You Saying Jesus Christ Can’t Hit a Curveball, Cerrano?

christ-rbibaseball.jpgLet’s do a completely insane roundup to kick off a holiday weekend…

* Mouthpiece Sports has a great collection of the absurd updates people have made to one of the greatest old-school sports games of all time, RBI Baseball for the Nintendo Entertainment System. Sure, the “Friedrich Nietzsche pitching to Jesus Christ” version at right is pretty entertaining, if not completely confounding, but I especially like the “dead musicians version”, which they explain to include:

In case you’re wondering, that’s Kurt Cobain taking a conservative lead off first. The pitching rotation consists of Elvis, Dimebag Darrell, Sid Vicious and Ol’ Dirty Bastard.

* We’re venturing into “completely obscure degrees of separation” territory here, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. Remember the early 90′s television show, Parker Lewis Can’t Lose? No, of course you don’t. In the third season, a new character was added, played by Harold Pruett. The character, described in Wikipedia as an “athletic, good-looking bricklayer” was named Bradley “Brad” Penny. But wait, we’re not done there. Harold Pruett later starred in 1994′s Embrace of the Vampire, which is mostly remembered only for being the movie in which the female lead (Pruett’s character’s girlfriend) finally took her clothes off. That female actress? Alyssa Milano. Which means that she went from being naked on-screen with a guy who’d previously played a character named Brad Penny to dating the actual Brad Penny. There’s something just entirely too creepy in all of that.

* Finally, we’ve all been enjoying the new Andruw Jones-free lives we’ve been given, aren’t we? Well, just to add slightly more salt in that expensive wound, Diamond Leung has an account of Jones’ interview with an Atlanta radio station in which he blames you. Yes, you, specifically.

Asked about fan reaction to his struggles, Jones said, “I think they went a little overboard with it.”

Have you lost your mind? You got paid $36 million to hit .158 with three homers and strike out in nearly one third of your at bats. You admitted in that very same interview that you weren’t in good shape. Hell, none of those three dingers even came in front of the home fans. How can you possibly think the fans went overboard? I’d say that the lack of violent assaults against you constitutes remarkable restraint on behalf of the fans.

So Long, Fatty

We’ve all known it was coming, but according to Tony Jackson, it’s official: Andruw Jones, aka “Hindenburg”, aka “that fat sack of crap”, aka “BOOOOOOOO!!!” is no longer a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers, having been released today as agreed to when he deferred most of his salary for this season.

I, for one, hope he catches on somewhere in the National League. Rumor has it that not only is he dying to go back to Atlanta, but that he was actually seen wearing a Braves hat on television at a college basketball game the other day, though it’s unclear about Atlanta’s level of interest. Mainly, I want the chance to see him come back to Dodger Stadium and receive a welcome not seen since John Rocker’s first trip back to Shea Stadium. You think Dodger fans don’t have emotion? You just wait for that

Which will, if past tradition holds, be quickly followed by him hitting three monstrous home runs. But that’s a worry for another time. For right now? We’re so happy you’re gone, you utter disgrace. I’m happy to be able to reuse this picture from last week, and I look forward to you being completely out of baseball by July.


And Every Cowboy Sings a Sad, Sad Song

No, I didn’t miss Andruw Jones restructuring his deal to get the hell out of Dodge(rtown). After a long weekend away and a short coma at the shock of not having to see that fat sack of crap in a Dodgers uniform in 2009, I’m back and beyond thrilled. That said, I’m not going to dwell
juan_castro_autograph.jpgon it too much right now – he’s not officially been dumped yet, everyone else in the world has already talked about it the last few days, and I made my feelings pretty well known last week right here.

Today, as much as I might want to discuss the minor league and/or non-guaranteed signings of Juan Castro (.268 OBP over 14 seasons! Yet he’ll still make the team over Chin-Lung Hu, won’t he?) and Claudio Vargas (not as terrible as you think, but still thoroughly inferior to Eric Stults), I’d like to talk about patience – and no, not the Guns N’ Roses epic. What I’m wondering is, Dodger fans get what’s going on, right? They see that between the economy and Scott Boras holding out, this is the slowest free agent market anyone can remember, don’t they? They understand that by waiting, you’re likely to get the players you want at a large discount? I feel like fans are smart enough to understand this, and know that the season doesn’t start for three more months.

All of which makes the latest article by beat writer Ken Gurnick a little confusing…

LOS ANGELES — Less than three months ago, the Dodgers were three wins away from reaching the World Series.

But that was then. Now, six weeks from the opening of the Dodgers’ first Arizona-based Spring Training, their fans are having a restless winter.

We are? Oh sure, there’s people losing their jobs left and right. There’s the never-ending black hole the economy’s in. There’s war and poverty all around the world. But as for the Dodgers? It’s not been quite perfect yet, but snatching Rafael Furcal back when we’d all said goodbye to him and getting rid of Jones’ bloated corpse is pretty nice so far.

They are frustrated that the club has been in a negotiating standoff with outfielder Manny Ramirez, even though Ramirez ignored the club’s initial offer (and apparently the only one he’s received from any club so far).

Well, right, but we’re frustrated with Boras and Manny, who’ve apparently painted themselves into a corner. I don’t see too many of us blaming Ned Colletti (I know!), who has extended the only two confirmed offers (counting arbitration) that Manny has even received this offseason.

They don’t understand why 15 other free agents have left — including starting pitchers Derek Lowe, Brad Penny and Greg Maddux, relievers Takashi Saito, Joe Beimel and Chan Ho Park and infielders Jeff Kent and Nomar Garciaparra — while only utilityman Mark Loretta and pitcher Claudio Vargas — who was released twice last year — have been acquired.

We… don’t understand? I mean… look at the list. Maddux retired, while Kent and Nomar are likely to. Lowe, Saito, and Beimel, while unlikely to return in varying degrees, haven’t signed anywhere else yet. Besides, are we really bemoaning the losses of Pablo Ozuna, Mark Sweeney, Gary Bennett, and Angel Berroa?

Also, Ken, I have to say. If you’re going to count ex-Dodgers among those who’ve left, isn’t it a little disingenuous to discount the two biggest signings so far (Furcal and Casey Blake) simply because they were on the team last year? By that logic, your above paragraph wouldn’t change even if Manny were re-signed. Excellent work, there.

Nor why an impact pitcher hasn’t been added to a starting rotation that consists of Chad Billingsley and his broken leg, Hiroki Kuroda and his fickle shoulder, 20-year-old Clayton Kershaw and Jason Schmidt — if his arm holds up.

Impact pitchers who’ve signed so far: 1) CC Sabathia, for way more money than anyone other than the Yankees were willing to give. 2) AJ Burnett, who’s just as questionable as anyone on our staff, except about forty times as expensive. 3) Randy Johnson… maybe? He’s 45. The point is, there’s still plenty of pitchers who haven’t signed yet (see our review here) so let’s not pretend that this twisted game of musical chairs has stopped and left the Dodgers without a spot.

Also, please, be more fatalistic about the guys we have, would you? “Billingsley and his broken leg” makes it sound like he’s Barbaro, on the verge of being put down, when in reality he got his cast off over a month ago and is on track to be fine for spring training. “Hiroki Kuroda and his fickle shoulder” sounds like a bad horror-based J-pop band, but it also describes a guy who pitched about 200 innings last year (including playoffs), and was at his best down the stretch and in October. I have no comeback for Kershaw being 20, other than that doesn’t automatically make him moments away from having a stroke. Think about it - you could pick the top starters in baseball right now for your rotation, and this is how Ken Gurnick would frame it:

Nor why an impact pitcher hasn’t been added to a starting rotation that consists of CC Sabathia and his massive frame after being worked hard down the stretch, Johan Santana (who hails from Venezuela, where kidnappings of the rich and famous are commonplace), Tim Lincecum’s 160lbs of injury waiting to happen, and Jake Peavy – who spent time on the DL with an arm injury last year.

Ken Gurnick’s favorite song is “Every Rose Has Its Thorn”. His favorite saying? “I think I see a cloud behind that silver lining.”

The club’s biggest offseason moves have been to retain shortstop Rafael Furcal, who missed five months of the season, and third baseman Casey Blake with three-year contracts.

I won’t discount the injury risk of Furcal, but could we also maybe mention that he destroyed the ball before he got hurt? That’s got to count for something, right? I mean, for all the complaining in this article about how the Dodgers haven’t done anything yet, is no credit given for putting out some money to sign the entire left side of their infield?

With nearly $50 million in last year’s payroll shed through the departure of the free agents to this point, fans have been further annoyed by comments and indications from management that money matters. There is concern at Dodger Stadium, and throughout MLB for that matter, that the worldwide economic collapse will make a decrease in revenues unavoidable.

Hell no, I’m not going to defend Jamie McCourt just for the sake of disagreeing with Ken Gurnick. Though, if we do sign Manny, I would pay any amount of money for some Angelino to round up their local T-ball team to come to the press conference with signs saying “I guess we’re not getting fields, Jamie!” just for the entertainment value.

More to management’s point on the money, however, is that the commitment to youth is real. The successful arrivals of Billingsley, Andre Ethier, Russell Martin, Matt Kemp, James Loney, Jonathan Broxton and Cory Wade have emboldened the club to see if this nucleus can continue to improve. But that also means generally avoiding free agents with long-term contract demands.

“Emboldened”? Uh-oh. Maybe I shouldn’t be making fun of this, because I’m starting to get the feeling that Donald Rumsfeld is ghost-writing. Also, just out of curiosity… what’s wrong with avoiding long-term free agent contracts if you don’t have to give them out? They almost always end up benefiting the player more than the club.

Term of contract also is the dilemma with Ramirez, because he turns 37 in May and the Dodgers have no designated hitter role to offer as he approaches the big Four-O. The club is willing to pay him a huge salary for two years, while Ramirez wants no fewer than four. Negotiations, virtually non-existent since the Dodgers withdrew their two-year, $45 million offer six weeks ago, resumed last week.

So, wouldn’t the club being willing to offer big money over two years be seen as a good thing? Consistently, Ken, come on now. Besides, anyone who hasn’t just arrived on this planet from October 1st knows that there’s no way Manny’s getting the four guaranteed years he wants.

Meanwhile, general manager Ned Colletti enters the final year of his four-year contract trying to improve the pitching frugally, meaning he’s been focused on the Jon Garlands and Randy Wolfs instead of the CC Sabathias and A.J. Burnetts.

Most Dodger fans realized there was no way Sabathia was coming here. If Colletti would have signed Burnett, after what happened with Schmidt, he’d have first been tarred and feathered, and then someone would have found his head in a box like Brad Pitt did in se7en. I’m not sure what’s more noteworthy here – that Gurnick has an incredible ability to find the most negative view possible, or that he’s doing it while basically being paid to be a mouthpiece of the team on the official site?  

It’s Time to Bring Down the Hindenburg

Something must be done. There’s no way around it, no matter how painful it might be. You know it, and I know it. It’s like a band-aid. Just rip it off! Andruw Jones cannot be a Dodger in 2009. This is, of course, nothing new, since most of us haven’t really wanted him to be a Dodger since about, oh, April 2, 2008. Clearly, you don’t need me to recap the historical abomination that was his 2008 season, other than that to say the rate in which he stole money from the Dodgers was basically criminal. Really, I think the saddest thing about Jones’ year was the fact that I considered what would be more valuable – Jones playing like he did for the insane amount of money he makes, or myself playing every day for the minimum (hey, I could probably get two or three lucky hits a month)  – and realizing that there’s actually reason to look into it.

But you think to yourself, “there’s just no way that someone as great as he was could have fallen that far, that fast. It’s basically unprecedented, and there still has to be a chance that he’s so embarassed by last year that he gets himself into better shape in the offseason and comes ready to play.” You would hope for that, and you would be wrong, because in the winter leagues he’s currently got just three singles against eight strikeouts, in sixteen at-bats. You think it can’t get worse? Thanks to Gil Miguel’s helpful Dominican updates over at the BBWC, we’ve got this from a DR paper:

Guillén sería la contraparte de Andruw Jones, que le hace un favor a los contrarios cuando está en la alineación.

Which roughly translates to “Andruw Jones does a favor to the opposition every time he’s in the lineup.” Remember, we’re not talking about facing Jake Peavy in PetCo Park, here. This is a league in which Jones’ teammate (and recent Dodger minor-league signee) Hector Luna has already parked 7 balls out of the yard – and this is a guy with 11 homers in 703 career MLB at bats. If Jones is getting overmatched down there, what possible hope does he have in the bigs? No me gusta!

So this is what it’s come down to, then. He has to be elsewhere, anywhere, by Opening Day. No matter what, it’s going to cost the Dodgers an enormous amount of money and embarassment, but we can at least minimize the onfield damage, since there’s just no way he’s going to contribute. Below this hilariously bad yet completely accurate Photoshop joke, we’ll take a look at the options.

Keep him.
Hah! Just kidding. Besides for the very obvious fact that he’s probably a worse hitter than Hong-Chih Kuo right now, he’ll be very unhappy sitting on the bench, and that will just cause more problems. I would much rather have Jason Repko happily playing all three positions, pinch-running, plus being a more dangerous bat, than I would seeing Jones mope around all season.

Cut him. Tempting. Very, very tempting, and it would be the quickest end to this saga. But it’s ultimately pointless, because then you’re still on the hook for every penny of the $22.1m still due him, while setting him free for some other team to sign him for the minimum and give him a chance to turn things around. If we could save even a few dollars by doing this, I’d be all for it, but there’s just not much upside here – at least to start the season.

Trade him. Clearly, this would be the most desirable outcome, but unfortunately it’s also the least likely. We all did somersaults when we read the rumors about talks with the Mets yesterday, even though we knew from the start it wasn’t going to go anywhere. There’s only three ways a deal gets done: 1) if Colletti eats almost 100% of the salary, which sort of defeats the purpose, 2) if the Dodgers throw in good prospects to reduce the money they have to eat, which already worked out disastrously to save $2m in the Casey Blake deal, or 3) if the Dodgers take back a bad contract in return. In the case of the Mets, that means 2B Luis Castillo, who was foolishly signed to a 4-year deal before 2008, only to spend most of the season injured or ineffective (below average both offensively and defensively according to FanGraphs). Castillo makes $6m over each of the next three seasons and at 33, is unlikely to bounce back. Even better, the Dodgers have no use for him, since he’s not a utility player (he only plays 2B), and the Dodgers have Blake DeWitt and Mark Loretta at the position with Chin-Lung Hu and Ivan DeJesus in reserve. But the one thing Castillo does have is that his bad deal is spread out over three more seasons, allowing for some more flexibilty this year. Would I trade Jones and his $22.1m remaining for Castillo and his $18m remaining, plus throw in $5-6m to make up the difference? Possibly, if only for the payroll manuevering. But I think we all know there’s no way this deal is happening.

Shoot him. They put down horses, don’t they?

Demote him. I know, I know - the team can’t do this without Jones’ consent, as he has more than five years service time in the bigs. He would have every right to decline this move and force the club to either release him or keep him on the active roster. But you know what? I don’t know that he’d be against this, at least initially. He gets his money no matter what, so that’s not an issue. I think if the Dodgers said to him, “look, you’re not going to be a big part of this team right now. You’re going to sit on the bench, maybe get some pinch-hit at-bats at best, and that’s no way to get your career turned around. You need to play every day and we can’t offer that to you right now” he might consider it. After all, he was pretty successful in his short stint in AAA last year (.323/.361/.710 with 4 HR in 31 AB), so it seems that the opportunity to go down there to get his confidence back while beating up on minor leaguers is what’s best for both him and the Dodgers. If he proves he can still hit, maybe he can be useful in LA – or maybe it would facilitate a deal. Either way, this is better than releasing him because you still hold on to the 0.5% chance he turns it around without hurting the Dodgers every day.’s 2008 In Review: Center Field

Matt Kemp (C+)
(.290/.340/.459 18hr 76rbi 35sb)
I suppose I’m going to have to give Joe Torre a little credit sometime, so here it is: in a season that began with us asking him to “Free Matt Kemp!”, Joe, well, did. Kemp’s 657 plate appearances were the most of any Dodger, just beating out James Loney’s 651 and Russell Martin’s 650 – and yes, 650 plate appearances for a catcher does completely blow my mind, thank you for asking.

Just like everyone else, it seems, this is a really difficult grade to assign. You can really look at Kemp’s season in a few different ways:

1) As compared to his own 2007. This one’s not going to go too well for the young Bison. Granted, Kemp played only about half a season in 2007. That said, between 2007-08, Kemp declined in BA, OBP, SLG, OPS (obviously), HR/AB, K/AB, EQA, and runs created - in addition to setting the all-time Dodger record for strikeouts with 153.

2) As compared to other outfielders. For the purposes of comparison, we’re going to compare Kemp’s entire offseason season to other center fielders, not just the games in which he actually played there. Now, he did finish 9th among all center fielders in VORP, which is pretty nice for a 23-year-old. However, VORP can be a little deceiving, because it’s a counting stat and therefore skewed towards players with more at-bats, which means that when Vernon Wells is just 2.4 VORPsicles behind Kemp despite nearly 200 fewer plate appearances, it’s not exactly a point in Kemp’s favor. (Then again, the ability to stay healthy and/or not having to get platooned should be considered important as well, but that’s another conversation entirely). When we look at VORP rate/game, Kemp drops to 15th among center fielders with at least 200 at-bats. That is higher than names like Aaron Rowand, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Mike Cameron, but still leaves him in about the middle of the pack. While he does get credit for stealing 35 bases, that still places him seventh among center fielders, and on defense, Baseball Prospectus ranks him at 4 runs above average in center field.

Taking all this into consideration – plus his 108 OPS+ – it’s pretty clear that Kemp had an average-to-slightly-above-average 2008 campaign compared to his positional peers. Considering how fantastic he was in 2007, this has to be considered somewhat of a disappointment, and that’s why he gets a C+. He was good, but not as good as we’d hoped he would be. Now you might wonder why Kemp gets a C+ after we said basically the same things about James Loney, but gave him a much lower grade. Each came into 2008 with high expectations, and while certainly neither flopped, neither really lived up to what we’d hoped for them. The reason for that is simply experience. It’s a well-known fact that Kemp spent much of his childhood focusing on basketball, and was considered a very raw – though talented – prospect, which is partially why he was available to draft in the 6th round. Not only was Loney considered a much more polished player when he was drafted in the 1st round, he accumulated nearly 600 more minor-league at-bats than Kemp had. We’ve seen Kemp do a lot of on-the-job learning at the MLB level (as we’ve seen with his occasional baserunning gaffes), while Loney was expected to be ready, if not more than ready. In fact, age plays a central role in the final way of looking at Kemp’s 2008…

3) As compared to other players his age. There were 11 outfielders aged 24 or under who qualified for the batting title in 2008, and here Kemp compares very favorably. He finished third in OPS, HR, and RBI, second in stolen bases, and that becomes all the more impressive when you realize that the two guys who topped him in the first three categories are insta-studs Nick Markakis and Ryan Braun. If you expand it to all players regardless of position in that age range, you’re now looking at 19 players, but you’ve now added huge names like Hanley Ramirez, Prince Fielder, Brian McCann, and Evan Longoria. Still, Kemp holds his own, placing 7th in OPS, ahead of B.J. Upton, Loney, and Delmon Young. The point here is, among players in his peer age group, Kemp acquits himself pretty well – and that’s despite his relative inexperience compared to them and the fact that some of the best players in baseball are represented here.

So don’t let the C+ grade mislead you. Here at MSTI, we still think Matt Kemp is going to be a huge star (I had to defend him against claims of being overrated here in July). A 23-year-old who was a slightly above-average hitter, showed excellent speed in stealing 35 bases, and proved he could hold down center field (16 outfield assists between CF and RF) is an unbelievably valuable asset. Consider that this is what he’s doing now, just a few years after choosing baseball as a full-time profession, and it’s not that hard to get excited over what he might be able to do in a few years once he hits his prime.

So please. Please. Can we just leave him be, give him a lineup spot (be it CF or RF), and just leave him alone and let him play? No more overpriced free agent outfielders (Manny aside), no more complaints from Old Man Jeff Kent about lockerroom respect. Just let the kid play.

Andruw Jones (F)
(.158/.256/.249 3hr 14rbi)
No, that’s not quite right…

Andruw Jones ()
(.158/.256/.249 3hr 14rbi)
The pig is closer, but not exactly…

Andruw Jones ()
(.158/.256/.249 3hr 14rbi)
Ahh, there we go. Andruw Jones is a criminal. Yes, much better. Andruw Jones stole money from the Dodgers at such a rate that it’s making Jason Schmidt and Darren Dreifort look like sensible investments.

And really, I’m not even sure what needs to be said here. Do you really need me to tell you how unspeakably awful Andruw Jones was in 2008? Of course you don’t. But it’s just unfathomable how disastrous he was for this team, and how there was never once at any point a glimmer of hope. I mean, the first mention I can find of us wondering about Andruw Jones on this blog was way back on April 5, less than a week into the season. He hit .175 at home, and .142 on the road. He didn’t hit above .178 in any single month of the season, and he struck out in nearly a full one-third of his at-bats, He hit exactly zero homers at Dodger Stadium, and there were even rumors floating around that Frank McCourt might try to sue him for his astoundingly horrible “performance”. He had three multi-hit games all season (all of just two hits), and if anyone finds pitchers Chuck James of Atlanta, Ben Sheets of Milwaukee, or Ron Villone of St. Louis hanging by a belt in their closets, it’s because they form the unholy trinity of pitchers who actually allowed home runs to the Worst Player of All Time, Andruw Jones.

Oh, and lest you think I’m kidding about “the Worst Player of All Time”, avert your eyes. It’s no surprise that Jones was just about the worst MLB player in 2008 (no player with as many plate appearances as him had a lower VORP rate/game). But on July 12, ESPN’s Jayson Stark annointed him a contender for the all-time title, saying,

Sheez, what happened to this man? If Andruw Jones‘s second half resembles his first half, he’s potentially heading for (ready for this?) the Worst Offensive Season in Baseball History. At this rate, he’d finish with a .172 average, .261 slugging percentage, five homers, 21 RBIs, 125 strikeouts and only 64 hits. And you shouldn’t be flabbergasted to learn that the all-time list of players who have had numbers that gruesome consists of, well, nobody. Heck, only three other players in history have even had twice as many strikeouts as hits (in a season of 100 or more whiffs): Rob Deer (175-80 in 1991), Dave Nicholson (126-60 in 1964) and Mark McGwire (118-56 in 2001). But at least those fellows made a few home run trots, or finished over the Mendoza Line.

Take a close look at that quote, especially the part where Stark says what Jones’ final stats would be if he continued on that rate. If he’d finished with the number Stark says above, then that would be good enough to get him to the level of worst ever. Considering that Jones somehow did even worse after this article came out (.128 with 1 homer) and couldn’t even reach the levels of ineptitude laid out above, I’d say he took this title and made it his bitch – and that’s not even considering the absurd amount of cash he was paid to do it.

The best part is, 2009 already sounds like it’s not going to be any better. One would assume that after a historically embarrassing season, a player would want nothing more than to be out of the public eye, work hard all offseason, and come back in the spring hungry to clear his name. That’s what you said to the Los Angeles Times, right Andruw?

Jones said he expects to be the everyday center fielder next season.

“I’m an everyday guy or I need to move out,” he said.

Great start. And about moving out, Andruw?

“I’ve got one more year in my contract,” said Jones, now playing with the L.A. Dodgers. “Hopefully, I can come back to Atlanta. I would love to finish my career here.”

Phenomenal. So now we’ve got a guy who’s not only despised in Los Angeles more than any combination of Paul DePodesta, Hee-Seop Choi, Juan Pierre, Georgia Frontiere, Al Davis, OJ Simpson, and Perez Hilton, but he’s already demanding a starting role and is plotting his escape.

Well guess what, you fat sack of crap? We’d love to have you gone. LOVE to. But there are almost no circumstances in which that’s going to happen, because you were so transcendently awful, your big contract is not even the concern. You were so dreadful that it’s questionable whether you even deserve a major league roster spot, even at the minimum. And it’s at that point where the contract does come into play, because even if a team decided to expend a precious 25-man roster spot at the veteran minimum (which is not a guarantee right now), that’d require the Dodgers to pick up nearly $20 million just to move you. Now we all know that just isn’t going to happen, unless the Dodgers take back a similarly awful contract in return, which is unlikely, because how could anything be nearly as bad as this? You’re stuck with us, and we’re stuck with you, except hopefully next year you won’t be shoveling Funions down your maw while watching Manny, Kemp, and Ethier patrol the outfield.

Unless… if a current Dodger is openly talking about playing for the Braves, maybe the lawyers can find a loophole in the deal to void the contract? Probably not. A man can dream, though. A man can dream.

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