’re just going to have to give me the eyeball test on this one – his defense wasn’t superb in 2008. Getting just five hits in the eight postseason games isn’t really helping his case either. I don’t mean to get down on Martin, because even if he’s not Joe Mauer or Brian McCann, he still finished 5th in the majors in VORP among catchers, and with the state of catching the way it is in baseball right now, that’s plenty valuable. Plus, he’s still only going to be 26 next year and just entering his prime, so it’s possible we’ve yet to see the best of him. But hey, you know what would really help with that? Joe Torre not trying to make Martin walk like my grandpa by the time he’s 30. Also, not trading him because of “bad makeup”. Shut up, Joel Sherman.

Danny Ardoin (inc.)
(.235/.278/.314 1hr 4rbi)
There’s few things tougher to write about than the performance of Dodger backup catchers, and I’m already realizing that I still have two guys with fewer at-bats than Ardoin did. Fantastic. Anyway, last year when writing about Chad Moeller I said, “This guy’s straight out of the Journeyman Catcher Central Casting Agency here. Now paging Paul Bako, Kelly Stinnett, Mike DeFelice, and Sal Fasano, please pick up the white courtesy phone.” Danny Ardoin could just have easily been dropped in that category, as the Dodgers were his 6th team in 5 MLB seasons. That said, Ardoin did a decent job – no, he can’t hit, but I had no problems with his defense and the pitching staff seemed happy with his work behind the plate. I’d rather that the Dodgers get a better hitter in 2009, so that Torre will feel more comfortable with resting Martin, but if it’s Ardoin again, I won’t really complain that much.

Gary Bennett (F!)
(.190/.261/.381 1hr 4rbi)
That’s right, we’re three players in and I’m already breaking my own rules by giving Gary Bennett an F, rather than the “incomplete” he deserves for only getting 21 at-bats. Bennett, like Ardoin, is your standard journeyman catcher, with the 2008 Dodgers his 8th team in 13 years. So when you’re a backup backstop, especially on a team with a solid starter like the Dodgers do, you’re really expected to do all of two things. You need to be a mediocre hitter (.241 career average: check) and you need to be a good defensive reciever. What you don’t need to do is to completely lose the ability to throw the ball back to the pitcher, causing both annoyance on the hurler’s part and occasional errors for you. The best part was, his season ended when he was put on the DL with plantar fasciitis in his left foot, but the timing was fantastic. This is what I said when the news first came out about his “injury”:

The hits keep on coming – Gary Bennett gets placed on the DL, per the official blog, and Dodger Thoughts has the reason: “Left foot plantar fasciitis.” Let me say, the quotes could not be thicker around that. We’ve had no word of any injury problems surrounding Bennett, but tons of stories about his throwing problems, and suddenly his foot hurts? Hey, call it a bad foot, the flu, or the heebie-jeebies; whatever it takes to get this guy’s head right and get those lollipop throws off the field. Seriously, he even made Rotoworld today, which is rare for a mediocre backup catcher, and at no point is the foot mentioned.

Needless to say, Gary Bennett probably shouldn’t have a job anywhere in 2009, but he especially shouldn’t have a job in Los Angeles.

A.J. Ellis (inc.)
Ah yes, the fun part of writing about every player. You get to dissect the September expanded roster call-up who got just three at-bats. I think Ellis’ impact on the 2008 Dodgers can be mostly shown by the fact that I couldn’t even find an action picture of him in an LA uniform and had to go with a 2007 spring training shot. I think most of my thoughts regarding Ellis this year revolved around me hoping he’d at least get an at-bat, because after getting called up in September he got into three games without getting a chance at the plate. (I believe at one point I declared, “Free A.J. Ellis!”) Fortunately for him, acting manager Nomar Garciaparra gave him a start on Sept. 28 in the last game of the year, where he promptly went 0-3 with 2 K’s. Seriously though, Ellis is going to be 28 next year and he might yet deserve a shot to be a backup somewhere; he did tear up AAA this year with a .321/.436/.456 line.

- Mike Scioscia’s tragic illness msti-face.jpg

2008 Post-Mortem

Please don’t mistake yesterday’s failpost as a commentary on the entire season. It was really just the same gut reaction to seeing your team get unceremoniously bounced out of the playoffs that I imagine nearly all of you had. 2008 was clearly not a failure, but rather an unbelievably entertaining – and successful – season. (Caution: may contain writing from the heart with few statistics or sarcastic commentary. Proceed at own risk. And yeah, I used the Nomar picture again. I love that shot more than life itself, and who knows if I’ll get the chance again.)

How could you have predicted anything that happened this year? Remember, in March we were all looking forward to Andruw Jones becoming a big hitter in the lineup, seeing whether Nomar or Andy LaRoche would win the third base job, hoping Brad Penny would take the next step to become a full-fledged ace starter, hoping that Andre Ethier would ever get any playing time over Juan Pierre, laughing as to why in the hell Chan Ho Park even rated a spring training invite, wondering if Hong-Chih Kuo would even be able to comb his hair with his left arm  – and for 90% of Dodger fans, never having even heard the names Blake DeWitt, Cory Wade & James McDonald. The biggest bet wasn’t “odds the Dodgers make the playoffs”, but “odds that Ned Colletti gets fired by the All-Star break”.

Who could have seen Nomar and LaRoche getting hurt in the same spring game? Is it more surprising that DeWitt was the Opening Day 3B or that he was the starting 2B in the NLCS? Are you more amazed that Andruw Jones had quite possibly the worst season in baseball history (even those against ardently his signing never saw this coming, don’t lie) or that Joe Torre would actually bench Pierre? That the shortstop who would get the most at-bats this season would not be Rafael Furcal or Chin-Lung Hu, but Royals bust Angel Berroa? That Russell Martin would make only four fewer starts at third base than LaRoche? That Kuo would become one of the most dominating relievers in the entire sport, and that Wade would become a huge part of the bullpen? Every team has injuries, but how many teams can claim to be in first place in September despite having their Opening Day starting pitcher, ace closer, shortstop, second baseman, third baseman, and center fielder either on the DL or in the minors?

And my god, Manny. Where do you even start with Manny? Regardless of whether he stays or goes, and regardless of the awful things that may have led to his departure from Boston, the kind of impact that man had on this team and this town for the 2.5 months he was here will likely never be seen by any of us again.

No matter how you feel about 2008 and how it transpired, we learned a lot this year and there’s a lot to look forward to next year. Young players like Chad Billingsley (playoff debacle aside), Clayton Kershaw, Ethier, Wade, McDonald and DeWitt really showed that they’ve got what it takes to be a part of this team’s future. On the other hand, and while I’m certainly not counting them out, Matt Kemp, James Loney, and Martin all arguably took a step back, and veterans like Jones, Pierre, and Penny are huge question marks moving forward.

Don’t go too far away, though, because this is going to be a particularly crazy offseason, especially since the Dodgers took us over two weeks further into it than we’re used to. Obviously the Manny saga is going to be issue #1 (Plaschke says “no way“, Simers says “you’d be crazy not to“, I tend to *shudder* side with Simers), but there’s plenty behind him. Three-quarters of the infield are big question marks right now, as are two-fifths of the rotation, and the yearly “how’s the outfield going to shake out?” question. We know that Colletti’s coming back, which is no surprise (Kensai lives for another year!), but Kim Ng might not return since she’s made it into the final three for the Seattle job. There’s also rumors that Larry Bowa might return to the Yankees, which I would count as a big loss.

As for us here at MSTI? Oh, we’ll be here. There’s too much going on to go anywhere else. We might take it a little easy this weekend, but on Monday we’re unveiling the 2009 MSTI Plan, which I hope you’ll find interesting, followed by the 2008 in review series similar to how we did it last year.

Finally, cliche as this might be, a big thanks to everyone’s who’s read and linked here over the past year. 2008 was our first full season doing this, and I think it was really successful – not only did we enjoy doing it, but the readership numbers skyrocketed over the course of the season, especially lately.

One more thing… Deadspin has a Dodgers blog round-up today, and the header is “What they’re saying out in the ether about the Phillies’ 5-1 win over the Dodgers in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series …” DodgerThoughts and Sons of Steve Garvey are each represented, along with us. Hooray! Except… why in the hell did they choose to link to my silly picture about Todd Hollandsworth from four months ago, rather than anything relating to the NLCS?

- Mike Scioscia’s tragic illness msti-face.jpg