Stats Don’t Always Tell the Whole Story

Except when they do. Here’s some numbers that will in no way cheer you up:

* The Dodgers are tied for 4th of 16 teams in the NL in batting average at .267 (good), 6th in OBP at .338 (fine), and 14th in SLG at .384 (lousy). But here’s where the real problem lies: Dodger right-handed batters vs. right-handed pitchers (which is the biggest segment of LA at-bats) are putting up a truly abysmal line of .228/.296/.310 for a .606 OPS. Worse, that’s including Russell Martin’s success vs. RHP (.312/.417/.404), so everyone else is really dragging the line down. Unfortunately, this means we can’t blame Juan Pierre for everything. (from baseball-reference)

* Mark Sweeney is the single worst player in baseball. (Shown at right, wondering what exactly he’s doing on the field, too). He doesn’t play enough to accumulate the counting stats, so let’s go with some rate stats. Actually, I don’t even need to break out anything fancy to illustrate this – a .095/.204/.119 line is nothing more than a joke. He’s got 4 hits and it’s nearly June. But let’s get back to the part where he’s the worst player in baseball. MLVr is a fancy Baseball Prospectus stat, defined as “an estimate of the additional number of runs a given player will contribute to a lineup that otherwise consists of average offensive performers. The league average MLVr is zero (0.000).” There are 411 MLB players with at least 35 at-bats in 2008 (at-bat limit done to eliminate pitchers). Mark Sweeney is… wait for it… 411th of 411. His MLVr is -.685, which basically means if we had a lineup full of completely league-average players, Mark Sweeney would cost us .685 runs every single game. And that’s just an offensive stat; some of the other players who are high (low?) on the list are at least plus defenders, like our own Chin-Lung Hu (12th). Sweeney doesn’t even contribute anything on that side of the field, either. If there’s any reason he’s still on the team other than to give Andy LaRoche a few more days to play 1B and/or 2B in Vegas, it’s simply indefensible.

* “When your rotation is average and your lineup is average, it’s no surprise that your team’s record is average.” That would be the take-home quote from yesterday’s Baseball Prospectus preview of the Mets game last night.

Reasons for the Mets’ mediocrity have been covered in this space before, so now it’s the Dodgers turn to explain their .500 record. First, we have a team that isn’t playing good defense: they rank 22nd in the majors in Defensive Efficiency, converting 69.6 percent of batted-balls into outs. Though the bullpen hasn’t suffered much—they rank fourth in the NL in WXRL as a unit—that defense has contributed to the rotation’s ranking only in the middle of the pack via SNLVAR. The offense is hitting .268/.340/.383, which boils down to an EqA of .257. When your rotation is average and your lineup is average, it’s no surprise that your team’s record is average.

The bullpen has helped them out in one-run contests (8-5) and extra innings (3-1) during the first two months of the season, but they are going to need improvement in one of the three areas—pitching, fielding, or offense—if they are to rise above their current position and give the Diamondbacks a scare. Losing Andruw Jones to surgery should help the offense out, as his .165/.273/.271 line was the source of more headaches than runs. Another of the lineup’s old men, Jeff Kent, has issues of his own. He’s hitting the ball on the ground more often—43 percent grounders versus last year’s 38 percent and his career rate of 35—and has lost a bit on his power as well, dropping his HR/FB from 10.2 to 7.4 percent. Kent is also swinging at more pitches—with many of those offerings out of the strike zone—but he’s making contact less often and has seen his walk rate cut in half. Almost 40 percent of his batted balls have been grounders that were weakly pulled as well. Without some switching around—Blake DeWitt to second when Andy LaRoche gets called up, perhaps?—the Dodgers offense is not going to see the vast improvement it needs to keep up with their rivals out.

* What the hell is going on with Brad Penny? He hasn’t given up less than 3 earned runs in a game in over a month, since April 21st at Cincinnati when he gave up one run in six innings. Since then he’s given up 3, 3, 10, 5, 5, and 4 runs. His ERA in May is a robust 8.48. I wish I had a better answer for “why”, but if our erstwhile “ace” can’t turn it around, this team is in big trouble.

* Might Jeff Kent be turning it around? After quite some time as the worst cleanup hitter of the last 50 years, going 5-9 with a homer in his last two games has pushed his OPS+ to 76, which merely makes him the third-worst cleanup hitter of the last 50 years. Still, that’s the right direction.

* Okay, sometimes stats don’t tell the whole story: Also via Baseball Prospectus (yeah, they’re practically the lifeblood of this blog lately) news on some young Dodger catchers.

Last year at Low-A Great Lakes, catcher Carlos Santana hit just .223/.318/.370–not the kind of numbers that generate any kind of attention. Even so, scouts saw something in his raw tools, and those are starting to show some promise this year at High-A Inland Empire, as the 22-year-old Dominican switch-hitter is off to a .306/.421/.513 start in 47 games, with more walks (32) than strikeouts (24) in 160 at-bats. One West Coast scout who recently saw the 66ers walked away impressed: “For me, that’s an everyday catcher,” said the scout. “He’s a good hitter from both sides and he’s strong–there’s some juice in his bat.” Defensively, Santana also earns high marks: “The arm is great, and will be even better with some improved mechanics. He’s a little raw behind the dish, but he certainly has the athleticism to get better.”

Meanwhile, this year’s catcher at Great Lakes is also putting up unimpressive numbers, but is nevertheless intriguing scouts. A native of Curacao, 20-year-old Kenley Jansen is batting just .198/.270/.376, but also has five home runs in 101 at-bats. “He’s listed at 6-2, 220, but he’s even bigger than that,” said another scout. “He can really throw and has tremendous raw power. I know the numbers are pretty bad, but he’s pretty interesting.”

* But there’s reason to watch the game tonight: because I’ll be in the upper deck at Shea. Oh, and the second start of mega-prospect Clayton Kershaw or something, I don’t know. At this point he’s going to have to throw a complete game shutout and hit 3 home runs. No pressure, though.

Update, AKA, I love the people who read this blog: After I finished writing this, I went to go get some lunch. While replaying the post in my mind, the thought occurred to me: “if Kershaw pitches a shutout, he won’t really have to hit three homers, will he? Bah, no one will catch that.”

Commenter Scott?

I understand the use of hyperbole in writing, but technically if Clayton pitches a complete game shutout, he only needs to hit one home run to win it.

I love it.

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

Just Get the Knee Scoped Already, Would You?

Obviously, last night’s loss can’t entirely be pinned on 9th-inning managerial decisions; it’s not Joe Torre’s fault that the team put up only one run and five hits last night. But I have to take some issue with how he used his pinch-hitters in the bottom of the 9th.

After James Loney struck out and the skies opened, causing an hour’s delay, Matt Kemp walked and stole second on Blake DeWitt’s strikeout. That brings to the plate the #8 hitter, Chin-Lung Hu, who’s been an offensive disappointment thus far but did have a single and a triple in his last two at-bats. Available on the Dodgers bench against righty Ryan Franklin were switch-hitter Delwyn Young and righties Luis Maza, Danny Ardoin, and Andruw Jones.

Now there’s lots of ways you can go here, with the tying run in scoring position and two outs. You can let Hu hit, hoping that his multihit game means he’s having a good night and still have plenty of options to hit for the pitcher at the #9 spot. You could let Luis Maza hit, who for all the complaints about his terribly weak arm in the field has still put up 5 hits in his 11 MLB at bats (.455) after hitting .402 in AAA. Or you could put Delwyn Young in, playing the lefty/righty game and using the hitter who’s probably the best of all the available options right now. Under no circumstances do you hit Andruw Jones, who’s been A) a bust of biblical proportions, B) nursing a bad knee which had kept him out of the lineup for the last 5 days, C) on an 0-7, 4K streak, and D) the only available Dodger who had faced Ryan Franklin before, but with a 0-5, 2K line. You especially don’t hit him in a 2-out situation when he’s having massive problems even making contact with the ball.

So Torre chooses to send out Young, which is fine by me. He walks, and Kemp advances on a wild pitch, putting the tying run 90 feet away. Now, Torre is faced with another decision: someone has to hit for the pitcher, but who? You can discount Danny Ardoin since he’s the backup catcher and not much of a hitter anyway. You’re left with Luis Maza or Andruw Jones. Both righty, so that doesn’t matter. Small name who’s accomplished nothing vs. a huge name with a big history, no doubt; but the small name has been hitting all season wherever he’s been, while the huge name has been beyond terrible.

Of course, Jones is Torre’s choice.

And to absolutely no one’s surprise, he strikes out weakly and looks bad doing so. Game over.

Yes, I am fully aware of the absurdity of the fact that I am arguing for Luis Maza over Andruw Jones in a two-out, bottom of the 9th situation. But the fact that I can even make this argument, and make it a pretty strong one, I believe, should be a pretty good indicator of what this has come to. Some of the blame has to go to Torre for even letting him be in such a situation last night; but something else has to be done. We can’t go all season with Jones eating up outs like this. It’s clear his knee just isn’t right. If he really only hurt it last week vs. Anaheim, and he was that horrible before that, what’s he going to be like trying to gut through a bad knee? Just get it taken care of, and hopefully come back with a clear head and healthy knee in two months.

Also: Jeff Kent as cleanup hitter deathwatch: Yet another 0-4 puts him at a 64 OPS+. He is now 8% worse of a hitter than the worst cleanup hitter of the last 50 years.

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

Just In Case Jeff Kent Needs Some Motivation…

May 22 edit: according to baseball-reference, after another 0-4 last night, Kent’s OPS+ is now down to 69. He is currently the worst cleanup hitter of the last fifty years. The worst. Is that enough to get Matt Kemp in the cleanup spot yet?  Original story with stats from yesterday remains below.

You don’t need me to tell you this, but Jeff Kent is having a pretty lousy season. Whether it’s just a slow start or age finally catching up to him remains to be seen, but a .241/.291/.387 line (74 OPS+) isn’t exactly what we’d hoped for. But that’s fine; not only do the Dodgers not really have any better options at second base, a no-doubt Hall of Famer who hasn’t had a OPS+ even below 119 since 1997 more than deserves the chance to hit his way out of this. He’s been too successful for too long to give up on him just yet.  

But what is starting to become a problem is the fact that Joe Torre has batted Kent cleanup in each of the 36 games he’s started this season. If Kent doesn’t turn it around, it’s going to be a historic problem, in fact.

A recent series at the excellent The Hardball Times has been going through each spot in the lineup, finding the worst players in recent history at those spots, i.e., “the ten worst leadoff hitters since 1957.” The latest of these articles is “the ten worst cleanup hitters since 1957.”

After first exploring the guys who just missed the cut (Andruw Jones was tied for 13th place for his showing with last year’s Braves), they sum up the dishonorable mention list like this:

Predictably, most of these are veteran sluggers in decline; whether understandably or foolishly, their deployment just hadn’t yet caught up with their rate of production.

We haven’t even hit the main list, and that’s not a good sign for Kent, who despite remaining surprisingly productive through his late 30s is clearly not the player he was in his prime. Now Kent’s obviously not on this list, as the season is less than two months old, but just remember: his OPS+ is 74.

    Worst cleanup hitters since 1957

  • 9th (tie) – 85 OPS+  Tony Armas, 1983 Red Sox
  • 9th (tie) - 85 OPS+  Jim Presley, 1990 Braves
  • 9th (tie) – 85 OPS+  Joe Carter, 1990 Padres
  • 8th – 84 OPS+  Jeffrey Leonard, 1990 Mariners
  • 7th – 83 OPS+  Don Baylor, 1980 Angels
  • 5th (tie) – 81 OPS+  Dick Stuart, 1962 Pirates
  • 5th (tie) – 81 OPS+  Ron Coomer, 2000 Twins
  • 3rd (tie) – 77 OPS+  Tim Wallach, 1991 Expos
  • 3rd (tie) – 77 OPS+  Joe Carter, 1997 Blue Jays
  • 2nd – 75 OPS+  Willie Kirkland, 1962 Indians
  • 1st – 72 OPS+  Aramis Ramirez, 2002 Pirates

Think about that. If Jeff Kent keeps up his current pace and Joe Torre continues to bat him cleanup, he’s going to be the second worst cleanup hitter of the last fifty years – and as the THT article explains, Aramis Ramirez was only so bad in 2002 because he played all year on a destroyed ankle.

As I said, I don’t expect Kent will be this lousy all year, and should at the very least be given time to figure it out. But isn’t it just about time to get him out of the cleanup spot and give someone like Matt Kemp a chance? Remember, it’s the cleanup spot, and we’re talking about historically bad here if this keeps up.

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

Baseball and Dragons, Together at Last

Preamble: this was by far one of the oddest Google image searches I’ve had to do for a post on here. Yikes, are there some weird people out there. I’ll let you discover this for yourselves.

Any of you folks play fantasy baseball? The only reason I bring it up, is because two of the most recent posts at deal with the Dodgers and specifically, Russell Martin and Jeff Kent.

Top 2008 fantasy catchers:dragon.jpg

Rnk Name
1 Russell Martin
2 Victor Martinez
3 Joe Mauer
4 Jorge Posada
5 Brian McCann
6 Kenji Johjima
7 J.R. Towles
8 Geovany Soto
9 Bengie Molina
10 Ivan Rodriguez
11 Carlos Ruiz
12 A.J. Pierzynski
13 Ramon Hernandez
14 Ronny Paulino
15 Mike Napoli
16 Jason Varitek
17 Paul Lo Duca
18 Ryan Doumit
19 Salty
20 Johnny Estrada

#1, baby! I know this is for fantasy teams, so Turtle’s absurd (for a C) amount of SB factor in heavily here, but still. My second immediate reaction is: JR Towles and Geovany Soto in the top 10? Holy crap is catching poor right now. I still don’t think we all truly understand how lucky we got with Martin yet.

Where’s the love for Jeff Kent?

I hadn’t noticed, but apparently Jeff Kent sucks now or something.  His Average Draft Position is 202.19, 16th among second basemen.  Did this guy not hit .302-20-79-78-1 last year?  Has he not been a model of consistency since back when you were playing with Go-bots?

Here are a bunch of second basemen who are being picked before Kent, who shouldn’t:

  • Dan Uggla
  • Kelly Johnson
  • Dustin Pedroia
  • Orlando Hudson
  • Kaz Matsui
  • Asdrubal Cabrera

Asdrubal going before Kent is the perfect example of fantasy leaguers blindly opting for youth over boring experienced guys.  Asdrubal Cabrera can’t hold Jeff Kent‘s jockstrap in fantasy baseball, even if he does steal 15 bags.  Ditto with Pedroia going before Kent or Placido Polanco.

The fact that people, fantasy or otherwise, think Kaz Matsui is a good baseball player blows my mind. It was acceptable for the Rockies because they pulled him off the trash heap – i.e. “replacement player”. But then Houston giving him 3 years and $16.5 million? Yeesh. I actually kind of feel bad for Houston fans.

Remember, kids – Kent may not be a great defender, and he may be a dick. But the man can still hit, and better than just about anyone not named Chase Utley at his position.

- Mike Scioscia’s tragic illness msti-face.jpg’s 2007 In Review: Second Base

Jeff Kent (B….ish?)
(.296/.371/.501 20hr 78rbi)

2007 Recap: I gotta say, this was one of the hardest grades to assign by far.

On the one hand…

1) Jeff Kent was surprisingly good this year. For all the hype about Martin, and keeping in mind that Kemp and Loney didn’t get enough at-bats to qualify for the rate stats, Kent was this team’s most dangerous hitter. Amongst qualifiers, Porn Stache led the Blue in BA, OBP, SLG, and OPS, plus no one topped his 20 HR. Considering he’s 39.. that’s pretty damned good.

On the other hand…jkent.jpg

2) Jeff Kent’s defense stinks. Sometimes, you don’t need stats to judge a player, just your own two eyes. And Jeff Kent’s defense at 2B? Brutal! I was trying to figure out if I should use an Edward Scissorhands joke here, because he can’t catch the ball, or a Franklin Delano Roosevelt line, because he can’t really run to the ball, but then I figured this was probably most accurate. But don’t just take my word for it:

Fielding %, NL: tied for dead last
Range Factor, NL: next to dead last, ahead of only the even more ancient Craig Biggio

On yet another hand…

3) Jeff Kent’s still one of the best hitters at his position. By all accounts, Jeffy was still the 2nd best 2B in the NL, behind only Chase Utley. All that talk about what a breakout year Brandon Phillips had? Yeah, Kent still out-VORP’d him. He had the 2nd highest SLG and 3rd highest BA and OPS. His EQA was .291, which is good for 4th in the bigs and 2nd in the NL behind again only Utley. The man can still rake at a position that’s not exactly known for it, and that’s pretty damn valuable.

And on the fourth and final hand…

4) Jeff Kent’s kind of a dick. He was the one who started up the whole “get off my lawn, you damn kids” debacle at the end of the year. I know, I know – back in his day, he had to walk uphill three miles in the snow to get to second base, and they didn’t have no new-fangled HGH, and that’s the way he liked it, damn it! Even before this, it’s no secret that, well, people hate him. Jeff, if you really think that playing Nomah and Gonzo every day because of their veteran veteranness was going to help you get closer to that ring, well, then perhaps you should start wearing a helmet when you ride your chopper.

So what’s a reviewer to do? I settled on a B, anakentbaseclearer1gm.jpg because he certainly hit better than we could have expected at the beginning of the year, especially considering his injury-plagued 2006. That said, I’m penalizing him with this ridiculous-looking picture attached above, rather than using Vin’s glorious Anakent Baseclearer shot (click for larger image).

2008 Outlook: Well, he hit his 550 plate appearances, so his $9.0 million option vested for 2008. I, for one, have always wondered what the exact economic value of “hating your teammates and liking to ride choppers in Texas” was. I guess we’re about to find out! Oh, baseball analysis? If he can keep from destroying the locker room, I say, I hope he comes back. It’s not like his defense can get any worse, and the last thing we need is to lose more power from this lineup. So if we have a 2-headed second base monster of Kent raking for 7 innings and Abreu coming in for speed and defense at the end? That ain’t half bad.

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