MSTI’s First Half In Review: Pitching

So, today is the second Tuesday of July and the day after the Home Run Derby.  That means it’s time for a historic tradition that we see every year…

MSTI’s First Half Pitching Review! 

Today, we’ll go through all of the pitching fun, so let’s get started… 

The Starters: 

Chad Billingsley = A   
billingsleyvsmets.jpg(9-4, 3.14 ERA, 1.23 WHIP) 

Chad Billingsley has been, simply, one of the best pitchers in baseball, this year.  As I wrote in May… 

Still, though,
Billingsley has been incredible this year and only continues to improve
and he’s still barely 24 years old.  It’s not enough to say anymore
that he’s going to be one of the best pitchers in baseball.  He already
IS and can stand toe to toe with almost anyone.  What’s also been
impressive is that even during the games that Billingsley hasn’t had
his best stuff he has managed to pull through.

That’s pretty much held up.  Granted, Billingsley has gradually slipped each month, going from a 3.76 ERA in June to a couple of poor starts so far this month, but his first half numbers have been awfully impressive, with his 3.14 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, and his 1.23 pLI actually leads all pitchers in MLB.  The control is still a bit murky, ranking 2nd in walks, behind teammate Clayton Kershaw.  Nonetheless, Chad made his first All-Star appearance this year and I’m sure it will be the first of many, as he continues to improve and solidify his place as one of the games best pitchers. 

Randy Wolf = A   
(4-3, 3.45, 1.17 WHIP)

I was a bit leary of signing Wolf the second time around.  While his first stint in L.A. tends to be thought of with good memories, he was still pretty much the definition of average, putting up a 97 ERA+, and a 4.73 ERA, and his year was cut short due to injuries.  After going to SD last year, he couldn’t really last well inside Petco Park, before finishing up the year in Houston where he turned it around.  Injuries have played a big part of Wolf’s career and one of the concerns was whether he’d remain healthy.  After all, outside of last year, he hasn’t put together a healthy season since 2003.  Well, so far he has been quite healthy (tied for first, along with Billingsley, in the NL in starts) and not only that, but he’s off to one of the best starts of his career.  Wolf so far is putting up a 3.45 ERA, with a good 1.16 WHIP, and a VORP of 23.5, third amongst Dodgers pitchers.  His peripherals aren’t too bad, either: his H/9 of 7.9, his BB/9 of 2.6 are the best for Wolf since 2003 and he also leads all Dodgers in the CTUNW stat (changing their uniform number weekly). 

Wolf has played a vital role this year for the Dodgers and has helped, at least thus far, in eliminating any concerns we had about starting pitching going into the year. 

Oh yeah, another thing: we beat the whole “wins for pitchers aren’t significant” for pitchers thing to death around here, so why not again?  Anyways, Wolf in 2007 only pitched until July for the Dodgers.  Again, he was essentially league average, but he had a 9-6 record.  So far this year?  4-3, despite a 122 ERA+. 

Clayton Kershaw = B+/A- 
Sandy Kershaw.jpg(7-5, 3.16 ERA, 1.27 WHIP)

So, I’m struggling to decide what to give him, and this grade is pretty much where I’m at.  Either way, what else can you say about the kid?  If he were putting up merely league average numbers at this stage, I think we’d be alright with it, but he’s not just doing that.  After struggling out of the gate, Kershaw has been simply great, going from a 7.29 ERA in April, down to a 2.57 ERA in May, 2.36 in June, and through the first three starts starts of July, 0.53.  While the 0.53 July ERA is definitely a small sample size, it has helped illustrate his continuous growth.  What’s also surprising is that he actually has the best VORP amongst Dodgers pitchers, edging out Chad Billingsley 26.7 to 26.1 and also puts him 12th amongst all NL pitchers.  Now Kershaw hasn’t necessarily perfect, either; while his 8.9 K/9 ratio is quite good, he does lead the league in walks and still carries some control issues which boosts his pitch count and therefore limits his innings.  However, at merely 21 years of age, he has shown to be not just someone who can just simply fit in the big leagues, but someone who can learn to adjust and also can carry a great deal of success (133 ERA+!), as well, and certainly someone who will play a huge role in the second half. 

Well done, Clayton! 

Hiroki Kuroda = C- 
(3-5, 4.67 ERA, 1.15 WHIP) 

In ways, it’s hard not to give the Hiroki Pokey Man an incomplete, given that he missed a lot of time.  But in his starts this year, he’s been going back and forth between solid starts to sometimes the downright awful which, in all honesty, isn’t too much different from 2008.  However, he hasn’t been back that long, so I will cut him a little slack. 

The Spot Starters: 

Eric Stults = C- 
(4-2, 4.80 ERA, 1.58 WHIP) 

Eric Stults for a few years now has been the perfect guy to give you the spot start that you need and he’ll usually be pretty effective, provided that you don’t use him for too long.  It’s pretty much been the same story, this year.  In his 9 starts (I’m actually surprised he’s started that many, when I think about it), he’s had about 6 good ones and 3 bad ones, which translates to a 4.80 ERA, or an 87 ERA+.  Not stellar numbers in the least, but about what you’d expect from Stults: an average pitcher at best who, in Stults case, throws in his obligatory complete game shutout each year.  Kinda funny, by the way… this year, Stults is the only Dodger pitcher with a complete game. 

Eric Milton = C 
(2-1, 3.80 ERA, 1.52 WHIP) 

Can’t say that the thought of Eric Milton starting games for the Dodgers is something that put a smile on my face, but in his 5 starts for the team, he did respectable enough, going 2-1 with a 3.80 ERA.  The WHIP wasn’t particularly good 1.52, but he didn’t necessarily embarrass himself this year, either.  Unfortunately for Milton, he was DL’d in late June and might have season ending back surgery.  But he had 5 games with the team and didn’t do terribly… can’t really ask for too much more than that.  

Jeff Weaver = A+ 
weaveraward.jpg(5-3, 3.48 ERA, 1.57 WHIP)   

The title of this year’s Chan Ho Park goes to Jeff Weaver.  When he signed a minor league deal going into Spring Training, I didn’t really think anything of it and, to be honest, I certainly didn’t see him making the team.  But not only did he manage to do that, but he also managed to become a key member.  He has done everything asked of him and has done it well, whether coming up with the key spot start or pitching valuable innings in the bullpen, or just going out there and beating his kid brother when he needed to.  Now has some of it been smoke and mirrors?  Sure, his WHIP of 1.57 isn’t particularly good at all, and his FIP is actually 4.13, but somehow he’s getting the job done, so I’ll take it, right now.  2009 has been good for Stoner and hopefully, unlike Chan Ho last year, he can finish 2009 just as strong. 

James McDonald = D-     
(2-1, 4.71 ERA, 1.50 WHIP) 

Yeah, remember him?  James McDonald came on to the scene last year for the Dodgers, pitching a mere 6 scoreless innings, which was nice, but where he really helped make an impression was during the NLCS, where he came in and put in some big innings for the Dodgers.  Eventually, he won out the 5th spot in the rotation this year and proceeded to promptly suck, getting 4 starts and putting up an 8.78 ERA and walking 14 to his 6 strikeouts.  That was enough for Joe Torre and after being demoted to the bullpen afterwards, he was shortly then sent back to Albuquerque where he was actually quite good, putting up a 3.26 ERA and 1.15 WHIP in 30.1 innings, while seemingly fixing some of
his previous control issues (14 BB and 40 K’s) and putting up a nice 11.9 K/9 ratio.  Since being recalled to the Dodgers on June 19th, he hasn’t appeared in too many games, but in the games he’s appeared in he hasn’t embarrassed himself either, giving up 1 ER in his 10 innings.  Small sample size, yes, but hopefully McDonald can continue to turn it around and show more of the form he did in 2008.  The talent is definitely there. 

The Bullpen:

Jonathan Broxton = A+ 
brox.jpg(6-0, 3.10 ERA, 0.93 WHIP) 

It’s been a good year for Jonathan
Broxton.  He stepped into the closers role and has transitioned
seamlessly, got elected to his first All-Star game, and after a 24 year
pregnancy, finally gave birth to his first child, a beautiful baby
boy. 

O.K., that was wrong.  But, still, Broxton has been
awfully good, this year, and one of the best in baseball.  His ERA is
3.14, though that’s taken a big hit these days, as 5 of his 14 ER’s total this year
have come from his past two appearances alone, which seem to have
stemmed from a toe injury that has kept him out since last week.  His
WHIP is 0.94 and his 2.63 WPA ranks him 4th amongst all active relief
pitchers, while his K/9 ratio has bumped from 11.5 in 2009 to 14.4 in
2009, thus far.  In addition, he has saved 20 of his 22 saves and, for
the most part, in convincing fashion.  Provided that his toe doesn’t
become something serious, once again, the Dodgers continue their string
of truly great closers.  

Ramon Troncoso = A+ 
(3-0, 1.75 ERA, 1.27 WHIP) 

Last year, the Big Tronny got a C grade.  From last year: 

Still, Troncoso was another rookie inserted into the bullpen in 2008,
although not quite the story Cory Wade was.  But, nonetheless, Troncoso
didn’t Falkenborg himself either, going from a less than stellar 4.91
ERA in the first half to a respectable 3.81 in the second half, sparked
by a good August where he sported a good 2.57 ERA.  His ERA+ was 100
even and that about sums it up; average and servicable for the role he
played throughout the season.  For a person in his rookie year, not
bad; here’s to an improvement in 2009

Well, he improved and improved greatly.  Trancoso has been incredible this year putting up a 1.75 ERA and a 1.27 WHIP and a mere 240 ERA+ in his appearances this year, including ranking 4th in VORP amongst all Dodgers pitchers and his 2.83 WPA ranks 1st amongst all active relievers in baseball.  Troncoso isn’t one who necessarily grabs the headlines, but he’s been incredibly important to the team this year and a key aspect of the success of the bullpen.  I definitely didn’t see his 2009 coming, but well done.  

Ronald Belisario = A+ 
Belisario.jpg(1-3, 2.42 ERA, 1.18 WHIP) 

Belisario is generally one of those guys
you see on the transaction list during Spring Training that you
generally overlook, given the amount of Spring Training invites that
tend to happen and usually don’t pan out.  But he did enough to get a
shot with the big club and not only did he do that, but he has become
one of the best arms out of the bullpen.  In his 48.1 innings, he has
put up a 2.42 ERA, with a nice 1.18 WHIP and 173 ERA+ and out of all
the pitchers on the team, he has the 5th best VORP at 14.5. 
Unfortunately, due to elbow stiffness, he has been placed on the DL,
although the reports about it show it isn’t something too serious and
hopefully he can come back and continue to be effective.  But a spring
training invite to one of the best relievers on the team?  Well… 

I’ll drink to that!  And so will Ronald!

Guillermo Mota = First Half Of First Half =

Second Half Of First Half = A+
(3-2, 3.51 ERA, 1.20 WHIP)      

Yeah, it was time to pull out the ol’ Andruw grade and it was certainly applicable to Mota for the first half of the first half (shut up, it exists!).  Mota has literally gone from one extreme to the
next, hence the two different grades, as it feels like I’m grading two different people.  I hated the signing when it happened and for quite a while he
gave me good reason to, putting up ERA’s of 7.71 and 6.65 in April and
May.  After Brad Ausmus apparently discovered a flaw in Mota’s
delivery, Mota found the fountain of youth, or at least another
syringe, and put up a 0.56 ERA in June and has only given up 1 ER in
his last 22 appearances, which goes back to his implosion in Florida in
May.  He’s gone from arguably one of the worst relief pitchers in
baseball to one of the best and he has to be commended on that. 
Hopefully he can keep it up and continue to give the Dodgers a much
needed boost in the bullpen.

Brent Leach = B 
(2-0, 4.26 ERA, 1.05 WHIP)  

Leach has pretty much become the LOOGY of the
team and he’s done relatively decent.  His 98 ERA+ puts him essentially
average, though his 1.05 WHIP has been pretty nice, but he’s been for
the most part dependable more times than not.    

Cory Wade = F
(2-3, 5.53 ERA, 1.37 WHIP)   

So, what the hell happened to Cory Wade, this year?  In 2008, he was the most dependable reliever we had and was definitely one of the great stories of 2008 for the Dodgers.  Last year I wrote this: 


In 55 appearances this year, which translates into 71.3 innings, Wade
put up a good 2.27 ERA with an even better WHIP of 0.92.  The great
thing about Wade this season is that, as the season went on, he got
better.  Throughout the first half, his ERA was 2.56, and topped that
with a 1.93 ERA in the second half, spurred by great months in August
(2.16 ERA) and September (1.08 ERA).  In fact, that’s what was so
impressive about him, this year.  I don’t remember a period where he
ever really truly sucked and went all Proctor on us.  The worst month
he had in 2008 was July, where he had a 3.52 ERA and gave up 6 ER in 15
IP.  Not great, but not horrific.  He was also arguably our best
reliever in 2008 ranking second in VORP only to Hong Chih Kuo with
22.9.

This year?  Not so good, putting up a 5.27 ERA in his 27 appearances and has made a visit to the DL with some arm troubles.  Hopefully his usage in 2008 hasn’t had an effect on him in 2009.  His star has definitely fallen, but hopefully he can come back and rebound. 

Will Ohman = D-
(1-0, 5.84 ERA, 1.62 WHIP)   

Signed at the tail end of Spring Training to
be Troy from West Virginia’s new BFF, or just Joe Beimel’s replacement,
Ohman has failed to impress to the point where, when you heard the name “Ohman!” you shouted back “Ohcrap!”  In his 21 appearances, he put up a 5.84
ERA, with a 1.62 WHIP.  Having a BB/9 ratio of 5.8 didn’t help either.  To
be fair to Ohman, though, he didn’t really get much of a Spring
Training as he didn’t have a job until the end of the Spring Training,
and he hasn’t pitched in a while (late May), being on the DL with
apparently a sore shoulder.  Still, though, he had enough appearances,
and appearances of sucktitude at that, to warrant the D-.  Though bonus
points for doing a killer Harry Caray impression and being an all
around funny guy. 

The Incompletes: 

Hong-Chih Kuo = Inc. 
Thumbnail image for kuofrombullpen.jpg(1-0, 6.75 ERA, 1.69 WHIP) 

While Hong-Chih Kuo is just unbelievable when he’s on, in fact, he won MLB’s Set Up Man Of The Year Award last year, there’s always the potential for his arm to fall off at any point.  He’s had two Tommy John surgeries (and four arm surgeries total) and he’s had some arm troubles this year already which put him on the DL at the end of April.  He’s yet to return, but in the 5.1 innings he threw, it wasn’t particularly something to write home about.  Something was definitely wrong, originally with reports coming out that perhaps Kuo was suffering from a lack of confidence and now the arm troubles.  The talent is certainly there for Kuo to continue to be effective.  The health, though, might be another story.  We shall see…  

Travis Schlichting, Claudio Vargas, and Scott Elbert = Inc.
(0-0, 3.38 ERA, 2.25 WHIP), (0-0, 0.00 ERA, 1.00 WHIP), (1-0, 5.00 ERA, 1.33 WHIP)  

So, I’m going to combine these two and give them the same grade, which is an incomplete.  For Schlichting, he got a brief cup of coffee early in the year and only threw a whopping 2.2 innings.  Granted, he gave up a HR and 5 BB’s to go with 2 K’s, but, again, not much at all you can derive from 2.2 innings.  Vargas barely came into action this month after being out due to injury and, while I wasn’t a fan of the signing when it happened, perhaps he can serve as the mop up man.  In regards to Elbert, it’s also awfully hard to gauge anything meaningful.  Only four appearances this year, with three of them coming in April and the next one just coming in July. 

That about does it for the pitching.  Tune in tomorrow when MSTI finishes our first half reviews by going through the coaching staff and the overall review! 

- Vin vinscully-face.jpg

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

Here Comes the Cavalry

025-01054fd.jpgTake it away, Tony:

The activation of Garciaparra and the callup of five more players — pitchers Eric Hull and Eric Stults, infielders Tony Abreu and Wilson Valdez and outfielder Delwyn Young, all from Triple-A Las Vegas — gives the Dodgers 36 players for the rest of the regular season, far more than most clubs carry for the stretch run.

Oddly enough in the world of September call-ups, all of these guys have been with the team earlier this season. It’s not often your “extra guys” include your starting shortstop for the first two weeks of the season; your de-facto starting third baseman for a few weeks; and a guy in Young who’s already had a 4-4 game. (And, I might add, tied the modern PCL record for doubles with 54.) What’s more amazing is, I’ll be shocked if any of these guys have a chance to get off the bench (except Stults, who’s starting in place of Wells while Fatty serves his suspension.)
But that’s okay. Much as I like Abreu, I don’t really want to see Kent or Furcal benched for him – except in the late innings with a lead, when Kent should always be replaced on defense. What we really need to hope for is that Andy LaRoche still gets to play despite the presense of Nomar and Hitlerbrand. I won’t even mention how Delwyn Young should be getting at-bats when Kemp and Ethier can’t even get full-time gigs.
PS. How great is that Abreu card? I think I have a Ken Landreaux from the original set.

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

I've Got To Admit, It's Getting Better, A Little Better All The Time… (It can't get no worse…)

Well, well, well, after three weeks of sucking harder than a gay porno, the Dodgers have actually played some good baseball the past three games and not only have they played well during that stretch, they’ve… they’ve… WON!!

But, believe it or not, that’s not the shocker of all during these past three games. Look at this pitching line…

7 IP, 2 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 9 K.

Now if I told you this is Brad Penny, you would say: “Vin, of course, that’s our ace.” But it’s not him. Nor is it Derek Lowe who did pitch great the previous game. Nope, it wasn’t even Billingsley. Then you would say: “Was it Bret…” and before you even finished that sentence, I would slip you a Lithium to bring you back to reality and then tell you that line belongs to…

Eric Stults. Yes. Eric fucking Stults.

After last night’s starter was unknown for most of the week, Stults was handed the ball and stepped up big time to overcome the Rockies and the abortion of a lineup that Grady Little sent out there (actually, the fact that lineup scored six runs might be as shocking as Stults’ performance, now that I think about it…). In fact, according to myself in the broadcast last night, that was the first time THIS WHOLE SEASON that a Dodger starter has allowed fewer than three hits through seven innings. To also show how dominant he was, not only did he strike out four consecutive batters twice during the game, but he also retired the side in order during six of his seven innings. Oh yeah, did I mention that he also hit a double and scored a run?

In other words: totally awesome. So what does this mean?

At this point of the season, there’s no reason not to keep him in the rotation. With the rumors that the Dodgers are in the hunt for David Wells, if that were true, then he should be signed to replace Tomko, while Stults continue to replace Lurch in the rotation. But there’s something intriguing about Stults that has gone unnoticed. While he is primarily remembered for his big start against the Mets last year, let’s look at how half of the Met killing duo (the other being Hong-Chih Kuo) has done in EVERY start – not counting relief appearances – as a Dodger and you just might be surprised…

2006:

September 10th vs. Mets = 6 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 3 K

October 1st vs. Giants = 5 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 1 K

2007:

July 22nd vs. Mets = 5.1 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 0 BB, 5 K

August 17th vs. Rockies = 7 IP, 2 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 9 K

While it’s an incredibly small sample size, he hasn’t had one truly bad start when he’s been handed the ball, as evidenced by his career 2.70 ERA in the starting role. Am I saying that Eric Stults is the team savior? No, he also has a lifetime .203 BABIP as a starter, so he has had some luck and the law of averages will probably increase that 2.70 ERA a bit, but there’s no reason to believe that, based on these performances, he couldn’t at least provide some much needed competency and well… non-suckiness to the back end of the rotation, something the Dodgers have lacked since the injury to Randy Wolf (yeah, remember him?).

Last night notwithstanding, Stults does not have overpowering stuff by any means (his fastball tops out at around 88-89 MPH, or Jason Schmidt territory), but he has shown to have good command and can mix his pitches up well enough to keep hitters off balance. He’s kind of in the Tom Glavine mold, just without the Hall Of Fame career, the 300 wins, World Series ring, Cy Young awards, etc., etc. But Stults has done well in his limited time here and the numbers, and current situation, dictate that he at least deserves the chance to keep his job in the rotation until he proves otherwise. And guess who the Dodgers just happen to be playing in the next five days? Yup, that’s right… the New York Mets.

And, hey, if he can’t pitch:

Eric Stults’ career hitting statistics:

.417/.417/.500/ 135 OPS+

Expect Stults to be shipped back to Las Vegas.

- Vin vinscully-face.jpg