MSTI’s First Half In Review: Pitching

So, today is the second Tuesday of July and the day after the Home Run Derby.  That means it’s time for a historic tradition that we see every year…

MSTI’s First Half Pitching Review! 

Today, we’ll go through all of the pitching fun, so let’s get started… 

The Starters: 

Chad Billingsley = A   
billingsleyvsmets.jpg(9-4, 3.14 ERA, 1.23 WHIP) 

Chad Billingsley has been, simply, one of the best pitchers in baseball, this year.  As I wrote in May… 

Still, though,
Billingsley has been incredible this year and only continues to improve
and he’s still barely 24 years old.  It’s not enough to say anymore
that he’s going to be one of the best pitchers in baseball.  He already
IS and can stand toe to toe with almost anyone.  What’s also been
impressive is that even during the games that Billingsley hasn’t had
his best stuff he has managed to pull through.

That’s pretty much held up.  Granted, Billingsley has gradually slipped each month, going from a 3.76 ERA in June to a couple of poor starts so far this month, but his first half numbers have been awfully impressive, with his 3.14 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, and his 1.23 pLI actually leads all pitchers in MLB.  The control is still a bit murky, ranking 2nd in walks, behind teammate Clayton Kershaw.  Nonetheless, Chad made his first All-Star appearance this year and I’m sure it will be the first of many, as he continues to improve and solidify his place as one of the games best pitchers. 

Randy Wolf = A   
(4-3, 3.45, 1.17 WHIP)

I was a bit leary of signing Wolf the second time around.  While his first stint in L.A. tends to be thought of with good memories, he was still pretty much the definition of average, putting up a 97 ERA+, and a 4.73 ERA, and his year was cut short due to injuries.  After going to SD last year, he couldn’t really last well inside Petco Park, before finishing up the year in Houston where he turned it around.  Injuries have played a big part of Wolf’s career and one of the concerns was whether he’d remain healthy.  After all, outside of last year, he hasn’t put together a healthy season since 2003.  Well, so far he has been quite healthy (tied for first, along with Billingsley, in the NL in starts) and not only that, but he’s off to one of the best starts of his career.  Wolf so far is putting up a 3.45 ERA, with a good 1.16 WHIP, and a VORP of 23.5, third amongst Dodgers pitchers.  His peripherals aren’t too bad, either: his H/9 of 7.9, his BB/9 of 2.6 are the best for Wolf since 2003 and he also leads all Dodgers in the CTUNW stat (changing their uniform number weekly). 

Wolf has played a vital role this year for the Dodgers and has helped, at least thus far, in eliminating any concerns we had about starting pitching going into the year. 

Oh yeah, another thing: we beat the whole “wins for pitchers aren’t significant” for pitchers thing to death around here, so why not again?  Anyways, Wolf in 2007 only pitched until July for the Dodgers.  Again, he was essentially league average, but he had a 9-6 record.  So far this year?  4-3, despite a 122 ERA+. 

Clayton Kershaw = B+/A- 
Sandy Kershaw.jpg(7-5, 3.16 ERA, 1.27 WHIP)

So, I’m struggling to decide what to give him, and this grade is pretty much where I’m at.  Either way, what else can you say about the kid?  If he were putting up merely league average numbers at this stage, I think we’d be alright with it, but he’s not just doing that.  After struggling out of the gate, Kershaw has been simply great, going from a 7.29 ERA in April, down to a 2.57 ERA in May, 2.36 in June, and through the first three starts starts of July, 0.53.  While the 0.53 July ERA is definitely a small sample size, it has helped illustrate his continuous growth.  What’s also surprising is that he actually has the best VORP amongst Dodgers pitchers, edging out Chad Billingsley 26.7 to 26.1 and also puts him 12th amongst all NL pitchers.  Now Kershaw hasn’t necessarily perfect, either; while his 8.9 K/9 ratio is quite good, he does lead the league in walks and still carries some control issues which boosts his pitch count and therefore limits his innings.  However, at merely 21 years of age, he has shown to be not just someone who can just simply fit in the big leagues, but someone who can learn to adjust and also can carry a great deal of success (133 ERA+!), as well, and certainly someone who will play a huge role in the second half. 

Well done, Clayton! 

Hiroki Kuroda = C- 
(3-5, 4.67 ERA, 1.15 WHIP) 

In ways, it’s hard not to give the Hiroki Pokey Man an incomplete, given that he missed a lot of time.  But in his starts this year, he’s been going back and forth between solid starts to sometimes the downright awful which, in all honesty, isn’t too much different from 2008.  However, he hasn’t been back that long, so I will cut him a little slack. 

The Spot Starters: 

Eric Stults = C- 
(4-2, 4.80 ERA, 1.58 WHIP) 

Eric Stults for a few years now has been the perfect guy to give you the spot start that you need and he’ll usually be pretty effective, provided that you don’t use him for too long.  It’s pretty much been the same story, this year.  In his 9 starts (I’m actually surprised he’s started that many, when I think about it), he’s had about 6 good ones and 3 bad ones, which translates to a 4.80 ERA, or an 87 ERA+.  Not stellar numbers in the least, but about what you’d expect from Stults: an average pitcher at best who, in Stults case, throws in his obligatory complete game shutout each year.  Kinda funny, by the way… this year, Stults is the only Dodger pitcher with a complete game. 

Eric Milton = C 
(2-1, 3.80 ERA, 1.52 WHIP) 

Can’t say that the thought of Eric Milton starting games for the Dodgers is something that put a smile on my face, but in his 5 starts for the team, he did respectable enough, going 2-1 with a 3.80 ERA.  The WHIP wasn’t particularly good 1.52, but he didn’t necessarily embarrass himself this year, either.  Unfortunately for Milton, he was DL’d in late June and might have season ending back surgery.  But he had 5 games with the team and didn’t do terribly… can’t really ask for too much more than that.  

Jeff Weaver = A+ 
weaveraward.jpg(5-3, 3.48 ERA, 1.57 WHIP)   

The title of this year’s Chan Ho Park goes to Jeff Weaver.  When he signed a minor league deal going into Spring Training, I didn’t really think anything of it and, to be honest, I certainly didn’t see him making the team.  But not only did he manage to do that, but he also managed to become a key member.  He has done everything asked of him and has done it well, whether coming up with the key spot start or pitching valuable innings in the bullpen, or just going out there and beating his kid brother when he needed to.  Now has some of it been smoke and mirrors?  Sure, his WHIP of 1.57 isn’t particularly good at all, and his FIP is actually 4.13, but somehow he’s getting the job done, so I’ll take it, right now.  2009 has been good for Stoner and hopefully, unlike Chan Ho last year, he can finish 2009 just as strong. 

James McDonald = D-     
(2-1, 4.71 ERA, 1.50 WHIP) 

Yeah, remember him?  James McDonald came on to the scene last year for the Dodgers, pitching a mere 6 scoreless innings, which was nice, but where he really helped make an impression was during the NLCS, where he came in and put in some big innings for the Dodgers.  Eventually, he won out the 5th spot in the rotation this year and proceeded to promptly suck, getting 4 starts and putting up an 8.78 ERA and walking 14 to his 6 strikeouts.  That was enough for Joe Torre and after being demoted to the bullpen afterwards, he was shortly then sent back to Albuquerque where he was actually quite good, putting up a 3.26 ERA and 1.15 WHIP in 30.1 innings, while seemingly fixing some of
his previous control issues (14 BB and 40 K’s) and putting up a nice 11.9 K/9 ratio.  Since being recalled to the Dodgers on June 19th, he hasn’t appeared in too many games, but in the games he’s appeared in he hasn’t embarrassed himself either, giving up 1 ER in his 10 innings.  Small sample size, yes, but hopefully McDonald can continue to turn it around and show more of the form he did in 2008.  The talent is definitely there. 

The Bullpen:

Jonathan Broxton = A+ 
brox.jpg(6-0, 3.10 ERA, 0.93 WHIP) 

It’s been a good year for Jonathan
Broxton.  He stepped into the closers role and has transitioned
seamlessly, got elected to his first All-Star game, and after a 24 year
pregnancy, finally gave birth to his first child, a beautiful baby
boy. 

O.K., that was wrong.  But, still, Broxton has been
awfully good, this year, and one of the best in baseball.  His ERA is
3.14, though that’s taken a big hit these days, as 5 of his 14 ER’s total this year
have come from his past two appearances alone, which seem to have
stemmed from a toe injury that has kept him out since last week.  His
WHIP is 0.94 and his 2.63 WPA ranks him 4th amongst all active relief
pitchers, while his K/9 ratio has bumped from 11.5 in 2009 to 14.4 in
2009, thus far.  In addition, he has saved 20 of his 22 saves and, for
the most part, in convincing fashion.  Provided that his toe doesn’t
become something serious, once again, the Dodgers continue their string
of truly great closers.  

Ramon Troncoso = A+ 
(3-0, 1.75 ERA, 1.27 WHIP) 

Last year, the Big Tronny got a C grade.  From last year: 

Still, Troncoso was another rookie inserted into the bullpen in 2008,
although not quite the story Cory Wade was.  But, nonetheless, Troncoso
didn’t Falkenborg himself either, going from a less than stellar 4.91
ERA in the first half to a respectable 3.81 in the second half, sparked
by a good August where he sported a good 2.57 ERA.  His ERA+ was 100
even and that about sums it up; average and servicable for the role he
played throughout the season.  For a person in his rookie year, not
bad; here’s to an improvement in 2009

Well, he improved and improved greatly.  Trancoso has been incredible this year putting up a 1.75 ERA and a 1.27 WHIP and a mere 240 ERA+ in his appearances this year, including ranking 4th in VORP amongst all Dodgers pitchers and his 2.83 WPA ranks 1st amongst all active relievers in baseball.  Troncoso isn’t one who necessarily grabs the headlines, but he’s been incredibly important to the team this year and a key aspect of the success of the bullpen.  I definitely didn’t see his 2009 coming, but well done.  

Ronald Belisario = A+ 
Belisario.jpg(1-3, 2.42 ERA, 1.18 WHIP) 

Belisario is generally one of those guys
you see on the transaction list during Spring Training that you
generally overlook, given the amount of Spring Training invites that
tend to happen and usually don’t pan out.  But he did enough to get a
shot with the big club and not only did he do that, but he has become
one of the best arms out of the bullpen.  In his 48.1 innings, he has
put up a 2.42 ERA, with a nice 1.18 WHIP and 173 ERA+ and out of all
the pitchers on the team, he has the 5th best VORP at 14.5. 
Unfortunately, due to elbow stiffness, he has been placed on the DL,
although the reports about it show it isn’t something too serious and
hopefully he can come back and continue to be effective.  But a spring
training invite to one of the best relievers on the team?  Well… 

I’ll drink to that!  And so will Ronald!

Guillermo Mota = First Half Of First Half =

Second Half Of First Half = A+
(3-2, 3.51 ERA, 1.20 WHIP)      

Yeah, it was time to pull out the ol’ Andruw grade and it was certainly applicable to Mota for the first half of the first half (shut up, it exists!).  Mota has literally gone from one extreme to the
next, hence the two different grades, as it feels like I’m grading two different people.  I hated the signing when it happened and for quite a while he
gave me good reason to, putting up ERA’s of 7.71 and 6.65 in April and
May.  After Brad Ausmus apparently discovered a flaw in Mota’s
delivery, Mota found the fountain of youth, or at least another
syringe, and put up a 0.56 ERA in June and has only given up 1 ER in
his last 22 appearances, which goes back to his implosion in Florida in
May.  He’s gone from arguably one of the worst relief pitchers in
baseball to one of the best and he has to be commended on that. 
Hopefully he can keep it up and continue to give the Dodgers a much
needed boost in the bullpen.

Brent Leach = B 
(2-0, 4.26 ERA, 1.05 WHIP)  

Leach has pretty much become the LOOGY of the
team and he’s done relatively decent.  His 98 ERA+ puts him essentially
average, though his 1.05 WHIP has been pretty nice, but he’s been for
the most part dependable more times than not.    

Cory Wade = F
(2-3, 5.53 ERA, 1.37 WHIP)   

So, what the hell happened to Cory Wade, this year?  In 2008, he was the most dependable reliever we had and was definitely one of the great stories of 2008 for the Dodgers.  Last year I wrote this: 


In 55 appearances this year, which translates into 71.3 innings, Wade
put up a good 2.27 ERA with an even better WHIP of 0.92.  The great
thing about Wade this season is that, as the season went on, he got
better.  Throughout the first half, his ERA was 2.56, and topped that
with a 1.93 ERA in the second half, spurred by great months in August
(2.16 ERA) and September (1.08 ERA).  In fact, that’s what was so
impressive about him, this year.  I don’t remember a period where he
ever really truly sucked and went all Proctor on us.  The worst month
he had in 2008 was July, where he had a 3.52 ERA and gave up 6 ER in 15
IP.  Not great, but not horrific.  He was also arguably our best
reliever in 2008 ranking second in VORP only to Hong Chih Kuo with
22.9.

This year?  Not so good, putting up a 5.27 ERA in his 27 appearances and has made a visit to the DL with some arm troubles.  Hopefully his usage in 2008 hasn’t had an effect on him in 2009.  His star has definitely fallen, but hopefully he can come back and rebound. 

Will Ohman = D-
(1-0, 5.84 ERA, 1.62 WHIP)   

Signed at the tail end of Spring Training to
be Troy from West Virginia’s new BFF, or just Joe Beimel’s replacement,
Ohman has failed to impress to the point where, when you heard the name “Ohman!” you shouted back “Ohcrap!”  In his 21 appearances, he put up a 5.84
ERA, with a 1.62 WHIP.  Having a BB/9 ratio of 5.8 didn’t help either.  To
be fair to Ohman, though, he didn’t really get much of a Spring
Training as he didn’t have a job until the end of the Spring Training,
and he hasn’t pitched in a while (late May), being on the DL with
apparently a sore shoulder.  Still, though, he had enough appearances,
and appearances of sucktitude at that, to warrant the D-.  Though bonus
points for doing a killer Harry Caray impression and being an all
around funny guy. 

The Incompletes: 

Hong-Chih Kuo = Inc. 
Thumbnail image for kuofrombullpen.jpg(1-0, 6.75 ERA, 1.69 WHIP) 

While Hong-Chih Kuo is just unbelievable when he’s on, in fact, he won MLB’s Set Up Man Of The Year Award last year, there’s always the potential for his arm to fall off at any point.  He’s had two Tommy John surgeries (and four arm surgeries total) and he’s had some arm troubles this year already which put him on the DL at the end of April.  He’s yet to return, but in the 5.1 innings he threw, it wasn’t particularly something to write home about.  Something was definitely wrong, originally with reports coming out that perhaps Kuo was suffering from a lack of confidence and now the arm troubles.  The talent is certainly there for Kuo to continue to be effective.  The health, though, might be another story.  We shall see…  

Travis Schlichting, Claudio Vargas, and Scott Elbert = Inc.
(0-0, 3.38 ERA, 2.25 WHIP), (0-0, 0.00 ERA, 1.00 WHIP), (1-0, 5.00 ERA, 1.33 WHIP)  

So, I’m going to combine these two and give them the same grade, which is an incomplete.  For Schlichting, he got a brief cup of coffee early in the year and only threw a whopping 2.2 innings.  Granted, he gave up a HR and 5 BB’s to go with 2 K’s, but, again, not much at all you can derive from 2.2 innings.  Vargas barely came into action this month after being out due to injury and, while I wasn’t a fan of the signing when it happened, perhaps he can serve as the mop up man.  In regards to Elbert, it’s also awfully hard to gauge anything meaningful.  Only four appearances this year, with three of them coming in April and the next one just coming in July. 

That about does it for the pitching.  Tune in tomorrow when MSTI finishes our first half reviews by going through the coaching staff and the overall review! 

- Vin vinscully-face.jpg

Time To Talk About Pitching, I Suppose

With Manny back and the offense cruising once again, it seems everyone’s focusing – and as usual, completely overreacting – on the Dodgers pitching staff. Let’s get to it…

Since when are Jeff Weaver and Eric Milton big deals? So, Weaver was lousy on Saturday. But you know what, he wasn’t even that bad. No, 6 hits and 3 walks in 3.1 innings aren’t exactly what you’re looking for, but even that only allowed two earned runs (Rafael Furcal’s error was a killer), and you expect that from a guy like Weaver. Look, he’s got a 3.47 ERA as a starter this year. Are we really that upset over his performance? Am I really that crushed that Milton, who’s contributed all of five mediocre starts this year, may be headed for season-ending back surgery? Of course not. Most teams patch and fill their 5th starter spot throughout the year, and the Dodgers are no different.

weaversidearm.jpgSo, why is the Los Angeles Times treating this as though it’s a crucial problem, one that could torpedo this magical season? It’s not as though there’s any shortage of other guys to toss a start to; unlike some teams, there’s no dipping into AA to pull some unprepared kid up to make his major league debut. Bring back MSTI favorite Eric Stults, who’s proven more than once that he can be a servicable major league starter. Give James McDonald another shot, or pull Claudio Vargas out of the pen to fill the role he was originally signed for. Hell, sooner or later you’re going to have to see what Jason Schmidt can do, right?

The point is, none of the guys in this conversation are making starts in the playoffs. Whether the names filling out the back end of the rotation are Weaver and Milton or Stults and Schmidt are immaterial  The only starting pitching worries the Dodgers have right now involve just simply getting to October, and while I’m not blind to the idea that you might want to give Clayton Kershaw or Chad Billingsley a breather before then, whether you’re using Mediocre Space Filler X from inside the organization or Mediocre Space Filler Z from outside the organization matters only in the difference between what one costs to acquire. With the chokehold the Dodgers have on the NL West, you can afford to see if Stults can be consistent, or if McDonald can get over his early season woes, or if Schmidt can walk to the mound without getting hit by a car. The best part is, if you try one and it doesn’t work out, you’ve still got 3-4 other options.

While it might not matter all that much who’s the #5 and #6 starters at any given time are, it certainly does matter who the top guys are. Despite what anyone might say, Chad Billingsley is an ace, and while you hate to add any more pressure to a 21-year-old, Clayton Kershaw’s sure pitching like one (currently four more shutout innings on the board as I write this) - plus Randy Wolf’s been better than expected, and Hiroki Kuroda’s working his way back into form. With the 3rd best ERA among starters in all of baseball, adding another starter isn’t a pressing need.

That said, the rumors are swirling about Roy Halladay. I wasn’t even going to discuss it, because the odds of a trade seem so slim that it seemed pointless, but since it’s still in the news I might as well weigh in: there is almost no trade the Dodgers can make for Halladay that I’d be okay with.

halladay.jpgDon’t get me wrong, I like Halladay well enough – he’s been one of the best pitchers in baseball for a long time. Even the fact that he’s 32 doesn’t bother me, as he’s proven his durability for years now (even his injuries have been fluky, like a liner off the leg). It’s not the money (remainder of $14+m this year, and $15+m in 2010) either, because if you get your hands on a guy like that, you know you have to pay him. It’s the fact that what Toronto is looking for in terms of prospects is likely to be crippling – and I can’t even blame the Jays for that.

Look, Toronto has a rare jewel to trade; it’s not often that a pitcher of his caliber comes available, and even less so when you consider that A) he’s not a free agent at the end of the year and B) the rest of the pitching market is so weak (really, Jarrod Washburn?) So they’re going to ask for an absurd amount, and they’re likely to get it.

The problem is, this isn’t the Dodgers system of 2006-07, utterly overflowing with prospects. All of those guys have graduated to become vital members of the team, and most rumors about the Dodgers and Halladay start with Chad Billingsley or Clayton Kershaw, which would be ridiculous. Let me make this utterly clear: I wouldn’t trade either Billingsley or Kershaw for Halladay, straight-up. Not that such a deal wouldn’t help the club for this season, but they’re both so much younger, so much cheaper, and already productive pitchers that it’s insane to even consider such a deal. The same goes for guys like Matt Kemp or Jonathan Broxton, who would certainly interest Toronto.

And then there’s this from the LA Times, where Bill Shaikin argues that Russell Martin and others should be the focus of the deal. Because, trading a guy when his value is lowest totally makes sense. Besides, as bad as Martin’s been, do you really want to see Brad Ausmus out there every day?

If you can build a deal for Halladay around Andrew Lambo, Blake DeWitt, and James McDonald, then yeah, I could be into that. But anyone from the current team? I can’t see that working.

Anyone Still Not Believe?

dodgerssweepmets.jpgThe NL West is weak, they said. Beating up on the Rockies, D-Backs, and Padres are hardly a fair test of skill, they said. Just wait until they get out of that lousy division and we’ll see what’s what, they said.

So, how do you like us now? After a nine game run through the NL East – six on the road – the Dodgers enjoy their offday with a 7-2 result and an 8.5 game lead on the division.

Oh, there’s still going to be excuses. “But the Phillies are only 4 games over .500!” (They’re still leading the East and are the defending World Series Champions.) “But you missed Johan Santana and Carlos Delgado & Jose Reyes were injured!” (Okay, that was a nice break, but the Mets were still the #3 team in the land on the most recent Baseball Prospectus Hit List).

I take your reality and I substitute my own: the Dodgers are getting this done without their best hitter, second-best starter, and a shortstop whose game has completely disappeared. This team isn’t even close to operating at full capacity.

So sure, this weekend series against the Angels will provide another test, and the Dodger rotation couldn’t be lined up better for it – Kershaw, Wolf, & Billingsley. But make no mistake: lousy competition or not, this team is for real, and there’s still room to improve.

Here’s a question, though, which I’ve asked before: why is Eric Milton in the rotation over Jeff Weaver? Jeff’s now started three games for the Dodgers and has been nothing if not consistent – 5 IP/1 ER against Arizona; 5 IP/3 ER against San Francisco; and now 5 IP/1 ER against the Mets, while apparently batting a blister. What more could you ask from what is basically an emergency fifth starter?

I Guess I Can Only Help One James At a Time

As none of you saw because you were at work, Chad Billingsley was great again, Jonathan Broxton blew it in the 9th (no one freak, it happens), and Russell Martin and Matt Kemp came up with big RBI doubles in the 10th for a big 5-3 win to take the series over the Phillies.

However, it wouldn’t be a Dodger day without another pitching roster move…

milton.jpgFrom SI.com:

PHILADELPHIA (AP) -Eric Milton is heading back to the big leagues after a nearly two-year absence.

The Los Angeles Dodgers purchased the contract of the veteran left-hander from Triple-A Albuquerque after their 5-3, 10-inning win over the Phillies on Thursday.

Milton will start Saturday against the Florida Marlins in place of Jeff Weaver. The Dodgers optioned right-hander James McDonald (1-1, 6.75 ERA) to their Pacific Coast League club.

First things first, listen closely because you don’t hear this too often around here: I’m perfectly okay with the old-and-busted veteran taking the place of a top young prospect. No way around it; McDonald’s been completely awful so far, mainly due to walking 16 in just 18.2 innings. So, let him go back to the minors and work himself out, because it’s clearly not working out for him in the bigs right now.

Yes, I was really high on him entering the season, and yes, I’m disappointed in how he’s performed. But I’m hardly giving up on him just yet – remember, we’ve been completely spoiled with how the other young guys like Martin, Loney, Billingsley, and the like all burst onto the scene with little difficulty. Despite what we’ve seen, it doesn’t always happen like that! So enjoy Albuquerque, James, and remember: if you don’t think that throwing strikes is important, just know that it’s the difference between a life in New Mexico and a life in Dodger Stadium.

No offense to the people in New Mexico, but that’s a pretty big incentive to me.

As far as having Milton bump Jeff Weaver out of the rotation… well, I thought Weaver had done an admirable job, allowing 4 earned runs total over 2 five-inning starts. Really, can you ask for any more than that from him? It’s not great, but not enough to lose his spot. That said, Milton’s been pretty good in AAA (2.83 ERA, 1.00 WHIP) so it’s not really a big enough deal to get all worked up about. Oddly enough, this now gives the Dodgers four left-handers in the rotation. It wasn’t all that long ago that we were watching a three- or four-year streak of never having a lefty start.

Besides, I’d like to think that regardless of whether it’s Milton or Weaver, they’re just holding the spot that Hiroki Kuroda is going to reclaim in the next few weeks… but there’s no way that Joe Torre’s going to stick with MSTI fave Eric Stults over a formerly famous veteran, right?

Hell, Let’s Just Give Him the Award Right Now

But first, a look back at the past award winners… dim the lights, roll the music, and…

2008 - Chan Ho Park. After six injury-prone and unproductive seasons, including an age-34 season spent putting up a 5.57 ERA in AAA, Park returned to the scene of his former glory, putting up four outstanding months for the Dodgers in 2008 and becoming a vital spot starter/swingman, before faltering at the end of the year. To no one’s surprise, he’s rocking an 8.57 ERA with the Phillies right now.

2007 – Rudy Seanez. Like Park, Seanez returned to LA after years of bouncing around with limited success, yet at age 38 put up a fantastic year, setting career highs in games and innings pitched. Actually, he was pretty decent in Philadelphia last year too, and last I heard he’d still like to pitch. Give the man a tryout!

2006 – Aaron Sele. Coming in on a tryout at age 36 after four solidly below-average years (including three in a row with ERA’s over 5), Sele ended up making the fourth-most starts on the team, contributing 103 innings of league-average performance. It’s actually better than it looks, because at the All-Star break he was 6-2 with a 2.91 ERA, before nosediving down the stretch.

2005 - No award given in protest that the best candidate may have been Scott Erickson.

Which brings us to the 2009 recipient of the “I’m Not Dead Yet, Dammit!” Award, given annually to the over-30 Dodger pitcher plucked off the scrap heap in hopes of recapturing some glimmer of his past glory, even if that “past glory” was never all that great to begin with. Oh, I know it’s just May 6 and it’s only been 9 innings, but A) hey, it’s been a great 9 innings and B) if we award this now, we can avoid having to consider Eric Milton or Shawn Estes for it later.

weaveraward.jpgSo ladies and gentlemen, allow me to present to you, Jeff Weaver. Mr. Weaver is more than qualified for this award, having not had a league-average season since 2004, and bottoming out last season by toiling away in the minors all year long – and even failing at that, putting up a 6.17 ERA for two AAA teams. While it’s not a requirement that the recipient be a former Dodger, it does seem to be tradition, which Weaver fulfilled by pitching in Blue in 2004-05. It’s also a requirement that the idea of his signing seems so ridiculous that it’s all we can do to not laugh out loud, as evidenced here:

I’m not going to get too worked up over a minor-league invite, because there’s really no risk involved, but holy jesus was Jeff Weaver awful in 2008. If you saw a pitcher who put up ERAs of 6.07 and 6.22, with WHIPs of 1.62 and 1.53, for his two teams last year, you’d say something like, “Woof. That guy got eaten alive. What the hell is he doing in the bigs?” – and you’d be well within reason to do so. Now, what do you say when you find out that those numbers came in stops for Buffalo and Nashville in AAA?

His qualifications are impeccible, to be sure. But it takes a special breed to be considered for this award – after all, anyone can be a terrible pitcher, and you don’t see us rushing to recognize Brett Tomko and Mark Hendrickson, do you? No, in order to get your name engraved on this fine trophy, you need to rise from the dead and squeeze that last bit of talent out to serve the team when it’s in need, and after a few lousy performances by James McDonald and Eric Stults, yeah, you could say the team’s in need.

Making his first start last night, well, Ken Gurnick, take it away:  

Makes sense to Jeff Weaver, who took another step on his comeback-of-the-year journey with a triumphant return to the Dodgers’ starting rotation. Making his first Major League start since 2007 and first for the Dodgers since 2005, he allowed one run on a wild pitch, lasted five innings while striking out six and walking only one.

“He gave us everything we could have expected or wanted,” manager Joe Torre said. “We gave them a couple extra outs and he pitched around that. He couldn’t have been better than he was.”

Combine that with his relief stint last week, and you get a pretty impressive stat line: 9 innings, 1 run allowed (1.00 ERA), and most important: 10 K vs. 2 BB. That’s right, Jeff Weaver is striking out more than a man per inning.

So here’s to you, Jeff, for your small part in helping the Dodgers to the best record in baseball, and enjoy your award. Now keep it up and don’t make us look foolish.