Can We Just Get Hu Back Up Here Already?

We’re not always right around here, you know. Sometimes we’re strongly for a move that backfires horribly. And sometimes we question a move that works out wonderfully. And sometimes we get one right; we deride a move as awful from day one and it works out exactly as we said it would. (That, by the way, remains one of my favorite posts I’ve ever written for this site).

With that, it’s time for Angel Berroa to hit the road to, well, anywhere that’s not Los Angeles. And it’s time to get Chin-Lung Hu back to the bigs.

Sure, there was a time where you could maybe, sort of, kind of make an argument for Berroa – back when Nomar and Furcal were both DL’d and the slim possibility of Berroa’s resurgence was preferable to Hu’s .159 struggles in the bigs. Maybe.

But to no one’s surprise, Berroa’s been terrible, despite his 2-4 performance tonight. Even in the emergent circumstances that have allowed him to play, a .206/.267/.243 line (coming into tonight) in a pennant race just isn’t going to cut it. Of the 72 men who’ve played shortstop in the big leagues this year, Berroa is 67th in VORP.

Now I know that Hu was awful at the plate in his shot earlier in the year; in fact, he’s one of the 5 players ranked lower in VORP than Berroa. But the idea that Hu should be given another shot over Berroa rests in two nearly indisputable facts:

1) Chin-Lung Hu is a better fielder than Angel Berroa. Actually, Berroa hasn’t been all that bad at shortstop, but Hu is so good that there’s little argument here. If you’ve got two guys who probably won’t contribute all that much at the plate, you might as well go with the one who offers more in the field, right? Even when Hu was struggling at the the dish, he proved that his fielding was the real deal, not even committing a single error in his 28 games at SS earlier this year. While Berroa hasn’t been as bad as I feared with the glove, he’s been middle-of-the pack (indeed, his .975 fielding % would tie him for 15th of the 20 shortstops with enough at-bats to qualify for the batting title, if he were qualified as well).

2) Chin-Lung Hu is more likely to contribute offensively than Angel Berroa. The fact that I’m saying a guy who hit .159/.224/.206 is carrying a bigger bat than anyone is pretty damning, but I really think this is true. Hu hit the minor league DL with vision problems soon after he got there, and since getting that taken care of has been killing the ball, putting up a .361/.400/.475 line. There’s precedent for this with him, too; after struggling through 2006 (.660 OPS) problems with his vision were first made public, and after getting his eyes healthy in the offseason, he busted out with an .871 OPS in 2007. I don’t know exactly what the problems with his eyes have been, but this is twice now that after getting his vision issues corrected he’s come back with a vengeance. Not to mention that Hu is a highly-touted 24-year-old who can be expected to improve, while Berroa is now 30 and five years removed from his one decent season.

The shortstop situation remains fluid; Nomar is supposedly going to return in the next week or so, and Rafael Furcal has targeted September 1 for his own return. Each will likely need a caddy, so why not go with the younger superior fielder who may have fixed his hitting problems rather than the older mediocre-at-best black hole of a veteran? Seems to make sense to me.

Also, I’m not going to write yet another post about how lousy Juan Pierre is and Joe Torre’s inexplicable infatuation with him; we’ve done that plenty around here. That said, I can’t help but direct you to the wonderful article Joe Sheehan of Baseball Prospectus wrote on the situation yesterday. A lot of it is exactly the same sort of thing we’ve been saying around here from day one, but it’s still a good read. It’s far too long to copy and paste the whole thing here (plus, it is behind a pay wall), but these snippets should give you a good idea.

Ethier was also better last year, and has been the better player than Pierre from the moment he stepped into the league. This isn’t a debatable point—Andre Ethier is a better baseball player than Juan Pierre.

The argument that Pierre’s poor rate stats don’t accurately capture his skills is false. He isn’t a good leadoff hitter who generates runs via his speed. He’s not on base enough, and because he’s not on base enough, both he and his team are poor at scoring runs when he bats leadoff. Batting Juan Pierre leadoff is, to bring back a term, baseball malpractice.

If the Dodgers fail to reach the postseason, it will be in part because Furcal got hurt. You can’t just ignore that part of the equation. But it will be just as much because Joe Torre elected to kneecap his offense by putting a bad baseball player in a critical role, and stubbornly sticking with that decision despite what it was doing to his offense. No amount of geniality, experience, speed, or hustle can counter the statistics above. When anybody but Juan Pierre leads off, the Dodgers score 50 percent more runs than they do when Pierre leads off. Consistently

So… hard… to type… through… tears of joy…

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

We’re Coming to Get You, Angel!

I can’t help but pass along this bit of snark from Baseball Prospectus:

The Dodgers are just 13-21 since Rafael Furcal went on the DL, and in the face of his latest setback and a dearth of other options–unless you count Chin-Lung Hu, Luis Maza, and about 10,000 other professional ballplayers–the Ned Colletti regime reaches a new low by trading precious organic matter for the undead Angel Berroa. Since winning 2003 AL Rookie of the Year honors, Berroa has hit just .255/.292/.364 while fielding at a clip 55 runs below average, showing so much promise that the Royals chose to have him spend his age-29 season in Triple-A so that they could avoid another 100-loss season. Stupid Flanders may not be done wreaking havoc, as there’s word via the grapevine that he’s considering trading Matt Kemp again.

“Undead Berroa”? Oh, hell – one doesn’t pass up an opportunity like this. Besides, it’s so hard to talk about this team right now, let’s break out the medicore Photoshopping.

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

Sports Illustrated Finally Sees What We’ve Been Saying Forever

And of course, by “Sports Illustrated“, I do mean “Baseball Prospectus“, since this was written for SI by BP‘s Joe Sheehan, but still – plenty of the uninitiated will finally get their eyeballs on this.

This is a topic that’s near and dear to me, because I believe I said just about exactly the same thing back on May 19th:

Juan Pierre, 2008 batting leadoff:
.180/.250/.208 .458 OPS 28 OPS+
Juan Pierre, 2008 batting second:
.432/.412/.486 .998 OPS 179 OPS+

(snip)

Honestly, I wouldn’t mind putting Russell Martin leadoff – his OBP is up to an outstanding .444, and when you consider how bad he was for the first few weeks of the season, that should tell you how well he’s playing right now. Plus, he can run! But no – we’ve got to have that classic speed leadoff hitter at the top of the lineup. Even if he can’t get on base to use that speed.

And on May 12th, when Furcal was DL’d…

Get ready to see a whole lot more Juan Pierre. Without our real leadoff hitter, there’s no way Joe’s going to pass up the chance to use JP at leadoff every single day. I’m serious; I’d be floored if Pierre gets even a single game off before Furcal’s return. I admit, we don’t really have another option that stands out to leadoff; but why not give Russell Martin a crack at it? He’s got the second-highest OBP of anyone besides Furcal, and it’s not like he’s a liability on the bases. But I can’t imagine Torre ever trying that. No, it’s going to be JP all the time.

Ugh. I made that last post exactly a month ago, and Pierre really has led off every last game. But hey, at least the offense has been cruising since then. Right? Right?

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

Stats Don’t Always Tell the Whole Story

Except when they do. Here’s some numbers that will in no way cheer you up:

* The Dodgers are tied for 4th of 16 teams in the NL in batting average at .267 (good), 6th in OBP at .338 (fine), and 14th in SLG at .384 (lousy). But here’s where the real problem lies: Dodger right-handed batters vs. right-handed pitchers (which is the biggest segment of LA at-bats) are putting up a truly abysmal line of .228/.296/.310 for a .606 OPS. Worse, that’s including Russell Martin’s success vs. RHP (.312/.417/.404), so everyone else is really dragging the line down. Unfortunately, this means we can’t blame Juan Pierre for everything. (from baseball-reference)

* Mark Sweeney is the single worst player in baseball. (Shown at right, wondering what exactly he’s doing on the field, too). He doesn’t play enough to accumulate the counting stats, so let’s go with some rate stats. Actually, I don’t even need to break out anything fancy to illustrate this – a .095/.204/.119 line is nothing more than a joke. He’s got 4 hits and it’s nearly June. But let’s get back to the part where he’s the worst player in baseball. MLVr is a fancy Baseball Prospectus stat, defined as “an estimate of the additional number of runs a given player will contribute to a lineup that otherwise consists of average offensive performers. The league average MLVr is zero (0.000).” There are 411 MLB players with at least 35 at-bats in 2008 (at-bat limit done to eliminate pitchers). Mark Sweeney is… wait for it… 411th of 411. His MLVr is -.685, which basically means if we had a lineup full of completely league-average players, Mark Sweeney would cost us .685 runs every single game. And that’s just an offensive stat; some of the other players who are high (low?) on the list are at least plus defenders, like our own Chin-Lung Hu (12th). Sweeney doesn’t even contribute anything on that side of the field, either. If there’s any reason he’s still on the team other than to give Andy LaRoche a few more days to play 1B and/or 2B in Vegas, it’s simply indefensible.

* “When your rotation is average and your lineup is average, it’s no surprise that your team’s record is average.” That would be the take-home quote from yesterday’s Baseball Prospectus preview of the Mets game last night.

Reasons for the Mets’ mediocrity have been covered in this space before, so now it’s the Dodgers turn to explain their .500 record. First, we have a team that isn’t playing good defense: they rank 22nd in the majors in Defensive Efficiency, converting 69.6 percent of batted-balls into outs. Though the bullpen hasn’t suffered much—they rank fourth in the NL in WXRL as a unit—that defense has contributed to the rotation’s ranking only in the middle of the pack via SNLVAR. The offense is hitting .268/.340/.383, which boils down to an EqA of .257. When your rotation is average and your lineup is average, it’s no surprise that your team’s record is average.

The bullpen has helped them out in one-run contests (8-5) and extra innings (3-1) during the first two months of the season, but they are going to need improvement in one of the three areas—pitching, fielding, or offense—if they are to rise above their current position and give the Diamondbacks a scare. Losing Andruw Jones to surgery should help the offense out, as his .165/.273/.271 line was the source of more headaches than runs. Another of the lineup’s old men, Jeff Kent, has issues of his own. He’s hitting the ball on the ground more often—43 percent grounders versus last year’s 38 percent and his career rate of 35—and has lost a bit on his power as well, dropping his HR/FB from 10.2 to 7.4 percent. Kent is also swinging at more pitches—with many of those offerings out of the strike zone—but he’s making contact less often and has seen his walk rate cut in half. Almost 40 percent of his batted balls have been grounders that were weakly pulled as well. Without some switching around—Blake DeWitt to second when Andy LaRoche gets called up, perhaps?—the Dodgers offense is not going to see the vast improvement it needs to keep up with their rivals out.

* What the hell is going on with Brad Penny? He hasn’t given up less than 3 earned runs in a game in over a month, since April 21st at Cincinnati when he gave up one run in six innings. Since then he’s given up 3, 3, 10, 5, 5, and 4 runs. His ERA in May is a robust 8.48. I wish I had a better answer for “why”, but if our erstwhile “ace” can’t turn it around, this team is in big trouble.

* Might Jeff Kent be turning it around? After quite some time as the worst cleanup hitter of the last 50 years, going 5-9 with a homer in his last two games has pushed his OPS+ to 76, which merely makes him the third-worst cleanup hitter of the last 50 years. Still, that’s the right direction.

* Okay, sometimes stats don’t tell the whole story: Also via Baseball Prospectus (yeah, they’re practically the lifeblood of this blog lately) news on some young Dodger catchers.

Last year at Low-A Great Lakes, catcher Carlos Santana hit just .223/.318/.370–not the kind of numbers that generate any kind of attention. Even so, scouts saw something in his raw tools, and those are starting to show some promise this year at High-A Inland Empire, as the 22-year-old Dominican switch-hitter is off to a .306/.421/.513 start in 47 games, with more walks (32) than strikeouts (24) in 160 at-bats. One West Coast scout who recently saw the 66ers walked away impressed: “For me, that’s an everyday catcher,” said the scout. “He’s a good hitter from both sides and he’s strong–there’s some juice in his bat.” Defensively, Santana also earns high marks: “The arm is great, and will be even better with some improved mechanics. He’s a little raw behind the dish, but he certainly has the athleticism to get better.”

Meanwhile, this year’s catcher at Great Lakes is also putting up unimpressive numbers, but is nevertheless intriguing scouts. A native of Curacao, 20-year-old Kenley Jansen is batting just .198/.270/.376, but also has five home runs in 101 at-bats. “He’s listed at 6-2, 220, but he’s even bigger than that,” said another scout. “He can really throw and has tremendous raw power. I know the numbers are pretty bad, but he’s pretty interesting.”

* But there’s reason to watch the game tonight: because I’ll be in the upper deck at Shea. Oh, and the second start of mega-prospect Clayton Kershaw or something, I don’t know. At this point he’s going to have to throw a complete game shutout and hit 3 home runs. No pressure, though.

Update, AKA, I love the people who read this blog: After I finished writing this, I went to go get some lunch. While replaying the post in my mind, the thought occurred to me: “if Kershaw pitches a shutout, he won’t really have to hit three homers, will he? Bah, no one will catch that.”

Commenter Scott?

I understand the use of hyperbole in writing, but technically if Clayton pitches a complete game shutout, he only needs to hit one home run to win it.

I love it.

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

PECOTA Hates the Dodgers

Baseball Prospectus just put out their 2008 “Weighted Mean” Projections, their first look at guessing what 2008 will look like. As it’s a for-pay service, I won’t copy and paste the entire thing here, but a quick first glance caught my eye. Here’s what their best guesses at W-L records and ERA will be for the projected Dodger starting rotation:

Brad Penny: 9-9, 4.29 ERA
Derek Lowe: 9-9, 4.12 ERA
Chad Billingsley: 8-8, 3.96 ERA
Hiroki Kuroda: 10-9, 4.12 ERA
Jason Schmidt: 4-5, 4.57 ERA

Wow. Slightly pessimistic, no? You may have also noticed that, while we all know that W-L records are not the greatest way to grade a pitcher, this fivesome adds up to exactly a .500 record, with only newcomer Kuroda (!) even getting to ten wins. This despite a 2007 in which the top 3 of Penny, Lowe, and Billingsley garnered 16, 12, and 12 wins respectively, to finish a cumulative 17 games over .500.

I predict: these are way off.

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