MSTI’s First Half Review: Pitching

After dissecting the mess that is the offense, on to much happier subjects: the pitching. With some exceptions, the pitching has been excellent so far, carrying this team where the offense has let it down.

Remember, the grades reflect the performance of the player compared to what reasonably could have been expected of them at the beginning of the year. Less than 10 IP gets you an “incomplete”.

Starters
Chad Billingsley (9-8, 3.25) (A)
Ace. Not “going to be an ace”. Not “potential to be an ace.” Ace. I mean, he’s third in all of baseball in strikeouts behind only two other certified aces, C.C. Sabathia and Tim Lincecum, despite having 21 and 13 fewer IP, respectively. His 3.25 ERA is 11th in the NL, and that’s even though he had a 5.20 ERA in April due to his being jerked around in his first three appearances around rain delays and relief stints. (Relive that terror here.) He still needs to work on keeping the pitch count down and getting deeper into games, but just in case you forgot: he’s 23 years old and he’s already one of the best pitchers in baseball. Enjoy watching this kid for the next ten years.

Derek Lowe (7-8, 3.45) (B+)
Death, taxes, and Derek Lowe, right? Look at Lowe’s WHIPs in his 4 years in LA: 1.252, 1.266, 1.269, 1.226. Look at his ERAs: 3.61, 3.63, 3.88, 3.85. The man has become a model of consistency – although thanks to the Dodgers’ lousy offensive attack, he’s on pace for this third losing season out of four. This year, though, Lowe actually made it interesting, sandwiching excellent months of April (2.88) and June (2.81) around a brutal May (6.11). Yet he still ends up almost exactly where he’s always been. Say what you will about Paul DePodesta, but the deal he signed Lowe to ended up being an absolute steal.

Hiroki Kuroda (5-6, 3.42) (A)
It’s appropriate that Kuroda comes after Lowe, because while Kuroda’s been surprisingly good, he’s also been amazingly inconsistent. I think we’re all thrilled with the 128 ERA+ from a unknown Japanese import, but who’d have imagined how he’d come by it? In just his last 6 outings, he’s had two complete game shutouts (first by a Dodger since Lowe in 2005) plus another 7 shutout inning effort – but also two 6-run games in which he couldn’t get out of the 3rd inning. On the plus side, both of those stinkers came before his short stint on the DL, and he’s been nails ever since.

This man needs a better nickname. I’ve seen “Rusty” and “Hero” floating around, but I’m not sure how I feel about either.

Brad Penny (5-9, 5.88) (F)
Ugh. The supposed “ace” coming into the season – he did start the All-Star Game last year – has been on the DL since June 17, and he was probably hurt for quite a while before that. On June 1, I put forth the idea that Penny had a very good April and a lousy May, so it wasn’t time to panic based on one bad month. Of course, it only got worse and then he went on the DL. Fortunately, the starting depth has been excellent, because there’s not too many teams who can weather the loss of their opening day starter and improve, but it does sort of muddy his future. He’s still got that team option for $8.75 next year which I still feel you simply have to pick up (as long as he can return and show any sort of effectiveness), but it’s hardly a given anymore.

Clayton Kershaw (0-2, 4.42) (B-)
A really hard grade to assign for the kid. In a vacuum, he was only a pretty average major league pitcher (99 ERA+). On the other hand, he’s just 20 years old, so to achieve even that was pretty impressive. Basically, Kershaw came out and did exactly what you’d expect he would have: obvious flashes of brilliance, a little wildness and inconsistency, and difficulty working deep into games due to high pitch counts. Still, I hope the experience did him well; he probably was able to learn a lot about what it takes to succeed in the bigs, and when he returns – as he almost certainly will later this season – hopefully he’ll have taken a step forward. That said, it was the right decision to send him down.

Eric Stults (2-2, 2.67) (A+)
2006: 1-0, 5.60 ERA in 6 games (2 starts)
2007: 1-4, 5.82 ERA in 12 games (5 starts)

MSTI on Stults, March 5, 2008:

Eric Stults, I guess? Actually, I haven’t heard word one about him being in the mix this spring at all, so I’m not even sure if he’s being considered. Even so, his career MLB record of 2 wins and a 5.75 ERA is hardly the stuff legends, or even league-average pitchers, are made of.

Well, let the legend begin. Seriously, if someone told you the “Dodgers will have 3 complete game shutouts at the break” and you guessed “Two by Kuroda and one by Stults” you’d be in a psychiatric hospital right now. And it’s not just been that one dominating game against the ChiSox; even in his last start, after giving up 3 runs in the first inning to the Marlins, he completely shut them down for the next 5 innings. I have no illusions that Stults has stumbled upon the secret grave of Cy Young, but he’s been more than effective and one of the most pleasant surprises of the season. Keep it up, Stultsy.

Swingmen
Chan Ho Park (4-2, 2.63) (A+)
MSTI, March 5, 2008, discussing starting rotation depth:

Chan Ho Park, that’s right, the Chan Ho Park. How’d his 2007 go? Not bad, just a brutal 6-14, 5.99 ERA campaign. In the minor leagues. I’m not even brave enough to do the calculations to see what that would have equated to in the bigs.

Oh well. At least I can take comfort in the fact that there’s no one on the planet – come on, not even Mrs. Park – who saw this coming. Chan Ho Park hasn’t had an ERA under 4.81 or an ERA+ within sniffing distance of league average since… wait for it.. 2001, his last season in LA. In the intervening six seasons, he ranged from bad (3 seasons in Texas with ERA’s over 5) to hurt (just 7 games in 2003) to completely irrelevant (just one game in the bigs last year, for the Mets, in which he gave up 7 runs in 4 innings). Yet back in LA, where he was above league average in 5 of his 6 full seasons.. he’s been amazing. A 166 ERA+? A 2.16 ERA in 5 starts? This isn’t just a rebirth for Park. This might be the best season of his career. You just can’t make this stuff up.

Hong-Chih Kuo (3-1, 1.69) (A+)
Previously known for 4 elbow surgeries, a curious affinity for beating up on the Mets, and flipping his bat after hitting a homer against said Mets, Hong-Chih Kuo has become what no one expected he ever could be: a reliable, effective major league pitcher. Forget “effective”. He’s been dominating at times, with a 1.69 ERA, and he’s been absolute murder on lefthanded batters, who strike out against him nearly half of the time. But for some bizarre reason, Torre insists on bringing him in when the Dodgers are behind; a majority of his batters faced have been in “low leverage” situations. Because when you’ve got a guy who’s mowing people down, you definitely want him to come in for mop-up situations. Of course.

Esteban Loiaza (1-2, 5.63) (F)
Although I suppose, he really should have gotten a “DFA” as a grade. But hey, at least for the $8 million or so the Dodgers paid him, he gave them 2 wins in 8 starts over the last two seasons before being unceremoniously kicked to the curb. Did he really pitch 24 innings for the Dodgers this year? I mean, I know he did, but doesn’t that seem like it was about 40 years ago?

Bullpen
Takashi Saito (3-3, 2.18, 17 of 20 saves) (A-)
I write this review with a lot of trepidation, as the results of Saito’s right elbow MRI are still unknown. But when a 38-year-old pitcher says that his throwing arm hurts too much to brush his teeth with it, that’s not exactly what’s known around the industry as a “good sign”. I hate to say it, but there’s a part of me that’s afraid we’ve seen the last of him.

As for this year, there’s been some sentiment around the Internets that he’s lost it, and I for the life of me just can’t see why. He’s really had two lousy games all season, and his ERA+ is still a fantastic 201. Is it because he’s not as dominating as last year, when he had a better season than future Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera has ever had? Sure, he hasn’t, but he’s still been a pretty damned effective closer, and if he’s DL’d or worse, there’s no question this team’s in trouble without him.

Jonathan Broxton (2-2, 3.40) (B-)
Amazing that Broxton’s still only 24, isn’t it? Seems like he’s been here forever, and this is his 4th season in the bigs. It’s been a weird season for the Bull; he’s still been effective, but not as good as he’s been over the last two years. He’s also had a few disaster games (6 runs in 1/3 IP to lose vs. Houston, and 3 runs in 1/3 IP to blow a game in New York).

I guess we’re going to find out a lot more about him pretty quickly, though; with Saito likely hitting the DL, we’re going to get our first look at Jonathan Broxton, Dodgers Closer.

Joe Beimel (3-0, 1.61) (A)
You know what they say about middle relievers; they’re so up-and-down from year to year that it’s a mistake to ever depend on them. Except for the third year in a row, Joe Beimel’s been incredibly reliable out of the Dodgers bullpen. His ERA is a little deceiving; while he’s clearly doing a good job of not letting guys score, his WHIP is from 1.29 to 1.42 this year. Still, 5 earned runs at the All-Star break is pretty impressive.

Besides, how many middle relievers get their own crazy dedicated fans?

Scott Proctor (1-0, 6.82) (F)
Booooooooooooooooooo. Booooooooooooooooo! He was terrible, I mean, truly awful, before going down with a bum arm, which sort of makes me think this post I made after Torre was hired (RIP Scott Proctor, 1977-2008) was pretty accurate. Maybe all those years of abuse from Torre in New York finally caught up to him?

Cory Wade (0-1, 2.56) (A+)
Along with Park, Kuo, and Stults, the Dodgers have been the lucky recipient of several massive pitching surprises this year, and Wade certainly fits the bill. I mean, really: Cory Wade? This is what is so simultaneously great and frustrating about baseball – you can never predict things like this. Wade got called up from AA Jacksonville to be the last man out of the pen and has been so good that he’s become a pretty important piece. A 171 ERA+ and a 1.009 WHIP will do that for you. But still. Cory Wade. Good for him.

Ramon Troncoso (0-1, 4.91) (C-)
Snooze. I have to say, I nearly forgot Troncoso was even on the roster. I mean really, what can you say about Ramon Troncoso? He’s only gotten into 13 games, and he’s been predictably mediocre. In fact, he’s only gotten into two games this month, so it seems like Joe Torre may have forgotten he existed too. Oddly enough, for a right-handed pitcher, he’s way more effective against lefties (.451 OPS) than righties (.917 OPS).

Brian Falkenborg (1-2, 6.43) (incomplete)
It’s amazing how much discussion we’ve had around here for a guy who’s only pitched seven innings. Of course, when you’re a career quad-A pitcher who racked up 2 losses in those 7 innings because Joe Torre insists on putting you into high-pressure situations, you’re going to get some things written about you, and they’re not going to be all that good. Look, for all the vitriol about him, I don’t really have a problem with Falkenborg’s existence so much as I do Joe Torre’s usage of him, and that’s really something that Falkenborg has no control over. So Joe, if you want to use him, that’s fine, but can’t you just give him the Hong-Chih Kuo Memorial “Pitcher Who Only Comes In When the Dodgers Are Losing” scholarship?

Yhency Brazoban (0-0, 6.00) (incomplete)
Remember when we actually called this guy “Ghame Over”? What a year for Yhency. Actually, what a career. This is somehow the fifth straight season in which he’s been on the Dodgers, except that he’s only made it into 11 games between 2006-08. After coming back from arm surgery, he showed up to camp, well, let’s just say, “hefty.” He was pretty good in the minors and made it back up to the bigs on May 9th, but in the 16 days he was up, he only got into two games, giving up two runs in three innings. Now back in the minors, he’s once again been hurt and is carrying a 12.37 ERA in 8 games at Vegas. I still can’t believe this guy was once our closer and the heir to the Gagne Throne.

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

24 Days Until the Deadline…

First and foremost: hooray! C.C. Sabathia goes to Milwaukee and not Los Angeles, which means that any Dodger parts that might have gone to Cleveland for a starting pitcher the team didn’t really need are still around to be used for a bat or shortstop that the team does need. I don’t know exactly what it would have taken to have beaten Milwaukee’s offer of Matt LaPorta and three other prospects, but I’m sure it’s more than we would have been able to stomach. So a golf clap to you, Ned Colletti, for not making the kind of move that would have resulted in effigies being erected around the blogosphere.

With that in mind, let’s get on to some of the other rumors floating around. And really, isn’t this the best time of the year? While I am a little more worried than usual about what kind of deal is going to go down for this team, there’s few things I like more than trade rumors and proposals.

First off, the Jack Wilson rumors are still alive and well, which if the price is right, I’m okay with. (I stand strong on my threat to implode the internet if Matt Kemp is dealt for him, though.) I figured it’d be interesting to see what the Pittsburgh side of things have to say about these proposals for their shortstop flying around, so first we’ve got John Perrotto from something called the Beaver County Times & Allegheny Times:

Multiple baseball sources said Sunday that the Dodgers and Pirates are in serious talks about a trade that would ship Wilson west. Wilson, who grew up and lives in the Los Angeles area, has the longest-running tenure of any Pirates player at the major-league level as he made his debut in 2001.

*snip*

The Pirates envision a long-term outfield that would include Kemp and Nate McLouth, who was selected to his first All-Star Game on Sunday, on the corners, flanking center fielder Andrew McCutchen, the Pirates’ top prospect, who is playing at Class AAA Indianapolis.

If the Pirates are unable to pry Kemp away, they are also said to be willing to consider a deal in which they would acquire a pair of prospects: right-hander James McDonald and shortstop Chin-Lung Hu.

Remember earlier in this post when I said I wouldn’t mind Wilson “if the price is right”? Guess what: including Matt Kemp does not qualify as the price being right. Kemp is a budding star who’s already one of this team’s best hitters, ranking 4th on the team in VORP – miles ahead of Established Veterans Juan Pierre, Jeff Kent, and Andruw Jones. Wilson is an adequate, if mediocre, shortstop who’s probably already reached his peak. Besides, what are you going to do in the outfield if Kemp’s gone? Commit to playing Juan Pierre and Andruw Jones every single day no matter what? Uh, no thanks.

The scary thing is, even Pirate fans who don’t have the same attachment to Matt Kemp that we do can see this would be a heist of monumental proportions – or so says Pirates blog Bucs Dugout:

Get Kemp! Get Kemp! “Potential superstar” is right. We already recently discussed this rumor here, and I’d just assumed it wouldn’t be possible to get Kemp for Wilson. It still might not be–this is still just a rumor–but if it is, wow. Then again, maybe the Dodgers source was suggesting the team would be willing to include Kemp only if the Pirates included other players. I don’t know. What I do know is that McDonald and Hu isn’t a bad package for Wilson, and 

Kemp>>>>>>>>>>McDonald and Hu

Gee, you think? Trading Kemp for Wilson would be a tragicomedy at best, and I probably wouldn’t even do McDonald and Hu. Wilson’s a downgrade defensively from Hu, and whatever improvement he’d bring with the bat certainly isn’t worth losing James McDonald over.

I’m sure we haven’t heard the last of the Jack Wilson rumors, but a new name has popped up as well: Casey Blake. In reference to the Dodgers losing the Sabathia bidding, Ken Rosenthal added:

In winning the Sabathia sweepstakes, the Brewers outbid at least six teams, including the Los Angeles Dodgers, who could have offered a stronger overall package than Milwaukee and expanded the deal to include Indians infielder/outfielder Casey Blake.

I guess I’m not sure how to respond to this idea. Blake’s a good player – he can play first, third, and right, and he’s a pretty decent hitter with good OBP skills and some pop, although that’s steadily declining. Homer tallies of 28-23-19-18 and just 8 so far this year aren’t exactly the kind of stock I want to be buying, although his 2008 OBP of .355 is very good. I think it comes down to why the Dodgers would want to acquire him. If the idea is that he’d be a veteran bat who could start a few times a week in a few different spots, then great. But if the idea is that he’s the new starting third baseman, while once again not giving Andy LaRoche a fair shake (or including him in the deal), well, then that’s a big fat “no thanks”.

Onto deals that are probably unlikely to happen but should be included just for the sake of completeness, Tony Jackson writes in the LA Daily News about the Phillies sniffing around Derek Lowe, but also pretty much snuffs out the idea in the same piece:

A Philadelphia scout attended Friday’s game between the Dodgers and San Francisco Giants but reportedly got up and left as soon as Dodgers pitcher Derek Lowe was lifted after five innings, a clear sign the Phillies are interested in the veteran right-hander.

Lowe is in the final season of a four-year, $36 million contract, and the Dodgers conceivably could move him before the July 31 trading deadline. But the Dodgers’ primary need, as stated last week by general manager Ned Colletti, is an everyday shortstop, and the Phillies clearly aren’t going to part with reigning NL Most Valuable Player Jimmy Rollins, who is signed through 2010.

Can’t argue that. I don’t see how the Phillies have anything useful and expendable that the Dodgers could use, unless this is to be part of a three-way deal in which the Blue pick up a shortstop.

And finally, there’s absolutely no substance behind this one other than just another blogger’s idea, but I saw it and couldn’t help but mention it: Dodger Dugout wants to try and acquire Tigers catcher Ivan Rodriguez, and move Russell Martin to third base. Somehow I doubt the Tigers, who have finally clawed their way back into contention, would want to move their starting catcher while their backup, Brandon Inge, is on the DL, but points for creativity.

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

Start Spreading the News…

With the season headed downhill and the trading deadline only six weeks away, it’s only natural that other teams would start to wonder if the Dodgers are going to be buyers or sellers. Personally, I think it’s too early to make that determination, but I can’t deny that there’s not a whole lot of time left to figure out if this team is ever going to get it going this year.

In that spirit, I’ve come across two separate trade ideas involving the Dodgers, one for each New York team. I hesitate to call these “rumors” because it seems that each of these articles is just the author speculating, but here’s the fun part. One proposal is from a “mainstream media” source, and the other is from a fan blogsite much like this one. One proposal is reasonable and well-thought out… and the other one is written by the New York Post. Point: blogs.  

Let’s start with the crazy one!

But the Mets should see which teams that need a big-time center fielder and/or run producer such as the White Sox, Cubs, Cardinals and Dodgers, and maybe even the Yanks and Red Sox, would give up for Carlos Beltran. With the Dodgers, the Mets might need to take back a Juan Pierre or Andruw Jones to balance contracts/center fielders, but if that allowed the Mets to get the Dodgers to consider building a package around James Loney, Matt Kemp and/or Chad Billingsley, they should consider it.

This is a good one already. I particularly like the part where if the Dodgers build an offer around Loney, Kemp, and/or Billingsley, the Mets should consider it. Hey, there’s no question that Beltran is miles better than either Jones or Pierre, but after the rest of his $18.5 million for 2008, he makes that again for the next 3 years – $55.5 million remaining, or $11.5 more than the entire value of Pierre’s contract. Beltran is, of course, a very good player, but at 31 he might already be in decline – his slugging % is down for the third year in a row, as are his homers (after 41 in 2006 and 33 last year, he’s got only 8 this year). Also to keep in mind: he had surgery on each of his knees this past offseason. But ignore that, the Dodgers should definitely give up one of the top young power hitters in baseball, a good young first baseman, and a young power pitcher who is ostensibly already the ace of our staff for a sore-kneed veteran who makes about 50 times what they do combined.

Wait, scratch that: this proposal might be insane, but it’s exactly the sort of thing a desperate GM on the hot seat might do to save his skin. Man, I hope Ned Colletti doesn’t read the New York Post.

Onto something much more palatable, Yankees blog Was Watching wonders if the Yankees might have interest in Derek Lowe:

If Chien-Ming Wang’s injury does turn out to be season-ending, I wonder if the Yankees will try and make a run at picking up Derek Lowe in a trade?

Lowe will be a free agent at the end of the season – so, there’s some incentive for the Dodgers to shop him. Plus, the Dodgers are 31-38 right now and appear to be going nowhere this year.

Lowe is durable – he never misses a start, and, if I recall correctly, he’s never been on the disabled list. He’s played in Boston and L.A. – so, he’s not going to melt in New York with all the media coverage here.

Now this, I can get behind. I think Lowe’s been incredibly underrated in his time in LA, but he just turned 35 and as a Scott Boras client, is likely to demand a multiyear deal for big dollars – exactly the kind of contract for an older player the Dodgers shouldn’t be handing out right now. If the Dodgers decide to be sellers, he’s exactly the kind of player who should be moved and would probably have good value for a contender, based on his track record.

What would it take to get Lowe from the Dodgers? Well, hopefully Joe Torre is high on Ian Kennedy. If so, that would be a great starting point for any discussion. Maybe Cashman can even play up to “Kennedy was big at U.S.C.” angle on this one? If L.A. wants another starter, how about throwing in Kei Igawa? I doubt that Torre wants him. But, hey, it doesn’t hurt to ask. Shoot, throw in La Troy Hawkins while you’re at it.

But, in addition to Kennedy, the Dodgers are going to want someone else as well. Torre would probably love to get Robinson Cano – with Jeff Kent being 40-years old and at the end of the line. However, there’s no way that Cashman would trade Kennedy and Cano for three months of Lowe.

First of all – no, no, noto Kei Igawa. I’ve seen him pitch a few times, and he’s just not an MLB-quality pitcher. $12 million over the next three years to a 29-year-old guy with a 6.75 career ERA? No thanks. Ian Kennedy, however, is another story. He struggled mightly in 8 starts in the Bronx this year, but he’s only 23 and has been dominant in the minors (13-3, 1.77 ERA career). Besides being a local boy, he was a 1st round pick in 2006 – 15 picks behind Clayton Kershaw. He was terrible this year for the Yankees (7.41 ERA), but it’d hardly be the first time that a young pitcher was rushed before he was ready.

As for Cano, I’d do him for Lowe straight up – his unbelievably lousy 2008 aside. This kid can hit, but as the Yankee blog stated, it’s unlikely he’s getting dealt.

If the Dodgers want a second baseman for the future, maybe they would have an interest in Kevin Russo? Perhaps New York could also sweeten the pot by “throwing in” a pitching prospect like George Kontos?

I’ve never heard of either of these guys, but neither of them made Baseball Prospectus’ list of Top 11 Yankees prospects (plus 4 “just missed”) from this past offseason. They’re both 23, and in AA, and while their 2008 stats look okay (Russo: .303/.362/.439, Kontos: 3.39 ERA/1.26 WHIP), neither of them really thrill me all that much.

How is this for a deal? Ian Kennedy, George Kontos, Kevin Russo and either Kei Igawa or La Troy Hawkins for Derek Lowe. Personally, I think that’s a fair offer – there’s no way that L.A. would see that as an insult. And, if Wang is done for the season, it’s a trade that the Yankees can afford to make – in terms of what they’re giving up and what’s left in their system.

That is indeed a fair offer. For three months of Derek Lowe, we would get one plus pitching prospect who’s close to being MLB-ready, and two young AA players who seem to be producing, but who I admittedly know nothing else about. I can’t say whether or not I would take it without knowing more about Kontos and Russo, but I would definitely be interested in Ian Kennedy. I wouldn’t take back Hawkins or Igawa, though – the Yankees aren’t in the business of salary dumps, and I would think that if they really want a reliable veteran starter like Lowe, refusing to take back the dreck of those two probably isn’t a deal-breaker.

The real question, though, is whether the Dodgers ought to insist on a young hitter rather than a pitcher as the centerpiece of a deal. Clearly, pitching isn’t the problem – offense is, so it may not be smart to spend a valuable trade chip like Lowe – should we choose to go in that direction – on not getting a hitter.

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