MSTI’s 2010 in Review: Shortstop

Rafael Furcal (B)
.300/.366/.460 .826 8hr 3.4 WAR

I have to be honest, when I first looked back on Furcal’s season, all I could think of at first was, “oh, shocker, he hurt his back again.” And that’s true; he’s proven he simply cannot be counted upon to stay healthy.

However, that’s shortchanging him a bit, because when he was able to stay on the field, he put together one of the finest seasons of his career. Really, you can break his season down into three two-month slices.

In April and May, Furcal started just 24 games, missing most of May with a strained hamstring. His .308/.359/.402 (.761) was quite good even then, yet it hardly compared to his June and July (and two games in August). Furcal played his way onto the All-Star team by destroying opposing pitching with a .320/.391/.540 (.931) line, and all eight of his homers, though he did miss a week while mourning the passing of his father. He was so good, in fact, that in July I ran the numbers and said he was the best shortstop in Los Angeles Dodger history, slathering him with praise:

Last night, Furcal chipped in three more hits, including the go-ahead home run, saving the Dodgers from blowing yet another outstanding Clayton Kershaw start. I mean, choose whatever metrics you want; they’re all ridiculous. He’s got four homers in the last eight games, a stretch in which his OPS is 1.325. Over his last 31 starts (which span more than a month because of the time missed tending to his father) he’s only hitting an absurd .382/.422/.625. Here’s my favorite stat, though: in those 31 starts, he’s gone hitless just 7 times, but he’s had multiple hit games 17 times. Even his defense, which is hard to quantify but especially so over less than half a season, seems to have new energy; I noted on Twitter recently that I think I’ve seen him make more phenomenal plays this year than I have in the previous four years combined.

So it should come as no surprise that all of the leading stats paint him as the most valuable shortstop in baseball. FanGraphs shows him leading MLB SS in WAR, at 3.2 (and no complaining that Troy Tulowitzki has missed time, because with Furcal’s DL stint he’s actually still seven games behind Tulo), while Baseball Prospectus has him destroying the field in MLVr (Marginal Lineup Value rate, which I used instead of VORP because his missed time hurts him there). His position as top dog at his position this year is nearly indisputable.

Of course, it was too good to be true, because his August and September were disastrous, which you could of course say about any number of Dodgers. He played just two games in August before his back sent him to the DL again; when he returned in September he was hardly the same, hitting .237/.310/.329 (.639).

I’ve seen some calls to move him this offseason, but he’s making $12m next year, so that’s just not an option. All you can do is pray that he’s somewhat healthy, but not too healthy; his 2012 $12m club option becomes guaranteed with 600 PA  next year.

Jamey Carroll (A)
.291/.379/.339 .718 0hr 2.7 WAR

Carroll’s been proclaimed the unofficial 2010 MVP of the Dodgers by a variety of outlets and experts, and while you can argue that, it says a lot about this year’s edition of the club that a 36-year-old backup infielder who didn’t hit even one homer would even be in the conversation.

That’s not a slight against Carroll, of course, who had what was essentially a career year while getting far more playing time at shortstop in the wake of Furcal’s injury than ever anticipated. When he was signed, I didn’t mind him as a backup infielder, though at the time I wasn’t thrilled with the second guaranteed year. I felt that Felipe Lopez was a better fit (remember, Lopez was coming off of a great 2009), especially when Lopez signed for barely a third of what Carroll got, which made the Carroll deal look so bad that it made its way onto MLBtraderumors’ list of “worst offseason deals”.

Still, that’s more a concern about management than it is about Carroll himself – he far outplayed any expectations we may have had of him. In fact by August I was wondering why Carroll wasn’t hitting higher in the lineup to take advantage of his high OBP:

I’ve said this before, and I’ll keep saying it: there is no rational reason that Ryan Theriot should be hitting higher in the lineup than Jamey Carroll. Carroll gets on base more often, and even hits for a bit more power. I said it before last night’s game, and look what happened: Carroll got on twice, Theriot just once. There’s no question that this offense needs a shake-up; isn’t this an easy and obvious way to do it?

That never really happened, of course, but the unexpected ability of Carroll to get on base and adequately play shortstop (that’s “adequate” in the sense that he caught what was hit to him, despite showing very little range) helped the Dodgers avoid a “2008 Angel Berroa” level disaster at the position. Really, Carroll will be a good barometer of how successful the 2011 Dodgers are. If he’s a nice bench piece, that’s good news. If he’s getting serious playing time again, then things haven’t really gone in the right direction.

Chin-lung Hu (inc.)
.130/.160/.174 .334 0hr -0.2 WAR

Hu made his yearly cameo for the 4th season in a row, but it’s kind of an understatement to say that his career has largely stalled out. At 26, he had just 25 plate appearances in the bigs, less than he had in 2007 or 2008.

Really, it was that 2008 season that seemingly sealed his fate, because coming off a big season in the minors in 2007 (.325/.364/.507) he flopped badly in his big chance to replace the injured Furcal in 2008 (.181/.252/.233 in 121 PA).

Still, even if he was never going to be as good as that 2007 promised he could be, I think he’s still been slightly underrated, in the sense that he at least deserves chances ahead of retreads like Nick Green. There’s never been any question about his glove, and he’d had a pretty decent line of .317/.339/.438 in 223 AAA plate appearances this season, before undergoing surgery on an injured left thumb. He can still be a starter on a second-division club, or a backup on a better one, but since he’s out of options that chance will likely come with another organization next season.

Juan Castro (inc.)
.000/.250/.000 .250 0hr 0.0 WAR

Castro played just one game in his third (and pray to whatever deity you choose that it’s also his final) stint with the Dodgers, so what am I really going to say about him? Really, the highlight of my coverage of Castro this season was while he was still playing with the Phillies, as I was praising Furcal in July. I noted that Furcal’s 2010 was the best season a Dodger shortstop had ever had to that point, and presented a list of the top ten entries. Right after the list, I said…

(Dead last? Juan Castro‘s atrociously amazing .199/.245/.255 campaign in 1998.)

Yeah, that sounds about right. In parts of seven seasons with the Dodgers (1995-99, 2009, 2010), Castro put up a total line of .205/.258/.271. That’s a 43 OPS+. Good lord.

******

Next! Casey Blake turns into a pumpkin! Russ Mitchell tries to make his mark! It’s third base!

What To Do With Manny This Week

I can’t possibly talk about yet another game where the Dodger offense failed spectacularly, so let’s talk about something else: Manny Ramirez is about to be activated from the disabled list. It’ll most likely happen on Tuesday, with a slight chance it happens this weekend, but that’s not really the point. The point is, it’ll happen, and soon.

Not soon enough for me, though. Even if the club won’t admit it, the season is over, and has been for some time. All that matters right now is August 31, the last day you can try to move some pieces to contenders. Really, Manny ought to be activated immediately to get that process started, since he can’t be placed on waivers while on the disabled list. If he comes back too soon and he gets hurt again, well, who cares? It’s now or never.

When he returns, there’s the question of how he’ll fit into what’s suddenly an overcrowded outfield. Every decision right now should be made with the future in mind, since there’s no difference between winning 82 games or 85 games this year. If you want to get any value out of trading Manny in the next nine days, you need to play him as much as you can, because he needs to show he’s healthy and productive – and quickly – to make a deal work. Any game where he’s on the roster and he’s not playing in front of Scott Podsednik, Reed Johnson, or anyone else is actively hurting the team’s future. Should he still be with the team in September, my position on that will probably change, but for now he needs to be showcased as much as possible.

Of course, it’s not hard to predict that Joe Torre’s not on board with that, since he doesn’t care about the future as much as we do. As Tony Jackson points out

Meanwhile, Torre said he wasn’t sure how the outfield will shake up when Ramirez returns. Since Ramirez suffered a strained right calf July 17, the Dodgers have acquired Scott Podsednik from the Kansas City Royals, and he began Friday hitting .302 with a .368 on-base percentage since that trade.

Torre talked about some kind of an outfield rotation, which seems logical given Ramirez probably won’t play day games after night games. Podsednik also could occasionally play center in place of Matt Kemp, especially if Kemp continues to struggle.

Though Podsednik hasn’t been awful, this is a symptom of a larger problem – namely, how Torre insists on batting Podsednik & Ryan Theriot 1-2 every single night despite the offense performing worse than ever since they arrived. I’ve said my piece on Podsednik playing over Kemp and Theriot batting higher than Jamey Carroll already, so I’ll focus on what’s relevant here, and that’s Torre’s suggestion that Ramirez wouldn’t play day games after nights games.

Oh yeah? Let’s say that instead of being activated today or tomorrow like he ought to be, they really do hold back on Manny until Tuesday in Milwaukee. Of the seven available games left in August (I’m not counting the Aug. 31 game, since if Manny’s playing in a game that starts at 10pm EST on the deadline, it’s likely too late), two of them are day games following night games, Thursday in Milwaukee and Sunday in Colorado.

If that’s the plan, that leaves just five games for Manny to prove he’s healthy and hitting, which is hardly enough. It also means that of the nine games between now and that Aug. 31 game with Philadelphia, the team would be choosing to hold Manny back in nearly half of them, if he’s not getting activated today and won’t play in day games. That helps his trade value, and therefore the team, how exactly?

Speaking of Manny’s trade value, I want to make it clear that getting something for him rather than playing out the string is a lost season is all I care about here. You’ll read a ton of comments from misguided fans saying they want him gone because “he doesn’t play as hard as Scott Podsednik, OMG!” or “he’s a lazy cheater” or any number of inane reasons. There’s no question that when healthy, Manny helps the offense more than Podsednik or just about anyone else the Dodgers have; their putrid offensive performance since he’s gone proves that. But since he’s gone next year, and this year is over, getting any sort of salary relief and/or prospects for him is the best value he can offer this team right now.

******

Of course, someone has to go when Manny is activated, and Jackson takes a look at how that might work. He’s correct when he points out that it’s unlikely the team drops down to 11 pitchers, and that there’s no backup fielders who have options, meaning someone will have to be DFA’d. Jackson suggests that Jay Gibbons is the likely target, given that the club would have six outfielders otherwise, with Manny back in the fold.

I don’t disagree with Jackson that it probably would be Gibbons, but it shouldn’t be. No, I’m not really going to shed any tears should Gibbons be lost; 33-year-old outfielders with 16 MLB at-bats in the last three seasons aren’t worth it. However, the last six weeks of the season ought to be used to start making some decisions about 2011. Gibbons might be worthy of a spot on next year’s bench as a lefty bat who can play 1B or the outfield, and cutting him doesn’t help figure that out.

No, what you need to do is cut the most worthless Dodger of all: Juan Castro, whose presence on this team is kind of a sick joke in the first place. Remember, rosters expand to 40 in nine days. You can live with one backup infielder – Ronnie Belliard – for a week, and even though Belliard can’t play shortstop should something happen to Jamey Carroll, don’t forget that Theriot spent the bulk of his career at short. It’s only a week, and a week that doesn’t really matter anyway. You’ll almost certainly make it through without a problem, and even if the worst happens, then you can always call up an Ivan DeJesus from ABQ for a few days.

Do the right thing, Dodgers. Play Manny now, and move him as soon as you can get anything worthwhile.

Dodgers Slam Phillies; Furcal Heads to DL

Offensive slump be damned, because this one was a much-needed circus: the Dodgers put up 15 runs on 18 hits, and where do I start? Sure, a park where even Ross  Gload can go deep twice on a humid night might take some of the air out of the sails, but at this point, I don’t even care. It’s been so long since the Dodgers had output like this (they hadn’t scored 15 since putting up 17 against the Brewers last August) that any ballpark-aided assistance doesn’t even bother me at this point.

Andre  Ethier led the way by getting on base six times on four hits, a walk, and getting hit. Ethier was just the 11th player to get on base six or more times in 2010, and the first Dodger to do so in a nine-inning game since Shawn  Green‘s famous four-homer outburst in 2002. (Russell  Martin got on bases six times in a 2008 game, but it went 13 innings.)

Even whipping boys Scott  Podsednik and Ryan  Theriot combined to get on base five times, and James  Loney, Casey  Blake, and Matt  Kemp (coming off the bench) all chipped in multiple RBI, with Loney making several nice defensive plays as well.

And then there was Jay  Gibbons, who was really going to lead this post until all of the other shenanigans occurred. After contributing a pinch-hit RBI single in his debut on Sunday, Gibbons was a highlight of the night while contributing three hits and four RBI, including his first MLB home run in over three years. What did he get for his trouble? Being double-switched out in the 6th inning. Ha!

Fun aside, Gibbons is what he is, and that’s not the second coming. Of course not, and he looked bad in striking out against lefty Antonio  Bastardo. He’s clearly a guy who ought to be facing righties nearly exclusively. But by comparison, it took Garret  Anderson 20 at-bats to get his last three Dodger hits, and it had been 60 since his last home run. It’s almost like this was a move that shouldhave happened long ago, right?

And Joe Torre, to his credit, almost managed this one perfectly. Vicente  Padilla threw just 83 pitches, but clearly struggled to get through the 4th and 5th. Ronald  Belisario returned to action, giving up Domonic  Brown‘s first MLB homer in the 6th, and Carlos  Monasterios was allowed just enough rope to hang himself with in 1 2/3 mediocre innings. George  Sherrill was finally used properly, entering to face a lefty the Phillies couldn’t replace with two outs in the 8th, and continued his streak of usefulness by retiring Brian  Schneider.

Sherrill then got his first big-league at-bat, and somehow drew a walk off J.C.Romero. In the bottom of the 9th, Sherrill does what he does – allowed righties Jimmy  Rollins and Raul  Ibanez to reach, while retiring lefties Greg  Dobbs and Gload. (Edit: My mistake, Ibanez bats lefty. Still, the point stands that Sherrill is a LOOGY guy right now, decent against lefties and horrendous against righties.) Now you’d think, with two outs and an eight-run lead, Torre would just leave Sherrill out to get that last out, but no: he had to go get Octavio  Dotel. Still, avoiding Hong-Chih  Kuo and Jonathan  Broxton in a game like this was a must.

******

I had some comments on a recent post trying to use ERA and wins to make an argument, showing that whenever I think explaining why stats like those are useless get repetitive, there’s always people who are new to our world. Tonight’s game offered an excellent education in both. Sherrill did his job in the 8th, coming into a situation with two men on and getting out of the inning. After allowing two singles and getting two outs in the 9th, Dotel allowed a walk and a double, letting both runners score. Those runs are charged towards Sherrill’s ERA, not Dotel’s. What was basically a positive night for Sherrill now looks bad on his line, because ERA – especially for relievers – is generally unreliable.

As for wins, Padilla gets the W for allowing four runs in five innings, hardly his best performance. Yet he didn’t get the win when he threw six scoreless innings on July 18, and he actually got the loss for allowing one earned run over seven innings on July 23. That’s why wins don’t matter for pitchers.

******

Of course, the big news postgame – and as I said on Twitter, we couldn’t have THREE MINUTES to enjoy this romp before this came down? – Dylan Hernandez is reporting that Rafael  Furcal is headed to the DL. Good get on that, because Charlie Steiner on the postgame show still hasn’t mentioned it. No word on who’s coming up… but we all know it’s Juan  Castro, right?

Hernandez adds:

Asked if Hu would be called up, Torre said, “Probably not.” Asked if Castro would be, he said, “I can’t tell you that.”

Hu hasn’t played since June 29, and I believe he’s still on the DL with a hand injury. Hey, if not Castro, the Mets just released Alex  Cora

Update: I just looked it up, and Castro was yanked after one at-bat for the Isotopes tonight. Yeah, no matter what Torre says, Castro’s coming up.

Wait, There’s Competition For Juan Castro?

I sure wish I could use HTML tags in the headline, because “competition” would have bold, italics, and possibly lightning bolts all around it. Something like this:

Wait, There’s Competition For Juan Castro?

MLBtraderumors passes along this hilarious hot stove tidbit from Ken Rosenthal and Jon Paul Morosi:

Phils, Dodgers both want Castro — 12:10 p.m.

One month after playing one another in the National League Championship Series, the Phillies and Dodgers are pursuing the same utility player: Juan Castro.

Castro’s agent, Oscar Suarez, told FOXSports.com Tuesday that both teams are interested in the 37-year-old infielder.

Re… really? Teams are tripping over themselves to hire a guy who’ll be 38 next year and has a career OPS of .601? A guy who had an OPS in the second half last year – and this is no typo – of .317? That’s the guy teams are competing for?

“But MSTI,” you say. “Everyone knows he can’t hit. His value is as a slick-fielding defensive backup.” Sure, that might have been true 5 or 10 years ago. How has that glove held up as he’s aged? According to FanGraphs, he hasn’t even been an average fielder since 2006. In 2009 alone in UZR/150, he was actually pretty brutal, though of course in small sample sizes: -24.2 runs at SS and -3.9 at 2B. So this is clearly a guy that should be inspiring a bidding war.

No, it’s facts like that – and by “facts”, I clearly mean “a player who cannot hit or field and is old should not be on a major league roster” that inspired us to point out that Castro should be shown the door in favor of Chin-Lung Hu, a superior fielder who at least has a chance of offensive upside.

I’d launch into a diatribe about how old and busted veterans who offer no value should never ever be at the epicenter of a free agency competition… but wait! There’s hope! Todd Zolecki at MLB.com, hit me!

The Phillies appear to have found their replacement for Eric Bruntlett.

The Phillies are close to a deal with Juan Castro, who hit .277 with one home run and nine RBIs in 112 at-bats last season with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Castro’s agent, Oscar Suarez, said today that “we’re closing in on something.”

It is believed to be a one-year deal.

“Who doesn’t like the Phillies as an organization?” Suarez said. “You want to win. And who doesn’t like Juan Castro? You want to have a superb utility man to back up the guys you have up the middle. We’re trying to put this thing together. I think we’re going to get it done.”

You’re right, Oscar. Who doesn’t like Juan Castro? Well, teams trying to put together winning rosters, of course, but that’s too obvious. At least Castro’s going to the perfect sitution – one in which the starting middle infielders are consistent, durable everyday stars who rarely need a rest.

MSTI’s 2009 In Review: Shortstop

Welcome to day 5 of MSTI’s 2009 Year In Review.  Have a good Halloween?  Good!  So as you sit there with your coffee, trying to sober up after your heavy partying last night, pull up a chair and join us, as we tackle SS!  Let us begin:

85toppsrafaelfurcalRafael Furcal = C-
(.269/.335/.375 9hr 47rbi)

You know, Rafael Furcal has now completed his fourth year as a Dodger (already?!) and, even despite that, it still feels a bit difficult at times to truly evaluate his tenure when you look at his numbers.  In 2006, he started off sub-par due to wrist and hand issues, only to finish the year as arguably the team’s MVP with a scorching second half.  Then in 2007, he comes back with arguably the worst season of his career     Then in 2008, he gets off to the best start of his career only to get sidelined for four months with more injuries.

Of course, he comes back in 2009 with one of his worst seasons (by the way, note the weird odd numbered year = bad year, even numbered year = good year?).  And, let’s face it, for as much as we like Furcal here at MSTI (his interviews are always such a hoot!), 2009 was a forgettable year for Furcal.  Comparing this season to his general career numbers (it wouldn’t be fair to compare them to his one insane month of 2008), we saw a decrease in pretty much all of the important numbers.  His .335 OBP this year is lower compared to his career .350 OBP, while his .375 SLG% was lower than his career .408 SLG%.  In terms of OPS+, it was a below average 88, while his actual OPS dropped from his career .758 to .711; his EqA of .259 was below his career .269.

Looking further than that, though, let’s compare him with his peers.  Amongst the qualified NL SS’s, he ranks 6th out of 9 in BA and OBP, while ranking 8th out of 10 in SLG%, and ranking 7th in MLVr, with a number of -.012.  Nonetheless, while Furcal performed poorly for most of the year, he did have a couple of great months, putting up a great July (.343/.395/.500) and really coming on strong at the end with a fantastic September (.330/.400/.491) and looking much more like the Furcal of old.  But one thing that didn’t look like the Furcal of old is that he didn’t really steal many bases this year.  This year, in his 150 games, we saw him attempt to steal only 18 bases, stealing 12 of them, though the decrease was more than likely an effect of being cautious after last year’s back injuries.

Defensively, Furcal, for the most part, was, well, Furcal and that’s a good thing.  His .967 fielding percentage is pretty much par for the course and, while low, it’s generally come from throwing errors throughout his career, as his arm can make him the Rick Vaughn of shortstops at times.  His Zone Rating was 5.786 which ranked him 6th amongst NL SS’s.  The interesting thing to note with Furcal is that over the past two years, we’ve seen a decrease in his range factor.  Through 2007, the worst number he ever had in this category was a 4.77, though since that period, he’s put up numbers of 4.20 and 4.25.  Again, 2008 must be noted for being a very short season for Furcal, and, as always the case, defensive stats can be a bit murky, but it is interesting to note the trend continuing into 2009, however much value you want to put into that…

Still, his defense wasn’t something that I had complaints with this year.  That was fine.  The problem was at the plate and, unfortunately, Furcal put up a year that is to rank amongst his worst, hence the low grade, but the encouraging thing going into 2010 is that he did end the season on very much a high note and finally seemed to start regaining form and hopefully this is something we can see A LOT more of next year.  Even if he can’t be the big stolen base threat he used to be, when he’s on as a hitter, he is a very valuable weapon to have, so we shall see what the future holds for him.  I mean, it’s an even numbered year next year: he’s gotta do well!

85toppsjuancastroJuan Castro = C-
(.277/.311/.339 1hr 9rbi)

When Colletti signed him earlier this year, it seemed more of just Ned needing more porn to satisfy his fetish of signing light hitting shortstops, but you know what?  Even though I wasn’t thrilled with the signing, Castro didn’t embarrass himself this year, either.  Well, at least if “this year” is April – July, anyways.  During the first half of the season, Castro put up numbers of .357/.397/.437 with an .834 OPS!  Really, Juan Castro putting up those numbers?!  I mean, geez, what kind of stuff was he pulling out of Manny’s locker to do that?!  A welcome surprise, indeed.

Alas, it all crashed and burned in the second half, where Castro went .146/.146/.171 and a .317 OPS to go with it, which is more of the real Castro than what we saw in the first half.  Still, did I mention that, despite that second half, he still managed to finish with one of his very best OPS+ in his long and storied 15 year career?

Did I also mention that his career OPS+ is 52?!

Nonetheless, one great half with one awful one?  Well, that’s about one more great (or even good) half I thought we’d get from him, and he did play decent defense more times than not, so a C- for you, Fidel.

 

85toppschinglunghuChin-Lung Hu = Inc.
(.400/.333/.600 0hr 2rbi)

Given that Chin-Lung Hu had six, yes, count them, SIX plate appearances, do you know how tempted I was just to type in “Hu?” and leave it at that?

Still, even in these six at-bats, Hu managed to get a couple of hits, but he played hardly enough to warrant a great.  Though this year in Triple-A Albuquerque, Hu managed to have a slight improvement upon his 2008 year, hitting .294/.332/.393, with 6 HR’s and 53 RBI’s.  Not much else to say about the Hu-ster in Dodger Blue in 2009… except, well…

(crickets chirp)

Hey, did you know that, according to Wikipedia, always the crown jewel of credibility, that he has the shortest surname in MLB history?! (Note from MSTI: Or as Diamond Leung Tweeted to me, Hu is now tied with Tigers reliever Fu-Te Ni for that honor).

O.K., I think that means we’ve done enough on shortstop.  So tune in next time!

Next! Manny Ramirez’ fertility-fueled fun! Juan Pierre’s battle for relevance! It’s left field!

- Vin vinscully-face.jpg