2012 Dodgers in Review #46: RP Josh Lindblom

(w/ LA) 3.02 ERA 5.07 FIP 47.2 IP 8.12 K/9 3.40 BB/9 -0.7 fWAR C

2012 in brief: Lindblom was seemingly one of the more effective Dodger relievers in the early going, but had trouble containing longball problems before being dealt to Philadelphia (and performing poorly there) in the Shane Victorino trade.

2013 status: Moves on to his third team in less than six months after being traded to Texas for Michael Young.

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See that huge difference between ERA & FIP for Josh Lindblom above? That’s a fantastic example of why ERA for relievers just doesn’t work, and it’s also a pretty good indicator of just how big the gap was between Lindblom’s perceived performance and his actual contribution.

We spent most of the spring expecting that the addition of veterans like Todd Coffey & Jamey Wright to an already-crowded bullpen would push Lindblom to the minors, despite the fact that Lindblom’s quality 2011 debut proved that he was ready for a job. Lindblom lucked his way into a spot when Blake Hawksworth & Ted Lilly each had to start the season on the disabled list, though with Lilly’s stay expected to be short, that just turned into a daily game of “when will the guillotine finally come down on Lindblom?”

Surprisingly, it never did. When Lilly returned, it was Coffey landing on the disabled list to make room; when Ronald Belisario was activated, it was Mike MacDougal who was DFA’d only a month into his contract. While that was obviously the right choice, I was still pretty surprised at the time that Ned Colletti would really whack a veteran like that rather than ship out a young pitcher with options:

I have to admit, even though this was clearly the right move – you just can’t send down Josh Lindblom after how good he’s been this year, and MacDougal has shown no ability to get anyone out – I’m still pretty surprised that this actually happened. MacDougal was signed to a guaranteed deal over the winter, and in a bullpen with one NRI (Jamey Wright) and a few guys with options remaining, the fact that the Dodgers chose to eat MacDougal’s deal rather than ship off Lindblom or gin up a phantom DL stint is encouraging. Hey, maybe Stan Kasten’s new fan email box is paying off already!

Lindblom continued performing well through the end of May, joining with Kenley Jansen, Javy Guerra, &  Belisario to form one of the better youngish relief quartets in the game. As the calendar flipped to June, Lindblom had pitched 25.1 innings, striking out 24 against 9 walks, with a 2.13 ERA that would have looked even better if not for one awful outing in Colorado on May 1 when he allowed three earned runs in 0.2 of a terrible inning. But hey, it’s Colorado. Those things happen.

On June 1, the Dodgers were again in Colorado, and Lindblom again struggled, allowing two solo homers. He followed that with seven consecutive scoreless outings, so no one was that worried, and after a scoreless inning against the White Sox on June 15, his ERA was down to 2.12. Unfortunately for Lindblom, it was downhill from there. On June 21 in Oakland, he allowed three runs without getting an out. Three days later against the Angels, he allowed two more runs in just two-thirds of an inning. In his final outing before the break, he allowed another homer in Arizona, and our concerns about his longball problems at the time were summed up in our midseason review:

Josh Lindblom (B)

You probably don’t remember this now, but Lindblom came pretty close to not making the team out of camp, avoiding being sent to the minors mainly because Ted Lilly ended up on the disabled list. As the season went on, Lindblom became a primary set-up man and has cemented his place on the team… yet has had a disturbingly high home run rate, contributing to a FIP over 5. He gets a B because he’s stuck around all season and been decent doing so, I’m just not sure how to reconcile this longball issue.

In Lindblom’s first outing after the break: boom, another homer to Chase Headley, just one of four hits he allowed to San Diego in two-thirds of an inning. Five days later against the Mets, he allowed three of four hitters to reach. Lindblom finished the month with five straight scoreless outings, but as the Dodgers grew increasingly desperate for left field help, he was dealt to Philadelphia on July 31 for Victorino.

Much as we disliked Victorino, I didn’t mind the thought of trading Lindblom:

Victorino didn’t come for free, and both Josh Lindblom and Ethan Martin will be missed – though not quite as much as you’d think. I like Lindblom well enough, but he’s an eminently replaceable non-elite middle reliever with home run problems. Martin is someone a lot of people think of as having a bounceback season in his second try at Double-A, and while I’m still a fan of his, it’s more than a little concerning that his big year is one in which he’s walking “only” 4.7 per nine. I’m not happy to see him go, but he’s the kind of guy the Dodgers have several of.

Dave Cameron over at FanGraphs agrees on Lindblom, even if I know you won’t:

Lindblom is an extreme fly ball pitcher, as only 69 of his 141 career balls in play (34.3%) have been hit on the ground. Not surprisingly, that has translated into a bit of a home run problem, as he’s given up 1.05 HR/9, a bit above the league average for NL relievers. But, HR-prone fly ball guys can still be good relievers as long as they pound the strike zone and miss a lot of bats.

Unfortunately for the Phillies, Lindblom has been essentially average at those two things as well. His 9.0% BB%/22.7% K% are just barely ahead of the average marks for an NL reliever (9.2 BB%/21.7% K%), and are supported by the underlying numbers as well — he throws an average number of strikes and gets an average amount of contact.

Toss in the significant career platoon split (.244 wOBA allowed to RHBs, .360 wOBA to LHBs), and Lindblom essentially profiles as a decent situational middle reliever. This is basically the same skillset the Dodgers got in Brandon League, so their bullpen won’t take much of a hit at all in this series of moves.

Lindblom went to Philadelphia and upped his strikeout rate, striking out 27 in 23.1 innings, but his control fell apart (17 walks in that span) and he allowed four more homers; of the 205 pitchers who threw at least 70 innings this year, only seven had a higher dinger rate than Lindblom’s 1.65/9. He’ll only be 26 next summer, and I still like his talent, but it’s hard to shed too many tears over losing a non-elite reliever from a position of depth; it’s just too bad that Victorino didn’t end up being worth the risk.

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Next up! Tough year, Javy Guerra!

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.

MSTI’s 2011 in Review: Relievers, Part 3

Mike MacDougal (B+)
2.05 ERA, 3.96 FIP, 6.5 K/9, 4.6 BB/9

Sentences I never thought I’d write: “Along with Matt Guerrier, Mike MacDougal was one of only two Dodger relievers to spend the entire 2011 season on the active roster.” Think about that for a second.

Like with Aaron Miles, when MacDougal was given a non-roster invite in January it hardly warranted much attention, since he hadn’t been a useful pitcher for years and he didn’t figure to make much of an impact with the big club. Yet thanks to a solid spring and a bullpen that was far more unsettled at the end of camp than the start of it, MacDougal broke camp with the club and stuck around all season. When it became clear that he might be coming north in March because people were putting far too much importance on five scoreless spring innings (to that point), I looked at what was realistic to expect from him:

Remember, this is a guy who over the last four seasons has pitched in 144 major league games, and has a K/BB rate of 99/95, while allowing more than a hit per inning, and his minor league numbers haven’t been much better. I’m not immune to the idea that guys can get healthy or fix a mechanical issue that brings improved results, but rarely does that happen at 34, and in this case, the nice ERA isn’t really justified.

“The nice ERA isn’t really justified” was a recurring theme throughout the season, as “MacDougal allows inherited runners to score without affecting his own ERA” became something of a running joke, as you can see by the large gap between his ERA and his FIP. Just as an example, here’s part of a recap of a randomly selected game from June, though know that this could (and did) apply to a whole lot of MacDougal appearances:

I’d like to take this opportunity to once again point out how silly ERA can be. Kershaw left the bases loaded, and while starting that mess is definitely on him, once he left the game he had absolutely no control over whether those runners score. If Elbert wiggles out of that mess, Kershaw allows three total earned runs, which doesn’t look so bad. Elbert (and MacDougal) couldn’t, and so Kershaw’s line looks like a disaster. MacDougal, by the way, faced three batters without retiring a single one. He wasn’t charged with any earned runs. Remember that when someone looks at MacDougal’s 2.14 ERA and tries to tell you he’s any good. Hooray, ERA!

Now again, like Miles, MacDougal gets a lot of credit for being a zero-risk scrap-heap pickup who made some contributions this year, even briefly being elevated to the role of main setup man in front of Javy Guerra when injuries took down Kenley Jansen and Blake Hawksworth. When a team brings in the usual collection of has-beens and never-weres over the winter, this is exactly the sort of “good enough, but not great” performance you’re hoping for. So good on MacDougal for that, because a 3.96 FIP for a minimum salary is eminently usable.

That doesn’t change the fact that he was clearly overrated by many because of that shiny, clearly faulty ERA, of course. He barely struck out more than he walked over the season, and he was constantly hurting other pitchers by letting their inherited runners to score. Never was this demonstrated more clearly than in one of Don Mattingly’s worst managerial decisions, bringing MacDougal into a 1-1 game in Milwaukee on August 16:

With the game tied at one in the bottom of the ninth, Hong-Chih Kuo started the frame off by walking Prince Fielder on six pitches. Kuo didn’t look good doing it, and with righties Casey McGehee and Yuniesky Betancourt following, Don Mattingly strode to the mound and called to the bullpen for his righty, which was absolutely the correct move.

Unfortunately, coming in wasn’t Javy Guerra, who hadn’t pitched since Friday and has allowed just one earned run in the last two months. It was Mike MacDougal, who threw 2/3 of an inning last night and is, you know, Mike MacDougal. I’ve defended Mattingly a lot this season, but much of this loss lies on him, as he fell victim to the same mistake that managers have been making for decades, which is saving their closer for a lead in a tie game on the road.

Or as I put it on Twitter at the time,

Whenever you can bring Mike MacDougal in to a tied game with a man on in the bottom of the 9th, you have to do it.

I bet I don’t have to tell you how that ended, right? MacDougal is a free agent, but I think we all believe the Dodgers will show interest in retaining him. Let’s hope that’s for less than $1m, or even better, another non-guaranteed deal.

Ramon Troncoso (D-)
6.75 ERA, 5.19 FIP, 5.6 K/9, 1.6 BB/9

Geez, does anyone still remember 2009, when Troncoso was one of the more reliable non-elite relievers in the NL? That seems so long ago now. It’s easy to look back at 2010, when he pitched in 16 of the first 24 games, and conclude that Joe Torre ruined him like he did so many others, but that was a theory we investigated and largely discarded last season.

2011, Troncoso’s fourth season with the Dodgers, saw him have three different tours of duty with the big club, though his season numbers were ruined when he allowed 12 hits to just 17 batters in his first two appearances in April. He wasn’t seen again for a month, in which he had eight relatively good outings in May and June sandwiched around two disasters, and then spent all of July and August in the minors before returning in September to contribute five good outings and one nightmare.

As you can tell, Troncoso in 2011 was either hit or big, big miss. He’s under team control in 2012, but is out of options, meaning that he must break camp with the team (or be on the DL) or otherwise exposed to waivers before being sent down. It’s not altogether unlikely that we’ve seen the last of him as a Dodger.

Josh Lindblom (A-)
2.73 ERA, 2.35 FIP, 8.5 K/9, 3.0 BB/9

Was it really over two years ago that Lindblom was a fast riser, nearly breaking camp with the club in 2009 after just nine MiLB games in 2008? Apparently it was. Lindblom went back to ABQ and was successful in a relief role, but then was sent back to AA Chattanooga in an attempt to convert him to starting. The results were mixed for the remainder of 2009, and then 2010 was an absolute disaster, putting up a 6.54 ERA and allowing 13.5 hits per nine, and granted that’s in ABQ, but still not good. The Dodgers finally gave up the ghost on “Josh Lindblom, Starter”, and allowed him to return to the bullpen in June, where he was solid to end 2010 back in AA and excellent in 34 games for the Lookouts to start this season – earning himself a recall on May 29 when Kenley Jansen made a trip to the disabled list with shoulder inflammation.

Overall, the results were good. Lindblom got into 27 games across multiple stints with the team (generally going up and down as Jansen was available and not), and allowed more than one earned run just one time, which is solid. I remember saying to myself, about halfway through his tenure, that I liked him but that he didn’t miss enough bats, because over his first 13 games, he’d struck out just 9 in 16 innings. Over his final 14 outings, he whiffed 19 in 13.2, puncuated by striking out five of the six Diamondbacks he faced after replacing Clayton Kershaw following the ace’s ejection on September 14.

Looking ahead to 2012, Lindblom probably doesn’t have a job completely sown up out of camp, but with his 2011 performance and minimum cost salary, there’s no reason to think we won’t be seeing quite a bit of him.

******

Next! Kenley Jansen is unhittable! Hong-Chih Kuo falls apart! And oh good lord, I have to write something about Lance Cormier? It’s the final installment of relievers – part 4!

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.

Clayton Kershaw’s Best Start Ever Leads Group Effort


Earlier this afternoon, I attended the Phillies/Mets game at CitiField, where Philadelphia starter Vance Worley lasted just three innings, allowing twelve hits and eight runs (five earned) in that time. In person, it was even worse than that; even the outs he was getting were hit hard. Who knew that it wouldn’t be close to being the worst starting pitching performance I’d see today?

The Dodgers saw to that by finally breaking out of their long offensive slump and pounding Florida starter Ricky Nolasco for fifteen hits and eight runs in five innings of work. The fifteen hits were the most by the Dodgers against any starting pitcher since 1982, and are the most allowed by a starting pitcher in Marlins history. Overall, they collected seventeen hits, their most since doing the same last May against Arizona.

In my mind, far more impressive than the group output – though that was badly, badly needed – is the fact that much of it came from names we haven’t seen contribute much this year. Rafael Furcal, Andre Ethier, and Jay Gibbons all had three hits, with Furcal starting off the scoring by hitting his first homer of the year in the bottom of the third. The value of Furcal at the top of this lineup can’t be understated – I don’t have the exact numbers in front of me, but the team scores approximately 47 more runs per game with him in than without him since he’s arrived – and his day is all the more welcome considering what a slow start he’d been off to since returning from injury. Gibbons, who had contributed barely anything all year, finally made some sort of case with his roster spot with his three hits, though he did misplay a flyout to left into a double on Clayton Kershaw‘s ledger. The breakout from Ethier counts as a new contribution as well, since he was hitting just .228/.315/.316 in May coming into today’s game. With Matt Kemp getting ejected (along with Don Mattingly) for arguing balls and strikes in the 4th inning and early-season star Jamey Carroll‘s last hit now a week in his rear-view mirror, the offense from some unexpected sources was absolutely vital.

But it didn’t stop there. Casey Blake had two hits, Dioner Navarro had two… and so did Kershaw, whose pitching performance absolutely should not get lost in the offensive outburst, though it probably will. It figures that on a day where the Dodgers finally break out the bats, they almost didn’t need to, because Kershaw was dominant. The line says he allowed two hits and issued a walk, which combined with ten strikeouts over nine shutout innings is fantastic enough, but even that’s not enough praise; Logan Morrison‘s double should have been a simple out, but dropped thanks to swirling winds in left field that Gibbons couldn’t handle.

Of Kershaw’s eight innings, he set down the Marlins 1-2-3 in five of them. Not once did the Marlins bring more than four men to the plate in an inning, and the only inning they even put more than one batter on base – the 7th – it was hardly Kershaw’s fault, as that was when Gibbons and Furcal each misplayed balls caught in the wind to left field.

This was Kershaw’s second career shutout, and as far as Game Score goes, it was his most dominating performance yet. His score for today was 92, and as you can see from his list heading into today, that puts this squarely at the top. It’s also the second time this season that Kershaw has rewritten his “top five greatest hits” list:

Rk Date Opp Rslt App,Dec IP H ER BB SO HR Pit GSc 2B 3B
1 2010-05-09 COL W 2-0 GS-8 ,W 8.0 2 0 3 9 0 117 84 0 0
2 2010-09-14 SFG W 1-0 SHO9 ,W 9.0 4 0 0 4 0 111 83 1 0
3 2009-04-15 SFG W 5-4 GS-7 7.0 1 1 1 13 1 105 83 0 0
4 2009-08-08 ATL L 1-2 GS-7 7.0 2 0 1 10 0 103 82 1 0
5 2011-05-13 ARI W 4-3 GS-7 ,W 7.0 3 0 2 11 0 106 80 2 0
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 5/29/2011.

Earlier today, Kershaw was tied for fifth on the baseball-reference pitcher NL WAR scoreboard with Jair Jurrjens and Ian Kennedy, just behind the injured Josh Johnson. This game ought to be enough to push him at least into third and possibly into second when b-r refreshes their standings overnight. With Kemp tied for the lead with Ryan Braun and Joey Votto on the batting side, that gives the Dodgers one of the most valuable duos in baseball leading their club.

All season long, we’ve worried that their production would be wasted by a supporting cast that just wasn’t up to the job. For one day, at least, this was a team-wide effort, and a great way to spend a holiday weekend.

******

The big news of the day, of course, was that Josh Lindblom was finally called up to the big club, with Kenley Jansen placed on the DL with shoulder inflammation. I say “finally”, because Lindblom was seemingly on the verge of making his debut as far back as spring of 2009. He just missed the cut, and when the club tried to turn him into a starter in the minors, it backfired terribly, leading to last year’s troubling AAA campaign where he allowed 13.5 hits per nine and ended with a 6.54 ERA in 40 games (10 starts). Back in AA this year and strictly as a reliever, he’s been striking out 12.2/9 and cutting down on the hits. Though it’s nice to see Lindblom finally make it, this is another blow to the bullpen, as Jansen had put together ten scoreless consecutive outings (and an 18/5 K/BB) before being touched in each of his last two.

It seems clear that the Dodgers are massively unimpressed by both the talent and environment in Albuquerque, at least when it comes to pitching prospects. Lindblom is now the third consecutive call-up to come from Chattanooga, following Javy Guerra and Rubby De La Rosa, and that’s where Jansen was sent when he was briefly demoted earlier this year as well.

Initially I was mildly bothered that Schlichting was DFA’d, since he’d shown flashes in his brief times up, but after checking the 40-man roster, it’s really a move that was unavoidable. Since the Dodgers have six players on the 15-man DL, and no obvious candidates to be moved to the 60-day DL, the 40-man roster is in a tight squeeze. Schlichting had been brutal in AAA this year anyway, walking more than he’d struck out with a high HR/9 rate. It’s probably likely that he doesn’t get claimed on waivers regardless, and it’s the right choice.