Taking early stock of the Isotopes

While Mike is on vacation, he asked me to offer up some thoughts about the Albuquerque Isotopes and how what amounts to the Dodgers’ reserve team is shaping up as the season begins. The ‘Topes have only been home for a total of eight days so far this season — they begin their fourth road series of the year tonight at New Orleans (Marlins) — so this is all a very, very preliminary analysis of the 25 players I have observed.

Catchers Tim Federowicz and Josh Bard

FedEx is the man on the spot, the lone Isotope ranked by Baseball America in the Dodgers’ top 10 prospects. While plenty of fans are still smarting about last year’s trade that sent Trayvon Robinson packing and brought Fed and two pitchers to the organization, so far the young backstop is showing promise. “He’s been a lot better this year, he’s a lot more patient,” manager Lorenzo Bundy said of Fed’s hitting (.292/.365/.477). The swing-first, pull-everything mentality from last season is all but gone. Defensively he has looked sharp, making strong throws to second, blocking the plate well and doing a good job of working with the pitching staff. As for Bard, as the Isotopes’ oldest player (34, which makes him the only player on the team older than me … yikes), he has not played much, but he has played well, batting .385 (10-for-26). “Obviously, Josh with his experience … it’s like having an extra coach floating around here,” Bundy said. “He takes the leadership role. He knows his role on this club and he’s ready at any time.”

First baseman Jeff Baisley

Jeff Baisley has been a good presence in the lineup. (Photo courtesy of the Albuquerque Isotopes.)

The veteran slugger has played well so far, batting .313/.390/.531 with three homers and a team-leading 16 RBI. Though primarily a third baseman with Salt Lake (Angels) last season, he has handled first base well defensively and it clearly has not had an impact on his hitting. Personality-wise, he keeps it serious on the field and keeps it loose during batting practice and in the clubhouse. Though he is viewed as a leader, Baisley said he has not had to overly assert himself so far. He certainly continues the recent tradition of high-character veterans the Dodgers like to have in Albuquerque.

Second baseman Alex Castellanos

Though currently on the disabled list with a strained left hamstring (return date unknown), the converted outfielder has been solid so far at the plate (.366/.477/.746), while overcoming the defensive obstacles that come with returning to his old position. The big issue for Castellanos offensively lies with his ability to overcome his aggressive, swing-first mentality. In the field, throwing has been the biggest challenge, but after a week spent with Dodgers special instructors Juan Castro and Jody Reed (laugh about their hitting, but both were good in the field), Castellanos seems to be adapting quickly. Just calm down on the early promotion possibilities; Castellanos himself said he needs close to a full season playing every day at second base before he is ready for MLB.

Shortstop Luis Cruz

The wily veteran has been on “Cruz Control” since he arrived, smacking the ball around (.328/.343/.500) while making some sharp plays in the field. He is another veteran who keeps it loose; his imitation of teammate Trent Oeltjen‘s Australian accent is a sight to behold.

Third baseman Josh Fields

Nicknamed “QB” for obvious reasons, the former Oklahoma State football standout has gotten off to a quiet start (.289/.375/.526) when compared to his teammates. Nonetheless, he has been a solid contributor. This is no sign of the dreaded “jaded ex-big-leaguer stuck at Triple-A” disease that sometimes afflicts players. Much like Cruz, he seemed to be riding high off his strong spring that nearly saw him make the big-league roster. He has been a positive influence, playing good defense with (no surprise here) a very strong arm.

Utility man Elian Herrera

The versatile Elian Herrera has been a sparkplug atop the lineup. (Photo courtesy of the Albuquerque Isotopes)

Bundy said the Isotopes’ turnaround, from a 2-6 road trip to their current record of 11-9, has been thanks in part to the ultra-versatile Herrera. A pure contact hitter (.340/.357/.566), he is Albuquerque’s fastest player and has done well out of the leadoff spot. Defensively, he has looked especially sharp at second base and third base, while also seeing time at shortstop and the outfield. He would strictly be a bench player at the next level, but with Jerry Hairston and Adam Kennedy not getting any younger, the Dodgers could do worse.

Reserve infielders Joe Becker and Lance Zawadzki

Becker is a favorite of Bundy’s especially with his ability to deliver big hits in the clutch, often as a pinch hitter. He is also a capable defender at second, though he lacks the arm for third and has not played much shortstop. Zawadzki joined the team from extended spring on the last day of the homestand. While I have yet to see him play for the Isotopes, he was a solid defender and a streaky hitter last season with Omaha (Royals).

Outfielders Scott Van Slyke, Jerry Sands, Trent Oeltjen, Matt Angle

Van Slyke, the Dodgers’ No. 21 prospect, has been the hitting star out of this group (.364/.437/.610). He has fared well defensively in both outfield corners, with a strong arm and more mobility than you would expect from someone who is listed at 6-5, 250. He made one start at first base during the homestand, looking a little out of practice there, so hold off on the “he can replace Loney” talk. Oh, and I will sit him down to talk about his life growing up around baseball with his father. His stories are hilarious. Sands’ struggles at the plate (.192/.310/.315) have been well-documented so far. Oeltjen has played all three outfield spots, serving more as a fourth outfielder than anything else. As such, his hitting (.250/.328/.350) has yet to get into a groove with such sporadic playing time. Angle has been the lost one of the bunch, looking all out of sorts at the plate (.146/.255/.268) and now finding himself on the DL with a strained hamstring.

Starting pitchers Michael Antonini, John Ely, Stephen Fife, Fernando Nieve, Mike Parisi

John Ely has pitched well at home, not so well on the road. (Photo courtesy of the Albuquerque Isotopes)

Before his call-up to the big leagues, Antonini made one start in Albuquerque he would like to forget (3.1 IP, 7 H, 7 R, 6 ER, 2 BB, 3 HR allowed). Like many young pitchers, the 26-year-old lefty learned the hard way you have to keep the ball down in Albuquerque if you want to have a prayer of succeeding here. He certainly throws a lot of strikes, but he left too many up in that game. Despite being back for his third season with the Isotopes, Ely has remained upbeat and continues to work hard. He has been a completely different pitcher at home (13 IP, 4 ER) than on the road (7.1 IP, 11 ER). Fife has just plain struggled wherever he has pitched this year (1-2, 9.92 ERA). The big righty is a finesse pitcher and so far the PCL is chewing him up. Nieve went from horrible at Omaha (1.2 IP, 11 H, 9 ER) to solid at home (6 IP, 7 H, 3 ER) to then getting ejected in the third inning of his third start for hitting a batter. It has been a very bizarre season for the former Astro and Met, who throws hard but does not strike a lot of people out (8 total in 10.1 IP). Parisi has been the most consistent and effective starter to date. It should come as no surprise, since there always seems to be one veteran who puts together a solid campaign in ABQ (e.g. Dana Eveland last year).

Right-handed relievers Josh Wall, Ramon Troncoso, Will Savage, Francisco Felix

Wall has looked sharp while sharing closing duties. He throws in the mid-90s and looks like another potentially solid addition to LA’s young bullpen down the line. There is still some wildness (4 walks in 8.1 IP) that needs to be smoothed out. Troncoso has looked like a man determined to get back to the big leagues (1.08 ERA in 8.1 IP), while Savage has been lights out (4-0, 2.41) in the long relief/spot starter role, keeping the ball down and utilizing his cutter, fastball and curveball to their fullest extent. Felix, well, somebody has to take it on the chin, and so far he is doing just that (10.13 ERA in 13.1 IP). As the Dodger bullpen fluctuates, his head would seem to be the first on the chopping block down here.

Left-handed relievers Brent Leach, Wil Ledezma, Derrick Loop, Scott Rice, Cole St. Clair

Rice has been the star of the southpaw collective, sharing the team lead with four saves. He is at his most effective not when he is getting strikeouts, but rather when is able to get hitters to try and pounce on strikes, causing them to ground out and pop up early in the count. Leach (0-1, 6.57) has alternated between looking good and taking it on the chin; personality-wise he has not changed from his year in Japan, remaining the same funny, witty southerner who graced the clubhouse in 2009-10. St. Clair has been similar to Leach in terms of pitching, looking good one outing and struggling to throw strikes the next. Poor Ledezma was walloped in his first two home appearances (10 runs total), but has since settled down and regained his confidence. Loop has yet to appear in a game in Albuquerque.

Overall

This is a better team than it looked after losing six of eight on the opening road trip. The Isotopes pulled off their first four-game sweep since 2009 when they took Iowa apart. As long as the pitching stays at least somewhat consistent, the lineup is more than capable of scoring enough runs. What looked like a pack of spot starters, middle relievers and bench players actually has some players with enough talent (Van Slyke, Castellanos, Federowicz, in particular) to help the Dodgers out in the future. Rice and Wall can be both be part of a big-league bullpen, as well. This team may lack the star power when Gordon, Sands (the good version) and Robinson were here last year, but it is still a fun bunch to watch.

As always, you can find all the ‘Topes news and notes you can handle here and you can now follow me on Twitter as @TopesWriter for quick updates, anecdotes, breaking news and even some play-by-play during home games.

— Chris Jackson

Kiko Calero’s a Minor League Signing I Can Get Behind

You probably remember the string of non-roster invites and minor league signings over the winter, most of which caused me nausea. John Koronka? Nick Green? Angel Berroa? It’s not that there was any guaranteed money tied up in these guys, so the invites couldn’t be that disappointing, it’s just that most of them were never any good in the first place, so it seemed like a waste of time. Or worse, Garret Anderson.

Today, the Dodgers signed another mid-30s veteran to a minor league deal, reliever Kiko Calero. The difference is, Calero’s actually worth investing an AAA roster spot in. Over his seven-year career spent with St. Louis, Oakland, and Florida, he’s struck out more than a man per inning (9.6/9) with a 1.196 WHIP and a 3.24 ERA. The fact that his career FIP is nearly identical – 3.29 – shows that he’s done that without a ton of luck, and that he’s performed just about how you’d expect.

Even better, unlike the other guys who hadn’t been good for many years if ever at all, Calero had one of his best seasons in 2009 for the Marlins, striking out 10.4 men per 9 with a sparkling 1.95 ERA in a career-high 60 innings. Now, he wasn’t quite that good, since his BABIP was an unsustainably low .259, leading to a more reasonable but still excellent 2.56 FIP.

“So,” you’re probably asking, “if he’s that good, why was he a free agent willing to take a minor league deal this offseason?” Well, quite simply, it’s because he’s had a history of shoulder injuries, causing teams to be wary of investing in him – not that it stopped him from succeeding last year. He signed a minor league deal with the Mets, and the results weren’t pretty – a 10.59 ERA, though still striking out nearly a batter per inning, before being released last month.

The Mets, as we all know, are desperate for pitching, and if they didn’t think there was anything here worth salvaging, it’s probably not a good sign. That said, this is the perfect kind of player to be signing to a minor league deal; one who’s been successful both throughout his career and as recently as last year. If he goes to ABQ and he’s cooked, well, no harm done. But if he’s anything like the pitcher he was just last season, you might have a find, with the only investing being whatever pennies a pro-rated AAA contract is for half the season, or one session with a Russian mystic. Well done.

*****

In the same dodgers.com article which noted the signing of Calero, Ken Gurnick notes that Calero will be taking the roster spot of Brent Leach, who has been sent back to AA to try to convert into a starting pitcher. I’m not sure if it’s a great idea or not, but Gurnick notes “the club believes with his four-pitch repertoire he might be able to make the switch”, so it’s worth noting.

MSTI’s 2009 in Review: Relievers, Part 3

Finally! This is the last player review segment of the year, and while I won’t pretend this one is the most interesting grouping of players you’ll read about all year, this whole series served its purpose. It allowed me to get some thoughts down on each player this year, and almost as importantly, helped fill some space between the end of the season and the start of the Hot Stove.

85toppscorywadeCory Wade (F)
(2-3, 5.53, 1.373 WHIP)

See Cory Wade in his picture over there? He looks sad. Sure, that’s a picture from 2008 (you can tell because of the 50th anniversary patch on his right arm), but maybe he just looks sad because he knows that his 2009 will in no way reflect his excellent 2008.

Really, Wade’s 2009 stands as glaring proof of two truisms: 1) that except for the best of the best, reliever performances are incredibly volatile year-to-year, and 2) Joe Torre tends to crush his new favorite toy like he’s Lennie in Of Mice and Men.

Thus, Wade’s problems were pretty clear this year. He couldn’t stay healthy (two trips to the DL for a right shoulder that bothered him even in 2008) and he wasn’t very good even when he was available (huge increases in BB/9 and WHIP, huge decrease in K/9). That being the case, part of his problems is that he was never as good as he seemed in 2008 – a .227 BABIP is completely unsustainable and was a large part of why the ERA that looked so good (2.27) was nowhere near what FIP said he should have been (3.78). This year, his luck completely changed, since the huge increase in BABIP to .294 helped turn an already lousy FIP (4.40) into a much worse ERA (5.57).

You have to wonder how much of the blame for his injuries should be heaped on Torre, because we tend to forget how much Wade was worked in 2008. Even in April, Kensai and I were both ringing the bell on this, as I said at the time

Wade’s pitched in four games this season, and has been great in three of them (three scoreless outings of an inning apiece, allowing two hits) and awful in one (three hits and two runs in 1/3 of an inning). The poor outing was the only one that came on a back-to-back appearance, and since this is apparently the same shoulder issue that bothered him last season and in spring, you have to wonder: should we be treating him as the right-handed Hong-Chih Kuo? I’d rather live with an effective Wade who’s not available as often as everyone else than no Wade at all. Some guys just aren’t built for the constant workload, and you have to wonder if Wade falls under that category.

Wade, of course, never did come close to regaining his form for the rest of the year, and even worse, was horrible in the minors – allowing 17 ER in 22.2 AAA innings. He’ll still just be 26 when Opening Day comes, so his time has hardly passed. But he’ll likely have to prove his health in the minors again before he gets another shot at what looks to be a pretty loaded big league bullpen crew.

85toppsbrentleachBrent Leach (?)
(2-0, 5.75, 1.377)

Brent Leach is a left-handed pitcher who appeared in 38 games for the Los Angeles Dodgers of Major League Baseball.

Okay, I was tempted to just go with the Wikipedia-esque description and leave it at that, because I seriously have no recollection of Brent Leach doing anything meaningful for the Dodgers this year. Did he really get into 38 games? Jesus. My top memory of Leach is mainly the firestorm Kensai unwittingly set off by discussing his wife’s hilarious blog (which I can’t seem to find the link to anymore).

As for his pitching, he got the call from Chattanooga because he was dominating down there (1 ER and 17 K in 13 IP). Before you get too excited about that, remember that this was AA and he turns 27, well, today. (Happy Birthday!) Once he got to the bigs the strikeout rate was nice (8.4/9) but the homer rate much less so (1.3/9) and the walk rate was pretty bad (5.31/9).

Actually, he looks to have had control issues his entire career – only in 2008, as a 25-year-old in High-A ball, has he ever really been able to keep it below a walk every other inning. Still, some lefties are known to develop late, and he appears to have the stuff to miss bats, so if he can ever get a handle on that control, he might actually have a future in a bullpen to be named later.

85toppswillohmanWill Ohman (F)
(1-0, 5.84, 1.622 WHIP)

Oh, Will Ohman. I had such high hopes for you. I actually had first brought him up way back in October 2008, before any rumors had attached him to the Dodgers, in my 2009 plan:

Ohman’s a 31-year old lefty reliever and Pepperdine alum who’s made it into at least 56 games in each of the last four seasons with the Cubs and Braves, with ERA+ marks of 151, 112, 94, and 112. Plus, he’s absolutely murder on lefties (.571 OPS against in 2008), which makes him unlike Beimel (who’s actually harder on righties) and Kuo (who kills everyone, but isn’t really a situational kind of guy).

So when he became another victim of the lousy free agent market and signed with the Dodgers late in spring training, I was thrilled (and had only mentioned it about eleven times in March during the whole song-and-dance).

But there were worries from the beginning. Having missed most of spring training, Ohman was behind in his conditioning and was hit hard almost immediately. In 21 games over the first two months, he got shelled, somehow allowing a .609 SLG and .979 OPS in that time. On May 29, he went on the DL with a sore shoulder, experienced pain in his elbow during the rehab, and finally ended up having shoulder surgery in September. So clearly, that didn’t work out, and his 2010 option was obviously declined.

Still, I’m sad it didn’t work out. He had high socks, which rule in their own right, but he was also one of the funniest players the Dodgers have ever had. You know it’s good when sportswriters are breaking their own rules by cheering for him, but also check out these two videos:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i4kkmlh92LA]

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WZWjdDTjtXw]

So long, Will.

85toppsclaudiovargasClaudio Vargas (C)
(0-0, 1.64, 1.000 WHIP)

Sometimes you sign a mediocre veteran to a minimum salary contract, and you hope for the next Chan Ho Park or Jeff Weaver.  Sometimes you get a nice surprise like that… and sometimes you get a guy who gets this written about him in spring training

I had a whole section on Claudio Vargas written out, mostly about how unlike Milton, Estes, and Weaver, he was given a major-league contract rather than just a spring training invite. But all that’s out the window after Monday, because Claudio Vargas has committed the unthinkable: he allowed a home run to our favorite fat sack of crap, Andruw Jones. That alone should disqualify him – and if it doesn’t, the three other homers he’s allowed in just 8.1 innings so far ought to. Odds: Andruw Jones’ weight times a hundred-to-1

…before being put on the 60-day DL with arm troubles, missing the first three months of the season. So to say Claudio Vargas was an afterthought is putting it lightly.

But then something crazy happened; when Vargas returned in July, he was good. Really good. In 11 innings over 8 relief outings, he allowed just 2 ER, struck out 10, and held opponents to a puny .184/.279/.263 (.542 OPS) line. Sure, it was only 11 innings, and nothing in his history suggested he could keep that up – I get that. Still, with the depleted Dodger staff at the time, any contributions were welcome.

So what happened? The Dodgers traded him for a 29-year-old backup catcher hitting .249 on Milwaukee’s AA team, Vinny Rottino. This didn’t make sense to me at the time

Believe it or not, Vargas has actually been pretty good for the Dodgers since coming off the DL. 11 innings isn’t much of a sample size, but he’s allowed only 11 baserunners and 2 runs in that time, with a nice 10/4 K/BB ratio. I’m hardly crushed that he’s gone, but did we really need Vinny Rottino? He’s 29 with all of 18 MLB games under his belt, and he’s so highly thought of that he’s being sent to AA. You almost feel bad for the guy, being a Wisconsin native and all, now being shipped out to Chattanooga.

No, what this feels like is a way to clear out a roster spot for George Sherrill, but there were better ways to do that. DFA Jason Schmidt, for one, and no, I don’t care that he’s tonight’s starter. Send down James McDonald or Scott Elbert, if you must, because you know that either one would be right back up in a week.

Vargas wasn’t great, but he was at least useful, while Vinny Rottino looks unlikely to ever play a single game as a Dodger. I hate to act as though I’m all worked up over losing Claudio Vargas, of all people, but this move just makes no sense at all.

…and it doesn’t make any more sense now. Vargas went to Milwaukee and continued to excel (1.78 ERA, .530 OPS against), Rottino went to Chattanooga, never to be heard from, and I still can’t find a good reason for any of it.

85toppstravisschlichtingTravis Schlichting (inc.)
(0-0, 3.38, 2.250 WHIP)

Signs that your newest reliever may not have been a top prospect: when MSTI’s first mention of him was pointing out that his Wikipedia page showed him as a third baseman for the Devil Rays. (Actually, it still does. Doesn’t anyone want to go fix that?)

Schlichting actually had a pretty nice minor league season (in 29.1 IP across 3 levels, he allowed just 3 earned runs), but the less said about his major league stint the better. He got into 2 June games, managing to walk 5 and allow a Ryan Howard homer in first major league at-bat. So, yikes.

Still, those minor league numbers are nice, and it’s important to remember that he’s only been a pitcher since 2007, having turned himself around from being a failed third baseman. He’ll likely start 2010 in the minors, but don’t be surprised to see him back in the bigs – and maybe even do well enough to get himself a real Wikipedia picture.

——-

So that’s it! We’re done with reviews. I suppose I should probably write something up for Joe Torre as well, and I probably will at some point.  Damn it, why isn’t there VORM for managers?

MSTI’s First Half In Review: Pitching

So, today is the second Tuesday of July and the day after the Home Run Derby.  That means it’s time for a historic tradition that we see every year…

MSTI’s First Half Pitching Review! 

Today, we’ll go through all of the pitching fun, so let’s get started… 

The Starters: 

Chad Billingsley = A   
billingsleyvsmets.jpg(9-4, 3.14 ERA, 1.23 WHIP) 

Chad Billingsley has been, simply, one of the best pitchers in baseball, this year.  As I wrote in May… 

Still, though,
Billingsley has been incredible this year and only continues to improve
and he’s still barely 24 years old.  It’s not enough to say anymore
that he’s going to be one of the best pitchers in baseball.  He already
IS and can stand toe to toe with almost anyone.  What’s also been
impressive is that even during the games that Billingsley hasn’t had
his best stuff he has managed to pull through.

That’s pretty much held up.  Granted, Billingsley has gradually slipped each month, going from a 3.76 ERA in June to a couple of poor starts so far this month, but his first half numbers have been awfully impressive, with his 3.14 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, and his 1.23 pLI actually leads all pitchers in MLB.  The control is still a bit murky, ranking 2nd in walks, behind teammate Clayton Kershaw.  Nonetheless, Chad made his first All-Star appearance this year and I’m sure it will be the first of many, as he continues to improve and solidify his place as one of the games best pitchers. 

Randy Wolf = A   
(4-3, 3.45, 1.17 WHIP)

I was a bit leary of signing Wolf the second time around.  While his first stint in L.A. tends to be thought of with good memories, he was still pretty much the definition of average, putting up a 97 ERA+, and a 4.73 ERA, and his year was cut short due to injuries.  After going to SD last year, he couldn’t really last well inside Petco Park, before finishing up the year in Houston where he turned it around.  Injuries have played a big part of Wolf’s career and one of the concerns was whether he’d remain healthy.  After all, outside of last year, he hasn’t put together a healthy season since 2003.  Well, so far he has been quite healthy (tied for first, along with Billingsley, in the NL in starts) and not only that, but he’s off to one of the best starts of his career.  Wolf so far is putting up a 3.45 ERA, with a good 1.16 WHIP, and a VORP of 23.5, third amongst Dodgers pitchers.  His peripherals aren’t too bad, either: his H/9 of 7.9, his BB/9 of 2.6 are the best for Wolf since 2003 and he also leads all Dodgers in the CTUNW stat (changing their uniform number weekly). 

Wolf has played a vital role this year for the Dodgers and has helped, at least thus far, in eliminating any concerns we had about starting pitching going into the year. 

Oh yeah, another thing: we beat the whole “wins for pitchers aren’t significant” for pitchers thing to death around here, so why not again?  Anyways, Wolf in 2007 only pitched until July for the Dodgers.  Again, he was essentially league average, but he had a 9-6 record.  So far this year?  4-3, despite a 122 ERA+. 

Clayton Kershaw = B+/A- 
Sandy Kershaw.jpg(7-5, 3.16 ERA, 1.27 WHIP)

So, I’m struggling to decide what to give him, and this grade is pretty much where I’m at.  Either way, what else can you say about the kid?  If he were putting up merely league average numbers at this stage, I think we’d be alright with it, but he’s not just doing that.  After struggling out of the gate, Kershaw has been simply great, going from a 7.29 ERA in April, down to a 2.57 ERA in May, 2.36 in June, and through the first three starts starts of July, 0.53.  While the 0.53 July ERA is definitely a small sample size, it has helped illustrate his continuous growth.  What’s also surprising is that he actually has the best VORP amongst Dodgers pitchers, edging out Chad Billingsley 26.7 to 26.1 and also puts him 12th amongst all NL pitchers.  Now Kershaw hasn’t necessarily perfect, either; while his 8.9 K/9 ratio is quite good, he does lead the league in walks and still carries some control issues which boosts his pitch count and therefore limits his innings.  However, at merely 21 years of age, he has shown to be not just someone who can just simply fit in the big leagues, but someone who can learn to adjust and also can carry a great deal of success (133 ERA+!), as well, and certainly someone who will play a huge role in the second half. 

Well done, Clayton! 

Hiroki Kuroda = C- 
(3-5, 4.67 ERA, 1.15 WHIP) 

In ways, it’s hard not to give the Hiroki Pokey Man an incomplete, given that he missed a lot of time.  But in his starts this year, he’s been going back and forth between solid starts to sometimes the downright awful which, in all honesty, isn’t too much different from 2008.  However, he hasn’t been back that long, so I will cut him a little slack. 

The Spot Starters: 

Eric Stults = C- 
(4-2, 4.80 ERA, 1.58 WHIP) 

Eric Stults for a few years now has been the perfect guy to give you the spot start that you need and he’ll usually be pretty effective, provided that you don’t use him for too long.  It’s pretty much been the same story, this year.  In his 9 starts (I’m actually surprised he’s started that many, when I think about it), he’s had about 6 good ones and 3 bad ones, which translates to a 4.80 ERA, or an 87 ERA+.  Not stellar numbers in the least, but about what you’d expect from Stults: an average pitcher at best who, in Stults case, throws in his obligatory complete game shutout each year.  Kinda funny, by the way… this year, Stults is the only Dodger pitcher with a complete game. 

Eric Milton = C 
(2-1, 3.80 ERA, 1.52 WHIP) 

Can’t say that the thought of Eric Milton starting games for the Dodgers is something that put a smile on my face, but in his 5 starts for the team, he did respectable enough, going 2-1 with a 3.80 ERA.  The WHIP wasn’t particularly good 1.52, but he didn’t necessarily embarrass himself this year, either.  Unfortunately for Milton, he was DL’d in late June and might have season ending back surgery.  But he had 5 games with the team and didn’t do terribly… can’t really ask for too much more than that.  

Jeff Weaver = A+ 
weaveraward.jpg(5-3, 3.48 ERA, 1.57 WHIP)   

The title of this year’s Chan Ho Park goes to Jeff Weaver.  When he signed a minor league deal going into Spring Training, I didn’t really think anything of it and, to be honest, I certainly didn’t see him making the team.  But not only did he manage to do that, but he also managed to become a key member.  He has done everything asked of him and has done it well, whether coming up with the key spot start or pitching valuable innings in the bullpen, or just going out there and beating his kid brother when he needed to.  Now has some of it been smoke and mirrors?  Sure, his WHIP of 1.57 isn’t particularly good at all, and his FIP is actually 4.13, but somehow he’s getting the job done, so I’ll take it, right now.  2009 has been good for Stoner and hopefully, unlike Chan Ho last year, he can finish 2009 just as strong. 

James McDonald = D-     
(2-1, 4.71 ERA, 1.50 WHIP) 

Yeah, remember him?  James McDonald came on to the scene last year for the Dodgers, pitching a mere 6 scoreless innings, which was nice, but where he really helped make an impression was during the NLCS, where he came in and put in some big innings for the Dodgers.  Eventually, he won out the 5th spot in the rotation this year and proceeded to promptly suck, getting 4 starts and putting up an 8.78 ERA and walking 14 to his 6 strikeouts.  That was enough for Joe Torre and after being demoted to the bullpen afterwards, he was shortly then sent back to Albuquerque where he was actually quite good, putting up a 3.26 ERA and 1.15 WHIP in 30.1 innings, while seemingly fixing some of
his previous control issues (14 BB and 40 K’s) and putting up a nice 11.9 K/9 ratio.  Since being recalled to the Dodgers on June 19th, he hasn’t appeared in too many games, but in the games he’s appeared in he hasn’t embarrassed himself either, giving up 1 ER in his 10 innings.  Small sample size, yes, but hopefully McDonald can continue to turn it around and show more of the form he did in 2008.  The talent is definitely there. 

The Bullpen:

Jonathan Broxton = A+ 
brox.jpg(6-0, 3.10 ERA, 0.93 WHIP) 

It’s been a good year for Jonathan
Broxton.  He stepped into the closers role and has transitioned
seamlessly, got elected to his first All-Star game, and after a 24 year
pregnancy, finally gave birth to his first child, a beautiful baby
boy. 

O.K., that was wrong.  But, still, Broxton has been
awfully good, this year, and one of the best in baseball.  His ERA is
3.14, though that’s taken a big hit these days, as 5 of his 14 ER’s total this year
have come from his past two appearances alone, which seem to have
stemmed from a toe injury that has kept him out since last week.  His
WHIP is 0.94 and his 2.63 WPA ranks him 4th amongst all active relief
pitchers, while his K/9 ratio has bumped from 11.5 in 2009 to 14.4 in
2009, thus far.  In addition, he has saved 20 of his 22 saves and, for
the most part, in convincing fashion.  Provided that his toe doesn’t
become something serious, once again, the Dodgers continue their string
of truly great closers.  

Ramon Troncoso = A+ 
(3-0, 1.75 ERA, 1.27 WHIP) 

Last year, the Big Tronny got a C grade.  From last year: 

Still, Troncoso was another rookie inserted into the bullpen in 2008,
although not quite the story Cory Wade was.  But, nonetheless, Troncoso
didn’t Falkenborg himself either, going from a less than stellar 4.91
ERA in the first half to a respectable 3.81 in the second half, sparked
by a good August where he sported a good 2.57 ERA.  His ERA+ was 100
even and that about sums it up; average and servicable for the role he
played throughout the season.  For a person in his rookie year, not
bad; here’s to an improvement in 2009

Well, he improved and improved greatly.  Trancoso has been incredible this year putting up a 1.75 ERA and a 1.27 WHIP and a mere 240 ERA+ in his appearances this year, including ranking 4th in VORP amongst all Dodgers pitchers and his 2.83 WPA ranks 1st amongst all active relievers in baseball.  Troncoso isn’t one who necessarily grabs the headlines, but he’s been incredibly important to the team this year and a key aspect of the success of the bullpen.  I definitely didn’t see his 2009 coming, but well done.  

Ronald Belisario = A+ 
Belisario.jpg(1-3, 2.42 ERA, 1.18 WHIP) 

Belisario is generally one of those guys
you see on the transaction list during Spring Training that you
generally overlook, given the amount of Spring Training invites that
tend to happen and usually don’t pan out.  But he did enough to get a
shot with the big club and not only did he do that, but he has become
one of the best arms out of the bullpen.  In his 48.1 innings, he has
put up a 2.42 ERA, with a nice 1.18 WHIP and 173 ERA+ and out of all
the pitchers on the team, he has the 5th best VORP at 14.5. 
Unfortunately, due to elbow stiffness, he has been placed on the DL,
although the reports about it show it isn’t something too serious and
hopefully he can come back and continue to be effective.  But a spring
training invite to one of the best relievers on the team?  Well… 

I’ll drink to that!  And so will Ronald!

Guillermo Mota = First Half Of First Half =

Second Half Of First Half = A+
(3-2, 3.51 ERA, 1.20 WHIP)      

Yeah, it was time to pull out the ol’ Andruw grade and it was certainly applicable to Mota for the first half of the first half (shut up, it exists!).  Mota has literally gone from one extreme to the
next, hence the two different grades, as it feels like I’m grading two different people.  I hated the signing when it happened and for quite a while he
gave me good reason to, putting up ERA’s of 7.71 and 6.65 in April and
May.  After Brad Ausmus apparently discovered a flaw in Mota’s
delivery, Mota found the fountain of youth, or at least another
syringe, and put up a 0.56 ERA in June and has only given up 1 ER in
his last 22 appearances, which goes back to his implosion in Florida in
May.  He’s gone from arguably one of the worst relief pitchers in
baseball to one of the best and he has to be commended on that. 
Hopefully he can keep it up and continue to give the Dodgers a much
needed boost in the bullpen.

Brent Leach = B 
(2-0, 4.26 ERA, 1.05 WHIP)  

Leach has pretty much become the LOOGY of the
team and he’s done relatively decent.  His 98 ERA+ puts him essentially
average, though his 1.05 WHIP has been pretty nice, but he’s been for
the most part dependable more times than not.    

Cory Wade = F
(2-3, 5.53 ERA, 1.37 WHIP)   

So, what the hell happened to Cory Wade, this year?  In 2008, he was the most dependable reliever we had and was definitely one of the great stories of 2008 for the Dodgers.  Last year I wrote this: 


In 55 appearances this year, which translates into 71.3 innings, Wade
put up a good 2.27 ERA with an even better WHIP of 0.92.  The great
thing about Wade this season is that, as the season went on, he got
better.  Throughout the first half, his ERA was 2.56, and topped that
with a 1.93 ERA in the second half, spurred by great months in August
(2.16 ERA) and September (1.08 ERA).  In fact, that’s what was so
impressive about him, this year.  I don’t remember a period where he
ever really truly sucked and went all Proctor on us.  The worst month
he had in 2008 was July, where he had a 3.52 ERA and gave up 6 ER in 15
IP.  Not great, but not horrific.  He was also arguably our best
reliever in 2008 ranking second in VORP only to Hong Chih Kuo with
22.9.

This year?  Not so good, putting up a 5.27 ERA in his 27 appearances and has made a visit to the DL with some arm troubles.  Hopefully his usage in 2008 hasn’t had an effect on him in 2009.  His star has definitely fallen, but hopefully he can come back and rebound. 

Will Ohman = D-
(1-0, 5.84 ERA, 1.62 WHIP)   

Signed at the tail end of Spring Training to
be Troy from West Virginia’s new BFF, or just Joe Beimel’s replacement,
Ohman has failed to impress to the point where, when you heard the name “Ohman!” you shouted back “Ohcrap!”  In his 21 appearances, he put up a 5.84
ERA, with a 1.62 WHIP.  Having a BB/9 ratio of 5.8 didn’t help either.  To
be fair to Ohman, though, he didn’t really get much of a Spring
Training as he didn’t have a job until the end of the Spring Training,
and he hasn’t pitched in a while (late May), being on the DL with
apparently a sore shoulder.  Still, though, he had enough appearances,
and appearances of sucktitude at that, to warrant the D-.  Though bonus
points for doing a killer Harry Caray impression and being an all
around funny guy. 

The Incompletes: 

Hong-Chih Kuo = Inc. 
Thumbnail image for kuofrombullpen.jpg(1-0, 6.75 ERA, 1.69 WHIP) 

While Hong-Chih Kuo is just unbelievable when he’s on, in fact, he won MLB’s Set Up Man Of The Year Award last year, there’s always the potential for his arm to fall off at any point.  He’s had two Tommy John surgeries (and four arm surgeries total) and he’s had some arm troubles this year already which put him on the DL at the end of April.  He’s yet to return, but in the 5.1 innings he threw, it wasn’t particularly something to write home about.  Something was definitely wrong, originally with reports coming out that perhaps Kuo was suffering from a lack of confidence and now the arm troubles.  The talent is certainly there for Kuo to continue to be effective.  The health, though, might be another story.  We shall see…  

Travis Schlichting, Claudio Vargas, and Scott Elbert = Inc.
(0-0, 3.38 ERA, 2.25 WHIP), (0-0, 0.00 ERA, 1.00 WHIP), (1-0, 5.00 ERA, 1.33 WHIP)  

So, I’m going to combine these two and give them the same grade, which is an incomplete.  For Schlichting, he got a brief cup of coffee early in the year and only threw a whopping 2.2 innings.  Granted, he gave up a HR and 5 BB’s to go with 2 K’s, but, again, not much at all you can derive from 2.2 innings.  Vargas barely came into action this month after being out due to injury and, while I wasn’t a fan of the signing when it happened, perhaps he can serve as the mop up man.  In regards to Elbert, it’s also awfully hard to gauge anything meaningful.  Only four appearances this year, with three of them coming in April and the next one just coming in July. 

That about does it for the pitching.  Tune in tomorrow when MSTI finishes our first half reviews by going through the coaching staff and the overall review! 

- Vin vinscully-face.jpg