2012 Dodgers in Review #51: MGR Don Mattingly

86-76 C+

2012 in brief: Infuriated us all with bunting and lineup choices but generally kept a steady hand over a roster constantly in flux due to early injuries and late trades.

2013 status: Will return for his third season at the helm with much to prove thanks to a roster that is suddenly stuffed with expensive talent and high expectations.

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When I look back at Don Mattingly‘s 2012, I try to remember what he was handed at the beginning of the season and how much the composition of the entire organization changed over the year. This was a roster that was originally patched with low-budget options by Ned Colletti, a club meant less to win in 2012 more than it was to simply survive while the ownership transition was completed. The rotation was full of question marks behind Clayton Kershaw. The offense had exactly two accomplished hitters in the lineup in Matt Kemp & Andre Ethier, surrounded by a whole bunch of “maybes” and “cross your fingers”. Catcher and shortstop were manned by unproven players with limited experience and no backup plan. Second base featured a veteran import coming off an awful season. There was no left fielder to speak of. And lest you forget, Mattingly was forced once again to rely on James Loney & Juan Uribe at the infield corners.

(I can’t really overemphasize that last point enough, by the way. When Mark Ellis was hurt and the Dodgers at times had to play a foursome of Loney/Juan Rivera, Adam Kennedy/Elian Herrera, Dee Gordon, & Uribe, it might have been the worst infield in the last 30 years.)

Despite all that, Mattingly got the team off to an unexpectedly great start — a completely unsustainable one, of course, which hurt later in the season because it raised expectations to an unreasonable level — before they were besieged by a string of injuries unlike anything I think I’ve seen before. I know I’ve mentioned this in the past, but it’s worth noting again: the only players who made it through the entire season on the active roster without being disabled, traded, suspended, or otherwise moved were A.J. Ellis, Matt Treanor, Kershaw, Chris Capuano, Aaron Harang, & Jamey Wright – and Kershaw & Treanor only barely qualify for that list considering that each dealt with late-season injuries that may have required DL trips if not for expanded rosters.

Between May and July, Mattingly lost Kemp, Ethier, Mark Ellis, Jerry HairstonDee Gordon, Scott Elbert, Javy Guerra, Matt Guerrier, and most of his bench; at one point late in the season he was without his original top three starters in Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, & Ted Lilly. When things got really bad in late June & early July, he was routinely having to roll out lineups that had only A.J. Ellis as a legitimate major league hitter. (Lest you forget, Scott Van Slyke, who merits such little notice that teams wouldn’t even pick him up for free when he was DFA’d after the season, started in the #3 or #4 spots seven times due to all the injuries. There were days when Van Slyke, Loney, Tony Gwynn, Elian Herrera, Adam Kennedy, Juan Rivera, & Gordon were all in the starting lineup at the same time.)

The team survived that low period in the summer, barely, and then Mattingly was immediately handed a new challenge: take a roster that was suddenly about 40% different due to three imports from Boston, two from Philadelphia, two from Miami, and one from Seattle, and make them into a team. Immediately. In a pennant race. With no spring training, and with the national media spotlight on the club like never before. While it took longer than we would have liked – call it “jelling”, “meshing,” “random statistical variance,” whatever you like – it eventually did come together, with the team finishing hot over the last week despite the injury-limited contributions of Kemp & Kershaw to fall just short of the final playoff spot.

Through all that, Mattingly took a team which was expected to do very little and guided it to 86 wins, a six-win improvement over 2011, and that’s not to be taken lightly. In fact, that’s good enough work that you might expect Mattingly to get an A grade.

Well, Mattingly doesn’t get an A. He gets a C+. Here’s why:

First, he’s getting knocked down a full letter grade for the bunting. Good holy lord, the bunting… the endless, painful, bunting. I could probably find dozens of examples to illustrate this, but I’ll go with May 8 against San Francisco, the day that Uribe had one of the worst bunts of the year. To be honest, it wasn’t even that bunt that killed me, it was one later in the game — and Mattingly’s complete refusal to acknowledge how foolish the call was after the loss:

The next inning, Mattingly called for another bunt with men on, and while this one worked, it merely opened up first base ahead of Matt Kemp. Kemp was of course walked intentionally, and San Francisco lefty Javier Lopez retired lefties Andre Ethier, Loney, & Tony Gwynn to end the threat. Mattingly later said he wouldn’t have changed his decision in either case, even after the fact… and all of a sudden I’m wondering if this post should have been more about Don Mattingly than Juan Uribe.

So that takes him down to a B. He drops another half-grade because of his adventures in lineup construction, particularly when it came to A.J. Ellis. That’s another horse we continued to beat to a pulp all season long; as the offense continued to stagnate, I could take no more in early September:

As you probably also know, Ellis has been stuck in the bottom of the order for most of the season, mainly the 8th spot, and that’s a fact we’ve been bemoaning all year as inferior options like Dee Gordon & Shane Victorino have eaten up outs in front of the supposed ‘heart of the lineup’. That’s a big problem, because instead of having a guy who is great at getting on base out there for Matt Kemp and friends, you’ve been wasting that skill by having him on base ahead of the pitcher and whatever crappy leadoff man happens to be following him atop the order at any given time. (That’s mostly been Gordon, Victorino, & Tony Gwynn, and it’s been ugly: Dodger leadoff men have been atrocious, with a .598 OPS there, ahead of only Cincinnati for worst in baseball.)

It’s just an appallingly inefficient use of resources, and with the Dodger lineup struggling terribly, it’s not like there isn’t reason to change things. (Believe me, if the Kemp / Adrian Gonzalez / Hanley Ramirez / Andre Ethier core was healthy & hitting like it was supposed to, we wouldn’t be having this conversation right now.) Hell, even if you don’t think it makes strict sense, simply changing things up for the sake of change makes a ton of sense considering how things are going these days.

Now as I noted above, Mattingly rarely had a consistent lineup to work with because of the injuries and trades, and that should be noted. But to consistently put your best OBP man in Ellis 8th while letting out machines like Gwynn, Gordon, & Shane Victorino waste opportunities in front of the heart of your lineup is unforgivable  When you finish one game out of a tie for the wild card, it’s hard to not think this continued decision alone had an impact.

That gets Mattingly to a B-. The final demerit? Game 161. I know, it’s subjective, it’s emotional, and there’s plenty of other Chris Capuano-, Matt Kemp-, & Mark Ellis-based reasons why the Dodgers lost that game, which was just one game over a six-month season. Yet in case you’ve forgotten…

After a quiet eighth, there was hope in the ninth… briefly. Ethier, somewhat miraculously, singled up the middle against lefty Jeremy Affeldt. A runner! The move seemed clear: bring Gordon off the bench, let A.J. Ellis try to repeat his magic or possibly hit one into the gap that Gordon might be able to score on. If Ellis failed, then let Gordon try to steal ahead of Herrera (or his pinch-hitter, Abreu.)

No. Of course not. Mattingly sent in the bunt signal without sending in Gordon, and while it’d have been nice if Ellis could have made it work, it almost didn’t matter. What was the end game there? Twice-DFA’d Bobby Abreu with your season on the line? Elian Herrera? You’re taking the bat out of the hands of one of your best hitters for… what, exactly? Moving Ethier up 90 feet that Gordon probably could have (and eventually did) steal anyway? It’s stunning. Ellis struck out after failing to bunt twice, Abreu flew out, and Mark Ellis failed to redeem himself.

Mattingly was hardly alone in costing the Dodgers that game, of course. But these grades are meant to be subjective, and months later I still can’t get over it.

So that puts Mattingly at a C+, and that’s honestly about right. If you had asked me before writing this how I thought of him compared to other major league managers, I’d have said “about averageish overall,” and that’s how it came out. So while you might be expecting me to call for his head thanks to all the bunting madness, it’s not that simple. Unfortunately, other than Joe Maddon and maybe one or two other guys, every manager pulls this garbage. It’s just how baseball works, for the most part, and it’s infuriating. You can say you want Mattingly gone, fine, but who is clearly better? Without an answer to that question, it’s not worth the move, and he’s proven himself to be an adept clubhouse leader — and considering all of the off-field insanity this organization has seen since he’s been in charge, that’s not to be minimized.

All that being said, I’m fine with Mattingly in charge, though I’ll admit that 2013 seems pivotal for him. He’ll no longer have the excuse of McCourt-related shenanigans or underfunded rosters, and while it’s unfair to expect any manager to win the World Series, if they’re not playing in October, Mattingly’s going to have a lot to answer for.

******

That’s it for the 2012 Season in Review pieces — no, I’m not going to do Colletti, though unofficially I’d give him a B+ — and it’s now time to focus on the upcoming season. Thanks for sticking with this through the John Elys and Elian Herreras.

2012 Dodgers in Review #50: RP Ronald Belisario

2.54 ERA 3.09 FIP 71.0 IP 8.75 K/9 3.68 BB/9 0.9 fWAR A-

2012 in brief: After missing all of 2011 and the first month of 2012, actually managed to stay on the roster all year without getting in to further trouble. Oh, and he was a pretty effective reliever while doing it, too.

2013 status: Eligible for arbitration for the first time as a “Super Two” and should be mainstay of bullpen if he can manage to stay out of trouble again.

******

I’m really not sure if it can be overstated how little we expected from Ronald Belisario after a bizarre 2011 in which he missed the entire season. But Belisario sorted out his issues and actually made it to Arizona weeks ahead of camp — frankly, I’m not sure why he ever leaves at this point — and when it came out that he’d be suspended for the first 25 games of the season, I actually thought it was a good thing, since it’d give the Dodgers time to sort out a crowded bullpen and see what Belisario could offer.

When he returned in early May, we weren’t sure what he would be, but we knew he’d at least not be Mike MacDougal:

I have no idea what kind of Ronald Belisario we’re going to see now that he’s been reinstated from the suspended list. The out-of-nowhere 2009 sensation? The 2010 disappointment who wasn’t great but wasn’t really as bad as people remember? The total flakewad who missed 2011 entirely? But I do know this: simply because he’s here and he exists, we no longer have to suffer the wrath of Mike MacDougal, DFA’d by the Dodgers today to make room.

Belisario made his debut in Chicago on May 5 and picked up right where he left off, not allowing a run in any of his first nine outings. In June, he pitched 12 innings and allowed just four hits and a single run,  and though the 1.53 ERA he took into the All-Star break was fantastic, it wasn’t entirely without some concern:

Ronald Belisario (A+)

I mean, A for still being in the country. A for not being in prison. A for still being alive, probably. A for not being injured. A-plus for not only being on the team, but for being an invaluable member of the bullpen. I’m both terrified by his .176 BABIP and fascinated that his bowling ball heater results in such poor contact that it’s the third lowest figure in baseball. Good to have you back, you big weirdo.

That fall back to earth came quickly, because July was nothing short of a disaster for Belisario; of the 20 earned runs he allowed all season, 11 came in July alone — despite it being the month with the fewest games. (Oddly, his 4.25 K/BB in July was the best mark of his entire season.) In a stretch of 11 innings between July 8-31, he allowed 17 baserunners and saw his ERA rocket from 0.95 to 3.20, poor enough that when Randy Choate was added, I was openly floating the idea of a DL stint for Belisario just to give him a breather.

That didn’t happen, of course, and Belisario rebounded nicely down the stretch, putting up a 36/13 K/BB in 31.2 innings after August 1. On the whole, Belisario’s 2012 was the best of his three major league seasons, and while he can still never be counted on — especially after reportedly getting kicked off his winter league team — if he’s available, he’s a cheap and effective setup man who provides real value.

******

Next up! Get out your bunting shoes, it’s Don Mattingly!

2012 Dodgers in Review #49: RP Jamey Wright

3.72 ERA 3.39 FIP 67.2 IP 7.18 K/9 3.99 BB/9 0.5 fWAR A-

2012 in brief: Veteran retread was surprisingly adequate as only reliever to remain on active roster from wire to wire.

2013 status: Free agent.

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Hey, did you know that Jamey Wright made the Dodgers on his seventh consecutive season as a non-roster invite? Me neither, because it was something that was never brought up or mentioned about him, ever.

Besides, teams sign dozens of these guys per year, so when Wright landed with the Dodgers in early February, it didn’t merit a whole ton of attention:

Unrelated and obviously far less interesting, the Dodgers have signed 37-year-old veteran Jamey Wright to a minor-league contract and an invite to camp. Wright was a first-round pick of the Rockies way back in 1993; he made his debut in 1996 and was in Dodger Stadium three days later for his second career game against a Dodger lineup that featured Chad Fonville, Mike Blowers, and Greg Gagne. Despite being a soft-tossing righty, he has managed to last for sixteen seasons with eight teams, with two stops apiece in Colorado and Kansas City. Wright got into 60 games for the Mariners last year and actually posted a career-best 3.16 ERA, though the 4.30 FIP doesn’t quite back that up. As far as non-roster guys go, he’s par for the course and fine by me, though I’m not exactly sure I see how he has a prayer to make what looks to be a pretty full roster unless the injuries really pile up in camp.

As it turned out, the Dodgers had signed Wright back in 2009 but the deal was canceled when he failed a physical, so I suppose we shouldn’t have been surprised when he did actually earn a roster spot, in no small part due to Blake Hawksworth‘s ongoing health problems. When we learned on March 26 that he’d officially made the roster, we were excited to the point where I couldn’t even analyze it with any seriousness.

Wright very nearly made an emergency Opening Day start when Clayton Kershaw came down with the flu — which, thank whatever deity you believe in for “very nearly”, because that’s not a reality I’m prepared to live in — but he didn’t make a very favorable impression on us in his second outing, on April 7:

That came an inning earlier than usual tonight, where after breezing through four scoreless, Capuano gave up a single and three walks, leaving the bases loaded for Jamey Wright. Wright – doing Jamey Wright things, don’t you know – then proceeded to walk each of the next two on eight straight balls, forcing home two runs, before being relieved himself; Scott Elbert allowed another run on a wild pitch and yet another on an Orlando Hudson single, during which the inning mercifully came to an end when catcher Nick Hundley was thrown out attempting to score.

Still, Wright was surprisingly effective though April, not allowing a hit in his first six appearances, including a high point on April 19 when he struck out Rickie WeeksNyjer Morgan, Ryan Braun, Aramis Ramirez & Corey Hart in succession.

Despite our expectations that Wright would get replaced at nearly any second, the constant flux in the bullpen made it so that he was never really in as much danger of losing his job as you’d think. Perhaps that wouldn’t have been the case if Matt Guerrier & Kenley Jansen & Scott Elbert & Javy Guerra all hadn’t hit the disabled list, and if Ronald Belisario hadn’t missed the first month, and if Josh Lindblom hadn’t been traded, but all those things did happen, so he managed to skate by.

That’s not quite the same thing as being good, of course, because he did allow two or more earned runs a surprising nine times, which along with allowing more than a hit per inning and a high 4.0/9 walk rate isn’t exactly ideal. Still, he did post a career-high strikeout rate and simply managed to stay healthy and not awful all season, which is a lot more valuable than it sounds — especially for a guy making the minimum.

So here’s to you, Jamey, for being Ned Colletti’s token non-roster guy who contributes of 2012. Now let’s hope we never see you in Dodger blue again.

******

Next up! Finally, we’re done with player reviews: it’s Ronald Belisario!!

2012 Dodgers in Review #48: RP Kenley Jansen

2.35 ERA 2.40 FIP 65.0 IP 13.71 K/9 3.05 BB/9 1.7 fWAR A

2012 in brief: As expected, took over closer’s job from Javy Guerra and was outstanding before being sidelined once again by recurrence of cardiac issue that required October surgery.

2013 status: Will make the minimum for one more year before becoming arbitration-eligible. Won’t start the season as closer thanks to the new contract bestowed upon Brandon League, but it’s not hard to see him finishing it there.

******

I’m pretty sure we saw Kenley Jansen taking the closer role away from Javy Guerra as such a given all winter that it was practically treated as a running joke. For example, on the very first day of camp:

* Javy Guerra starts camp as the closer. (Hernandez) Again, no surprise here, because Guerra took hold of the job last year after no one else could and did little to force the team to make a move. If he can be effective again this year, then fantastic, because Kenley Jansen is arguably more valuable as a “fireman” type who can come in and dominate when the situation dictates, rather than tether him to the 9th inning. Still, I see Jansen moving into the 9th inning at some point this year.

It didn’t take long. After a rough outing in the first game of the season, Jansen blew through the rest of April, putting up a 23/7 K/BB in 13.2 innings, allowing just four hits. That line looks even more dominating when you realize it includes a poor performance against the Padres on April 13, where he gave up a game-tying homer (in a game the Dodgers ended up winning anyway, and it’s not like getting beat by Chase Headley is embarrassing) and made us shake our heads at the ridiculous reaction he received from Dodger fans.

By the end of April, Guerra had predictably lost his hold on the job, and Jansen moved in. I’d like to offer more analysis than “he was great,” but… he was great. Between May 1 and the All-Star break, Jansen pitched 24.2 innings over 25 games. He allowed eleven hits and had a 39/6 K/BB. Think about that for a second. What can I really do to make that seem more impressive than that already looks?

That’s not to say he was perfect, because no closer ever is. On May 18, he blew a save by allowing Lance Berkman to hit a game-tying homer – the Dodgers won anyway – and then again on June 13 against the Angels, pitching for the third day in a row. Those are minor quibbles, because again, it’s not realistic to expect any player to be 100% perfect all of the time. If there was really anything to ding him on, it was his second appearance after the break, in which… oh, that:

There’s a lot of things I love about baseball, and one of them is that you absolutely never ever know what you’re going to see on a given night. Maybe you’ll see a no-hitter, or four homers in a row, or a pinch-hit dinger on a player’s own bobblehead night. Those are all rare and wonderful things, but they exist within the plane of reality; I’m not sure I can say that having two runners steal home on the same play with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning falls under that category.

I barely even know how to talk about it. Sure, it was a gut punch. But we’ve seen blown saves and tough losses before. We know how to get over those. This? This… was on a level I’ve never seen before. The worst part is, Kenley Jansen had battled through a tough inning to get to two strikes and two outs on Alexi Amarista, before turning his back on Everth Cabrera, allowing the tying run to score, and making a poor throw to the plate, allowing the go-ahead run to score. I don’t want to hear a damn word about how Jansen doesn’t know how to close out games – over his last nine games, he had allowed exactly zero hits while striking out 14, making him one of the most dominant closers in the game – but the mental error in a situation like that is just shocking. Given that Jansen threw 26 pitches tonight after 15 yesterday, I’m sure he’ll have a day or two to think about it.

Awful as that was, it didn’t slow Jansen down at all. Over the next month, he pitched 14.2 innings over 14 games, and continued to cruise, putting up a 21/5 K/BB ratio with only two earned runs. There was some concern over the fact that his velocity was down somewhat from 2011 – and more on that in a second – but since his performance hadn’t suffered at all, little was made of it.

But as we all know, it didn’t quite end that way. Jansen came into a game the Dodgers were already getting crushed in against Colorado on August 27 and allowed four runs in 2/3 of an inning, an outing which single-handedly increased his ERA from 1.93 to 2.54. At the time, it seemed like a blip from a rusty reliever in a non-save situation; two days later, we were told that Jansen was dealing with a recurrence of the heart condition which had cost him a month of 2011. At the time, the concern was more for Jansen’s health than anything baseball-related.

Jansen missed nearly a month, and when he returned on September 20, things had changed. Brandon League, new and improved off his recent mechanical changes, had taken over the ninth inning, and Don Mattingly – understandably, in a playoff push – didn’t want to fix what was working, especially after Jansen’s missed time. Jansen got into 8.1 innings over 9 games before the season ended and once again was dominant: 13/3 K/BB, two hits allowed. For the season as a whole, he struck out a massive 99 in 65 innings, and improved his BB/9 rate from 4.4 in 2011 to 3.0 in 2012.

Despite all that, he’s once again going to open the season as the second banana. As we’ve talked about several times in the past, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, because I’d love to have a guy like Jansen available to nail down the highest leverage situations rather than being chained to the ninth.

Oh, and there’s this: he might even be better next year, as I looked into in a post for FanGraphs in November:

Despite League’s great finish, I doubt there’s too many who would argue that he’s better than Jansen, who trails only Craig Kimbrel in K/9 rate over the last two seasons. (Yes, even more than Aroldis Chapman.) That’s especially so considering Jansen has the opportunity to be even better in 2013. Not only is he hopefully past the cardiac issues, look at his velocity charts over the last two years:

As you can see, for most of 2012 he’d had difficulty maintaining his 2011 heat, leading to no shortage of hand-wringing despite the fact that it hadn’t hurt his effectiveness. But see how it clipped up noticeably at the end of the season? There’s a reason for that:

“I was just playing around with the two-seamer and saw some great late movement,” Jansen said. “I took it into a game against Colorado. I threw a 90-mph cutter, then A.J. [Ellis, catcher] asked me for a two-seamer and I hit 95. That’s when I realized that I was staying behind the two-seamer but wasn’t staying fully behind the cutter.

“From that point, my cutter got to 96 and touched 97.”

That game against Colorado was on September 29. Jansen saw 15 batters between that game and three more, striking out eight of them and allowing only two hits.

Jansen’s heart procedure went smoothly and not only is he expected to be ready for spring training, he was reportedly feeling great just a few days later. With his heart concerns behind him (hopefully) and a fix to regain his lost velocity, Jansen’s poised to be one of the most dangerous relievers in baseball, no matter what inning we see him in. I can’t wait to see it.

******

Next up! Wait, Jamey Wright was decent?

2012 Dodgers in Review #47: RP Javy Guerra

2.60 ERA 3.34 FIP 45.0 IP 7.40 K/9 4.60 BB/9 0.4 fWAR D

2012 in brief: Disastrous year featured two stints on the disabled list, a line drive off the face, the loss of his closing job, and a late-season demotion to the minors.

2013 status: Under team control, but will need to show something to earn a big-league job in camp.

******

Now that I’m looking at it, I suppose it’s hard to say that a guy with a 2.60 ERA – or even a 3.34 FIP, for that matter – had a lousy year. But it’s difficult to look at the ups and downs of Javy Guerra this year and think that it went in any way how he hoped it would.

You’ll probably remember that we spent most of the winter saying “when” Guerra lost his closing role to Kenley Jansen, not “if”, so clearly we didn’t have the highest of hopes for him. Surprisingly, he got off to a very good start and actually saved five out of the first seven Dodger games, earning a post full of praise from me on April 13.

Two days later, Guerra finished off the Padres thanks to one of the most bizarre plays of the season:

But while that may have been the luckiest double play the Padres will get all year, it hardly compares to whatever the hell happened in the top of the 9th. Javy Guerra came in and promptly allowed the first two men to reach. Jesus Guzman attempted to bunt – because why wouldn’t you want your cleanup hitter to bunt with two on in a tie game? – which proved difficult when Guerra’s pitch nearly hit him in the face. Guzman, maybe more out of self-preservation than anything else, got the thinnest part of his bat on the ball, which seemingly landed behind the plate. Though umpire Scott seemed to clearly wave the ball foul, A.J. Ellis alertly jumped on it and threw it around the horn for the triple play. San Diego manager Bud Black argued vociferously – and correctly, to my eyes – but was ejected for his troubles.

Judge for yourself…

Unfortunately for Guerra, it was mostly downhill from there. He blew a save in Milwaukee on April 17, and five days later — while I was sitting close enough to hear the sickening crack — he allowed five runs in one-third of an inning against Atlanta, thanks in no small part to the line drive off the face he took from Brian McCann.

Guerra, to his credit, shook off the incident and returned three days later against Washington in Bryce Harper‘s debut. While the Dodgers won on a Matt Kemp walkoff, Guerra’s performance in a non-save situation showed that we were already losing confidence:

Of course, this wouldn’t be the 2012 Dodgers if the game didn’t stay close into the late innings and… well, look. Sooner or later we’re going to have to acknowledge that Javy Guerra is just a mess right now, right? You can argue that he got spooked by taking a Brian McCann liner off the face the other night, but that was hardly the start of his troubles; he’s blown something like 37 games over the last two weeks. Entering in the 9th after Scott Elbert allowed a LaRoche single and induced Rick Ankiel to eliminate LaRoche via sacrifice bunt – and for the record, I have absolutely no idea why Don Mattingly yanked Elbert after just five pitches – Guerra allowed a single, a sacrifice fly, and another single, pushing two runs across and putting the Dodgers down 3-1. You can argue that Guerra is getting BABIP’d to death with all the singles if you want, but if you plan on being a late innings reliever in the bigs, you need to miss some bats, and Guerra simply has not been doing that lately. (Is that… Shawn Tolleson‘s music I hear? No, of course not.)

The next day, it was Jansen who was called upon to get the save. Guerra bounced back to pick up his eighth (and as it turned out, final) save of the season on May 1 in Colorado, but blew another on May 6 in Chicago – the day Jerry Hairston got hurt – and so the next day, we were forced to acknowledge that this just wasn’t working out, in a post titled “The Continuing Heartburn Over Javy Guerra“. As you’ll see, we were mostly confused because his peripherals were actually quite good:

After a dominant run to start the season, Guerra’s had an ugly two weeks, and that doesn’t even count the poorly-called triple play that allowed him to escape a tough situation in San Diego. It’s bad, and it doesn’t seem to be getting any better. Sunday’s debacle in Chicago was Guerra’s fifth “meltdown” of the season; that’s tied with Heath Bell for the third most in the majors, and it’s already one more than the four he had in all of 2011. For whatever reason, the Guerra we’re seeing in early May is not the same one that we saw in early April, and he absolutely doesn’t have enough of a track record to be allowed to keep on doing this for too much longer.

Yet while I said all winter that Guerra wasn’t as good as casual fans thought and that he was almost certainly going to suffer regression this year, I have to admit that this isn’t exactly the way I envisioned it. I saw a guy who was never that impressive in the minors and was only in the bigs due to a string of injuries to other pitchers, and while he was good-but-not-great in 2011, his reputation was grossly inflated by the always-overrated “save” statistic and the simple comparison to the ineffective closers who had been used before him. While he’s certainly thrown away a large part of that goodwill with fans, it’s rare that you strike out more & walk fewer than you did the year before but see less success, and it’s hard not to see the big, ugly .485 BABIP on his card.

Guerra lost his job to Jansen after that game and then turned it around, reeled off 12 straight scoreless outings before allowing a run in Colorado on June 2 — though somehow managing just a 4/5 K/BB over that time. He was placed on the disabled list following the game and had knee surgery three days later, an injury that had reportedly originally occurred when he attempted to twist out of the way of the McCann line drive back in April. He missed about a month, then returned to take Dee Gordon‘s spot on the roster in early July.

The peaks and valleys continued. July was tough, with several days missed to tend to his ailing father and a 8/7 K/BB in 11.1 innings pitched; August was better, with seven scoreless outings and a 10/4 K/BB in 8.2 innings, a streak of relative success that only served to make the news that he was being demoted to Triple-A on August 21 to make room for Rubby De La Rosa all the more surprising:

If there’s a surprise here, it’s that Guerra had been pitching relatively well, not having been charged with an earned run of his own since July 26 and having a 13/4 K/BB over those 11.1 innings, so I’ll admit I don’t entirely see why the Dodgers didn’t just give de la Rosa another week and call him up when rosters expand on September 1. On the other hand, I’m hardly going to lose a wink of sleep over Guerra getting a week-long vacation in New Mexico until he returns a week from Saturday; mostly I’m just impressed that the team chose not to send down Shawn Tolleson simply because he’s the most junior member of the bullpen.

Since de la Rosa was traded to Boston days later, there may have been a bit more to it, if the Dodgers did want to show that RDLR was ready to return to the bigs. Guerra did indeed come back to the Dodgers, but pitched in only one more game before going on the disabled list again with a strained left oblique, an injury which ended his season.

So what is Guerra? Despite the early talk about his improved peripherals, his final line was very similar to what it had been in 2011, only without the saves. If he’s healthy, I think he can still be a usable member of a bullpen, though seeing everything that happened this year does make me wish the Dodgers had chosen to sell high when they had the chance. We’ll almost certainly see a fair amount of him in 2013; whether he makes the Opening Day roster depends as much on any additional bullpen additions the team may make as it does on Guerra’s performance.

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Next up! Good lord, only three more pitchers left! It’s Kenley Jansen!