Braves 5, Dodgers 2: And That’s How You Get Swept

magill_atlanta_2013-05-19When the heavens opened to cause a 33-minute rain delay in the bottom of the sixth inning with the Dodgers leading 2-1 — this after the game’s first pitch was delayed by nearly two hours in the first place — the prevailing opinion among Dodger fans seemed to be, “please, bring on the storms!”

After all, Dodger fans are so shell-shocked by the team’s shoddy bullpen and lack of offense that winning a rain-shortened game actually feels far, far preferable than watching actual Dodger baseball at this point.

Of course, those who felt that way were in no way whatsoever wrong to do so, because really, what was ever going to happen here? J.P. Howell, Ronald Belisario, Paco Rodriguez, & Kenley Jansen managed to nurse the lead through the bottom of the seventh, but then Jansen allowed the first two men in the eighth to reach.

It’s here, really, that you’re walking a dangerous line. Do you want to bring in Brandon League with two on and none out, even though he’s been awful? Do you want to run Jansen into the ground, pitching into his second inning after pitching yesterday and for the fourth time in six days? Do you want to bring in the remaining available relievers, Matt Guerrier or Javy Guerra, each of whom are generally terrible?

There’s not really a good option there, and in my book that goes far more to the front office than the manager’s office. Don Mattingly went with League, and it went as horribly wrong as you’d expect. Basically doing nothing but pumping balls down the middle, League allowed a bunt sacrifice — botched by third baseman Juan Uribe, and more on that in a second — a run-scoring hit to Gerald Laird, a sac fly to Ramiro Pena, a run-scoring hit to Chris Johnson, and a run-scoring squeeze to Jordan Schafer.

By the time he finally got through it, the 2-1 lead was quickly 5-2 Braves, and League — no matter if he’s the closer or the last man out of the bullpen — is an absolute mess right now. That served to blow a fine outing for Matt Magill, who struck out nine in six innings.

But of course, the bullpen isn’t the only problem here, is it? Once again, the punchless offense managed only three hits, none after Matt Kemp‘s third-inning double. Once again, the defense was poor, with Uribe, Nick Punto, & even Mark Ellis pitching in with damaging errors.

There’s a lot of room to place blame for this all-around mess. I don’t want to get in to the entire “fire Mattingly” business again, because we’ve been over this entirely too many times and you all know my thoughts there. The sad thing is, it’s becoming apparent that it really doesn’t make a bit of difference at all who is managing this team, because there’s just really too many holes to fix at once.

That’s not uplifting, I know. So… on to Milwaukee?

So You Want to Fire Your Manager

brandon_league_april2013_vs_piratesBrandon League was again awful last night, walking the leadoff man in the ninth and then giving up a two run home to Paul Goldschmidt to break open what had been a 3-3 game when he entered. League has been atrocious, and it certainly looks like Ned Colletti’s three-year deal that was panned by just about everyone outside of Los Angeles is meeting those sad expectations.

So there’s a conversation to be had about what’s wrong with League, especially after the Dodger coaches were able to find and fix a mechanical flaw that made him so dominant late last year, and whether Kenley Jansen should be the closer. Fine.

Yet when I woke up this morning — and no, of course I didn’t stay up late to watch this mess of a team right now — I didn’t have a hundred tweets about how terrible League was waiting for me, or about how Josh Beckett was again mediocre, or about how the offense could manage three single runs against a somewhat shaky Brandon McCarthy.

No, the conversation was once again, “Fire Don Mattingly,” and it’s getting to be a bit much. This is starting to kill me because all logic has gone out the window here. If you think he’s making a mistake by keeping League as the closer, that’s a reasonable argument to have, and that seemed to be the tenor of many of the complaints.

But it’s difficult to see how that’s relevant in last night’s loss, because League, as lousy as he was, didn’t even blow a save. He was brought into a tie game, and he performed poorly. If he and Jansen swapped roles, League could have just been awful in the eighth inning of a tie game and the runs still would have been on the board. That’s not even considering the wrongful assumption that Jansen would be infallible as the closer, which he wouldn’t be, because he’s a human being going against the best hitters in the world.

If there’s an argument to be made against Mattingly last night, it’s his refusal to send up A.J. Ellis in place of the completely cooked Ramon Hernandez in the eighth, with one out and Matt Kemp & Andre Ethier on. Hernandez & Skip Schumaker each failed to drive home runs, and the threat was over. Mattingly’s post-game quote to Ken Gurnick of “it didn’t seem like the right spot,” is infuriating, and on that point I couldn’t be more in agreement with you — though again, we don’t have all the information. We don’t know if Ellis was sore, or on the toilet, or just terrified by certain interpretations of himself as Rocky Balboa.

I’ll admit it’s probably none of those, and that Mattingly was just being stubborn, but no one can really say they know. Still, you look at why last night’s game was lost, and you point to League. You point to Hernandez’ 0-4, and those are both on Colletti more than anyone else. You point to a team that once again went 1-10 with runners in scoring position, and you point out that for all the grief Kemp’s been given, Ethier is hardly doing better.

You want to fire the manager? Fine. But don’t act as though it’s some silver bullet that’s suddenly going to make Hanley Ramirez & Zack Greinke & Mark Ellis & Chad Billingsley healthy, or Luis Cruz or League or Beckett less awful. Don’t forget also that it could actually hurt, because a great way to lose a clubhouse is to fire a manager who remains very popular among his players. The game is won with talent on the field, and regardless what the payroll is, the Dodgers just don’t have enough of it right now.

Saturday in Peoria, Featuring Future Dodgers Franklin Gutierrez & Casper Wells

It’s a damn shame that today’s game in Peoria against the Mariners isn’t televised — it can be heard on 570 AM — because in addition to a lineup that features four regulars and Yasiel Puig, the Dodgers are rolling with an actual big league pitching staff. Chris Capuano gets the start, with Chad Billingsley, Ronald Belisario, Brandon League, Kenley Jansen, & J.P. Howell lined up behind him. (No, nothing should be read into Billingsley pitching in relief; with so many starters, that’s inevitable, and as long as the work gets in, it doesn’t really matter when.)

Dodgers
Mariners
SS
Ramirez
CF
Gutierrez
RF
Ethier
3B
Seager
DH
Gonzalez
LF
Ibanez
3B
Cruz
1B
Smoak
CF
Herrera
RF
Wells
C
Federowicz
DH
Paulino
2B
Sellers
C
Zunino
LF
Puig
SS
Andino
1B
Barden
2B
Triunfel

It’s fun that League & Jansen are both pitching today, because that’s the topic of my latest piece at ESPN, which went up this morning. Almost nobody liked giving League three guaranteed years and $22.5m (with $10m in incentives possible), and fewer liked the idea of insisting that he’ll be the closer rather than Jansen. But when you look deeper into League’s performance in high-leverage situations and Jansen’s ability to strike out anyone at any time, it’s a defensible decision. If, of course, Don Mattingly uses them properly, which, who knows.

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There’s been a lot of consternation in the last 24 hours about the status of Carl Crawford, who has been shut down for a week with what’s being called “minor nerve irritation”. Unless it turns into something more serious, it’s not really that bothersome to me just yet. From what we know, this isn’t a completely uncommon setback during recovery from Tommy John surgery, and it’s important to remember that he only went under the knife in August. It’d be nice if he could be ready for Opening Day — a goal which is now definitely in question — but honestly I’d rather have him healthy on April 15 or May 15 if that what it takes rather than trying to have him push it just to be ready for April 1. Besides, between Skip Schumaker, Jerry Hairston, & Alex Castellanos you can cobble together some semblance of a left fielder for a few weeks. It’s a win for Castellanos, anyway, since Crawford opening the season on the disabled list (if that’s what happens) opens up an otherwise difficult to obtain roster spot.

One man who is absolutely not in that mix no matter how much fans want to think he is is Puig. That doesn’t mean we can’t marvel at his skills though, like the strong throwing arm he showed off when he nailed Angel Luis Rodriguez at third yesterday:

Yeah, I could get used to that.

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Hey, anyone terrified Ned Colletti will try to sign Vladimir Guerrero?

 

2012 Dodgers in Review #42: RP Brandon League

(w/ LA) 2.30 ERA 2.77 FIP 8.89 K/9 4.61 BB/9 0.5 fWAR B+

2012 in brief: Overcame atrocious start after deadline trade to become nearly unhittable fill-in closer when Kenley Jansen was lost.

2013 status: Like it or not, the 3/$22.5m contract he signed in the offseason makes him the closer, at least to start.

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I almost feel like bullpen coach Ken Howell deserves a grade of his own here, because the mechanical adjustments he (along with pitching coach Rick Honeycutt) made to Brandon League turned what was quickly becoming a disaster into one of Ned Colletti’s better moves of the season.

Ah, but that’s getting a little ahead of ourselves here, isn’t it? League was acquired just before the deadline on July 31, largely as a replacement for Josh Lindblom, who had been sent to Philadelphia for Shane Victorino. As I noted at the time, I was moments from boarding a plane so my thoughts had to be brief:

Let it be said, quickly, that while I liked both Leon Landry & Logan Bawcom, neither were irreplaceable parts. I dug Bawcom’s ability to miss bats, but the level of failure from minor league relievers is huge, and Landry hasn’t shown he can hit outside of high-offense environments; neither were even among the top-30 Dodger prospects per Baseball America entering the season, though that may have changed now since each were doing well. Each clearly had others at their position ahead of them on the depth chart, so to give them up, while disappointing because I liked both, is hardly fatal.

League, however, is… well, he’s a guy. He’s still got a great fastball, but his strikeout rate is disappointingly down to a 5.44/9, the worst it’s been since 2007, while his walks have increased (highest since 2008) and his usual ability to induce groundballs is down to 46%. He’s not bad, he’s not great, he’s just a guy – I assume I don’t have to tell you not to get too pumped over his 37 saves last year, especially when he lost that job to Tom Wilhelmsen already this year – and while I don’t mind having him for two months, I also don’t see him as a huge improvement.

For League’s first two-plus weeks as a Dodger, not only was he not “a huge improvement,” he was an enormous catastrophe. Over his first seven games, he pitched only five innings, allowing 12 baserunners and six earned runs. League didn’t pitch for four days after the August 17 outing which ended that streak, instead working with Howell, and finished August on a nice run of six scoreless & nearly perfect innings, including a 9/2 K/BB. The timing couldn’t have been better; Jansen was lost for weeks after August 29 with a recurrence of his heart ailment, and if League hadn’t been available to step into the role I’m not entirely sure what Don Mattingly might have done.

League picked up his first save as a Dodger on September 1 and collected five more over the month, pitching 16.1 September innings and allowing only a single earned run; the 60 batters he faced hit a collective .137/.267/.157 against him. The turnaround was so stunning that when Mattingly failed to use him in a crucial situation against the Giants on September 7, we were practically apoplectic:

Josh Beckett was more than effective through six two-run innings, but ran into some trouble in the seventh. After a single, a walk, and a sacrifice bunt, Beckett was faced with men on second and third with one out. Mattingly ordered the intentional walk to red-hot Angel Pagan to load the bases, and with Brandon League ready to go, the manager walked out to remove Beckett.

Except, no. He didn’t. Or as I recapped it in real time:

Remember, this is September, the time of expanded rosters. You have something like 39 pitchers down in the bullpen, so you never have to worry about pulling a pitcher too early because it might exhaust your bullpen. You especially never need to worry about pushing your luck with a veteran pitcher who had given you more than you probably had a right to expect.

Beckett stayed in, of course, and in what may have been the most predictable outcome ever, Marco Scutaro popped a single to right field, scoring two and basically putting the game away. It’d be sad if it weren’t so clearly apparent that this was going to happen. Scratch that: it was still sad.

While that’s obviously more of a Mattingly concern, it really does go to show how much confidence we had in League by that point, and he was really outstanding, even staying in the ninth inning when Jansen returned, which only served to strengthen the rest of the bullpen.

Now he’s back for three years, and while I’m trying not to focus too much on his controversial contract in what is supposed to be a review of his 2012, it’s difficult to ignore entirely. I’ll say this about it — I’ll never like three-year deals for non-elite relievers, but the way the market has gone since he’s signed it has made the dollar figure look a little less absurd, and there’s the non-zero chance that the mechanical change has allowed him to bring out his true talent level.

If not? This is going to get ugly, quickly.

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Next up! Scott Elbert!

Brandon League Returns to Dodgers For Three Years, And The Internet is Angry

Well, that was quick: per Dylan Hernandez, Brandon League has re-signed with the Dodgers, and it’s for three years, just like we thought. Hernandez follows up that it’ll be worth $22.5m and a vesting option for 2016 if he finishes 55 games in 2015, which, wow.

As you can imagine, smart people whom I generally respect on the internet asbolutely hate this:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

…and so on. From a purely objective point of view, good lord, $7.5m a year for Brandon League. Brandon League! A non-elite reliever who lost his closing gig to former bartender Tom Wilhelmsen just last season! And you know our feelings on multi-year deals to non-elite relievers. They never. Ever. Work out. Ever, and you’d think the Matt Guerrier experience would have taught us some lessons here. If League can get that much from the Dodgers, how do they ever expect to sign anyone else for less? I really have a hard time looking at that and thinking that it’ll in any way be worth it; not only that, I have a hard time thinking that we won’t spent the next three years making fun of it.

At any other time, for any other team, we’d be screaming bloody murder over this. And I’m certainly not saying I’m thrilled about it. But on the other hand… what does this really mean? From a baseball perspective, all it means that League is back in the bullpen (as the closer, as we figured). That’s a good thing; he’s no star, but he’s a solid reliever, one who just about any team could find a use for. While it’s hard for me to say he’s clearly better than Kenley Jansen and therefore should absolutely be the closer, that’s besides the point; you can never have too many good relievers, and my preference to have Jansen available for higher-leverage situations in the seventh & eighth is well-known.

So from a baseball point of view, this is no problem. It’s from a financial perspective that is making everyone crazy, because, well, $22.5m for Brandon League. But if we’re simply hoping that our favorite team wins baseball games, money only matters in the sense that if you give too much of it to players who aren’t stars, you might not have enough left over for pieces you really need. We’ve seen Colletti make this mistake in the past, but this is a strange new world of seemingly unlimited finances. In fact, just yesterday I was trying to think through this:

League made $5m in 2012 without the leverage of free agency, so I’d have to think he’s looking for a raise, which over a three-year deal would work out to something more like $20-$25m. In a world where Papelbon is picking up $51m over four years, that seems like a pretty fair price for a good-but-not-elite reliever.

And that’s exactly what League is. Over the last four seasons, League’s FIP numbers have been 3.58, 3.91, 2.78, 3.19. That’s a worthwhile reliever, and it comes along with the added potential, however unlikely, that the mechanical changes League made after coming to the Dodgers is something he can sustain into next season. He’s also not even 30, which is certainly preferable to Guerrier, who turned 33 in the middle of his first season as a Dodger.

If this is the contract that prevents the Dodgers from signing Zack Greinke or someone like him, then yeah, this is a nightmare. But I really, really don’t think it is. If it’s not… then you’ve added a good reliever to a team that needed one. If the Dodgers seemingly don’t care about payroll or the luxury tax, then why should we? (Though we will need to talk about that soon; take a look at our payroll page, and you’ll see that they are easily over $200m for 2013.)

Perhaps I’m just trying to rationalize this. Maybe I’m really putting far too much stock in the mechanical change that made him dominant over the last month or so of the season, because again, I’m not saying this is a good deal. It’s hard to think that League is actually going to be worth all of that money. I also can’t sit here with my head in my hands about it, either, and I’m happier having him in the bullpen in 2013 than not.

Either way, at least someone’s happy about this on Twitter, anyway: