Juan Rivera’s Success Is Entirely Dependent on Dee Gordon, Mark Ellis, and Matt Kemp


When we look back on Juan Rivera‘s 2012, how are we going to define success? Will it be WAR? wOBA? The team’s win/loss record? For me, it might be as simple as “is he going to get through the season without being DFA’d”, since I’ve been notably down on the idea of expecting him to be some sort of offensive force based on the one good month he had in 2011.

Don Mattingly knows, and he told Mark Whicker all about it, as recounted by Steve Dilbeck:

“The guy we had at the end is the guy we are going to need,” Mattingly said. “But then we needAndre [Ethier] to be healthy, we need Juan to be a run producer, more of a 80-90 RBI guy. We’re going to need all that for us to be in it.”

At first I thought: “He’s actually expecting Juan Uribe to hit up to 90 runs batted in?” It’s never happened in his 11-year career.

But recognizing that Mattingly might be manager-like optimistic but is also rational, I then realized he was talking about Juan Rivera.

Now, Rivera has never had 90 RBIs in a single season, either. His best two marks were  85 in 2006 and 88 in 2009, both for the Angels.

Of course, we know better than that, right? If Rivera ends up with 80-90 RBI, that’s not going to tell us anything about how productive he was this season. What that would do is tell us a whole lot about how productive the guys hitting directly ahead of him – likely to be Dee Gordon, Mark Ellis, Matt Kemp, and (sometimes) Andre Ethier – are, because that’s all RBI really is. It’s a measure of how often your teammates hook you up with runners to drive in, and little more.

Need some examples? In 1990, Joe Carter was 30 years old and playing his only season in San Diego. He hit an abysmal .232/.290/.391, good for an 85 OPS+. He was worth -1.4 rWAR. On both offense and defense, he was actively hurting the Padres for most of the season. Yet since he was hitting cleanup behind Bip Roberts (.375 OBP) and two Hall of Famers in Roberto Alomar (.340 OBP) & Tony Gwynn (.357 OBP) he collected 115 RBI, which even garnered him some downballot MVP support, despite doing little to put wins on the board.

Hell, Rivera has seen this up close. As a member of the 2004 Montreal Expos, he watched the execrable Tony Batista hit .241/.272/.455, good for a mere 80 OPS+ and 0.0 rWAR. Though Batista did hit 32 homers, he also had the pleasure of spending most of the year hitting behind Brad Wilkerson (.374 OBP) and Jose Vidro (.367 OBP). Despite the power numbers, Batista didn’t play in the bigs in 2005 and was out of baseball at 33 after being released by the Twins and Nationals. Rivera, on the other hand, had a very nice .304/.364/.465 line in the last season of baseball in Quebec, but had only 49 RBI because he spent his season batting behind… wait for it… Tony Batista.

So yeah, I hope Rivera gets his 90 RBI too. But that’s not because it’ll mean a damn thing about how Rivera is doing, it’s because if he does, that means Gordon & Ellis are doing their job and getting on base. If they do, and Kemp, Ethier, & Rivera have men on to drive in, this offense could actually show some life. If they don’t, we’re going to be seeing a lot of 2-1 losses, and Juan Rivera’s RBI total is going to be the least of our problems.

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Speaking of Rivera, he’s gone one less competitor for playing time, since Jerry Sands was officially sent to the minor-league camp today. This was a move we’d been expecting for some time, so it doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Sands had been struggling so badly in camp that I can’t even really argue with this, especially since Sands himself has said that he’s had trouble keeping his rebuilt swing consistent. He’ll go to Triple-A, hopefully mash for a while, and then return at some point in May when Rivera gets hurt (or doesn’t have enough RBI, I suppose).

That means we’re down to Josh Fields, Justin Sellers, Trent Oeltjen, Cory Sullivan, and Luis Cruz for that final spot. (Fields started in place of Juan Uribe at third base today because of, well, this.) I refuse to believe that Cruz has a prayer, and Oeltjen & Sullivan seem unlikely as well. It really comes down to Fields or Sellers, and that probably depends on whether the club thinks that Jerry Hairston‘s throwing problems are behind him. I think the team would probably prefer to hang onto Fields, though Sellers has the advantage of already being on the 40-man roster.

In other roster news, Blake Hawksworth was moved to the 60-day DL to make room on the 40-man roster for Jamey Wright. Hawksworth has been having difficulty in his recovery from elbow surgery and hasn’t even begun throwing yet, so it’ll be quite some time before we see him back in Los Angeles.

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Don’t forget that this is a big, big week for the ownership process, with Frank McCourt due to name his selection by Sunday. MLB is currently conducting a call to approve the three remaining groups, with each expected to pass as little more than a formality. Once they do, McCourt will begin his selection process tomorrow, and we could really learn the winner at any point after that. This ESPN report notes that each of the bids (between $1.4b and $1.6b) do include the parking lots, which is fantastic, though note that just because they’re asking for them does not mean McCourt is obligated to include them.

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Last, but certainly not least, congratulations to Eric Stephen of TrueBlueLA for getting approved to have a full media credential this year. Not only is it richly deserved on his part, but it’s also good to see the Dodgers being so forward-thinking as to even consider giving a blogger that sort of access.

News From the First Day of Dodger Spring Training

Plenty of news coming in on this first official day of camp, and isn’t that a lovely feeling? Pitchers & catchers have reported, with position players joining them by Monday, and that means we’ll finally have real news & updates to talk about, not just hypotheticals and what-ifs. Don Mattingly held court this morning with a few of our famililar media names, and here’s what we know so far…

* Clayton Kershaw will be your Opening Day starter. (Ken Gurnick) Well, of course. This is news in the sense that “hey, Frank McCourt might not be such a great guy” is news. You know how I feel that the Opening Day assignment is wildly overrated, and so this doesn’t mean a great deal to me. Still, it’s a nice honor for Kershaw, and one that he’ll hopefully be able to carry for at least the next ten years. With three lefties likely to be in the rotation, I imagine that Kershaw will be followed by Chad Billingsley & Ted Lilly, then Aaron Harang & Chris Capuano. That will mean two lefties back-to-back as the rotation turns around, but that’s unavoidable.

* Dee Gordon will lead off and Matt Kemp will hit third. (Eric Stephen) No surprise here, either, especially with how well Kemp finished the year in the #3 spot. I think there’s a good enough argument to be made that Gordon is best served hitting lower in the order, where his inexperience and questionable on-base skills may not be exposed as much, but with his speed there was never any real chance Mattingly would have done that, and to be honest it’s not like there’s an obviously better choice anyway. (No, not even A.J. Ellis.) The official Dodger Twitter notes that Gordon reported early to camp and was in the cage taking BP today, which is a great sign. Dylan Hernandez adds that Mattingly likes the idea of Andre Ethier & Juan Rivera behind Kemp for protection, so while it’s not like we didn’t already know what the batting order was going to be, it seems pretty clear that the regular 8 will work out like so: 1) Gordon 2) Mark Ellis 3) Kemp 4) Ethier 5) Rivera 6) James Loney 7) Juan Uribe 8) A.J. Ellis, with some chance of Loney & Uribe being swapped. You know what’s going to be fun, though? When Gordon is inevitably banged-up, or even just gets a regular day off, and Jerry Hairston or Adam Kennedy gets to lead off instead.

* Blake Hawksworth is not going to be ready for Opening Day. (Dylan Hernandez). This initially came as something of a surprise, because Hawksworth’s January elbow surgery was originally not expected to keep him out so long, but Hernandez reveals that Hawksworth had to have a second procedure to deal with an infection that resulted from the first, so he’s “a few weeks behind schedule.” If there were any justice in the world, this would mean that the final bullpen spot would go to Josh Lindblom, who clearly proved he was big-league ready in his debut last season. Of course, Lindblom has options remaining, and the Dodgers have plenty of washed-up veteran non-roster types in camp. Remember yesterday when I said that I had a feeling that I couldn’t back up that Jamey Wright was going to make this team? Yeah, this is how. Depending on Hawksworth’s timetable, his recovery could force the Dodgers to make some interesting roster choices to make near the end of April when Ronald Belisario is eligible to return from suspension. (I know, it sounds crazy to even suggest it, but Stephen actually saw him in person today.)

* Javy Guerra starts camp as the closer. (Hernandez) Again, no surprise here, because Guerra took hold of the job last year after no one else could and did little to force the team to make a move. If he can be effective again this year, then fantastic, because Kenley Jansen is arguably more valuable as a “fireman” type who can come in and dominate when the situation dictates, rather than tether him to the 9th inning. Still, I see Jansen moving into the 9th inning at some point this year.

* Steve Yeager rejoins the Dodgers. Yeager, who originally joined the organization when he was drafted in 1967 and was a Dodger catcher for all but one of his 15 major league seasons before becoming an occasional Dodger hitting coach for four minor-league affiliates, has been hired to work with the backstops in camp. Yeager hit .228/.298/.355 over his career, which makes him basically the perfect person to work the current group of catchers… or lead an interstellar battleship.

* A spring training primer from Jon Weisman. In a long piece at ESPN/LA, Jon breaks down the players in camp, all the way from Kemp to Lance Zawadzki. Rabid followers over the winter will likely have seen all of these names already, but this is a good resource to keep bookmarked for three weeks from now when you’re trying to remember just who in the hell Matt Chico is.

More to come, no doubt.

Blake Hawksworth Set For Shoulder Elbow Surgery

Dylan Hernandez reports:

Dodger right-hander Blake Hawksworth will undergo arthroscopic surgery tomorrow on his right elbow to clean up scar tissue and a spur.

No word yet on whether this is something that had been bothering Hawksworth for a while that he’d been unable to get past or if it’s something new, though I’m inclined to speculate that it’s the latter because of the timing and because Hawksworth’s only injury during 2011 was the hip problem that landed him on the disabled list. While we can’t know for sure, don’t forget that after a relatively solid first half, he was so poor at the end of the year that we often wondered if he was hurt:

Returning in June, he was once again solid, allowing a .542 OPS and a 19/5 K/BB in 19 1/3 innings. Nothing stellar, of course, but certainly useful; this earned him a B in the midseason reviews, where I referred to him as “perfectly acceptable.” But from there, it was all downhill for Hawksworth, as he allowed 16 runs (12 earned) in his final 16 2/3 innings of the season, making many wonder if he was injured again – and culminating in his failure to cover first base (or, you know, get outs) in the September 28 soulcrusher in Arizona.

Still, we don’t know that this is in any way related. It’s also not the first time that Hawksworth has run into shoulder issues, since he had labrum surgery while in the minors and missed almost two entire seasons, getting into just nine games between 2004-05. This sounds much less serious, so even if he’s out for 6-8 weeks that would only sideline him until mid-March, though we’ll have to learn more about what the timeframe is after the procedure.  (Update: yes, I misread “elbow” as “shoulder”. Shows what I get for posting after midnight when I’ve barely slept. My mistake.) If Hawksworth does begin the year on the disabled list that makes it more likely that Josh Lindblom makes the club, though since Lindblom does have options remaining there’s always an excellent chance he gets nudged out by a non-roster invite, perhaps a second lefty to join Scott Elbert.

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The other news of the night comes from Bill Shaikin, who reports that FOX and the Dodgers have come to an agreement that finally exhausts the legal battles between the two. FOX agrees to drop any objection to the sale agreement between the Dodgers and MLB – there was to be a court hearing on that this week, and while it was extremely unlikely FOX would have prevailed, if they had, we’d be blasted all the way back to square one in this mess – and in return, the Dodgers agree to stop trying to market their television rights before the end of their deal with FOX, which never made much sense anyway.

Not to jinx it, but this could be the end of legal hostilities all around, since both MLB and FOX have settled their battles with the Dodgers. That should clear the way towards the sale, which Shaikin also clarified the timeline of; while we already knew bids were due on January 23 and the sale must be completed by April 30, we now also know that the winning bidder will be announced no later than April 1. 81 days!

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One other note: Kenji Nimura, the trilingual translator who joined the Dodgers in 2008 when Hiroki Kuroda signed with the club, will soon be leaving to take a similar position with the Yankees. This news came out in, of all places, a photo caption in Jon SooHoo’s gallery from this week’s prospect development camp. Sure, it’s possible that this is just a coincidence, since the Dodgers don’t look like they’ll have any Asian players on the roster next year, but considering that Nimura has lived in Los Angeles since 1983 and has referred to working for the Dodgers as a dream job, it’s hard not to read this as one giant hint that Kuroda is soon to be a Yankee.

MSTI’s 2011 in Review: Relievers, Part 2

Matt Guerrier (C)
4.07 ERA, 3.43 FIP, 6.8 K/9, 3.4 BB/9

Let’s get this out of the way right up front: despite all of the negative things we say about Matt Guerrier, he wasn’t bad. He pitched in 70 games, just like he always does. His xFIP was nearly exactly the same as it was in the previous few years, and his FIP was actually lower. While he walked more than he did as a Twin, he also struck out more, so on the whole you got a decent Guerrier year, and that’s not a terrible guy to have in the bullpen.

But that contract… good lord, that contract. As Eric Stephen wrote at TrueBlueLA, “among the 15 Dodgers to pitch in relief this season Guerrier ranked eighth in ERA (4.07), eighth in FIP (3.43), and 12th in xFIP (4.30).” For that, Guerrier was handsomely rewarded with a backloaded three-year, $12m contract, and, well, we went over all of this a few weeks ago:

As you can see, Guerrier ranks all over the place. He missed a surprising amount of bats for someone without that kind of reputation, which is nice, as was his decent placement in the advanced run metrics. Of course, being one of the worst at LOB% and the absolute worst at “meltdowns” (if you didn’t read the definition, it’s when a reliever makes his team at least 6% more likely to lose) isn’t exactly what you hoped for when spending the money.

And that’s really the entire point, isn’t it? Guerrier had his uses, and he’s deserving of a place in the Dodger bullpen – no one’s arguing that he needs to be dumped or shipped off immediately, that he was some sort of Juan Uribe in the relief corps. But as I continue to struggle with my 2012 plan (which I’m probably on iteration #76 of right now), the backloaded ~$4.7m for Guerrier sticks out, particularly when he’s likely no better than the 4th best reliever in the bullpen.

Considering how many relievers were as successful or moreso than Guerrier for less years, dollars, or both, it’s safe to say that this is one we should all wish we had back, perhaps even more so than we initally felt when he first signed it.

Still, it’s not Guerrier’s fault that he accepted the large contract that was offered to him, and he’s still got two more years left on it. If we can look past the dollar amount, he’s still useful, and for a bullpen that looks to be extremely young next year, it’s not the worst thing in the world to have a reliable, if not spectacular, veteran in the mix.

Blake Hawksworth (C+)
4.08 ERA, 3.84 FIP, 7.3 K/9, 2.9 BB/9

I will say this until it can’t be said any longer: Blake Hawksworth derives value from simply not being Ryan Theriot, whom he was traded straight-up for back in November. Or do you not remember the sheer joy of “Ryan Theriot Traded for Living, Breathing, Human Being“?

Beyond that, Hawksworth seemed like an intriguing arm and potential spot starter, and since he was out of options it was all but assured he’d make the club. For the first month or so, he was reasonably useful, at least from a back-of-the-bullpen arm acquired for literally nothing: through May 10, he’d allowed a .651 OPS and six earned runs in 17 2/3 innings. On a team that was employing both Lance Cormier and Mike MacDougal at the time, that was valuable enough – until he injured his hip and missed nearly a month.

Returning in June, he was once again solid, allowing a .542 OPS and a 19/5 K/BB in 19 1/3 innings. Nothing stellar, of course, but certainly useful; this earned him a B in the midseason reviews, where I referred to him as “perfectly acceptable.” But from there, it was all downhill for Hawksworth, as he allowed 16 runs (12 earned) in his final 16 2/3 innings of the season, making many wonder if he was injured again – and culminating in his failure to cover first base (or, you know, get outs) in the September 28 soulcrusher in Arizona.

Still, he did top previous career highs in K/9 rate and BB/9 rate, and despite being out of options he’s still a pre-arbitration player. At essentially zero cost to the Dodgers, he provides value, so it’s more than likely that he’s got a job in the 2012 bullpen.

Jonathan Broxton (F…’d by Torre)
5.68 ERA, 5.63 FIP, 7.11 K/9, 6.39 BB/9

I think I said all I needed to about Broxton back in September, when it was announced that he wouldn’t be making a return in 2011 and I bid a likely adieu to his Dodger career:

If this is the end for Broxton, he’s going to walk away as one of the most successful and dominating relievers in Dodger history. Among Dodgers with as many career innings as he has, his 11.55 K/9 mark is by far the best, more than a full strikeout ahead of Eric Gagne‘s chemically-aided 10.38. His K/BB of 3.09 is fifth best, ahead of Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, and Don Sutton, and he’s also on the top ten as far as the fewest hits per nine allowed.

From his debut on July 29, 2005 through June 26, 2010, Broxton was consistently excellent. In 349.2 innings over 341 games, he struck out a whopping 468 batters, allowing opponents to hit just .209/.285/.300 against him. For those afraid he’d wilt in the ninth inning, he actually got better once he was promoted to the closer’s job after Takashi Saito‘s injury in July of 2008; from then until June 26, 2010, he struck out 204 in 138 innings and held the opposition to a microscopic line of .185/.258/.242. For the better part of two years, Broxton was either the absolute best closer in baseball or something very close to it.

That was more about his Dodger career as a whole, so if we’re sticking to a 2011 recap… well what can you say. He was awful, clearly because he was pitching with a tattered elbow, which he finally underwent surgery on it in September. If anything, he helped prove once again that saves are a mockery by converting seven of eight, including five of the first eight games of the season, despite not being very good. Really, any sort of analysis of his performance this year is somewhat pointless. He was never healthy, and he was gone after the first month. Sad end for one of the better Dodger pitchers in recent years.

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Next! Josh Lindblom finally makes his debut! Mike MacDougal, shiny happy veteran reliever! And Ramon Troncoso, punching bag! It’s relievers, part 3!

That Loss Was More of an Oddity than a Disaster


Before we all start beating each other up over Tuesday night’s historic loss, let’s turn it over to commenter Paul for some much-needed clarity:

I tried really hard to be bummed out about this, but just couldn’t. This game means basically nothing, and I was almost amused by the statistical oddity of overcoming a win expectancy that high. Plus watching Ryan Roberts making fun of Kirk Gibson was pretty great.

It’s true. In previous, more competitive seasons – or lord help us, if it had been Jonathan Broxton on the mound – we’d have heard untold doomsday predictions and suicide pacts after this one. But now, in the penultimate game of a generally mediocre season after they’ve already clinched a winning record? It’s definitely more of an “wow, that happened” sort of feeling.

I mean, look at the FanGraphs WPA chart and try not to laugh:

And “happen” it did, somewhat disappointingly for Hiroki Kuroda, if this was indeed his final start as a Dodger, since he was outstanding through six shutout innings. Just look at the hijinks that took place in the top of the 10th, when the Dodgers scored five to bust open a one-run game. Dee Gordon “doubled” on what was really a well-placed (though well-struck) ground ball through the right side, then when Jerry Sands did his best to sacrifice himself with a foolish bunt (don’t get me started), Micah Owings gifted them a run by throwing the ball away attempting to get Gordon at third. That was followed by another error – Chris Young kicking around a single by Matt Kemp - and then after a groundout, single, and a walk, A.J. Ellis tripled in two runs. And by “tripled”, I of course mean, “he blasted a ball off the right field fence that ricocheted back into Justin Upton‘s face,” which is the only way Ellis is hitting triples. (When I first saw that, my initial throught was, “Chad Moriyama‘s going to gif that.” Yep, and it’s glorious.) Owings retired Jamey Carroll and Justin Sellers to finish off his nightmare frame, but the damage was done. (And more on him in a second.)

As fun as it was to see the Dodgers take such a lead in the top of the tenth, it didn’t come without a large amount of Arizona assistance, particularly Owing’s throwing error, so when Blake Hawksworth made his own mistake by failing to cover first on what would have been a game-ending bouncer to James Loney it almost seemed poetic. But still, that only put one man on, and he was still able to come within one strike of ending the game against Miguel Montero… and he couldn’t do it. Montero singled. Young walked. Aaron Miles booted a grounder to third – and I don’t want to hear any more about Miles, who’s a brutal third baseman and who is hitting .234/.292/.313 since the All-Star break – and that was it for Hawksworth.

Javy Guerra, who’d already been up and down at least once, entered as the eighth Dodger pitcher of the night. I don’t need to tell you what happened after that. But I do find it entertaining that no one is asking if Guerra has the “ice in his veins” or the “guts” to be a closer, right?

As Paul says, this was an embarrassing but ultimately meaningless loss. If anything, I think it illustrates much of what we talked about earlier yesterday as far as the bullpen goes: 1) relievers are inherently volatile; 2) veteran relievers don’t automatically mean superior performance, since even though Guerra gets the loss, it was Hawksworth who really choked this game away, and Matt Guerrier allowed the first run by failing to record a single out.

It probably says a lot about this season, I think, that on the list of “awful things that happened,” this can’t be higher that 15th or 20th on the list. Ted Lilly tries to end it on a high note later today.

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Reason #1390138910 why pitcher wins and losses are stupid: Kuroda entered the game 13-16, and he didn’t factor into the decision. That record represents a career high in both wins and losses. So, he’s had both the best and worst season of his career? Got it.

Reason #1390138911: I mean, Owings allowed five runs in one inning before heading off to the showers. He got the win. I can’t believe I still have to argue with people about this. (Jon Weisman amusingly pointed out that since Owings had a 45.00 ERA in the game but won, that must mean the ERA stat is flawed. Ha.)

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Good news: Ned Colletti noted that the entire coaching staff is expected back in 2012. You know what a big proponent I’ve been of this group, particularly after the ineffectiveness of Joe Torre’s crew, so this is a big win.