2013 Dodgers in Review #46: RP Javy Guerra

90topps_javyguerra

6.75 ERA / 3.99 FIP / 10.2 IP 10.13 K/9 5.06 BB/9 (inc.)

2013 in brief: Made it into just nine May games for the Dodgers before getting buried in Albuquerque, never to be seen again.

2014 status: Likely to get real familiar with New Mexico, though he is without a remaining option.

Previous: 2011 | 2012

******

Everyone thank Kyle MacGregor for pitching in with a great job on reviewing Guerra. Thanks, Kyle.

Javy Guerra’s season reminds me a lot of the last Transformers movie. I know saw it, but I honestly don’t recall a single memorable moment that occurred throughout the entire thing. I can’t conjure any more hazy memories of Guerra taking the field with the words “Los Angeles” scrawled across his chest in 2013 than I can of the time I escaped the womb and tobogganed into the world.

He didn’t make the Opening Day roster. That was mostly due to the fact Ned Colletti spent the winter collecting pitchers like they’re Pokémon cards, which inevitably pushed surplus starters into the bullpen to start the year. Javy was eventually recalled on May 1, after Josh Wall was used as a sacrificial lamb at Coors Field in a distressing 62 pitch appearance.

Guerra proceeded to pitch 10.2 forgettable big league innings that were well worth forgetting. The former closer was all over the place, mixing in fair number of strikeouts (12) alongside way too many walks (6) and hits (15!). The results speak for themselves, but, still, that 1.99 WHIP is pretty gross.

It may not have been entirely his fault, though. Looking at that 3.99 FIP, a .400 BABIP, and the fact the Dodger defense was all kinds of atrocious in the early going; I’m inclined to believe he was just a tad unlucky. The team was in such a malaise during Javy’s time in Los Angeles. The Dodgers dropped an embarrassing 16 of 25 games between Guerra’s decent first appearance against the Rockies and lackluster final game in Anaheim. So, while he was still a far cry from good, to put it mildly, I’ll cut him a little slack. There was plenty of blame to go around in May.

Guerra was sent to the glue factory of Albuquerque on May 31, in part because of Peter Moylan’s impending opt-out clause, but also because he was kind of terrible. He didn’t fare much better in the Rocky Mountain air, posting a 3.66 ERA with a 4.57 FIP for the Isotopes on the year, whilst being unusually homer-prone.

Javy struggled mightily at the end of the AAA season, where he was pushed around to the tune of a .405 BAA in his final ten appearances. Perhaps it’s needless to say, but he didn’t receive an invite to join the Dodgers when rosters expanded in September.

Something tells me the trajectory of Guerra’s career isn’t going in the direction he’d hoped. Following his breakout (but totally unsustainable) season in 2011, he gave us a lot of heartburn in 2012 after a Brian McCann liner rearranged the contents of his skull (and injured his knee). Since then, he’s showed some of the promise that landed him a closer’s job along with plenty of awful.

I’m not sure the Pacific Coast League is the best place for a guy on the slide looking to rebuild confidence and his career, but that’s where Guerra figures to be for the foreseeable future.

2013 Dodgers in Review #45: RP Brian Wilson

90topps_brianwilson0.66 ERA / 2.52 FIP 13.2 IP 8.56 K/9 2.63 BB/9 (B)

2013 in review: Lottery ticket signing ended up becoming team’s primary setup man.

2014 status: Re-signed for $10m.

******

Everyone thank Amy (@SpaceDodgersfor pitching in with a great job on reviewing Wilson. Thanks Amy!

Hey, remember Mike on July 29th, 2013?

Now before we discuss the merits of [signing Brian Wilson], we probably should discuss the elephant in the room: you hate him. Of course you do. He was a Giant, and not only was he a Giant, he was a huge part of their 2010 World Series title, even getting the final out. He’s a big weirdo with a giant, annoying, beard. He got into that thing with Casey Blake. He was in those tremendously irritating “Black Ops” Taco Bell ads. If Taco Bell was a place I would ever go to eat, ever, those ads would be enough to put a stop to that. I’M BLACK OPS.

If there’s such a thing as “good and evil” in the Dodgers / Giants rivalry these days, Wilson is probably the defining face of it.

And then, not so very long ago

Brian Wilson will return to the Dodgers for $10m in 2014. He also has a player option for 2015, reportedly between $9m and $10m depending on appearances.

At first glance, I’m relatively pleased with this. I think.

Brian Wilson has transformed from weird, hated Giant into a Dodger goofball whose two-year contract was met with an aggregate, easeful indifference. This wasn’t entirely unexpected. After signing Wilson to a $1m major league deal that would start in the minors until the end of the season, this seemed to be a pretty good idea. If Wilson was horrible, what was $1 million to multimillionaires? If Wilson was at least productive, then the signing was a steal. The signing turned out to be an absolute steal, for an incredibly small sample size.

In 13.2 innings pitched, Brian Wilson faced 49 batters, averaged 8.6 strikeouts, 2.6 walks, and 5.4 hits over nine innings. He struck out 13 batters in the regular season, and 7 of those were looking; of his 8 postseason strikeouts, 4 batters struck out looking (yes, I went back and counted). During the post season, Wilson faced 24 batters, posted a K/9, BB/9, and H/9 of 12, 3, and 6 respectively.

So I’m going to declare it here and let’s keep it in mind for the rest of this review: everything should be taken with a grain of salt due to the small sample size we’re dealing with.  In fact, the only statistic that has had a chance to stabilize is his strikeout rate, and only if we combine his regular and postseason statistics. Also, ignore all credit given on behalf of that incredibly shiny 0.66 ERA, since ERA for relievers is absolute rubbish, and even more so with small sample sizes.

Since Wilson’s strikeout rate only stabilizes if we include his postseason stats, let’s calculate his combined K/9 real quick.  Nevertheless, also keep in mind that, while “stable,” the numbers should still be accepted hesitantly. The last four stats in the following table quantify the looking and swinging strikeouts.

wilson_stats

Now, that said… Mike has said a bit about Brian Wilson’s success and has shown that there’s reason to be optimistic.

 …His velocity isn’t quite up to pre-surgery levels, but it was clearly trending in the right direction and allowed him to touch 96 at times. Perhaps unsurprisingly, his strikeouts increased along with it; in his first 10.1 innings, he struck out eight, while in his final 9.1 (including playoffs) he whiffed 13. Again, small samples and all that, but encouraging. He also walked only six, which is good not only because control is often the toughest thing to regain after surgery, but because he’d often had problems with that even at his best.

And our good friend, Grant Brisbee, wasn’t particularly pleased that the Giants missed out on Wilson during the NLCS,

Second, it’s annoying watching Brian Wilson in the postseason. Not because he looks like a piece of steel wool in a fight with a raccoon, but because he’s pitching like the guy we remember. … I’m talking about the 2010 version, who was pretty swell. One of the better relievers in Giants history, to be honest. The 2013 version doesn’t have as much heat, but he has the command, which is probably as important.

It turns out, that his command has improved, when compared to his 2011 regular and 2010 postseason, which is very encouraging. However, it’s not exactly the command he displayed in the 2009 and 2010 regular seasons.

The problem with percentages here is that we’re not seeing how many pitches he’s thrown. Namely, pointing out that 65% of 311 pitches land outside of the zone isn’t quite the same as 69% of 1,028 pitches. These are also his 2013 and 2011 season percentages via Brooks Baseball, respectively. So it is important to show the number of pitches thrown for each month to put those percentages into perspective.

But realistically, the number of pitches thrown outside of the zone doesn’t matter if the pitch results in a swing and miss; depending on your source, your perspective on his swing and miss ratio may vary. According to baseball-reference, Wilson posted a career high swinging strike ratio (without contact) at 18%.  Meanwhile FanGraphs has him around league average at 9.2%, which is not a career high.

To stay consistent with my source, I’m going to use Brooks Baseball’s swing and miss information.  FanGraphs defines “whiff” as percentage of swing and misses per swing. Brooks Baseball seems to interpret whiff rate as the percentage of swings that miss, explicitly distinguishing it from “Whiffs/Swing.” In this review, I use “whiff” in the same sense that Brooks Baseball does.

Brooks Baseball’s graph for Wilson’s whiff rate in and out of the zone for both the regular and postseasons is below, but does not describe the combined total swing and miss ratio.

From this graph, it is clear that Wilson is at a career high for getting batters to swing and miss on pitches inside the strike zone with 15.45% and averaged 7.96% whiffs outside of the strike zone. These final three images, in order, display Wilson’s pitch location frequency, swing rates, and whiff rates. The color indicates the frequency: bright red for high frequency and bright blue for low frequency. Darker shades show a relative median frequency.

In Figure 1 we see that Wilson liked to pitch outside, something that is already established so far. When Wilson actually did pitch inside the strike zone, we see that he tended to hit the lower quadrants. Figure 2 shows that batters swung when the pitch was in the strike zone. However, the swing frequency in the top half of the strike zone indicates that, on the rare occasion Wilson pitched there, batters swung. Furthermore, Figure 3 demonstrates that batters missed when they swung at pitches in the strike zone’s upper quadrants.

The pitch frequency along the sides in Figure 1 should be expected, since Mike already talked about Wilson’s more frequent use of his cutter. Nevertheless, the lack of whiffs in the lower half of the strike zone implies that most batted balls were hit in the lower half. Also, those pitches along the right side of Figure 1 indicate that Wilson should have walked more batters than he did, especially since batters almost never swung when his pitches landed there. Again, small sample size applies here, because his batted ball and walk ratio data is not stable.

But this raises a question: how does one pitch outside of the strike zone an average of 65% of the time, have a 52% strikeout looking rate (L/SO%), while getting most batters to swing inside the strike zone and most whiffs in areas he almost never pitched? Where do those pitches that strike batters out looking land? There is a chance that those pitches land in the bottom quadrants of the strike zone, but given his pitch location frequency and low walk rate, it’s more likely that most of those looking strikeouts were generously given.

The velocity and control Wilson has displayed so far is encouraging, but the fact that he struck out more batters looking than swinging should be a red flag to everybody.  Why?  Because that’s an indicator that the human element of the game blessed upon us by the home-plate umpire has played it’s part in Wilson’s success, and that’s not reliable.

Therefore, while Wilson’s post-surgery successes so far deserves high praise, the questionable data yielded on behalf of the provisionally small sample-size drops his grade from the popular A+ that many expected, to a B.

******

Next! Javy Guerra existed!

2013 Dodgers in Review #44: RP Jose Dominguez

90topps_josedominguez2.16 ERA / 3.53 FIP  9.1 IP 4.32 K/9 3.24 BB/9 (inc.)

2013 in brief: Somewhat surprisingly recalled in late June, showed more potential than production before a July quad injury that was supposed to shelve him for only two weeks took the rest of his season.

2014 status: Likely to split time between Los Angeles & Albuquerque.

******

You know, you’d think I’d have more to say about Jose Dominguez after a season in which he surprisingly made his big league debut in June. But then again, after a season-opening suspension in the minors and a season-ending quad injury that just never seemed to heal, Dominguez only did pitch 33.2 professional innings this year.

We were excited when he got recalled, anyway:

Dominguez, 23 in August, is known nearly as much for the two drug-related suspensions that have cost him time (50 games in 2010, 25 this year) as he is for the fastball that has been known to reach 103 miles per hour. In 2010, Dominguez tested positive for Stanozolol; it’s unknown what tripped him up this year, but it’s not thought to be a PED since he didn’t get popped for 100 games. (Most likely, it was failure to comply with a procedural issue related to his treatment or initial suspension.)

In 283.1 minor league innings, Dominguez has struck out 312; in 25.1 innings this year between Chattanooga & Albuquerque, he’s whiffed 40. I liked having Moylan around, but I’m excited to see what an arm like Dominguez can do.

The much-discussed heat was no mirage — in his time in the bigs, Dominguez averaged 98.5 MPH on his fastball. But despite that and the big strikeout numbers in the minors, it didn’t translate into missed bats in the bigs, because Dominguez whiffed only four of the 39 hitters he faced. Obviously, speed alone doesn’t work in the big leagues, and nearly 80% of Dominguez’ pitches were fastball. While I’m certainly not putting too much importance on 39 plate appearances from a guy that young, it’s something he’ll need to work on.

On July 22, Dominguez left a game in Toronto with what was at the time thought to be a minor quad injury. The very next day, Ken Gurnick reported that Dominguez was able to throw “with no discomfort,” but he was still placed on the disabled list to make room for the arrival of Carlos Marmol. Three days later, Dodgers.com reported that he was expected to miss the minimum 15 days. But somehow, we never saw him again, not even when rosters expanded in September, and he didn’t even manage to make any rehab appearances.

Still only heading into his age-23 season, Dominguez should have a bright future ahead of him. That said, between the limited amount of time he managed in 2013, the addition of so many veteran relievers, and the fact that he has options remaining, he’s all but certain to start 2014 in Triple-A. It’s probably safe to say we’ll see him again at some point.

******

Next! Was Brian Wilson as good as you think?

2013 Dodgers in Review #43: RP Paco Rodriguez

90topps_pacorodriguez

2.32 ERA / 3.08 FIP 54.1 IP 10.44 K/9 3.44 BB/9 (B-)

2013 in brief: Good for the first five months, shockingly bad for the last two.

2014 status: Still supposed to start the season in the pen, although the signing of Chris Perez now complicates things.

Previous: 2012

******

Everyone thank Punto4President for pitching in with a great job on reviewing Paco. Thanks!

Using ERA to judge pitchers is dumb. Using ERA to judge relief pitchers is dumber. Using ERA to judge left-handed specialist relief pitchers is literally the dumbest thing that exists in the entire history of the known universe, even more so than voluntarily choosing to pitch to Jason Heyward over Reed Johnson in a close-and-late situation (oh, don’t worry, we’ll get there). So, really, the fact alone that Paco had an unsightly ERA in September (not going to post it, even for comedic effect) doesn’t come close to illustrating how shaky he really was.

Here are some fun relevant numbers for you (obvious caveat of small [not large] sample size):

1.168 OPS against
-0.691 WPA
30% line drive rate
9 combined walks and HR allowed to 7 strikeouts

Happy Paco’s September, everybody! And you wonder why the Dodgers have signed forty relievers this offseason. Paco had submitted a surprisingly good performance in 2012 and mostly brilliant work for most of 2013, but make no mistake: he looked legitimately horrendous down the stretch, and justifiably was almost completely ignored by Don in the playoffs (yes, it’s coming).

It seems a little paranoid to immediately jump to the “OMG HE WAZ OVERWORKED!” conclusion, especially since Paco’s 54.1 innings in 2013 pale in comparison to his 81.2 innings between college and three pro levels in 2012, but it’s important to remember that usage rates have to be considered differently for relief pitchers, and especially relief specialists. Just going by innings pitched alone doesn’t account for all those extra pitches thrown during bullpen warm-ups, and also doesn’t take into consideration the additional stress put on pitches thrown while under duress.

It’s much more relevant, then, to use Paco’s 76 total appearances as an indicator of his usage (easily more than he’d had in any other season in his career), as well as the fact that almost all of his appearances came in high-leverage situations. So it’s not a stretch to suggest that Don might have actually counted on him a little too much, especially since the Dodgers had another perfectly fine lefty reliever in the pen (Howell) who got used, for instance, zero times from July 26 to July 31 and zero times again from August 25 to September 2.

It remains important to remember, though, that Paco was completely and totally lights out when he was effective during 2013, which was basically during that magical 42-8 stretch when everyone was playing out of their mind. Fun relevant numbers for you, redux (sample size is still the opposite of large):

.372 OPS against
2.15 WPA
18% line drive rate
8 combined walks and HR to 37 Ks

Happy Paco’s June July and August, everybody! That is so entirely a different pitcher from the September version that it’s like they’re playing different sports. Paco was utterly dominant, amazingly consistent, and a huge (and underrated) part of the team’s historically incredible run, and that definitely should not be forgotten (although his ERA during that stretch, which I’m again not even going to post, definitely should be).

However, it was always obvious that Paco had talent; otherwise, he wouldn’t have been so highly regarded out of Florida, and wouldn’t have risen so quickly through the minors to reach the big club in his first full professional season. The September numbers, while limited by their brevity, represent the first time in his career when he’s just seemed completely lost. The fact that they’re also the most recent sample we have of his performance are likewise meaningful (and troubling).

If you want to do that thing where you sum up Paco’s entire season in two video clips, then the following two would be the most relevant:

 

Dammit, remember that game? Of course you do. It was arguably the real turning point of the season (barely knew ya, 2013 Matt Kemp), it was the most satisfying W over the Giants of the season to that point (enjoyably, an even more satisfying one would soon follow), and it was honestly one of the craziest reactions to anything that I’ve ever seen. It should be in that standard collection of reaction gifs that all [completely normal] people have.

But on the other hand…yep, we’re finally here:

rodriguez_heyward_video-play

Sigh. I probably could have written this review without that, but I’m including it for two reasons: 1) To remind Don Mattingly’s die-hard supporters (including, well, Don Mattingly) that, hey, remember this? 2) It was Paco’s last relevant moment of the 2013 season. He pitched just once more in the NLDS (getting hammered in a brief stint during the Game 3 blowout win), and was left off the NLCS roster despite the Dodgers only taking one other lefty reliever. Combined with his September, it was a disappointing way to end what had once looked like a promising season.

So, while the Brian Wilson contract got all the positive attention and the Chris Perez contract got all the negative attention, arguably the most important Dodger reliever signing this offseason was Howell; you just don’t know if Paco can be counted on in 2014, and consequently you should be very happy about the fact that Howell is guaranteed to be on the team.

PUNTO 2016! *drops mic*

*****

Next! Jose Dominguez! We’re nearly done, I swear!

2013 Dodgers in Review #43: RP Onelki Garcia

90topps_onelkigarcia13.50 ERA / 20.30 FIP 1.1 IP 6.75 K/9  27.00 BB/9 (inc.)

2013 in brief: Made it to the bigs for three cameo appearances.

2014 status: Under team control, likely to spend as much time in Albuquerque as Los Angeles after offseason elbow surgery.

******

Yeah, I lied. I said Paco Rodriguez is next. We’ll do him tomorrow, probably. Today seems like a great time to get Onelki Garcia out of the way, and while I promise this site isn’t just going to be player reviews forever, it’s the final days of the calendar year and things are beyond slow.

Garcia got into a single game for Rancho in 2012 after being drafted, so merely making it to the bigs in 2013 makes his season a nice success. In 35 games for Chattanooga and Albuquerque, spent mostly in relief, he struck out 67 in 62 innings. That’s good. But he also walked 35, which was decidedly less good.

Still, it got him to the bigs in September, and we were excited:

Last summer, J.P. Hoornstra looked at the six-month journey of Garcia and others to escape Cuba and reach America in 2010, which was then followed a move from Miami to California before the Dodgers even drafted him. He hasn’t pitched in a game since September 2, though he was throwing bullpens and live batting practice in Arizona over the last few days, including to Matt Kemp. (No word on how many of the four dingers Kemp hit the other day came off of Garcia.)

In 62 innings between Double-A & Triple-A this year, Garcia struck out 67, though he did walk over five per nine. Garcia has held minor league lefties to a paltry .143/.272/.143 line in his short career, and I imagine we’ll mostly see him as a LOOGY, as well as to give some relief to Paco Rodriguez, who — along with Ronald Belisario & Kenley Jansen – ranks among the top ten in baseball in games pitched.

Garcia saw one batter in his first game and walked him on four pitches before immediately getting yanked, then saw two more brief appearances, though the results really don’t matter in that kind of sample size. He was supposed to represent the Dodgers in the Arizona Fall League, but got into only one game before leaving to have left elbow surgery. He’s supposed to be ready to go by Opening Day, but it won’t matter — with newcomers Chris Perez, Jamey Wright, & Seth Rosin joining the returning J.P. Howell & Brian Wilson as well as incumbents Kenley Jansen, Paco Rodriguez, Brandon League, Javy Guerra, & Chris Withrow, there’s no room at the inn for Garcia. That’s fine, though, because he clearly needs some more time in the minors to harness his considerable talent. We’ll be seeing him in 2014, no doubt.

******

Next! Paco, obviously.