MSTI’s 2011 in Review: Starting Pitchers, Part 1

Today we start the pitching reviews, and the rotation is split into three sections. With the exception of the fact that Clayton Kershaw is awesome and obviously will be first, they’re done in no order whatsoever other than to have both regular and fill-in starters in each piece. While it may make sense to have Part 1 be Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, and Hiroki Kuroda, no one wants to see a Part 3 that is entirely John Ely, Dana Eveland, and Jon Garland, right?

Clayton Kershaw (A+2)
2.28 ERA, 2.47 FIP, 9.57 K/9, 2.08 BB/9

Remember, I’m basing these grades on expectations, and we had sky-high expectations for Kershaw entering the season. He still gets a great grade, because he met those expectations and then shattered them. If you don’t remember just how highly we thought of him even before the season, recall that he was #1 on my list of “Six Reasons for Optimism in 2011“:

1) Clayton Kershaw. You hardly need me to revisit all the ways in which Kershaw is awesome; I did just that already in his 2010 Season in Review piece. He had a two-month stretch last season in which he was basically the best pitcher in baseball, and while that’s probably a bit too much to hang on his head right now, you can certainly make the argument that he’s already one of the best lefty starters in baseball. Forget what you hear about him still needing to do this or that to be an “ace”; if he made no further progressions, he’d still be worthy of being at the top of nearly any team’s rotation.

Yet, there’s still so much more there. Last year he made a marked improvement in his major weakness by walking 10 fewer batters despite pitching 30 more innings than in 2009. Don’t forget, he’s not even 23 yet. I’ve been arguing that he turned potential into performance last year, but the greater accolades haven’t quite come yet because of his mediocre (and pointless) win-loss record. This is the year that the greater baseball world recognizes Kershaw in his rightful place as one of the dominant starters in the game.

I’d say that last sentence paid off pretty well, right? We got off to a good start when Don Mattingly named Kershaw the Opening Day starter on the first day of camp, and after a relatively quiet spring Kershaw proved Mattingly right by dominating Tim Lincecum on March 31:

Earlier today, I noted that I had picked Clayton Kershaw to finish 1st in the NL Cy Young Award voting over at Baseball Prospectus. I’m now concerned that I didn’t pick him quite high enough, because Kershaw was absolutely sublime in tonight’s season opener, to the point where San Francisco starter Tim Lincecum allowed just one unearned run over seven innings himself, yet there was still no question about who was the most dominant starter on the mound tonight.

Kershaw scattered just four hits over seven scoreless innings, but even that doesn’t tell the true tale. One of those hits should have been an error on a botched toss from James Loney to Kershaw, and one was a bloop that fell just out of Loney’s reach. But while Kershaw was outstanding all around, it’s not just the few hits he allowed that impressed me most, and it’s not the nine strikeouts he put up. It’s not even how bad he made a handful of Giants look, particularly when he offered his curve. It’s the fact that he walked just one and made it through seven innings with fewer than 100 pitches. In years past, it might have taken him 120 pitches to get that far; in starts that aren’t his first of the season, you’d expect to see him continue into the 8th and 9th.

Need more proof of Kershaw’s progression? This was the 11th time in his career that he pitched at least seven innings without allowing more than one walk. Though he’s been in the bigs since mid-2008, seven of the previous ten came after June 27, 2010 – i.e., in the last half a season. We’ve long known that Kershaw had all the talent in the world, but there’s now a clear pattern of him harnessing the wildness and becoming one of the most dominant pitchers in the bigs. Mark my words, this is the year he gets the respect from the general public he deserves. Oh, and he turned 23 two weeks ago.

“Beating up on Lincecum and the Giants” proved to be a general theme of the season, as Kershaw won five of his six starts against San Francisco, allowing five earned runs in 42 innings along with a 49/8 K/BB ratio. By the end of April, Kershaw was off to a decent enough start, yet he was only 2-3, with both of his victories coming in games where he didn’t allow the opposition a single run. With the Dodger offense looking as dreadful as it was, we were cringing in anticipation of Kershaw having a fantastic year yet being denied the attention he deserved because he’d end up with a record like 14-12.

But Kershaw wasn’t about to let that happen. Seemingly every other start, I was including a note about how he’d just tossed out one of the better starts of his career by Game Score (an admittedly imperfect stat, but useful enough for quick-and-dirty comparisons). For the record, his top three career starts by that metric, and six of his best ten, came in 2011. In May, he had perhaps his best month of the season, picking up his second career shutout, going 4-0 and holding the opposition to a paltry .203/.247/.264 line, along with a fantastic 46/9 K/BB.

By June, we were so impressed that I was simply titling articles with names like ”Clayton Kershaw, Ace” and noting that he was pitching in at the plate, too:

Clayton Kershaw was a one-man wrecking crew, taking matters into his own hands to toss his second shutout of the season, made all the more impressive due to the fact that it was an all-righty American League Detroit lineup. The Tigers managed just two hits, none by heavy hitters Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, or Magglio Ordonez. Kershaw had no need for the bullpen, completing the game on 112 pitches while retiring the final 13 batters he faced – including three swinging strikeouts in the ninth.

But Kershaw wasn’t finished there. Yes, Juan Uribe gave him the only run he’d need with a solo homer in the second inning (sidenote: Ha, Brad Penny. Ha.) and Dioner Navarro doubled in a second run in the sixth. With two on and the bases loaded in the eighth, Kershaw came to the plate. We’ve seen Don Mattingly hit for Kershaw a few times in these situations, even earlier in the game, and it usually hasn’t worked out either on the offensive end or in the relievers who followed. Mattingly let Kershaw hit; he poked a single to right, scoring two, and that was that. Kershaw’s actually been better at the plate (.294/.333/.294 .627) than the real professional hitters who he’s faced (.211./270/.299 .569). He also now leads the league in strikeouts with 117.

Even better, take a look at the list of top five Game Scores in MLB this season. Two of the best five games in the league belong to our own Clayton Kershaw. The next time someone tells you he’s “on his way to being one of the best pitchers in baseball,” stop them immediately. He’s already there.

So it was no surprise we were giddy about him in July when the midseason reviews came around:

Clayton Kershaw (A+) (9-4, 3.03 ERA, 2.45 FIP)
Is A+ even high enough? I’m not sure it is, though we certainly expected great things from him. Think about this: his HR/9 rate and H/9 rate are unchanged from last year, but he’s managed to do that while lowering his walk rate (again!) and increasing his strikeout rate. He’s leading the league in whiffs, and he has two shutouts among his three complete games. He’s 23. He’s lefty. He’s an All-Star.

Don’t let anyone tell you that he’s progressing towards being an ace, or one day he could be one of the best. Clayton Kershaw is, right now, one of the 10 best pitchers in baseball. The scary part? He could still get better.

Terrifyingly enough for everyone else, he did get better:

I Split W L ERA GS CG SHO IP R BB SO WHIP SO/9 SO/BB
  1st Half 9 4 3.03 19 3 2 130.2 45 35 147 1.048 10.1 4.20
  2nd Half 12 1 1.31 14 2 0 102.2 21 19 101 0.886 8.9 5.32

A 101/19 K/BB? Who does that? In his second start after the break, he dominated the Giants again, then beat the Rockies and threw a complete game at the Padres, before having a rocky (for him) outing in Arizona on August 7, allowing four earned runs to collect his fifth loss of the season.

And then things got real. Just check out the ludicrous tear he went on after that Arizona game:

Rk Date Opp Rslt Inngs Dec IP H ER BB SO HR Pit GSc 2B
25 Aug 13 HOU W,6-1 GS-8 W(14-5) 8.0 6 1 1 9 0 112 74 2
26 Aug 18 MIL W,5-1 GS-8 W(15-5) 8.0 5 0 0 6 0 104 78 2
27 Aug 23 STL W,13-2 GS-6 W(16-5) 6.0 6 0 2 8 0 108 66 1
28 Aug 29 SDP W,4-1 CG W(17-5) 9.0 6 1 2 5 0 118 74 2
29 Sep 4 ATL L,3-4 GS-7   7.0 8 2 0 10 0 115 61 1
30 Sep 9 SFG W,2-1 GS-8 W(18-5) 8.0 3 0 1 9 0 111 82 0
31 Sep 14 ARI W,3-2 GS-6 W(19-5) 5.0 1 0 0 5 0 63 70 1
32 Sep 20 SFG W,2-1 GS-8 W(20-5) 7.1 6 1 2 6 1 115 66 1
33 Sep 25 SDP W,6-2 GS-8 W(21-5) 7.1 4 2 1 6 1 93 67 1
            233.1 174 59 54 248 15      

That’s an absolutely insane run, and in the only game he didn’t win there – September 4 against the Braves – all he did was strike out ten without allowing a walk, being victimized somewhat by an Aaron Miles throwing error. At the end of August, we were already beginning to fantasize about his Cy Young prospects, while Kershaw gained notoriety for getting tossed out of a game for plunking Arizona’s Gerardo Parra:

The truth is probably somewhere in between, with my opinion leaning towards “Kershaw probably meant to send a message, not hit him, and Parra just stood there,” but to be honest, I don’t really care too much. I’m sure Bill Plaschke is furiously fapping away his latest story about how Kershaw has earned respect – you know, because everyone thought he was a joke before for only contending for the Cy Young at 23 – but it really doesn’t matter. If there is one unquestionable bad guy, it’s home plate umpire Welke, who wildly overreacted by immediately tossing Kershaw on a questionable call. (Update: when I wrote the line about Plaschke, he had not published an article this morning, and I was mostly joking. But just a few minutes ago, up went his piece, calling out Kershaw’s “toughness” and “leadership”. Predictable Bill is predictable.)

Kershaw avoided a suspension and continued on his run. On September 20, we acknowledged that even though pitcher wins are stupid, watching him go for his 20th was still meaningful; on the 21st, we again looked at his Cy chances if he won the “Triple Crown”, and when he ended his season by beating the Padres on the 25th, we had nothing but praise:

Clayton Kershaw reached the halfway mark of his 23rd year about 2 weeks ago, and with today’s 6-2 victory over San Diego, he’s merely just finished off what is arguably the best non-Koufax season in the long history of the Brooklyn & Los Angeles Dodgers.

21-5, 2.28 ERA, which is the lowest ERA in all of baseball. 248 strikeouts, the most by any lefty Dodger pitcher other than Koufax in team history, the sixth-highest total overall, and enough for a 2011 National League K crown (assuming Cliff Lee doesn’t whiff 17 in his final start, a number he has never reached.) At 23, it’s the highest strikeout total for someone his age or younger since Dwight Gooden had 268 in 1985. And since June, he’s 14-2, propelling him to an almost certain “pitching Triple Crown”, as much as it makes me cringe to type that phrase.

We can argue about whether those numbers all matter (spoiler alert: they don’t) but those numbers, more than WAR, FIP, or ERA+, are the ones that are going to get engraved in the public memory when you think about  Kershaw’s outstanding 2011 season – in the same way people immediately can spout “23-8, 2.26″ when asked about Orel Hershiser’s 1988.

It remains to be seen if he wins the Cy Young Award – I’m leaning towards “he will” – but his progression to one of the most elite pitchers in baseball is undeniable. Or if you prefer it in graphical form, how about this collection of charts borrowed from a recent FanGraphs article?
 

Kershaw could have not improved at all from 2010, and still been one of the better pitchers around. Instead, he improved in nearly every area of the game, and it’s not hyperbole to say that there’s not a single pitcher in baseball I would trade him straight up for. And he’s still not even 24 yet, just now entering his first arbitration hearing. That’ll probably push his salary from ~$500k to ~$7m for 2012, which is still a bargain for the value he provides, but after Matt Kemp is (hopefully) locked up, getting Kershaw signed long-term has to be a top priority. Until that happens, we can at least count our blessings that we’re lucky enough to be present at the start of what could very well be a historic career.
 
Jon Garland (D-)
4.33 ERA, 4.65 FIP, 4.7 K/9, 3.3 BB/9

When the Dodgers signed Jon Garland to round out the fifth spot in the rotation, it seemed like a great idea at the time, though not without worry for the $8m 2012 vesting option:

In a vacuum, this is a great move to fill out the rotation. Garland is certainly nothing spectacular, but his durability (9 straight years of at least 32 starts) and reliable average performance  (FIP between 4.05 and 4.93 in each of those nine years) makes him one of the best #5 starters in the league. Seriously, #5 spots for most teams are average at best and dreadful at worst; there’s not too many clubs who can say that they can do better than Garland there.

“Durability.” “Reliability.” “Innings eater.” Those were the keywords you’d constantly hear tossed around regarding Garland, which made sense for a team that never found a #5 starter in 2010, and it made a whole lot of sense… for about three days:

Hey, today just keeps getting better and better! Jon Garland was just on Jim Bowden’s XM radio show. Bowden tweets:

Jon Garland just told us that teams wouldn’t offer him a multi-year deal because of MRI’s and Physicians opinions that he would break-down

I didn’t hear this live, so it’s possible something was lost in the translation, but it’s an eye-opener. On one hand, this seems highly unlikely, because Garland is known for his durability – and because what player would admit that?! On the other hand, it’s not like Ned Colletti’s never knowingly signed an injured pitcher before.

And for all the durability… Garland made it all the way to March 9 before straining his oblique and missing the rest of camp, starting the season on the disabled list. When he returned, he provided nine starts of varying quality before hitting the disabled list again, this time with shoulder inflammation that eventually required season-ending surgery in July.

So much for durability, right? On the other hand, Garland never came close to earning that $8m option for 2012, which is probably the best possible outcome. If he’s healthy after surgery, I’d take him back (at a far, far reduced one-year salary) to give him a shot as a back-end rotation type.

Nathan Eovaldi (A-)
3.63 ERA, 4.35 FIP, 6.0 K/9, 5.2 BB/9

I have to be honest: I gave Nathan Eovaldi just about no consideration for most of the season, and that’s why he gets a solid grade despite uneven performance. He literally didn’t enter my mind until his recall was imminent, and why should he have? He didn’t even rank on most top prospect lists entering the season, a reflection of the fact that he had a decent-but-not-great 2010, allowing 9.9 hits per nine and striking out just 6.6 per nine across three rookie-league and A-ball teams. That’s not to say he was a non-prospect, just not someone who demanded more interest than up-and-comers like Rubby De La Rosa, Zach Lee, and Allen Webster or highly-drafted disappointments Chris Withrow and Ethan Martin. The first time I even ever brought him up here was on July 14, and even that was just a brief mention as part of a look at who might be used to replace de la Rosa should he reach his innings limit.

But de la Rosa succumbed to injury before that was an issue, and with a solid season at AA Chattanooga under his belt, Eovaldi was indeed recalled to join the rotation in early August, forcing me to write a “let’s get to know Nathan Eovaldi” post for my own benefit as much as yours. Eovaldi’s first impression was generally a successful one, allowing two earned runs or fewer in his first four starts and in five of his six overall. However, while his contributions were certainly welcome, I had to voice some concerns after his fourth start:

That’s a pretty impressive start to a career, and the hope Eovaldi has provided has been well-timed in the aftermath of Rubby De La Rosa‘s elbow surgery. While that’s wonderful, there’s also some worry about how much of this is smoke-and-mirrors; after striking out seven in his debut in Arizona, he’s now struck out three, two, and one over his last three outings, totaling just six whiffs in 17 innings over the last three games. (Yes, the box score says he had two strikeouts tonight, but one was a foul bunt for strike three by Carpenter.) That’s a .232 BABIP, and that kind of success without missing bats is generally unsustainable. That’s not to take anything away from Eovaldi, of course, who should be thrilled with the way his season has gone; just a reminder to take the “OMG he has a 2.05 ERA” comments you’ll surely hear with the requisite grain of salt.

We began to see that course correction in his next start, when he allowed six hits and five runs over four innings to the Rockies, in the fact that he didn’t strike out a single batter in any of his four relief appearances to end the season after being removed from the rotation, and in the fact that his FIP is quite a bit higher than his ERA shows.

Still, as debuts go, Eovaldi’s was very good, hence the quality grade. He’s being talked up as a possible rotation option out of camp in 2012, but I’d consider that to be a worst-case scenario. Remember, teams never use only five starters, so that means you’re almost certainly going to need some starts from someone worse than your presumed fifth starter. I’d prefer Eovaldi be the guy stepping in to help out as needed, rather than someone you’re counting on from the start. It’s hardly the worst thing in the world for him to get more seasoning in the minors in preparation for a full-time gig later in the year or in 2013.

******

Next! Chad Billingsley continues to frustrate! Dana Eveland gets sent over from central casting to fill the role of ”Fungible Veteran Starter #X72!” And Rubby De La Rosa is so rudely taken away! It’s starting pitchers, part 2!

Dodgers Decline Options on Casey Blake & Jon Garland

This isn’t so much “news” as it is an “absolute inevitability, but the offseason doesn’t really start for another month, so we might as well note it anyway” piece of interest, but the Dodgers did make some roster moves today:

Today, the #Dodgers declined the 2012 club options on both Jon Garland and Casey Blake and also outrighted Eugenio Velez to Triple-A

That costs $1.25m to buy out Blake, and $500k for Garland. It may seem annoying to pay players $1.75m to go away, but remember that the alternatives were $6m for Blake and $8m for Garland, numbers which never made sense on any level. So this was a given.

I don’t expect either back, though it’s not completely out of the question. Ken Gurnick of Dodgers.com noted that Blake “could figure for a bench job if he heals from neck surgery”, while Garland is “ahead of schedule in his return from shoulder surgery”. On the other hand, ESPN/LA’s Tony Jackson said there is “no chance Dodgers try to re-sign” Garland. So there’s that.

As for Velez, it’s merely a procedural move. He’s out of options and would seem to be more likely to be outrighted to a Siberian labor camp than a professional baseball team, so don’t worry too hard about seeing him back next season.

2011 Midseason Grades: Pitching and Management

Thanks for all the feedback on yesterday’s hitting grades, and today we move on to pitching and management. Remember, the letter grades are just for fun, without a whole lot of thought or science behind them.

Starting Pitchers

Clayton Kershaw (A+) (9-4, 3.03 ERA, 2.45 FIP)
Is A+ even high enough? I’m not sure it is, though we certainly expected great things from him. Think about this: his HR/9 rate and H/9 rate are unchanged from last year, but he’s managed to do that while lowering his walk rate (again!) and increasing his strikeout rate. He’s leading the league in whiffs, and he has two shutouts among his three complete games. He’s 23. He’s lefty. He’s an All-Star.

Don’t let anyone tell you that he’s progressing towards being an ace, or one day he could be one of the best. Clayton Kershaw is, right now, one of the 10 best pitchers in baseball. The scary part? He could still get better.

Chad Billingsley (B) (8-7, 3.87 ERA, 3.41 FIP)
Over at Baseball Prospectus this morning, Geoff Young of DuckSnorts offers the opinion that Billingsley “should be a star, but isn’t”. And that’s true. 26-year-old Billingsley is walking more and striking out less than 23-year-old Billingsley did in 2008. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, because he’s still a very valuable asset and the extension he signed over the winter was welcomed, but he’s also not going to be a Kershaw-level star like we’d once hoped he would be. Again, that’s not to get on Billingsley, it’s just seemingly who he’s going to be – a durable #2 or 3 type who will be consistently inconsistent (3 starts this year of at least 8 IP and 1 ER or less, 3 starts allowing 5 ER or more). That’s not a star, but it is a quality pitcher we should be happy to have.

Hiroki Kuroda (B) (6-10, 3.06 ERA, 3.73 FIP)
Only five pitchers have received less run support than Kuroda (shockingly, no other Dodger appears on the top 40 of that list), so let’s not pretend the poor win/loss record means absolutely anything at all. Conversely, the ERA is a little misleading as well, since he’s striking out fewer and walking more than he did in either 2009 or 2010, facts which are reflected in the higher FIP. Still, he’s been a solid member of this rotation… and probably the only Dodger with any real trade value at the deadline. I’ll be sorry to see him go, if he does.

Ted Lilly (D) (6-9, 4.79 ERA, 4.59 FIP)
Lilly hasn’t been awful (back, back, it’s gone!), but nor has he been (throw to second, and the runner is in!) in any way worthy of the $33m deal he received in the offseason. He’s (that ball is far, it is out of here!) striking out fewer than ever, and more (he’s going, and he swipes second without a throw) batted balls in front of a defense that isn’t great at converting them into outs isn’t (that ball is crushed into the second tier!) a good mix. Oh, and he’s 35 and has complained (Navarro’s throw to second, not in time, another steal!) of arm soreness already. Loving that three-year deal more than ever.

Rubby De La Rosa (A) (3-4, 3.74 ERA, 3.40 FIP)
Probably the most impressive of any of the rookies pushed ahead of their schedule this year, de la Rosa has shown immense talent while being forced to learn on-the-job. While his first few starts were dicey – good lord, the walks, and that one game that he nearly got bounced in the first inning was a heart-stopper – RDLR has shown marked improvement, even flirting with no-hitters in each of his last two outings. The talent is unquestioned, but the real concern now is limited his innings, since he’s quickly coming up on matching his previous high with more than two months remaining in the season. But if he’s limited and if someone like Kuroda is dealt… how do you finish out the season? John Ely? Dana Eveland? Yikes.

Jon Garland (D-) (1-5, 4.33 ERA, 4.59 FIP)
Hey, remember when Garland was signed largely because he’d never been on the disabled list before? If you do, then you probably also remember him saying he couldn’t get multi-year deals because other teams didn’t like the looks of his medical reports. Garland gets a lousy grade not because of his performance (ignore the 1-5, a 4.59 FIP is in line with his usual season), but because he sells his durability as a skill. Clearly, that’s one item he forgot to pack for his second (and likely final) tour with the Dodgers. At least that large 2012 option won’t kick in.

John Ely (inc.) (0-1, 6.23 ERA, 5.61 FIP)
Remember Ely-mania last year? Seems so far away, doesn’t it?

Relief pitchers

Jonathan Broxton (MRI) (1-2, 7 saves, 5.68 ERA, 5.56 FIP)
I have absolutely no idea how to grade Jonathan Broxton. Was he good this year? No, of course he wasn’t, and for many people that justifies their opinion that at around midseason 2010, he somehow lost his heart / mind / balls / toes / earlobes / whatever. The fact that he somehow managed to even close out seven games earlier this year is somewhat misleading, because he rarely did so smoothly; conversely, it’s difficult to blame him entirely for the big blown save in Florida because the Dodgers would have won if Jamey Carroll had merely fielded a simple ground ball.

I’d say the answer lies in the fact that he’s been on the disabled list for over two months due to a right elbow injury, with no estimated return date. We never saw the healthy Broxton this year, just as I felt we never saw a healthy Broxton in the second half of last year. The lesson, as always? Joe Torre cannot be trusted with relievers. You hate to say it about a guy who is only 27, but Torre may just have ruined Broxton’s career. Thanks for stopping by, Joe!

Hong-Chih Kuo (-) (0-0, 8.71 ERA, 4.12 FIP)
Take everything I said about Broxton above and multiply it by 100 for Kuo, because the anxiety issue he’s been fighting for years makes it impossible to really judge his on-field performance. Since returning, he’s at least managed to limit the walks (6/2 K/BB in 5.2 IP), though the results (five runs, four earned) haven’t all been there yet. The fact that he even returned as quickly as he did should count as a win.

Kenley Jansen (B+) (1-1, 4.40 ERA, 3.15 FIP)
I bet a lot of people will be surprised by this grade for Jansen. “But his ERA is 4.40, rabble rabble rabble!”, they’ll yell. That’s true, it is. That number is also heavily inflated by two poor outings – allowing 5 earned runs to Atlanta on April 19 in a game that the Dodgers were already losing in, and allowing 3 earned runs on May 23 in Houston, a game which preceded his stint on the DL with right shoulder inflammation by less than a week. Since returning from injury on June 18, he’s been nearly untouchable, striking out 13 while allowing just two singles in 9.2 innings. While the walks remain a problem, he’s actually striking out more per nine than he did in 2010, and you might remember that even last year’s rate was on the verge of being historic. The question for me is, why is he stuck in middle relief and garbage time rather than in higher leverage situations?

Matt Guerrier (C-) (3-3, 3.10 ERA, 4.44 FIP)
Boy, who would have thought that handing out an expensive multi-year deal to a non-elite middle reliever wouldn’t have worked out well? Besides everyone, that is. Guerrier actually hasn’t been that bad, but that’s sort of the point: players who get $12m over three years should be able to do better than “hasn’t been that bad”. Though he’s striking out slightly more than he did as a Twin, he’s allowing both more walks and hits than he did in either of the last two years, despite moving to the easier league. He’ll be 33 in less than a month. It’s not a good trend.

Mike MacDougal (C+) (0-1, 1.67 ERA, 3.74 FIP)
2003 All-Star MacDougal has done an excellent job of reviving his career after several years bouncing between the bigs and AAA. MacDougal, who made the 2003 All-Star team as a member of the Royals, has just a 1.74 ERA, emerging as a leader of the injury-plagued Dodger bullpen. The former All-Star has allowed only six earned runs to score, putting him in contention for 9th inning responsibilities. All-Star.

(I can’t do it. MacDougal has allowed approximately 982 of the 48 inherited runners he’s received* to score. For nearly the entire season, he’d walked as many as he’d struck out, before finally giving himself some distance in recent days. He’s not a good pitcher, but like Aaron Miles, we expected nothing, so the small contributions he’s made get him some minor credit. *note: numbers may be fabricated.)

Number of Ortizii: 0 (A++++)
Say what you will about this club, at least they’re not employing anyone named Ortiz who was last useful 6-8 years ago, much less multiple players like that.

Javy Guerra (B+) (1-0, 4 saves, 2.33 ERA, 4.01 FIP)
Guerra, like MacDougal all those years ago, is a perfect example of why we shouldn’t overrate saves. For a guy who walked 6.8/9 in the minors last year and was forced to the bigs simply because of injuries, he’s been fine. He’s keeping the ball in the yard, he’s cut down on the control issues, and he’s even managed to steal a few saves while serving as the last-ditch closer. As far as debuts go, his has been a successful one. Let’s just not go overboard in anointing him as the man in the 9th inning, because he hasn’t been that good – 13 K in 19.1 IP doesn’t thrill me – and in each of his last two saves, he loaded the bases before getting out of the jam. That’s not the kind of tightrope you can walk for very long.

Blake Hawksworth (B) (2-2, 3.00 WHIP, 4.12 FIP)
“Isn’t Ryan Theriot“, and that alone gets him a boost. Actually, I joke, but it’s sort of true: when healthy, Hawksworth has been a perfectly acceptable and average reliever, doing a decent job of keeping runners off the bases (WHIP of 1.000), and striking out more than double as he’s walked. Considering that Theriot is doing his usual “I’m not a very good baseball player, but I am short and white, and that counts for something, right?” routine in St. Louis, even just getting that moderate level of contribution in exchange is a big win.

Scott Elbert (B-) (0-1, 5.25 ERA, 2.54 FIP)
I know there’s been a lot of turnover in the bullpen this year, but Elbert is one of those guys where I constantly have to check if he’s still on the team or down in ABQ. I suppose that’s partically because he’s pitched just twice in the last two weeks, and partially because he’s rarely in for more than 2-3 batters at a time. As for his performance, he’s a bit of an oddity in that you’d expect a power lefty to be hell on lefty hitters, but he’s actually rocking a reverse split: lefties (.701 OPS) are actually doing more damage than righties (.561 OPS) against him. Overall, I guess you can say he’s been “acceptable”, in that he’s finally gained a foothold in the majors, but hasn’t exactly made us think he’s going to be a difference maker.

Then again, considering his mysterious disappearance at this time last year, even that is a massive step forward.

Ramon Troncoso (D) (0-0, 6.23 ERA, 4.92 FIP)
I know it’s popular to blame Torre for Troncoso’s downturn as well, and maybe that’s part of it, but I do remember writing a post last year that outlined how he had larger issues than overuse. Whatever it is, he’s barely a major league quality pitcher right now… which probably explains why he’s not in the major leagues. That’s what’ll happen when you aren’t striking anyone out and giving up an absurd amount of hits, though I’ll allow that since he was never a strikeout guy, pitching in front of a defense that does no favors probably doesn’t help.

Ronald Belisario (MIA)
Ha, no. There’s about as good of a chance that he pitches for the Dodgers again as there is that you’ll see Orel Hershiser or Don Drysdale out there.

Josh Lindblom (B+) (0-0, 1.69 ERA, 3.43 FIP)
Nearly two years after we first thought we might see him, Lindblom finally got the call this year, and so far, so good. It’s hard to make judgements based on just eight games, but he’s yet to allow more than one earned run in an appearance, and for now, that’s good enough.

Lance Cormier (dFa) (0-1, 9.88 ERA, 6.84 FIP)
I’m still convinced the only reason Cormier wasn’t DFA’d a week or two earlier than he eventually was (on May 24, when Rubby De La Rosa came up) is because he had a charity event for tornado victims set up at the stadium on May 15, and it would have been poor form to cut a guy just before or after that. I also like that we can say “nah, he wasn’t as bad as his ERA, look at his FIP” and while that’s true, even his FIP says he was awful.

Vicente Padilla (inc.) (0-0, 4.15 ERA, 2.61 FIP)
I sure do feel like we’ve talked about Padilla a lot this year for a guy who piched just 8.2 innings. First he was signed to a somewhat confusing 6th starter/longman/Broxton insurance role, in a move for depth I actually really liked. Then he required surgery for a forearm injury in the spring, preventing him from taking Garland’s rotation spot to start the year. He returned exceptionally quickly from that, taking over for the injured Broxton to nab three saves of varying quality in late April and early May, leading many to proclaim him the next big thing… until he returned to the DL with a recurrence of the arm injury. But the fun doesn’t stop there, because he was supposedly hours away from being activated in June before a neck injury flared up, leading to more surgery and probably the end of his season. Got all that? Phew.

Management

Don Mattingly (B+)
It may sound odd to praise a rookie manager when we weren’t fans of his hiring in the first place and when the club he’s leading is on pace for its worst finish in decades, but I don’t see how you pin much of this mess on Mattingly. He’s proven himself to be far more than a Joe Torre clone, in particular showing a nice willingness to be creative with his bullpen. It hasn’t been perfect, as some of his Navarro-related pinch-hitting escapades still burn, and he likes bunting more than I’d prefer, but he was handed a subpar roster that had its infield and bullpen totally destroyed by injuries, all as fans stayed away thanks to the off-field mess. It would be an impossible situation for any manager, and though the final record won’t be good, Mattingly has been a pleasant surprise, managing to keep the team playing hard through it all. Let’s just hope he doesn’t end up shouldering more of the blame than is needed when all is said and done.

Davey Mutha-F’ing-Lopes (A+^100)
I don’t usually grade the base coaches. Matt Kemp doesn’t usually lead the league in WAR. There you go.

Ned Colletti (F+)
Let’s quickly review all of the contracts handed out last winter by Colletti that were for at least $1m, shall we? Uribe, massive bust. Lilly, missing fewer bats than ever. Guerrier, adequate but overpaid and having one of the lesser years of his career. Garland and Padilla, both injured multiple times and likely out for the year. Barajas, crappier than usual and hurt. Thames, ineffective and injured. Navarro, hitting .183. To be fair, Kuroda has been very good, but it’s hard to say that without caveating that he clearly took a huge paycut to stay in LA.

There’s been a few positives – signing Billingsley was great, the no-risk NRI of Miles worked out, and trading Ryan Theriot for Hawksworth was a good move if you try to forget that it was necessitated by acquiring Theriot in the first place – and you want to be sensitive to the fact that the ownership mess has really put him in a bad position. But overall? Not good, Ned. Not good.

******

Tomorrow, the final review of the series: me.

Thoughts From the Road

Thoughts, both baseball and otherwise, while sitting in the backseat of an SUV on a five hour ride across Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois…

So long, Dee Gordon. The Dodgers haven’t made it official yet, but we all know that Gordon is getting sent down later today to make room for Rafael Furcal, and that’s fine by me. Gordon has been basically exactly what we figured he’d be – overmatched offensively, inconsistent defensively, and occasionally completely breathtaking on both sides of the ball. For a player who was never supposed to be up this early, he showed the talent was real, even if he has much to work on. I look at his first taste as a success, and hopefully he can take that back to the minors with a better idea of what it takes to be a big league ballplayer.

As for Furcal, he’s back sooner than I thought he would be, and that’s a great thing because it gives him nearly a month before the trading deadline. I know, I know: he’s so fragile that it’s hard to think another team could count on him. Still, the shortstop market is so thin that whatever team is unwilling or unable to win the Jose Reyes sweepstakes could show some interest if he’s able to produce over the next few weeks. Possible teams? Reds, Giants, Brewers, Rays, Yankees?

There are some unfortunate billboards in this part of the country. In addition to the usual and expected signs from megachurches warning me of my impending arrival in hell, there’s apparently a chain of RV stores owned by a “Tom Raper”.  His phone number, no joke, is 1-800-RAPER. Seriously. I’m trying to imagine his low-budget local tv commercials. The possibilities are endless.

Jon Garland is probably out for the year, and Ted Lilly has a sore elbow. Both items via Tony Jackson; while it’s no surprise about Garland, it does serve to remind us about his offseason comment that other teams were scared off by his medical reports. At least his $8m (I think) 2012 option is out the window, though. As for Lilly, that would surely help to explain how bad he’s been lately, though doesn’t make me feel any better about the three year deal he got. If there’s a concern here, it’s that any further rotation injuries could make it harder to limit the innings of Rubby de la Rosa, which is a conversation we’re going to need to have at some point.

Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw are All Stars. Congrats to both. Both are well deserved, and I don’t see much of a case that any other Dodgers were snubbed.

The Injury Merry-go-round Keeps On Spinning

Per the official Dodgers Twitter feed, Rafael Furcal and Jon Garland have each been placed on the disabled list, as the team will go with a 23-man roster going forward. I suppose that’s only half true – Ivan DeJesus and John Ely are headed to join the team for the third and second time this season, respectively – but based on how little we saw DeJesus in his previous stints, there’s little reason to believe he’ll get any more of a shot now, particularly with Juan Uribe expected to return in the next 24-48 hours. Actually, I’m not even sure why DeJesus is bothering to get on the plane; when Uribe is activated, is there really any chance they’re not just going to send him right back down so they can keep Juan Castro?

As for Ely, he’s had a very bizarre season in Albuquerque. He dazzled Reno, one of the top hitting clubs in the PCL, with a three-hit shutout on May 22. But in his two starts since, he’s been crushed, allowing 11 baserunners in three innings to New Orleans on May 29, and then nine hits (including two homers) to Memphis on Wednesday. What makes all that so weird is that for all we’ve heard about the high-offense environment of Albuquerque, the Reno shutout was at home, while the last two disasters have been on the road. While there’s some argument to be made that he should get Garland’s start in order to protect Rubby De La Rosa, the team has made it pretty clear that de la Rosa will get the ball, and Ely’s poor last two times out makes it hard to dispute that. That said, he’ll probably be used in tandem, as de la Rosa’s unlikely to go deep into that game.

We’re still awaiting an official report on Furcal, but all indications are that he’s pulled his oblique muscle, an injury that can take weeks to heal even in the best of conditions. Furcal’s hardly wowed us with his durability, so I wouldn’t expect to see him until at least mid-July. That doesn’t leave a whole lot of time for him to get healthy and productive to impress any potential suitors before the deadline, which, as you can tell, is my main priority right now. I sure hope Hiroki Kuroda enjoys pinstripes, though.