Tonight Could Be Interesting, Folks

I touched on this briefly this morning, and Jon at Dodger Thoughts just posted a timely and informative pitch count chart, but suffice to say: the Dodger pitching staff is in shambles for tonight, as it currently stands.

Think about it: the Dodgers have 12 men on the pitching staff currently – so 11, behind tonight’s starter Vicente Padilla. Five of them are completely unavailable tonight (assuming that unlike with Charlie Haeger, Joe Torre won’t risk Chad Billingsley or Clayton Kershaw in between starts):

Definitely unavailable (5):
Hiroki Kuroda (started Thurs.)
Chad Billingsley (started Wed.)
Clayton Kershaw (started Tues.)
Jonathan Broxton (pitched three days in a row)
Ramon Ortiz (pitched three days in a row)

Almost certainly unavailable (2):
George Sherrill (pitched two days in a row, and poorly)
Charlie Haeger (Saturday’s starter)

Available tonight (4):
Ramon Troncoso (probable closer)
Russ Ortiz
Carlos Monasterios
Jeff Weaver

So among your four-man, all-righty bullpen, that’s one good pitcher who was still your 4th or 5th best option entering the season (Troncoso), 2 non-roster veterans, and a Rule 5 pick – and that’s keeping in mind that Weaver pitched last night and on six of the previous nine days, and that Russ Ortiz is Russ Ortiz.

What this means, if Padilla can’t put together a decent and lengthy start tonight, is a possible disaster. Sure, Jon jokingly included James Loney on his pitch count chart, but how far away are we from actually seeing that? Unfortunately, even if they wanted to bring in help from AAA, the pickings are sparse from there as well. James McDonald, Scott Elbert, and Josh Lindblom started in each of the last three games, so you’d assume they’re not available tonight (or even for tomorrow, should Haeger forgo his start to help tonight). Brent Leach pitched two innings last night, as well.  Plus, Hong-Chih Kuo started his rehab stint last night, and there’s no news on Ronald Belisario, so consider them out too. So if they’re bringing someone up, we’re looking at… Luis Ayala? Travis Schlichting? Justin Miller? Jon Link? Hey, why not Nick Green – he pitched two scoreless innings last year! Some of those guys would need to be put on the 40-man roster, though that’s not a huge issue since either Cory Wade or Brad Ausmus could be put on the 60-day DL.

The point is, keep a close eye on the game tonight. If Padilla’s not up for the challenge, you might see some interesting faces on the mound.

By the way, this could have partially been avoided, you know. I don’t want to cry over spilled milk too much… so I’ll let commenter matt do it for me:

This seams like a good time to have Eric Stults around…

Sigh… yes. Yes it does. Not like we could have predicted this though, right?

So Long, Eric Stults

Eric Stults was scratched from today’s start, and with good reason: he’s reportedly been shipped off to a yet-to-be-named Japanese team (update: the Hiroshima Carp, apparently. Go Carp!). We’ve been hearing “Stults to Japan” rumors since early in the offseason, so this isn’t a total surprise. While the club hasn’t officially announced that Japan is indeed his destination, Tony Jackson proves exactly why we still do need beat writers around the team every day:

But a few minutes before leaving the clubhouse, Stults had a long conversation in the clubhouse with three other pitchers, Josh Towers, Charlie Haeger and Justin Miller. At one point, the four pitchers could clearly be overheard talking about sushi. And just before leaving the clubhouse, Stults had a brief exchange with Kenji Nimura, a Dodgers employee who serves as an interpreter for both Japanese- and Spanish-speaking players.

So it’s not much of a stretch to think that Japan is in Stults’ future. Besides, with Charlie Haeger looking like he’s got the #5 spot sewed up, the out-of-options Stults was going to have to end up elsewhere, so all the better for him.

But is this really worth it?

I don’t want to put too much praise onto a soft-tossing 30-year-old with 8 career MLB wins, an 88 ERA+, and who just lost out to a knuckleballer for the last rotation spot. He’s not that good. I get it, and you have to reserve some judgement until you see just how much in yen is coming back to the Dodgers.

But nor is Eric Stults worthless. Let’s not forget the 4-hit shutout of the White Sox in 2008 and the shutout of the Giants in 2009, which are more shutouts than Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley combined can boast. He’s entirely useful, yet the Dodgers – Joe Torre in particular – never seemed to have any faith in him whatsoever. Remember, last year he was 4-1 with a 3.58 ERA after 6 starts. That would be one outstanding outing (the shutout of SF), four acceptable outings (going at least 5 IP with 3 or fewer ER), and one lousy appearance. From a fifth starter, that’s pretty goddamn good. Yet he received just four starts the rest of the year (granted, partly due to his thumb injury), even while the Dodgers desperately tried to fill out their rotation.

He got the same treatment in 2008. Stults made 7 starts and gave up more than 3 earned runs exactly once. Yet after a somewhat rough outing in a July blowout win over Colorado (even then, only 3 runs allowed in 3.2 IP), he was yanked and didn’t see the bigs again until the last week of the season. He’s not an All-Star, and he’ll never be. But we’ve said this more times than I can link to over the course of this blog – as a 5th starter, a guy who can keep you in the game and occasionally come up with a gem, he’s just fine.

Which brings us back to the question of, why? I prefer Haeger to Stults in the rotation, so I’m not crushed he didn’t win the #5 job. But as far as I can see, there’s no compelling reason to make this move right now. Stults may not have a ton of bullpen experience, but with Hong-Chih Kuo on the DL and Ronald Belisario on the restricted list, you can shoehorn Stults onto the roster for at least a few weeks – especially on a team that may have just one lefty reliever and has a starting rotation notorious for not going deep into games.

And who knows what could happen in that time? Kuo’s arm could give out entirely. Vicente Padilla could fight a cop. Bill Plaschke could hit Chad Billingsley with his car. If you can’t be bothered to give Doug Mientkiewicz his release for three more days because you’re terrified that Garret Anderson may wake up with a bad case of osteoporosis, then you should want to hold on to Stults for as long as you can. No, as far as I can see there’s three possibilities for this move being made now, and I don’t like any of them.

1) To keep some of the retreads. I’ll give Jeff Weaver a pass because he was pretty solid as a Dodger last season. Unfortunately, Russ and Ramon Ortiz do not fall under that umbrella, because as we’ve said many times – they’ve been absolutely horrible pitchers for many years. Ramon is actually likely to make the club as a reliever, and it’s not that I have a problem with that, but there’s probably room to keep both Ramon and Stults, at least at first. If Stults got dumped in order to keep more than just Ramon – like Russ, or Justin Miller, or Luis Ayala, then that makes no sense at all.

2) To keep Nick Green. We’ve seen a few times in the last few days that the club may start with 11 pitchers in order to keep an extra reserve, and that reserve would probably be Green as a backup shortstop. Who would you rather – the pitcher who has two shutouts under his belt, or the backup infielder who can’t hit or field, and isn’t better than minor leaguers you currently have? Sticking Stults in the bullpen for a few weeks at the expense of not keeping Green (who’d likely just report to Albuquerque anyway) is a risk absolutely worth taking.

3) To help Eric Stults. This is a nice gesture, if it’s the case - allow him to get over to his new home as soon as possible. Unfortunately, the Dodgers are in the business of winning baseball games, not helping people, and if any pitcher goes down in the next few weeks this is going to be quite regrettable.

Sayonara, Eric. You were sorely underappreciated in Blue.

Mid-March Oddsmaking: #5 Starter

It’s amazing how tidy the batting side of the 2010 roster has turned out to be, isn’t it? What was expected to be a three-way battle for 2B looks to be Blake DeWitt’s job to lose, and the job of lefty bat off the bench is a nice clean (if not sexy, or interesting, or correct) choice between Garret Anderson and Doug Mientkiewicz. Yet with a flurry of moves and interesting performances in the last few days, the fight for the last few pitching spots has really started to heat up.

As you can see from the NRI list at the right, we’ve lost a few hopefuls over the last few days, including NRI’s Eric Gagne, Scott Dohmann, & Francisco Felix – plus minor-league guys like Scott Elbert & Kenley Jansen and Rule 5er Armando Zerpa. Plus, Ronald Belisario almost certainly won’t be on the Opening Day roster at this point, opening up another hole.

So, let’s take advantage of today’s offday and put some odds to our contestants for the #5 starting gig. We’ll do the back of the bullpen separately. Also, just so I don’t have to repeat it 10 times – yes, I 100% totally agree that it’s insane to place too much importance on spring stats against varying competition when a guy has a much longer track record to review. Of course. Let’s just not forget that A) even though spring stats shouldn’t matter, we all know that they do when it comes time to make the decision, and B) meaningless or not, there’s a pretty big divide between a 20.25 ERA and a 0.00 ERA.

5th starter

Eric Stults. As the only Dodger with a shutout in each of the last two years, he’s at least been able to show Joe Torre he has the skills. The question is whether he can use them consistently. Stults is out of options and would almost certainly get picked up by other teams if he was set free. On the other hand, while he hasn’t allowed a run in camp, he’s also pitched just 2 innings, which makes you wonder how interested the staff is in seeing him. Still, his past success plus option status has to make him the leader unless he implodes. Odds: 60%.

Carlos Monasterios. As a Rule 5 pickup who none of us had heard of when he was drafted, one might think that his odds would be pretty low. Yet for a guy with only 7 innings above A ball, he’s been impressive in his admittedly small sample size, tossing 5 scoreless innings. He’s young, but he’s not that young, as he turns 24 later this week. Obviously the Dodgers selected him for a reason, and if he doesn’t make the club he’d have to be offered back to the Phillies, so that alone gives him a little boost. I don’t think he’s got a great chance, but it’s still a chance. Odds: 15%.

James McDonald. Just like last year, I think we’d all come into camp hoping that McDonald would come away with the job. Who wouldn’t want to see the two-time team Minor League Pitcher of the Year in the rotation rather than the usual crew of retreads and has-beens? Despite McDonald’s failure in the role last year, he did turn his season around with an impressive run out of the pen, leading many (okay, me) to hope that he’d found his groove. Yet he’s been awful so far this spring (6 runs and 8 hits in 4 innings, with just 1 K and 3 walks), and with the extra room in the bullpen thanks to Belisario’s disappearance, he may be needed there. Odds: 10%

Charlie Haeger. Everyone’s favorite knuckleballer probably needed a nice camp showing to grab the job, and so far it hasn’t gone all that well. First, he was dropped from the Taiwan trip thanks to a leg injury, costing him valuable mound time in front of Joe Torre. When he has been able to pitch, he hasn’t been overly impressive, putting 8 men on in 4 innings. That said, even if he doesn’t get the starting gig, he could still be a part of the team, according to Torre:

Torre on C.Haeger: “He will have the opportunity to be a reliever because he can pitch everyday.” Also said he’s an option for 5th starter.

Like Stults, Haeger is out of options and would likely get picked up by another club. So while I don’t think he’s winning the #5 job, I do think he makes the team. Odds: 10%.

Ramon Ortiz. Ramon’s been the darling of camp for the last few days thanks to his 9 scoreless innings and 11/2 K/BB ratio. DodgerThoughts and Memories of Kevin Malone wisely caution against falling in love with a guy with such a lousy track record who hasn’t even pitched in the bigs since 2007, and they’re right to do so. Still, Ortiz is saying all the right things about how the tight Japanese strike zone taught him how to be more of a pitcher than a thrower, and at some point all those spring zeroes start to add up. I don’t believe it’s going to be enough to win him the job, but it might get him a shot as the last arm out of the bullpen. Odds: 5%.

Russ Ortiz. I know that he’s not allowed a walk or a run in 5 innings, and I do not care. I refuse to live in a world where Russ Ortiz – Russ Ortiz! – can win a rotation spot on a team with playoff dreams. Since his last decent season in 2004, his MLB line is 10-28 with a 6.56 ERA. He is, quite possibly, the worst pitcher in baseball, and he’s about to be 36. No amount of spring training niceties should be able to undo that. Odds: 0.0000001%

If you’re wondering why I’m giving slightly more hope to one busted R.Ortiz over another, it’s because Ramon has thrown nearly twice the innings Russ has in camp – and because I’ll be the first to admit I have an irrational hatred of Russ Ortiz. The Giants and D-Backs connections, the huge contract, the total flameout, the age – I don’t want any part of it.

We Don’t Want Your Braden Looper

A few days ago, I read an interesting article over at FanGraphs by R.J. Anderson, in regards to Ned Colletti’s assertation that the Dodgers may still look outside the organization for a #5 starter. Anderson, citing other research, noted that there’s really no such thing as a “#5 starter” except in the rarest of instances – due to injuries and ineffectiveness, nearly every team will go through several arms at the back end of their rotation. What this means is that you better have at least a few guys who you can count on to get you through the season. While the Dodgers may not have been able to acquire an “ace” this offseason, they do have quite a decent collection of options for that back-end - young guns like James McDonald & Scott Elbert, fringy young veterans like Eric Stults & Charlie Haeger, not to mention a collection of thousands of mediocre over-30 guys.

As Anderson says, and as I think many of us would agree, McDonald would seem to be the ideal first choice:

McDonald has made nearly 90 starts in the minors, including 42 between Triple- and Double-A. At both destinations McDonald struck out at least nine per nine and walked between three and four batters per nine. He turned 25 in October and started last season in the Dodgers’ rotation. He would only make four starts, as he walked 14 in 13.1 innings and struck out only six. Upon a move to the bullpen, McDonald looked like his minor league self, posting a SO/BB of 2.4 and striking out roughly one batter pr inning.

His stuff doesn’t seem to stink, either: a low-90s fastball, curve, and change. Each pitch was whiffed on at least 8% of the time. His fastball shows great “rise” which makes up for some lackadaisical run. Those whiff rates will likely decrease upon a move back to the rotation, but McDonald’s body of work makes him more appealing than the Ortizes of the world. Plus, who knows, maybe he turns into more than a bona fide number five.

If McDonald falters, you still have Elbert. Or Stults. Or Haeger. Or so on. McDonald & Elbert both have big upside potential, Stults has shown competence, and if you’ve read this blog at all you know what a big fan of Haeger I am. Look, a number five starter doesn’t need to be the guy you look to in October.  He just needs to be the guy(s) who can keep you in the game every fifth day, and even less so if you consider off-days. The Dodgers have the guys right now who can fulfill that need, and some with the potential to be more than that.

It’s with this in mind that today’s news from Ken Gurnick is a little disturbing:

The Dodgers remain in contact with the agent for unsigned pitcher Braden Looper, but chances of a deal are slim because they can’t offer the Major League roster spot or the kind of salary the right-hander wants.

So… why?

Obviously, as Gurnick states, it’s unlikely because Looper’s salaries demands are seemingly unreasonable – so I won’t lose much sleep over it. Just saying… the fact that Looper is even on the radar is a little disturbing. I mean, what does he offer, at 35 and coming off a lousy year, that the young guys can’t? Looper was the worst in 2009…

2009 MLB FIP:
Stults: 4.36
McDonald: 4.48
Elbert: 4.67
Haeger: 5.68
Looper: 5.74

…and is projected to be the worst in 2010 by all three FanGraphs measurements:

2010 MLB FIP (projected ranges):
Elbert: 3.76 – 4.67
McDonald: 3.97 – 4.32
Stults: 4.52 – 4.57
Haeger: 4.81 – 5.20
Looper: 4.82 – 5.21

So what does Looper have going for him? That’s he’s a “name”? That he threw 194 innings last year, as though it doesn’t matter that he was hurting the Brewers by being that bad that often? Or is it – and I shudder to think it – because he somehow went 14-7, as though wins actually matter? The Brewers supported him with nearly nine runs a game in his starts, second among NL pitchers with over 180 IP.

The fact is, Braden Looper isn’t very good, coming off what is in many ways the worst season of his career despite the win total. At 35, he’s not likely to start improving, and with the group of other arms the Dodgers have collected, he’d be almost guaranteed to be taking away valuable innings from pitchers with more upside than him – not to mention how much more money he’s looking for.

As Gurnick said, it’s not likely that Looper lands in LA. It’s just the thought that the Dodgers might be interested at any price that is disconcerting.

Who Doesn’t Love a Knuckleballer?

charlie_haeger_AAA_allstar.jpgPer, our wishes are coming true:

With Weaver unavailable for long relief, the Dodgers purchased the
contract of 25-year-old knuckleballer Charlie Haeger from Triple-A
Albuquerque and optioned back to Albuquerque left-hander Eric Stults.

Which is great, since we’ve been giving Haeger the big MSTI boost around here lately. If he gets into a game, Haeger will be the first knuckleballer in Dodger blue since Tom Candiotti in 1997. And really, there’s absolutely no reason that he shouldn’t be thrown into games early and often. As I detailed in our last post about him, he can throw a ton of innings and he’s been fantastic this year. What’s not to like?

Early prediction: Weaver goes 3.1 innings on Wednesday, and Haeger follows with 4.2 innings of relief.