So What Does Aaron Miles Have on Don Mattingly?

A quick thought for you on this holiday morning, and while it’s not one that’s particularly new – we’ve been complaining about this both here on the blog and on Twitter for some time now – it is one that gets more relevant as the days go on.

What, exactly, is Don Mattingly’s fascination with Aaron Miles, who is atop the lineup yet again for today’s game in Chicago? That’s the third time in the last seven games that Miles is leading off, and it will be his tenth start of the year. Miles, as just about everyone on the planet could have predicted, has been awful, hitting .214/.233/.278 for a 31 OPS+.

The issue here is that there’s two issues here, because ignoring the batting order for a moment, there is no godly reason to have Miles in the lineup at all. Yes, I understand that Rafael Furcal is on the disabled list and that Juan Uribe has missed a few days with a tight left thigh, thus requiring more time from the backups than we’d like. But why Miles, who is atrocious with no prayer of improvement, over Ivan DeJesus, who I’m not even a huge fan of but who satisfies the simple requirement of “not being Aaron Miles”? As Jon Weisman writes at Dodger Thoughts today, DeJesus has received just five plate appearances without a start since getting called up on April 12, while Miles has seen six starts in that time. Is DeJesus any sort of guarantee to perform? Of course not. But it wasn’t that long ago that he was a highly thought of prospect, and there’s at least potential for a spark there. You can’t say that about Miles.

Even beyond the impact it has on the field, the decision to continually play Miles over DeJesus goes directly against what Mattingly said on April 6, when DeJesus was initially sent down to make room for Casey Blake:

“He had a great spring. But the way we’re set up, his at-bats are not enough to dwarf his development,” manager Don Mattingly said of the decision to send De Jesus down. “I’m sure he’s disappointed — and I know he wants to be in the big leagues — but his best interest is for him to still be playing every day.”

“We know he’s going to handle the bat,” manager Don Mattingly said of De Jesus after announcing he’d been optioned. “Defensively, he just needs to keep working and keep putting polish on his game at second base. I look at Ivan as a kid that can play every day, and the way we’re set up, he’s not going to get the at-bats that’s really fair to him or to his development, or what we’re trying to do. To sit here and get two at-bats a week is not going to do him any good, and it’s not going to do us any good. He’s young, he can play. To me he’s an everyday guy.”

Yet that’s exactly what they’re doing, by sitting him in favor of an option that’s in no way obviously better. This is exactly the issue that worried me just after DeJesus was called up to fill Furcal’s spot:

I know I haven’t exactly been the biggest supporter of Ivan DeJesus, but can we please get him more time at second base instead of Aaron Miles? Maybe DeJesus is a big league player, and maybe he’s not, but at least there’s hope there. Miles (0-2 tonight, hitting .214) is just execrable, and that’s not likely to change. DeJesus at least got his first big league hit tonight, and there’s no reason to not be playing him.

Unfortunately, that’s exactly what we’re seeing. Yet compounding the playing time issue is that Mattingly insists on batting him leadoff, an insult aggravated more by the fact that the superior Jamey Carroll and his .372 OBP (working towards his fourth straight year of .355 or better) continues to hit 8th. Because when you want guys on base for Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp to drive in, why wouldn’t you put your worst hitter (okay, James Loney is still challenging for that crown) ahead of them?

Back when the Dodgers signed Miles in February, I noted that among players who have received as many plate appearances as he’s had since 2003, only three players in baseball have generated less value for their teams. In another two weeks or so he’ll have enough PA to knock Juan Encarnacion off the list and become the third least valuable player in that time. Ladies and gentlemen, your leadoff hitter.

We knew signing Miles was a terrible idea when it happened, and what we’ve seen of him so far hasn’t done anything to change that impression. So please, Don, spare us from having to see him play so much – and if you absolutely can’t resist that temptation, then at least hit him as low in the lineup as you can.

******

It’s still incredibly unlikely that this happens and even if it did, it would take months, years or more. Still, I wrote about a scenario in which Brewers owner and LA native Mark Attanasio could end up with control of the Dodgers the other day, and today I see this tidbit in Buster Olney’s piece:

Heard this: In the highest offices of a handful of other teams, the heavy speculation is that Brewers owner Mark Attanasio would be the most likely candidate to move from one team to the Dodgers — if Major League Baseball fends off the expected legal challenges of Frank McCourt, and if MLB decides to have an established owner take over the Dodgers — and if Attanasio actually were to take the opportunity, if presented. But it will take months for all of this to play out.

Don’t hold your breath, or get your hopes up. Just be happy that there’s people in the know who think that there’s even a sliver of a chance there.

Rafael Furcal Is An Endless Source of Blog Content (Updated)

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Rafael Furcal is hurt. I know! Who’d have thought? This time it’s his left thumb, which he broke on a slide into third base in the fifth inning. Remember, kids: never slide head first.

Though the immediate postgame stories were about Furcal’s mention that he might retire, that seems almost certainly a statement made out of immediate frustration, and it’s hardly like rehabbing a broken thumb is as arduous as coming back from a blown-out knee or any of the various back troubles he’s had over the years. He’ll be out for four to six weeks, maybe a bit more with a rehab stint, and we’ll see him again sometime before Memorial Day. If there’s a slim silver lining to this, it’s that he almost certainly won’t reach the 600 plate appearances it would take to get his 2012 option to vest. I don’t say that because I don’t like Furcal or am dying to see him gone, but because whenever you can get out of paying an aging, injury-prone player a guaranteed $12m, you do it.

That’s a worry for the offseason, though, because of course far more urgent is how the Dodgers are going to handle this absence, and let me stop you right there: it’s not going to be Dee Gordon. Sure, it’d be fun, it’d be exciting – and it’d also be a terrible idea. Gordon is absolutely not ready right now, and I’m of the opinion that I’m not sure he’s even going to be ready for next year. It’s not good for him, and it’s not good for the team. It shouldn’t happen, and it won’t.

Without Furcal, the Dodgers are really left with four questions: how to replace him at shortstop, who gets his roster spot, how does that impact the bench, and what will this do to the batting order? Let’s tackle them one at a time, and hope this doesn’t get as ugly as the 2008 hellscape of the punchless Chin-lung Hu, the decrepit Angel Berroa, and the corpse of Nomar Garciaparra filling in for Furcal.

Who plays shortstop? Most reports indicate that Jamey Carroll will get the bulk of the time at shortstop in Furcal’s absence, a task he handled admirably last season. That’s okay, I suppose, though I do wonder if Juan Uribe might not be the better choice there. Uribe unquestionably has the stronger arm, and has a 3.4 UZR/150 in over 900 games at the position, while Carroll is at -0.4 in 163 games. Conversely, Carroll has nearly twice as much second base experience as Uribe.

Who fills the roster spot? Assuming Gordon isn’t happening, the obvious 40-man roster choice would be Ivan DeJesus, Jr., though I’m not so sure that’ll happen. It’s not because of DeJesus’ unimpressive stint to start the season, because that was just a few games by a guy seeing his first big league action. It’s because if Carroll is indeed the shortstop, he’s still a 37-year-old career utility guy who can’t be expected to play every day. DeJesus is no longer seen as a shortstop; he may be able to fill in at third base in a pinch, but is basically limited to second base. If the Dodgers don’t want to push Uribe off of second to short a few times a week, the new infielder will need to be able to handle shortstop, particularly because Aaron Miles shouldn’t be playing there either. Besides, if they want DeJesus to play every day, that opportunity still wouldn’t be there for him in LA even with Furcal gone.

That leaves you with two non-roster options: Justin Sellers & Juan Castro. Sellers was someone I liked in the spring due to reports that he has a plus glove and good on-base skills, though he didn’t totally impress in camp. He’s not seen as an everyday major leaguer, so having him be a utilty man wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. Castro, well, you know all about him already. He’s completely and totally useless. Of course it’ll be Castro. (Update: we have our answer, it is DeJesus. See below.)

What does this do to the bench? Here’s where the impact could really be felt. Having Carroll play more is a bit of an injury risk, but it’s overall a good thing to get him in the lineup more. But without him on the bench? That’s a killer, because now you’re looking at a likely backup infield situation of Aaron Miles and Juan Castro (or one of the younger guys). That makes it harder to get Casey Blake the rest he needs without thowing away the day’s game, and since Blake is already banged-up just a week into the season, that kind of rest is vital. I can’t wait for the first day where we see Miles & Castro starting together, right?

How does this change the batting order? Without Furcal at the top, my best guess is that you see a lot more of Tony Gwynn, Jr., leading off. It is, to say the least, an imperfect solution, though I will admit that Don Mattingly doesn’t have a lot of better options. My hope is that he at least keeps Carroll at #2, perhaps even leading off when Gwynn is out, and doesn’t continually bury him at #8, giving more at-bats to the useless Miles & Castro. We’ll have to see how that plays out, though. Tony Jackson suggests that Matt Kemp should lead off, which would be interesting and a way to get him more at-bats, though I wouldn’t do it because I don’t want to see Kemp coming up with the bases empty 90% of the time because Rod Barajas and the pitcher didn’t get on in front of him. Jackson noted later in the story that Mattingly wouldn’t entertain the idea, which is good.

We’ll find out the answer to at least the second question later today, when Furcal is placed on the disabled list and a corresponding move is made. (If it’s not DeJesus, remember, someone will need to be DFA’d. With Jamie Hoffmann up and Jay Gibbons almost ready to return, Xavier Paul should be on notice. So it could be not only that we have to suffer through Castro again, but that we have to lose Paul or someone else to do it.)

As for the rest? We’ll have to see. It’ll be one of Don Mattingly’s first big tests.

******

Update: Tim Brown of Yahoo reports that it will indeed be DeJesus coming up to fill the spot. Not Castro, hooray! He also passes on this horrifying news…

Ivan DeJesus Jr will be in uni for Dodgers tonight, in place of Furcal. LA checked on Eckstein in spring, told it would cost $2 mil. Passed.

Not sure what’s more disturbing – that the Dodgers actually had interest in David Eckstein, or that he chose to not sign with anyone rather than play for less than $2m?

Update 2: MLBtraderumors is reporting that the Dodgers are considering using DeJesus at 2B, which would then push Uribe to 3B. I like the idea if DeJesus can handle it. Uribe’s strong arm would be an asset at 3B, and that would then supplement the bench by pushing Casey Blake to the LHP masher role he really ought to be. Could he be part of the solution to the fact that neither James Loney or Andre Ethier can hit lefties?

The Dawn Of the Ivan DeJesus, Jr. Era

Okay, not really, since he’s almost certain to get sent down when Casey Blake returns sometime next week. Still, if he can get off to a good start and somehow grab at least a share of the 2B job, we’re that much closer to seeing Uribe stay at 3B (his better position) and having Blake off the bench (his only position).

With lefty Jonathan Sanchez on the mound, Tony Gwynn takes a seat in favor of Marcus Thames, also making his Dodger debut. Unfortunately, there’s no righty bats to take over for Andre Ethier (4 hits, 8/0 K/BB in 25 PA against Sanchez) or James Loney (4 hits, 6/0 K/BB in 26 PA). At least Matt Kemp‘s had success, with a .952 OPS in 29 tries against the San Francisco lefty.

On the other side, the newly enriched Chad Billingsley has made 15 starts against the Giants and made it through six or more innings in 12 of them. It’s actually better than it looks though, because two of the three he didn’t go six came in 2006 and 2007, which is practically ancient history at this point.

In fact, three of Billingsley’s top five career performances (based on Game Score) have come against the Giants – complete-game shutouts in 2008 and 2010, and eight innings without allowing an earned run last September. He’s particularly vexed Pablo Sandoval and Freddy Sanchez, who have combined to get on base just 12 times in 56 plate appearances against him.

The lineup (note: an updated lineup was just released with Juan Uribe benched and Aaron Miles included. Dylan Hernandez reports that Uribe’s left elbow is sore after being hit by Tim Lincecum yesterday.)

1. Rafael Furcal SS

2. Ivan DeJesus, Jr. 2B

3. Andre Ethier RF

4. Matt Kemp CF

5. Juan Uribe 3B Marcus Thames LF

6. James Loney 1B

7. Marcus Thames LF Rod Barajas C

8. Rod Barajas C Aaron Miles 3B

9. Chad Billingsley P

Don’t get used to game thread posts, by the way, since I generally don’t do them; that said, I do plan on being around for the games on both Saturday and Sunday, so I’ll probably keep it up through the weekend.

So Here’s Your 25-Man Roster (Updated)

This is largely comprised of news from the last several days that you’ve seen elsewhere, but since I was in Florida I’m playing a little catch-up here. Now it’s true that the 25-man roster hasn’t been officially announced, yet enough moves have been made that we can put the pieces together. With Ramon Troncoso shipped out, Dioner Navarro on the DL, Ron Mahay no longer with the club, Juan Castro told he wasn’t making the team, and Lance Cormier having been asked to accept a minor league assignment (though he reportedly has neither accepted nor exercised his out clause yet), this is what we’re looking at for Opening Day:

Hitters (14)
C Rod Barajas R/R
C Hector Gimenez S/R
1B James Loney L/L
2B Ivan DeJesus, Jr. R/R
SS Rafael Furcal S/R
3B Juan Uribe R/R
IF Jamey Carroll R/R
IF Aaron Miles S/R
LF/OF Tony Gwynn, Jr L/R
LF/1B Jay Gibbons L/L
LF/PH Marcus Thames R/R
LF/OF Xavier Paul L/L
CF Matt Kemp R/R
RF Andre Ethier L/L

Pitchers (11)
SP Clayton Kershaw L
SP Chad Billingsley R
SP Ted Lilly L
SP Hiroki Kuroda R
CL Jonathan Broxton R
RP Hong-Chih Kuo L
RP Kenley Jansen R
RP Matt Guerrier R
RP Blake Hawksworth R
RP Mike MacDougal R
RP Scott Elbert L
RP Lance Cormier R (now added)

Disabled List (4)
SP Jon Garland R
RP Vicente Padilla R
C Dioner Navarro S/R
3B Casey Blake R/R

There’s still a small possibility A.J. Ellis is kept over Gimenez, or that Cormier’s refusal to report to the minors convinces the team to keep him over Elbert (Update: this looks to have happened, see below), but otherwise this is the team you’ll see on Thursday. Not exactly what we thought we’d see six weeks ago, right?

Remember, however, that even though much is made of the Opening Day roster, this is not the same group you’ll see in a few months or even in a few weeks. Garland, Padilla, and Blake all look to return in April, and that doesn’t even account for the possibility that Tim Redding or John Ely is needed for the first 5th starter spot should Garland not be ready.

So here’s what to look out for on the roster front over the first part of the season:

1) Pray, pray, pray for Ivan DeJesus to get off to a good start. The best possible scenario is that he shows solid defense and good on-base skills (I don’t even care about power at this point), and claims the job for his own. That’d not only solve the #2 hitter problem, it’d keep Uribe at 3B, where his strong arm plays better, and push Blake to the bench to be the lefty-mashing corner IF bat he really ought to have been in the first place. When Blake returns, it’ll also be interesting to see if DeJesus has made enough of an impression to avoid being farmed out, and if that means Aaron Miles is instead cut. 

2) That goes double for Xavier Paul. There’s no way you can keep six outfielders on the roster for long, and as I said recently, I prefer Paul to Gibbons. That said, small sample sizes be damned: if Paul gets off to a 1-for-10 start, there’s no way he’s going to survive the inevitable outfielder DFA that’s going to have to happen when the injured begin to return.

3) Hector Gimenez isn’t really going to make it, right? Every year there’s an out-of-nowhere camp darling, and this year it was Gimenez. That’s a nice story, but I’m just not sure I see it working out. The Dodgers have been clear that they don’t think much of him as a catcher, since he barely put on the gear before Navarro got hurt, and since Don Mattingly’s talking about playing Barajas every day in April. If he’s not a catcher, he’s here for his bat, but aside from 94 games in 2010, he’s never been much of a hitter, either (career MiLB numbers: .262/.318/.403). I love the story, and I love the idea, but I predict he’s DFA’d the second Navarro is ready – if not sooner, for A.J. Ellis, who’s probably the best fit of the three.

4) How soon will the bottom of the bullpen churn? I’ve been on record this spring as saying neither Mike MacDougal or Scott Elbert needed to be in the big leagues right now, and it looks like both will be on the club. We all know that the last spots in the bullpen are constantly in motion, so will either or both be able to prove me wrong? Let’s see it, gentlemen. (Update: Ken Rosenthal is reporting that Cormier has indeed made the team. No word yet on who didn’t make it – I assume Elbert – but that doesn’t really change the point of this question at all. Cormier has the same questions to answer as MacDougal or Elbert.)

Oddsmaking For the 25th Spot

Buried within the fifth paragraph of a story about Juan Castro‘s improbable homer yesterday, Tony Jackson may have inadvertently broken some news that could impact how the roster comes together (emphasis mine):

Castro is one of four candidates this spring, along with veteran Aaron Miles and prospects Ivan DeJesus and Justin Sellers, for the second utility-infield spot. Although the Dodgers are up to their chins in outfielders, some of whom can also play on the infield, general manager Ned Colletti now says there will be a second utility infielder on the Opening Day roster.

Though we’d long expected that would be the case rather than carrying a sixth outfielder, this is the first time I’ve seen it laid out so explicitly, and that qualifies as news. It would also seem to doom Xavier Paul to the waiver wire or the trade bin, though more on him in a second. If Jackson is right, that means that one of these four guys are almost certain to make the squad when it heads north. Who will it be? Let’s lay some early-March odds on this quartet.

Juan Castro: 65%. I’ve been over Castro what feels like dozens of times in the nearly four years this blog has been around, since he seemingly comes back more often than Brett Favre. I don’t think much of him as a ballplayer, but the man cannot be killed, and that gets him some credit, I guess. Seriously, though, I think I said all I needed to say about Castro when he signed his minor-league deal back in December:

I’m hardly breaking any major news by saying that he can’t hit, because everyone knows he can’t hit. He’s never come within sniffing distance of even a league-average OPS+ of 100, and he’s never actually even hit 90, and that’s what happens when you’ve never had a season where your OPS has topped .678. So Juan Castro is not a major-league quality hitter. We all knew that.

But what I was very surprised to find out is that Castro is one of the worst hitters in the entire history of baseball.

No, really.

Castro has somehow accumulated 2,834 plate appearances over his 16 big league seasons. 1,664 other players since 1901 can say they’ve had as many or more, lead of course by Babe Ruth’s superlative 206 OPS+. Castro, on the other hand, checks in with the 4th-lowest OPS+ of all time. Of all time!

Rk Player OPS+ PA From To Age G H BA OBP SLG OPS
1 Bill Bergen 21 3228 1901 1911 23-33 947 516 .170 .194 .201 .395
2 Hal Lanier 49 3940 1964 1973 21-30 1196 843 .228 .255 .275 .529
3 Tommy Thevenow 51 4484 1924 1938 20-34 1229 1030 .247 .285 .294 .579
4 Juan Castro 55 2834 1995 2010 23-38 1096 597 .228 .268 .327 .595
5 Bobby Wine 55 3467 1960 1972 21-33 1164 682 .215 .264 .286 .550

Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 12/12/2010.

I went on to explain that while his bat is atrocious, he got on for years by virtue of a plus glove… which is no longer plus. Look, you don’t need fancy stats or in-depth analysis to know that Castro was never very good, and at 38, is no longer a major league quality player. You know that.

So why the 65%? Because he’s a known quantity. Ned Colletti has already added him to the club twice during his tenure, and Castro’s .277 average in 2009 is probably seen as useful, even though it was completely empty (he had just five extra-base hits and drew six walks). Despite the declining defensive metrics, I’m guessing his reputation outweighs the facts, and as I joked on Twitter yesterday, the homer off Jeff Francis almost certainly carries more weight than it ought to. If anything, putting him at 65% might be too low.

Aaron Miles, 20%. With the exception of the Dodger history, you can – and I have – say a lot of the same things about Miles as you can about Castro:

No, really; among players who have had as many plate appearances as Miles had since he debuted in 2003, only three players in baseball have been less valuable. It’s a special kind of “not valuable”, though. If you’re simply awful, you don’t get to stick around for that long. Miles has really hit the sweet spot of being bad enough to hurt his teams for years, yet not so bad that he gets outright drummed out of the game. It must be his A+ levels of “grit” and “scrap”.

Rk Player WAR/pos PA G AB H 2B HR RBI BA OBP SLG OPS
1 Geoff Blum -1.0 2839 902 2592 635 131 59 303 .245 .298 .369 .667
2 Mark Teahen -0.7 2994 753 2713 727 159 63 318 .268 .330 .415 .746
3 Juan Encarnacion -0.3 2653 663 2431 656 136 79 358 .270 .320 .437 .757
4 Aaron Miles 0.6 2574 796 2373 668 93 16 184 .282 .321 .354 .675
5 Shea Hillenbrand 0.7 2647 648 2468 705 139 78 358 .286 .324 .444 .768

Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 2/7/2011But what’s really important here is the last sentence of the dodgers.com story above. Miles is likely competing with Juan Castro and Ivan DeJesus for a second backup infield slot behind Jamey Carroll. Since I don’t believe that DeJesus would get stashed on the big league bench over playing every day in AAA, that means you’re rooting for either the 4th worst player of the last seven years in Miles, or the 4th worst batter in major league history in Castro.

Um, yay. I don’t really see him beating out Castro without a scorching spring, though he does have that creamy veteran pennant-winning goodness Colletti seems to love so much, so…

Ivan DeJesus, 10%. We’ve talked about DeJesus a few times this winter, notably pointing out that he’s fallen completely off most Dodger top prospect lists, nor was he invited to the club’s winter development camp after not getting a September callup last year. Back in October, before Juan Uribe was signed, I looked at whether DeJesus should get a shot at the 2B job and decided that while I wouldn’t totally be against it, it seemed better off to have him in AAA or as utility man.

I’m no longer convinced that DeJesus has what it takes to be an everyday player in the bigs, though it should be noted that he impressed Don Mattingly in the AFL and has put time into learning how to play 3B as well. Still, he’s got an option left, and you know how much the club likes to hold on to as many players as they can. I think there’s also some feeling that after missing all of 2009, it’d be better to have him play every day in the minors rather than riding the big league bench. I’d still prefer him to Castro or Miles, but I can’t argue with that either.

Justin Sellers, 5%. Sellers is someone who I’ve never talked about much around here, and I’ve been meaning to for a while. Despite looking like he’s about 14, his 2010 AAA stats were impressive: .285/.371/.497, with 14 homers. Don’t put too much stock into that, however; while I can’t say for sure because the great minorleaguesplits.com is no longer around, the power displayed is almost certainly a result of the Albuquerque environment, since he had just 17 homers in five previous seasons.

Still, there’s reason to like him. Most of the reports I’ve been able to dig up claim he’s an above-average glove, possibly making him the best defensive choice of these four, and he’s shown improvement in mastering the strike zone. In two seasons as a Dodger minor leaguer, he’s put up OBP of .371 and .360, thanks to a very good K/BB ratio of 115/99. In January, Baseball America gave him the title of “Best Strike Zone Discipline” in the Dodger system, and you don’t need me to remind you how starved this team is for that right now. Though it’s early, he’s off to a good start in the spring, having walked three times without a whiff. Unlike DeJesus, he did attend the winter development camp.

If there’s a knock against him, it’s that he’s been exclusively a middle infielder, though with Jamey Carroll and Juan Uribe both able to handle third base, that wouldn’t seem to be an issue. He’s not a highly touted prospect, clearly, so at 25 and on his third pro organization, I wouldn’t be all that worried about having him riding the major league bench as opposed to playing every day in AAA.

The more I read about Sellers, the more I think he’s my choice, but I still don’t think he’s got any sort of a real shot here. Like DeJesus, he can be sent back to the minors, and with Chin-lung Hu in Queens and Dee Gordon unlikely to start the season at AAA, there’s playing time to be had. Unfortunately, I think we’re stuck with Castro. On the bright side, this roster spot is constantly churning, so hopefully it won’t be for too long.

******

As for Paul, this would seem to sign his death warrant as a Dodger. His only prayer is that he plays out of his head and Jay Gibbons totally chokes his job away, but that seems very unlikely. I can’t imagine that a guy with a .302/.380/.502 AAA line slips through waivers, so I expect him to be shipped off in the second half of March for a Delwyn Young-esque return. It’s too bad, because while he hasn’t been able to establish himself in limited MLB chances, he’s done nothing but produce. Is Gibbons really going to be better? Tony Gwynn? I’m not sure that’s so clear.