MSTI’s 2011 in Review: Catcher

As promised yesterday, we’re kicking off the fifth year of MSTI Season Reviews today with the catchers. I’ll probably run 2-3 of these a week through October, working in looks at arbitration choices and other stories as events warrant.

The Dodgers used five catchers this year, the most since using six in 1976, and tied with many seasons for seventh-most in club history. (The team record, eight, was set by the 1938 Brooklyn club. And who doesn’t remember Greek George, Paul Chervinko, and Gilly Campbell from that ’38 crew?) Going from the lows of Rod Barajas and Dioner Navarro early in the season to the even further lows of Barajas and Navarro in the middle of the year, finally rebounding with solid finishes by Barajas and A.J. Ellis, the composite Dodger catching crew finished 17th in catcher OPS, .698. That says a whole lot more about the state of catching in the majors right now than it does about the Dodgers.

Rod Barajas (C+)
.230/.287/.430 .717 16hr 1.4 WAR

Remember how we felt when the Dodgers signed Barajas last winter, or as I called it at the time, “Rod Barajas Turned One Good Week Into $3.25m“? No? Bask in it with me again:

Barajas signed for $500k with the Mets last year, waiting until just before camp opened in February to even get that. He was then so bad that the woeful Mets, you know, let him go to the Dodgers on waivers for absolutely nothing. Granted, he had a great first week or so in Dodger blue – 4 homers, 1.458 OPS in his first 8 games. Yet in his remaining 17 games, he had just 1 homer and a .612 OPS, also known as “Rod Barajas being Rod Barajas“. On the season, he had a .284 OBP, which exactly matches his career mark, because he’s not very good.

Look at it this way – Barajas had never made more than $3.2m, which is what he got from Texas in 2006. He’s now five years older, coming off several lousy seasons bouncing from team to team – making less than $1m in two of them – yet somehow, coming off a year in which he was dumped on waivers and will be 35, he’s all of a sudden worth $3.8m 3.25m. Seriously? In my 2011 plan, when I said he could come back I said that I thought he could be had for $800k. Is this all because of his one good week as a Dodger? I’ve had to deal with a lot of casual fans who got taken in by that, but I never expected the front office to do so.

That have been just a bit harsh, for reasons we’ll get to in a second, and Barajas ended up doing exactly what Rod Barajas does. Batting average between .225-.255, just like it’s been every year since 2004? Check. Terrible OBP, close to his lousy career mark of .284? You better believe it. Solid amount of pop, resulting in 11-19 homers for the fifth time in six years? Natch. Missing about a month with a lower body injury (this time an ankle sprain) for the fourth time in five years? Mmm-hmm. One ridiculously red-hot stretch (1.153 August OPS) surrounded by a season of ineptitude (no other month above .664), just like last year? Damn straight.

He’s like clockwork. Mediocre, uninspiring clockwork.

Here’s the thing, though: the state of catching is so poor that even with all those warts, Barajas was able to provide some amount of value. Only two three NL catchers had more homers than Barajas’ 16, and they all had well 150 or more plate appearances than he did to get there; add that to roughly average defense, and he’s slightly above replacement level, 14th of 23 MLB catchers with at least 300 PA in rWAR. That said, the flaws in his game mean that even with the power, he was tied for 11th in wOBA of the 13 NL catchers who had at least 300 PA. Much like the potassium benzoate in the frogurt… that’s bad.

Barajas is a free agent, and he turned 36 in September. For his part, he wants to return, and if you’re not convinced that Tim Federowicz is ready to start the season in the bigs as Ellis’ partner, you could perhaps make an argument for it simply on the basis of his pop and the lack of viable alternatives. But if he really wants to be a Dodger that bad, toss him an $1m contract offer and say “take it or leave it”. Otherwise, it’s easy enough to move on.

On the other hand… he did do this, which is the greatest thing ever.

Dioner Navarro (F)
.193/.276/.324 .600 5hr -0.3 WAR

AKA, “the guy who always seemed to come up in the ninth inning with the game on the line, always.”

It’s not like we shouldn’t have seen this coming, of course. When the Dodgers signed Navarro on December 8 of last year, I shared this quote from respected Tampa blog DRaysBay:

I think I speak for the entire Tampa Bay community when I say, “Thank goodness that’s over.” Dioner Navarro seemed like he had so much promise when the Rays acquired him from the Dodgers back in 2006, and four and a half seasons later, he hasn’t lived up to any of it. His plate discipline all but disappeared (he used to clock in around a 10% walk rate), his power never developed, his defense never improved, and his attitude got surly when the Rays demoted him to the minors this season. Especially with the unexpected emergence of John Jaso this season, I’m very, very glad to see Navarro head out the door.

While I liked the idea of signing a former top prospect with one solid year under his belt to a “what the hell, let’s take a chance” contract, giving him a guaranteed major-league deal – all but assuring that A.J. Ellis would not have a legitimate chance to beat him out – seemed very foolish at the time, as I asked on February 20:

Put another way, he’s basically been on a downward trend ever since he got to Tampa, except for that one fluke year. There’s no better way to illustrate that than by doing so graphically, so here’s his BABIP and wOBA charts, courtesy of FanGraphs.

Well, look at that. Both metrics are on a pretty consistent downward path, with that one fluke year sticking out like a sore thumb. It makes me wonder what his career line, currently sitting at .249/.309/.356, would look like if his 2008 had followed the rest of his career path. His career batting average would likely be in the .230s, and his OBP would certainly be under .300. So basically, he’d be Rod Barajas (career BA/OBP of .239/.284), but without the power – i.e., the only thing which makes Barajas even slightly palatable. Obviously, you can’t ignore the fact that he did put up that 2008, but you also can’t ignore that he’s been underwhelming at best in every other year of his career and downright awful the last two seasons, which of course carry the most weight.

So tell me, why is it that Navarro has a $1m contract for 2011, while Ellis has bus rides around the PCL to look forward to? Because of that one good year? That fluke year also isn’t fooling the latest iteration of Baseball Prospectus‘ PECOTA projections, pegging Navarro for .243/.304/.336  and Ellis at .256/.364/.321. The numbers just don’t support it, and that’s without even questioning the off-field issues brought up by Navarro refusing to remain with the Rays in the playoffs last year after not making the roster. It’s also without bringing defense into the equation, as that’s notoriously hard to evaluate for catchers, though it should be noted that Ellis has a very good repuation, and the DRaysBay quote above wasn’t exactly glowing towards Navarro. (Update: after this went up, BP colleague and DockOfTheRays blogger Jason Collette added, “enjoy that hot mess behind the plate.” So there’s that.)

And, well, that’s exactly what happened, at least after he missed the first month of the season thanks to an oblique strain. Navarro’s batting average was south of .200 for basically the entire season, and that combined with indifferent defense had us calling for him to be gone by early June, when Navarro’s OPS had sunk to a lowly .483, with no indication he deserved a spot on the team. Even when he was good – two of his homers were the margin of victory in 1-0 wins – he was bad, as he had two throwing errors in the first three innings in the second of those games.

By August, the Dodgers agreed with what we’d all known for nearly a year and finally cut him loose, but even that wasn’t the end of it; as if lousy performance, a poor track record, and a previous clubhouse issue weren’t enough, the last straw was reportedly his lack of a sufficient work ethic, which is why the Dodgers took the highly unusual step of cutting him just a week before rosters expanded. Navarro still doesn’t turn 28 until next year, so he’s undoubtedly going to get another chance somewhere. This is now two strikes for him, however, without the on-field performance that can buy you a ‘get out of jail free’ card.

Good riddance, Dioner. I think it’s telling that no one bothered picking you up after you got cut. See you never.

A.J. Ellis (B)
.271/.392/.376 .769 2hr 0.5 WAR

I hate to say I told you so, but, well, just look at the February 20 quote from the Navarro section above. (Not that I was alone in such an assessment, of course.) Navarro ended up straining an oblique in March, so Ellis broke camp with the club, but got just four starts before being sent down when Navarro returned near the end of April – though don’t forget that we nearly saw him make his season debut as a pitcher when he began to warm in the bullpen as the Dodgers were getting smashed 10-0 by the Giants on April 2.

We were able to put up with the ensuing Barajas / Navarro pairing for about six weeks, until I could finally take no more on June 11:

I hardly need to link you to all of the posts I wrote over the winter saying that a catching duo of Rod Barajas and Dioner Navarro wasn’t going to work, right? Shockingly… it hasn’t worked. Over the last few weeks, they’ve been largely sharing the role, and they’ve combined to put up remarkably similar lines.

Last 30 days
Barajas: 61 PA  .172/.200/.259 (.459)  2 doubles 1 homer 14/2 K/BB
Navarro: 60 PA .161/.203/.196 (.400) 2 doubles 0 homer 11/3 K/BB

Eerie, isn’t it? The only thing that’s giving Barajas any sort of boost in the SLG department is that one dinger, but if I’d waited a few more days then even that would have been outside the 30-day window; it came way back on May 13. What should really stand out there is not that the two catchers have been putting up the same numbers, but that each set of numbers is atrocious. It’s hardly just over the last month, because the season stats tell the same tale. The 35-year-old Barajas is hitting just .213/.251/.372, unable to match even his modest career line of .237/.282/.410. Navarro has been even worse, at .176/.233/.250, continuing his total career flameout since a quality 2008 in Tampa. Neither one ranks within the top 30 catchers by OPS (min. 70 PA); Navarro slots at 42nd of 44. By just about every offensive statistic other than home runs, the Dodgers have the worst hitting catchers in the National League, and their combined OBP of .264 is worse than every team in the majors except for the Twins, who have been without the injured Joe Mauer for much of the season.

Neither one has worked out, and it’s time to make a move. The answer is clear: DFA Navarro and recall A.J. Ellis. Ellis is no more likely to add power than Dee Gordon is, but he’s an absolute on-base machine. In parts of nine minor league seasons, his career OBP is .402; it’s been .400 or better for four seasons in a row and it hasn’t been below .380 since 2005. In 119 AAA PA this year, it’s at .470, and that’s what happens when you have a 8/23 K/BB ratio. That’s a number which would be insane, if not for the fact that he’s on the plus side of that ledger over his entire career (268/309). He’s seen bits of bit-league time over the last two years with injuries to Martin, Brad Ausmus, and Navarro, and in small sample sizes he’s managed to retain that skill – .371 OBP, 20/18 K/BB, in 147 2010-11 PA. Don’t forget, he was also the hottest Dodger hitter in Sept/Oct last year, hitting .417/.533/.500. There’s no question at all that Ellis is the superior option right now.

Eight days later, Ellis did return, but only because Barajas sprained his ankle; he received another 37 scattered plate appearances before sent down again upon Barajas’ recovery. As Navarro continued to struggle, we wondered yet again why Ellis was being kept down in August:

I’ve tried to stay away from the “why is guy X playing over guy Y”, since the day-to-day machinations in a lost season don’t really matter too much, particularly when there’s not a ton of great alternatives. But seriously, Dioner Navarro, after another 0-4 today (along with a throwing error), is now at .193/.276/.324. He’s had his chance to prove that his terrible last few years were the fluke, as opposed to his solid 2008. It hasn’t happened. Why exactly are we not seeing A.J. Ellis play every day for the last six weeks?

Two days later, Navarro was DFA’d, a cause for celebration, and Ellis joined the club for his third stint of the season, which paid off immediately when Ellis hit his first big-league home run (and first professional homer anywhere since 2008) as the Dodgers swept the Cardinals. (He would add his second on September 4.)

Sharing time with Barajas and Tim Federowicz over the last six weeks, Ellis hit .325/.426/.550 with roundly praised defense and pitch handling. That’s in addition to a .467 OBP in AAA this year, and since he’s now out of options, he’s all but cemented his place on the 2012 roster… until Ned Colletti signs Jason Varitek, that is.

Hector Gimenez (inc.)
(.143/.143/.143 .286 0hr -0.1 WAR)

“That picture of Hector seems odd,” you might be saying. “He’s wearing #79, not the #9 he had with the Dodgers, and they’re wearing their home whites, yet that photo was clearly not taken in Dodger Stadium.”

All true: this is a shot of Gimenez hitting during spring training in Arizona, i.e., the only time anyone ever gave a crap about Hector Gimenez. Or as I said during our midseason recap:

I would like to say something witty or insightful about Hector Gimenez, but that infers that I have absolutely any recollection of him as a Dodger whatsoever. Pass.

So pretend you have any memory of Gimenez’ seven glorious plate appearances as a Dodger (including one start!) before hurting his knee in April, and know that you are lying, because you do not. Shockingly, the camp darling who spent 2010 as a 27-year-old in AA didn’t work out, and while he had a decently okay season with Chattanooga after returning from injury, you’ll never hear of him again, because if you can’t make it in an organization that has as little catching depth as the Dodgers, well, you can’t make it period. Mark it.

Tim Federowicz (inc.)
(.154/.313/.154 .466 0hr 0.0 WAR)

You hated the Trayvon Robinson deal that brought Federowicz and two minor league pitchers to Los Angeles at the trading deadline, and so did I. That sentence, right there, is the burden that Tim Federowicz has to deal with. It’s not enough for him to be a quality major leaguer, as though that isn’t difficult enough. He also has to outshine what Robinson does in Seattle, and with Trayvon filling up highlight reels with diving catches in his short time in the bigs, Federowicz starts at a disadvantage. It might not be fair, but it is the truth.

He received only 16 plate appearances in a September cameo, so we learned little about him there, but I’ve seen a lot of people making a big deal of the fact that after he hit .277/.338/.407 for Boston’s AA club, he kicked that up to .325/.431/.627 for the Dodgers in AAA, and the fact that I apparently still need to issue the standard disclaimer is disappointing. But since I do: five of his six AAA homers and a .409/.519/.841 line came in 13 home games, and one homer and a .231/.333/.385 line came in 12 road games. Neither of those are particularly large sample sizes, but again, he’s hardly the first to show ridiculous splits in New Mexico, so take the overall AAA line with a grain of salt approximately the size of Juan Uribe.

So despite the glowing reports about his defense, we’ll expect to see Federowicz starting 2012 back in AAA, with Ellis and [insert Rod Barajas or vaguely-Rod-Barajas-esque-veteran-catcher #X82 here] manning the dish for the big club. Federowicz will hit something like .320/.430/.500 for the Isotopes, because that’s practically league-average in the PCL, and everyone will get excited. Once again, the disclaimer will come out.

******

Next! James Loney‘s wild ride! It’s first base!

James Loney’s Obsession With the Rockies

James Loney has seven homers this season. Anything stand out to you on the list below?

2011 HRs Date Pitcher RBI BOP WPA Play Description
1 2011-04-06 @ COL Jason Hammel 1 5 0.091 Home Run (Fly Ball to Deep RF)
2 2011-05-27 FLA Javier Vazquez 1 6 0.122 Home Run (Fly Ball to Deep RF Line)
3 2011-05-30 COL Jason Hammel 2 6 0.043 Home Run (Fly Ball to Deep RF); Ethier Scores
4 2011-06-12 @ COL Ubaldo Jimenez 4 5 0.329 Home Run (Fly Ball to Deep RF); Carroll, Miles, Kemp, Loney Score
5 2011-08-07 @ ARI Ian Kennedy 1 6 0.116 Home Run (Fly Ball to Deep CF-RF)
6 2011-08-21 @ COL Kevin Millwood 1 6 0.118 Home Run (Fly Ball to Deep RF)
7 2011-08-26 COL Matt Reynolds 2 2 0.078 Home Run (Fly Ball to Deep CF-RF); Sellers Scores
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/27/2011.

Five of the seven have come against the Rockies. That’s 71.4% of his 2011 dingers, despite the fact that only 12.9% of his 2011 plate appearances have come against Colorado. But it gets better; his final homer in 2010, the only one he hit from September 1 on… came in Colorado on September 28 against last night’s starter, Esmil Rogers, so six of Loney’s last eight dingers (you know, the eight whole homers he’s hit in nearly the last calendar year) have come against Colorado.

If you’re Colorado, how are you not making a low-risk play for Loney this winter, even with the presence of Todd Helton? Not only to get Loney hitting in Coors Field every day, but to stop having to see him in the opposing lineup.

******

More confirmation of why Dioner Navarro got cut, from Tony Jackson:

Dioner Navarro’s ouster from the Los Angeles Dodgers earlier this week was hastened by a failure to devote the requisite time to game preparation that is expected of a catcher, multiple sources said before Friday night’s game against the Colorado Rockies. Navarro was designated for assignment on Tuesday, giving the Dodgers 10 days from that point to trade him, release him or outright him to the minors after he clears waivers.

Good riddance. For a guy who wasn’t performing at the plate, was having defensive issues, and had a history of locker room issues (quitting on Tampa Bay last year), the lack of effort is shocking. Fortunately, he’ll be someone else’s problem now.

******

Steve Dilbeck of the LA Times wants the Dodgers to trade Jamey Carroll:

Work the deal. Get what you can, even if it’s precious little.

Carroll deserves the opportunity to play for a contender, to make a real postseason contribution. At his age, he may not get another chance. The Milwaukee Brewers had reportedly talked to the Dodgers about Carroll prior to the July 31 non-waiver trading deadline.

I agreed with this at the July 31 deadline. Carroll was a potentially valuable piece to a contender, and could have brought back a decent return. But now, I’m not even sure it’s worth it, since the Dodgers would only be able to talk to the team that claims him, preventing any sort of bidding war. (Such as it were.) It’d be nice for Carroll, I suppose, and I agree that he’s not a part of the team future. But I also understand the thought that with Juan Uribe out, Dee Gordon not back, and Casey Blake unreliable, you want to make sure you have more than just Aaron Miles and Justin Sellers to finish out the season. (Eugenio Velez doesn’t count. Eugenio Velez never counts.)

******

Russ Mitchell, catcher? Don Mattingly noted that the team will try him behind the plate during winter ball in an effort to increase his versatility. Mitchell’s probably never going to hit enough to be an everyday player, so if he can make this stick, all the better for him. (It’s here where I’ll try to forget Ned Colletti’s claims that “catchers can’t be made”, at the time of the Trayvon Robinson deal.) Usually conversions like this happen in the low minors, though; I can’t think of another recent example where this kind of move has been tried (successfully) for a player who Mitchell’s age who has already seen big league time.

Kershaw, Barajas Lead the Way in 13-2 Rout


The fun part about a 13-2 win, aside from the obvious, is that there’s generally an inordinate amount of statistical information that comes out of it. Let’s do this in easy-to-consume list form.

  • Clayton Kershaw‘s eight strikeouts pushed him to an NL-leading 207 (16 ahead of Cliff Lee), and makes him the first Dodger with back-to-back seasons of 200+ strikeouts since Chan Ho Park did it back in 2000-01.
  • Of Kershaw’s 27 starts this year, this was the 10th time in which he did not allow a run, and he’s allowed just one earned run in his last 24 innings.
  • According to the KCAL broadcast, Kershaw’s eighth start in which he struck out at least eight and gave up zero earned runs makes him just the second Los Angeles Dodger to do so, joining Sandy Koufax in 1965. If he does it again for nine, that’ll make him just the third player on any team to do so since WW2.
  • Per Eric Collins on the KCAL broadcast, this was the seventh time the Dodgers have scored at least ten runs this year… and all seven have come on the road.
  • Rod Barajas‘ two-homer game was the eleventh of his career and the first for a Dodger catcher since Russell Martin did so over three years ago. His three extra-base hits tied a career high.
  • Aaron Miles‘ ninth-inning homer was not only a bomb that was hit off of Cardinal second baseman Skip Schumaker, of all people, it was his first homer as a lefty in nearly three years.
  • The last time the Dodgers scored more than 13 runs against the Cardinals, they were putting up 14 behind John Wetteland in 1990.
  • Tonight’s victory ties up the all-time Dodger/Cardinal series at 1,001 – 1,001.

Now that that’s out of the way… this one got out of hand in a hurry, because St. Louis starter Kyle Lohse had absolutely nothing to offer. Justin Sellers led off the game with a single, followed by a James Loney walk, and then Lohse served up such a meatball to Matt Kemp that I’m still not sure it’s landed, good for a 3-0 lead and Kemp’s 29th homer of the year. The second inning went no better; after getting two outs around a Jamey Carroll single, Lohse allowed four consecutive hits, with Sellers, Loney, and Juan Rivera all plating runners to make it 7-0. Barajas added to the scoring by crushing homers in both the fifth and seventh innings, and then Miles crushed Schumacher’s offering to the right field seats, thus winning the prize for “sentences I never thought I’d type.” (To be fair, Schumaker did strike out both Trent Oeltjen and Hawksworth in his one inning of garbage time.) Hawksworth nearly picked up the ridiculous three-inning save, but couldn’t quite get out of the ninth before being relieved by Hong-Chih Kuo.

Barajas has now homered four times on the current road trip, proving two indisputable facts:

1) Rod Barajas hates playing in Dodger Stadium. For a guy about whom so much has been written regarding his love for playing for the hometown Dodgers, his home/road splits are ridiculous. At home this year, he’s hitting just .174/.268/.257 with two homers; entering the night, he was hitting .279/.296/.550 with ten homers on the road, and that doesn’t even include tonight’s heroics.

2) Rod Barajas loves late August. In June and July of 2010, Barajas had OPS marks of .474 and .430, respectively, which was good enough to get the Mets to dump him on waivers. After joining the Dodgers a year ago yesterday, he had a 1.249 OPS and three homers in seven August games. This year, Barajas’ monthly OPS were relatively poor each month from April to July, checking in at .643, .664, .624, and .524. After tonight’s game? .333/.389/.667 in August 2011. Let’s enjoy the next week and then knock it off before he plays himself into a $4m contract for 2012.

******

When Dioner Navarro was designated for assignment earlier today, it seemed certain that there was more to the story. Why, after putting up with his ineptitude all season long, would they cut him just a week ahead of expanded rosters, particularly with Rod Barajas just barely off an injury? It simply didn’t make sense from a roster management perspective, so it had to be something else.

As we found out tonight, it was: KABC’s Joe Block tweeted that Don Mattingly claimed Navarro was let go because “of philosophical differences.” Steve Lyons took it further on the television broadcast, saying that Navarro had not “been hustling or prepared”, and referenced his “strange pitch calls” during Nathan Eovaldi‘s start last week and the game in Colorado last weekend. If even half of that is true in addition to his lousy on-field play, good riddance.

******

Speaking of Lyons, something he said in the 4th inning led to one of my favorite near-simultaneous Twitter moments of all time.

Jon Weisman, Dodger Thoughts:

Steve Lyons believes that Stan Musial’s impending mortality “puts more pressure” on the Cardinals to re-sign Albert Pujols.

Eric Stephen, TrueBlueLA:

I think Steve Lyons just said the Cards need to re-sign Pujols because Stan Musial will die soon

me:

I’m pretty sure Lyons just said the Cards need to sign Albert Pujols because Stan Musial is going to die soon.

You stay classy, Steve.

You Won’t Have Dioner Navarro to Kick Around Any Longer

Free! Free at last! Confirming rumors we’d heard earlier today about A.J. Ellis being on his way back to the bigs, the Dodgers have announced today that they have DFA’d the utterly useless Dioner Navarro. Since this is something I’ve been looking for since, oh, the moment it became clear Navarro was making the team over Ellis last winter, you can imagine that I’m just a little excited about it. It says a lot about our distaste for Navarro that a 30-year-old minor league lifer with fewer than 200 career MLB plate appearances is headed back to the bigs in his place and it couldn’t make me happier. As absolutely no one needs to be reminded, I’ve been decrying the Barajas/Navarro pairing for months and as the two have continued to flail on a low-OBP team, the mistake had become even more glaring.

I do have to wonder about the timing, however – rosters expand in just over a week. If they’ve stuck with Navarro for nearly five fruitless months, I don’t quite understand why they couldn’t for another eight days, particularly since Rod Barajas is just barely off an injury. (To be honest, when I heard Ellis was coming up, my thought was that Barajas would be DL’d, not Navarro DFA’d.) It’s long been Ned Colletti’s goal to keep as many players under contract as possible, and this doesn’t quite fit into that – unless there’s more to the story that we don’t yet know. (I also wonder if this increases the chances of Tim Federowicz making a September cameo, since teams always want a third catcher when rosters expand. I had figured they wouldn’t since that would mean adding him to the 40-man roster before they needed to, but with JD Closser gone, the only other choices are Damaso Espino or the long-lost Hector Gimenez.)

As for Ellis, he’s continued doing what he always does, hitting .304/.467/.418 in AAA, even connecting for his first two homers since 2008. Take that with the requisite grain of salt, of course, as we always talk about how ABQ stats can’t be trusted, since the environment down there is so offense-friendly. Explain this, then: at home, Ellis has a 11/15 K/BB mark. That’s pretty good, right? On the road, that’s 35/12. 35!  It’s the same mastery of the strike zone he’s been displaying for years, with a 283/336 career K/BB mark, and he hasn’t seen an OBP below .382 down there since 2005. Not like the Dodgers need OBP or anything, of course.

Now let’s be fair: A.J. Ellis will never be a star in the bigs. It’s more than likely he’ll never even be a starter in the bigs. But just look at how low the bar is set behind the plate in the bigs right now; hell, look no further than the Dodgers continuing to play Barajas and Navarro. How much do you really have to do to be an improvement there? What they’ve been going with isn’t working, and they have a superior option in-house. Ellis is without question the best of the three at getting on base, and is by most accounts the best defender of the three as well. (I don’t want to put too much stock into this, but go check who was catching during Chad Billingsley‘s late-June/early-July excellence.)

With Ellis being out of options in 2012, the time is now to see if he’s going to help you. They’ve done the right thing by saying enough is enough with Navarro and his “I’m hitting .193 after hitting .194 and .218 the last two years, but hey, I had a fluky good 2008!” act. Don’t play Barajas just for the sake of playing him. Look towards next year, and play Ellis every day right now.

Clayton Kershaw Continues to Own the Giants


Earlier today
, I wrote this, regarding Clayton Kershaw‘s history against San Francisco:

Kershaw historically owns the Giants; in nine career starts, he’s allowed just ten earned runs in 55.2 IP, and has a 60/16 K/BB mark. This will be the fourth time he’s seen them this year; he dominated in the first two (7 shutout innings on Opening Day, beating Lincecum, 6.2 scoreless on April 11) before running into trouble the third time (4 ER in 5 IP on May 18).

Now how about adding eight shutout innings with 12 whiffs against just three hits and a walk? By Game Score, which is admittedly imperfect, that was the third best start of Kershaw’s career. That it was also the third best start of his season should tell you a lot about just how good his 2011 has been so far, particularly now that he’s up to 23 consecutive scoreless innings and an MLB-best 167 strikeouts.

Back to the Giants, Kershaw’s mastery over them continues. This was his 9th career start against San Francisco, and only once in that time – earlier this year – have the Giants managed to score more than two runs.


KABC’s Joe Block tells us that the resulting 1.41 ERA (also including one relief appearance) against SF is the best in MLB history for a pitcher against them. They’ve been around for well over 100 years. That’s… kinda impressive. Despite his excellence, Kershaw wasn’t allowed to go out for the 9th, even though he had struck out the side in the 8th. At the time, it seemed odd to remove him for Javy Guerra in a one-run game, since Guerra’s last few saves have been rollercoasters; the decision made even less sense when Trent Oeltjen, pinch-hitting for Kershaw, merely used his at-bat to sacrifice. Fortunately, Guerra retired the side in order, and the Dodgers avoided the sweep headed into the off-day.

And then there was Dioner Navarro, who had one of the more bipolar days you’ll ever see. On one hand, he had two throwing errors in the first three innings (among three Dodger miscues on the day, leading KABC broadcaster Charley Steiner to bizarrely claim the Dodgers usually had one of the better defenses in baseball). On the other, his solo homer against Tim Lincecum was the margin of victory – and the second time a Navarro homer has led to a 1-0 victory this season.