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

Not Exactly the Start We Were Hoping For

Here’s the good news: by one metric, Rafael Furcal is the best player in baseball so far.

2008 MLB leaders in MLV (Runs contributed by a batter beyond what an average player at the same position would produce in a team of otherwise league-average hitters.) [From Baseball Prospectus]
1. Rafael Furcal SS LAD 9.6
2. Pat Burrell OF PHI 9.5
3. Hanley Ramirez SS FLO 9.3
4. Albert Pujols 1B STL 8.5

Here’s the bad news: just about everything else. To start with, Andruw Jones. MLV, as described above, has 503 qualified players in 2008. Where’s Jonesy rank? At a robust 498th. Basically, while Furcal has gained us 9.6 runs already over what an average SS would do (remember, the Dodgers have only played 10 games. Furcal is gaining us 1 run every game so far), Jones has cost the Dodgers 5.8 runs to this point. That said, two of the only five players who are worse off than Jones so far? David Ortiz and Robinson Cano. And this is why small sample sizes are fun!

Also, for the fourth time in six games, Matt Kemp was on the bench last night – and one of the two he started can almost be seen as a fluke, because he replaced Jones in center while Juan Pierre still got to play. Now, Pierre has hardly been the biggest problem of this young season, but how exactly is a young talent like Kemp supposed to get into a groove when he barely gets to play? In the two games he did get to play, he was 4 for 9 with a triple.

Kemp said,

“I believe I hit righties pretty good,” Kemp said. “I don’t have an answer to the question (of why I don’t play), I really don’t, but I wish I could get in there against those guys.

Let’s put that to the test. It’s hardly a rarity that a young player has some big left/right splits – one needs look no further than Detroit’s otherwise exemplary Curtis Granderson to see that. What about Kemp? Well, his career numbers vs. righties are a pretty respectable .299/.328/.497. His OPS vs lefties is a little better (.868 vs .825), but still – he’s hardly a liability vs. the right-handed pitcher. Plus, as we very recently pointed out, considering his age? That’s a pretty good track record. Can we just let the kid play? Please? I mean, it’s not like the Dodgers are having widespread offensive apathy right now.

In other news, Hong-Chih Kuo gets moved up to be the 5th starter while Esteban Loaiza gets pushed to the pen, and Rotoworld is pissed:

That’s a pretty disgusting way to treat a veteran, and it’s especially surprising coming from Joe Torre. Loaiza had a solid enough spring, and the day after he allowed four runs over four innings in his first start of the year, Torre said he’d stick with him as a fifth starter. Now he’s reversing course. It’s a long shot that this will work out, as Kuo has never been able to stay healthy as a starter. Odds are that Loaiza will be right back in the rotation in two weeks, except he’ll be a worse bet than ever because his arm strength will have deteriorated that much more.

“A pretty disgusting way to treat a veteran”? Really? I’m not exactly sure what him being a veteran has to do with anything – besides, while Kuo has obviously not been able to stick in the bigs, he’s hardly a rookie; it’s now his fourth season in which he’s appeared in the bigs, including starting Game 2 of the 2006 NLDS. And are we really that attached to Loaiza? He’s given up 5 earned runs in 6.2 innings so far. Sure, he probably deserved another start or two. But we all know the 3 headed, 2 hyphened 5th starter beast of Estehong-Ho Parkuoaiza (ugh. best I could do) is just keeping the seat warm for Clayton Kershaw anyway, so I really can’t get all that worked up about this. Kuo has consistently said that he’s more comfortable as a starter anyway, and having also pitched 6.2 innings this year, he’s given up 0 runs and struck out 8. Sorry, Esteban. I’m not sure why Rotoworld has your back so much, but you’re out of luck on this one.

Anyway, Chris Young and the Padres are back for another game tonight. Maybe, just maybe Matt Kemp will get a start? Ken Gurnick and dodgers.com, please give me some hope? Please?

Juan Pierre, who was batting .067 two games ago, is up to .273 after going 3-for-4 and could return to the lineup for a third consecutive game Saturday night against Chris Young.

One outfielder who figures to be in the lineup is Andre Ethier, who drove in two runs Friday night and is 6-for-16 with three homers lifetime against Young.

Oh. Fantastic.

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

Is He Really Our Manager, or Just a Tourist Who Keeps Sneaking In?

You know what, it’s almost a crime that I’ve gone this far without overtly criticizing Grady Little. Whether it’s been his ridiculous lineups (Gonzalez should never play on a team with both Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp, and never bat 5th when he does); or his complete lack of intensity on the field (I’m surprised one of his own players hasn’t slugged him for never backing them up during an argument with the ump); or his calling fans who second guess him st005_05.jpgupid, this hasn’t exactly been a shining season for Griddle. But he makes bad lineups out every single night, and that would kind of be a repetitive post.

No, what I’m on about today is an in-game decision he made last night – in a contest that could be described as, you know, a big game. 2.5 games out of the wild card going into a series against the team in the lead? This is not the time to screw around, ladies. This is not the time to massage veteran egos. This is the time to win.

Last night, Esteban Loaiza on the hill for the Blue against RoboPeavy. I think it’s fair to say that Loaiza just didn’t have “it” last night. (One might say that “it” was actually “an umpire who would actually call a strike now and then” – and they wouldn’t be wrong.)

First inning, he walks the bases loaded and gives up two runs. 2-0 Padres.

Second inning, he gives up a single to Josh Bard, and then a 2-run dinger to Brian Giles, swinging away on a 3-0 count. 4-0 Padres. Loaiza’s thrown 50 pitches by this point.

So far, this is not Griddle’s fault. Being down 4-0 is a consequence of Loaiza being ineffective combined with the postage-stamp sized strike zone behind the plate.

However.. the bottom of the 2nd. The Dodgers show some life against Cy Peavy. Kent singles. Gonzo walks. Turtle grounds out to move the runners to 2nd and 3rd. After Ethier strikes out, Nomar is intentionally walked to load the bases for Loaiza.

Who hits for himself. And inevitably, strikes out.

Grady. GRADY! Are you awake? You’re down 4-0 in a game you must win. You somehow managed to load the bases against the best pitcher in the league. Thanks to the expanded rosters, you’ve got half the state of California sitting on your bench. Just look at the sidebar here – this team is carrying fifteen pitchers. Plus, Loazia isn’t getting the job done. Look, it’s one thing if you’ve got Penny or Lowe or Billingsley in there mowing people down. You don’t take those guys out in the 2nd inning; you suck it up and hope to keep it close enough to get another offensive opportunity later. Tell me why you couldn’t have let Mark Sweeney (one of the best pinch-hitters to ever play the game) take a pop at a bases-loaded situation and throw Hull or Houlton out there for a few innings? Isn’t that why Sweeney is on this team? Isn’t that why we have 9282 pitchers? Personally, I hate the expanded rosters, but if there is ever a time to take advantage of it, this was it. Because honestly, what are we waiting for? There’s 20 games left in the season, and this team needs to win at least 3 more than the Padres do. Get on it.

But hey, at least we get the benefit of keeping Loaiza in the game, right? Because he.. bang, Khalil Greene homer. Oh, well at least.. bang, Kevin Kouzmanoff dinger. 6-0 Padres. Houlton and Hull, of course, later combined to pitch 3 and 2/3 scoreless innings.

Hey, maybe Sweeney (or whomever would have pinch hit) strikes out. Maybe it doesn’t matter. But maybe he gets a blooper to right field that plates two. And then Houlton and Hull don’t give up those two dingers that Loaiza did. We’ll never know. Thanks, Grady.

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

What, Brian Anderson & Sidney Ponson Are Busy?

2003296932.jpgSo, according to John Shea at the San Francisco Gate (via MLBtraderumors.com), the Dodgers might have “genuine interest” in Esteban Loaiza. And guess what? The title of this post aside – my lame attempt at looking up what other pitchers were good in 2003 and aren’t anywhere near the same now, since we’ve already collected Schmidt and Wells – I might not actually be against this. Surprising, I know, since I’m usually incredibly against the “Colletti collecting old, broken-down, expensive veterans” idea.

Let’s break this down. First of all, there’s really not all that much to go on here: Shea literally only says that “the Dodgers have genuine interest in Loaiza, according to a National League source.” Nowhere else is LA mentioned. So this isn’t exactly the Zapruder film of trade rumors. But it’s fun to conjecture anyway.

Loaiza’s 36 on New Year’s Eve, and he’s due for $8 million next year in the final year of his deal. Which, let’s face it – is not unreasonable for even a league-average pitcher anymore. I don’t think there’s any question the Blue could use another starter for the stretch run this year - while Wells looked good in his debut, he’s hardly a sure thing, and Stults is still unproven. As for next year, well it might seem like the rotation depth will be a strength, with Schmidt returning and prospects like James McDonald and Justin Orenduff nearly ready.. but don’t forget the heady days of March, 2007, when we all wondered what we could get in trade for Hendrickson and Tomko because the rotation was “incredibly deep.” And then they ended up being 40% of the rotation for a good part of the year, which in itself was probably enough to embolden the terrorists.

Of course, the possibility of picking up Loaiza only matters if he’s any good. Looking up his stats, I was surprised at how effective he’s actually been over the years (his monster, insane, inexplicable, 21-9, 2.90 ERA, 2nd in the Cy Young 2003 season aside). Over his career, he’s been almost exactly league-average: 99 ERA+. After being Tomko-esque in 2004 (5.70 ERA between the White Sox and Yankees), he put up two relatively decent seasons in ’05 and ’06: 12 wins and a 3.77 ERA for an awful 2005 Nationals squad, and 11 wins with a 4.89 ERA for Oakland last year. Of course, his best statistic last year was clearly 120; miles per hour while drunk, that is.

This year, he’s been out with a torn meniscus in his knee which required surgery. But in his two starts since returning, he’s been really good: 3 hits and 1 ER over 7 2/3 IP  on 8/22, and 2 ER over 7 IP on 8/27 – each against Toronto. Can a guy like that help the back end of the Dodger rotation? I think so, especially considering a switch back to the NL is never bad for a pitcher. Plus, he’d be good depth for next year in case Schmidt isn’t all the way back; or Wolf isn’t resigned; or no other outside help is coming, which is likely considering how insane the price for pitching will be.

It depends, of course, on what it’d take to get him. Personally, I’d rather just eat more money and give a lesser prospect. None of the names that came up in the Blanton talks should even be considered here.

Oh, hey – I just heard Mike Mussina’s losing his spot in the Yankees’ rotation due to gross ineffectiveness. He was 17-8 in 2003… smells like Dodger material to me.

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