2013 Dodgers in Review #46: RP Javy Guerra

90topps_javyguerra

6.75 ERA / 3.99 FIP / 10.2 IP 10.13 K/9 5.06 BB/9 (inc.)

2013 in brief: Made it into just nine May games for the Dodgers before getting buried in Albuquerque, never to be seen again.

2014 status: Likely to get real familiar with New Mexico, though he is without a remaining option.

Previous: 2011 | 2012

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Everyone thank Kyle MacGregor for pitching in with a great job on reviewing Guerra. Thanks, Kyle.

Javy Guerra’s season reminds me a lot of the last Transformers movie. I know saw it, but I honestly don’t recall a single memorable moment that occurred throughout the entire thing. I can’t conjure any more hazy memories of Guerra taking the field with the words “Los Angeles” scrawled across his chest in 2013 than I can of the time I escaped the womb and tobogganed into the world.

He didn’t make the Opening Day roster. That was mostly due to the fact Ned Colletti spent the winter collecting pitchers like they’re Pokémon cards, which inevitably pushed surplus starters into the bullpen to start the year. Javy was eventually recalled on May 1, after Josh Wall was used as a sacrificial lamb at Coors Field in a distressing 62 pitch appearance.

Guerra proceeded to pitch 10.2 forgettable big league innings that were well worth forgetting. The former closer was all over the place, mixing in fair number of strikeouts (12) alongside way too many walks (6) and hits (15!). The results speak for themselves, but, still, that 1.99 WHIP is pretty gross.

It may not have been entirely his fault, though. Looking at that 3.99 FIP, a .400 BABIP, and the fact the Dodger defense was all kinds of atrocious in the early going; I’m inclined to believe he was just a tad unlucky. The team was in such a malaise during Javy’s time in Los Angeles. The Dodgers dropped an embarrassing 16 of 25 games between Guerra’s decent first appearance against the Rockies and lackluster final game in Anaheim. So, while he was still a far cry from good, to put it mildly, I’ll cut him a little slack. There was plenty of blame to go around in May.

Guerra was sent to the glue factory of Albuquerque on May 31, in part because of Peter Moylan’s impending opt-out clause, but also because he was kind of terrible. He didn’t fare much better in the Rocky Mountain air, posting a 3.66 ERA with a 4.57 FIP for the Isotopes on the year, whilst being unusually homer-prone.

Javy struggled mightily at the end of the AAA season, where he was pushed around to the tune of a .405 BAA in his final ten appearances. Perhaps it’s needless to say, but he didn’t receive an invite to join the Dodgers when rosters expanded in September.

Something tells me the trajectory of Guerra’s career isn’t going in the direction he’d hoped. Following his breakout (but totally unsustainable) season in 2011, he gave us a lot of heartburn in 2012 after a Brian McCann liner rearranged the contents of his skull (and injured his knee). Since then, he’s showed some of the promise that landed him a closer’s job along with plenty of awful.

I’m not sure the Pacific Coast League is the best place for a guy on the slide looking to rebuild confidence and his career, but that’s where Guerra figures to be for the foreseeable future.

Meet Your 2013 Albuquerque Isotopes

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Via a helpfully tweeted photo from our friend Chris Jackson at Isotopes media day, we have our first look at the 2013 Albuquerque Isotopes.

C — Jesus Flores, Matt Wallach
1B — Scott Van Slyke
2B — Elian Herrera
SS — Dee Gordon
3B — Rusty Ryal / Brian Barden
IF — Osvaldo Martinez
LF — Matt Angle
CF — Tony Gwynn
RF — Alex Castellanos
OF – Nick Buss
UT — Alfredo Amezaga

SP — Matt Magill
SP — Stephen Fife
SP — Javy Guerra
SP — Blake Johnson
SP — Sean White

RP — Shawn Tolleson
RP — Chris Withrow
RP — Peter Moylan
RP — Josh Wall
RP — Steve Ames
RP — Red Patterson
RP — Angel Castro
RP — Geison Aguasviva

So, you’re probably noticing a few things here. Yes that is Javy Guerra in the starting rotation, but no, he’s not being converted. Via Dylan Hernandez, the Dodgers are just hoping to stretch him out to throw multiple innings, and as Chris would be all too happy to remind you, while the bullpen is stacked, the Isotopes had almost no options for the rotation behind Magill & Fife. Someone has to start, and that entire trio of Guerra / Johnson / White is sure to be in flux for the entire season. If and when Matt Palmer returns from knee surgery, he’ll likely slot in there. In the bullpen, Chris Withrow finally moves up after four years at Double-A.

You’ll probably also notice, as I did, that Jeremy Moore is not included, nor is Kevin Gregg. To be honest, I don’t have a great answer for either of those. Moore was impressive in the spring and I’d be surprised if he was simply released; it’s possible that he’s beginning at extended spring training to work himself into shape or to further rehab his hip. Gregg didn’t have an opt-out of his contract, so he’s still part of the organization. As you can see Peter Moylan is on the Isotopes roster and he was in a similar situation, so that’s a question to be answered.

The organizational depth chart has been updated for all five of the top minor league clubs, though some are still not official.

Pitching Injuries Beginning to Pile Up in Dodgers Camp

After a relatively uneventful first month of camp, health-wise, all of a sudden there’s a variety of bumps and bruises hitting the pitching staff all at once. Going down the list…

** Zack Greinke‘s right elbow is giving him trouble.

This is obviously the biggest concern, and it might cause him to miss his scheduled start tomorrow against the Brewers. Ken Gurnick has more:

Dodgers pitcher Zack Greinke is questionable for his scheduled start Monday because of continued elbow discomfort. Greinke missed a bullpen session nine days ago because of elbow stiffness, missed a start four days ago because of the flu, then threw an impressive bullpen session on Friday.

But the discomfort in the back of his elbow has persisted and — with seven other starters in the current rotation — club officials are considering holding him out for precautionary reasons. Doctors have ruled out serious injuries such as ligament damage. Greinke has told the club he’s dealt with similar elbow issues in the past that never kept him from missing a start.

For the moment, I think we’re all unsure what to make of this. Greinke’s always been a model of health, with his only trip to the disabled list for a physical problem coming as a result of his infamous basketball accident in 2011. The fact that his Friday bullpen session was “impressive” and that Greinke claims to have deal with this before seem to be encouraging, I suppose. At this point, it’s difficult to draw the line between an actual problem and the appropriate amount of spring caution, though it’s not great that the season starts in three weeks and Greinke’s pitched just twice.

** Chad Billingsley has a sore groin…

From the same Gurnick piece, Billingsley has a sore muscle on his right side, which is great if only in that we’re talking about Billingsley’s health in March and it’s not due to his ticking time bomb of an elbow. He’s expected to start on Wednesday (in a minor league game, since the Dodgers are off that day), and I don’t imagine this is anything all that serious.

92topps_javyguerra** ..and so does Javy Guerra.

The general thought is that this is why he pitched poorly in a minor league game against the Reds on Saturday. This is also not thought to be serious, but Guerra really, really can’t afford any missed time or poor performances, injury-related or not. As the days go on without any movement to resolve the starting pitching glut, it’s becoming more and more likely that the Dodgers will have to start the season with not one but two (at least) extra starters in the bullpen. If that’s the case, and considering that Brandon League, Kenley Jansen, Ronald Belisario, & J.P Howell are all but guaranteed to be there, that’s six bullpen spots spoken for already. For pitchers with options remaining like Guerra, Paco Rodriguez, & Shawn Tolleson, it might be even more difficult to win that last job than non-roster guys like Kevin Gregg, Mark Lowe, & Peter Moylan — even if they’re more deserving — because Ned Colletti might prefer to keep the optionable types on the farm rather than lose the NRIs to any opt-out ability.

** Matt Palmer doesn’t have such worries, because he’s going to miss 6-8 weeks due to knee surgery. 

Palmer apparently injured his left meniscus while simply walking, though Don Mattingly pointed out that if that was the case, it was likely to go on him at some point anyway. Palmer had no chance to make the team in the first place and looked awful in camp (despite a 3.60 ERA, because so many runs were unearned), so this doesn’t affect the big club that much. Where it might have an impact is in Albuquerque, where Palmer was expected to join Stephen Fife, Fabio Castro, and perhaps Matt Magill in the rotation. That was already an incredibly thin group, so it’ll be interesting to see how the Isotopes plan to staff that out until Palmer is ready in May.

2012 Dodgers in Review #47: RP Javy Guerra

2.60 ERA 3.34 FIP 45.0 IP 7.40 K/9 4.60 BB/9 0.4 fWAR D

2012 in brief: Disastrous year featured two stints on the disabled list, a line drive off the face, the loss of his closing job, and a late-season demotion to the minors.

2013 status: Under team control, but will need to show something to earn a big-league job in camp.

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Now that I’m looking at it, I suppose it’s hard to say that a guy with a 2.60 ERA – or even a 3.34 FIP, for that matter – had a lousy year. But it’s difficult to look at the ups and downs of Javy Guerra this year and think that it went in any way how he hoped it would.

You’ll probably remember that we spent most of the winter saying “when” Guerra lost his closing role to Kenley Jansen, not “if”, so clearly we didn’t have the highest of hopes for him. Surprisingly, he got off to a very good start and actually saved five out of the first seven Dodger games, earning a post full of praise from me on April 13.

Two days later, Guerra finished off the Padres thanks to one of the most bizarre plays of the season:

But while that may have been the luckiest double play the Padres will get all year, it hardly compares to whatever the hell happened in the top of the 9th. Javy Guerra came in and promptly allowed the first two men to reach. Jesus Guzman attempted to bunt – because why wouldn’t you want your cleanup hitter to bunt with two on in a tie game? – which proved difficult when Guerra’s pitch nearly hit him in the face. Guzman, maybe more out of self-preservation than anything else, got the thinnest part of his bat on the ball, which seemingly landed behind the plate. Though umpire Scott seemed to clearly wave the ball foul, A.J. Ellis alertly jumped on it and threw it around the horn for the triple play. San Diego manager Bud Black argued vociferously – and correctly, to my eyes – but was ejected for his troubles.

Judge for yourself…

Unfortunately for Guerra, it was mostly downhill from there. He blew a save in Milwaukee on April 17, and five days later — while I was sitting close enough to hear the sickening crack — he allowed five runs in one-third of an inning against Atlanta, thanks in no small part to the line drive off the face he took from Brian McCann.

Guerra, to his credit, shook off the incident and returned three days later against Washington in Bryce Harper‘s debut. While the Dodgers won on a Matt Kemp walkoff, Guerra’s performance in a non-save situation showed that we were already losing confidence:

Of course, this wouldn’t be the 2012 Dodgers if the game didn’t stay close into the late innings and… well, look. Sooner or later we’re going to have to acknowledge that Javy Guerra is just a mess right now, right? You can argue that he got spooked by taking a Brian McCann liner off the face the other night, but that was hardly the start of his troubles; he’s blown something like 37 games over the last two weeks. Entering in the 9th after Scott Elbert allowed a LaRoche single and induced Rick Ankiel to eliminate LaRoche via sacrifice bunt – and for the record, I have absolutely no idea why Don Mattingly yanked Elbert after just five pitches – Guerra allowed a single, a sacrifice fly, and another single, pushing two runs across and putting the Dodgers down 3-1. You can argue that Guerra is getting BABIP’d to death with all the singles if you want, but if you plan on being a late innings reliever in the bigs, you need to miss some bats, and Guerra simply has not been doing that lately. (Is that… Shawn Tolleson‘s music I hear? No, of course not.)

The next day, it was Jansen who was called upon to get the save. Guerra bounced back to pick up his eighth (and as it turned out, final) save of the season on May 1 in Colorado, but blew another on May 6 in Chicago – the day Jerry Hairston got hurt – and so the next day, we were forced to acknowledge that this just wasn’t working out, in a post titled “The Continuing Heartburn Over Javy Guerra“. As you’ll see, we were mostly confused because his peripherals were actually quite good:

After a dominant run to start the season, Guerra’s had an ugly two weeks, and that doesn’t even count the poorly-called triple play that allowed him to escape a tough situation in San Diego. It’s bad, and it doesn’t seem to be getting any better. Sunday’s debacle in Chicago was Guerra’s fifth “meltdown” of the season; that’s tied with Heath Bell for the third most in the majors, and it’s already one more than the four he had in all of 2011. For whatever reason, the Guerra we’re seeing in early May is not the same one that we saw in early April, and he absolutely doesn’t have enough of a track record to be allowed to keep on doing this for too much longer.

Yet while I said all winter that Guerra wasn’t as good as casual fans thought and that he was almost certainly going to suffer regression this year, I have to admit that this isn’t exactly the way I envisioned it. I saw a guy who was never that impressive in the minors and was only in the bigs due to a string of injuries to other pitchers, and while he was good-but-not-great in 2011, his reputation was grossly inflated by the always-overrated “save” statistic and the simple comparison to the ineffective closers who had been used before him. While he’s certainly thrown away a large part of that goodwill with fans, it’s rare that you strike out more & walk fewer than you did the year before but see less success, and it’s hard not to see the big, ugly .485 BABIP on his card.

Guerra lost his job to Jansen after that game and then turned it around, reeled off 12 straight scoreless outings before allowing a run in Colorado on June 2 — though somehow managing just a 4/5 K/BB over that time. He was placed on the disabled list following the game and had knee surgery three days later, an injury that had reportedly originally occurred when he attempted to twist out of the way of the McCann line drive back in April. He missed about a month, then returned to take Dee Gordon‘s spot on the roster in early July.

The peaks and valleys continued. July was tough, with several days missed to tend to his ailing father and a 8/7 K/BB in 11.1 innings pitched; August was better, with seven scoreless outings and a 10/4 K/BB in 8.2 innings, a streak of relative success that only served to make the news that he was being demoted to Triple-A on August 21 to make room for Rubby De La Rosa all the more surprising:

If there’s a surprise here, it’s that Guerra had been pitching relatively well, not having been charged with an earned run of his own since July 26 and having a 13/4 K/BB over those 11.1 innings, so I’ll admit I don’t entirely see why the Dodgers didn’t just give de la Rosa another week and call him up when rosters expand on September 1. On the other hand, I’m hardly going to lose a wink of sleep over Guerra getting a week-long vacation in New Mexico until he returns a week from Saturday; mostly I’m just impressed that the team chose not to send down Shawn Tolleson simply because he’s the most junior member of the bullpen.

Since de la Rosa was traded to Boston days later, there may have been a bit more to it, if the Dodgers did want to show that RDLR was ready to return to the bigs. Guerra did indeed come back to the Dodgers, but pitched in only one more game before going on the disabled list again with a strained left oblique, an injury which ended his season.

So what is Guerra? Despite the early talk about his improved peripherals, his final line was very similar to what it had been in 2011, only without the saves. If he’s healthy, I think he can still be a usable member of a bullpen, though seeing everything that happened this year does make me wish the Dodgers had chosen to sell high when they had the chance. We’ll almost certainly see a fair amount of him in 2013; whether he makes the Opening Day roster depends as much on any additional bullpen additions the team may make as it does on Guerra’s performance.

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Next up! Good lord, only three more pitchers left! It’s Kenley Jansen!

Dodger Bullpen on a Budget Among the Best in Baseball

Despite Kenley Jansen‘s homer trouble this week, the Dodger bullpen has been very good this year, depending on how you gauge such things. (Total sidebar for a moment – remember when Jansen blew his first save chance in April and every fool with an internet connection exploded in a fury of “herr durr derp he doesn’t have the heart to pitch the ninth inning?” Now we’re seeing articles about whether he can handle non-save situations because he’s been so good in the ninth. I hate this planet sometimes.)

Back to the bullpen as a whole, there’s more than a few ways to look at their success. They have the third-most shutdowns; they’re tied for the sixth-fewest meltdowns. By straight ERA, they’re 10th; by FIP, they’re tied for 12th, though it should be noted that the difference between the Giants in fifth at 3.45 and the Rays in 14th at 3.67 is so miniscule as to be barely noteworthy. They’re eighth in OPS against at .657; they have the third-highest strikeout rate, thanks in large part to Jansen. Really, the only area where they’re not doing all that well is in walk rate, where they have the sixth-highest mark in the game, though that’s a group-wide affliction, since only Josh Lindblom can say he has a walk rate lower than three per nine.

No matter how you choose to value a bullpen, the Dodger relief corps ranks between solid and excellent. Here’s my favorite part, though: the seven members of the bullpen who have pitched seven innings or more this year are doing so for a combined salary of less than Juan Uribe is receiving to be injured and awful in 2012. Only Todd Coffey (who has been very effective since his return from injury, even if his season stats don’t reflect it) makes even a million; only he and Jamey Wright make more than $500,000. Jansen, Lindblom, Scott Elbert, Javy Guerra, & Ronald Belisario each make between $480k and $492k. (Before anyone complains that arguably the two least valuable members of the bullpen make the most money and that this makes Ned Colletti an idiot, please go check out the veteran pay scale in this sport.)

For the grand total of something like $4.4m, the Dodgers have put together a very effective bullpen, and assuming Shawn Tolleson sticks around long enough in Guerra’s absence to make a contribution, we’ll be able to say this is an eight-man group making less than $5m. That’s about $1.5m less than James Loney is making this year. It’s slightly more than Juan Rivera alone is getting. It’s roughly one-third the dead money owed to Manny Ramirez, Andruw Jones, & Juan Pierre in deferred payouts just for this season. It’s not a whole hell of a lot of money, is the point, just in case you hadn’t quite had that drilled into your skull yet.

If you’re dying to point out that I’ve neglected to include Matt Guerrier, making $4.75m this year as part of a 3/$12m contract, well, that’s sort of the point. Guerrier was adequate at best last year before missing most of this year with arm woes, but the lack of return we’re seeing on that contract is just further illustrating the point that big multi-year deals for non-elite relievers are almost never ever a good idea – a point that was made many times, here and elsewhere, before Guerrier ever threw his first pitch.

But don’t take my word for it; we have data to rely on. Over the last two offseasons, (2010-11 & 2011-12), 18 relievers have signed free agent deals that total at least $5m or more. The results haven’t been pretty. Six of them – Guerrier, Mariano Rivera, Jose Contreras, Rafael Soriano, Ryan Madson, & Bobby Jenks – have suffered major injuries which have cost them most or all of a season. Three more – Kevin Gregg, Brian Fuentes, & Heath Bell – have to be considered busts, at least so far; while Grant Balfour may not fall into the “bust” category, he’s already lost his closer’s job this year, and in New York, Frank Francisco is carrying a 5.57 ERA, though it’s not totally deserved. (The table I linked is slightly misleading for the five guys who signed before 2012, since it includes their generally good work in 2011 as well, so Bell doesn’t look as bad as he really has been as a Marlin.) Some of the others have been inoffensive if not game-changing, but the only guys on that list who can really say they’re really making a difference for their new teams are J.J. Putz, Joe Nathan, Jesse Crain, Joaquin Benoit, & Jonathan Papelbon, and even in Papelbon’s case, you can easily question whether an aging team with huge problems on offense and a manager who doesn’t know how to run a bullpen should really have spent $50m on a closer. This proves either that you should only import free agent relievers with names that start with “J”, or that the rate of success on big-money bullpen arms is dreadfully inefficient.

Now, that’s not to say that you should only ever rely on cheap homegrown relievers, because I’ll be the first to admit that building a bullpen around a converted catcher, a flaky drug user on his third organization after multiple suspensions, a guy who walked 7.3/9 at age 24 in Double-A, and two veteran afterthoughts isn’t exactly a repeatable business model. But after all we’ve learned over the years, we should know that relievers are infamous for their volatility, and it’s more than possible to build an effective, efficient bullpen around young arms supplemented with a few low-cost (i.e., one year for less than $5m, many of whom are succeeding this year) veterans, with a lucky NRI invite here and there – an area which Colletti has shown to be surprisingly effective in.

Better yet for the Dodgers, there’s more where that came from. As we’ve talked about several times, they have a multitude of young power starters in the minors. Some – perhaps Ethan Martin, or Chris Withrow – aren’t going to pan out as starters, just like Lindblom & Elbert didn’t, and that opens up a path to potentially being successful out of the bullpen. So far, the Dodger relievers have been very good for a very reasonable price. Let’s hope that any thoughts of big spending to supplement them in the future keeps the past in mind.