I Think The Rotation Is Ready For the Season (Updated)

Nice weekend for the starting staff, right?

Chad Billingsley, today: 3.2 innings, 3 hits, 2 runs (1 earned), 2 K, after last week’s 3 scoreless inning debut.

Clayton Kershaw, yesterday: 4 scoreless innings, facing the minimum 12 batters, giving him 7 scoreless innings this spring in which he’s allowed just 3 hits.

Jon Garland, on Friday: 3 scoreless innings, allowing just one hit.

Any comments about the offense, or lack thereof, should be held back on a day that has a lineup missing Matt Kemp, Rafael Furcal, Andre Ethier, Casey Blake, and Juan Uribe, and features Dioner Navarro hitting cleanup. On the other hand, Marcus Thames, on his 34th birthday, doubled off the left-center wall to tie the game at 3 in the 8th.

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25th man update: Justin Sellers replaced Juan Castro in the starting lineup at shortstop, walked once in two tries and made two errors on the same play in the first inning, destroying a WGN banner in the process. Castro struck out pinch-hitting in the 5th (against Carlos Marmol, to be fair) and later doubled. Aaron Miles, playing third, tripled and scored the first Dodger run, while Ivan DeJesus went 0-2. The arrow is still pointing strongly in Castro’s direction.

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Ramon Troncoso got four outs on seven pitches, prompting new DodgerTalk co-host Joe Block to claim that he’s made the team; Troncoso has now thrown 3.1 scoreless innings without allowing a walk. I think that may be a bit premature, but with the turmoil at the back end of the bullpen, there’s certainly opportunity. You’d think that his history, and time away from the overuse of Joe Torre, would get him some consideration, though.

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Hey, Navarro’s going to get a hit sometime, right? I know, it’s spring, it’s early, I get it. Just saying, guys who have hit .212 over the last two seasons and have an arguably superior player behind them need to show something a little more than not getting on base once over their first eleven plate appearances. He at least plated Gabe Kapler on a sac fly today, though of course if Kapler hadn’t been on third, it’d have just been another flyout. Meanwhile, A.J. Ellis drew a walk and threw out a runner trying to steal.

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At the Los Angeles Times blog, Steve Dilbeck wonders what might happen if James Loney‘s knee troubles end up being worse than they appear. Despite Russ Mitchell getting the most playing time in Loney’s absence right now (where’s John Lindsey?), Dilbeck thinks that Casey Blake would get the bulk of the time during the season, with Juan Uribe sliding to third and Jamey Carroll entering at second, because it’s just not realistic to think that Jerry Sands breaks camp with the team.

I think Dilbeck’s assumption is probably correct, but it got me thinking – would that alignment actually make the team better? There’s a few reasons to think that it might:

  • Carroll would add badly need OBP. His mark has been .355 or higher in each of the last three seasons, four of the last six, and five of the last seven. Carroll doesn’t hit for power, but then again neither does Loney; overall, Carroll had a higher OPS+ last year.
  • It’d help optimize the lineup, since Carroll could be a good #2 hitter, pushing Blake down to 6 where he belongs.
  • It’d shift Uribe to 3B, which is his stronger defensive position.
  • It’d improve platooning possibilities. If Blake were the 1B, then he’s a much more dangerous hitter against lefty pitching than Loney is (though I hope that’s going to happen regardless). You could also spot in Gibbons against tough righty pitching, which likely wouldn’t happen if Loney was in.

It’s not all roses, of course, because you couldn’t expect the 37-year-old Carroll to play every day, and you’d weaken an already questionable bench by removing him from it. The ideal solution is that Loney is healthy and productive, so by no means am I rooting for him to be out. But just the fact that this is a conversation worth having shows the extent of the questions that he’s going to have to answer this year.

Update #1: Well, looks like Carroll has injury concerns of his own:

Jamey Carroll was unable to throw comfortably Sunday after taking a pitch off his right index finger Saturday, but X-rays were negative.

Carroll was able to hit despite the swelling in the finger and will probably need a few more days before he can return to game action.

Update #2: I’d meant to note that Scott Elbert, who was originally supposed to pitch today, did not. Here’s why:

Scott Elbert, the lefty reliever struggling with his control in games, was held back from a scheduled Sunday appearance and instead will throw batting practice Monday while working on a mechanical adjustment.

 

How Would You Assemble the Dodger Batting Order?

It’s been a question that’s been sort of gnawing at me since I posted last month about the seeming irrelevance of OBP to the Dodger front office in constructing the 2011 squad: how might the batting order come together? At the time, I put Juan Uribe in the #2 spot as I quickly ran the proposed lineup through the lineup generator, and that led to a few well-deserved questions about why I’d put a low-OBP guy like Uribe there. My answer at the time was that I wouldn’t, but based on past history it certainly wouldn’t surprise me to see the Dodgers play a low-OBP second baseman there. There was also another reason, though: there’s no obvious alternative.

Think about it: as long as he’s healthy, Rafael Furcal is batting first. Barring a surprise acquisition, the left field combo of Jay Gibbons/Tony Gwynn and catcher duo of Rod Barajas/Dioner Navarro (or A.J. Ellis) almost certainly will be bringing up the rear in the 7th and 8th slots. Beyond that? It’s sort of a toss-up. Sure, it’s never easy to predict a batting order, but the 2011 Dodgers present an even more complicated challenge. You have a rookie manager, Don Mattingly, whose tendencies we know little about. You have the possibility of four positions without a set starter (C, 2B, 3B, LF), you have an oddly-constructed lineup full of low-OBP hitters, many coming off of 2010 disappointments, and you have a team that somehow used James Loney in the cleanup spot more than anyone else last year. It’s a recipe for constantly-changing lineups, and honestly that’s probably what we’ll get – the 2010 club used 127 different orders, and I bet 2011 sees as many or more.

Now, it should be noted here that batting orders are almost never as important as we make them out to be. Barring outright absurdity like letting Barajas lead off (or stashing 2009 Matt Kemp in the 8th spot, Joe), it’s been well-proven that the day-to-day batting order has far less impact on a team’s offensive output than we, the fans, would like to believe. Still, it’s a fun thought excercise in the midst of a quiet January, and as the team looks to be done with it’s offseason shopping it’s as good a topic to tackle as any.

Going back to the #2 spot, that’s where the first big question comes up. The three hitters who batted second most often for the Dodgers last year were Kemp, Ryan Theriot, and Russell Martin. The latter two have each moved on, and I just cannot imagine that Kemp, coming off a .310 OBP and 170 strikeouts, gets placed back there. Blake, also coming off of a poor season, doesn’t make sense here, and it’s about this time I start to remember that Blake DeWitt‘s .352 OBP was traded away for Theriot and my eyes start to bleed.

The best answer here is probably Jamey Carroll, who was one of the few Dodgers who actually got on base last year (.379). But Carroll’s going to be 37 this year and barring injuries, won’t play as much as he did last year. For now, we’ll make the case that he plays 2B against LHP, with Uribe sliding to 3B and Blake to LF, but that’s far from certain, and would be even less likely against RHP. So that means, believe it or not, that you’re really stuck with either Loney or Uribe against righties here, and holy hell is that depressing. Neither one is really an acceptable option here, but my gut tells me that the second baseman who’s somehow conned teams into 734 #2 PA ranks above the the first baseman with 7 PA.  

At #3, Andre Ethier started 116 games last year. He should be platooned against LHP, but he won’t be, so we’ll assume he stays there. For #4, you’re basically looking at either Kemp or Blake. Like #2, neither is a great option. That said, Kemp did end last season on a tear, and if he doesn’t turn it around then this team is in enough trouble that it’s not going to matter if your cleanup hitter is Casey Blake or Blake Lively. You’d have to go Kemp over Blake here.

That means that #5 and #6 slide into place pretty easily as being Blake and Loney, ahead of (LF) and (C) at #7 and #8. And that makes your batting order something like…

VS RHP: 1 Furcal-S, 2 Uribe-R, 3 Ethier-L, 4 Kemp-R, 5 Blake-R, 6 Loney-L,
7 Gibbons/Gwynn-L, 8 Barajas/Navarro-R/S, 9 P
VS LHP: 1 Furcal-S, 2 Carroll-R, 3 Ethier-L, 4 Kemp-R, 5 Blake-R, 6 Uribe-R, 7 Loney-L,
8 Barajas/Navarro-R/S, 9 P

Which just seems to make the glaring OBP issues shine all the more brightly – and man, is that bottom third of the lineup going to be brutal no matter how you slice it. If you squint real hard, you can see Furcal staying healthy, Kemp playing to his potential, Ethier not being a total mess against lefties, Uribe hitting for enough power to outweigh his on-base issues, and Blake bouncing back at least a little against righties. A good pitching staff can do much to wash over some questionable offense of course; just seems like you’ll need a pretty thick pair of blue-colored glasses to make this crew seem better than average.

On OBP, John Lindsey, and the Continuing Fallacies of Bill Plaschke

There’s been a lot of talk lately about the offseason moves of the Dodgers and how they seem to have no regard at all for on-base percentage, which we all know to be vital if you want to score runs. I joked on Twitter the other day that I might almost be ready to start a “Free Jamey Carroll!” campaign, if only to have someone in the lineup who can actually get on base, and today Jon Weisman at Dodger Thoughts takes a deeper look at that idea. (Warning: you may not want to click that link if you didn’t like the Juan Uribe signing and don’t want to see stats that suggest Carroll was more valuable than Uribe in 2010.)

I wondered just how much losing the OBP skills of Russell Martin and others would hurt now that they’ve been replaced by the low-OBP likes of Uribe and Rod Barajas, but wasn’t quite sure how to quantify it. Fortunately, baseball-reference had a similar question, in that they wondered how much the Red Sox offense would improve now that they’ve added Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford. They used the lineup generator at Baseball Musings to try and predict the estimated runs scored for the likely 2011 Sox lineup.

I’m going to do the same thing, by comparing what the generator said for the 2010 Dodger lineup as compared to the likely 2011 squad. To choose a starting 9, I went with the 8 players who had the most PA at their position in 2009, and put the top bench player – Carroll – in the pitcher’s spot.

2010:

A lineup of Furcal, Martin, Kemp, Manny, Ethier, Blake, Loney, DeWitt, & Carroll would be predicted to score 5.148 runs / game. (The “ideal” lineup, featuring such moves as Carroll leading off and Manny 2nd, would get you 5.266 runs / game.)

2011:

A lineup of Furcal, Uribe, Kemp, Either, Blake, Loney, Barajas, Gibbons, & Carroll would be predicted to score 4.965 runs / game. (The “ideal” lineup gets you to 5.069.)

It’s not an exact science, of course; the games do take place on the field and not in a database, and you certainly can’t expect every player to perform identically to how they did the year before. We’ve always known that if there’s not some bounceback from players like Kemp and Loney, the team’s in big trouble anyway. But there’s always the worry of Furcal breaking down, Blake continuing to regress, and the complete unknown of the left-field situation.

Long story short, it’s not a good trend.

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Over at TrueBlueLA, Eric Stephen posts one of my favorite pictures ever, as you can see a color-coded, numerically-based roster board behind Juan Uribe at his introduction last week. Eric notes that we see J.D. Closser and Jon Huber listed as non-roster invites, which we didn’t know, but I also saw that John Lindsey is not listed under his #35. He’s still technically on the 40-man roster, but that’s about to be full, and his omission on the board almost certainly points to his departure. That doesn’t mean he can’t come back in the spring, of course, but any small bit of job security he may have had seems to be gone.

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I hate, hate, hate to even acknowledge Bill Plaschke’s presence, but if he’s going to spout misinformation and stupidity, I suppose it’s my job to refute him.

Today, Billy’s complaining about how Los Angeles is apparently no longer a preferred baseball destination, because neither the Dodgers nor the Angels are going to land big-ticket free agents like Carl Crawford, Cliff Lee, or Jayson Werth. Nevermind that giving $130m+ contracts isn’t always the best way to build a team, nevermind that Werth would never have come back to the Dodgers after how his previous tenure ended, and nevermind that the Dodgers needed to build an entire starting rotation, not just an ace. Nevermind that the Dodgers don’t get marquee free agents because they’re constrained by the McCourt divorce, a fact which Plaschke conveniently neglects to mention until the very last sentence. Why let facts get in the way of a sob story?

Rather than do the entire article, lest my keyboard get covered with bile, I’m going to pick and choose some of the fun ones.

In what may be the saddest of possible words, we were also the place that somebody named Matt Diaz just rejected for some place called Pittsburgh.

Though that did seem odd at first, Diaz – who went to high school in Florida – said he made the choice because he wanted to stay in the East and spend his spring in Florida. Also, the Dodgers never made a formal offer. Kind of hard to argue that, no?

The last time the Dodgers signed a premier free agent, they made Kevin Brown baseball’s first $100-million man, but that was a dozen years and a million Kevin Malone jokes ago.

Well, there was the time they signed Manny Ramirez after 2008. He seemed pretty “premier” to me. Or when Rafael Furcal bolted Atlanta, then chose to stay when he hit free agency a second time. Or the $44m and $47m, respectively, they handed out to Juan Pierre and Jason Schmidt, and even though those were poor choices that didn’t work out, they still happened. Or when Derek Lowe, J.D. Drew, and Jeff Kent all came to town. None of those guys got paid, or contributed, right?

These days, they don’t even last as long as the Washington Nationals, whose $126-million contract for Jayson Werth borders on the clinically insane, but at least the Nationals are players.

Not that Werth was coming back, but if the Dodgers handed him $126m, you wouldn’t be praising them for spending. You’d be assailing them for being foolish, just like we’ve all said about the Nationals. Don’t deny it.

When is the last time someone really wanted to play baseball in Los Angeles?

Well, there was last winter, when Jamey Carroll turned down more years and dollars from Oakland to come to Los Angeles. Or when Jon Garland turned down the likelihood of more money with the Padres to come back to the Dodgers. Or when Hiroki Kuroda turned down the chance to test the market for a certain three-year deal for big dollars to come back to LA. Or when Jay Gibbons and Rod Barajas repeatedly said they wanted to be Dodgers. Or when Furcal, Ted Lilly, and Casey Blake all re-signed with the team after reaching free agency, rather than going elsewhere. And that’s just the Dodgers, in the last year or two, not including the Angels, and off the top of my head. LA’s actually a pretty good draw for players, wouldn’t you say?

I realize attacking Plaschke is low-hanging fruit and all, but… he gets paid for this. And people read it.

Winter Meetings, Day 2 (Updated)

Yesterday was a ton of fun, right? As long as you realize that 99% of what you hear is an outright lie, this can be a hilariously entertaining time of year. Just try to remember not to completely kill teams on rumors that may be totally unfounded until the deals actually go down, okay?

Just like yesterday, I’ll keep updating this with Dodger-related news and rumors throughout the day. Don’t forget, there’s an added bonus today, since we expect that Judge Gordon will hand down his decision on the McCourt divorce case.

Updated, 10:30am PST:

Jon Morosi with some news

#Dodgers could sign a RH-hitting OF this week. They’ve looked at Diaz, Frenchy, Billy Hall. #LA

Once #Dodgers sign a new outfielder, Xavier Paul could be available via trade. #LA #MLB

I’ve been saying Paul would be gone for weeks. Still believe it.

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Updated, 8:56am PST:

Well, this is a thing that happened…  (via Molly Knight)

Breaking: Judge in Dodger divorce trial rules for Jamie McCourt, throws out marital property agreement.

Obviously, that’s a decision that will need a lot more analysis, but basically it means that the judge didn’t buy the document that said the Dodgers belong to Frank while the properties belong to Jamie. This is probably good news if you were hoping for a sale, but this is going to drag on forever before anything like that happens.

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Updated, 7:57am PST:

Per Buster Olney, it’s a done deal…

Vicente Padilla and Dodgers have an agreement on a one-year, $2 million deal, pending physical.

Love this, love this, love this. (Now wait for the incentives to add up to $8m).

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Updated, 7:22am PST:

Ken Gurnick with news on Padilla…

The Dodgers and free-agent pitcher Vicente Padilla moved close to agreement on a one-year, $2 million (plus incentives) contract that would bring this year’s Opening Day starter back to the club as a swingman, according to multiple baseball sources. Padilla, who missed time with arm and neck injuries, would essentially become the sixth starter and long reliever, capable of spot starting, pitching multiple innings of relief and even providing insurance for the late innings should closer Jonathan Broxton struggle as he did in the second half this year

If this is the deal – one year, $2m (plus incentives) – then that’s outstanding. I love it, becuase Padilla was excellent at times last year and would provide amazing depth. I’m just shocked that he’d really take such a small guarantee. There’s not better out there for him?

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Original post:

Let’s kick it off with notes from a few of our preferred sources…

Molly Knight:

Source: Dodgers and Padilla getting closer, deal should happen soon.

We’ve been hearing the “Vicente returns” rumors for a while now, and most of them say he’ll be in some sort of hybrid starter/reliever role. Jon Heyman did say yesterday that he’d return to the rotation, but that could just be a communication breakdown over the short form of Twitter. Since you’re obviously not trading Clayton Kershaw or the three guys you just signed, that’d have to mean that Chad Billingsley was on the move, and I just can’t see that happening.

Tony Jackson:

The Los Angeles Dodgers’ search for a left fielder has been narrowed to free agents Matt Diaz and Scott Podsednik and a third outfielder whose name remains a mystery, according to a well-placed source.

I’m not going to say anything here you haven’t already heard me say this week, but the two being in competition makes no sense. Diaz is younger, much more powerful, better at getting on base, and at least as good (if not better) in the outfield. Podsednik is better than Diaz at precisely one thing – stealing bases – but he gets thrown out so much that it’s barely even worth it.

Besides, as I’ve said ad nauseum, the Dodgers need at least one righty outfielder and preferably two to spot for Andre Ethier and Jay Gibbons. Signing yet another lefty outfielder makes no sense at all; with the way the roster is coming together I’m not even sure I’d put Xavier Paul (another lefty, one who’s out of minor-league options) on it right now, but if you do need another lefty Paul is certainly preferable to Podsednik..

As for the “mystery outfielder”? We don’t know for sure, but Knight did mention Austin Kearns yesterday.

Eric Stephen of TrueBlueLA:

On latest @JonahKeri podcast, A’s AGM David Forst said Oakland offered more $$ & more yrs to Jamey Carroll than 2/$3.85m he got from Dodgers

Didn’t expect to be talking much about Jamey Carroll this week, but I believe this qualifies as “news we did not know”.

MSTI’s 2010 in Review: Shortstop

Rafael Furcal (B)
.300/.366/.460 .826 8hr 3.4 WAR

I have to be honest, when I first looked back on Furcal’s season, all I could think of at first was, “oh, shocker, he hurt his back again.” And that’s true; he’s proven he simply cannot be counted upon to stay healthy.

However, that’s shortchanging him a bit, because when he was able to stay on the field, he put together one of the finest seasons of his career. Really, you can break his season down into three two-month slices.

In April and May, Furcal started just 24 games, missing most of May with a strained hamstring. His .308/.359/.402 (.761) was quite good even then, yet it hardly compared to his June and July (and two games in August). Furcal played his way onto the All-Star team by destroying opposing pitching with a .320/.391/.540 (.931) line, and all eight of his homers, though he did miss a week while mourning the passing of his father. He was so good, in fact, that in July I ran the numbers and said he was the best shortstop in Los Angeles Dodger history, slathering him with praise:

Last night, Furcal chipped in three more hits, including the go-ahead home run, saving the Dodgers from blowing yet another outstanding Clayton Kershaw start. I mean, choose whatever metrics you want; they’re all ridiculous. He’s got four homers in the last eight games, a stretch in which his OPS is 1.325. Over his last 31 starts (which span more than a month because of the time missed tending to his father) he’s only hitting an absurd .382/.422/.625. Here’s my favorite stat, though: in those 31 starts, he’s gone hitless just 7 times, but he’s had multiple hit games 17 times. Even his defense, which is hard to quantify but especially so over less than half a season, seems to have new energy; I noted on Twitter recently that I think I’ve seen him make more phenomenal plays this year than I have in the previous four years combined.

So it should come as no surprise that all of the leading stats paint him as the most valuable shortstop in baseball. FanGraphs shows him leading MLB SS in WAR, at 3.2 (and no complaining that Troy Tulowitzki has missed time, because with Furcal’s DL stint he’s actually still seven games behind Tulo), while Baseball Prospectus has him destroying the field in MLVr (Marginal Lineup Value rate, which I used instead of VORP because his missed time hurts him there). His position as top dog at his position this year is nearly indisputable.

Of course, it was too good to be true, because his August and September were disastrous, which you could of course say about any number of Dodgers. He played just two games in August before his back sent him to the DL again; when he returned in September he was hardly the same, hitting .237/.310/.329 (.639).

I’ve seen some calls to move him this offseason, but he’s making $12m next year, so that’s just not an option. All you can do is pray that he’s somewhat healthy, but not too healthy; his 2012 $12m club option becomes guaranteed with 600 PA  next year.

Jamey Carroll (A)
.291/.379/.339 .718 0hr 2.7 WAR

Carroll’s been proclaimed the unofficial 2010 MVP of the Dodgers by a variety of outlets and experts, and while you can argue that, it says a lot about this year’s edition of the club that a 36-year-old backup infielder who didn’t hit even one homer would even be in the conversation.

That’s not a slight against Carroll, of course, who had what was essentially a career year while getting far more playing time at shortstop in the wake of Furcal’s injury than ever anticipated. When he was signed, I didn’t mind him as a backup infielder, though at the time I wasn’t thrilled with the second guaranteed year. I felt that Felipe Lopez was a better fit (remember, Lopez was coming off of a great 2009), especially when Lopez signed for barely a third of what Carroll got, which made the Carroll deal look so bad that it made its way onto MLBtraderumors’ list of “worst offseason deals”.

Still, that’s more a concern about management than it is about Carroll himself – he far outplayed any expectations we may have had of him. In fact by August I was wondering why Carroll wasn’t hitting higher in the lineup to take advantage of his high OBP:

I’ve said this before, and I’ll keep saying it: there is no rational reason that Ryan Theriot should be hitting higher in the lineup than Jamey Carroll. Carroll gets on base more often, and even hits for a bit more power. I said it before last night’s game, and look what happened: Carroll got on twice, Theriot just once. There’s no question that this offense needs a shake-up; isn’t this an easy and obvious way to do it?

That never really happened, of course, but the unexpected ability of Carroll to get on base and adequately play shortstop (that’s “adequate” in the sense that he caught what was hit to him, despite showing very little range) helped the Dodgers avoid a “2008 Angel Berroa” level disaster at the position. Really, Carroll will be a good barometer of how successful the 2011 Dodgers are. If he’s a nice bench piece, that’s good news. If he’s getting serious playing time again, then things haven’t really gone in the right direction.

Chin-lung Hu (inc.)
.130/.160/.174 .334 0hr -0.2 WAR

Hu made his yearly cameo for the 4th season in a row, but it’s kind of an understatement to say that his career has largely stalled out. At 26, he had just 25 plate appearances in the bigs, less than he had in 2007 or 2008.

Really, it was that 2008 season that seemingly sealed his fate, because coming off a big season in the minors in 2007 (.325/.364/.507) he flopped badly in his big chance to replace the injured Furcal in 2008 (.181/.252/.233 in 121 PA).

Still, even if he was never going to be as good as that 2007 promised he could be, I think he’s still been slightly underrated, in the sense that he at least deserves chances ahead of retreads like Nick Green. There’s never been any question about his glove, and he’d had a pretty decent line of .317/.339/.438 in 223 AAA plate appearances this season, before undergoing surgery on an injured left thumb. He can still be a starter on a second-division club, or a backup on a better one, but since he’s out of options that chance will likely come with another organization next season.

Juan Castro (inc.)
.000/.250/.000 .250 0hr 0.0 WAR

Castro played just one game in his third (and pray to whatever deity you choose that it’s also his final) stint with the Dodgers, so what am I really going to say about him? Really, the highlight of my coverage of Castro this season was while he was still playing with the Phillies, as I was praising Furcal in July. I noted that Furcal’s 2010 was the best season a Dodger shortstop had ever had to that point, and presented a list of the top ten entries. Right after the list, I said…

(Dead last? Juan Castro‘s atrociously amazing .199/.245/.255 campaign in 1998.)

Yeah, that sounds about right. In parts of seven seasons with the Dodgers (1995-99, 2009, 2010), Castro put up a total line of .205/.258/.271. That’s a 43 OPS+. Good lord.

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Next! Casey Blake turns into a pumpkin! Russ Mitchell tries to make his mark! It’s third base!