MSTI’s 2010 in Review: Relievers, Part 2

Continuing our “three random relievers” method of doling out bullpen reviews…

Hong-Chih Kuo (A+)
1.20 ERA, 1.81 FIP, 11.0 K/9, 2.7 BB/9, 2.9 WAR

Kuo started the year off by winning the MSTI fan balloting for best lefty reliever of the decade, but started the season in the place that terrifies us the most: on the disabled list with soreness in his left elbow. He missed most of April, and I spent most of the rest of the season worrying about his continued health.

June 28:

But it’s not just about Broxton, because Chad from MOKM points out that Hong-Chih Kuo is getting close to Defcon 5:

In his nine appearances in June, five of them were of the multiple inning variety. This coming from a guy who has had four arm surgeries and whose arm turned blue in the bullpen during the playoffs the last time the Dodgers used him this way.

For comparison, can you guys guess how many times he was used over an inning in 2009? Zero.

June 30:

When Miller entered the game, none other than Hong-Chih Kuo started warming. Yes, in the 9th inning of a seven-run game, by all means get your fragile superstar lefty up. Why not?

July 23:

It’s also absolutely terrifying that Kuo has been allowed to either pitch or warm three consecutive nights, and I’m not lying when I say I’m terrified for him each time he’s out there now. Remember when he wasn’t allowed to do that for even two nights in a row? Now he’s up to three, and I don’t think I’m alone when I say, there’s just no way that can end well.

August 5:

I would love to go one game, just one, without dropping some negativity about Joe Torre. I don’t really enjoy it as much as it probably seems I do. It’s just, we all know about Hong-Chih Kuo‘s injury history. When you have a guy like that, you know that his arm could go at any second, and you use the bullets he has on high-value innings. So after needlessly using him last night (Ted Lilly had only set down twenty Padres in a row), Torre had Kuo (and Jonathan Broxton, for that matter) warming up in the 8th inning in what was at the time a four-run game.

Kuo, of course, was never needed, but since he had to throw two days in a row, it’s fair to question his availability for tomorrow’s game. Every pitch rolls on that odometer, so for the one millionth time this season, leave Kuo alone unless you need him.

It’s understandable that no conversation about Kuo can really take place without a healthy dose of worry about his health, but it’s also a little unfair to him for that to take precedence over what he did on the field this season, because after missing most of April, his 2010 was record-setting.

That 1.20 ERA? It was only the lowest in the 127 years of recorded Dodger history (minimum 50 IP), and even that doesn’t tell the entire truth. A rusty Kuo gave up 2 ER in 0.1 IP in his season debut on April 22, and allowed just 6 ER the rest of the year – that’s a 0.91 ERA. He also became the first native of Taiwan to make the All-Star team, and set an MLB record by retiring the first 36 left-handed hitters of the season who faced him.

Kuo’s unbelievably ridiculous line against fellow southpaws can’t be overstated – .095/.159/.111 – yet he was dominant no matter how you break down the stats. Righties only had a .460 OPS. At home, opponents had just a .312 OPS. During the day, it was .385, and at night it was .411 – frankly put, no one hit Kuo, any time, any place. By August, with Jonathan Broxton proving unreliable, Kuo moved into the main closer’s role, and ended up notching nine saves in the last six weeks, and he’s likely to see time there next year as well.

For a pitcher with a long history of arm woes who pitched just 30 IP in 2009 and started 2010 on the DL with yet another arm problem, it wouldn’t have surprised anyone if Kuo had just hung them up and went home. Yet not only did he persevere, he was outstanding. You can never count on him any further than his next pitch, but I’m not sure the A+ is even high enough here.

Justin Miller (C)
4.44 ERA, 4.11 FIP, 11.1 K/9, 3.0 BB/9, 0.0 WAR

He’s soon to be known as the “other” Justin Miller, as the Dodgers have a 23-year-old prospect by the same name in AA but the funny thing is, I wasn’t really excited about his arrival, and then I wasn’t sure why he was let go.

When he was signed to a minor-league deal last December, I was relatively indifferent:

If you haven’t heard, the Dodgers signed righty reliever Justin Miller to a minor-league contract today.  You’re probably thinking that I’ll be frustrated with this, as I have been with the rumors of the last few days. I mean, all of the signs are there, right? Signing an over-30 reliever with increasingly mediocre performances – and who is yet another ex-Giant, no less – is exactly the sort of thing I should hate.

But I don’t hate this. No, it’s not because Justin Miller is any good. If he’s good at anything, it’s being a poster child for how ERA (especially for relievers) can be unreliable. I guarantee that there’s Dodger fans out there who read about this signing, saw his 3.18 ERA, and think he’s a stud. Nothing could be further from the truth, of course. After spending 2006 in Japan, Miller’s pitched in at least 44 games in each of the last three seasons, the first two with Florida. How’d that work out? Well, there’s been a declining strikeout rate each year (10.8->8.3->5.7), an increasing walk rate (3.5->3.9->4.3), and an increasing homer rate (0.7->0.8->1.1). That nice ERA in 2009 was largely due to luck, since his BABIP was a far-below-average .227. Put that all together, and his FIP was 4.91, which sounds a whole lot more like it should be.

Still, as I said, I don’t hate this. Yeah, he’s not any good, but it’s encouraging to see that guys like this aren’t being evaluated strictly on misleading ERA’s anymore. And it’s a minor league deal, so how can I complain? With bullpen turnover so high from year to year, it’s smart to pile as many arms like this as you can in the minors.

After starting the year with some success in ABQ – 25/8 K/BB in 18 games – he was called up in late May when the club finally put Ramon Ortiz out of our collective misery. Miller didn’t pitch wonderfully as a Dodger – 4 homers in 18 games is a bit high – but nor was he a disaster, holding batters to a .244/.320/.433 line. And what’s wrong with 30 K in 24.1 IP? So when he was DFA’d in July, I didn’t quite think that he ought to have lost his job, especially considering that there were other lesser performers and those who still had minor league options. Still, it’s only Justin Miller, so I wasn’t that upset. He returned to ABQ, but didn’t get a call-up in September.

He’ll always have this, though. You now know the answer to this trivia question: who did the Dodgers cut to bring up Kenley Jansen?

Jack Taschner (inc.)
27.00 ERA, 30.08 FIP, 0.0 K/9, 81.0 BB/9, 0.0 WAR

Taschner pitched to just six batters in three July games as a Dodger, retiring only one. He threw just 33 pitches in a Dodger uniform, and was basically completely forgettable. So while I don’t want to spend too much time acting as though Taschner was in any way important, it is fun to look back and remember how we always realized this was going to be a terrible idea.

June 28:

Don’t let the timing of this fool you, because I’ve already seen this picked up in multiple places that this was somehow Ned Colletti’s “response” to last night. Taschner was signed in the last few days… early enough to give up a homer in his Isotope debut last night. So, there’s that.

July 23:

I didn’t mention the other day that Jack Taschner had been recalled from ABQ, but if I had, I would have laughed at it. Taschner was so bad that he was DFA’d by the Pirates, of all teams, in June. The fun part is, not only was he not good this year, he’s never been any good (career 4.47 FIP and 4.82 BB/9), his velocity has dropped four years in a row (down to 88.8 MPH this year), and he wasn’t even any good in AAA after signing with the Dodgers (four home runs allowed in ten innings.) Yet he’s somehow a better choice than Kenley Jansen, or if you must have a lefty, Juan Perez (9.3 K/9, 3.19 ERA for the Isotopes)?

Anyway, his simple recall isn’t what set me off here, it’s this bit of news, also from  Hernandez:

Tashner taking over as lefty specialist

That’s without throwing a pitch for the club, by the way. But not only is a guy who cut dumped by Pittsburgh being given an important role, what’s even funnier is that he’s completely unqualified for it. Despite being a lefty, Taschner has no discernible platoon split. For his career, he’s been hit by righties at a .796 clip, and lefties at .778. That comes out to a .292/.361/.416 line, and that’s just not all that good.

July 24:

It’s no surprise to see the non-Broxton and Kuo contingent fail, though Weaver had been generally reliable, and in particular watching Taschner fail was basically the most predictable thing ever.

July 29:

Weaver allowed a single and a double while not getting an out, Travis Schlichting allowed four runners and two runs in his inning of work, and Jack Taschner… well, I still can’t figure out what the hell he’s here for. He entered the game having not retired any of his first three batters in two games as Dodger, and promptly walked his first two tonight. He finally got his first out on his sixth batter, but even that was on a well-hit ball that happened to be directly at Matt Kemp. You’re going to have to make at least one roster move in the next few days (when Scott Podsednik arrives) and probably a second as well (if John Ely comes up to start), and there’s just no way that Taschner should remain – getting rid of him is perhaps even more vital than getting rid of Garret Anderson.

July 29:

Jack Taschner faced six batters as a Dodger, and he retired just one. Shockingly, he’s unemployed, as he was DFA’d just now to make room for Scott Podsednik.

Boy, who could have ever predicted that a guy who got cut by the Pirates and couldn’t keep the ball in the park in AAA would have been a huge failure?

And thus ends the long and storied Dodger career of Jack Taschner.

******
Next! Kenley Jansen bursts on the scene! James McDonald gets traded for magic beans! Jeff Weaver tries to stick around! It’s relievers, part 3!

 

One Down, One to Go

Jack Taschner faced six batters as a Dodger, and he retired just one. Shockingly, he’s unemployed, as he was DFA’d just now to make room for Scott Podsednik.

Boy, who could have ever predicted that a guy who got cut by the Pirates and couldn’t keep the ball in the park in AAA would have been a huge failure?

More Proof That The Rotation Isn’t the Problem

Joe Torre looks bored.

Hiroki Kuroda‘s line of three earned runs over six innings would seem fine enough – it’s technically a “quality start” – and he was actually better than that, bringing a shutout into the 6th inning and retiring 10 in a row at one point. The Padres’ rally in the 6th was started on a mere infield single by Tony Gwynn Jr., a ball on which 95% of major leaguers wouldn’t have beat out. In the 7th, Kuroda allowed just a single to Scott Hairston before being pulled and seeing Jeff Weaver allow a double to add that run onto Kuroda’s record.

Once again, the starting pitching was more than good enough to win, and once again the offense, defense, and bullpen were subpar. Taking the last first, Weaver allowed a single and a double while not getting an out, Travis Schlichting allowed four runners and two runs in his inning of work, and Jack Taschner… well, I still can’t figure out what the hell he’s here for. He entered the game having not retired any of his first three batters in two games as Dodger, and promptly walked his first two tonight. He finally got his first out on his sixth batter, but even that was on a well-hit ball that happened to be directly at Matt Kemp. You’re going to have to make at least one roster move in the next few days (when Scott Podsednik arrives) and probably a second as well (if John Ely comes up to start), and there’s just no way that Taschner should remain – getting rid of him is perhaps even more vital than getting rid of Garret Anderson. In fact, the only reliever who got the job done was George Sherrill, of all people, which should tell you a lot.

Of course, the real story once again is that the offense was nowhere to be found, and while I know the Padres have quite the pitching staff, watching 19 men in a row be retired to end the game isn’t acceptable. Rafael Furcal, Andre Ethier, Casey Blake, James Loney, and Russell Martin combined to go 0-for-16 (though Furcal drew a walk), and if that’s going to happen, you can make all the trades for mediocre 4th outfielders you want and it’s not going to change a goddamn thing. The guys who are here, right now, have to start hitting. You hope Manny comes back healthy, and you hope he gets hot at the right time, but it certainly can’t be just him.If Ethier doesn’t start to look something like he did at the beginning of the year, if Blake doesn’t stop resembling a bearded corpse, if Martin can’t stop looking like the new Jason Kendall… well, then none of the rest of it really matters, does it?

******

On Podsednik: my earlier post, as you probably saw, was filed from the upper deck at CitiField, so it was very much a stream-of-consciousness response. After some thought, I’ve tempered my response a bit – “horrendous” was probably a bit much. Lucas May’s defense was probably never going to allow him to be a fulltime catcher, and Pimentel, while intriguing, was far from a top prospect.

Still, without May the catching depth is atrocious. After A.J. Ellis, you’re looking at… well Tony Delmonico would be next, but he broke his wrist recently, and anyone else worth mentioning is at least three years away. And while I do think that Podsednik is a nice complimentary piece for this team due to their current situation, it’s still hard for me to be all that thrilled about giving up potentially useful players for a guy who’s not an impact player and has been released twice in the last three years.

That being the case, Podsednik does come in on a nice hot streak, having hit in 23 of his last 24 games, so there’s the chance that he’ll be able to give the team a jump start. Really, we’ll see what how much value the trade really brings to the roster at about lunchtime tomorrow. If it’s Anderson being shipped out, then it’s a big win. If it’s Xavier Paul (who, even though he hasn’t been great, is miles better than Anderson), then the excitement is tempered a bit.

Kuroda & Kuo Add Up To Zero

Proof positive, I suppose, that you can shut down the Mets with your eyes closed.

You could argue that Hiroki Kuroda did his best to outshine Chad Billingsley‘s effort from Wednesday night. You could also argue that the Mets just came off of being embarrassed in Arizona, so they were hardly a worthy opponent. Kuroda, powered by a homer and a double from Matt Kemp, pitched at least eight shutout innings for the fourth time in his career, helping the Dodgers overcome another generally ineffective night from the offense.

I would have liked to have seen Kuroda start the 9th; while he was up to 112 pitches, he’d been breezing through and had spent just 11 pitches in the 8th. But shouldn’t pitch counts not be a concern anyway for Kuroda? He’s not a young arm coming up to be protected, like Chad Billingsley or Clayton Kershaw; he’s a veteran used to high pitch counts, and he even survived the insane decision to let him come back in after that nearly three-hour rain delay in Cincinnati. Besides, his contract is up and it’s not like there’s any guarantee he’s coming back, so you push him as hard as you need to right now. Even hitting for him in the 8th didn’t add any value; Kuroda could have grounded weakly up the middle and then not run hard to first base just as well as Garret Anderson did.

In addition, the Mets started the 9th with two righties before lefty Ike Davis, and with Jonathan Broxton unavailable, Hong-Chih Kuo was the closer tonight. Obviously, Kuo has no problems with either side of the plate, but it does stand to reason that Kuroda could have faced the righties unless he got in trouble. It’s also absolutely terrifying that Kuo has been allowed to either pitch or warm three consecutive nights, and I’m not lying when I say I’m terrified for him each time he’s out there now. Remember when he wasn’t allowed to do that for even two nights in a row? Now he’s up to three, and I don’t think I’m alone when I say, there’s just no way that can end well. Now, let the legions of “Kuo should replace Broxton!” crazies come out.

It was the second time this season the Dodgers tossed back-to-back shutouts, following the dual 1-0 extra inning wins against Arizona to start June. Had Kuroda been able to complete the shutout, it would have been the first back-to-back complete game shutouts for the Dodgers since Pedro Astacio and Tom Candiotti in 1995, each of which came against the Mets.

******

Dylan Hernandez lets us know that James McDonald is being sent to the bullpen after just one start, with Carlos Monasterios getting the nod on Saturday, which is a good idea because… hell, I have absolutely no idea. I said the other day that I prefer McDonald in the bullpen anyway, but McDonald wasn’t exactly terrible in his one start, and his five strikeouts were two more than Monasterios has been able to get in any appearance, start or relief, the entire season. Even if you don’t want McDonald, John Ely allowed three runs in seven innings in his first start for ABQ, and starting him on Saturday would have only put him at one extra day of rest off his usual schedule. The idea that Monasterios is a better choice to start than either McDonald or Ely… well, I just can’t get behind it.

At the very least, it’s the last time we’ll have to see him start, since we all know that by this time next week, the Dodgers will have traded Dee Gordon, Jerry Sands, & Kenley Jansen for Paul Maholm & Octavio Dotel.

******

I didn’t mention the other day that Jack Taschner had been recalled from ABQ, but if I had, I would have laughed at it. Taschner was so bad that he was DFA’d by the Pirates, of all teams, in June. The fun part is, not only was he not good this year, he’s never been any good (career 4.47 FIP and 4.82 BB/9), his velocity has dropped four years in a row (down to 88.8 MPH this year), and he wasn’t even any good in AAA after signing with the Dodgers (four home runs allowed in ten innings.) Yet he’s somehow a better choice than Kenley Jansen, or if you must have a lefty, Juan Perez (9.3 K/9, 3.19 ERA for the Isotopes)?

Anyway, his simple recall isn’t what set me off here, it’s this bit of news, also from  Hernandez:

Tashner taking over as lefty specialist

That’s without throwing a pitch for the club, by the way. But not only is a guy who cut dumped by Pittsburgh being given an important role, what’s even funnier is that he’s completely unqualified for it. Despite being a lefty, Taschner has no discernible platoon split. For his career, he’s been hit by righties at a .796 clip, and lefties at .778. That comes out to a .292/.361/.416 line, and that’s just not all that good.

Now you might say, “but MSTI, George Sherrill has been a train wreck, and Hong-Chih Kuo isn’t really a lefty specialist. The team’s hand has been forced.” To which I say, has it?

Sherrill’s line against righty hitters is almost unfathomably bad – .453/.531/.774. There’s just nothing that’s going to make that okay. However, for all his troubles, he’s still been pretty effective against lefties, holding them to .200/.327/.350. I’m not suggesting I feel all that comfortable with him in a big spot, but even in his disastrous season, that’s still quite better than Taschner’s done. As I said weeks ago, if he’s allowed to only face lefties, he just may be able to help you.

Besides, as Steve Dilbeck notes, Sherrill has been demoted to garbage time. That means that he’s likely to have to face more righties than otherwise, since you’re not playing matchups as much with big leads or deficits. And that’s going to help him get turned around how, exactly?

******

Finally: I haven’t been touching on every single trade rumor, because 99% of them are stupid or painful, and because you can connect the dots to just about every player in the bigs anyway. (Besides, I like to do that in the offseason, when there’s not games to distract me every night.) Still, this note from AOL Fanhouse’s Ed Price really caught my eye:

#Rays said to be shopping BJ Upton. With Manny out, #Dodgers could use a bat, and Tampa has some interest in RHP James McDonald.

Let’s be clear and say that there’s no way this is going to happen; the Rays need a bat too, and if they trade Upton it’s going to be for someone who can help them right now like Jayson Werth. The Dodgers don’t have anyone like that (no, Manny doesn’t count), and since the Rays can’t seem to make room for Jeremy Hellickson, it’s unlikely that McDonald is going to be a huge draw. Still, just the thought of Upton patrolling center between Ethier and Kemp next year…

The Aftermath

No shortage of hilarity on the intertubes after last night’s disaster, on both sides of the aisle, so let’s get right to it.

In the LA Times, Bill Shaikin nails it:

It is not news that Torre tends to overuse his favorite relievers — not to fans, not to the front office, not to ownership. If he hesitates to trust any relievers besides Broxton, Ronald Belisario and Hong-Chih Kuo, then the Dodgers either need to get another manager, or get their manager another reliever.

Bet you know which way I’m leaning! But if it does have to be the latter, MLBtraderumors wonders if that process is already ongoing:

If Colletti looks to make a deal, I imagine Kerry Wood, Kyle FarnsworthOctavio Dotel, D.J. Carrasco, Brendan Donnelly, and Javier Lopez can be had.  I also wonder about Brandon League, David Aardsma, Brandon Lyon, Matt Lindstrom, Jason Frasor, Scott Downs, Kevin Gregg, and Matt Capps.  The remaining salary on these contracts ranges from $413K for Lopez to $5.59MM for Wood. 

Back to last night’s game, Jon Weisman at Dodger Thoughts brings the logic:

Prior to Sunday’s game, Broxton had allowed one earned run in his previous 23 games (0.39 ERA) with no blown saves. In 33 games this season, he had allowed three earned runs and three inherited runs to score. He had surrendered two leads all year. He had over 50 percent more strikeouts than baserunners allowed.

But then the people come out and say none of this matters, because Broxton can’t perform on the national stage when it counts. Even though he had performed on the national stage in an identical situation one night before.

The people come out and say none of this matters, because Broxton can’t perform in the postseason. Even though he has in all but two games. Even though six of the other seven 2009 playoff teams saw their closer give up a lead in last year’s postseason. Yep – every closer but Mariano Rivera blew a postseason game last year. (Rivera got his out of the way in earlier years.)

Couldn’t possibly agree more.

But those “facts” and “numbers” aren’t good enough for all, according to LA Dodger Talk:

The Dodgers should have never been there if Broxton was not a choke artist!  For those of you who want to overwhelm me with stats, here is where FIGURES LIE!  Broxton blew the game, but he gets no blown save, which is BS!  TOTAL BS!  Jon Broxton blew what was the biggest game of the year for the Dodgers.  Remember this game because if the Dodgers don’t win, this game could have been a pivotal change in the Dodgers fortune, but Jon Broxton wrestled defeat from the jaws of victory.  When you mention the Yankees, Red Sox, Phillies and all the big name teams, Jon Broxton’s knees turn to jelly.  This loss wasn’t on Torre.  Joe wanted the win and brought what is his best pitcher in to seal the deal.  I’m no Torre fan, but this isn’t on Joe.  Quit making excuses for Broxton.  My wife calls him “a loser.”   He can pitch with the best, but I tend to agree – he’s a loser!

“I’ll take emotional-yet-irrational response for $800, Alex.”

Yankee blog River Ave. Blues knows exactly what the Joe Torre experience is like:

For years, Yankee fans bemoaned Joe Torre’s bullpen management. We saw him wear down reliable relievers, using them in unnecessary situations day after day. Scott Proctor, Paul Quantrill, Tanyon Sturtze, Steve Karsay. The early 2000s are littered with the discarded arms of the Torre Era. Tonight, we saw it benefit the Yanks.

In a curious move last night, Torre went with Jonathan Broxton, his stud closer (3-0, 0.83 ERA, 13.2 K/9 IP before tonight), with the Dodgers up by five. He later said he wanted to make sure the Yanks didn’t start to rally. It was, in his mind, a save without actually being a save situation. Tonight, with a four-run lead, Torre did the same thing, and it blew up in his face.

(snip)

An inning later, Torre’s bullpen management struck again. After Ramon Troncoso got an out on an A-Rod fielder’s choice, Torre went with the match-ups, bringing in George Sherrill to face Robinson Cano. The Yanks’ second baseman had been 0-for-11 vs. the lefty Sherrill, but as the announcers on ESPN noted, Sherrill’s fastball isn’t what it once was. Cano took an 88-mph fastball over the fence in left-center. The book isn’t always right.

Not depressed yet? They posted the win probability graph of the game as well:

But it’s not just about Broxton, because Chad from MOKM points out that Hong-Chih Kuo is getting close to Defcon 5:

In his nine appearances in June, five of them were of the multiple inning variety. This coming from a guy who has had four arm surgeries and whose arm turned blue in the bullpen during the playoffs the last time the Dodgers used him this way.

For comparison, can you guys guess how many times he was used over an inning in 2009? Zero.

Finally, help is on the way! Uh, sort of:

The Dodgers signed lefty reliever Jack Taschner to a minor league deal.  Albuquerque Isotopes GM John Traub confirmed in an email to MLBTR that the southpaw was added to the roster yesterday. 

Taschner, 32, posted a 6.05 ERA, 7.9 K/9, and 3.7 BB/9 in 19.3 innings for the Pirates this year before being designated for assignment on June 8th.  He later elected free agency after refusing an outright assignment to the minors.  Taschner’s line against lefties in his brief time with the Pirates was odd – he struck out nine and walked one in 6.6 innings, but also allowed eight hits and seven runs.

Don’t let the timing of this fool you, because I’ve already seen this picked up in multiple places that this was some how Ned Colletti’s “response” to last night. Taschner was signed in the last few days… early enough to give up a homer in his Isotope debut last night. So, there’s that.