2012 Dodgers in Review #12: 3B/2B Adam Kennedy

(Yeah, I know I said Luis Cruz would be next, but I’d rather do him on Monday and I need to start getting through these quicker. So today we have your friend and mine, Adam Kennedy.)

.262/.345/.357 201pa 2hr 0.8 fWAR B

2012 in brief: Recipient of highly questionable contract was at least “mediocre” rather than the expected “horrendous”.

2013 status: Free agent. Infield logjam and presence of Nick Punto probably ends Kennedy’s Dodger career.

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Just look at Adam Kennedy‘s picture there, won’t you? There’s dirt on his uniform, as I’m sure there is when he wakes up in the morning. It’s so… gritty. Sure, he’s probably running out yet another weak ground out to the right side, but look at how hard he’s doing it! What a gamer. You can tell he’s playing the game the right way.

…and so on. Look, we spent a lot of time ridiculing the signing of an older, terrible player on a severe decline to a seemingly needless guaranteed contract before November was even over, and this review allows me to bust out that breakdown one last time:

One final thing on Kennedy, and I swear I’ll drop it for a while after this: a quick timeline of his last two years.

Feb. 5, 2010: Coming off a decent 2009 with Oakland, signs a $1.25m guaranteed contract for 2010 with Washington.

2010: Hits just .249/.327/.327 for Washington, one of the worst years of his career.

Nov. 3, 2010: Nationals decline Kennedy’s $2m 2011 option.

Jan. 10, 2011: Mariners sign Kennedy to a minor-league deal with an invite to spring training; he makes the roster when the Mariners decide Dustin Ackley needs more seasoning.

Jan 27, 2011: Arrested in Newport Beach for suspicion of DUI.

2011: Hits .234/.277/.355 for Seattle, a wOBA 25 points lower than his underwhelming 2010.

Nov. 30, 2011: After not being able to find a guaranteed contract in 2011 and having a horrible season… receives a guaranteed deal from the Dodgers.

Nothing wrong with that scenario, right?

And we went on like that for much of the spring, trying to figure out the role of a backup infielder who couldn’t play shortstop or offer much as a hitter, hoping against hope that he’d somehow not make the Opening Day roster. He did, obviously, and when he made it through April with only one seeing-eye single to his name, the fun game of “who gets DFA’d first, Kennedy or Juan Uribe?” really kicked into high gear.

It never happened, of course, in large part thanks to injuries to Uribe, Mark Ellis, Jerry Hairston, & Justin Sellers, which enabled Kennedy to hang onto a job all year, save for two weeks in late July/early August on the disabled list with a groin strain. (A recurrence of the same in early September ended his season.)

Yet while he was never “good” or anything close to it, Kennedy at least managed to offer some small amount of value on a team that was being completely destroyed by injuries. A miraculous four-hit night on May 18 finally pushed his batting average back over .200, and he was one of the few Dodgers to offer anything at all over the bad months of June & July, hitting .286/.346/.400 in 82 plate appearances over that span while seeing considerable playing time at second and third.

That was basically it for Kennedy, however, because by the time he returned in early August from his first groin injury, Mark Ellis was healthy, Hanley Ramirez had arrived, Luis Cruz had emerged as an everyday player, and Kennedy’s role was further diminished by the addition of Nick Punto barely two weeks later. Kennedy received only 29 plate appearances between his return on August 12 and his groin giving out again on September 7, and that was the end of his season.

It should be noted, of course, that if that September 7 game was the last one for Kennedy in Dodger blue or perhaps of his baseball career, his final swing was a home run against Tim Lincecum that put the Dodgers up 2-1 in what was at the time a crucial series against San Francisco. Then again, Kennedy did his absolute best to give that value right back as quickly as he could:

All that being said, I can’t let Adam Kennedy‘s night go by. Here’s the thing about Kennedy: even when you happen to stumble upon the rare positive contribution from him, like the 6th inning home run that barely cleared the right field wall and put the Dodgers up 2-1, he’s still Adam Kennedy. It just usually takes a little longer for that innate Kennedy-ness to come out than it did tonight, when he allowed a two-out Hunter Pence single to bounce under his barehanded attempt in the bottom of the inning. (Though it was charitably labeled an infield hit, most good third basemen would have had a play on it.) Not only that, he ended up getting pulled the very next inning after injuring his groin on that bad play. So in the span of less than two full innings, he went from “potential hero” to “likely goat” to “oh right, he’s old & busted.”

So if we had to sum up Kennedy’s night from start to end in less than five seconds, well, this is the only way you can:

I never wanted Kennedy in Los Angeles, and it won’t bother me at all if we never see him again. Still, simply lasting the season and not being historically awful doing so is more than we expected, so, yeah, B. Happy trails, Adam.

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Next up! Luis Cruz, for real this time!

Dodgers Squander Opportunities to Fall 5.5 Out

I know everyone’s going to want to blame tonight’s loss on Don Mattingly. It’s the way baseball works, is it not? Managers get way too much credit for wins and far too much blame for losses, and Mattingly didn’t do himself any favors in tonight’s crucial seventh inning.

So let’s get right to it: Josh Beckett was more than effective through six two-run innings, but ran into some trouble in the seventh. After a single, a walk, and a sacrifice bunt, Beckett was faced with men on second and third with one out. Mattingly ordered the intentional walk to red-hot Angel Pagan to load the bases, and with Brandon League ready to go, the manager walked out to remove Beckett.

Except, no. He didn’t. Or as I recapped it in real time:

Remember, this is September, the time of expanded rosters. You have something like 39 pitchers down in the bullpen, so you never have to worry about pulling a pitcher too early because it might exhaust your bullpen. You especially never need to worry about pushing your luck with a veteran pitcher who had given you more than you probably had a right to expect.

Beckett stayed in, of course, and in what may have been the most predictable outcome ever, Marco Scutaro popped a single to right field, scoring two and basically putting the game away. It’d be sad if it weren’t so clearly apparent that this was going to happen. Scratch that: it was still sad.

The most depressing thing of all? Mattingly was right on the precipice of a brilliant move that would have earned him endless praise. League is ostensibly this team’s closer right now, and he’s been excellent lately.  For years, we’ve all railed against the usage of the traditional “closer”, nailed to often low-leverage ninth-inning duties, and if Mattingly had put his closer into the game when things were really on the line, we’d have all loved him for it. He did, eventually, bring in League, but only after it was too late.

So close, yet so far.

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Got that out of our systems? Good. Now let’s get to the real reason that the Dodgers lost this game, and stop me if you’ve heard this before: the 2-6 “heart of the order” of Shane Victorino, Adrian Gonzalez, Matt Kemp, Hanley Ramirez, & Andre Ethier combined to go 0-20 with three walks. That is, safe to say, atrocious. You can blame “jelling“. You can blame Mattingly for refusing to move A.J. Ellis up from the eight spot. (And on Ellis, even if he was hitting higher right now, he’d just be getting stranded by these guys.) You can blame it on whatever you like. But it’s a simple equation: these guys don’t hit, the team doesn’t score.

The even more infuriating part about this was that Tim Lincecum wasn’t that good. This wasn’t vintage Timmy mowing guys down left and right; despite occasional flashes of a wicked split-fingered fastball, this was the 2012 “I’m going to walk seven dudes!” version. Until the ninth inning, there wasn’t a single frame where they didn’t get at least one runner on, but they just could not either get the big hit or string enough smaller ones together to make it matter.

Where’s your loss? There’s your loss.

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All that being said, I can’t let Adam Kennedy‘s night go by. Here’s the thing about Kennedy: even when you happen to stumble upon the rare positive contribution from him, like the 6th inning home run that barely cleared the right field wall and put the Dodgers up 2-1, he’s still Adam Kennedy. It just usually takes a little longer for that innate Kennedy-ness to come out than it did tonight, when he allowed a two-out Hunter Pence single to bounce under his barehanded attempt in the bottom of the inning. (Though it was charitably labeled an infield hit, most good third basemen would have had a play on it.) Not only that, he ended up getting pulled the very next inning after injuring his groin on that bad play. So in the span of less than two full innings, he went from “potential hero” to “likely goat” to “oh right, he’s old & busted.”

So if we had to sum up Kennedy’s night from start to end in less than five seconds, well, this is the only way you can:

A.J. Ellis Walks Off In Most A.J. Ellis Way Possible

…is it really only May 18? Because, I am honestly not sure how many of these games I can take this season.

Where do you even start with this one? Adam KennedyAdam Kennedy! – had a four-hit night. James Loney had three. Of the 16 times the starting lineup made it on base tonight, a full 13 came from the 5-8 group of Kennedy, Loney, A.J. Ellis, & Tony Gwynn. On the mound, Ted Lilly isn’t charged with a single earned run despite allowing a mammoth Matt Holliday blast which still probably hasn’t landed. (That’s a story unto itself, but suffice to say, remember this, fans of ERA).

Oh, but there’s more. Josh Lindblom & Kenley Jansen combined to get the final six outs via strikeout – with Lindblom especially impressing by striking out Rafael Furcal, Holliday, and David Freese around a single and a walk – except that in the process, Jansen allowed pinch-hitter Lance Berkman to tie the game with a solo home run, which is almost certainly going to re-ignite the closer argument none of us want to have. (Jansen got the win though. Wins are great.)

And then there’s A.J. Ellis. Good lord, there’s always A.J Ellis. In the ninth against Fernando Salas, the Dodgers put men on the corners after an Elian Herrera walk and Kennedy’s fourth (!) hit of the night. Andre Ethier struck out, and the Cardinals chose to put Loney on intentionally to face Ellis, who had already driven in Loney with a single earlier in the game. They chose… let’s say, poorly. Not against Ellis, not this year, not when he’s on his way to Kansas City. Ellis watched ball four go by, and the Dodgers, improbably, incredibly, unbelievably, take the first game of a big series against St. Louis.

The Dodgers may not have escaped with merely a victory, however. In the top of the seventh, Shane Robinson bounced into a fielder’s choice at short, which Dee Gordon flipped to Mark Ellis in hopes of turning a double play. Tyler Greene, running from first, took out Ellis with a hard (but clean) slide, flipping Ellis and looking for all the world like his left knee had buckled. Ellis shook it off and stayed in to finish the inning and line to first in the bottom of the frame, but was replaced by Justin Sellers in the field for the eighth. Any speculation on Ellis’ status is premature, but it should be noted that with all of the other injuries, the only healthy infielder on the 40-man roster is Ivan De Jesus, who the club seems determined not to play.

Clayton Kershaw takes the hill tomorrow against Jake Westbrook, and at this point absolutely nothing would surprise me. Well, other than Gordon showing signs of life, that is, now that his 0-5 put him down exactly to the Mendoza line. A conversation for another time, though, because tonight belongs to Adam Kennedy and A.J. Ellis. I’ll take “things I never, ever, ever expected to write ever” for $600, Alex.

Older Players Find a Rest Home With the Dodgers

You’ve always thought Ned Colletti had an unnatural predilection for older players, right? Whether it’s been trying to stick Luis Gonzalez in front of Andre Ethier or Garret Anderson in front of absolutely anyone who wasn’t Garret Anderson, the Dodgers in the Colletti era (2006-11) have always been seen as choosing experience over talent, even when the experienced player is well past their sell-by date. We’ve always joked about it, but we’ve never had a really great way to confirm it.

Until now, that is. Today, FanGraphs (who, in the interest of full disclosure, I’ve recently begun writing for) has unveiled “age filtering” on their leaderboards, which can show you all kinds of fun things. (Examples they give include seeing all qualified batters in their age 18-24 seasons since 2005 and seeing which teams have benefited the most from pitchers age 30 and up since 2000.)

Well, if we have that kind of information at our fingertips, how could I not go see how much playing time has been handed over to the elderly since Colletti arrived 2006? Let’s start with hitters, throw all the proper inputs into the blender, and we’ll come out with…

2006-2011, Most PA by Players 35+
1. 8587 Giants
2. 8580 Dodgers
3. 8098 Yankees

…and, of course they are. But okay, in and of itself having older players isn’t necessarily bad. Barry Bonds stayed productive for the Giants well into his 30s, and the Yankees are always carrying expensive, older superstars into the playoffs. Manny Ramirez was no spring chicken when he arrived in LA, and it can’t have been all Mark Sweeney and Juan Castro and Mark Loretta since, right?

2006-2011, wOBA of Players 35+
10t. .328 Reds
10t. .328 Rays
12t. .327 Dodgers

Not awful, if likely Manny-fueled. However, also likely fueled by Manny is the defensive performance of this group of players…

2006-11, Fielding Runs of Players 35+
28. -41.0 Red Sox
29. -62.9 Yankees
30. -66.0 Dodgers

Yikes. (While we’re here, I can’t help but share the numbers for +WPA and -WPA. They aren’t great stats for evaluating long-term performance, because they’re so dependent on the context of an individual game, but over this span this group of Dodgers provided a Win Percentage Added of 0.02… and a -WPA of 147.37. That’s just fantastic.)

Okay, how about the pitchers?

2006-2011, Most IP by Pitchers 35+
1. 2496.1 Yankees
2. 2038.1 Mets
3. 1904.0 Red Sox
4. 1766.2 Braves
5. 1678.1 Dodgers

Top five, again. And as to their performance…

2006-2011, FIP by Pitchers 35+
1. Braves 3.70
2. Cardinals 3.78
3. Yankees 3.79
4t. Marlins 3.86
4t. Dodgers 3.86

This actually comes out pretty well, mostly considering that Derek Lowe, Hiroki Kuroda (2), and Ted Lilly each had solid seasons of 190 innings or more after turning 35 – plus several excellent Takashi Saito years in relief. The most amazing thing about this is that they’ve managed to commit so much time to older players despite having such an impressive pipeline of young prospects coming up in this time, guys like Matt Kemp, Clayton Kershaw, Russell Martin, Jonathan Broxton, Andre Ethier, James Loney, Chad Billingsley, etc. It’s like they’ll only play guys who are under 27 or over 35.

Still, I’ll have to admit the results of this didn’t come out exactly as I thought they would. The Dodgers under Colletti have actually done a decent job out of getting production from the higher-tier older players like Manny, Lowe, Kuroda, Lilly and a year or two each out of Jeff Kent, Jamey Carroll, and Casey Blake. That’s great, and credit is due there. If anything, the problem is in choosing poorly on the mid- to lower-range guys and then either delaying in or outright refusing to cut the cord when it’s clear that the veteran is absolutely cooked. That’d be Anderson in 2010, Brad Ausmus in 2009-10, Loretta in 2009, Sweeney in 2008, Olmedo Saenz in 2007, any mention of the Flying Ortizii Brothers, etc.

Of course considering this doesn’t include 2012 – you know, low-upside guys like Matt Treanor, Jerry Hairston, Mark Ellis, Adam Kennedy etc. – the trend isn’t likely to turn this year. Or next year either, since they’re mostly all signed to two-year deals.

The Dodgers May Need to Rework That Bench Group

Similar to the pitching staff, we’ve long known the identity of the bench to start the season, save for a tepid battle for the final spot. Matt Treanor will be the backup catcher, Adam Kennedy will see time at three of the four infield positions, Tony Gwynn is your main backup outfielder, and Jerry Hairston will play all over. That last spot is probably going to go to Jerry Sands, but there’s some possibility that he’ll start the year in the minors with Justin Sellers, Josh Fields, or someone else sneaking in the door. (It won’t, we can all agree, be a 13th pitcher.)

We haven’t exactly been thrilled with that prospect so far, because despite Gwynn’s excellent glove and Hairston’s positional flexibility, it’s a bench that offers little in the way of offensive punch – especially if Sands doesn’t make the club. Remember how the game always seemed to find Dioner Navarro in the bottom of the 9th last year? If you thought that was fun, just wait until we’re watching Treanor & Kennedy meekly ending games in big spots.

Lackluster though that may seem, it’s how the roster has been set up, so we haven’t really spent a whole lot of time discussing it, other than whether Sands would really hold on to that final spot. Steve Dilbeck writes today that Sands hasn’t been impressive so far, and while it’s early, it’s true. But whether or not Sands should make the team or not isn’t the most immediate issue; it’s the apparent lack of depth the Dodgers are facing at shortstop.

You see, Hairston made two errors playing shortstop today, as the Dodgers fell to Colorado 6-2. Now, I hardly need to remind you of the usual caveats about how one game – or even one week – in spring training usually doesn’t mean that much, and that’s still true. But with Juan Uribe expected to play third base exclusively, that leaves only Hairston, a soon-to-be 36-year-old who played in exactly one game at shortstop last year, for depth. While Dee Gordon (who made an error of his own today) is expected to play every day, questions about his durability remain, so it’s pretty easy to make the case that Sellers should make the club and Sands should head to ABQ, especially with the possibility that Scott Van Slyke & Alex Castellanos could be shifting around down there, as Christopher Jackson writes today.

Maybe it really is that simple, to keep Sellers & let Sands mash for a while in Triple-A. It probably will be. But that doesn’t mean it should be, because that would create something of a ripple effect. If you keep Sellers, he immediately becomes your top backup at shortstop and a more than capable defender behind Mark Ellis at second. Hairston becomes your primary backup at third base behind Uribe, where he played nearly everyday for Milwaukee last year, is a third option at second base, and can help Gwynn spot for Juan Rivera and Andre Ethier in the corners.

Considering that Rivera can shift to first on the few days that James Loney will get off, your defensive flexibility is pretty much spoken for, and the last spot should really be about offense. Maybe that’s Sands. Maybe that’s Fields, who has been impressive early in camp, and at least has a history of crushing Triple-A pitching aside from the 23 homers he put up for the White Sox in 2007. But really, it makes me wonder yet again, what exactly is Adam Kennedy‘s role here? It’s not for his bat, as I detailed in this ridiculous timeline that I’m all too eager to break out yet again:

Feb. 5, 2010: Coming off a decent 2009 with Oakland, signs a $1.25m guaranteed contract for 2010 with Washington.

2010: Hits just .249/.327/.327 for Washington, one of the worst years of his career.

Nov. 3, 2010: Nationals decline Kennedy’s $2m 2011 option.

Jan. 10, 2011: Mariners sign Kennedy to a minor-league deal with an invite to spring training; he makes the roster when the Mariners decide Dustin Ackley needs more seasoning.

Jan 27, 2011: Arrested in Newport Beach for suspicion of DUI.

2011: Hits .234/.277/.355 for Seattle, a wOBA 25 points lower than his underwhelming 2010.

Nov. 30, 2011: After not being able to find a guaranteed contract in 2011 and having a horrible season… receives a guaranteed deal from the Dodgers.

It’s not for his glove, because as outlined in the scenario above, second and third base would be more than covered without him. I imagine the argument would be “because he’s lefty”, but who cares what side a guy swings from when he can’t hit at all? I’d much rather take my chances with Fields (or Sands, or Trent Oeltjen, or whomever) along with Sellers while simultaneously improving the defensive depth and offensive potential. Now I know that Kennedy has a guaranteed contract, so this scenario is never going to happen. Still, what’s more important – the $850k already wasted on him, or building the best bench you can?

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Ownership update, from Mike Ozanian of Forbes: Alan Casden is out, and Magic Johnson’s group has the current high bid at $1.6b. While that’s the highest bid thus far, it’s not that simple for two reasons. First, Steven Cohen’s bid, while only $1.4b, apparently has the highest percentage of straight cash involved, and the bidders have until Friday to rework their bids and submit final numbers. Expect the numbers to increase; sadly, all of the bids include provisions to lease the parking lots from Frank McCourt.

By the way: I’m not at all convinced this is going to go as smoothly as we hope. From Bill Shaikin’s piece on Casden:

McCourt has told people familiar with the sale process that he might introduce new bidders in the coming week. MLB has completed an expedited investigation of the current bidders and would probably ask the mediator to reject any new bidders at this late date, the people said.

McCourt has the ability to appeal any perceived wrongdoing on MLB’s part to a court-appointed mediator. Since when he has passed up the opportunity to litigate?

Update: Per Shaikin, MLB has also cut the Gold/Disney group and the Barrack/Hindery group. That makes your final four bidders Magic/Kasten, Cohen, Kroenke… and the Heisley/Ressler group, which I suppose we’re going to have to start paying more attention to.

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Big week for Dodger literature, it seems. A few days ago we learned about a new Dodger coffee table book, “Dodgers: From Coast to Coast”, and now Paul Haddad is publishing “A Fan’s History of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Glory Years (1977-1981)”. The book contains transcripts of classic calls from Vin Scully, Jerry Doggett, and Ross Porter – sounds like it’s worth checking out.