2013 Dodgers in Review #42: RP Josh Wall

90topps_joshwall

18.00 ERA / 7.34 FIP  7.0 IP 9.0 K/9 7.7 BB/9 (inc.)

2013 in brief: Made it into just six April games for the Dodgers before getting sent back to Albuquerque, then shipped off to Miami in July as part of the Ricky Nolasco deal.

2014 status: Likely to fight for time in the Angels bullpen.

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Poor Josh Wall. What can you really say about him? No, really, what can you say about him? That’s literally the question I’m asking myself here. Wall didn’t make the Opening Day roster, but was recalled on April 15 after Shawn Tolleson was injured, and alternated some pretty filthy stuff with some pretty filthy stat lines. Really, the one that ended his Dodger career — allowing seven earned runs in Colorado — barely even felt like his fault, because he was asked to throw 62 pitches and take one for the team after Ted Lilly couldn’t even get past two innings.

Wall was sent down after that and struggled with his control in Albuquerque before being included in the Nolasco deal, and while I do like Wall and think he’s got a future as a middle reliever, remember that we absolutely loved the price paid for Nolasco, so that should tell you all you need to know there. He never did get into a game for Miami — which is somewhat surprising, and had I known that, I might not have made his card Miami-flavored when I made it three months ago — and was eventually claimed off waivers by the Angels in October.

Wall ends his Dodger career with the worst ERA (min 10 innings) in team history, largely thanks to that Colorado game. He also has the 17th worst mark in MLB history, so at least he’s got that going for him, at least until he gets some time in with the Angels.

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Next! Paco Rodriguez‘ mostly great year!

2013 Dodgers in Review #41: RP Carlos Marmol

90topps_carlosmarmol2.53 ERA / 3.94 FIP 21.1 IP 11.39 K/9  8.02 BB/9 (C+)

2013 in brief: I’m trying to figure out a nice way to say “not quite as awful as we expected”.

2014 status: Free agent.

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Everyone thank Paul for pitching in with a great job on reviewing Marmol. Thanks, Paul!

The fact that Mike was willing to hand this review off to me probably tells you most of what you need to know about Carlos Marmol’s time as a Dodger. But let’s not forget that there was once a time when waking up to “Dodgers acquire Carlos Marmol” would have been a big deal. The type of deal where you’d expect a top prospect headed to Chicago and an argument about the relative value of “closers” to ensue. Of course, those are no longer the circumstances, and here we are trying to make some sense of the enigma that is Carlos Marmol.

When the rumors started to surface that the Dodgers may have a trade for Marmol in the works, the consensus response seemed to go something like, “Oh God, why?!?!?” and with good reason. He was no longer considered a dominant closer– or even an effective major league pitcher really. He had become something of a poster boy for the ill-advised, long term, big money contract to an eminently replaceable relief pitcher. The only explanation seemed to be that Ned Colletti was involved in an elaborate scheme to get all of baseball’s washed up closers in one room for a group photo. Who was next? Was Dennis Eckersley coming out of retirement? (No.) Brian Wilson? (Yes.)

However, through either uncanny foresight or some inside information, Mike cautioned us to wait for the details before making our final judgments, insisting that we weren’t going to hate it as much as we might think. When we learned that the player headed out the door was Matt Guerrier, we all breathed a collective sigh of a relief. When we found out that Marmol had agreed to spend some time in the minor leagues and that we would also receive international cap space along with some cash, we were actually sort of happy about the whole thing.

The temptation here is to turn this review into an exploration of just how useless Guerrier and his awful contract turned out (useless enough that Marmol was seen as a marginal improvement), but that’s a discussion for another day. The fact is that Colletti had managed to turn a seat-filler into a lottery ticket, the type of trade that GMs rarely get any credit for but sometimes pays dividends.

The next step was to figure out what exactly we were getting back. We knew that Marmol boasted ungodly strikeout numbers– along with the requisite “control issues,” and we knew that he had managed a 2.8 WAR season as recently as 2010, so there was at least a sliver of hope that he may provide some value.

Chad Moriyama took note of some glaring mechanical flaws and the almost comical inconsistency in his release point, wondering if it might be the sort of issue where Rick Honeycutt could work a miracle. Of course, the term “mechanical flaw” almost seems a little tongue in cheek in this context considering that even at its best Marmol’s entire delivery is essentially one giant mechanical flaw. It’s the sort of delivery that causes pitching coaches to retire early and makes Tim Lincecum say “that can’t be healthy.” When he starts throwing in the bullpen the broadcast immediately flashes a “viewer discretion advised” warning across the screen.

In any case, we knew that he would be on a short leash, and his debut with the big club was less than reassuring. In 1.2 innings of mop-up work against Toronto he gave up 3 runs on 4 hits and a walk, and to be completely honest, even most of the outs weren’t particularly convincing.

But something strange happened as the season went on. Curb your expectations; this isn’t a Cinderella story or anything close to one. What happened was Marmol became a “somewhat useful if less than reliable” cog in the bullpen, which is about the best we could have reasonably hoped for. I stand by my use of the word enigma because he ended up posting an 11.4 K/9 rate as a Dodger. That’s approaching Kenley Jansen territory. The punch line, of course, is that despite the elite strikeout rate, his K/BB ratio was an atrocious 1.42. Walking 8 men per 9 innings will do that to you. All in all, he pitched 21.1 innings for the Dodgers with a 2.53 ERA, which is something. He even hit a ball to the warning track in an extra inning game that momentarily Steinered Yasiel Puig. I’m sure there’s a gif of it somewhere.

The point here isn’t that Marmol was good. It’s that he was something. And sometimes “something” is enough to make you a worthwhile addition to a playoff roster. If on June 15 you had placed money on “Carlos Marmol will pitch 3.2 scoreless innings for the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLCS,” please come forward to claim your fortune.

Marmol is now a free agent, and trying to assess whether or not he has any value in this market is above my pay grade. If it were up to me I’d hand him a non-roster invite to spring training just because he’s a warm body who used to be good, though something tells me there are enough teams desperate for bullpen help that he’ll talk his way into a guaranteed major league deal somewhere.

So long, Carlos. Thanks for not being Matt Guerrier!

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Next! How many of you remember that Josh Wall pitched for the Dodgers in 2013?

2013 Dodgers in Review #40: RP Peter Moylan

90topps_petermoylab6.46 ERA / 6.18 FIP 15.1 IP 352 K/9 4.11 BB/9 (D)

2013 in brief: Appeared in ten June games for the Dodgers, but spent most of the year buried in Albuquerque before returning for a September cameo.

2014 status: Signed a minor league deal in Houston.

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A+ for the mustache, Peter Moylan. Not so much for everything else, unfortunately.

I should point out right upfront that Moylan shouldn’t be judged simply by that ERA, because as we all know, ERA for relievers means just about nothing. I say that because in Moylan’s first nine games, he had a perfectly fine 2.89 ERA. In his tenth game, Moylan was forced to take one for the team after Chris Capuano lasted only 3.2 innings in an eventual 16-1 loss to Philadelphia, and ended up giving up five runs in two innings, immediately blasting his ERA north of six.

Moylan never really could miss any bats in his time up this year, and he was probably only added because it was May 31 and he had a June 1 opt-out. When you’re pairing that with control issues and homer problems, that’s not usually going to work out well — especially when the once-vaunted groundball ace was giving up nearly 50% flyballs. He was much better with the Isotopes, putting up a 43/19 in 43 innings, but never got another chance until rosters expanded after the Dodger bullpen started to dominate.

It’s too bad that it didn’t work out, because I was pretty excited when they signed him — after all, who wouldn’t love a tattooed Aussie sidearmer who hates Nickelback? Moylan turned 35 in December, and we may have seen his last hurrah, though he did land a minor league deal with the Astros. If for no other reason than that he’s awesome and the team’s going to Australia in March, I wish he was back.

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Next! Carlos Marmol was a Dodger!

2013 Dodgers in Review #39: RP J.P. Howell

90topps_jphowell2.18 ERA / 2.89 FIP 62.0 IP 7.84 K/9 3.34 BB/9 0.7 fWAR (A-)

2013 in brief: Solid reliever out of the pen. Death on lefties and reasonably effective against righties.

2014 status: Signed for two years and $11.25 million with a 2016 vesting option for $6.25 million.

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Everyone thank Lobo for pitching in with a great job on reviewing Howell. Thanks, Lobo!

Unlike most of the relievers signed by Ned Colletti last offseason, the general reaction to J.P. Howell‘s signing was not so much “Why did Colletti overpay another reliever?” as it was “Well damn, guess that means Paco’s going to Albuquerque.”

The reason? Well mainly because in a market where Randy Choate got a three year deal from St. Louis, Howell’s one year contract at just $2.85 million seemed totally reasonable. But more than that, Howell was a guy who filled a serious need in the Dodger bullpen. With Scott Elbert exhibiting reverse splits (and not throwing a single pitch for the 2013 Dodgers) and Paco Rodriguez being effective but unproven, the team was in dire need of an effective LOOGY. And given that lefties hit just .200/.306/.306 against Howell in 2012, he seemed like a good fit.

Howell ended up getting into 67 games for the Dodgers and was, well, quite good. I know that 0.7 WAR doesn’t seem like much, but only 60 relievers in baseball put up more (and only one Dodger, the otherworldly Kenley Jansen). Oh, he also got a two game suspension for throwing Arizona coach Turner Ward over the dugout railing, but no biggie. In the playoffs he was also effective, with his lone blemish being a solo home run given up to Shane Robinson in Game 4 of the NLCS.

What was great about Howell’s season was that he was that he didn’t pitch like a true LOOGY. In roughly the same number of plate appearances, Howell held lefties to a .161/.225/.227 TSL and righties to a line of .218/.312/.296. For a guy we expected to simply be a straight LOOGY that was a pleasant surprise, and a welcome turnaround from his 2012 when righties hit .242/.340/.456 with 5 homers against him.

Which brings me to the main reason for Howell’s improved performance in 2013, his drastic decrease in HR rate. In 2011 and 2012 combined, J.P. gave up 12 home runs in 81.0 innings, 9 of those coming against right handed hitters, good for a 19.2% HR/FB rate in 2011 and a 17.1% rate in 2012. Meanwhile, in 2013 Howell gave up just 2 longballs in 62 innings, one apiece to righties and lefties, bringing his HR/FB % all the way down to 4.3. So what caused this dramatic decrease in HR rate? Let’s take a look.

The first thing to note here is a slight drop in Howell’s overall FB%, from 31.3% in 2012 to 27.7% in 2013. But that 2013 rate was only slightly less than his 2011 rate of 28.6%, despite giving less than half as many homers in 2013 in double the innings pitched. So his FB rate doesn’t seem to be the likely cause.

So what about the parks? Well Dodger Stadium and Tropicana Field appear roughly equal in their affect on home runs, so I doubt that was the culprit either.

Level of competition? The AL East is known as an offensive juggernaut after all. I’m going to learn towards “no” on this one, as most of Howell’s home runs given up in 2011 and 2012 were to lesser players. Of the 12 home runs he gave up in 2011 and 2012, just 4 were given up to guys who could be considered true home run threats (Matt Wieters, Chris Davis, Jose Bautista, and Edwin Encarnacion), with the rest given up to players with middling or non-existent power.

Was he just giving up longer fly balls? Well it’s kind of hard to tell for sure, but looking at the Fangraphs Interactive Spray Chart Tool, it appears that there was no appreciable difference in fly ball distance between Howell’s 2012 and 2013 seasons (there is no data available for the 2011 season). So that’s another possible cause eliminated.

This leaves just one possible explanation, Howell’s sinker. According to Brooks Baseball, Howell used his sinker 42.94% of the time in 2011 and 2012, compared to 58.55% in 2013. On top of that, he increased the velocity on his sinker from 86.82 to 88.05 MPH; in fact, 2013 saw Howell increase the velocity on all of his pitches.

howell_velocity_2010-13

Coupled with the slight decrease in his walk rate, it appears Howell managed to both up his velocity AND improve his control this year, a surefire recipe for success. Furthermore, the sinker is, of course, known as a groundball pitch, so his increased usage of the pitch is a great sign that 2013 results were a result of more than just luck.

So now the question is, can he keep this up? Well, in my opinion at least, the answer is most certainly yes. I was surprised to find out that Howell will only be 31 in April, so there’s a good reason to believe that he can keep up that velocity in 2014 and 2015. And at just about 5.5 million for the next two years, Howell looks to be a solid bullpen arm for at least the length of his new contract.

There’s certainly more evidence that he’ll be effective than there was with League last offseason. And with Rodriguez fading badly down the stretch (to the point of being left off the NLCS roster entirely), a quality lefty arm like Howell is sure to be a valuable addition to the 2014 club. Looks like there’s at least one Amish man who’s keeping up with the times.

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Next!

2013 Dodgers in Review #38: Shawn Tolleson

90topps_shawntolleson0.00 ERA / 9.05 FIP 0.0 IP 0.00 K/9 18.00 BB/9 (inc.)

2013 in brief: Threw 11 pitches in one April game, then missed the rest of the year due to injury.

2014 status: Shockingly lost to Texas on waivers in November.

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I’m still on vacation, so forgive the fact that I’m skipping over Jamey Wright. I wrote about him a few weeks ago, anyway.

Every year when I do these season in review pieces, there’s always one or two guys who had about ten seconds of big league exposure and then force me to try to come up with something interesting to say about them. Along with Drew Butera and Onelki Garcia, that honor goes this year to Shawn Tolleson, who walked each of the two batters he faced on April 12 in Arizona and was never heard from again.

Tolleson didn’t make the team out of spring training after dealing with some minor knee pain and a comebacker off his elbow, so he was in Omaha with the rest of the Isotopes on April 11 when Carlos Quentin assaulted Zack Greinke. He flew to Arizona in time to relieve Clayton Kershaw in the eighth inning the next night, where he entered with the bases loaded… and promptly walked both Martin Prado and Paul Goldschmidt, scoring two. (Both of which went against Kershaw’s ledger, of course.)

The next day, he went on the disabled list with what was thought to be a lower back strain, but two weeks later we learned he’d need to undergo surgery, and it turned out that the back had been sore before he entered the game:

“It was kind of tight all day, and tight when I was warming up. I wasn’t worried about it when I was pitching, I was just trying to throw strikes,” Tolleson said when he was placed on the DL. “But when I came out of the game it just really tightened up on me.”

Tolleson couldn’t sleep that night because of pain in his back, and told trainers the next morning.

He started playing catch in June and got into single games for the rookie league Arizona Dodgers on August 11 and Single-A Rancho Cucamonga Quakes on August 14, but injured his left hip during rehab and was shut down for the season.

It’s unfortunate, really, because Tolleson has shown a real ability to miss bats in the minors, but a near equal inability to stay healthy. Maybe that’s why the Dodgers attempted to sneak him through waivers in November, and when it didn’t work, well, none of us quite understood why:

I don’t get it. I really don’t. And since I’m in a coffee shop far from home, perhaps there’s been some good explanation I’ve missed. I sure hope so, because otherwise, the Dodgers just allowed a talented young reliever who piled up strikeouts and grounders get claimed on waivers by Texas for what seems to be no good reason.

With 8 empty roster spots, space isn’t an issue. Yes, they need to add a few minor leaguers today. No, it won’t be 8, and even if it was, Justin Sellers & Javy Guerra exist.

A month later, the 40-man roster is only now about to be full, and we haven’t yet heard a valid explanation. Maybe he really is more seriously injured than we know, but still: Odd.

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Next! J.P. Howell finds a home!