Dodgers of the Decade: Right-Handed Starter

I have to say, I’m surprised that Clayton Kershaw won for top lefty starter. Sure, he was great last year, but was that limited body of work enough to make him the best starter of the entire decade? Still, the crowd has spoken, so onto the roster he goes…

Dodgers of the Decade team:
C: Russell Martin (68%)
1B: James Loney (62%)
2B: Jeff Kent (88%)
3B: Adrian Beltre (80%)
SS: Rafael Furcal (87%)
LF: Gary Sheffield (62%)
CF: Matt Kemp (94%)
RF: Shawn Green (79%)
LH starter: Clayton Kershaw (56%)

…and we move on to right-handed starters. There’s a lot of good options here. Do you go with Derek Lowe or Brad Penny, both very good for several years? Kevin Brown, probably the best of all but only during a short period? Chad Billingsley, who may the best of anyone named here when he’s done? Or just say “screw it, I’m voting for Darren Dreifort”? 

Right-Handed Starter

Derek Lowe (135 starts, 2005-08)
Dodger stats: 54-48, 3.59 ERA, 120 ERA+, .679 OPS against
WAR: 12.7

Brad Penny (115 starts, 2004-08)
Dodger stats: 46-33, 4.07 ERA, 106 ERA+, .741 OPS against
WAR: 10.1

Chad Billingsley (100 starts, 2006-09)
Dodger stats: 47-30, 3.55 ERA, 119 ERA+, .707 OPS against
WAR: 10.3

Kevin Brown (94 starts, 2000-03)
Dodger stats: 40-23, 2.76 ERA, 149 ERA+, .623 OPS against
WAR: 14.4

Hideo Nomo (85 starts, 2002-04)
Dodger stats: 36-30, 4.05 ERA, 97 ERA+, .734 OPS against
WAR: 3.3

Jeff Weaver (75 starts, 2004-05, 2009)
Dodger stats: 33-28, 4.04 ERA, 101 ERA+, .742 OPS against
WAR: 4.3

Chan Ho Park (74 starts, 2000-01, 2008)
Dodger stats: 37-25, 3.39 ERA, 123 ERA+, .681 OPS against
WAR: 9.9

Darren Dreifort (58 starts, 2000-04)
Dodger stats: 21-24, 4.41 ERA, 95 ERA+, .739 OPS against
WAR: 1.5

Hiroki Kuroda (51 starts, 2008-09)
Dodger stats: 17-17, 3.74 ERA, 109 ERA+, .665 OPS against
WAR: 5.4

Top three seasons
6.5 WAR Brown, 2000
5.9 WAR Penny, 2007
5.4 WAR Brown, 2003

Tough choices. It’s Jeff Weaver, right?

Who is your top righty starting pitcher?

[polldaddy poll=2442081]

Coming and Goings

Let’s catch up on some of the fun that’s been going on in this, the most boring hot stove season in years…

steroidsball.jpgComing: Guillermo Mota
Hey, remember Mota (shown at right)? Lights-out setup man for Eric Gagne in 2003? Part of the controversal deal that sent Paul LoDuca to Florida in 2004? Well, pending a physical (presumably looking for track marks), he’s going to be back in Dodger blue in 2009. No, it’s not a coincidence that I mentioned all-but-confirmed ‘roid abusers like Gagne and Paulie, because Mota actually got caught with the stuff and lost the first 50 games of 2007. You think Gagne’s career fell off the rails to injury and ineffectiveness after he stopped with the helpers? You think LoDuca’s short peak ended pretty quickly once he went back to doing it all naturally? Let’s look at this fun “Gee, You Think Steroids Helped?” timeline:

2006, April-August: 6.21 ERA, 1.699 WHIP for Cleveland. Mota, your stats… woof.
2006, August 11: DFA’d by Cleveland.
2006, August 20: Acquired by the Mets.
2006, August-Septmber: 1.00 ERA, 0.833 WHIP for the Mets.
2006, November 1: MLB announces a positive test from “sometime” during the 2006 season and hands down a suspension.

Gee. You think steroids helped?

As for the actual signing, it gets a solid “meh”. I don’t know what the contract details are, but it’s unlikely to be a huge amount of money, and Mota was basically average last year. But do we really have a shortage of guys who could do exactly what he could, for less money and without his history? I suppose we can hope that he’s going to be the next Giovanni Carrera-type who only pitches well as a Dodger. 

Going: Derek Lowe
No surprise that he wasn’t returning to LA, but I am surprised that he did actually get up to $15m/year, getting $60m over 4 years from Atlanta. Unless I missed something, wasn’t his only other offer about $30m over 3 years from the Mets, which may have not even been officially tendered? As I detailed here several months ago, I really am going to miss Lowe, and the rotation’s going to be worse off without his solid reliability and occasional brilliance. But at his age and at that salary, I’m not too disappointed – that’s higher than I was willing to go for him. Really, after how badly DePodesta was bashed for giving him $36m/4 years in 2005, who’d have thought that four years later he’d be nearly doubling that salary? Enjoy Atlanta, Derek. Can we please go get Ben Sheets now? Thanks. 

Coming: Mediocre Retread Starters
Welcome, Shawn Estes. Over there, Claudio Vargas. Now paging Jon Lieber and Kip Wells. I know we hit the proverbial “old busted dude” jackpot with Chan Ho Park, Aaron Sele, and Scott Erickson, lately, but how many times are we going to keep going to that well? For every Park there’s a Jason Johnson or Esteban Loaiza. Ah, hell, whatever. Short money and non-guaranteed deals. Let’s get that welcome mat ready for Kris Benson and Josh Fogg.

saitofistpump.jpgGoing: Takashi Saito
So long to one of my favorite players. How can you not like a guy who comes over to America in his late 30s after a relatively average career in Japan only to dominate the bigs? I was singing his praises back in 2007, just after we launched (yeah, weird formatting on that one with the move to MVN, I guess). I can’t overstate this enough – his 2007 was better than any season Mariano Rivera has ever had, and Rivera’s going to the Hall of Fame. I really believe one day we’re going to look back and be simply amazed that we had Saito and Jonathan Broxton in the pen at the same time. Between his elbow injury and his age, I think we all knew it was basically a foregone conclusion that he wasn’t coming back for a while, but still, it’s sad news.  

Really, I’m just going to miss the happy first pump after every successful save. We’ll miss you, Sammy. I hope your arm doesn’t land outside of Jillian’s on Lansdowne Street.

michaelyoung.jpgNot Coming: Michael Young
At least, not if I have anything to say about it. The Texas shortstop has requested a trade after the Rangers *gasp* asked him to move to third base. Hey, good luck with that, guy. You’re going to be 32, on a four-year slide in OPS+ (131, 108, 107, and 96), immensely helped by your home park, and about to start a ridiculous $60 million contract extension. Not only that, you’re an overrated defensive shortstop (Gold Glove be damned, FanGraphs actually has him at a negative rating) and your reputation is taking a hit because of your balking at this request to help your team. I particularly like this quote from an unnamed GM in today’s Buster Olney blog:

“Put it this way,” one GM said. “If the Rangers offered up Michael Young for free — with that contract, I don’t think there would be any takers.”

What does this have to do with the Dodgers? Because, of course, they keep popping up on the list of Young’s possible suitors after he said he’d move to second base in order to faciliate a trade. You know what? Forget the home park helping his stats, and forget the immense contract. Just look at the lines:

22 year old, “overmatched” rookie Blake DeWitt: .264/.344/.383
31 year old, All-Star super veteran Michael Young: .284/.339/.402

Look at that. DeWitt actually had a better OBP and a competitive SLG, and that’s including the two solid months he was completely awful that led to his demotion. If Michael Young could only just barely outperform DeWitt while playing in Texas, why would we want to have him at another year older and not playing in that bandbox? Not to mention, the extra $60 million. So, no thanks. Enjoy Texas, Michael.

Well, That Didn’t Go So Well

Despite the picture, I can’t pin this one on Derek Lowe entirely. He was humming along through five scoreless innings, and got another easy groundout to start the 6th. Of course, Rafael Furcal threw that ball away, and the next batter, Chase Utley, deposits a ball in the seats. After a Ryan Howard groundout, Pat Burrell puts another one out, and that was the end of Lowe and the Phillies’ scoring. You could make the point that neither ball gets out of a more legitimate ballpark, but that’s neither here nor there since the Dodgers are hitting in the same stadium. You can’t completely give Lowe a pass, but Dodgers pitching shut down one of the best offenses in the game for 8 innings, allowed just 3 runs, and kept Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, Ryan Howard, and Jayson Werth all without hits. Coming into the game, most of us would have taken that.

No, the problem tonight was the offense, or depending on how you look at it, Cole Hamels was outstanding. After back-to-back doubles in the first inning by Andre Ethier and Manny, the Dodgers never once could put together more than one hit in an inning, and never came close to putting a rally together. Much of that, of course, is due to Hamels, who might possibly be the most talented starter remaining in the playoffs.

If there is a bright side to this, it’s knowing that the Dodgers pitching can hang with the Phillies offense, and that it took the Philly ace to eke out a one run victory. But that sure does put a lot of pressure on Chad Billingsley tomorrow.

And don’t forget! It’s a 1pm PST start! I don’t want to hear about work or school – it’s the NLCS. If you miss this, you’d better be dead, or in jail. And if you’re in jail… break out!

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

Ladies Love Cool James

Folks, this game had heartbreak written all over it, because for a while, this was like watching the pre-Manny Dodgers again. Derek Lowe was again effective, allowing only a wind-aided Mark DeRosa two-run homer over his six innings of work. But the offense, despite Ryan Dempster’s attempts to the contrary, had nothing going. Dempster walked four in the first three innings, yet the Dodgers simply could not capitalize, and nothing was more painful than getting the batter you want in the situation you want – Andre Ethier up with the bases loaded in the third inning – and coming away with nothing, when Ethier struck out on a ball in the dirt.

Worse, you were just getting the feeling that this wasn’t going to be the Dodgers’ night. Whereas DeRosa’s drive to right got enough wind to drift into the stands, Russell Martin’s fly to deep left with two men on in the third hung in the wind just enough to drop into Alfonso Soriano’s glove. When Casey Blake hit a screaming line drive, it was right at Derrek Lee. Through three innings, the only hit the Blue could muster was an infield single to shortstop that Manny beat out.

The Dodgers, sorry to say, looked completely uninterested.

Except that in the fifth inning, Ryan Dempster fell apart. Rafael Furcal, Manny, and Ethier all showed excellent patience and drew walks, sandwiched around a Martin flyout. With the bases loaded, up steps James Loney. That’s the same Loney who had been dreadful in September, putting up only a .209/.229/.297 and had begun losing starts while being platooned with Nomar Garciaparra. To be completely honest, he didn’t even look that great in the first few pitches of this at-bat. But then Dempster gets one in the zone, Loney takes a swing and… it can’t be… it could be… oh my god… GRAND SLAM.

With that one swing – and dig Loney’s enormous smile in the dugout afterwards – the entire game was changed, and it was really never in question after that. Manny and Martin each added homers to extend the lead, and Cory Wade, Jonathan Broxton, and best of all, Greg Maddux each pitched one scoreless inning to finish off the completely shellshocked Cubs. As the TBS announcers noted in the 9th inning, “have you ever seen Wrigley Field this quiet?”

And with that, everything’s changed. Jose Lima never need be spoken of again. Even better, this series is now guaranteed to go back to Los Angeles no worse than tied, and that’s the most you can ask for when you’re opening on the road. One more thing – the Cubs are 0-10 lifetime when losing the first game of a playoff series. Let’s make it 11!

One down, ten to go. Back tomorrow with a Game 2 preview!

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

I Am Really Going to Miss Derek Lowe

Derek Lowe, last 7 starts:
W-L: 5-1
IP: 47.2
ERA: 1.13
OPS against: .458
K/BB: 28/7

It gets better. He’s 5th in the National League in WHIP this year, ahead of some names you might recognize – Johan Santana, Brandon Webb, Tim Lincecum, and Jake Peavy. Most of what I’ve liked about Lowe in his Dodger career is how consistent and reliable he’s been; in his four years here, his ERA has been within a 0.40 range every season, and as he’s never been on the disabled list in his career, he makes every start. You know what you’re going to get from Derek Lowe, and that’s 30+ starts, 200+ innings, an ERA about a run or so better than the league average, and a surprisingly mediocre record because he never gets any run support. Plus, if you should be lucky enough to make it to October, he’s battle tested from his days in Boston. With all the volatility and injuries you see in an average starting rotation, having a guy like that is unbelievably valuable. Paul DePodesta really ought to be getting a Nobel Prize for that 4 year, $36 million deal he signed Lowe to after 2004. Instead, he got a swift kick in the ass. Oh well, nearly as good.

Except that this year, consistency be damned. Lowe’s had 4 months with an ERA of roughly 3 (April, June, July, and August), 1 month where he was absolutely horrible (0-4, 6.11 in May), and now a month where he’s been untouchable (0.89 in 3 September starts). It all adds up to the second-best year of his career as a starter, behind only his 2002 campaign in which he finished 3rd in the AL Cy Young voting. 2008 has seen Lowe set non-2002 career highs in WHIP and ERA+ (as a starter; remember, he was an All-Star closer in Boston first). Since all signs point to the Dodgers making it to October (*notajinxnotajinxnotajinx*), how bad-ass does a 1/2 of Billingsley/Lowe look? It might not be Sabathia/Sheets or Zambrano/Harden, I suppose. But I’d certainly take it over Santana/Pelfrey or Hamels/Myers.

We’ll have a lot more on Lowe’s impending free agency after the season. However, today we’ve also got to discuss another veteran starter who has a contract decision coming up: Brad Penny. He’s been pretty bad in his first two appearances out of the bullpen, but I think a lot of people (okay, me) chalked that up to the rust accumulated by not being able to go on a minor league rehab stint. But now there’s this from ESPN’s Buster Olney:

Heard this: Brad Penny‘s season is likely over, after he threw in the ball in the 83-84 mph range the other day.

I thought that was interesting, because we haven’t seen the possibility of his season “likely” being over from any of the local guys, and it’s unusual for a national guy to pick up on something like that first. Besides, in his first time back, velocity was not the problem. Against San Diego on Sept. 10, Penny threw fastballs on 16 of his 17 pitches, nearly all of which were between 93-96 MPH. Now I’m no doctor, but if you can still hit 96, it seems to me like there’s not a major injury there. No, Penny didn’t get an out, but he didn’t get hit all that hard either. He walked one, gave up a single to left, and an infield hit. It’s hardly surprising that his control would be off after his layoff, and besides, if you’re throwing almost entirely fastballs, you can’t expect to be fooling anyone.

In his second time out against the Pirates on Sept. 15, Penny threw only 13 pitches. Granted, he gave up an asbolute bomb of a home run to Adam LaRoche, and that’s not good. That said, getting 3 outs on 13 pitches generally is pretty good. More importantly, however, is Olney’s assertion that he was only getting up “in the 83-84 mph range.” According to MLB gameday, Penny threw only 5 fastballs against 5 curveballs and 3 changeups. His fastball was down from the first time out, staying in the 87-91 range (though still above what Olney said; was he counting the changeups?) Even so, he was able to induce three groundouts (I know, I know, and a single and a homer.)

My point is, we’re talking about a guy who missed a month and had no chance to go on a rehab assignment.  His first time back, it’s almost entirely fastballs – doesn’t that sound exactly like what pitchers do in spring training, working on their pitches regardless of the results? His second time out, he started working on the other pitches too, and while giving up a homer isn’t a good thing, it wasn’t a total disaster either.

Hey, it’s more than possible that Buster Olney knows something that I don’t. I just find it hard to believe he’s found out something that none of Dodger beat writers know.

That said, I’m posting this at 8:42am PST. I fully expect to receive the press release saying that Penny is on the 60-day DL by 9am.

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