Dotel For McDonald & Lambo: The Dodgers Just Got a Lot Older

As you’ve no doubt heard (and mourned about) by now, the Dodgers traded James McDonald and Andrew Lambo to the Pirates for reliever Octavio Dotel. This one really came out of nowhere, and I’ve having a hell of a hard time processing it.

Let’s start with the slight positive outlook here: Dotel could help the bullpen. I looked at him when scouting the reliever market a few weeks ago, and I didn’t hate the idea at the time:

Dotel has a little over $1m coming to him for the rest of the season and a $4.5m mutual option for 2011, but he’s been surprisingly effective for someone who’s been kicking around for so long. I know, the 4.89 ERA doesn’t seem like much, but that’s in large part due to a horrendous April (ER allowed in six games in a row). Since May 1, he’s saved 16 of 19 with a 2.81 ERA and a .184 batting average against, while striking out more than 10 per 9.

The perpetually rebuilding Pirates have All-Star Evan Meek and former Dodger Joel Hanrahan ready to take over in their bullpen, so you wouldn’t think they’d be dying to hold on to the 36-year-old Dotel all that badly.

I have to be honest, I don’t really hate the idea of tossing Dotel in for the late innings, assuming the price was reasonable.

You’ll note that last part – “assuming the price was reasonable” – but more on that in a second. Dotel was useful as a Pirate, and he’s got five straight scoreless outings in which he’s struck out six without a walk. He’s still striking out more than 10 per 9, and he won’t be asked to be the closer in Los Angeles, so if you’re asking me if the bullpen is better now than it was yesterday – yes, I think it is. Dotel along with Jonathan Broxton, Hong-Chih Kuo, & Kenley Jansen (along with maybe Ronald Belisario) could be a pretty decent bullpen.

But the price seems out of whack. Dotel’s okay, but he’s not that good. McDonald was the two-time Dodger minor league pitcher of the year, and he doesn’t turn 26 until after the season. While his attempts at starting in the bigs haven’t been all that successful, he’s proven himself to be a viable arm out of the bullpen. In 48 career games out of the pen, he’s held opponents to a 2.71 ERA while striking out more than twice as many as he walked. Almost as importantly, he’s under team control until after 2015.

And then there’s Andrew Lambo, and let’s get the obvious out of the way first. Yes, he was suspended for 50 games in the minors this year, but no, it wasn’t for steroids or PEDs. It was for marijuana, and while I’m certainly not standing behind his intelligence, let’s not pretend he was cheating or shooting up heroin, either.

There’s a lot to like about Lambo, and a lot to dislike as well. Baseball Prospectus said this about him in their 2010 annual:

This 2007 fourth-rounder came into the year considered to be the best pure hitter in the system thanks to a combination of bat speed and raw strength. He was also the system’s most advanced prospect for his age, reaching Double-A as a 20-year-old, and spending 2009 as the league’s fourth-youngest hitting prospect. Despite a hot start at Chattanooga (.321/.383/.548 in April), Lambo soon went Arctic, batting just .243/.295/.377 the rest of the way as his plate discipline suffered and his power failed to develop. His odd reverse platoon split persisted, as he batted just .241/.299/.388 against righties. Lacking in speed, athleticism, and defensive ability, Lambo will only go so far as his bat takes him, and right now, that appears to be back to Chattanooga.

It’s important to note that he doesn’t even turn 22 until a few weeks from now, and lines like “best pure hitter in the system thanks to a combination of bat speed and raw strength” are quite tasty. Before his suspension this year, he was off to a great start, hitting .342/.390/.566 at AA. He’s now down to .271/.325.420, but it requires a but more digging than that. He obviously started slowly in his return from that layoff, but he’s warming up, with hits in 9 of his last 10 games.

Maybe, as some have noted, the defense isn’t there, and if he’s forced to move to 1B that would obviously hurt his chances, and it’s hard to ignore his trouble staying away from the weed. Still, he’s a 21-year-old who’s shown success at AA, and when you pair him with a 25-year-old who’s shown success at the MLB level, and you trade them for a decent-but-not-great 36-year-old reliever, it’s not hard to see why the future for this team looks bleaker by the day.

ESPN’s Keith Law, by the way, agrees:

The Pirates get an absolute steal of a return on Octavio Dotel by getting two out-of-favor prospects from the Dodgers, a situation where if only one pans out they still see a significant gain.

James MacDonald has a very strong minor league track record despite a fringe-average fastball when he works as a starter, but has a plus changeup and an above-average slow curve that both can miss bats and allow him to work backwards. The Dodgers threw him right into the fire in 2009, he struggled (unsurprisingly), and they gave up on him, which is the Pirates’ good fortune.

Outfielder Andrew Lambo just came off a 50-game suspension for drug use — hey, it doesn’t make him a bad guy — and he’s an indifferent outfielder, but he’s got the potential for an above-average offensive profile. He is strong, with good feel for the bat but the plate discipline of a guy who hasn’t played much and was handled strangely before the suspension. There’s enough potential there given his age (21) and inexperience that the Pirates are right to want to gamble on him.

As for Dotel, he throws mostly fastballs and doesn’t have the plus command you want to see in a guy who’s coming with the same thing four pitches out of five. He’s a fine guy to have in your middle relief corps but no one for whom you want to give up two young players, even if you’ve already given up on them yourself.

Can’t argue with any of that.

******

Here’s what really bothers me, though. In the last few days, the Dodgers have traded James McDonald, Blake DeWitt, Andrew Lambo, Lucas May, Kyle Smit, Elisaul Pimentel, and Brett Wallach.

They’ve acquired Ted Lilly, Ryan Theriot, Scott Podsednik, and Octavio Dotel – basically, a decent but not vital starter, a lousy middle infielder, a mediocre outfielder, and a decent veteran reliever, and all over 30.

Now, most of the baseball community has spent an enormous amount of time lately laughing at the Diamondbacks and Astros for the seemingly meager hauls they pulled in for Dan Haren and Roy Oswalt. You’re telling me that some combination of the players the Dodgers just traded couldn’t have pulled in one of those guys? Alternatively, is there really anyone who wouldn’t have preferred Haren or Oswalt rather than the collection of mediocre, over-30 veterans they just pulled in?

Yet despite all the moves, the offense – the biggest problem – didn’t get improved, and arguably was made worse. That’s supposed to help propel the team to October how, exactly? Really, what a terrible day all around.

******
Back to the Lilly deal for a second, this tweet from the Chicago Sun-Times isn’t going to make you feel better:

Lilly says not ”overly excited about it,” despite looking forward to battling for a playoff spot.

Nor will the fact that urbandictionary.com actually has a name for Theriot’s base-running exploits:

TOOTBLAN. Acronym for Thrown Out On The Basepaths Like A Nincompoop. Baseball statistic invented for Ryan Theriot of the Chicago Cubs, for his penchant for ill-advised steal attempts and general lack of skill running bases.
Theriot’s current TOOTBLAN number is 19.

That was popularized by Cubs blog Wrigleyville23, who really ought to know about such things.

So, What’d I Miss?

Every time I go away, something amazing happens. In June 2008, I took a weekend off and the Dodgers got no-hit by the Angels… and won. A few weeks later, I went on tour with the band and came back to find that Manny Ramirez and Casey Blake were now wearing Dodger blue.

And this weekend? Andre Ethier is a destroyer of worlds, apparently, hitting 4 homers in the last 3 games. That guy? He’s good. Plus Carlos Monasterios was surpisingly effective in his first big league start, and Blake DeWitt and Xavier Paul really stepped up as well. DeWitt, after a four-hit, two-double game on Sunday, now has his OPS+ up to 110. He’s proven that he’s worth investing more time in, and that’s all you could have hoped for after the first month. Paul had two hits on Sunday, and now has at least one hit in 4 of the 5 games he’s appeared in this season. With Manny set to return this weekend, lets all keep our fingers crossed that Paul sticks while Garret Anderson is sent to the glue farm.

Of course, I suppose it wasn’t all fun and games, since Vicente Padilla won’t be back for at least a month, and top prospect Andrew Lambo got suspended for 50 games for a violation of the drug policy. This isn’t a Manny situation, though, since he’s had marijuana issues before. Whether or not I really think that marijuana is a drug worth getting suspended for aside (it’s certainly not enhancing your play, is it?), if that’s what it was then he’s a world-class idiot.

Finally, anyone who’s ever read this blog knows very well about my distaste for using wins as a stat for pitchers, since they’re about as useful for measuring success as knowing a guy’s horoscope. But last year’s AL Cy Young winner, Zack Greinke, is really going to the extreme on it, and Big League Stew explains why perfectly:

After six starts, Greinke is 0-3. He’s on pace to finish with 214 strikeouts, an 0.98 WHIP, an ERA of 2.27 … and a record of 0-19.

If you’re judging pitchers by wins, Ramon Ortiz (who picked up his first this weekend) is beating Zack Greinke. If that doesn’t tell you all you need to know, nothing will.

Draw Your Own Conclusions

Some random stats – both good and bad – for you to chew on on this fine summer Friday…

Clayton Kershaw, 2008
Age: 20
ERA+: 119 (19% better than average pitcher)
Age: 20
Runs in last 19 IP: 1
Age: 20!!!

Chad Billingsley, 2008
ERA: 3.01, 12th in MLB
ERA since May 1: 2.48
K: 4th in MLB (behind Lincecum, Sabathia, Burnett)
Walks allowed on 3-0 counts: 9 for 9
Last 28 days: 1.83 ERA in 5 starts

Manny Ramirez w/ Dodgers
6 games, 13-23, 4 HR, .565/.615/1.130

OF starts since Manny’s arrival
Manny: 6
Kemp: 6
Pierre: 3
Ethier: 2
Jones: 1

Juan Pierre, seasons ranked by OPS+
1. 2004 (107)
2. 2003 (94)
3. 2001 (89)
4. 2005 (84)
5. 2006 (82)
6. 2007 (75)
7t. 2002 (68)
7t. 2008 (68)
Consecutive seasons in decline: 5 (2004-08)
2008 ranked by OBP: worst season of career
2008 ranked by SLG: worst season of career

NL win leaders since July 1
Brewers: 20
Rockies: 20
Dodgers: 19
Cubs: 19
Mets: 19

Russell Martin, OPS by month
April: .888
May: .851
June: .802
July: .738
August: .488
Innings caught: 884.1, 3rd among all MLB catchers
Total innings fielded: 937.1, 1st among all MLB catchers

Dodger VORP ranks in MLB by position
C: Martin 27.0 (4th)
1B: Loney 20.1 (13th, ahead of Ryan Howard)
2B: Kent 5.5 (27th)
SS: Furcal 26.8 (4th - and this is a counting stat!)
SS: Berroa -4.1 (63rd)
LF: Pierre 1.6 (42nd)
LF: Manny 11.6 (21st – that’s as a Dodger only!)
CF: Jones -15.2 (52nd, dead last at CF, 3rd worst overall)
CF: Kemp 24.7 (9th)
RF: Ethier 9.1 (23rd)

MLB Players with at least 75 plate appearances: 422
Mark Sweeney’s VORP rate: -0.535/game (422nd)

Also, over at Baseball Prospectus they’ve got a nice Q&A with Dodgers prospect Andrew Lambo, currently tearing up the Midwest League. It’s not behind their pay wall, so feel free to enjoy. Besides, you’ve got to a love a guy who says,

I got drafted by my hometown team – I grew up about an hour out of L.A., so my whole life I’ve been a Dodgers fan; I grew up going to Dodgers games.  So I guess it’s pretty cool.

- Mike Scioscia’s tragic illness msti-face.jpg