MSTI’s 2011 in Review: Second Base

Second base: where we discuss Aaron Miles and three guys who aren’t Aaron Miles. Good lord. You might want to get a stiff drink for this one.

We’re looking at four players today, and none of them are the guy originally signed to be the second baseman, Juan Uribe, or the guy most likely to have seen time there, Jamey Carroll, who we’ll talk about with the shortstops. Yeah, it was a hell of a season. On the other hand, the four second basemen we discussed last year at this time? Ryan Theriot, Blake DeWitt, Ronnie Belliard, and Nick Green. Yikes. Come back, Jeff Kent!

On the whole, Dodger second basemen – all seven of them – combined to finish 28th in MLB in OPS at .627, ahead of only the White Sox and Twins. Bleecccch.

Aaron Miles (B+)
.275/.314/.346 .660 3hr 0.1 WAR

So right off the bat we have one of the toughest grades of the year, Aaron Miles. On one hand, we expected absolutely nothing of him. Less than nothing, really, because when he was signed as a non-roster invite, I broke my own rule of never making a big deal over zero-cost NRIs, since every team signs dozens and few ever see the light of day:

I am constantly trying to reassure people that minor league contracts are never as big of a deal as they seem, and the inherent lack of risk makes them almost a no-lose proposition.

In this case, I’m not so sure, because Miles is atrociously bad. No, really; among players who have had as many plate appearances as Miles had since he debuted in 2003, only three players in baseball have been less valuable. It’s a special kind of “not valuable”, though. If you’re simply awful, you don’t get to stick around for that long. Miles has really hit the sweet spot of being bad enough to hurt his teams for years, yet not so bad that he gets outright drummed out of the game. It must be his A+ levels of “grit” and “scrap”.

So in the sense of, “was Aaron Miles one of the worst players to ever step on a baseball field,” as we expected, no: he was not. As Casey Blake, Rafael Furcal, and Uribe fell to injury, and as Ivan DeJesus either failed to pan out or wasn’t given a chance (depending on your perspective) Miles filled in ably enough at second and third, and was actually very, very good in June, leading the National League in batting average for the month. For a guy who was an afterthought at best and a joke at worst, he ended up being a useful enough cog for just about zero cost, and that alone creates value. I know the 0.1 WAR doesn’t seem like much, but when you consider that the options behind him might not have even been able to achieve that, it’s helpful. Sometimes, just showing up is half the battle, and so it’s here where we applaud Aaron Miles for being there when he was needed.

Here’s the thing, though: there’s a big difference between “wow, this guy gave us far, far more than we thought, and that’s awesome, even if it’s not really that much,” and “this is a guy who helps us win baseball games”, and Miles is most certainly the former. That fantastic June I mentioned, when he led the NL in average? Yeah, it was the only month all season where he wasn’t unspeakably awful:

Split G PA R H 2B 3B HR BA OBP SLG OPS BAbip
April/March 24 70 9 17 2 1 0 .258 .290 .318 .608 .298
May 22 85 3 23 2 0 0 .274 .274 .298 .571 .299
June 21 67 10 26 2 0 1 .419 .418 .500 .918 .439
July 22 81 7 20 7 0 0 .270 .321 .365 .686 .299
August 24 104 12 23 4 2 2 .242 .298 .389 .688 .250
Sept/Oct 23 83 8 16 0 0 0 .219 .305 .219 .524 .246

Why the hits fell in during June when they fell in no other month, I cannot say, but this all added up to a wOBA that was in the bottom 15 of the entirety MLB. I suspect that part of his positive public image (aside, of course, from being the “gritty, scrappy, short white guy who plays hard”) is that his hot June pushed his batting average over .300, which is where it stayed for about two months before eventually settling in at .275. For those who look only at batting average, it was a nice number to see on the TV graphic every night, particularly as Uribe and others were disappointing us horribly. Obviously, there was little behind it in terms of on-base percentage, power, or defense, where he was passable at second base and cover-your-eyes awful at third.

Still, Miles deserves the B+ if only for how little we thought of him, and for being there when no one else was. Thanks for your service, Aaron. Hopefully if we see you next year, it’s when you’re visiting Los Angeles wearing the uniform of another team who foolishly gave you a two-year deal this winter.

Ivan DeJesus (inc.)
.188/.235/.188 .423 0hr -0.5 WAR

I’m not sure how you can see this season as anything but a massive disappointment for Ivan DeJesus. You’ve got the infield in tatters, you’ve got Aaron Miles getting nearly 500 plate appearances, you’ve got Eugenio Velez existing and taking up a roster spot for months, and you still can’t make an impression? Not good.

To be fair, it’s not like he got much of a chance; forced onto the Opening Day roster due to injuries, he received just seven starts in six weeks. Sent down in May, he got one cameo at-bat in June, and that was it for the season. That’s a bigger problem than it sounds like, because after not getting a September call-up in 2010, he didn’t get one again this year, seemingly bypassed on the depth chart by Justin Sellers. That doesn’t exactly shout “you’ve got a future here,” does it?

To his credit, he did have a decent enough year in ABQ, hitting .311/.389/.432 in that offense-friendly environment, but if he’s going to have a big-league career, it seems likely it’s going to be somewhere else.

Eugenio Velez (0-for-37)
.000/.075/.000 .075 0hr -0.7 WAR

Oh, holy good lord. How can I even make fun of Velez, record for consecutive hitless plate appearances or not? Just look at that picture. He looks like he’s twelve years old, and he plays ball like he has no arms or legs. He so clearly doesn’t belong in the big leagues that Don Mattingly even admitted as such.

Yet I can’t even rag on him. It’s not fun. Well, okay, it was fun when he first came up and actually started a game in left field, unless you’ve suddenly forgotten about “Baron Ironglove Von Pickoff“, and I did at one point advocate shooting him into the sun.

Seriously, I’m pals with several Giants writers on Twitter, and even with all of the garbage we went through this season, nothing seemed to give them more joy than the continuing trials and tribulations of Eugenio Velez. Think about that for a second. They’ve lived through the Eugenio Velez Experience, and it brings them joy to see him wearing the uniform of their most hated rivals.

I know he’s not really this bad… but I also can’t see a reason to ever have him back in Dodger Stadium ever again, even as an NRI. Or a bat boy. Or a ticket holder.

Juan Castro (inc.)
.286/.333/.286 .619 0hr 0.0 WAR

What can you even say about Castro at this point? He came back for yet another stint with the Dodgers, because of course he did. We laughed when he rejoined the team in May, and while he played in just seven games as a Dodger – none, surprisingly, at shortstop – he did play a part in one of the most unfortunate managerial moments of the season, with Clayton Kershaw sailing against the Giants:

Here’s where the problem comes in. Mattingly’s choices to hit for Kershaw, assuming you don’t want to waste the backup catcher that early, were Jerry Sands, Russ Mitchell, Tony Gwynn… and Juan Castro. None, I will grant, are great options. The clear choice is Sands, who has at least shown some extra base pop and is third on the team in doubles. You could argue for Gwynn, to get a lefty in there against the righty Cain.

But Mattingly chose Castro, and that’s where things went sideways. Castro is historically, unbelievably, amazingly atrocious. He owns one of the worst bats in major league history, and he’s 39 years old. He’s not even a lefty, which you might possibly have been able to argue. Yet that’s who Mattingly chose to hit with the bases loaded. Castro flew out, Carroll grounded out, and that threat was over. If you’re going to hit for the pitcher, that’s fine, but it’s pointless to waste Kershaw if you’re not even going to replace him with someone appreciably better. It’s no guarantee that Sands or Gwynn would have gotten the job done, but it was all but guaranteed that Castro would not. He didn’t, and with Kershaw gone, that’s how we ended up with Cormier in the ninth.

Good times. Castro finally retired in July to become one of Ned Colletti’s 486 special assistants, though he apparently ended up serving as a minor-league instructor. I’m still not convinced we won’t see him suit up again.

******

Next! Juan Uribe can’t live up to massively low expectations! Casey Blake hurt himself while I was writing this sentence! And Russ Mitchell just isn’t very good! It’s third base!

2011 Midseason Grades: Offense


The All-Star break is here, and that means it’s everyone’s favorite time of the year: midseason grades. It’s been a tough year for the Dodgers on and off the field, though we do of course have the pleasure of a few exceptionally bright spots. As always, the grades are in relation to what was reasonably expected of the player at the beginning of the season, not in comparison to other players in the bigs. Otherwise, Jose Bautista would get an A, and no one else would get above a Q. Fewer than 50 plate appearances or 10 innings pitched gets you an incomplete.

All stats are via baseball-reference. Today we’ll do hitters, and before the break is over we’ll get to pitchers, management, and one new kind of review. As always, these letter grades are subjective opinions and meant more for fun than anything. Except for Juan Uribe’s. There’s nothing fun about Juan Uribe.

Catchers

Rod Barajas D+ (.220/.262/.385 8hr 0.2 WAR)
And right off the bat, our rating system is being tested. Do I give Barajas an F, because he’s not any good, or a C, because we never expected him to be any good? I’ll go with a D+, because even though he’s underperforming his own mediocre career stats, he was still second on the team in homers until the final game before the break. I suppose that says a lot more about the Dodgers than it does about him, though. Due to the low bar for offense from catching in the bigs, he’s actually slightly above replacement, though it’s hard to look at the 46/8 K/BB without getting a little ill. He’s due to be activated from the disabled list on Friday, allowing us to start up the always fun “Navarro or Ellis?” game again. (It’ll be Navarro sticking, of course.)

Dioner Navarro F (.183/.234/.287 2hr -0.1 WAR)
You don’t need me to go back and really find all of the articles I wrote over the winter asking why he was worth a $1m major-league contract and why he was guaranteed a spot over the likely superior A.J. Ellis, right? Navarro came in with the lowest of expectations, yet after missing the first month with an oblique injury, has somehow still managed to underperform. Despite that, he still manages to come up with the game on the line in the ninth inning nearly every single night. The world is a twisted place.

Fun fact: Navarro is the only player in history with the name “Dioner”. Fun fact #2: he’s still looking for his first hit against a lefty in fourteen tries this season.

A. J. Ellis (C) (.222/.364/.222 0hr -0.1 WAR)
I realize I’ve heaped far more praise on a 30-year-old minor league lifer with absolutely no power than he really deserves, but the Dodger catching situation is dire, and his long minor-league record and short major league stints show an above-average ability to get on base, which is exactly what this lineup is missing. Defensively, I won’t insult your intelligence by citing CERA, but it’s hard to think it’s a coincidence that Chad Billingsley’s mid-season slump turned around precisely when Ellis started being his regular catcher. Too bad he’s almost certainly headed back for Barajas on Friday.

Hector Gimenez (inc.) (.143/.143/.143 0hr -0.1 WAR)
I would like to say something witty or insightful about Hector Gimenez, but that infers that I have absolutely any recollection of him as a Dodger whatsoever. Pass.

Infielders

James Loney (C-) (.268/.311/.342 4hr -0.5 WAR)
I feel weird giving Loney a C-, because his line and a grade in that range suggest that he was his normal mediocre self all season. Far from it; by early May, he was the most hated man in LA since OJ and we were all writing articles about how bad his season was going to be on a historical level. Since then, he’s basically been the best non-Kemp hitter on the team. That doesn’t mean he’s good – hooray, a .751 OPS from a 1B since April 26! – and again, that says a lot about the rest of the players on this team, but nothing tells you more about the plight of the 2011 Dodgers than the fact that their punchless overpaid first baseman is no longer even close to being the biggest issue here.

Jamey Carroll (A+) (.297/.368/.366 0hr 1.6 WAR)
Last season, Carroll had a .718 OPS and was largely hailed as the team MVP for stepping in to cover for Rafael Furcal at shortstop for nearly the entire season. For a 36-year-old career backup who had played in more than 113 just once, it was quite the impressive feat. More impressive? The fact that he’s exceeding that this year, currently with a .734 OPS. In a lower run scoring environment, that’s good for a 111 OPS+. Once again, the team has been crushed by injuries. Once again, Jamey Carroll has risen to the occasion and more. I’m not sure what the future holds for Carroll in Los Angeles – this is the last year of his contract, and unsurprisingly teams are showing trade interest – but he has consistently outperformed expectations. I’ll miss him when he’s gone.

Fun Carroll fact: since you know I have no use for RBI, regard this as more of a fun statistical quirk than any sort of value judgement, but he has somehow managed to step to the plate 311 times and drive in just 8 runners. I suppose that’s what happens when you don’t hit homers and you’re either batting leadoff (behind the pitcher and the horrible bottom of the lineup) or 8th (behind low-OBP guys like Uribe, Barajas, and Loney).

Aaron Miles
(A) (.318/.337/.381 1hr 1.1 WAR)
Credit where credit is due: Aaron Miles has been a really, really nice part of this team. I hardly need to remind you about all the jokes we made at his expense when he was signed and in the spring, but after being forced into far more playing time than anyone expected, he’s responded by becoming arguably the 4th-best hitter on the team. (Like Barajas and his homers, that says a lot more about the other hitters on the club, but still). We expected absolutely nothing from him – less than nothing, perhaps – and not only has he stepped up where needed, he led the NL in batting average in June.

It’s not all that simple, of course. .300 average or not, he’s not walking and he provides zero power, so his OPS is just barely over .700, and his .344 BABIP, 35 points over his career average, seems unlikely to hold. So let’s not get too caught up in praise for Miles to pretend he’s actually, you know, good. But for a non-roster guy who was something like the 8th infielder entering the season? Well done, Aaron. Well done.

Hey, you think we can sucker some team into trading for him at the deadline?

Ivan DeJesus, Jr. (inc.) (.188/.235/.188 0hr -0.5 WAR)
So far, DeJesus looks to be this year’s winner of the “Blake DeWitt Memorial LA-to-ABQ Frequent Flyer” award, because he saw three different stints with the big club, including the pleasure of flying all the way to Cincinnati for the pleasure of one pinch-hitting appearance in June. That being the case, you can’t really judge his big-league performance too much, though he also didn’t do a lot to change my perception of him as a bench player at best. Back in ABQ, he’s hitting .304, which is nice, though a .758 OPS in that environment isn’t encouraging.

Fun fact: for a guy whose name isn’t exactly “John Smith“, Ivan DeJesus is neither the best Ivan or the best DeJesus to play in the bigs this year.

Juan Uribe (oh holy good lord, F, and I don’t just mean the letter grade) (.207/.273/.306 4hr 0.4 WAR)
Uribe has been so bad that there’s an entire Tumblr dedicated to how sad he looks and makes us feel. He’s so bad that when an obviously fantastical rumor popped up for about five seconds about how the Dodgers might be looking to send him back to San Francisco, we jumped on it even though we knew it was BS, just for the small amount of hope it brought. He’s been so bad that he had a lousy April (.247/.303/.420) and hasn’t come close to even matching that since. He’s been so bad that of all the players in the bigs with at least 200 plate appearances, only three have a lower TAv than him. He’s been so bad that he has just one homer since April turned into May, and even that came off Brad Penny, so I feel like he was just trolling us. But hey, not like we have to stare at him for 2.5 more years or anything.

The funny part is, he’s actually been so good in the field that it pushes him above replacement level. That 0.4 breaks down into -0.4 oWAR and 0.8 dWAR. It doesn’t make him a good player, and it doesn’t justify the contract, but it’s something. I suppose that something should probably be enough to get him more than an F, but… no.

Rafael Furcal F (.185/.227/.228 1hr -0.5 WAR)
How do you even judge Furcal at this point? It can’t be on health, because he’s managed to end up on the disabled list twice more this year (though at least it wasn’t his back this time). It’s hard to do so on production, since he’s constantly either just about to go on the disabled list or just coming back from it. I suppose the fact that he’s not in a full body cast is something, but that line above… yeesh. Anyone who’s still dreaming of trading him to someone at the deadline probably needs to wake up because unfortunately, Furcal’s best days are behind him. As, probably, are his days of being able to obtain health insurance when he’s no longer a ballplayer.

Dee Gordon C+ (.232/.250/.280 0hr 0.0 WAR)
We all knew Gordon was recalled far too soon, and it showed: he was overmatched at the plate and made some critical errors in the field. He also brought the kind of excitement that we haven’t seen in years, if ever. If you have any doubt about that, just head on over to this GIF-heavy recap of the amazing feats he pulled off in just a single game. A lot of players end up with 0.0 WAR because they’ve been boring or barely playable, and haven’t contributed anything either positive or negative. That’s not the case with Gordon; he did plenty of things that hurt the team, but he made up for them with a ton of positives. That’s how it all evens out, and for a raw 23-year-old, yeah, I’ll take that.

Juan Castro A (.286/.333/.286 0hr 0.0 WAR)
Castro gave us the greatest gift of all, retiring this week before subjecting us to a fifth stint as a Dodger. That alone gets the man an A.

Casey Blake D- (.243/.346/.386 4hr 0.3 WAR)
Things the 37-year-old Blake has been on the disabled list for this season: sore oblique, infected elbow, pinched nerve in neck, Legionnaire’s disease, athlete’s thumb, bone-itis, ringworm infestation, osteoporosis. Also, he narrowly avoided a brush with the law for continually yelling at those damned kids to get off his lawn.

Casey Blake is old.

Russ Mitchell (inc.) (.115/.258/.269 1hr 0.1 WAR)
Mitchell has 74 MLB plate appearances in his short career. He has nine hits, and though one was a game-tying homer in the 9th inning against the White Sox earlier this year, that’s good for an OPS+ of 29. That’s an unfairly small sample size, of course, but he’s also hitting .244 in ABQ right now. Russ Mitchell: nope.

Outfielders

Jerry Sands (C-) (.200/.294/.328 2hr -0.4 WAR)
Like Gordon, Sands was probably promoted too soon, and like Gordon, he didn’t really provide results, but did provide hope for the future. All of the stories we heard about his maturity and plate approach seemed to be true, yet so far it hasn’t translated into production. Sands is crushing the ball once again in ABQ, and with the Dodger offense still stagnant, we’ll see him back up in blue before very long.

Tony Gwynn (B-) (.256/.316/.326 0hr 0.6 WAR)
It’s been something of an interesting season for Gwynn. He was his normal Gwynn-like self in April (i.e. bad), hitting .264/.291/.377 before going completely off the rails in May: he managed just two hits all month and received only four starts, as Sands took over the bulk of the left field work. At that point, with his batting average below .200 and with nothing to his name other than two game-saving catches, we started wondering how long he’d stick on the roster, especially when he didn’t get into any of the first three games in June. On June 4, he entered in the 8th inning and got two hits in a game that went 11 innings. He got a hit the next game, and the next, and before you knew it he’d hit in 7 of the first 8 games of the month. It would get better – since June 26, which was two weeks ago yesterday, he’s had five multihit games, including three with three and one with four. Now that Sands and Gordon are both in the minors, he’s effectively taken over as both the starting left fielder and leadoff hitter. Because he owns the only plus glove in what is a subpar defensive outfield, this was the outcome we’d always wanted. Now let’s see if he can really keep it up.

Marcus Thames
F (.197/.243/.333 2hr -0.6 WAR)
Injured? Yep, twice, even if only one led to a DL stint. Poor on defense? You better believe it. Unproductive on offense? Well, the line above doesn’t lie, right? I sure hope he’s renting, not buying.

Jay Gibbons
F (.255/.323/.345 1hr -0.5 WAR)
Well, he got DFA’d and claimed by no one, placing him back in AAA, so it couldn’t have been that good of a first half, right? You want to feel bad because his vision problems really derailed last season’s feel-good story right from the start… but then you remember he wasn’t really ever that good in the first place. The best part of that -0.5 WAR is that his oWAR is actually 0.1… meaning he’s really, really bad in the field.

JaMarcus Gwybbons, Jr. D-
Remember when the left field situation was going to be a nice trio between Gwynn, Thames, and Gibbons? Sheesh. Until Gwynn’s hot spurt over the last few weeks, they combined to offer absolutely nothing. Less than nothing, if you just went by WAR. At various points this season, we’ve made arguments for DFA’ing all three of them. Count this under “plans that were unlikely to work and then did, in fact, not work.”

Trent Oeltjen (inc.) (.265/.386/.441  1hr 0.6 WAR)
Hey, remember when Oeltjen went 4-4 with a homer in that 15-0 drubbing of Minnesota? That was rad, right? Unfortunately for him, he had 3 hits in 20 PA before that game, and just 2 hits in 20 PA since. 

Xavier Paul (inc.) (.273/.273/.273 0hr -0.1 WAR)
Paul’s ultimate contribution to the 2011 Dodgers is managing to grab a left field start before his departure, thus helping us push towards our ultimate goal of setting a record for most left fielders in a season. He’s got an 84 OPS+ for Pittsburgh since being picked up, though he’s improved his OPS in each full month there.

Jamie Hoffmann (inc.) (.000/.000/.000 0hr -0.2 WAR)
The man got four plate appearances. Let’s not infer too much from that. I still think he could be a pretty useful fourth outfielder in the bigs, as he’s a well-regarded defender having another high-OBP season in the minors, this time with a little pop.

Eugenio Velez (inc.) (.000/.000/.000 0hr -0.2 WAR)

Baron Ironglove von Pickoff. Still can’t believe he’s a Dodger. Or a major leaguer. Or a human being.

Matt Kemp (A+++) (.313/.398/.584 22hr 27sb 5.7 WAR)
I know you come here for informed baseball analysis and all (uh, I hope), and I could write 10,000 words on why Kemp is awesome. I will at some point, and 9,990 of those words will probably be about how I always said that he’d have a monstrous season this year, even as half the city was tearing him apart last year. There will be a time for that sort of insight, but for now, let’s leave it at this: 91 games into the season, Kemp has 5.7 WAR. That puts him on pace for about 9.9 WAR over the full season… a mark bettered by just two Dodgers in history. Yeah. His season is that good. Remember when everyone wanted to trade him, secure in the knowledge that he had neither the baseball IQ or work ethic to become a star? Yeah, me neither.

Matt Kemp is a shiny golden god.

Andre Ethier (B+) (.311/.383/.463 9hr 1.9 WAR)
Ethier, without question, represented one of the more difficult grades to give out. 30 game hitting streak? Yes, please. .383 OBP? Delicious. While his OPS is nearly 40 points off his 2008 career high, the lower offensive environment this year means that it’s good for a career-best 141 OPS+, so hooray for that. No, he’s not hitting lefties (.242/.282/.368), but he never hits lefties, so that’s not much of a surprise. All in all, it’s been a very solid year from one of the two main offensive threats this club has.

Yet… it feels like something is missing. Prior to his two-homer day yesterday, he’d hit just seven dingers, and his SLG is down for the third year in a row. It’s certainly not enough of a problem to criticize him, hence the good grade, and perhaps yesterday’s outburst was the start of something new. I just can’t help shaking the feeling that is very unpopular among the casual fans who love him so much: Ethier is a very good player, but not a superstar. We’ll need to keep that in mind when his contract is up. I don’t want to get too down on him, though: right now, he’s the second best player on this team, and that in itself is quite valuable.

******

Don’t forget: Matt Kemp is in the Home Run Derby tonight and will be live tweeting @TheRealMattKemp throughout.

You No Longer Have to Fear Juan Castro

I don’t usually repost Dodger press releases, but this one is too important to ignore: we no longer have to have nightmares of a fifth Juan Castro stint with the Dodgers.

The Los Angeles Dodgers today announced that 17-year Major League veteran and former Dodger infielder Juan Castro has retired as an active player and been named to the position of Special Assistant, Baseball Operations and Player Development. Dodger General Manager Ned Colletti made the announcement.

 “Juan was a consummate pro as a player,” said Colletti. “The opportunity to add him to our staff as someone who can both recognize and teach those traits is a true plus for this organization.”

Castro, 39, will spend time in player development and in evaluating at both the minor and Major League levels. 

“It was time for me to make the decision to end my playing career,” said Castro. “I’m honored that Ned thought of bringing me back to the organization where I first signed as a young kid more than 20 years ago. I’m very excited to once again work for the Dodgers in a new and challenging role.”

I know we make fun of Castro a lot, and he stopped being worthy of a major league roster spot years (decades?) ago, but for a guy who could never really hit or run (just five stolen bases in all that time somehow?) he really did manage to carve himself out a nice career that any of us would have killed for. So long, Juan; enjoy being one of Colletti’s 75 special assistants.

Shocking, Breaking News

Sports Illustrated‘s Jon Heyman lays some knowledge on us:

Executives say Dodgers first baseman James Loney is a likely non-tender candidate as his power has not yet developed as hoped.

Shockingly, the first baseman who is already making $4.875m this year, has another year of arbitration left, and has declined in each year of his career while hitting .238/.286/.287  this season might not be offered a contract next year. I know! It’s almost like every statisticial metric available doesn’t rate him as being at or near the worst first baseman in the game, right?

Seriously though, I’ve barely even mentioned the idea of Loney being non-tendered because it seemed like such a foregone conclusion at this point. Remember, there was serious consideration given in some corners of the internet to non-tendering him after last year (I proposed trading him for LHP Tom Gorzelanny, and using the money spent on Jon Garland elsewhere), and now that he’s more expensive and less productive, his non-tender seems absolute, particularly since any hope of suckering a team into trading for him seems impossible now that they don’t even have shiny RBI totals to dream on.

Heyman’s wrong about one thing, though: it’s not just that his power isn’t there. That may have been the issue in years past, but clearly it’s far more serious than just that in 2011. I had wanted to end this post with some” to Loney’s credit, even though the power isn’t there, he has been better in recent weeks” positivity, but looking at the numbers, that’s barely true: in May, he’s hitting .276/.345/.342 (.687). Better than April’s .489 OPS? Sure. Good? Ah, not really. Not unless he keeps up that trend and somehow has an OPS of .888 in June, which is probably about as likely as me having an .888 OPS in June.

Still, there continues to be no obvious alternative to playing him, at least not until Trayvon Robinson is ready – and he just ended an 0-25 streak in ABQ. So play him they will, in hopes that he can find even a tiny bit of his lost value.  But as Heyman has just figured out, non-tender-ville awaits.

******

One year ago today, I made two posts on this site. One was very happy, where I was able to share the news that Ramon Ortiz had finally been dumped in favor of Justin Miller, whom I never thought got enough credit for striking out 3.75 times as many as he walked while a Dodger.

The second post? It was about John Ely picking up the loss despite making it into the 8th inning allowing just one run. That’s the one that haunts me a little bit, because if you remember, the 2010 season started off with ridiculous amounts of offense that the patchwork pitching staff couldn’t support. Ely’s game and one by Clayton Kershaw just before it was the start of the current “good pitching, no offense” era we’re currently in, and at the time, I said I liked that problem a whole lot better:

Yet as depressing as it is to see such great pitching performances going to waste, I feel a whole lot better about these losses than the ones we saw in April. Remember early in the season, when the Dodger offense was kicking ass and taking names – yet it didn’t really matter, since the pitching was so terrible?

And what did all of that fantastic offense get us? A 9-14 April record. At the time, you knew that the offense would eventually come back to earth a bit, but you couldn’t be equally sure that the pitching would turn it around.

Now, we’re seeing pitching that’s not only improved, but seems to be a good bet to keep it going. Chad Billingsley and Kershaw have found their grooves, Ely’s been a revelation, and both Ortizes are gone. Meanwhile, the offensive failure of the last few days can be seen as a bump in the road for a still-dangerous group – especially when Andre Ethier‘s return is imminent.

Of course, Ethier wasn’t the same, Manny Ramirez got hurt, Loney cratered, Matt Kemp couldn’t keep up his tremendous April, and the front office answers to those concerns consisted of Ryan Theriot and Scott Podsednik. And we’ve been living with the same conundrum ever since. If only I could go back in time and warn myself.

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The Rockies finally DFA’d Jose Lopez earlier today, in addition to sending Felipe Paulino to Kansas City for cash. Hmm, a middle infielder from a division rival with horrendous on-base skills and some mild pop, while playing decentish defense at multiple positions? Sounds like he deserves a three-year, $21m contract, no?

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Javier Vazquez starts for Florida against Garland tonight, and that’s interesting for one reason. Vazquez has been awful this year (5.30 xFIP and basically as many walks as strikeouts), and he was was even worse with the Yankees last year. But he’s never had a day as bad as April 19, 2003, when he became part of the sad select fraternity of “pitchers who have allowed a home run to Juan Castro“. In the last five years, Castro has six homers, and not a single one has come in over two years. Tonight could be the night!

At Least They Showed Some Life

After the Dodgers fell behind 4-0 in the 4th inning thanks to the Giants ground-ball singling Clayton Kershaw to death (I believe his BABIP last night was somewhere north of eleven billion), I admittedly all but gave up on the chances for a comeback, particularly with Matt Cain throwing a perfect game through four innings and Brian Wilson looming. I’m sure I wasn’t alone in that; I imagine the television ratings in the Los Angeles area fell by about 75% between the fourth and sixth innings.

While it didn’t work out in the end – and believe me, we’ll get to two of the worst players in baseball and an indefensible managerial decision in a second – with how dire things have been lately, let’s at least give some small amount of credit for at least crawling back to tie in the 8th inning. Leading off the fifth, Matt Kemp popped his second homer of the week to ruin Cain’s perfecto and get the Dodgers on the board. They got another one in the 7th on a Rod Barajas RBI double, and after Mike MacDougal allowed a fifth run to San Francisco in the top of the 8th, the Dodgers exploded for three runs in the bottom of the frame to tie it up. The Giants used three pitchers against the first four Dodger batters, allowing singles to Jamey Carroll and Kemp, but retiring Aaron Miles and Andre Ethier. In came Brian Wilson, against the two most disappointing Dodger hitters, Juan Uribe and James Loney. Yet Uribe doubled, scoring two, and Loney followed with a single, bringing in Uribe to tie the game.

That sequence alone counts as a minor miracle, and hopefully it’s something to build on, so I’ll take it. Here’s where it fell apart, however. Having exhausted all his pitchers, Don Mattingly was forced to use his “break glass in case of emergency” pitcher, Lance Cormier in a tie game in the 9th. Even before this game, Cormier had been completely putrid, but at least he’d done so in the lowest of low-leverage situations. Of the seven games he’d entered before yesterday, only one ended up being even as close as a four run game. I will absolutely support Tony Jackson’s premise that Cormier’s extremely rare usage (he hadn’t pitched in eight days, and just twice since April 22 – nearly a month) contributed to his poor performance last night, but that doesn’t change the fact that he hasn’t gotten the job done all season. Predictably, Cormier couldn’t get through the inning when it actually mattered, allowing two singles before a three-run blast by Cody Ross put the game away.

Cormier’s not very good, and that’s no surprise, but with Vicente Padilla injured and Matt Guerrier & Kenley Jansen both unavailable except for emergency, Mattingly’s choices were obviously limited. But let’s step back to the fifth inning to see how he got into that situation in the first place. Down 4-1 after Kemp’s homer, the Dodgers managed to load the bases on two walks and a hit batter. Barajas flew out, bringing up Kershaw with the bases loaded and one out.

At this point, Mattingly had a decision to make, and you can make a great argument for either side here. He could let Kershaw hit for himself, knowing that unless he grounded into a double play, he’d still have Carroll up with men on and would still have his starter in the game. Since Kershaw hadn’t been hit particularly hard, you never want to take him out that early, particularly in a game where you know your bullpen is shorthanded. Or, as he did, you can figure that the offense has been so awful that you need to take advantage of any run scoring chance you can get, especially when you’re already down a few runs. Mattingly decided to pinch hit for Kershaw, and while I’m not sure I would have done the same thing, I have no problem with his choice.

Here’s where the problem comes in. Mattingly’s choices to hit for Kershaw, assuming you don’t want to waste the backup catcher that early, were Jerry Sands, Russ Mitchell, Tony Gwynn… and Juan Castro. None, I will grant, are great options. The clear choice is Sands, who has at least shown some extra base pop and is third on the team in doubles. You could argue for Gwynn, to get a lefty in there against the righty Cain.

But Mattingly chose Castro, and that’s where things went sideways. Castro is historically, unbelievably, amazingly atrocious. He owns one of the worst bats in major league history, and he’s 39 years old. He’s not even a lefty, which you might possibly have been able to argue. Yet that’s who Mattingly chose to hit with the bases loaded. Castro flew out, Carroll grounded out, and that threat was over. If you’re going to hit for the pitcher, that’s fine, but it’s pointless to waste Kershaw if you’re not even going to replace him with someone appreciably better. It’s no guarantee that Sands or Gwynn would have gotten the job done, but it was all but guaranteed that Castro would not. He didn’t, and with Kershaw gone, that’s how we ended up with Cormier in the ninth.

Still, for a game that seemed all but over in the 4th, at least the Dodgers woke up and showed some effort. After what we’ve seen over the last few weeks, that’s progress, even if it didn’t work out.