Let’s Talk About Shortstop

For all the talk flying around about CC Sabathia, Manny Ramirez, and whether we should prefer a winning baseball team or helping children, it’s really looking more and more likely that shortstop is going to be the most important decision the Dodgers have to make this offseason. With Rafael Furcal sounding like he’s all but a memory (likely to the A’s or Giants), Chin-Lung Hu hardly impressive in 2008, and Ivan DeJesus, Jr. not ready to be handed the Opening Day gig, the Dodgers are going to have to find a shortstop somewhere.

Any of this sound familiar? It should, because we did almost this exact same thing back in June. You always hear about how third base has been a black hole for the Blue since Adrian Beltre left; well, shortstop hasn’t really been that much better. So let’s take a spin through the intertubez and check out some of the options…

jackwilsonswingsJack Wilson. Believe it or not, Jack Wilson’s garnered a mention in about a dozen posts in the history of this blog, because his name seems to constantly pop up in rumors. So by now, you probably now how I feel about him – he’s pretty mediocre. Oh sure, he’s a good fielder, and he’s had one or two decent offensive seasons. That doesn’t exactly make up for the 78 career OPS+, the .312 career OBP, the 6 of 8 seasons with OPS+’s of 77 or under, or his career shortcomings at Dodger Stadium (.558 OPS). He’s a mediocre veteran on the wrong side of 30, and he’s not cheap – $7.25 million due in 2009 with a $500k buyout on his $8.4 million 2010 salary nor is he coming off of a good season, being the 36th ranked SS in VORP (behind Nomar and David Eckstein) when he wasn’t hurt. Basically, I don’t think much of him as a solution, though I’d probably take him if he only cost a relatively small contract, if we can’t do any better. So you can imagine how I feel about the return the Pirates are looking for:

The Dodgers have prospects, too, and, according to a Wednesday report by Yahoo!, want the Pirates to pay “a huge chunk” of Wilson ‘s remaining money. Fox Sports reported earlier in the week that the Pirates sought shortstop Chin-Lung Hu, outfielder Delwyn Young and a third player, but Los Angeles pulled away.

The Pirates do not see Hu, a .193 hitter in his first 77 major league games, as anything more than a defensive replacement for Wilson , so the rest of the trade component will be key. By no means will Hu be the centerpiece.

The funny thing about that is, I wouldn’t trade Chin-Lung Hu straight up for Jack Wilson. I realize that Hu didn’t show much in 2008, but at least he’s got hope for improvement. We know exactly what Jack Wilson is, and that’s an overpaid older mediocre shortstop. Hu is at least as good of a defender (probably better), and still has time to show the offensive form that got him so hyped in 2007 – at a fraction of the cost. Now I understand that the Pirates and their fans wouldn’t want to trade their starting shortstop for a player who hit as poorly as Hu did this year – it’s a hard sell. But since I don’t really want Wilson at all, there’s a simple solution: don’t bother trading for Jack Wilson!

In situations like these, it’s always interesting to see what fans of the other team say. At the BuccoBlog, they don’t see much about Hu or Young to get excited about, and while I disagree it’s not hard to see why they’d feel that way. From the comments of that same thread, though, it seems that some of their fans realize that Wilson isn’t all that much to get excited about:

Can Huntington sell Wilson’s valuable defense, contact hitting and agressive baserunning to get back top value or maybe more?
by DITO

Yeah, all NH has to do is find a team that’s never employed a scout, has no internet connection and no subscription to any magazine that has baseball stats.
by WTM

No wonder they’re coming to Colletti! Just kidding. Sort of. Anyway, since I’d barely give him a job if he came for free, much less at a cost of prospects, let’s just drop the whole “Jack Wilson” thing, can we?

Edgar Renteria… or Orlando Cabrera. Ken Rosenthal (via MLBtraderumors) chimes in on Wilson, but also drops this nugget:

On the free-agent front, they are showing mild interest in free-agent shortstop Edgar Renteria but not Orlando Cabrera, believing that Cabrera would require too long a contract, sources say.

renteriatigersRenteria, as you might remember, had apparently signed a two year, $18 million deal with the Giants last week before reports were proven false. I’d been all set to laugh at San Francisco for that deal, because what the hell does a rebuilding team need with an over-the-hill shortstop who’d cost a draft pick? It makes slightly more sense for the Dodgers, as they’re a contender. Frankly, I’m not exactly sure why Cabrera is expected to get a better deal than Renteria. I’ll grant that Cabrera is the superior fielder, but he’s also a year older, has historically been a weaker offensive player than Renteria, and in a season in which Renteria was killed for having “lost it”, they each ended up with identical 84 OPS+ scores.

Renteria’s not the player he once was, but I don’t think that he’s as cooked as most believe. In 2007 for Atlanta, he had the second best season of his career (.390 OBP!), and he’s now proven twice that while he thrives in warm weather NL cities (Miami, Atlanta, St. Louis), he struggles in cold weather AL cities (Boston, Detroit). Well, guess what: the Dodgers aren’t based out of Minnesota. Besides, while Renteria was – like the rest of the Tigers – absolutely brutal in the first half last year, he definitely turned it around in the second half, putting up a line of .296/.343/.469. He’s hardly the ideal solution, I’ll admit. But if he’s somehow undervalued enough to agree to just a one or two year deal, I’m okay with a line like that, and with a contract that short it’s not blocking DeJesus.

Angel Berroa. Again from Rosenthal:

If Furcal signs elsewhere, the Dodgers’ top in-house candidate to replace him could be Angel Berroa, a capable fielder who batted only .230.

Berroa, who was acquired in a trade with the Kansas City Royals and started for most of the time when Furcal was out, had his $5.5-million option for next season declined. Because Berroa hasn’t accrued enough major league service time to become a free agent, he remains under the Dodgers’ control.

The last day to tender contracts to such players is Dec. 12, and if the Dodgers don’t re-sign him by then, they’ll probably let him go because the collective bargaining agreement forbids clubs to re-sign or tender contracts to players that would cut their salaries from the previous season by more than 20%. Berroa earned $4.75 million in 2008, meaning the Dodgers would be forced to pay him at least $3.8 million if they tender him a contract.

No, no, no. No. Just no. $3.8 million for Angel Berroa? I wouldn’t take him at the major league minimum, even if someone else was paying it. I’m not even going to link to our previous articles about him, because you know it all by now. He’s a complete black hole at the plate and despite Rosenthal’s assertion of him as a “capable” fielder, is average at best. As we’ve said before, if we’re going to have to play a shortstop who can’t hit, it might as well be Hu, the superior fielder who’s at least got a prayer of offensive improvement.

Now at this point you’re probably thinking, “MSTI, you’re against everyone. Who do you want?” Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer to that. My thinking is that either Hu or DeJesus is going to be the man at the position, but that you can’t depend on either in 2009. So you want to get a player on a one-year deal, two at the most, who won’t kill you in 2009, but also won’t cost a ton in prospects to acquire. That counts out Jack Wilson, who the Pirates want a ton for, and Angel Berroa, who would kill us. So as much as I hate myself for saying it, I can’t see a better option right now: Edgar Renteria on a very short term deal.

- Mike Scioscia’s tragic illness msti-face.jpg

MSTI.com’s 2008 In Review: Shortstop

Ahh, shortstop. Or as we like to think of it in 2008, “the Valley of the Damned.”

Angel Berroa (D+)
(.230/.304/.310 1hr 16rbi)

I have to say, I never expected to be reviewing Angel Berroa as the shortstop who got the most at-bats for the Dodgers this season. To be honest, I think this grade might be the one that differs the most from the mainstream perception. How many times did we have to read stories saying how great Berroa was in stepping in for Rafael Furcal? In particular, there was the heart attack I nearly had in August when Joe Torre started spouting insanity like “I tried to reason who was going to give me the better at-bat – Berroa or Loney.”

On the other hand, you’ve got me, who thought acquiring him was a terrible idea in the first place, laughed when he went his first 21 games without an RBI, and campaigned in August to give Chin-Lung Hu another shot.

Look, I’m not blind to the circumstances that caused Berroa to get such playing time in the first place, and sure, I enjoyed his decent hot streak where he hit .333 in 20 games between 8/24 and 9/17. I just don’t understand why so many people considered him to be, well, good. I mean, we’re talking about a guy who was so bad that even though the Royals signed him to a 4-year contract and had indisputably the worst shortstop in baseball (Tony Pena), they still wouldn’t let Berroa out of Triple-A. Despite that track record, he still underperformed in 2008 – his BA and SLG was far under his career averages, and while his OBP was almost identical to his career number, at .304 that’s hardly anything to be proud of. Putting up a 62 OPS+ when the career average that got you demoted was 77 is hardly a good thing, nor is the fact that of the 42 shortstops who had at least 200 plate appearances, Berroa’s VORP was 35th, at -3.7. That’s right, negative.

“But MSTI,” you might say. “Everyone knows he can’t hit. At least he was a good fielder, and that’s what was most important.” Which is all well and good, except that it’s not particularly true. Baseball Prospectus has his FRAA (Fielding Runs Above Average) at 0, which makes him exactly average. I suppose that’s a nice step up from his career -44 number in that regard, but it’s certainly not the sublime level with the glove that Chin-Lung Hu offers, which is basically what I was saying in August when I wanted to replace Berroa with Hu.

Really, there’s a reason that Berroa gets a D+ and not a straight F, and that’s because we all knew he was a terrible player as soon as he was acquired, so it’s hard to act surprised when he was terrible and somehow underperformed his already lousy career marks. If anything, it’s the media that deserves the F for trying to fool people into believing that Berroa was a useful player. His 2009 option was declined, but that doesn’t neccessarily mean the end of Berroa in LA – it just means that he’s clearly not worth $5.5 million. Let’s hope the front office realizes he’s not worth a roster spot, either.
Rafael Furcal (I take the 5th)
(.357/.439/.573 5hr 16rbi)
Well, I don’t even know where to start with this one. After the worst season of his career in 2007 (thanks, Jason Repko!), Furcal got off to an absolutely blazing hot start. Just how good was he over the first month? Remember, VORP is a counting stat, and despite playing in just 36 games, Furcal still was the 14th-best shortstop – beating out guys like Miguel Tejada and Orlando Cabrera, who played full seasons. I don’t need to tell you what happened after that, with his back injury keeping him out for nearly five solid months, and nearly taking the Dodger season along with it.

But you know what the worst part was? The uncertainty. It’s one thing when you see a guy blow out his knee or break his arm, because you know right then and there he’s out for quite a while. You mourn the loss, but you move on and start making plans to get by. However, with Furcal, at first he was just kept out as a “precaution”; then it was “he’ll be back this weekend”, and then “in a week”; and then the next thing you know we’ve been watching Berroa, Nomar, and Hu suck the life out of shortstop until practically October. It’s not too much of a stretch to say that of everything that didn’t go right for the 2008 Dodgers, this one stung the most – even more than Andruw Jones’ epic chokejob.

It really makes you wonder what a Dodger offense with a healthy Furcal and a happy Manny could have looked like, right? I’m still holding out hope that we’ll see that in 2009, but it sounds like we’ll at least get Furcal back, since interest in his return is mutual. Hey, maybe we’ll get one benefit out of Furcal’s injury and it’ll drive his price down a little.

Nomar Garciaparra (D)
(.264/.326/.466 8hr 28rbi)
Man, and I thought Jeff Kent’s 2008 was eventful. Remember, at the beginning of camp, the biggest question was, “who’s going to win the third base job – Nomar or Andy LaRoche?” Well, that lasted as long as March 7, when both Nomar and LaRoche got hurt in the same spring game, with Nomar suffering a microfracture of his right wrist.

So okay, Nomar’s season debut is delayed until April 16th (injury #1), at which time he reclaimed the starting 3B job from Blake DeWitt…
…which Nomar kept for all of 9 days before injuring himself again. But hey, at least during those 9 days he hit .226 and asked Chip Caray if he could shake left-handed because that’s how much his right hand hurt! On April 26th, Nomar popped his calf (injury #2) and missed over two months. Okay, so far: nothing crazy, because Nomar gets hurt all the time.

But this time, Nomar returns on July 4th….as the starting shortstop! Which is doubly hilarious when you remember that half the reason a red-hot James Loney couldn’t get out of AAA in 2007 is that first baseman Nomar was deemed too fragile to move across the diamond and replace Wilson Betemit at third base. This time Nomar lasts all of 18 games before injuring his knee on July 27th (injury #3). He returned on August 12th and regained his starting SS job for the next few weeks until August 29th (hitting .167 over that time) before being benched for Angel Berroa’s one sign of life. He miraculously made it all the way until September 27th before…

injuring his knee again (injury #4), though this one didn’t land him on the DL, thanks to expanded rosters. Finally, other than one start at 1B against Jamie Moyer in the NLCS, he was last seen riding the bench for all of the playoffs and striking out feebly to end games. In the rare moments Nomar was actually able to play this year, he wasn’t completely terrible: a 105 ERA+ is actually slightly above average, and his .466 SLG was higher than anyone except for Manny, Ethier and Furcal. He did also mash lefties (1.067 OPS), although I’m hesistant to call that a repeatable skill because in 2007, he was actually markedly worse against lefties than righties.

I don’t like to blame Nomar for all the injuries, but he gets the grade he does simply because he wasn’t there when we needed him to be. We needed him to hold down third base at the beginning of the year with LaRoche hurt, and his absence contributed to the Dodgers having to turn to Blake DeWitt (and remember, DeWitt’s success doesn’t make it right – there were plenty of us who thought he was going to put up Jonesian numbers). We needed him to take over from DeWitt when the league started to catch up, and Nomar couldn’t answer the call. We needed him to prevent having to play Berroa at shortstop every day, and he was unable.

As for the future? Well, Nomar hasn’t decided if he’s retiring or not. But if he chooses to return, I can’t imagine there’s a whole lot of other teams clamoring for his services; conversely, I would think he wouldn’t want to leave his young family and his hometown. If he’s willing to play on a one-year deal at a markedly reduced salary, with the understanding that he’s the backup at 1st and 3rd (i.e., the new Big Sexy), I would find that acceptable – if only so I can keep using that picture!
Chin-Lung Hu (F)
(.181/.252/.233 0hr 9rbi)

This, I must say, is one review I’ve really not been looking forward to, because I had such high hopes for Hu entering the season, and he couldn’t possibly have failed more miserably. Just to show I’m not above bashing myself, this is what I said in last year’s season reviews after Hu had a breakout 2007 in the minors, which won him the Dodgers Minor League Player of the Year award:

So now in the space of one season, Hu has gone from “great glove/might not hit enough to stick” to “great glove/may be one of the better hitting SS around”. So much so that I wouldn’t mind seeing Furcal get dealt for something good and letting Hu get a crack at SS.

Hold on a second, it’s hard to type with all that egg on my face. There we go. After starting the season as Jeff Kent’s caddy at second base, Hu got the first crack at the shortstop job when Rafael Furcal was lost in early May… and it’s hard to overstate just how badly he fared. At the time of his first start at SS on May 6th, Hu was hitting .229/.325/.229 in mostly part-time duty. 76 at-bats later, he’d nabbed just 10 hits and was at .159/.224/.206 when he was sent down on June 7th. Really, if Hu had been able to just be decent, we might have been able to avoid the Angel Berroa era entirely. On the plus side, his glove was as good as advertised – in 75 career games, he’s made just 2 errors.

Hu’s brutal 2008 clearly torpedoed any chance of him getting the starting gig in 2009, but I’m not ready to give up on him yet, and there’s two reasons why (besides for his fantastic defense):

1) Hu’s lousy hitting might be traced back to vision problems. In last season’s review, I noted that Hu had a terrible offensive 2006, was diagnosed with an eye issue, and had a monster 2007. In August of this year when I campaigned for his return, we’d heard that the exact same thing had happened this season:

Hu hit the minor league DL with vision problems soon after he got there, and since getting that taken care of has been killing the ball, putting up a .361/.400/.475 line. There’s precedent for this with him, too; after struggling through 2006 (.660 OPS) problems with his vision were first made public, and after getting his eyes healthy in the offseason, he busted out with an .871 OPS in 2007.

Now I know it’s a small sample size, but in eleven plate appearances after his recall to LA in September, he reached base six times. I don’t know what keeps going on with his eyes, and obviously if he can’t get this taken care of more permanently it’s going to seriously impact his career, but it really seems that there’s a clear cause-and-effect relationship here, now that it’s happened twice. If he can get this fixed, he might be able to return to his 2007 form. Besides, while no one expected him to OPS .871 in the majors this year, I have a hard time believing that the same guy who did that in the minors in 2007 could only put up a .485 mark in 2008 unless there’s some other issue involved.

2) He’s only had 145 career at-bats, and is still just 24. I hope that Hu’s absurdly poor showing at the plate hasn’t completely poisoned him to the average Dodger fan, but 145 at-bats is hardly enough time to give up on a player who could be a rare blend of excellent defense and productive offense. That said, his lousy 2008 has almost forced the Dodgers to try and retain Furcal, but it remains to be seen what that deal will be. If it’s only a one or two year deal, then maybe Hu gets a chance to regain his prospect standing in AAA or on the LA bench until Furcal is gone. But if it’s longer than that, Hu probably will have to get his shot elsewhere, and personally I don’t wish to see that – regardless of my including him in a trade in my offseason plan.

- Mike Scioscia’s tragic illness msti-face.jpg

Let’s Not Get Swept on National TV, Okay?

Since the less said about the Dodgers at the moment the better, there’s definitely a few things of note to mention from last night’s Las Vegas game (thanks to Torgy for pointing most of this out).

* Andruw Jones… played first base? Jones has played in 1835 games in the majors, 325 in the minors, and this is the first time he’s ever played the infield. Now, he had missed the previous four games with a sore knee, so this very well may have been a way to get him some at-bats without asking him to run in the outfield in a non-DH game. But who knows. Maybe with the outfield logjam, they might be interested in getting him some time as a right-handed option to James Loney at first base in September? That would be a sight to see. How weird does that picture to the right look, too?

* Why again did Tanyon Sturtze stick while Eric Stults went down? We questioned this at the time, and Stults was very good last night for Vegas in the high altitude of Colorado Springs, allowing just 2 hits and a single run over 6 innings, striking out 6. Stults is never going to be an All-Star, but he’s proven he belongs in the big leagues, especially with that complete game shutout of the White Sox. Besides, when you’ve got innings-limited guys like Kershaw and Maddux back-to-back in your rotation, wouldn’t you prefer having a guy who can go multiple innings like Stults rather than someone who’s basically useless in Sturtze – not to mention how annoying it is for poor bloggers to keep the names straight?

* It’s probably time to give up on Greg Miller, right? If you’re unfamiliar with Miller’s story, he was basically Clayton Kershaw before Clayton Kershaw was. He made it to AA in 2003 as an 18 year old, and was completely dominating in his 4 starts, putting up a 40/7 K/BB ratio. In Double A. At 18. He blew out his arm soon after that and hasn’t been the same since (a more indepth profile can be found over at FireNedCollettiNow from a few days ago). Anyway, after one of the weirdest lines you’ll ever see last night (in one inning, he didn’t give up a hit – yet allowed 4 runs thanks to 3 walks and some lousy defense), he’s now up to a 7.21 ERA and is walking more than a man per inning. I hate to give up on a guy who’s only 23, but with control like that, he’s barely an AAA pitcher right now, and he’s using up a valuable 40-man spot. This is definitely a situation that will need to be reviewed in the offseason.

Speaking of the 40 man roster, Tony Jackson discusses who might be called up when rosters expand on September 1st:

With apparently none of the Dodgers’ minor-league affiliates looking like they’ll be playoff bound, the team’s September callups should start arriving on Sept. 2, the second day of the upcoming homestand. It looks like A.J. Ellis will be coming up from Vegas to be the third catcher. He is hitting .309 this year, so he’ll edge out Lucas May, who is hitting .228 at Jacksonville, even though May is on the 40-man roster and Ellis isn’t. Although I have long been under the impression that James McDonald was a lock for a callup, that apparently is still being discussed and is far from assured. But it looks like Ellis will be the only guy not presently on the roster who will be called up. Dodgers don’t have a lot of flexibility. The 40-man is full, and there aren’t a lot of guys on it whom you can look at and say, “He’s expendable.”

When you’ve still got guys like Sturtze and Mark Sweeney on the roster, I don’t think it’s that hard to find guys to dump, but Jackson isn’t wrong about the tight roster situation, especially with all of the guys on the DL. But just to get Ellis on the 40-man, here’s an idea. You figure that Chin-Lung Hu or Blake DeWitt or both will likely be called up to add infield depth (DeWitt’s been playing mostly 2B in the minors lately), plus you hope to get back Rafael Furcal at some point. Once you get Hu and DeWitt up, there’s absolutely no need for both Angel Berroa and Pablo Ozuna, not that there’s really much of a need for either one right now. Hell, bring up both Hu and DeWitt, and DFA both Berroa and Ozuna. You keep the same amount of bodies in the middle infield, you immeasurably improve your infield defense, hopefully improve the offense too, and free up two roster spots on the 40-man. Makes sense, right?

Finally, I hate to get nit-picky and point out mistakes for the sake of it, but come on, Bill Shaikin:

Blake, who turned 35 Saturday, has stabilized third base for the Dodgers and said he had not ruled out returning to Los Angeles. When the Indians traded him, he said, they told him they hoped to offer him a contract this winter, to return to what was the only major league club he had known.

“The only major league club he had known”? I knew off the top of my head that Blake came up with Toronto and also saw some time in Minnesota; upon looking it up, I found that he played in Baltimore too. It may have been only 112 at-bats over 4 seasons, but still, you’re the Los Angeles Times. Do a little research, would you? He’d played for three other MLB clubs, so that makes you look pretty bad.

- Mike Scioscia’s tragic illness msti-face.jpg

I Almost Miss Cesar Izturis

Let’s look at the deciding innings (10th on Saturday, 9th on Sunday) of the Lost Weekend in San Francisco.

12 batters
2 solid outfield hits (Roberts, Winn)
2 ground ball singles (Rowand x2)
2 non-advancing outs (Molina K, Vizquel bunt popout)
1 outfield single that a better LF may have caught (Winn to Manny)
1 poorly-hit RBI fielder’s choice (Burriss to Broxton)
1 hit by pitch (Ochoa by Broxton)
1 error which could have been a game-ending DP (Blake on Castillo)
1 RBI fielder’s choice which a better 2B may have made a game-ending DP (Castillo thanks to Ozuna)
1 RBI infield single which a better SS would have at least had a shot at (Velez thanks to Berroa)

There’s been a lot written all around the baseball world over the last two days about how Jonathan Broxton and Hong-Chih Kuo “blew” back-to-back saves, and in the strictest sense of the word that’s true. It’s hard to argue that they got the job done when the team lost so clearly, they didn’t.

I just think it’s hard to lay all the blame at the feet of these two guys when it’s pretty clear that neither of them performed all that poorly. There were zero walks, zero homers, and one hard-hit ball apiece. It was the defense which completely blew it behind them, especially on Sunday. If Blake makes that play, you’re guaranteed one out with the possibility of a game-ending DP. If Ozuna doesn’t break the wrong way, there’s a much better chance of getting two outs rather than one. And on the last play, while it would have been a highlight if the out had been made, Berroa being unable to even pick the ball up guaranteed that there’s not even a chance to make the play to first. It’s hard for any pitcher to succeed under those circumstances.

But what’s to be expected when your middle infield in the late innings of a close game consists of two guys no one wants? Especially when you’ve got a middle infielder like Chin-Lung Hu in the minors who’s well-known to be one of the slickest fielders around and is pretty likely to be a superior hitter as well? Before this whole debacle went down, I’d already argued that Hu should be up to replace Berroa (or Ozuna) – and FireNedCollettiNow agrees.

I’m not insensitive to the injury issues that have left us barren at shortstop. But the continued presence of players like Angel Berroa and Pablo Ozuna continues to blow my mind. Neither can hit a lick – that’s no surprise. Berroa and Ozuna share nearly identical 76 and 75 career OPS+ marks, making them a full quarter worse than the average hitter. When you figure that you’re down somewhere around your 6th and 7th options on the middle infield depth chart, you don’t expect a whole lot of offense, so you can live with that. You just expect that for what you give up in offense, you’re going to get some contributions on defense.

Except that neither of them can field, either. Ozuna is 4 runs below average for his career as a second baseman, according to Baseball Prospectus, and Berroa is an almost unfathomable 45 runs below average as a shortstop over his career. It’s not like we didn’t all know this going in – just read some of the quotes included in our original report on Berroa.

As for Casey Blake, he’s not off the hook either; that error was crushing. But unlike Berroa and Ozuna, he’s at least provided some value with the bat, and his defense has actually been pretty good up until that boot.

I don’t know how this could be any clearer: shoddy defense had a direct impact in one and perhaps both of the previous two late-inning collapses. The two men you currently employ at crucial up-the-middle positions when defense is needed are both decidedly below-average at that task (nor can they hit). You have a far superior option in the minor leagues. What’s the hold-up here?

————

On another topic, fair’s fair. We’ve been really critical of Joe Torre around here lately, and I think it’s all been justified. So now when he does something that shows he might finally Get It, it wouldn’t be right to not applaud him for it.

Torre also indicated that Andre Ethier will remain in the starting outfield along with Matt Kemp in center and Manny Ramirez in left. Torre said Andruw Jones’ surgically repaired right knee is tender again and his availability even as a defensive replacement is day-to-day.

Meanwhile, Juan Pierre is really the odd man out. Although Torre initially indicated after the acquistion of Ramirez that Pierre would get the bulk of playing time ahead of Ethier, it hasn’t worked out that way. Ethier came into Sunday’s game 11-for-19 lifetime against Matt Cain, then went 2-for-3 against him with a triple, RBI and two runs scored.

“He’s seeing the ball really well right now and he has a little more pop [than Pierre],” Torre said. “As long as he looks comfortable, it’s easy to watch right now.”

The lineup for tonight’s game against Philly just came out and once again, Ethier in, Pierre out. Excellent work, Joe. Keep it up!

- Mike Scioscia’s tragic illness msti-face.jpg

Can We Just Get Hu Back Up Here Already?

We’re not always right around here, you know. Sometimes we’re strongly for a move that backfires horribly. And sometimes we question a move that works out wonderfully. And sometimes we get one right; we deride a move as awful from day one and it works out exactly as we said it would. (That, by the way, remains one of my favorite posts I’ve ever written for this site).

With that, it’s time for Angel Berroa to hit the road to, well, anywhere that’s not Los Angeles. And it’s time to get Chin-Lung Hu back to the bigs.

Sure, there was a time where you could maybe, sort of, kind of make an argument for Berroa – back when Nomar and Furcal were both DL’d and the slim possibility of Berroa’s resurgence was preferable to Hu’s .159 struggles in the bigs. Maybe.

But to no one’s surprise, Berroa’s been terrible, despite his 2-4 performance tonight. Even in the emergent circumstances that have allowed him to play, a .206/.267/.243 line (coming into tonight) in a pennant race just isn’t going to cut it. Of the 72 men who’ve played shortstop in the big leagues this year, Berroa is 67th in VORP.

Now I know that Hu was awful at the plate in his shot earlier in the year; in fact, he’s one of the 5 players ranked lower in VORP than Berroa. But the idea that Hu should be given another shot over Berroa rests in two nearly indisputable facts:

1) Chin-Lung Hu is a better fielder than Angel Berroa. Actually, Berroa hasn’t been all that bad at shortstop, but Hu is so good that there’s little argument here. If you’ve got two guys who probably won’t contribute all that much at the plate, you might as well go with the one who offers more in the field, right? Even when Hu was struggling at the the dish, he proved that his fielding was the real deal, not even committing a single error in his 28 games at SS earlier this year. While Berroa hasn’t been as bad as I feared with the glove, he’s been middle-of-the pack (indeed, his .975 fielding % would tie him for 15th of the 20 shortstops with enough at-bats to qualify for the batting title, if he were qualified as well).

2) Chin-Lung Hu is more likely to contribute offensively than Angel Berroa. The fact that I’m saying a guy who hit .159/.224/.206 is carrying a bigger bat than anyone is pretty damning, but I really think this is true. Hu hit the minor league DL with vision problems soon after he got there, and since getting that taken care of has been killing the ball, putting up a .361/.400/.475 line. There’s precedent for this with him, too; after struggling through 2006 (.660 OPS) problems with his vision were first made public, and after getting his eyes healthy in the offseason, he busted out with an .871 OPS in 2007. I don’t know exactly what the problems with his eyes have been, but this is twice now that after getting his vision issues corrected he’s come back with a vengeance. Not to mention that Hu is a highly-touted 24-year-old who can be expected to improve, while Berroa is now 30 and five years removed from his one decent season.

The shortstop situation remains fluid; Nomar is supposedly going to return in the next week or so, and Rafael Furcal has targeted September 1 for his own return. Each will likely need a caddy, so why not go with the younger superior fielder who may have fixed his hitting problems rather than the older mediocre-at-best black hole of a veteran? Seems to make sense to me.

Also, I’m not going to write yet another post about how lousy Juan Pierre is and Joe Torre’s inexplicable infatuation with him; we’ve done that plenty around here. That said, I can’t help but direct you to the wonderful article Joe Sheehan of Baseball Prospectus wrote on the situation yesterday. A lot of it is exactly the same sort of thing we’ve been saying around here from day one, but it’s still a good read. It’s far too long to copy and paste the whole thing here (plus, it is behind a pay wall), but these snippets should give you a good idea.

Ethier was also better last year, and has been the better player than Pierre from the moment he stepped into the league. This isn’t a debatable point—Andre Ethier is a better baseball player than Juan Pierre.

The argument that Pierre’s poor rate stats don’t accurately capture his skills is false. He isn’t a good leadoff hitter who generates runs via his speed. He’s not on base enough, and because he’s not on base enough, both he and his team are poor at scoring runs when he bats leadoff. Batting Juan Pierre leadoff is, to bring back a term, baseball malpractice.

If the Dodgers fail to reach the postseason, it will be in part because Furcal got hurt. You can’t just ignore that part of the equation. But it will be just as much because Joe Torre elected to kneecap his offense by putting a bad baseball player in a critical role, and stubbornly sticking with that decision despite what it was doing to his offense. No amount of geniality, experience, speed, or hustle can counter the statistics above. When anybody but Juan Pierre leads off, the Dodgers score 50 percent more runs than they do when Pierre leads off. Consistently

So… hard… to type… through… tears of joy…

- Mike Scioscia’s tragic illness msti-face.jpg