Kershaw Good But Not Good Enough As Dodger Winning Streak Ends


Clayton Kershaw
stuck out ten Braves today without walking a single batter, the third time in his career he’s struck out double digits without allowing a walk. He allowed just two earned runs over seven innings, not at all helped by Aaron Miles‘ poor throw to second on what might have been an inning-ending double play ball before any runs had scored, and even chipped in two hits of his own at the plate.

By almost anyone’s standards, it was an excellent outing… and yet, it still felt disappointing. That’s how high our expectations are for Kershaw right now, because any time he pitches and the Dodgers don’t come away with a win, it feels wrong, even if it’s not entirely his fault. Through six scoreless, he was nearly untouchable as the Dodgers built a 3-0 lead on Matt Kemp‘s 32nd homer of the year, a three-run job in the third. Unfortunately, that was all they could do against Atlanta rookie Randall Delgado and three relievers, and Kershaw ran into trouble in the seventh, allowing two singles before Miles’ throwing error. A wild pitch and a Brooks Conrad single later, and the game was tied at three.

Blake Hawksworth took the loss by allowing the Braves to walk off in the ninth thanks to a Jose Constanza single, wild pitch, and Martin Prado single. For Hawksworth, that’s the fifth consecutive game in which he’s allowed at least one earned run; in each of the previous three, he let in two. Since the All-Star break, he’s allowed 14 earned runs in 19 innings – I’m not sure what’s going on with him, but he may just be pitching himself into a DFA following the season.

Despite the loss, it’s hard to be too disappointed that the Dodgers only won two of three against the likely NL Wild Card team, seeing their winning streak end at six. They head up to Washington for another day game tomorrow, a series which will see the return of Stephen Strasburg on Tuesday.

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For the third time in two days, Don Mattingly had James Loney attempt to sacrifice bunt, and it’s absolutely killing me. Did we not learn anything yesterday? It’s bad enough to try to give up Loney, who’s only the hottest hitter in the league right now, but then it also effectively gives up Matt Kemp, because with first base open he’ll inevitably get walked. Just because it worked out in the end yesterday doesn’t make it the right play, and we saw that again in the seventh today. With Kershaw on second and Dee Gordon on first with no outs, Mattingly asked Loney to bunt Gordon over, which probably would have led to the Braves walking Kemp – who had already homered – in favor of the increasingly ice-cold Juan Rivera. The last thing you want to do there is take the bat out of the hands of your two hottest hitters; Loney was unable to get the bunt down and struck out, as did Kemp. The Dodgers came away with nothing, thanks in large part to a call that made absolutely no sense.

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Last year, we had a good time keeping track of Ryan Theriot‘s TOOTBLAN count, i.e., “Thrown Out on the Bases Like a Nincompoop”. I’m starting to wish we’d had a running count of the times Steve Lyons referred to Andre Ethier as a “Gold Glove caliber” outfielder, which is of course laughable. To Ethier’s credit, he made a very nice play in the bottom of the ninth to possibly save the game, though to my eye it took him so long to get to the ball that it probably didn’t need to look as spectacular as it ended up being.

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Unlikely first impression alert: in a continuation of the phenomenon I’ve previously discussed regarding guys like Rod Barajas, Jay Gibbons, and Orlando Hudson, people haven’t really noticed what’s happened to Rivera. Through August 15, he hit .341/.385/.512 with two homers in 91 PA, which is excellent. Including today’s 0-4, he has just 12 hits in his last 71 PA, which, not so much. I’m open to the idea of giving him a shot as a bench piece next season, let’s just cool it on the idea of extending him right now or guaranteeing him any sort of regular job. Toronto’s run by smart people, and he was DFA’d for a reason.

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Earlier today, I noted that an under-the-radar reason for the Dodger hot streak may have been that Kemp was moved from cleanup to third in the order at precisely the time the streak got going. I neglected to mention that friend of the blog Howard Cole had been calling for the move at the OC Register since at least July. As I mentioned I do think that the run has been a team effort – who knows what might have happened if James Loney hadn’t finally woken up – but getting Kemp more at-bats and Ethier fewer absolutely makes sense.

2011 Midseason Grades: Pitching and Management

Thanks for all the feedback on yesterday’s hitting grades, and today we move on to pitching and management. Remember, the letter grades are just for fun, without a whole lot of thought or science behind them.

Starting Pitchers

Clayton Kershaw (A+) (9-4, 3.03 ERA, 2.45 FIP)
Is A+ even high enough? I’m not sure it is, though we certainly expected great things from him. Think about this: his HR/9 rate and H/9 rate are unchanged from last year, but he’s managed to do that while lowering his walk rate (again!) and increasing his strikeout rate. He’s leading the league in whiffs, and he has two shutouts among his three complete games. He’s 23. He’s lefty. He’s an All-Star.

Don’t let anyone tell you that he’s progressing towards being an ace, or one day he could be one of the best. Clayton Kershaw is, right now, one of the 10 best pitchers in baseball. The scary part? He could still get better.

Chad Billingsley (B) (8-7, 3.87 ERA, 3.41 FIP)
Over at Baseball Prospectus this morning, Geoff Young of DuckSnorts offers the opinion that Billingsley “should be a star, but isn’t”. And that’s true. 26-year-old Billingsley is walking more and striking out less than 23-year-old Billingsley did in 2008. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, because he’s still a very valuable asset and the extension he signed over the winter was welcomed, but he’s also not going to be a Kershaw-level star like we’d once hoped he would be. Again, that’s not to get on Billingsley, it’s just seemingly who he’s going to be – a durable #2 or 3 type who will be consistently inconsistent (3 starts this year of at least 8 IP and 1 ER or less, 3 starts allowing 5 ER or more). That’s not a star, but it is a quality pitcher we should be happy to have.

Hiroki Kuroda (B) (6-10, 3.06 ERA, 3.73 FIP)
Only five pitchers have received less run support than Kuroda (shockingly, no other Dodger appears on the top 40 of that list), so let’s not pretend the poor win/loss record means absolutely anything at all. Conversely, the ERA is a little misleading as well, since he’s striking out fewer and walking more than he did in either 2009 or 2010, facts which are reflected in the higher FIP. Still, he’s been a solid member of this rotation… and probably the only Dodger with any real trade value at the deadline. I’ll be sorry to see him go, if he does.

Ted Lilly (D) (6-9, 4.79 ERA, 4.59 FIP)
Lilly hasn’t been awful (back, back, it’s gone!), but nor has he been (throw to second, and the runner is in!) in any way worthy of the $33m deal he received in the offseason. He’s (that ball is far, it is out of here!) striking out fewer than ever, and more (he’s going, and he swipes second without a throw) batted balls in front of a defense that isn’t great at converting them into outs isn’t (that ball is crushed into the second tier!) a good mix. Oh, and he’s 35 and has complained (Navarro’s throw to second, not in time, another steal!) of arm soreness already. Loving that three-year deal more than ever.

Rubby De La Rosa (A) (3-4, 3.74 ERA, 3.40 FIP)
Probably the most impressive of any of the rookies pushed ahead of their schedule this year, de la Rosa has shown immense talent while being forced to learn on-the-job. While his first few starts were dicey – good lord, the walks, and that one game that he nearly got bounced in the first inning was a heart-stopper – RDLR has shown marked improvement, even flirting with no-hitters in each of his last two outings. The talent is unquestioned, but the real concern now is limited his innings, since he’s quickly coming up on matching his previous high with more than two months remaining in the season. But if he’s limited and if someone like Kuroda is dealt… how do you finish out the season? John Ely? Dana Eveland? Yikes.

Jon Garland (D-) (1-5, 4.33 ERA, 4.59 FIP)
Hey, remember when Garland was signed largely because he’d never been on the disabled list before? If you do, then you probably also remember him saying he couldn’t get multi-year deals because other teams didn’t like the looks of his medical reports. Garland gets a lousy grade not because of his performance (ignore the 1-5, a 4.59 FIP is in line with his usual season), but because he sells his durability as a skill. Clearly, that’s one item he forgot to pack for his second (and likely final) tour with the Dodgers. At least that large 2012 option won’t kick in.

John Ely (inc.) (0-1, 6.23 ERA, 5.61 FIP)
Remember Ely-mania last year? Seems so far away, doesn’t it?

Relief pitchers

Jonathan Broxton (MRI) (1-2, 7 saves, 5.68 ERA, 5.56 FIP)
I have absolutely no idea how to grade Jonathan Broxton. Was he good this year? No, of course he wasn’t, and for many people that justifies their opinion that at around midseason 2010, he somehow lost his heart / mind / balls / toes / earlobes / whatever. The fact that he somehow managed to even close out seven games earlier this year is somewhat misleading, because he rarely did so smoothly; conversely, it’s difficult to blame him entirely for the big blown save in Florida because the Dodgers would have won if Jamey Carroll had merely fielded a simple ground ball.

I’d say the answer lies in the fact that he’s been on the disabled list for over two months due to a right elbow injury, with no estimated return date. We never saw the healthy Broxton this year, just as I felt we never saw a healthy Broxton in the second half of last year. The lesson, as always? Joe Torre cannot be trusted with relievers. You hate to say it about a guy who is only 27, but Torre may just have ruined Broxton’s career. Thanks for stopping by, Joe!

Hong-Chih Kuo (-) (0-0, 8.71 ERA, 4.12 FIP)
Take everything I said about Broxton above and multiply it by 100 for Kuo, because the anxiety issue he’s been fighting for years makes it impossible to really judge his on-field performance. Since returning, he’s at least managed to limit the walks (6/2 K/BB in 5.2 IP), though the results (five runs, four earned) haven’t all been there yet. The fact that he even returned as quickly as he did should count as a win.

Kenley Jansen (B+) (1-1, 4.40 ERA, 3.15 FIP)
I bet a lot of people will be surprised by this grade for Jansen. “But his ERA is 4.40, rabble rabble rabble!”, they’ll yell. That’s true, it is. That number is also heavily inflated by two poor outings – allowing 5 earned runs to Atlanta on April 19 in a game that the Dodgers were already losing in, and allowing 3 earned runs on May 23 in Houston, a game which preceded his stint on the DL with right shoulder inflammation by less than a week. Since returning from injury on June 18, he’s been nearly untouchable, striking out 13 while allowing just two singles in 9.2 innings. While the walks remain a problem, he’s actually striking out more per nine than he did in 2010, and you might remember that even last year’s rate was on the verge of being historic. The question for me is, why is he stuck in middle relief and garbage time rather than in higher leverage situations?

Matt Guerrier (C-) (3-3, 3.10 ERA, 4.44 FIP)
Boy, who would have thought that handing out an expensive multi-year deal to a non-elite middle reliever wouldn’t have worked out well? Besides everyone, that is. Guerrier actually hasn’t been that bad, but that’s sort of the point: players who get $12m over three years should be able to do better than “hasn’t been that bad”. Though he’s striking out slightly more than he did as a Twin, he’s allowing both more walks and hits than he did in either of the last two years, despite moving to the easier league. He’ll be 33 in less than a month. It’s not a good trend.

Mike MacDougal (C+) (0-1, 1.67 ERA, 3.74 FIP)
2003 All-Star MacDougal has done an excellent job of reviving his career after several years bouncing between the bigs and AAA. MacDougal, who made the 2003 All-Star team as a member of the Royals, has just a 1.74 ERA, emerging as a leader of the injury-plagued Dodger bullpen. The former All-Star has allowed only six earned runs to score, putting him in contention for 9th inning responsibilities. All-Star.

(I can’t do it. MacDougal has allowed approximately 982 of the 48 inherited runners he’s received* to score. For nearly the entire season, he’d walked as many as he’d struck out, before finally giving himself some distance in recent days. He’s not a good pitcher, but like Aaron Miles, we expected nothing, so the small contributions he’s made get him some minor credit. *note: numbers may be fabricated.)

Number of Ortizii: 0 (A++++)
Say what you will about this club, at least they’re not employing anyone named Ortiz who was last useful 6-8 years ago, much less multiple players like that.

Javy Guerra (B+) (1-0, 4 saves, 2.33 ERA, 4.01 FIP)
Guerra, like MacDougal all those years ago, is a perfect example of why we shouldn’t overrate saves. For a guy who walked 6.8/9 in the minors last year and was forced to the bigs simply because of injuries, he’s been fine. He’s keeping the ball in the yard, he’s cut down on the control issues, and he’s even managed to steal a few saves while serving as the last-ditch closer. As far as debuts go, his has been a successful one. Let’s just not go overboard in anointing him as the man in the 9th inning, because he hasn’t been that good – 13 K in 19.1 IP doesn’t thrill me – and in each of his last two saves, he loaded the bases before getting out of the jam. That’s not the kind of tightrope you can walk for very long.

Blake Hawksworth (B) (2-2, 3.00 WHIP, 4.12 FIP)
“Isn’t Ryan Theriot“, and that alone gets him a boost. Actually, I joke, but it’s sort of true: when healthy, Hawksworth has been a perfectly acceptable and average reliever, doing a decent job of keeping runners off the bases (WHIP of 1.000), and striking out more than double as he’s walked. Considering that Theriot is doing his usual “I’m not a very good baseball player, but I am short and white, and that counts for something, right?” routine in St. Louis, even just getting that moderate level of contribution in exchange is a big win.

Scott Elbert (B-) (0-1, 5.25 ERA, 2.54 FIP)
I know there’s been a lot of turnover in the bullpen this year, but Elbert is one of those guys where I constantly have to check if he’s still on the team or down in ABQ. I suppose that’s partically because he’s pitched just twice in the last two weeks, and partially because he’s rarely in for more than 2-3 batters at a time. As for his performance, he’s a bit of an oddity in that you’d expect a power lefty to be hell on lefty hitters, but he’s actually rocking a reverse split: lefties (.701 OPS) are actually doing more damage than righties (.561 OPS) against him. Overall, I guess you can say he’s been “acceptable”, in that he’s finally gained a foothold in the majors, but hasn’t exactly made us think he’s going to be a difference maker.

Then again, considering his mysterious disappearance at this time last year, even that is a massive step forward.

Ramon Troncoso (D) (0-0, 6.23 ERA, 4.92 FIP)
I know it’s popular to blame Torre for Troncoso’s downturn as well, and maybe that’s part of it, but I do remember writing a post last year that outlined how he had larger issues than overuse. Whatever it is, he’s barely a major league quality pitcher right now… which probably explains why he’s not in the major leagues. That’s what’ll happen when you aren’t striking anyone out and giving up an absurd amount of hits, though I’ll allow that since he was never a strikeout guy, pitching in front of a defense that does no favors probably doesn’t help.

Ronald Belisario (MIA)
Ha, no. There’s about as good of a chance that he pitches for the Dodgers again as there is that you’ll see Orel Hershiser or Don Drysdale out there.

Josh Lindblom (B+) (0-0, 1.69 ERA, 3.43 FIP)
Nearly two years after we first thought we might see him, Lindblom finally got the call this year, and so far, so good. It’s hard to make judgements based on just eight games, but he’s yet to allow more than one earned run in an appearance, and for now, that’s good enough.

Lance Cormier (dFa) (0-1, 9.88 ERA, 6.84 FIP)
I’m still convinced the only reason Cormier wasn’t DFA’d a week or two earlier than he eventually was (on May 24, when Rubby De La Rosa came up) is because he had a charity event for tornado victims set up at the stadium on May 15, and it would have been poor form to cut a guy just before or after that. I also like that we can say “nah, he wasn’t as bad as his ERA, look at his FIP” and while that’s true, even his FIP says he was awful.

Vicente Padilla (inc.) (0-0, 4.15 ERA, 2.61 FIP)
I sure do feel like we’ve talked about Padilla a lot this year for a guy who piched just 8.2 innings. First he was signed to a somewhat confusing 6th starter/longman/Broxton insurance role, in a move for depth I actually really liked. Then he required surgery for a forearm injury in the spring, preventing him from taking Garland’s rotation spot to start the year. He returned exceptionally quickly from that, taking over for the injured Broxton to nab three saves of varying quality in late April and early May, leading many to proclaim him the next big thing… until he returned to the DL with a recurrence of the arm injury. But the fun doesn’t stop there, because he was supposedly hours away from being activated in June before a neck injury flared up, leading to more surgery and probably the end of his season. Got all that? Phew.

Management

Don Mattingly (B+)
It may sound odd to praise a rookie manager when we weren’t fans of his hiring in the first place and when the club he’s leading is on pace for its worst finish in decades, but I don’t see how you pin much of this mess on Mattingly. He’s proven himself to be far more than a Joe Torre clone, in particular showing a nice willingness to be creative with his bullpen. It hasn’t been perfect, as some of his Navarro-related pinch-hitting escapades still burn, and he likes bunting more than I’d prefer, but he was handed a subpar roster that had its infield and bullpen totally destroyed by injuries, all as fans stayed away thanks to the off-field mess. It would be an impossible situation for any manager, and though the final record won’t be good, Mattingly has been a pleasant surprise, managing to keep the team playing hard through it all. Let’s just hope he doesn’t end up shouldering more of the blame than is needed when all is said and done.

Davey Mutha-F’ing-Lopes (A+^100)
I don’t usually grade the base coaches. Matt Kemp doesn’t usually lead the league in WAR. There you go.

Ned Colletti (F+)
Let’s quickly review all of the contracts handed out last winter by Colletti that were for at least $1m, shall we? Uribe, massive bust. Lilly, missing fewer bats than ever. Guerrier, adequate but overpaid and having one of the lesser years of his career. Garland and Padilla, both injured multiple times and likely out for the year. Barajas, crappier than usual and hurt. Thames, ineffective and injured. Navarro, hitting .183. To be fair, Kuroda has been very good, but it’s hard to say that without caveating that he clearly took a huge paycut to stay in LA.

There’s been a few positives – signing Billingsley was great, the no-risk NRI of Miles worked out, and trading Ryan Theriot for Hawksworth was a good move if you try to forget that it was necessitated by acquiring Theriot in the first place – and you want to be sensitive to the fact that the ownership mess has really put him in a bad position. But overall? Not good, Ned. Not good.

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Tomorrow, the final review of the series: me.

Ryan Theriot Traded For Living, Breathing, Human Being

The news keeps coming fast and furious:

The #Dodgers have traded Ryan Theriot to the #Cardinals in exchange for RHP Blake Hawksworth

Hawksworth is… well, he’s not Ryan Theriot, and that makes this a big win. Seriously, though, he’s a 27-year-old (28 in March) righty who’s pitched in 75 games for the Cards over the last two years, with all 8 of his starts coming in 2010. One of those starts came against the Dodgers on June 7, and it didn’t go well, as he allowed six ER in 4 IP.

He’s got a career FIP of 4.76, and he’s a fastball/change-up type with heat that averages about 93 MPH, so he’s certainly not great, but he’s not without his uses, and he’s not even arbitration-eligible until 2013. So maybe he’s a bullpen swingman, maybe he’s in the ABQ rotation (okay, perhaps not; I’ve been told he’s out of options). But most of all, he’s not Ryan Theriot – and that’s a win.

As for the Cardinals, is Theriot a perfect fit for a team that employs Brendan Ryan and Aaron Miles or what? Yeesh.