MSTI’s 2009 in Review: Relievers, Part 3

Finally! This is the last player review segment of the year, and while I won’t pretend this one is the most interesting grouping of players you’ll read about all year, this whole series served its purpose. It allowed me to get some thoughts down on each player this year, and almost as importantly, helped fill some space between the end of the season and the start of the Hot Stove.

85toppscorywadeCory Wade (F)
(2-3, 5.53, 1.373 WHIP)

See Cory Wade in his picture over there? He looks sad. Sure, that’s a picture from 2008 (you can tell because of the 50th anniversary patch on his right arm), but maybe he just looks sad because he knows that his 2009 will in no way reflect his excellent 2008.

Really, Wade’s 2009 stands as glaring proof of two truisms: 1) that except for the best of the best, reliever performances are incredibly volatile year-to-year, and 2) Joe Torre tends to crush his new favorite toy like he’s Lennie in Of Mice and Men.

Thus, Wade’s problems were pretty clear this year. He couldn’t stay healthy (two trips to the DL for a right shoulder that bothered him even in 2008) and he wasn’t very good even when he was available (huge increases in BB/9 and WHIP, huge decrease in K/9). That being the case, part of his problems is that he was never as good as he seemed in 2008 – a .227 BABIP is completely unsustainable and was a large part of why the ERA that looked so good (2.27) was nowhere near what FIP said he should have been (3.78). This year, his luck completely changed, since the huge increase in BABIP to .294 helped turn an already lousy FIP (4.40) into a much worse ERA (5.57).

You have to wonder how much of the blame for his injuries should be heaped on Torre, because we tend to forget how much Wade was worked in 2008. Even in April, Kensai and I were both ringing the bell on this, as I said at the time

Wade’s pitched in four games this season, and has been great in three of them (three scoreless outings of an inning apiece, allowing two hits) and awful in one (three hits and two runs in 1/3 of an inning). The poor outing was the only one that came on a back-to-back appearance, and since this is apparently the same shoulder issue that bothered him last season and in spring, you have to wonder: should we be treating him as the right-handed Hong-Chih Kuo? I’d rather live with an effective Wade who’s not available as often as everyone else than no Wade at all. Some guys just aren’t built for the constant workload, and you have to wonder if Wade falls under that category.

Wade, of course, never did come close to regaining his form for the rest of the year, and even worse, was horrible in the minors – allowing 17 ER in 22.2 AAA innings. He’ll still just be 26 when Opening Day comes, so his time has hardly passed. But he’ll likely have to prove his health in the minors again before he gets another shot at what looks to be a pretty loaded big league bullpen crew.

85toppsbrentleachBrent Leach (?)
(2-0, 5.75, 1.377)

Brent Leach is a left-handed pitcher who appeared in 38 games for the Los Angeles Dodgers of Major League Baseball.

Okay, I was tempted to just go with the Wikipedia-esque description and leave it at that, because I seriously have no recollection of Brent Leach doing anything meaningful for the Dodgers this year. Did he really get into 38 games? Jesus. My top memory of Leach is mainly the firestorm Kensai unwittingly set off by discussing his wife’s hilarious blog (which I can’t seem to find the link to anymore).

As for his pitching, he got the call from Chattanooga because he was dominating down there (1 ER and 17 K in 13 IP). Before you get too excited about that, remember that this was AA and he turns 27, well, today. (Happy Birthday!) Once he got to the bigs the strikeout rate was nice (8.4/9) but the homer rate much less so (1.3/9) and the walk rate was pretty bad (5.31/9).

Actually, he looks to have had control issues his entire career – only in 2008, as a 25-year-old in High-A ball, has he ever really been able to keep it below a walk every other inning. Still, some lefties are known to develop late, and he appears to have the stuff to miss bats, so if he can ever get a handle on that control, he might actually have a future in a bullpen to be named later.

85toppswillohmanWill Ohman (F)
(1-0, 5.84, 1.622 WHIP)

Oh, Will Ohman. I had such high hopes for you. I actually had first brought him up way back in October 2008, before any rumors had attached him to the Dodgers, in my 2009 plan:

Ohman’s a 31-year old lefty reliever and Pepperdine alum who’s made it into at least 56 games in each of the last four seasons with the Cubs and Braves, with ERA+ marks of 151, 112, 94, and 112. Plus, he’s absolutely murder on lefties (.571 OPS against in 2008), which makes him unlike Beimel (who’s actually harder on righties) and Kuo (who kills everyone, but isn’t really a situational kind of guy).

So when he became another victim of the lousy free agent market and signed with the Dodgers late in spring training, I was thrilled (and had only mentioned it about eleven times in March during the whole song-and-dance).

But there were worries from the beginning. Having missed most of spring training, Ohman was behind in his conditioning and was hit hard almost immediately. In 21 games over the first two months, he got shelled, somehow allowing a .609 SLG and .979 OPS in that time. On May 29, he went on the DL with a sore shoulder, experienced pain in his elbow during the rehab, and finally ended up having shoulder surgery in September. So clearly, that didn’t work out, and his 2010 option was obviously declined.

Still, I’m sad it didn’t work out. He had high socks, which rule in their own right, but he was also one of the funniest players the Dodgers have ever had. You know it’s good when sportswriters are breaking their own rules by cheering for him, but also check out these two videos:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i4kkmlh92LA]

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WZWjdDTjtXw]

So long, Will.

85toppsclaudiovargasClaudio Vargas (C)
(0-0, 1.64, 1.000 WHIP)

Sometimes you sign a mediocre veteran to a minimum salary contract, and you hope for the next Chan Ho Park or Jeff Weaver.  Sometimes you get a nice surprise like that… and sometimes you get a guy who gets this written about him in spring training

I had a whole section on Claudio Vargas written out, mostly about how unlike Milton, Estes, and Weaver, he was given a major-league contract rather than just a spring training invite. But all that’s out the window after Monday, because Claudio Vargas has committed the unthinkable: he allowed a home run to our favorite fat sack of crap, Andruw Jones. That alone should disqualify him – and if it doesn’t, the three other homers he’s allowed in just 8.1 innings so far ought to. Odds: Andruw Jones’ weight times a hundred-to-1

…before being put on the 60-day DL with arm troubles, missing the first three months of the season. So to say Claudio Vargas was an afterthought is putting it lightly.

But then something crazy happened; when Vargas returned in July, he was good. Really good. In 11 innings over 8 relief outings, he allowed just 2 ER, struck out 10, and held opponents to a puny .184/.279/.263 (.542 OPS) line. Sure, it was only 11 innings, and nothing in his history suggested he could keep that up – I get that. Still, with the depleted Dodger staff at the time, any contributions were welcome.

So what happened? The Dodgers traded him for a 29-year-old backup catcher hitting .249 on Milwaukee’s AA team, Vinny Rottino. This didn’t make sense to me at the time

Believe it or not, Vargas has actually been pretty good for the Dodgers since coming off the DL. 11 innings isn’t much of a sample size, but he’s allowed only 11 baserunners and 2 runs in that time, with a nice 10/4 K/BB ratio. I’m hardly crushed that he’s gone, but did we really need Vinny Rottino? He’s 29 with all of 18 MLB games under his belt, and he’s so highly thought of that he’s being sent to AA. You almost feel bad for the guy, being a Wisconsin native and all, now being shipped out to Chattanooga.

No, what this feels like is a way to clear out a roster spot for George Sherrill, but there were better ways to do that. DFA Jason Schmidt, for one, and no, I don’t care that he’s tonight’s starter. Send down James McDonald or Scott Elbert, if you must, because you know that either one would be right back up in a week.

Vargas wasn’t great, but he was at least useful, while Vinny Rottino looks unlikely to ever play a single game as a Dodger. I hate to act as though I’m all worked up over losing Claudio Vargas, of all people, but this move just makes no sense at all.

…and it doesn’t make any more sense now. Vargas went to Milwaukee and continued to excel (1.78 ERA, .530 OPS against), Rottino went to Chattanooga, never to be heard from, and I still can’t find a good reason for any of it.

85toppstravisschlichtingTravis Schlichting (inc.)
(0-0, 3.38, 2.250 WHIP)

Signs that your newest reliever may not have been a top prospect: when MSTI’s first mention of him was pointing out that his Wikipedia page showed him as a third baseman for the Devil Rays. (Actually, it still does. Doesn’t anyone want to go fix that?)

Schlichting actually had a pretty nice minor league season (in 29.1 IP across 3 levels, he allowed just 3 earned runs), but the less said about his major league stint the better. He got into 2 June games, managing to walk 5 and allow a Ryan Howard homer in first major league at-bat. So, yikes.

Still, those minor league numbers are nice, and it’s important to remember that he’s only been a pitcher since 2007, having turned himself around from being a failed third baseman. He’ll likely start 2010 in the minors, but don’t be surprised to see him back in the bigs – and maybe even do well enough to get himself a real Wikipedia picture.

——-

So that’s it! We’re done with reviews. I suppose I should probably write something up for Joe Torre as well, and I probably will at some point.  Damn it, why isn’t there VORM for managers?

MSTI’s 2009 in Review: Relievers, Part 2

Back to the bullpen – part 2 of 3!

85toppsjeffweaverJeff Weaver (A++)
(6-4, 3.65, 1.519 WHIP)

Here we have another case where keeping in mind how our judging system works is very important. It’s based on what we expected from a guy before the season, not on how he stacks up against anyone else.  Expectations for Jeff Weaver? Well, remember how bad his 2008 was; he put up a 6.07 for the Indians and 6.22 for the Brewers, allowing astounding HR/9 averages of 2.12 and 1.47, respectively. Those are the kind of numbers that get you sent to the glue factory, especially if you’re a soft-tossing righty on the wrong side of 30.

Oh, and did I mention that those 2008 numbers were put up for the AAA teams of the aforementioned squads? So you’ll forgive me for not being excited at all by his signing

Why stop there? What’s Kelly Wunsch up to? Derek Thompson? Hell, let’s go get the whole gang back together. Rob @ 6-4-2 was the first place I saw this, so let’s give him the scoop:

Dodgers Sign Jeff Weaver To Minor-League Deal
According to MLB.com. You can’t have too much pitching, unless it’s bad.

That’s right: I’m so sick of Manny-mania and A-Rod’s pharmaceutical helpers that the signing of a washed-up veteran pitcher who was never really all that good in the first place to a minor league deal is what passes for news right now. I’m not going to get too worked up over a minor league invite, because there’s really no risk involved, but holy jesus was Jeff Weaver awful in 2008. If you saw a pitcher who put up ERAs of 6.07 and 6.22, with WHIPs of 1.62 and 1.53, for his two teams last year, you’d say something like, “Woof. That guy got eaten alive. What the hell is he doing in the bigs?” – and you’d be well within reason to do so. Now, what do you say when you find out that those numbers came in stops for Buffalo and Nashville in AAA?

Hey, maybe there’s a chance that Jeff Weaver is the 2009 recipient of the Aaron Sele/Scott Erickson/Chan Ho Park Memorial “I’m Not a Corpse Just Yet, Bitches!” Award.

And maybe I’m a Chinese jet pilot.

Funny I mention that award (why didn’t I keep naming it that?) because after spending most of April back in AAA, Weaver came up to claim that very award after just a few short weeks

Which brings us to the 2009 recipient of the “I’m Not Dead Yet, Dammit!” Award, given annually to the over-30 Dodger pitcher plucked off the scrap heap in hopes of recapturing some glimmer of his past glory, even if that “past glory” was never all that great to begin with. Oh, I know it’s just May 6 and it’s only been 9 innings, but A) hey, it’s been a great 9 innings and B) if we award this now, we can avoid having to consider Eric Milton or Shawn Estes for it later.

So ladies and gentlemen, allow me to present to you, Jeff Weaver. Mr. Weaver is more than qualified for this award, having not had a league-average season since 2004, and bottoming out last season by toiling away in the minors all year long – and even failing at that, putting up a 6.17 ERA for two AAA teams. While it’s not a requirement that the recipient be a former Dodger, it does seem to be tradition, which Weaver fulfilled by pitching in Blue in 2004-05. It’s also a requirement that the idea of his signing seems so ridiculous that it’s all we can do to not laugh out loud.

Though it was probably a bit premature to hand out the award so soon, Weaver proved he was the best candidate by stepping in whenever the Dodgers needed him all season. Need a starter? Weaver filled that role 7 times, going 2-1 with a 3.13 ERA. How about a long reliever? 47.1 more innings, 3.99 ERA.

Now, let’s not make the mistake of thinking Weaver was good, because a 1.519 WHIP is actually kind of lousy. Still, that’s besides the point here. Weaver’s career was officially DOA, and he managed to at least be a valuable contributor to a playoff team, including nice work in the NLDS. So you better believe he deserves his A++.

For next year, I won’t mind at all if he moves on. If he’s so intent on being a Dodger that he’ll come back for a non-guaranteed invite, then by all means, but he’s not worth giving any real money to. Here’s a thought, though; let’s sign him as a part-time player who only pitches at home. How much does this guy like Dodger Stadium? At home, he allowed just a .681 OPS for a 2.93 ERA. On the road? .947, 4.64. Yikes.

85toppshongchihkuoHong-Chih Kuo (B)
(2-0, 3.00, 1.133 WHIP)

I don’t know why I bother writing something new for Kuo every year. We all know the story by now; he’ll be great when he’s available, but he’ll always miss at least a few weeks with his held-together-by-spit-and-duct-tape left elbow.

2009 was more of the same. After an April that wasn’t as bad as the 6.75 ERA made it seem (scoreless outings in 5 of 7 chances), Kuo missed all of May and June, and most of July, with soreness in that elbow – as though it could possibly have been anything else. Don’t forget how that happened, of course – when he tried to warm up in the bullpen, only 4 of 15 tosses were catchable by the receiver, and 2 actually ended up on the field, interrupting the game.

Kuo finally returned on July 27, and from then on was his usual unhittable self. No, really – hitters had just a .188/.266./271 line against him. The Dodger trainers actually started calling him “Cockroach”, a term that’s much more respectful than it sounds, referring as it does to his seeming ability to overcome anything.

Kuo’s acknowledgement of the work the Dodger medical staff does for him is actually of tantamount importance, because he’s arbitration-eligible this offseason. It’s hard to imagine the Dodgers wanting to commit many millions of dollars to a guy who might be injured as much as he’s available, but if Kuo is intent on staying, he might be willing to sign a lower-salaried deal to remain under the care of the trainers and doctors who know him so well. You never know how many more pitches are left in that arm (he’s still just 28), but I think we’d all like to see him remain in Dodger blue for as long as possible.

85toppsguillermomotaGuillermo Mota (B…ish)
(3-4, 3.44, 1.179 WHIP)

For a mediocre 35-year-old reliever with an up-and-down history who didn’t even get consideration for the playoff roster, we sure did have a lot to say about Guillermo Mota this year. First there was the utter apathy at his signing in January

As for the actual signing, it gets a solid “meh”. I don’t know what the contract details are, but it’s unlikely to be a huge amount of money, and Mota was basically average last year. But do we really have a shortage of guys who could do exactly what he could, for less money and without his history? I suppose we can hope that he’s going to be the next Giovanni Carrera-type who only pitches well as a Dodger.

Then, once the season got going, we spent a few weeks wondering how long he’d last, which is what carrying an ERA over 6 into June will do for you…

At the moment, I don’t care whether Mota is hopped up on steroids, PCP, or Yoo-Hoo, because whatever he’s doing, it just isn’t working. After giving up 6 hits and 3 runs in just 2 innings to blow yesterday’s game in extra innings, his ERA now stands at 7.42 and he’s given up multiple runs in 5 of his 14 appearances. He’s 35, and his WHIP is 2.175. I don’t care about his contract – it’s over. Really, if the team ever gets down below 13 pitchers, he ought to be the man to go. Will he be? I doubt it.

Indeed he was not, for just a week later

There’s one thing I’d like to touch upon: the continued employment of Guillermo Mota. We’ve mentioned how horrible he is before around here, and I’ve hardly been alone in that – even before Sunday’s disaster raised his ERA to 9.00, with 11 ER in his last 8.2 IP.

But whether or not Guillermo Mota is a terrible pitcher right now isn’t really the issue, nor is the thought that he hasn’t really been effective in nearly five years – or one steroid suspension ago. No, the question is, why haven’t the Dodgers done anything about it?

The “Sunday disaster” I referred to above was the May 17th debacle in which Mota allowed 4 ER in 1.2 IP, getting to that nice round 9.00 ERA. I still don’t know how he managed to last as long as he did, but there was one Dodger who did do something about it: Brad Ausmus, of all people.

And you had to figure that, sooner rather than later, the axe was going to fall. But then a funny thing happened; in his next appearance, 5 days later against the Angels, Mota threw a scoreless inning. Then another, two days later, also against the Angels, and another the following day in Colorado. Before you knew it, Mota had run off 11 scoreless outings in a row – a streak which has now made it to 18 of 19. In those 19 games, Mota’s ERA is a miniscule 0.41, allowing just 10 hits and a .406 OPS in 22 innings – with a remarkable 17/4 K/BB ratio. An ERA that was 9.00 after 15 games is now 3.89 after 34.

So what the hell happened? It’s not the first time Mota has ripped off a hot streak after hitting the skids – unfortunately, the last time that happened, it was immediately followed by a 50-game steroid suspension. (Seriously, check out the timeline. It couldn’t be more incriminating if he had called a national press conference to show people exactly how he injected.) For a pitcher turning 36 this month, showing no ability to be successful whatsoever, and with his history, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to think he’d made a desperate attempt to stick in the bigs, no matter what the cost.

Fortunately for us, there’s a far less sordid answer to this turnaround – Brad Ausmus, pitching coach extraordinaire. For you see, Ausmus was the catcher on that disastrous night in Miami…

Mota said teammate Brad Ausmus told him that when Ausmus faced Mota in the past, he had trouble picking up the ball until it was almost being released. But in catching Mota this year, Ausmus said he picked up the ball sooner.

“That was a good tip right there,” said Mota, who huddled with Honeycutt and bullpen coach Ken Howell. Honeycutt went to the archives, digging up video of Mota pitching for the Dodgers in his first stint in 2004 and ‘05.

Mota viewed the video at home and on the plane during the club’s recent trip and discovered that he no longer was swinging his leg or holding his left arm high.

Hard to believe that such minor changes could have such dramatic effects, but there it is. Mota wasn’t even a big-league quality pitcher beforehand, and since he’s been one of the most effective relievers in baseball.

The turnaround is just insane, if you look at it. As I said, the ERA stood at 9.00 on May 17th. Between that day – the day that Ausmus “fixed” him – and Mota being placed on the DL with an ingrown toenail on September 1, Mota was dominating. In 42 games, he had a 1.53 ERA and allowed opponents the miniscule line of just .168/.233/.292.

Oh, and he threw at Prince Fielder, causing Fielder to attempt to storm the Dodger clubhouse. So there was that.

I have to admit – I’m intrigued by his turnaround this year. Still, he’ll be 36 in 2010. If he’s willing to come back on a non-guaranteed contract, I’m all for giving him a shot. If someone else wants to toss him another guaranteed million, let him walk.

85toppsjamesmcdonaldJames McDonald (C-)
(5-5, 4.00, 1.492 WHIP)

You may remember back in spring training, there was a pretty hilarious battle for the fifth starter’s role, including such luminaries as Jason Schmidt, Shaun Estes, Eric Milton, Eric Stults, Claudio Vargas – and our man James McDonald. We made no secret of our preference for McDonald at the time, saying…

James McDonald. I know, Rick Honeycutt all but announced that McDonald would start off in the bullpen, just like Chad Billingsley. It doesn’t change my opinion that he’s the man I’d like to see in the role more than anyone else listed here, so I’m still including him for comparison’s sake. The thing to remember here is that, even though most casual fans have been hearing about Billingsley and Clayton Kershaw about ten times longer than they have McDonald, James is just three months younger than Billingsley and 3.5 years older than Kershaw. The point is, he’s not that young, and we all remember how impressive he was in his stint in the playoffs last year. He’s off to somewhat of a rough spring start, allowing 4 earned runs in 5.2 innings, but that 5/0 K/BB ratio is tasty. I don’t really mind starting off our young pitchers in the bullpen, but I also don’t think that making him the 5th starter is really unfair to his development, either. Odds: 100,000-1, despite probably being the best candidate.

Of course, as the old and busted among that herd quickly got thinned out, McDonald’s chances skyrocketed, to the point that just over a week later, I was painting him as the favorite, saying…

* James McDonald is the man! I’ve been hoping that McDonald would win this competition for some time (see: here and here) but I never really thought he’d have a prayer. But after blowing away Cleveland yesterday, facing the minimum nine batters over three innings, he’s squarely put himself in the mix – and if you believe Tony Jackson, McDonald’s actually in the lead. I’ve always felt the reason that they didn’t want McDonald winning the spot is that the team preferred to not have 3/5 of its starting rotation being under 25, though of course I would love that. Besides, as I mentioned previously, McDonald’s not that young – just a few months younger than Billingsley. He’s been the Dodger Minor League Pitcher of the Year in each of the last two seasons, and considering that the 5th starter spot comes up only four times in April, isn’t that the perfect time to get him going? Let’s go James!

Win he did, and he launched his major league career by being the immediately successful pitcher we all knew he could be. By which I of course mean, “was so bad – in 13.1 IP over 4 starts, allowed 13 ER and 14 BB against just 6 K – that he was out of the rotation by the end of the month and back in the minors by mid-May.”

So, it didn’t start out that smoothly. Still, there’s much more to the James McDonald story this year. He resurfaced in the bigs at the end of June, remaining in the bullpen for the rest of the year. The turnaround was startling; after a 8.78 ERA in his short time as a starter, he put up an excellent 2.72 as a reliever. Where he’d walked more than twice as many as he’d struck out as a starter, he completely turned that around out of the bullpen, striking out 48 to 20 free passes allowed.

For a player who didn’t turn 25 until after the season ended, that’s a pretty impressive stretch, and it shows that the talent is still there. He certainly wouldn’t be the first rookie to falter after being thrown directly into the Opening Day rotation. I’d still like to see him get another crack at the rotation, but if not, you at least know you’ve got a quality bullpen arm or a nice piece of trade bait.

85toppsscottelbertScott Elbert (C-)
(2-0, 5.03, 1.322 WHIP)

Here’s a case where the stats are very misleading, because Elbert’s line looks pretty lousy, giving him a 6.66 career ERA over 25.2 IP. Elbert’s year is a lot more complicated than that, though. He had four seperate stints with the Dodgers, and the first one was disastrous – three April outings ended up with five runs allowed in 6.1 innings. He got three more appearances in July, three more in August, and ten more in September.

ERA is useless in a situation like that, because the small sample size means that any runs allowed are skewed far too highly. No, what’s important is what Elbert did against the men at the plate, and in that regard he fared better, because anytime you have a 23-year-old lefty striking out more than a man per inning, you know you’ve got some real talent there.

What’s more in question is how that talent is going to be used in Elbert’s future. Despite appearing only out of the ‘pen in LA, he was a starter in the minors, and very nearly picked up a start for the Dodgers in August. Either way, he should be in the bigs full-time in 2010, another year off of major 2007 arm surgery. Like McDonald, you know he’s got the skills to succeed in the bigs, and whether that’s as a starter or reliever remains to be seen.

Next! Will Ohman’s failure! Cory Wade’s trail of tears! Claudio Vargas was apparently a Dodger this year!  And MSTI tries vainly to write something about Brent Leach and Travis Schlichting!

MSTI’s 2009 in Review: Relievers, Part 1

We’ve got 14 pitchers who fit in the ‘relievers’ group, so we’re splitting them up into three groups. Today, you get the best of the best, and then the next two rounds, you get to wonder why I devoted entire posts to talking about Brent Leach and Travis Schlichting. Hooray!

85toppsjonathanbroxtonJonathan Broxton (A-)
(7-2, 2.61, 0.961 WHIP, 36 sv)

Rather than focus on how Broxton’s season ended, let’s not forget how it started. Remember, many people (not me, though!) had doubts about how Broxton would do in his first season as a full-time closer, based partly on the ridiculous notion that the fact that he’d blown 8 saves in just 22 chances in 2008 mattered. If it’s not obvious why that’s irrelevant, it should be: as Takashi Saito’s setup man for much of the year, Broxton rarely had the opportunity to get a save; he could either get a hold or blow it. The Dodgers actually tried to hedge their bets on this by offering Trevor Hoffmann a contract to come in and be the closer.

Of course, Broxton was more than just fine as closer; he quickly jumped into the ranks of the elite. No qualifying pitcher in baseball struck out more batters per nine than his 13.5, and no National League reliever topped his 5.032 WXRL(Huston Street, his closest competitor, was nearly 20% behind at just 4.112). He was, by one measure, the toughest pitcher in the entire NL to hit – no other qualifying pitcher topped his .479 OPS against. The scary part is that his numbers could have been even better, because there’s evidence that the defense behind him let him down. His 2.61 ERA is fine enough, but his defense-independent ERA (i.e., what his ERA should have been based on his peripherals) was just 2.08.

Not to completely overwhelm with the stats, but here’s one more that’s just too absurd to ignore: hitters trying to attack Broxton at Dodger Stadium in 2009 had absolutely no chance. Their line against him in LA this year was a horrific .095/.146/.101. That’s, uh… pretty good.

We can’t ignore the elephant in the room, of course – another playoff failure against the Phillies. He had a job to do in that crucial Game 4 of the NLCS, and he failed. No question about it. Still, the reactions to that inning were completely out of control, ranging from “he’s scared of Matt Stairs” to “he doesn’t know how to win”, which are all of course ludicrous. You’re talking about the best closer in the NL (and top-5 in MLB) who breezed through 90% of the playoffs (1 ER and 0 BB allowed in his first 5 outings), with a great playoff history (.591 OPS allowed and a 12/4 K/BB ratio in 11 postseason games the last two seasons) who gave up a poorly-timed walk, hit a batter, and finally allowed a single to a former NL MVP. That sucked, no doubt, but that’s enough to want to get people to give up on guy who’s as good as Broxton? It’s pure insanity. No closer is perfect – none of them – and you hope to get a guy who’s as close to it as you can. Broxton’s one of the best in the business, and I guarantee you that anyone you think about replacing him with would not be as good. It’s a fact.

So yes, Broxton gets his A- because he deserves it. The blown NLCS game is a blemish on an otherwise fantastic season, but one lousy inning does not undo six months of excellence.

85toppsramontroncosoRamon Troncoso (B)
(5-4, 2.72, 1.415 WHIP)

Hmm, what was my expectation of Ramon Troncoso going into the season? Well, when I predicted the Opening Day roster on April 1, I let Troncoso sneak in as the last man, saying…

#25. The 12th pitcher, AKA, “why are we taking 12 pitchers?” You know, I’m looking at this list of names, and not one of them seem more enticing to me than including Xavier Paul in the outfield for an extra kick of defense. But, since we all know that’s not happening, who are the options here? Estes and Milton? Hell, no. Josh Lindblom’s been great, but all reports have him starting back in the minors. Dodgers.com seems to think that Tanyon Sturtze and Ronald Belisario still have a prayer, but A) no. B) it’d require another 40-man spot and C) NO. So let’s not overthink things. We have a guy on the 40-man roster, who was decent in MLB last year, had a good winter, and an okay spring. Ramon Troncoso, you can come on back to LA – but make sure you don’t sign a long-term lease.

Woof. My predictions on Troncoso and Belisario? Not so great. Still, there’s a reason why everyone knows that bullpen performances are incredibly volatile from year to year. So be prepared for them to suck next year! Troncoso became a valuable member of the ‘pen, of course, getting into 73 games with a 2.72 ERA, finishing 8th in the NL in WXRL. All good, right? Great year. So let’s move on to the next guy…

…except that’s not all there is to the Troncoso story this year. He’s actually a great example of why ERA isn’t a great indicator for a pitcher (especially relievers), because his peripherals just do not support his tidy ERA. Troncoso got into 32 games as a rookie in 2008, but was basically an afterthought with a 4.26 ERA. Still, in many ways it was a better season than in 2009, because his K rate dropped (9.0 to 6.0), his BB rate rose (2.8 to 3.7), his hit rate rose (8.8 to 9.0), and of course his WHIP rose (1.289 to 1.415). In addition, his vaunted reputation as an extreme groundballer took a hit, with his GB/FB rate dropping from 3.44 to 2.10.

Striking out fewer, giving up more flyballs, and allowing more men to reach via walk and hit sounds like a sure recipe for epic disaster, yet Troncoso’s ERA dropped by about a run and a half. How’d that happen? Well, though he did a much worse job of keeping men off the bases, Troncoso did do a very good job at two other important aspects. First, he stayed away from the home run ball, despite allowing more flyballs. After allowing 2 homers in 38 IP last year, he allowed only 3 in 82.2 IP in 2009 – a huge improvement.

Second, he improved his below-average strand rate (67.1% in 2008) to become above-average in 2009 (77.7%, with the league average being about 71%). While Troncoso didn’t do a great job at actually setting down batters (a 1.415 WHIP isn’t much to write home about), he did keep the ball in the yard and keep inherited runners from scoring, leading to his nice ERA. Well, his nice ERA through July, because he fell off a cliff in the second half. On July 20, he pitched a scoreless inning against the Reds, giving him a 1.67 ERA through his 44th game. After that? 29 games worth of ineptitude, highlighted by a 5.40 ERA and a horrible line of .330/.416/.433.

So while Troncoso’s 2009 may not have been all it was cracked up to be, it was still much more than we’d expected from him. That said, he has much to prove in 2010 due to his rising peripherals and lousy second half.

85toppsronaldbelisarioRonald Belisario (A+++)
(4-3, 2.04, 1.146 WHIP)

Hi! I’m Mike Scioscia’s tragic illness, host of “Mike Scioscia’s tragic illness“. If you don’t know, that makes me a Dodger blogger and all around huge baseball dork. So when the Dodgers sign a player with a chance of making the big league squad, I usually know at least a little about them off the top of my head. At the very least, I’ve heard of them before.

And then there’s Ronald Belisario, who was such a no-name that when he made the Opening Day roster, I responded with a post entitled “Who Exactly is Ronald Belisario” – because I had no idea who he was. Of course, once I did a little research, this whole endeavor didn’t look promising:

Upon noting the signing, Pirates blog Bucs Dugout stated:

Ronald Belisario, the pitcher formerly known as “No, nobody knows why he’s on the Pirates’ 40-man,” has signed a minor-league deal with the Dodgers, Baseball America reports.

And… we’re off to a good start here. If even Pirates fans don’t think this guy is worthy of a 40-man roster spot, I’m not going into this with high hopes.

For the record, in the comments of that same post, I was hardly the only Dodger blogger who had no idea who this guy was:

I had to make a list of 50 Dodger prospects, and I had no idea who he is either. :o  Comment by kensai — April 4, 2009

That being the case, you’d have to have considered any outcome in which he kept his ERA under 10 and stayed on the big league roster all season a huge success, and that’s why he gets so many pluses after that A. Despite missing nearly a month with elbow stiffness, Belisario became a vital piece of the Dodger bullpen, relying almost entirely on his fastball. That’s no exaggeration; averaging 94.8 MPH on the heater, he threw it 85.3% of the time.

If you subscribe to the theory that his one awful outing of the year (3 ER in 0.1 IP) was caused by his arm soreness, coming as it did two days before hitting the DL, his line could have been even better. Ignoring that one game, his ERA would have been a sparkling 1.67.

Look, there’s a few minor negatives I could bring up about Belisario’s season, a few imperfections which, if rectified, could make him a star. But why bother? This was a guy no one ever heard of who was cut loose by the Pirates in Double-A, who became a huge part of a playoff bullpen. What more is there to say? 

85toppsgeorgesherrillGeorge Sherrill (A-)
(1-0, 0.65, 1.084 WHIP)

Just like we did with Jon Garland, it’s important to just look at George Sherrill’s contribution rather than the price paid when assessing his season. Giving up Josh Bell was a steep price for Sherrill, especially since Bell got even better after joining Baltimore and might be their 3B for years to come. But that’s not Sherrill’s fault – he had nothing to do with that.

No, all that’s important for George Sherrill is how he did in a Dodger uniform, and it’s hard to argue with that. You can’t ask for much better than allowing just two earned runs in 30 innings, especially when one was a solo homer to a supremely talented young player (Justin Upton), and one was not even really his fault, as I recapped after a Nationals game in September:

ERA can be as stupid as wins sometimes!

One earned run here or there doesn’t usually make for a big deal, but when you’re George Sherrill and you enter the game with a 0.40 ERA, it sure does. Sherrill’s ERA nearly doubled to 0.77 because of some awful Dodger defense – none of which went down as errors, so the run was earned.

With the scored tied in the 8th, Sherrill entered and gave up one hit, one easy flyout to left-center that Matt Kemp and Manny Ramirez let drop in between them, and then, with one out, a perfect double play ball up the middle… that Orlando Hudson threw wide of first, allowing the run to score.

In the books, that’s one run on two hits and a fielder’s choice. Funny how that doesn’t reflect two lousy defensive plays that victimized Sherrill.

Clearly, Sherrill was all but perfect in the regular season. Interestingly enough, though, the way he went about it was a complete turnaround from the way he’d pitched in Baltimore and Seattle. You hear plenty about how guys come from the AL to the NL and dominate, and Sherrill’s pretty ERA sure fits that narrative. Once Sherrill left the AL East for the NL West, his K rate actually dropped while his walk rate rose. He compensated for this by nearly doubling his GB/FB rate, changing from being a flyball pitcher, (0.65 GB/FB rate as an Oriole in 2009) to a more groundball-oriented pitcher (1.23 GB/FB rate as a Dodger). This also helped cut his home run rate by more than half, from 0.7 to 0.3.

Of course, it’s the second home run he did allow as a Dodger that will remain in the minds of Dodger fans. Thanks in large part to Joe Torre leaving Clayton Kershaw out to dry in Game 1 of the NLCS, the Dodgers were already losing when Sherrill came in for the 8th inning, so his failure didn’t get as much play as Jonathan Broxton’s Game 4 disaster. Still, the Dodgers had been mounting a comeback to cut a 5-1 deficit to 5-4, until Sherrill allowed two walks and a three-run homer to put the game all but out of reach. Like Broxton, it was a failure at the worst possible time. Also like Broxton, it shouldn’t override the fact that the rest of his Dodger tenure was outstanding.

Sherrill made $2.75m in 2009, and is arbitration-eligible. He’s likely to get a nice raise to between $4-$5m, and despite how you feel about him after the NLCS, would make a crushing 1-2 combination with Broxton next season. That said, $5m is a lot for a setup man, and the Dodgers may not be able to afford it. I, for one, hope he returns.

Next! Hong-Chih Kuo’s magic arm! Guillermo Mota’s bipolar season! Jeff Weaver’s return from the dead! And whichever other relievers I throw into part 2! It’s Relievers, Part 2!

MSTI’s 2009 in Review: Secondary Starting Pitchers

Before we get back to our season reviews, two quick items:

1) Yes, I saw Plaschke’s article about the 87-year-old Dodger scout who got his salary cut from $18,000 to $8,000, and yes, I share his disgust at the fact that this man who apparently has done so many great things is suffering a paycut while we read about Jamie McCourt’s financial atrocities. The cynic in me might add that a scout who has signed zero major leaguers since joining the Dodgers in 1994 should be pretty happy he even still has a job, but still. If he’s not worth the $10,000 for his scouting abilities, avoiding the public relations fiasco this is causing the team should surely have been worth that cash.

2) Check out SimonOnSports, where I answered some questions about the Dodger offseason.

Now, on to the rest of the starting pitchers…

V85toppsvicentepadillaicente Padilla (A+)
(4-0, 3.20, 1.220 WHIP)

Say this for Vicente Padilla: he’s not boring. When he was signed in August, the reaction was a collective, “meh?” For just $100,000, the cost was negligible, though of course there was the significant baggage of “known douchebag whose former teammates cheered the release of one of their starters even though they were in a playoff push.”

Still, don’t forget that he came in with zero expectations, and in fact worried those who thought he’d start headhunting and cause brawls, as if that made sense. Not only did he not start the latest round of riots in LA, he was actually… good. He allowed 2, 1, 2, and 0 earned runs in his first four starts. After two mediocre outings and a bullpen appearance, and with his playoff roster spot on the line, he came back with a dominating 10 strikeout performance against the Rockies on the last day of the season.

Then, he was the surprise starter in NLDS Game 3, pitching 7 scoreless innings of 4-hit ball. This earned him an even more surprising start in NLCS Game 2, in which he was again fantastic: just 1 run over 7.1 innings. At that point, it was hard to argue with the idea of starting him again in Game 5… after which it was hard to imagine that the season ended in the hands of Vicente Padilla, because he allowed 6 ER in 3 IP.

Oh, and then he was accidentally shot in the thigh in Nicaragua last week, a self-inflicted wound. Or one inflicted by his bodyguard. While hunting. Or at a shooting range. We never did find out the truth there, did we?

So, the man’s a nutjob. Still, Padilla’s 2 excellent playoff starts can’t be forgotten, and there were no clubhouse issues reported at all. I can’t imagine that he gets any sort of longterm deal with his baggage, but if he’s willing to come back on a one-year deal with an option, for a few million at most, then I’d happily welcome him back.

No guns, though, please.

85toppsjongarlandJon Garland (A-)
(3-2, 2.72, 1.266 WHIP)

I’ll admit it. We’ve done nothing but denigrate Jon Garland around here. Right from the day the trade was announced, I was against it, saying:

Did we need him? Well, last winter this would have been a “yes”, when we all saw inning-eating issues in the future and I advocated signing him for just that reason. So, yeah, we needed him in January. We needed him in April. We probably needed him in July. But now, when it’s already September? What’s he going to have, 5 starts? Maybe?

and

Survey says… We’ll of course have more to say on this once we know who the player is going back to Arizona. Right now, the feeling is more “worried” with a good chance of “horrified“. 

We’ve since found out that the player going back to Arizona is indeed Tony Abreu, which has made an unnecessary trade look even worse, and we’ve been bemoaning the situation ever since. Hey, it’s not like the team has a hole at second base, right?

But it’s important to remember that none of that is Jon Garland’s fault. Having to send Abreu back looks more and more to be directly related to the McCourt divorce disaster and the refusal to pick up any of Garland’s salary. Since the Diamondbacks didn’t save much money, they got a better player. That has absolutely nothing to do with Garland’s performance as a Dodger, and though he wasn’t really needed, he was pretty good when called upon.

In six starts as a Dodger, Garland posted a variety of stats that all would have been career highs if sustained for a full season: ERA (2.72), WHIP (1.266), K/9 (6.4), K/BB (2.89). He contributed five very good starts before a disastrous finale against San Diego. So Garland, more or less, did what he was asked to do. That’s all you can grade a man on.

Still, it should be noted that his opposition while a Dodger was hardly a murderer’s row. In 6 Dodger starts, Garland got to face Arizona (twice), Pittsburgh (twice), San Francisco, and San Diego, so let’s not act like he was shutting down the Phillies & Yankees.

85toppscharliehaegerCharlie Haeger (A)
(1-1, 3.32, 1.053 WHIP)

Free Charlie Haeger! Each year, I seem to latch onto a relatively unheralded minor leaguer or fringe vet and trumpet what they could do for the big team at a fraction of the cost of a name veteran. In 2007 and ’08, it was Delwyn Young. Later in 2008, we were also on board with Terry Tiffee. This year? Captain Knuckleball.

I won’t pretend that the novelty of the knuckleball isn’t at least part of what drew me to Haeger, but it’s more than that. First of all, he was successful in a tough climate in Albuquerque, making the PCL All Star team by going 11-6 with a 3.55 ERA in a notoriously tough park to pitch in. Then, once he reached the bigs, he was everything we’d hoped for – 3.32 ERA in 6 outings (3 starts) with a sparking 1.053 WHIP. For a team that heard all year that their starters weren’t throwing enough innings, why wouldn’t you want a knuckleballer with the ability to get things out?

I’m such a big backer of Haeger that I included him in my 2010 plan, saying:

10) Give Charlie Haeger a chance. I’m not saying to just hand the guy a starting gig, but he does seem to be completely invisible around the Dodgers, and it’s foolish to write him off. We’ve been running a “free Charlie Haeger!” campaign around here all summer, and he’s done nothing to change that.

The guy was one of the top pitchers in AAA last year, despite being in the high-altitude deathpad of Albuquerque. Then when he came up to the bigs, he was more than adequate – 19 IP in 6 games (2 starts), allowing a WHIP of just 1.053 and an ERA of 3.32.

With all of the complaints we heard all year about how the Dodger starters weren’t going  deep into games, why wouldn’t we want to see a knuckleballer who could soak up innings? Even if he’s “just” league-average, there’s still a lot of value in that. So give him a chance to crack the bullpen as a long man and spot starter, available to step in if/when someone gets hurt.

What’s the downside here? He’s cheap, can throw a lot of innings, and seems to be effective. Go with it.

85toppsericmiltonEric Milton (B)
(2-1, 3.80, 1.521 WHIP)

Are we sure Eric Milton was a Dodger in 2009? I mean, I see his card to the left. I see his stats above. I just have almost zero recollection of him actually pitching.

Still, he gets a B just because expectations for him were almost Schmidt-esque. After missing most of 2007 and ’08 with Tommy John surgery, Milton signed a minor league deal with a spring training invite. How’d he do in spring training? Well, this is what I wrote about him on April 1 in my post predicting who’d make the Opening Day roster:

#24. Lefty pitcher who should enjoy 2 weeks of big league service time until Will Ohman comes up on April 14… Well, it’s sure as hell not going to be Eric Milton, not after he added 8 runs in 2 1/3 innings to the 10.07 ERA he brought into today’s game.

So down to Albuquerque it was, where he was actually pretty decent - 2.83 ERA and 27/6 K/BB ratio at that point. Once he got called up in May, well, look. What can you say about the five starts Milton had? The end results were decent enough (2.89 ERA through the first four, though 3.80 overall after a disastrous fifth outing), the way he got there a little less so (11.4 hits/9 and a 1.521 WHIP – woof), and then he hurt his back, requiring surgery that put him out for the year.

I’m honestly struggling to say anything else about Eric Milton’s contributions this year. Good lord, just wait until I get to Travis Schlichting.

85toppsjasonschmidtJason Schmidt (RIP)
(2-2, 5.60, 1.585 WHIP)

na na na na…

na na NA na…

hey hey hey!

good bye…

Our long national nightmare is over! We no longer have to see “RHP – Jason Schmidt (shoulder)” taking up space on the 60-day DL, or more importantly on the payroll. To be fair, it’s important to remember that Schmidt was a class act through all of this. There’s a lot of guys who would have hung it up long ago, but Schmidt did his best to rehab and work his way back, managing to make four mostly terrible starts this year – though one was a completely misleading one-hitter over six innings against the Braves. (Misleading because he walked five in those six innings).

So the blame doesn’t go to Schmidt; it goes to Ned Colletti, who admitted that he knew Schmidt was injured when he signed him. Still, it was completely clear that the man just had nothing left. Sorry to see a great competitor go out like that… but I’d be even sorrier to see him still pitching.

Next! Jonathan Broxton’s still awesome! George Sherrill’s funky hat!! Troncoso and Belisario, oh my! Hong-Chih Kuo’s explosive elbow! And Jeff Weaver lives!! It’s relievers, part 1!

MSTI’s 2009 in Review: Right Field

85toppsandreethierAndre Ethier (A for Amazing!)
(.272/.361/.508 31hr 106rbi)

You know, we always try to keep our views here pinned in the realm of reality. Just because Mark Loretta won our hearts with the clutch single in NLDS Game 2, we couldn’t overlook the previous 6 months of awfulness. It works both ways, too; just because Chad Billingsley fell off a cliff late in the year and lost everyone’s trust in him, we couldn’t forget how great he’d been in the first half and in previous years.

But when it comes to Andre Ethier, it’s pretty difficult to think just with your brain and not with your heart. It’s not that his numbers weren’t great, of course - he was was the first Dodger to hit 30 homers since Adrian Beltre in 2004, and finishing as the 5th highest RF in terms of VORP in baseball is nice too. That in itself is deserving of an A, which I’m happy to award him. That’s without even mentioning the enduring knowledge that all it took to acquire Ethier was the flaming remnants of Milton Bradley’s career. (Okay, and Antonio Perez too. You tell him thanks when you see him pumping your gas sometime.)

It’s just that, while we were all captivated by the flashy HR total and the amazing string of walkoff hits, there’s a few reasons why Ethier’s breakout 2009 might not be exactly what it seems. This is not to pick nits in what was a fantastic season, but these are points worth mentioning.

For example, believe it or not, his BA, OBP, and SLG all dropped ever so slightly, meaning that his OPS was actually 16 points lower than in 2008, with his percentage of line drives dropping from 26.6% to 20.5%, which is worrisome. Really, the main difference between his 2008 and 2009 was his percentage of fly balls, because even though he only slightly raised his homers per flyball rate in 2009 (14.1% to 15.4%), the fact that his percentage of fly balls hit overall jumped from 32.0% to 41.5% made for a lot more balls leaving the yard. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, since it clearly resulted in more homers, but when all of his other rates have dropped since 2008, it does put the idea of a “breakout” season into perspective.

There’s some other issues, as well – for example, he’s rapidly turning into a player who really ought to be platooned to keep him away from lefties. This year, Ethier destroyed right-handed pitching to the tune of a .960 OPS and 25 of his homers. Against lefties, he had just a .194 BA and a .629 OPS and only 6 homers. It’s actually been a pretty clear downward trend for him as far as a lefty/righty split goes:

2006: .842 vs RH, .846 vs LH
2007: .830 vs RH, .816 vs LH
2008: .953 vs RH, .692 vs LH
2009: .960 vs RH, .629 vs LH

As he continues to improve against righties, he’s quickly becoming unplayable against lefties, and the four years of stats clearly show there’s not any improvement happening here.

In addition, his defense has been declining as well, as FanGraphs dedicated an entire article to last week:

Ethier’s first two seasons suggested some defensive talent. Over his first 271 games (212 starts), Ethier compiled a +6.5 UZR in the outfield. Of course, this is not the only example of a UZR sample of this size showing a significant deviation from the following two seasons. However, we can ask: what changed?

First of all, let’s look at the biggest component of the statistic: range. Ethier showed fantastic range in 2007 after showing average range in 2006. His range fell off a cliff then in 2008 and 2009, at -6.6 and -6.9 runs, respectively.

Similarly, Ethier’s arm looked fantastic in 2006, at 6.8 runs in merely 92 DG (defensive games adjusted for attempts). He has not shown that skill since, and his arm dipped below -5 runs above average this season. It is possible that his arm was better suited to left field – his ARM in 154 DG is +4.1 in LF vs. -6.9 in 371 DG in RF.

It appears that we have two major outliers skewing his results from 2006 and 2007. Ethier’s +6.8 ARM rating may have been a product of both his time in left field as well as random variation in the statistic. Since his move to playing primarily right field in 2007, his arm has rated as nearly 10 runs below average, the ninth worst overall mark over the past three years.

I realize that this review has sounded overwhelmingly negative towards a player who provided the Dodgers with several of the most enduring 2009 memories, and I really didn’t mean it to come off that way. So he still gets his A, because this is just one of those situations where the heart (“OMG! 31 homers! Crazy walk-off hits! Give him an A! Give him 40 A’s!”) overrides the brain (“Horrible against lefties! Kind of a lousy outfielder! Somewhat declining stats from 2008!”)

Besides, despite the negatives, there’s no doubt that Ethier was an incredibly valuable player in 2009, and he could be even moreso in future years if used properly. For example, whenever Manny’s no longer a Dodger, Ethier should be moved to left field, rather than keep him in right and acquire another left fielder. In addition, he really should be kept away from as many left-handed pitchers as possible. Not to turn everything back to Juan Pierre, but this is yet another reason why you really need a different backup outfielder, because sitting Ethier against a lefty just to have Pierre there instead (with Matt Kemp in RF that night, of course), doesn’t really help you.

Still, the overriding image of Andre Ethier’s 2009 should be a positive one, most encapsulated by what is without a doubt my favorite picture used on any of these 1985 Topps cards. Well, until we get to Jason Schmidt, that is…

85toppsjamiehoffmannJamie Hoffmann (inc.)
(.182/.167/.409 1hr 7rbi)

Considering that Jamie Hoffmann started the year in AA and was somewhere around 8th on the Dodger outfield depth chart, just getting to the bigs should be seen as a pretty nice year for him, with his first big league homer a cherry on top.

Sure, it took a series of events unexpected (Manny’s suspension), unfortunate (Xavier Paul’s staph infection), and unavoidable (another Jason Repko injury) to get the former hockey player up with the big club, but hey, you take what you can get, right?

Besides, when your year includes your father breaking the news that you’ve been called up to a small-town Minnesota newspaper, and that father just so happens to be the lead sheriff in a high-profile case that made national news, and finally you end up getting DFA’d but then re-signed to an odd contract that prevents you from being on the 40-man until next May, well, you can at least say you’ve had an interesting season.

As far as actual baseball goes for Mr. Hoffmann, he didn’t do all that much with the Dodgers, collecting just 4 hits. However, he did hit well at AA (.952 OPS) and AAA (.815 OPS), in addition to his reputation as a superlative defensive outfielder, so we can expect to see him back sometime next year for a week or two when an extra body is needed. 

85toppsmitchjonesMitch Jones (inc.)
(.308/.400/.385 0hr 0rbi)

If you didn’t cheer for Mitch Jones this year, you have a black, black soul and a heart of stone. Don’t remember his heart-tugging story? Let me refresh you:

If the thought alone of having an all or nothing strikeout/homer machine doesn’t grab you, then tell me that his story isn’t worth rooting for him. He’s 31 years old, has been poking around the minors since as far back as 2000, and is still looking for his first major league appearance. While the jaded among you may say “uh, that’s because he sucks”, it goes further than that. This is from an ESPN story last season on career minor leaguers who may have missed their chance due to choosing not to take steroids:

What happened to Jones on May 19, 2006, alone ought to be worth a few mil in punitive damages. He was in Richmond when the Yankees called him up, emergency style. He raced to the airport, flew to LaGuardia, got in a cab, had to talk his way into Yankee Stadium, picked up his uniform, called his dad to tell him (“I’d always dreamed of the day I’d make that call,” Jones says), sat next to Sheffield in the dugout (oh, irony!) and … never got into the game.

Afterward, Joe Torre called him into his office and said, “Man, I hate to do this to you, but we’re sending you back down.” Jones was, naturally, crushed. But the worst part was still to come:

“I had to call my dad back.”

He hasn’t been up since.

Now Jones is in the Dodger organization, and guess who’s the Dodger manager? Torre.

Guess who’s still the Dodger manager? Joe Torre. I’m not usually one to put emotion ahead of winning games – how could I, with a soul as black as a steer’s tukus on a moonless night – but if Jones somehow has to be on yet another team with Torre and Joe doesn’t find a way to get him an at-bat here or there? I’ll have no problem with looking the other way while Mitch does what needs to be done.

Well, Jones finally did get that chance to hit – 15, even – and managed a .785 OPS in that short time, though without a homer.  That shouldn’t obscure the damage he did in the minors, either, as finished third in the PCL in OPS a won the Bauman award for most homers in MiLB – despite missing a month of time while in the bigs and passing through waivers.

Clearly, at 32, his time has just about passed. But if you look at the numbers he’s put up in the minors, how has some team not taken a shot on him as a part-time DH or power bat off the bench? I’d have taken him over Mark Loretta, that’s for sure. At least he got his at-bat.

Next! Randy Wolf’s career year! Clayton Kershaw’s raw talent! Hiroki Kuroda lined up for the swine flu, probably! A tale of two Chad Billingsleys! And how did Eric Stults make the cut?! It’s starting pitchers, part 1!