All Your Manny Are Belong To Us

I’m tempted to wait until he’s actually in the lineup on April 6th before I post this after yesterday’s false alarm, but all indications are that Manny Ramirez has finally agreed to a two year, $45 million offer, with an opt-out after 2009 and deferred money for both years. AKA, “what was basically offered four months ago”. So let’s take one last post to look at the winners & losers, and then we can finally get on to getting back to baseball – and it’s not as though there aren’t important issues. Can Blake DeWitt stick as a backup infielder? Should we be worried about Orlando Hudson’s sore wrist? What can we expect from James Loney? Who’s going to be the fifth starter? Will Juan Pierre be moved, and if not will he cause a stink? And so on, and so on.

 


mannylooking.jpgWinners

The Dodger Offense. What’s more imposing in left field, Manny Ramirez getting his first shot to spend a full season destroying the National League, or Juan Pierre continuing his five-year decline? I don’t even think I need to break out any stats for this, fancy or not. You’re dropping one of the worst hitters in the game and sliding in one of the ten best right handed hitters who ever lived. I’d say that’s a slight “win” for the team – and that’s not even considering what it does for the other hitters, because despite what Jeff Kent thinks, Manny’s presence completely changes the pitches the hitters around him see. 

Manny. He gets to come back to what was clearly the best fit for him, to a fanbase that already dearly loves him, judging by the amount of fake dreadlocks you saw in the stands last year. Not only that, he’s a first-ballot inner-circle Hall of Famer despite spending most of his time in the tough AL East. Now he gets to come and rock the National League for an entire season? Dear god. 

Scott Boras. Let’s face it, Boras could have gotten Manny a minimum wage job working the drive-thru at a Burger King and he’d still find a way to call this a “win”, but it still is. No, it’s not the four, five, or six-year deal for $100m+ he was originally looking for, but he still somehow took a late 30s player who some saw as damaged goods, in the worst national economy in decades, despite no competition from other teams, and was able to get him $25 million, with an opt-out clause. Say what you want about his tactics or morals, but the man is good at his job. 

Frank McCourt. Well done, Frank. You held fast in the face of Boras’ ludicrous demands, and for that patience you’ve now markedly improved your team – and perhaps more important to you, you’ll be able to sell tons of #99 jerseys and dreadlocks. It’s not an easy thing to say, “I beat Scott Boras”, but you did – you got him to agree to basically the same deal he’d dismissed in November as not being serious. Well done. 

Ned Colletti. I think most of us agree that Ned’s seat is at least somewhat warm if the Dodgers don’t do well this year after the disastrous Andruw Jones, Juan Pierre, and Jason Schmidt deals, so I’d say he’s probably pretty pleased to see this huge improvement to the 2009 club. Not only that, fans would have strung him up if he’d let Adam Dunn and Bobby Abreu pass by on very reasonable deals, only to not get Manny. In the end, his (and McCourt’s) patience looks good.

Fans. I suppose this goes along with the sentiment listed above in the ’offense’ section, but it’s true: as a fan, would you rather be seeing Manny or Pierre all year? I can’t reiterate that enough.

Jason Repko. You’d think that signing another outfielder would doom his already-slim hopes of making the squad, right? Well, maybe it does. But I just can’t shake the feeling that late-inning outfield defense is going to be a problem. While Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp are both adequate, Manny’s clearly no Gold Glover, no matter what he says. Yet while most teams have a plus defender as a backup, the Dodgers have Pierre, whose weak arm is well-known, and likely Delwyn Young, who’s got tons of hitting potential but isn’t much of a fielder himself. When it’s a tight game in the late innings, do we really want to see runners tagging up to score vital runs on flies to Manny, Pierre, or Delwyn in left? And what of the games that Ethier or Kemp sit? Repko’s got his own flaws, but he’s got a good arm and can play all three positions. We might just need that.

Losers

Juan Pierre. Without Manny, he at least had a shot of playing fulltime. Now? He’s either riding the bench behind three guys who really need to be playing every day, or cut loose only to find that there’s not much market for weak-armed outfielders with no power and poor on-base skills. I can’t feel too bad for a man who’s going to pocket over $50 million just for playing baseball, but his already-stalled career just took a big hit. 

Danny Ardoin. No, I don’t have any inside info, but the 40-man roster is full. Who carries five catchers on their 40-man? Clearly, Russell Martin and Brad Ausmus’ roles are secure. I doubt they’d cut Lucas May or A.J. Ellis free for nothing. I liked Ardoin, but finding a quad-A backstop isn’t that hard to do. I’m predicting this costs him a job.

Dodger fans. Sure, it’s all worth adding a hitter like Manny to the lineup, and when he’s pummeling homers in May we won’t care. But there’s only one thing worse than watching millionaires argue with millionaires in the face of a terrible economy… and that’s watching them do it for four months only to end up with nearly the exact same terms that were on the table in November. This whole process was completely brutal for all of us. 

Frank McCourt. For months, public opinion was firmly on the side of Dodger management. They didn’t back down to Boras when he was calling their 2/$45 offer in November “not serious”, they didn’t bid against themselves when it was clear that no other teams were seriously in this running, and they didn’t panic when spring training started without Manny. Yet when, in the last week, Boras agreed to drop down to almost your terms, you started saying things like “I refuse to consider this offer” and raised questions about your financial stability with this increased demand for deferred money. You still won, Mr. McCourt, but your reputation took a big hit in this last week as well.

Scott Boras. Though he’ll never admit it, he did miscalculate on this. In November, the Dodgers offered 2/$45. He wanted 5 or 6 years at $100m+. Not only did he not even get them to meet in the middle, he ended up settling for… 2/$45m. While getting that much annual salary in this economy is still a feat, it’s still far less than he’d originally demanded. Plus - and I didn’t think this was possible - baseball fans might actually hate him even more now.

The rest of the NL West. Did I mention that the Dodgers just replaced Juan Pierre with Manny Ramirez? Sure, there’s still questions about the starting rotation. But you tell me – how’s a lineup that looks to have either James Loney, Casey Blake, or Orlando Hudson hitting 8th look to you? 

 

 

MSTI.com’s 2008 in Review: Catcher


That’s right, it’s that time again! Just like we did last year, we’re going to give a review to everyone who played for the Dodgers this year. I’m sure I’ll regret this when it comes time to discuss Luis Maza.
Remember, each player’s grade is in relation to what we could have reasonably expected from them and them alone, not as compared to other players. So even though Blake DeWitt and Andre Ethier are both getting A’s, it doesn’t mean that I think DeWitt did as well as Ethier did. Besides, if I did it the other way, Manny would get an A and no one else would even rate a letter grade.
Less than 10 IP or 100 at-bats gets you an “incomplete”. Fun new twist this time around, rather than just put up pictures of everyone, I’ve whipped up some modern day versions of the indisputable best baseball card set ever, 1987 Topps. Hope you all enjoy these as much as I did making them.
Russell Martin (C-)
(.280/.385/.396 13hr 69rbi 18sb)
It’s hard to give a guy I like so much a grade like that, but a lot of this is due to the incredibly high expectations we had for Martin this year. Although his OBP is outstanding, his power really dropped off this year (three-year SLG from .436 to .469 to .396) and his 2008 OPS dropped markedly every single month from April to August before a September resurgence. Now as we said many times, I place a lot of the blame for that on Joe Torre and his insistence on playing Martin at 3B on his “days off” rather than actually letting him get a breather. I really think there’s more to this than people realize, because if you remember from July’s first-half review, I gave him an A+ and said,

Without question, the best offensive player so far. There were actually some inane stories out there that I won’t even subject you to linking to saying that he’s been off his game this year, but that’s mostly thanks to his very slow start to the season, hitting .197 as late as April 20th. But you know what? Martin’s actually having the best offensive year of his career overall.

Which, at the time, was true. The problem was that his second-half OPS dropped 122 points. While his OBP was still pretty good, his slugging dropped 100 points and he hit only 3 HR after the break. If that’s not a sign of a catcher who’s running out of gas, I don’t know what is. Pay attention, Joe! Also a matter of concern is Martin’s slipping defense, because he “led” the NL with 11 errors. Granted, the fact that he plays so often gives him more chances to make the errors, but still – that’s tops in the league. It’s sort of difficult to come up with a lot of defensive catching stats, especially since we all agree that caught stealing numbers mostly lie with the pitchers, so you’re just going to have to give me the eyeball test on this one – his defense wasn’t superb in 2008. Getting just five hits in the eight postseason games isn’t really helping his case either. I don’t mean to get down on Martin, because even if he’s not Joe Mauer or Brian McCann, he still finished 5th in the majors in VORP among catchers, and with the state of catching the way it is in baseball right now, that’s plenty valuable. Plus, he’s still only going to be 26 next year and just entering his prime, so it’s possible we’ve yet to see the best of him. But hey, you know what would really help with that? Joe Torre not trying to make Martin walk like my grandpa by the time he’s 30. Also, not trading him because of “bad makeup”. Shut up, Joel Sherman.

Danny Ardoin (inc.)
(.235/.278/.314 1hr 4rbi)
There’s few things tougher to write about than the performance of Dodger backup catchers, and I’m already realizing that I still have two guys with fewer at-bats than Ardoin did. Fantastic. Anyway, last year when writing about Chad Moeller I said, “This guy’s straight out of the Journeyman Catcher Central Casting Agency here. Now paging Paul Bako, Kelly Stinnett, Mike DeFelice, and Sal Fasano, please pick up the white courtesy phone.” Danny Ardoin could just have easily been dropped in that category, as the Dodgers were his 6th team in 5 MLB seasons. That said, Ardoin did a decent job – no, he can’t hit, but I had no problems with his defense and the pitching staff seemed happy with his work behind the plate. I’d rather that the Dodgers get a better hitter in 2009, so that Torre will feel more comfortable with resting Martin, but if it’s Ardoin again, I won’t really complain that much.

Gary Bennett (F!)
(.190/.261/.381 1hr 4rbi)
That’s right, we’re three players in and I’m already breaking my own rules by giving Gary Bennett an F, rather than the “incomplete” he deserves for only getting 21 at-bats. Bennett, like Ardoin, is your standard journeyman catcher, with the 2008 Dodgers his 8th team in 13 years. So when you’re a backup backstop, especially on a team with a solid starter like the Dodgers do, you’re really expected to do all of two things. You need to be a mediocre hitter (.241 career average: check) and you need to be a good defensive reciever. What you don’t need to do is to completely lose the ability to throw the ball back to the pitcher, causing both annoyance on the hurler’s part and occasional errors for you. The best part was, his season ended when he was put on the DL with plantar fasciitis in his left foot, but the timing was fantastic. This is what I said when the news first came out about his “injury”:

The hits keep on coming – Gary Bennett gets placed on the DL, per the official blog, and Dodger Thoughts has the reason: “Left foot plantar fasciitis.” Let me say, the quotes could not be thicker around that. We’ve had no word of any injury problems surrounding Bennett, but tons of stories about his throwing problems, and suddenly his foot hurts? Hey, call it a bad foot, the flu, or the heebie-jeebies; whatever it takes to get this guy’s head right and get those lollipop throws off the field. Seriously, he even made Rotoworld today, which is rare for a mediocre backup catcher, and at no point is the foot mentioned.

Needless to say, Gary Bennett probably shouldn’t have a job anywhere in 2009, but he especially shouldn’t have a job in Los Angeles.

A.J. Ellis (inc.)
(0-3)
Ah yes, the fun part of writing about every player. You get to dissect the September expanded roster call-up who got just three at-bats. I think Ellis’ impact on the 2008 Dodgers can be mostly shown by the fact that I couldn’t even find an action picture of him in an LA uniform and had to go with a 2007 spring training shot. I think most of my thoughts regarding Ellis this year revolved around me hoping he’d at least get an at-bat, because after getting called up in September he got into three games without getting a chance at the plate. (I believe at one point I declared, “Free A.J. Ellis!”) Fortunately for him, acting manager Nomar Garciaparra gave him a start on Sept. 28 in the last game of the year, where he promptly went 0-3 with 2 K’s. Seriously though, Ellis is going to be 28 next year and he might yet deserve a shot to be a backup somewhere; he did tear up AAA this year with a .321/.436/.456 line.

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

MSTI Goes to Philly

Second time this year I’ve seen the Dodgers on the East Coast (May 30th in New York), and for the second time, Clayton Kershaw was starting. Plus, I get to add park #10 to my MLB lifetime tour. What luck, right?
Uh… right. About that. Man, what a brutal game. Between Kershaw giving up 3 runs in the first, the offense being completely non-existent, and the bullpen being all too happy to allow further damage, this was one of the most depressing games I’ve ever seen. No drama, no hope – although Citizens Bank Park is phenomenal – and an afternoon spent directly in the baking sun. That said, it wasn’t without its interesting moments. Let’s take a quick look.

Just look at the sun there – kind of helps to explain why Matt Kemp completely lost that ball, right? I had a hard time following any balls off the bat; I’ve never been in a sun field that brutal.
Before the game, we got there early enough to catch some batting practice, where I saw this exchange:

From left, that’s Greg Maddux, Hiroki Kuroda, Danny Ardoin, and I think Chad Billingsley, though I’m not sure on the last one. What kind of conversation do you think that was like? One of the greatest pitchers who ever lived, a guy who barely speaks English, and a career backup catcher. Just to the right of this, coach Ken Howell nearly lost his head on a screaming opposite-field line drive by James Loney.
No pictures of this next moment, but it’s certainly worth mentioning. Walking around the park, I was pleasantly surprised to see a healthy amount of Dodger fans representing. I saw a pretty wide variety of players represented on shirts and jerseys: some Martins, a Manny 99 or two, a Kemp here and there, even a Kershaw. But there was one I nearly fell over after seeing – a legit gray “Sweeney 21″ jersey. Even more surprising, it was on a pretty attractive woman. Since they don’t make official Mark Sweeney jerseys, this woman had to drop some money on getting it custom-made. I mean, this has to be his wife, daughter, family friend, or crazy stalker right? Who else gets a Mark Sweeney jersey? She was behind the LA dugout with everyone trying to get autographs at the end of BP, although who knows if she was just trying to get his attention – or a lock of his hair.
And then there was the capper: seeing someone in the stands in a Dodger jersey whom I actually recognized. That’s right, the infamous Troy from West Virginia. The mutton chops are even more glorious in person, and just in case I wasn’t sure it was him, he was sitting next to a guy in a West Virginia t-shirt. No, I didn’t go say hello. “Hi.. I know you from the internet.” That’s always fun. But hey, at least I got this lousy, kind of creepy picture on my phone.

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

The Best Defense is a Good… DEFENSE!

Hey, sometimes timing works out great, right? No, I’m not going to completely rehash yesterday’s post. But this can’t be ignored. Russell Martin, playing out of position at third base, made two errors tonight in the span of three batters. Casey Blake, playing his third-best position at first base, made another error. Martin’s first error didn’t lead directly to a run, but it did mean that Rockies pitcher Jeff Francis was able to make the final out of the 6th inning rather than lead off the 7th inning, which would have been greatly helpful to the Dodgers pitching. His second error was much more painful, because rather than having none on and two out for Matt Holliday, Willy Taveras was on first with one out; two singles later, the game was tied. Blake’s error hurt as well, allowing a run to score as it came with the bases loaded and one out. Fortunately, Martin’s bat was a little better with 2 hits, but still – he’s not a third baseman, and this cannot be counted as a day off, especially with a cross-country road trip coming up. Let’s hope that Joe sees it that way, too.

(No, I’m not ignoring the fact that Danny Ardoin threw a ball into center field that led to the go-ahead run – that definitely hurt. Those things are going to happen, especially when you play twice a month. But at least he was in his normal position instead of being toyed with in the field.)

Moving on before thinking about this makes me even more upset…

* Juan Pierre started tonight in lieu of Andre Ethier. Surprisingly, I don’t really have a problem with that. Much as I despise seeing Pierre play, you’ve still got to get him some playing time, and tonight was a really great time to do it. As Tony Jackson reports, “Pierre also is hitting .481 (13 for 27) for his career against Jeff Francis, while Ethier is 4 for 17 (.235).” It just constantly blows my mind that Pierre is usually not good enough to even play, yet when he does play, he’s suddenly good enough to hit leadoff and get more at-bats than any other player. I know, I know, he’s “got speed”, whatever that means. It’d be one thing if he was getting a start with Matt Kemp getting a day off, because then you really don’t have another legit leadoff man, but come on. Look at the stats entering the game tonight:

In 61 games in the leadoff spot, Juan Pierre has an awful .263/.297/.299 line for a .595 OPS.
In 31 games in the leadoff spot, Matt Kemp has a tasty .326/.384/.551 line for a .935 OPS.

We’re supposed to believe that there’s even an argument for Pierre over Kemp leading off when both are playing? That’s a little insulting.

* Over at AaronGleeman.com, Aaron wonders why the Twins didn’t go after reliever Al Reyes before he was signed by the Mets:

Reyes is 37 years old and has a history of arm problems to go with some off-field issues, but like many veteran relievers floating around the waiver wire and piling up on the scrap heap these days, he’d be a worthwhile addition to the Twins’ right-handed relief options.

With a 4.33 xFIP this season Reyes would rank second to Matt Guerrier (4.14) among the team’s right-handed relievers, and his 4.07 xFIP over the previous three years is better than Guerrier, Jesse Crain, and Boof Bonser (and would be better than Brian Bass, except he didn’t pitch prior to 2008).

No, I don’t care about the Twins, and yes, the Dodgers bullpen has been excellent thus far. But the post got me to thinking – should the Blue have tried to go after Reyes? Excellent pen or not, he only has to be better than the weakest link, and when you’ve got Tanyon Sturtze on the payroll, that’s not a tough hurdle to clear. Using Gleeman’s own statistic of xFIP (basically a fancy way of predicting a pitcher’s expected runs allowed per 9 innings, independent of defense), maybe they should have: While Reyes has a xFIP of 4.33, Sturtze is at a truly awful 9.28. However, this doesn’t really mean that the Blue should have acquired Reyes; it just further proves what we’ve been saying all along – that Sturtze doesn’t belong in the big leagues at this point. Would Al Reyes be a better option for a roster spot right now? Sure he would. But so would Eric Stults, Mike Myers, Mike Koplove (once he gets back from Beijing), Matt Riley, and probably James McDonald, too. So that’s only half of the AAA Las Vegas team that’d be preferable – plus even AA lefty Scott Elbert. Passing on Reyes doesn’t really bother me; keeping an inferior option when you’ve got several better ones on the farm does.

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

Free Danny Ardoin!

Just kidding! That said… how much longer can we keep pretending that our Golden God, Russell Martin, isn’t completely lost at the plate? I touched on this a few weeks ago when I posted some stats (without any further analysis) that included Martin’s OPS by month. Let’s take a closer look at his updated stats (and keep in mind, these don’t even include his 0-4 with 2 strikeouts performance tonight. Why? Because I can’t find any site that keeps OPS in real-time; all the biggies like ESPN and Yahoo! all update in the middle of the night, and I don’t want to wait until tomorrow to post this. Thanks, guys!)

Russell Martin, OPS by month
April: .888
May: .851
June: .802
July: .738
August: .706

Last 28 days: .259 BA .689 OPS 1hr 6rbi

Seems like a pretty clear downward spiral to me. To make it simpler, in the first half, his OPS was .830. In the second half, it’s .726. Even simpler? Before the break, he was Matt Kemp/Johnny Damon/Derrek Lee (the three guys currently closest to an .830 OPS on the year.) Since the break? He’s Bengie Molina/Casey Kotchman/Christian Guzman. Ugh.

Now I want to make this clear right here and now: I’m in no way advocating the benching of Russell Martin, which I have done for other players at various times. Part of that is of course the fact that there’s simply no other viable alternative, but that’s not really the point. He’s still a plus defender, he’s still the heart of the team, and you still have the confidence that he’ll turn it around. Besides, even a mediocre version of Russell Martin is still better than 80% of the rest of catchers in the bigs.

But the stats don’t lie. He was excellent in April, and he’s gotten worse every single month since. And, I’m going to add something completely unsabermetric here: he just looks bad. He’s flailing badly at pitches, and frankly I’ve never seen him look so… Berroa-like. (That’s right. Brett Tomko is the standard go-to of “pitchers who suck”, and now we’re making Angel Berroa his offensive equivalent. You may say “but Andruw Jones”, but I’m avoiding him because he was so good for so long, and because his failings this year are just so goddamn depressing.)

So what’s causing this? Well, I have a pretty popular theory to share here. I’ve already gotten my share of heat for being too anti-Torre around here lately, and this isn’t going to help any, but: It’s Joe Torre’s fault. Riddle me this: the Dodgers have now played 125 games, after their loss to Colorado. Russell Martin has gotten into 122 of them. That’s right, it’s August 20th, and our catcher has had all of three games off this season. He’s second in baseball in innings caught, with 975.1, behind only Jason Kendall. But the funny thing about that is that when Jason Kendall gets a day off? He gets a day off! No, when Torre decides to give Martin a day off behind the plate (which hasn’t happened since August 8th, now) Martin heads down to third base.

Martin at third base is wrong on so many levels. It’s not that he embarrasses himself out there; on the contrary, he’s been more than passable on defense. The first time, it was a fun diversion. The second time, it still had some novelty value. And every time since? It just makes me scream, “let your workhorse catcher rest, Joe!” How hard is it to see that Martin is wearing down yet again? It’s true that with LaRoche in Pittsburgh, DeWitt in Las Vegas, Nomar having to play shortstop, and Pablo Ozuna being Pablo Ozuna, the Dodgers don’t really have a backup third baseman right now. But that’s not a reason to abuse your catcher. And isn’t that yet another reason why Chin-Lung Hu should be up to play some shortstop and let Nomar play some third if you have to give Casey Blake a rest?

Oddly enough, we were concerned about Martin’s defense at third base, but when he plays there he simply cannot hit, with a .200/.323/.200 line and zero extra base hits. Perhaps he’s concentrating too much on his new position? And doesn’t that completely defeat the purpose of keeping his bat in the lineup?

The problem now is that with every game so vitally important, Torre is less likely to want to pencil in “Ardoin” into his lineup. It’s not that I really want to see Danny Ardoin, either. But if you want to have any chance down the stretch and hopefully further, you’re going to need your All-Star catcher to get it turned around.

So let’s make it real simple, Joe:

1) Make sure Martin actually gets some days off. Especially in the dog days of a hot August. Ardoin’s only started 5 games since the beginning of July, and that’s simply not enough.

2) Days off are days off! This works on two levels, because first and foremost, enough of this “days off at third base” BS. He can’t hit when he plays there, and it’s not a true day off. But nearly as important, of the eleven games Ardoin has started, he’s only finished five of them – and one of those, Martin was playing the whole way at third base. What this means is that even when Torres says “he’s getting a day off at third”, half the time Martin ends up behind the plate anyway when Ardoin is hit for late in games. This is simply unacceptable.

I don’t think Joe’s blind to the issue, since he did hit Martin all the way down at 8th in the lineup last week, but that’s not really the problem. Let’s just hope Joe sees the real problem before it’s too late – if it’s not already.

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