2013 Dodgers in Review #5: 1B Adrian Gonzalez

90topps_adriangonzalez.293/.342/.461 641pa 22hr .346 wOBA 2.8 fWAR B

2013 in brief: Put up more or less the exact season we thought he would as one of the more steady and reliable Dodger hitters.

2014 status: He’s still owed $106 million over the next five seasons, so he’s not going anywhere.

Previous: 2012

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In 36 games as a Dodger in 2012 following the big trade, Adrian Gonzalez hit .297/.344/.441. In 157 games this year, he hit .293/.342/.461, so that’s what he is these days, and how you view that depends on your perception. On one hand, those who claimed that he’d never again be the superstar he was in San Diego were totally right. He’s not. His .346 wOBA, identical to what it was in 2012, is the worst full-season mark of his career.

But then on the other hand, you’re not really comparing him to 2006-11 Gonzalez, or at least you shouldn’t be. You’re comparing him to the first basemen the Dodgers had before he arrived, and the alternatives available to the team presently if you didn’t have him at all. In that light, he looks a lot better, or if I can skip ahead to the one-year trade review we did in August:

The whole point of the trade for the Dodgers was to get Gonzalez, of course, and he’s been worth it, though it depends on how you look at it. On one hand, his .346 wOBA is the same as it was last year, each of which is tied for the worst of his career. On the other hand, the last Dodger first baseman to have a more valuable season than he is was Eric Karros, way back in 1999, and he was one of the few productive Dodgers over the first two months of the season. He is, according to WAR, the seventh most productive first baseman in baseball this year, and I can’t really complain about that — especially when Joey Votto & Prince Fielder make well over $200m and the alternatives were…. who, exactly?

He ended up as the #9 first baseman, but still — I can’t complain about a top-ten spot at the position, especially when you remember just how crucial having him stay healthy all year was with the turmoil around him.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves, aren’t we? Over the first month of the season, as everything was falling apart, Gonzalez was hitting 333/.398/.473. And then, and I apologize for this long quoted section but it’s too funny not to, he spent a week in May like this:

On May 1, he hit his third homer of the year, a shot off Colorado’s Juan Nicasio. How’s his month gone since then?

Wednesday, 5/1: Following his homer, Gonzalez tried to snag a double down the line and, well, this happened:

Thursday: team day off

Fridayin starting lineup, scratched before game time. Jerry Hairston played first.

Saturdayin starting lineup, scratched before game time. Hairston played first.

Sundayin starting lineup, scratched before game time. Juan Uribe (!) played first. Gonzalez pinch-hit, driving in two with a single, in the eighth inning.

Monday: plays a full game against Arizona, going 2-4. He also treated us to some famous last words:

per Dylan Hernandez — “Gonzalez plans to play through the pain of his mild strain, skipping batting practice so he doesn’t aggravate it.”He’s actually actively saying he hopes he doesn’t have to dive for a ball. A ballplayer pushing through pain? Such a thing has never ended poorly, ever.

He hopes he doesn’t have to dive for a ball? I’m sure that won’t be relevant information.

Tuesday: plays a full game against Arizona, going 1-4.

Wednesday: starts, and doubles in two plate appearances before leaving in the fifth inning… after diving for a ball

But he survived, and kept on hitting, putting up a .324/.376/.503 line through the end of May, including a game on May 25 when he got on base five times and drove in three. He, like most everyone else, slumped in June (.248/.304/.400), and for the rest of the season settled into a solid contributor role while letting Hanley Ramirez and Yasiel Puig provide the fireworks. (With some exceptions, like on June 23, when he and Ramirez went back-to-back off Huston Street, and July 23, when he destroyed a ball in Toronto to help in a ridiculous comeback.)

Gonzalez did manage to turn around his continually declining walk rate, though a 7.3 BB% is still better than only 2012 in his career, and his K% was the lowest of his career, which is good, and once again showed little platoon split, which is a must on a team with Andre Ethier and Carl Crawford. He also confoundingly had the most errors of his career while still ranking as above average in most of the metrics, so take that for what you will.

Gonzalez doesn’t turn 32 until next May, so he’s still got a few more prime years left in him. I can’t say I ever expect to see the man who crushed the league when he was a Padre, but if you’re expecting that, you’re way off. This is the best first baseman the Dodgers have had in decades, and he’s still an above-average first baseman as compared to the league. I’ll take that, and I think we’d all prefer to be on the hook for 5/$106m than the 7/$168m Fielder is owed.

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Next! I feel like we’ve already talked about Mark Ellis!

The Nick Punto Trade With Boston, One Year Later

punto_2013-08-05

A year ago tomorrow, I was riding the bus to Boston, of all places, and freaking out about the enormous trade that was coming together with the Red Sox that would bring the Dodgers Nick Punto, three other guys, and more than $250 million in contract responsibilities, all while sending Rubby De La Rosa and Allen Webster out of town. The next day, I managed to put some more coherent thoughts to it:

So how am I feeling about it today? I think Adrian Gonzalez is going to be an incredible fit in LA, especially considering that reports of his demise in Boston seem overblown (he was outstanding last year and has been very good for much of this year after a slow start) and that he never seemed to want to leave Southern California in the first place. It’s a high price to pay, but if he is what we think he is – and don’t forget, there was little available in the first base market next year, so if you’re spending money, this is how you do it – and the team becomes a consistent contender, I think it’ll be a price we can live with.

We may still be a day or two short of a full year later, but as the Red Sox come in to town to face the Dodgers tonight in what many expect may be a World Series preview, it’s an appropriate time to look back. Today at ESPN, I offer the opinion that it’s been a win/win, one that neither side would take back. It’s behind the paywall, and a man’s got to eat, so I won’t excerpt much of it here, other than to say that this is how it ends:

The Dodgers wouldn’t be in this position without Gonzalez, and the Red Sox wouldn’t be here with him. It’s hard to think of a better outcome for both sides than that.

Let’s take a look at what’s happened with a year’s worth of knowledge on our side.

To Los Angeles

Josh Beckett (0.4 WAR with Dodgers)
We tried our best to both not get bummed by Beckett’s declining velocity while also not get sucked in by the not-at-all-representative 2.93 ERA he put up in seven starts for the Dodgers last year, all while hoping he could merely be a fourth starter. Instead, Beckett was atrocious in eight starts this year (somehow while missing more bats than he had in years) and was eventually lost for the season after undergoing surgery to relieve Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. He’s under contract for 2014, but his role is unclear.

Carl Crawford (2.3 WAR with Dodgers)
Obviously the biggest question mark of the deal, not only because of how awful he was with the Red Sox, but because of the Tommy John surgery he underwent just beforehand, Crawford has been a pleasant surprise. After fixing his batting stance, he filled the long-time hole at leadoff and was arguably the team’s best hitter for the first six weeks, though he’s since dealt with both slumps and hamstring injury. Overall, he’s hit .289/.340/.413 with plus defense, and while he’s certainly not what he was at his peak in Tampa Bay and terrifies me about how the rest of his contract will play out, he’s been a net positive for this team in 2013. Considering how much uncertainty he brought with him, I’m guessing we all take that.

Adrian Gonzalez (3.2 WAR with Dodgers)
The whole point of the trade for the Dodgers was to get Gonzalez, of course, and he’s been worth it, though it depends on how you look at it. On one hand, his .346 wOBA is the same as it was last year, each of which is tied for the worst of his career. On the other hand, the last Dodger first baseman to have a more valuable season than he is was Eric Karros, way back in 1999, and he was one of the few productive Dodgers over the first two months of the season. He is, according to WAR, the seventh most productive first baseman in baseball this year, and I can’t really complain about that — especially when Joey Votto & Prince Fielder make well over $200m and the alternatives were…. who, exactly?

Nick Punto (1.8 WAR with Dodgers)
We derisively call this “the Nick Punto” deal, because it’s fun to imagine Ned Colletti insisting on adding yet another gritty veteran infielder or he’d kill the deal entirely, but Punto has been an asset in Los Angeles. Punto has played far more than anyone expected he would as injuries & ineffectiveness hit second, third, and shortstop, and he was the choice over Dee Gordon & Justin Sellers when Hanley Ramirez missed recent time with a shoulder injury. He was valuable, too, hitting .340/.427/.420 through May 25. That was never, ever, ever, going to last, and it didn’t — he’s just .199/.265/.270 since — though he’s at least provided value on defense.

To Boston

Ivan De Jesus, Jr. (-0.3 WAR with Red Sox)
De Jesus was absolutely never going to get a shot with the Dodgers, fairly or not, then struck out in six times in eight hitless appearances for Boston. After the season, he was traded to Pittsburgh as part of the Joel Hanrahan / Mark Melancon deal, and while he’s hit well with Triple-A Indianapolis (.323/.383/.462), he hasn’t seen any time in the big leagues. Heading into his age-27 season next year, he’s running out of time to make a career.

92topps_rubbydelarosaRubby De La Rosa (-0.2 WAR with Red Sox)
It’s safe to say that this was the part that hurt the worst, because De La Rosa had been a very highly regarded prospect with the Dodgers before blowing out his elbow in 2011, and he’d made it back for one appearance with the team before the trade. So far, RDLR has had a pretty rough season with Boston, making only five big league appearances (all in relief) while struggling to find his control in Triple-a (5.08 BB/9 in 21 games, all but one as a starter). As we remember, control was never his strong suit, and guys coming off Tommy John surgery often need some time to get it back.

James Loney (-0.1 WAR with Red Sox)
Our favorite punching bag hit just .230/.264/.310 in 106 plate appearances for the Red Sox, somehow contributing even less than he had with the Dodgers. That earned him a mere $2m on a one-year deal from Tampa Bay over the winter… where he’s now hitting .311/.360/.439 and has nearly the exact same wOBA and WAR that Gonzalez does. Baseball is a weird, weird, game sometimes. But I think we all know that for whatever reason, he was never going to succeed like that in Los Angeles.

Jerry Sands (n/a for Red Sox)
Man, remember when we all thought Sands was going to be, well, not a star, but at least a quality major leaguer? Sands never played with Boston since he was a “player to be named later” after the season, then went with De Jesus to Pittsburgh. In 99 games for Triple-A Indianapolis, he’s hit .212/.318/.340 with seven homers. What happened?

Allen Webster (-0.3 WAR with Red Sox)
Like De La Rosa, losing Webster hurt, especially with how much hype he got as he impressed during spring training. But while he’s been good in Triple-A, he’s struggled terribly in six starts for the Red Sox, putting up a 9.57 (!) ERA with massive homer problems. He’s still only 23, of course, and has plenty of time to work things out.

Of course, it was never really about the players for the Red Sox, it was about changing the culture and clearing the bad payroll — which they have done successfully, as WEEI’s Alex Speier goes into painstaking detail about here. As you’d expect, the Dodgers are better off in the short-term for the deal, while the long-term is uncertain; the Red Sox are definitely better off in the long-term, but surprisingly have been far improved this year, too.

I still wish the Dodgers didn’t have to give up De La Rosa and Webster, because it’s hard to imagine that the Red Sox really would have balked at, say, Chris Reed & Chris Withrow, if they were getting rid of all that money. Still, the Dodgers did at least hang on to Zach Lee & Joc Pederson, so while it’s not a perfect trade… it’s one I’m not unhappy about a year later. Considering the massive risk involved, that might be all we can ask for.

Dodgers 10, Blue Jays 9: You Can’t Make This Stuff Up

mark_ellis_2013-07-23-torontoChris Capuano wasn’t very good tonight, and Carlos Marmol, making his Dodger debut, was even worse, but neither of those outcomes were really all that unexpected. So when the team was down 8-3 after six innings, it was pretty easy to think that we could just write this one off and move on, because what team wins every game, much less one in which your worst starter and relievers are heavily used?

Well, this team, apparently. Helped somewhat by meltdowns from Toronto relievers Brett Cecil and Darren Oliver, the Dodgers put up three in the seventh and four in the eighth to turn that 8-3 deficit into a 10-8 lead in what seemed to be a matter of seconds, capped off by a no-doubt three-run blast off the bat of Adrian Gonzalez to take the lead, followed by an insurance run on Andre Ethier‘s homer (off a lefty!) two batters later. Every hitter had at least one hit except for Nick Punto; five had two hits, including Mark Ellis, who drove in three just like Gonzalez and Ethier.

Even Punto appeared to have played a key role in the seventh when, with the bases loaded, he lined a ball off Dustin McGowan‘s body. McGowan managed to recover in time to get a charging Ethier at the plate in what was an incredibly close play that we’d still be talking about if not for the fireworks that were to come, and that should really tell you all you need to know here. On just about any other night, that’s the defining play of the game. Right now, no one’s going to even remember it, especially not when the usually lights-out Kenley Jansen allowed the Jays to not only slice the lead in half in the ninth, but come within about ten feet of a brutal Brett Lawrie homer for the final out.

That’s now 22 wins in 27 games for Don Mattingly‘s team, and guarantees them another night alone in first place. Sure, there’s something to be said for how god awful the Blue Jays are right now, and it’s probably also worth noting that the Rogers Centre appears to play like the Canadian version of Coors Field. We probably shouldn’t ignore those factors, but I also remember a time not all that long ago where a five run deficit would have taken weeks to overcome. This team did it in minutes. They did it without Matt Kemp. They just keep… on… doing it. Enjoy the ride.

Dodgers 3, Padres 1: The Hanley & Adrian Show

ramirez_gonzalez_sandiego_2013-06-23So that’s how it’s supposed to work. You import big-name stars, pay them a lot of money, and they produce enough to carry your club to victory? Well, if only we’d known it was that simple. Fun, too!

That’s right, after eight innings of getting mostly shut down by San Diego righty Andrew Cashner, it was Adrian Gonzalez & Hanley Ramirez taking Huston Street deep on back-to-back pitches in the top of the ninth to break a 1-1 tie and split the series. (Based on the reaction, and even predictions, of Padre fans I know, their opinion of Street right now is only slightly better than how we feel about Brandon League, so there’s that.) It was, somewhat surprisingly — or perhaps not, depending on your perspective — the first time all season two Dodgers in a row went deep.

Special attention here must be paid to Ramirez, who followed up yesterday’s absolute rocket with today’s no-doubter, and is now hitting .358/.397/.679 in 58 plate appearances on the season. That’s obviously a small sample size, and he’s not going to keep it up all season, of course, but just having him in the lineup after months of Dee Gordon, Justin Sellers, & Luis Cruz… well, it really does change everything, and we’ve seen that in the last few days.

The funny thing is, through eight innings the heroes here were Chris Capuano & Juan Uribe, not Ramirez & Gonzalez. On three days rest, Capuano was more than expected, tossing five shutout, walkless innings on 74 pitches. Considering how easily this could have turned into a disaster, Capuano’s effort was phenomenal and more than he could have hoped for, but the lead was lost when Peter Moylan gave up a solo homer to everyone’s favorite Padre, Carlos Quentin.

Then there’s Uribe, who is rapidly turning the corner from “ha, it’s fun that people kind of like him now because he isn’t awful apparently and especially because he isn’t Cruz,” to “wait… is he actually useful?” Uribe doubled twice, driving in the first run of the game and pushing his line to .267/.357/.400, while kicking in a fantastic defensive play at third to save Don Mattingly‘s bacon when he inexplicably replaced Paco Rodriguez with League in a tie game. (League got the win, because… well, you know.) Useful isn’t the same as good, but considering what we thought of him last year and what the alternatives would be… I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I am really, truly happy to have him. I’m going to go take a long hot shower now.

Kenley Jansen nailed down the lead in the ninth, and the fact that we’re sort of breezing past that indicates that he did his job and he did it well. The less said about a closer — or any reliever, really — the better.

After the long road trip, the Dodgers finally head back home tomorrow with Hyun-jin Ryu on the mound to face Madison Bumgarner and the Giants in what’s a must-watch affair. Dodgers tickets

Dodgers 5, Cardinals 3: And That’s Why You Want Adrian Gonzalez

gonzalez_fields_2013-05-25Ted Lilly was actually pretty good tonight, allowing only two hits and an earned run (two total) in 5.1 innings — and I cannot believe that I actually saw people complaining that Don Mattingly was too quick with the hook there — but the story of the night was of course Adrian Gonzalez. The Dodger first baseman got on base five times, coming up only a triple short of the cycle while walking twice, driving in three, and making the fantastic defensive play you see above. Nick Punto got on base four times while making a wonderful diving play of his own, while Juan Uribe drove in a run with a pinch-hit double, even Brandon League managed a relatively straight-forward save and…

…ah, who the hell am I kidding. I’m publishing this about 30 seconds after the final pitch, so I haven’t seen any other stories yet, but we all know what we’re going to be reading about. We’re not going to be reading about a much-needed win or any of the contributions that went into it, we’re going to be reading about how Mattingly double-switched Matt Kemp out of the game when Kenley Jansen entered in the seventh.

Kemp was seen clearly unhappy in the dugout — which, good, because why would we want him to be happy about that? — and I’m anticipating a ton of game stories about whether Mattingly is starting a whole situation here.

To be honest, I don’t care. While I believe that Kemp has very valid reasons for not producing, this team is in last place. If Mattingly has to make some moves that may not be seen as popular, well, get over it. I imagine this is going to be nothing, because again Kemp is a competitor and never should want to come out of the game. But I’m really not looking forward to endless rounds of hand-wringing over what’s probably a non-story entirely, especially when there really was a lot of good that happened tonight.

Anyway, don’t miss tomorrow: Clayton Kershaw vs Shelby Miller. Doesn’t get much better than that.