MSTI’s 2010 in Review: Starting Pitchers, Part 3

Carlos Monasterios (A)
4.38 ERA, 5.37 FIP, 3.3 K/9, 2.9 BB/9, -0.2 WAR

You thought John Ely came out of nowhere? How about Carlos Monasterios, who’d pitched just two games above A-ball before being plucked from Philadelphia (via, briefly, the Mets) in last winter’s Rule 5 draft? I admitted I’d never even heard the name before at the time, which still comes in second to Monasterios admitting he barely even knew what the Rule 5 draft was.

He impressed enough in camp that I gave him a 15% chance of winning the wide-open #5 starter’s job that eventually went to Charlie Haeger, though he ended up making the club as a long reliever out of the bullpen, which is where he stayed for 11 of his first 12 appearances, save for a short (4 IP) emergency start on May 1 in Pittsburgh. For a guy with little experience and even less velocity (his fastball rarely topped 90 MPH), Monasterios was surprisingly effective in the early going, as he never allowed more than one earned run in those 12 appearances – all but three of which lasted more than one inning. When he was allowed to pitch, that is; I’m not going to link them all now, but in going back through the archives looking for bits about him, I found a surprising amount of times where I complained that Torre was wasting his better relievers in the lowest of low-leverage situations (think seven-run leads in the 9th) rather than using Monasterios, sitting him for up to a week at a time.

As the Dodgers suffered through injuries to Chad Billingsley and Vicente Padilla, Monasterios was forced into the rotation for five starts in May and June, where the results were a little less bright, allowing 35 baserunners with just 8 strikeouts in 22.2 innings, averaging barely over four IP/start. He then went on the DL himself with a blister, though he made the rookie mistake of admitting that the problem wasn’t really that serious.

When he returned in July, he split the remainder of his season equally between the pen and the rotation, starting seven games while relieving in eight. I didn’t always understand why:

Dylan Hernandez lets us know that James McDonald is being sent to the bullpen after just one start, with Carlos Monasterios getting the nod on Saturday, which is a good idea because… hell, I have absolutely no idea. I said the other day that I prefer McDonald in the bullpen anyway, but McDonald wasn’t exactly terrible in his one start, and his five strikeouts were two more than Monasterios has been able to get in any appearance, start or relief, the entire season. Even if you don’t want McDonald, John Ely allowed three runs in seven innings in his first start for ABQ, and starting him on Saturday would have only put him at one extra day of rest off his usual schedule. The idea that Monasterios is a better choice to start than either McDonald or Ely… well, I just can’t get behind it.

Indeed, Monasterios was much more effective as a reliever (2.06 ERA, .620 OPS against in 19 games) than as a starter (5.91 ERA, .899 OPS in 13 starts). Still, he made it through the entire season as an out-of-nowhere Rule 5 pick, and didn’t embarrass himself despite being relied upon far more than anyone would have expected. For that alone, he gets an A, but he probably also gets a ticket back to AAA next year now that he’s officially Dodger property. If he can develop a reliable offspeed pitch, he may yet have a future as a back-end starter, but even if he’s only a long reliever out of the pen that’s still a pretty good return on the $50,000 it cost to acquire him.

Charlie Haeger (F)
8.40 ERA, 5.51 FIP, 9.0 K/9, 7.8 BB/9, -1.7 WAR

And now we come to what is probably my biggest disappointment of the season, because I badly wanted the Haeger experiment to work out. A rubber-armed knuckleballer can be a huge asset at the back of a rotation, and Haeger appeared to have mastered his craft in becoming a 2009 PCL All-Star and pitching in some nice work for the big club at the end of the year. Now, we’ll all remember him for failing about as badly as he possibly could have, but the funny thing is, it started out so well. Remember his first start of the season?

But if you think I’m going to say a single bad word about a 5th starter who struck out 12 in 6 innings, you’re absolutely wrong. In just the fifth start of his career, Haeger tied Tim Wakefield’s career high for strikeouts – and Wakefield’s had 422 starts to get that many.

Haeger’s knuckler was dancing so much that two of those strikeouts actually ended up with a man on first, as A.J. Ellis couldn’t hold onto the ball. This guy’s been a big favorite around here for quite a while now, and with Joe Torre’s propensity for yanking 5th starters at the first sign of trouble, Haeger probably needed a good first start more than any other member of the rotation.

Unfortunately, that was the high point of Haeger’s year, if not his career. He was pressed into late-game relief three days after that start, and made his second start on two days rest. He didn’t make it out of the 4th inning, allowing seven runs to the Giants, and followed that up with equally disappointing starts against the Nationals and Mets before pitching four relief innings of one-run ball against the Brewers on May 4.

Then, on May 8, he faced the Rockies at Dodger Stadium, and…

last night Charlie Haeger got as many Rockies out as I did – zero.

Haeger faced only five Colorado batters, walking three while allowing two hits, and that was the last we’d see of him for nearly a month. With the Dodgers wanting to recall Ely before his ten-day demotion window was up, they needed to perform some roster gymnastics, which I found entertaining:

So while you can speculate on who that’s going to be… we all know it’ll be Charlie Haeger, who miraculously came down with a “bruised heel” after getting precisely zero outs against the Rockies on Saturday. What fortuitous timing!

A few weeks later, he managed to hurt his foot again, leading me to wonder if maybe he had really been hurt all along. He made one more lousy start in June (4.2 IP, 4 ER against the Angels) and that was that. He was DFA’d the next day, cleared waivers, and headed back to ABQ, where he was unable to find the success which he’d had there in 2009 – a 41/42 K/BB isn’t going to get you that far, even for a knuckleballer.

It’s clear that Haeger shouldn’t be – and won’t be – in the running for a rotation spot in 2011. Still, I think it’s premature to write him off completely. He only just turned 27 in September, and when Tim Wakefield was 27, he was going 5-15 with a 5.84 ERA and a 83/98 K/BB ratio for Pittsburgh’s AAA club. The point is, knuckleballers are notorious for taking a long time to develop. It may not be with the Dodgers, but we’ll be seeing Haeger in the big leagues again.

Ramon Ortiz (F)
6.30 ERA, 5.45 FIP, 6.3 K/9, 4.8 BB/9, -0.7 WAR

Ah yes, the first of our two disastrous Ortiz signings. Yes, he only made two starts and was more of a reliever, but I need to make these divide equally somehow. Shockingly, a 37-year-old who hadn’t been in the bigs in either of the previous two seasons and hadn’t been even league-average since 2004 didn’t work out. Who’d have thunk? Remember, I’d actually had an “Ortiz DFA-O-Meter” set up to see which of them would hit the chopping block first.

The funny thing is, Ramon Ortiz was only with the team until May 27 – less than two months – yet there was no shortage of complaints about him. Fooled by a nice shiny spring training performance, the team let him break camp in the bullpen, and disaster struck almost immediately.

April 8:

I know the traditional move says to save your closer until you have a lead on the road, but I can’t express how much I hate, hate, hate that idea. You can’t get to a lead if you’ve lost the game beforehand, and watching undead Ramon Ortiz blow the game while Broxton watches is infuriating. I can’t restate this enough: your best reliever never entered the game, while three non-roster invites (two of whom, granted, performed well) did. I will never understand this.

April 13, the home opener:

When Ethier homered in the bottom of the 6th, we were looking at a 9-2 laugher. Yet Ramon Ortiz came in and was predictably horrible, allowing three runs on three hits (including a Mark Reynolds blast) and a walk. As you can see, this has spawned the birth of the “Ortiz DFA-O-Meter” to the top right, as they battle to see which one gets dumped first. So what was once a blowout became a situation in which the top two relievers (Ramon Troncoso and Jonathan Broxton) had to contribute 2.1 innings. That may not seem like a big deal today, but we saw this exact thing happen last week. Just wait until one of the next two games when it’s a tight situation, and now one might not be available, simply because Ramon Ortiz can’t hold a 7-run lead.

Of course, being awful out of the bullpen wasn’t quite enough, because the Dodgers had to let Ortiz get two starts in May. How’d that go?

Hey, I’m not going to complain too much about (what appears to be, since it’s still the 4th inning as I write this) the end of a 9-game winning streak. They were going to have to lose sometime, so that’s fine. But that doesn’t mean it’s okay to basically punt a game by letting Ramon Ortiz start, which was never a good idea in any way whatsoever. Should we really be shocked that Ortiz got lit up, allowing five earned runs and nine baserunners in 3.1? Of course not. His ERA is now 6.30. It’s just not working. I know there’s no obvious answer as to who fills the last spot in the rotation until Vicente Padilla returns, but we all agree it just cannot be Ortiz again, right?

Fortunately, that was it for him. After sitting unused for a week, he was DFA’d to bring up Justin Miller, and spent the rest of the year bouncing around the AAA clubs of the Mets and Rays, not meeting with much success for either.

But hey, no one could have seen his failure coming, right?

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Next! Jonathan Broxton turns into a pumpkin at midnight! Hong-Chih Kuo defies the laws of medicine! And George Sherrill‘s deal with the devil expires, and then some! It’s relievers, part one!

Funny How A Sweep Makes Everything Better


We all know where today’s focus is going to be, right? After the much-publicized benching, alleviated only by Manny’s hamstring injury, Matt Kemp came back today to get three hits, including a homer (plus a walk), drive in three, and make a few running catches in center field.

Clearly, Joe Torre’s benching/punishment/time out worked wonders, right?

That’s what the stories will say, anyway. As for me, I think it’s BS. Remember, Kemp got on base three times in his previous start, on June 26th against the Yankees. To act as though he was on an 0-40 streak headed into the benching, and that somehow Torre’s action snapped him into shape, just ignores the facts. Which is exactly why that’s how you’ll read it in Bill Plaschke’s column tomorrow.

But let’s not let this whole unfortunate situation overpower two performances which were just as important today. Vicente Padilla showed just how effective he can be when he’s right, allowing just three hits and a run over seven innings. Remember, his ERA has been misleading all season. After his first two lousy outings, in which he allowed eleven earned runs while not making it out of the fifth inning either time, Padilla’s allowed three, two, (DL stint), four, two, and one earned runs in the five starts since. It’s not ace-quality, but it is more than acceptable from your #4/5 starter, and better than what the majority of MLB teams are getting from that spot.

Suddenly, the Dodgers have five reliable starters again, and no wondering about which Haeger/Monasterios/Ortiz is going to have to be stuffed into a spot start. (Speaking of which, via Dodger Thoughts, Haeger will be joining the Isotopes. Glad he’s staying in the organization; I don’t think we’ve seen the last of him.) It’s a nice feeling to have.

Secondly, Rafael Furcal put up four more hits today. In his last five games, he’s got fourteen hits (and three walks), and he’s got his season average up to .333/.382/.488. He’s really playing some of the best baseball of his career, and the Dodger lineup just looks markedly different when he’s playing well and getting on base so often for the big guys.

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Still, as if this hasn’t been a bad enough week for Torre, only he could spoil an 8-2 sweep-capping victory over your biggest rivals. Kemp situation aside, you almost think this team is winning in spite of Torre sometimes. First, he hits Jamey Carroll (.397 OBP) 8th, while putting Garret Anderson (.197 OBP, and more on that in a second) 6th, above Reed Johnson and Carroll – both superior players.

However, that’s nothing compared to the bullpen usage. After Padilla went seven effective innings – and he’d thrown just 98 pitches, so I have no idea why he couldn’t have just stayed in – Ramon Troncoso came in for the 8th. I’m seeing others complain about that, but Troncoso hadn’t pitched since the Yankee disaster on Sunday, and it’s not the worst idea to let him go in a low-pressure situation, so fine.

Here’s what killed me, though. In the 9th, George Sherrill came in. He got Aubrey Huff to ground out, and then allowed singles to Pat Burrell and Pablo Sandoval (on a side note, note that this means he got the lefty out and let two righties reach base. Why does that sound familiar?) Remember, this is a seven-run lead. Rather than, you know, letting your struggling reliever try to work out of the situation against the likes of Juan Uribe and Eli Whiteside, here comes Torre with the hook, to bring in Justin Miller. I know there’s a day off tomorrow, but I also know that with a lead like that, you can give Sherrill the tiniest bit of rope. Or, as Chad from MOKM perfectly noted:

It’s like Joe Torre reads everybody’s blog and Twitter and just starts wasting the bullpen to troll us.

Still, none of that is the best part. When Miller entered the game, none other than Hong-Chih Kuo started warming. Yes, in the 9th inning of a seven-run game, by all means get your fragile superstar lefty up. Why not?

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Finally, Anderson went hitless in five at-bats today, striking out four times and popping out to first. I’m just completely out of things to add to this situation. I hate to bag on a guy on his birthday (he’s 38 now), but to say that he’s a waste of a roster spot is about the kindest way I can think of to describe it. He’s now hitting .180/.197/.287. What do we have to do to finally end this already?

Xavier Paul’s hitting .345/.402/.633 with 12 HR in AAA, by the way, and three of those homers have come in his last ten games. But no, I’m sure he’s not a better fit for this defensively-challenged, injury-prone outfield, right?

Well, At Least Kemp and Ethier Did Some Damage

I know, I know: grasping at straws. Still, given that so much of the conversation lately has been dominated by the dreadful Junes of Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier (among others), to see Kemp crush his first homer since June 1 and Ethier get two hits (including a double) was more than welcome.

Clayton Kershaw‘s line (6.2 IP, 5 ER) looks pretty brutal, but it doesn’t tell the real story, as he did have a one-hitter headed into the 6th inning, before allowing a single, a walk, and a homer to Bobby Abreu. It all fell apart in the seventh, though Ronald Belisario certainly didn’t help matters by allowing a single and a double to the first two batters he saw, adding three more runs to Kershaw’s total. Garret Anderson looked Manny-esque in mishandling a ball in left on the latter hit, as well.

While the story today is largely about how the Dodgers simply cannot win interleague games and particularly cannot beat the Angels, that’s not all that important to me. What’s important is that the Dodgers aren’t winning games at all right now, regardless of opponent. Last night’s loss was their fifth in a row, and eighth in ten games. Now while I think there’s a case to be made that you’d rather be losing (i.e., giving wins) to AL opponents who you aren’t battling for playoff spots than against teams in your own division and league, the Dodgers still have five more interleague games left, and the Angels and Yankees are hardly pushovers.

AL or not, sooner or later you need to start winning games against teams who are better than you. Unfortunately, with John Ely and Charlie Haeger lined up the next two nights, things aren’t exactly at their brightest.

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Just as I suggested, Haeger is indeed getting the start on Thursday against the Angels. Though I’m obviously a Haeger fan, some people are placing this in the same Mark Sweeney/Garret Anderson category of endlessly misplaced faith, and I just don’t see it that way. I’m sure Joe Torre and crew don’t want to start Haeger, but what else are they to do? This is just a confluence of injury (Chad Billingsley & Carlos Monasterios in the bigs, James McDonald in the minors), unexpected circumstances (Scott Elbert‘s personal leave), and lousy offseason planning (like I need to remind you). Haeger’s hardly earned this opportunity, but I doubt anyone was really dying to see Claudio Vargas in this spot instead.

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I never thought I’d say this, but when Rafael Furcal is unavailable, why doesn’t Jamey Carroll lead off more? Russell Martin led off last night for the 18th time this season (he’s the all-time Dodger leader in games led off by a catcher), and Matt Kemp, Xavier Paul, Reed Johnson, Blake DeWitt, and Carroll have also been in the top slot this year – just three times for Carroll, though. 

Kemp, who led off all three games in Boston, is a poor choice despite his speed, since his OBP has plummeted to .315 and his SB success rate is abysmal. Martin is having a typically mediocre year, yet Carroll has the highest OBP on the team (.388) and zero power. Is that basically everything you can ask from a backup leadoff hitter?

We’re Going to Need Charlie Haeger (Updated)

With Carlos Monasterios joining Chad Billingsley on the DL, the Dodgers don’t currently have a 5th starter. With Monday’s off-day, they can juggle things so that the #5 spot doesn’t come up again until next Saturday (against the Yankees, unfortunately). So who’s it going to be?

Jon at Dodger Thoughts suggests that a bullpen game would be the best course of action, arguing that…

Right now, the best solution for the Dodgers might just be to start Jeff Weaver even if he can only go for two or three innings, and then follow him with a bevy of relievers. And then make a roster move the following day to help rebuild the bullpen if necessary.

Which is completely a fair point. However, with Monasterios out, the closest the Dodgers have to a long man is Travis Schlichting, who – while impressive so far – has all of 10.1 major league innings to his name. So, if Weaver were to start and go 2-3 innings, you’re looking at 1-2 inning stints from basically the entire bullpen, which could be a problem considering that John Ely and Vicente Padilla start two of the three previous games, and neither one merits a whole lot of faith that they’d go deep into games right now.

So what you need is an arm who can be used to eat up a good deal of innings in order to avoid totally destroying a bullpen which may already be stretched, and the Dodgers just so happen to have the man to do it: Charlie Haeger, who (also via Jon) threw six shutout innings today for Albuquerque. I know, I know; he hasn’t done much to engender confidence either. Still, he does have a few things running in his favor, even besides today’s quality start. First, he’s already on the 40-man roster, which is more than you can say for the other inferior options being tossed around like Claudio Vargas and Seth Etherton, so you wouldn’t have to risk losing someone like Justin Miller to get him on the roster. And unlike Vargas, who was cut by Milwaukee just a few weeks ago, and Etherton, who hasn’t seen the bigs since 2006, Haeger has at least had some success this season. I know it seems like eons ago, but we were all in love with him when his dancing knuckler struck out 12 Marlins in his season debut.

Besides, the clock is ticking on him anyway. He’s just about halfway through his latest rehab stint, so there’s only about two weeks left to make a decision on him. Short of coming up with another injury or exposing him to waivers, Haeger was going to have to come back at some point. It might as well be to fill a major need.

Granted, I’m a big Haeger fan and knuckleball supporter, so I don’t deny I’m looking at this with a slightly-less-than objective view. That said, there’s not exactly a ton of better options right now. Plus, as Eric Stephen noted in his profile of Red Sox knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, Wakefield spent his age-26 year (which is where Haeger is now) split between the majors and minors before spending all of his age-27 year on the farm, and being cut in the spring of his age-28 year. The point is, knuckleballers are notorious for being late bloomers. I’d like to think that if Haeger ends up having a career that’s in any way reminiscent of Wakefield’s, the Dodgers won’t be looked upon in the same way the Pirates are for Wakefield.

Now, if you want to toy with semantics and have Weaver start with Haeger ready to go seven “bullpen innings” just to keep Steve Dilbeck off your back, I suppose that’s fine too. Regardless, this is looking a whole lot like a Haeger game.

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I don’t believe this is exactly “news”, but since Buster Olney’s put it out there

Heard this: The Los Angeles Dodgers and Joe Torre are headed for a divorce after this season. Torre broke off negotiations over a contract extension this spring, and there are a couple of folks in power who are ready to turn the managerial page. Remember, things can change in a short time, feelings can be altered, but right now, it seems unlikely that Torre will be back.

My feelings regarding Torre are well-known, I think. Overall he’s done a satisfactory job, especially in keeping clubhouse harmony during the Manny hoopla, but his bullpen usage, lack of rest for Russell Martin, and affinity for over-the-hill veteran bench players continue to infuriate me. If this is indeed it for him, I’ll look back on these three years fondly, but I won’t exactly mourn his departure.

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Credit where credit is due: Garret Anderson has seven hits in his last fourteen at-bats, including a home run. That said, he had two hits in the previous twenty-two plate appearances. I know it seems as though I just despise the man, but that’s really not true. I just want a bench player who can contribute, and Anderson has shown he can’t field, run, or (until the last few days) hit. If he’s found something to fix that allows him to be useful for the rest of the season, then all the better for him, the Dodgers, and us. Let’s just wait until he gets the batting average over .200 before we start to celebrate, as Anderson’s line headed into the Sunday night game is still just .194/.213/.311. Meanwhile in Albuquerque, Xavier Paul is hitting .340/.400/.617, the sixth year in a row his OPS has increased, dating back to 2005 in advanced-A ball.

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Update: Apparently, they’re not going to maneuver the rotation to push the #5 slot back to Saturday. I assume this is to ensure that the emergency starter avoids the Yankees (we’re now looking at Padilla/Kuroda/Kershaw for Fri/Sat/Sun). Dylan Hernandez reports that Haeger or Vargas are indeed the two leading candidates for the Thursday start. Obviously, I lean towards Haeger, though as helpfully pointed out in the comments, the Dodgers do have an open 40-man spot so Vargas could be recalled without having to add anyone to the roster.

Maybe Charlie Haeger’s Really Hurt

We all made jokes when Charlie Haeger went on the DL right after getting zero outs in a start against the Rockies – going so far as to break out the Dr. Nick image – but it’s time to wonder if something is actually going on, since Dylan Hernandez is reporting that he’s headed back to the DL with a sprained big toe, with Jon Link replacing him.

Now, what’s glaring about this is that just yesterday I pointed out that George Sherrill would be returning from the DL tomorrow, “with no obvious candidate to go down.” If this was just a way to protect Haeger from being exposed to waivers rather than coming up with whatever injury sticks, then you’d think they’d wait until tomorrow to do so, right? So if this is really going to be Link up for just tonight’s game before being sent down tomorrow for Sherrill (assuming that’s the plan), then it’s unlikely they’d have made such a move unless Haeger was really too injured to pitch. Or at the very least, they want to make it appear he’s too injured to pitch.

Also of note: Russell Martin is not in tonight’s lineup, with Sunday hero A.J. Ellis getting another shot. As Eric Stephen from TrueBlueLA points out, its news when Martin gets one day off, much less two, so we’ll keep an ear out for a possible issue.

Update: Hernandez confirms Link is only up for tonight, and will go back down for Sherrill tomorrow.