Mets Hit, Dodgers Don’t, and That’s All You Need to Know

Well, you can’t say the Dodger offense didn’t at least have their chances:

2nd inning: Matt Kemp on second, no outs.
3rd inning: Ted Lilly on third, Tony Gwynn on second, one out.
4th inning: Bases loaded with AJ Ellis, Juan Uribe, & Trent Oeltjen, two outs.
5th inning: Kemp on second, Aaron Miles on third, no outs.
7th inning: Jamey Carroll on third, two outs.

I don’t need to tell you how many of those situations turned into runs, right? The list above doesn’t even include Kemp getting thrown out by a country mile at home in the 4th inning on a Uribe double, though it was clear that third base coach Tim Wallach wasn’t exactly ordering him to stop, either.

Okay, now let’s try it on the pitching side, courtesy of Ted Lilly and Blake Hawksworth:

5th inning: Carlos Beltran homers, scoring Angel Pagan.
6th inning: Jason Bay homers.
8th inning: Jason Bay homers, scoring Beltran and Ronny Paulino.

Lilly giving up dingers while the offense completely and utterly fails? It’s almost like we’ve played that game before. (To be fair to Lilly, he was effective otherwise, and allowing three runs over six innings is a marked improvement from his previous few outings.)

How bad have things gotten? Miles – you know, the same guy who I once referred to as one of the worst players in history, the guy who I like to point out has a totally empty .300 batting average which will surely regress as soon as his unreasonably high BABIP normalizes – was hit by a Mike Pelfrey pitch in the bottom of the 5th inning, eventually leaving the game in favor of Jamey Carroll. When it became clear that Miles may be injured, I actually thought, “uh oh”. Back before the universe went upside-down, you used to pray for guys like Miles to get injured just to get them off the active roster. (Not really, but you know what I mean.) Now? Miles has the 4th highest wOBA of any active Dodger, min. 50 PA. Yes, he’s having a nice season, but trust me, that says a whole hell of a lot more about the team than it does about him.

With the loss, the Dodgers fall to 37-50. I’d say that “they stay 11 games out of first with San Francisco’s loss tonight,” but since the Giants lost to the Padres, the more relevant number is that they now fall three full games behind San Diego for last place. Only three teams in baseball have more losses than the Dodgers: Kansas City (51), the Chicago Cubs (52), and Houston (58), and they’re one game behind the pace set by the 99-loss 1992 club, who were 38-49 through 87 games.

Other than the usual heroics of Kemp and the once-every-five-days fun from Clayton Kershaw, it’s getting harder and harder to see bright sides around here.

(Also: this is a couple of days old, but since I didn’t see it mentioned elsewhere: the Dodgers signed Justin Miller and Roy Corcoran to minor league deals recently. Miller, you may remember, was confusingly DFA’d last season despite quality performance.)

MSTI’s 2010 in Review: Relievers, Part 2

Continuing our “three random relievers” method of doling out bullpen reviews…

Hong-Chih Kuo (A+)
1.20 ERA, 1.81 FIP, 11.0 K/9, 2.7 BB/9, 2.9 WAR

Kuo started the year off by winning the MSTI fan balloting for best lefty reliever of the decade, but started the season in the place that terrifies us the most: on the disabled list with soreness in his left elbow. He missed most of April, and I spent most of the rest of the season worrying about his continued health.

June 28:

But it’s not just about Broxton, because Chad from MOKM points out that Hong-Chih Kuo is getting close to Defcon 5:

In his nine appearances in June, five of them were of the multiple inning variety. This coming from a guy who has had four arm surgeries and whose arm turned blue in the bullpen during the playoffs the last time the Dodgers used him this way.

For comparison, can you guys guess how many times he was used over an inning in 2009? Zero.

June 30:

When Miller entered the game, none other than Hong-Chih Kuo started warming. Yes, in the 9th inning of a seven-run game, by all means get your fragile superstar lefty up. Why not?

July 23:

It’s also absolutely terrifying that Kuo has been allowed to either pitch or warm three consecutive nights, and I’m not lying when I say I’m terrified for him each time he’s out there now. Remember when he wasn’t allowed to do that for even two nights in a row? Now he’s up to three, and I don’t think I’m alone when I say, there’s just no way that can end well.

August 5:

I would love to go one game, just one, without dropping some negativity about Joe Torre. I don’t really enjoy it as much as it probably seems I do. It’s just, we all know about Hong-Chih Kuo‘s injury history. When you have a guy like that, you know that his arm could go at any second, and you use the bullets he has on high-value innings. So after needlessly using him last night (Ted Lilly had only set down twenty Padres in a row), Torre had Kuo (and Jonathan Broxton, for that matter) warming up in the 8th inning in what was at the time a four-run game.

Kuo, of course, was never needed, but since he had to throw two days in a row, it’s fair to question his availability for tomorrow’s game. Every pitch rolls on that odometer, so for the one millionth time this season, leave Kuo alone unless you need him.

It’s understandable that no conversation about Kuo can really take place without a healthy dose of worry about his health, but it’s also a little unfair to him for that to take precedence over what he did on the field this season, because after missing most of April, his 2010 was record-setting.

That 1.20 ERA? It was only the lowest in the 127 years of recorded Dodger history (minimum 50 IP), and even that doesn’t tell the entire truth. A rusty Kuo gave up 2 ER in 0.1 IP in his season debut on April 22, and allowed just 6 ER the rest of the year – that’s a 0.91 ERA. He also became the first native of Taiwan to make the All-Star team, and set an MLB record by retiring the first 36 left-handed hitters of the season who faced him.

Kuo’s unbelievably ridiculous line against fellow southpaws can’t be overstated – .095/.159/.111 – yet he was dominant no matter how you break down the stats. Righties only had a .460 OPS. At home, opponents had just a .312 OPS. During the day, it was .385, and at night it was .411 – frankly put, no one hit Kuo, any time, any place. By August, with Jonathan Broxton proving unreliable, Kuo moved into the main closer’s role, and ended up notching nine saves in the last six weeks, and he’s likely to see time there next year as well.

For a pitcher with a long history of arm woes who pitched just 30 IP in 2009 and started 2010 on the DL with yet another arm problem, it wouldn’t have surprised anyone if Kuo had just hung them up and went home. Yet not only did he persevere, he was outstanding. You can never count on him any further than his next pitch, but I’m not sure the A+ is even high enough here.

Justin Miller (C)
4.44 ERA, 4.11 FIP, 11.1 K/9, 3.0 BB/9, 0.0 WAR

He’s soon to be known as the “other” Justin Miller, as the Dodgers have a 23-year-old prospect by the same name in AA but the funny thing is, I wasn’t really excited about his arrival, and then I wasn’t sure why he was let go.

When he was signed to a minor-league deal last December, I was relatively indifferent:

If you haven’t heard, the Dodgers signed righty reliever Justin Miller to a minor-league contract today.  You’re probably thinking that I’ll be frustrated with this, as I have been with the rumors of the last few days. I mean, all of the signs are there, right? Signing an over-30 reliever with increasingly mediocre performances – and who is yet another ex-Giant, no less – is exactly the sort of thing I should hate.

But I don’t hate this. No, it’s not because Justin Miller is any good. If he’s good at anything, it’s being a poster child for how ERA (especially for relievers) can be unreliable. I guarantee that there’s Dodger fans out there who read about this signing, saw his 3.18 ERA, and think he’s a stud. Nothing could be further from the truth, of course. After spending 2006 in Japan, Miller’s pitched in at least 44 games in each of the last three seasons, the first two with Florida. How’d that work out? Well, there’s been a declining strikeout rate each year (10.8->8.3->5.7), an increasing walk rate (3.5->3.9->4.3), and an increasing homer rate (0.7->0.8->1.1). That nice ERA in 2009 was largely due to luck, since his BABIP was a far-below-average .227. Put that all together, and his FIP was 4.91, which sounds a whole lot more like it should be.

Still, as I said, I don’t hate this. Yeah, he’s not any good, but it’s encouraging to see that guys like this aren’t being evaluated strictly on misleading ERA’s anymore. And it’s a minor league deal, so how can I complain? With bullpen turnover so high from year to year, it’s smart to pile as many arms like this as you can in the minors.

After starting the year with some success in ABQ – 25/8 K/BB in 18 games – he was called up in late May when the club finally put Ramon Ortiz out of our collective misery. Miller didn’t pitch wonderfully as a Dodger – 4 homers in 18 games is a bit high – but nor was he a disaster, holding batters to a .244/.320/.433 line. And what’s wrong with 30 K in 24.1 IP? So when he was DFA’d in July, I didn’t quite think that he ought to have lost his job, especially considering that there were other lesser performers and those who still had minor league options. Still, it’s only Justin Miller, so I wasn’t that upset. He returned to ABQ, but didn’t get a call-up in September.

He’ll always have this, though. You now know the answer to this trivia question: who did the Dodgers cut to bring up Kenley Jansen?

Jack Taschner (inc.)
27.00 ERA, 30.08 FIP, 0.0 K/9, 81.0 BB/9, 0.0 WAR

Taschner pitched to just six batters in three July games as a Dodger, retiring only one. He threw just 33 pitches in a Dodger uniform, and was basically completely forgettable. So while I don’t want to spend too much time acting as though Taschner was in any way important, it is fun to look back and remember how we always realized this was going to be a terrible idea.

June 28:

Don’t let the timing of this fool you, because I’ve already seen this picked up in multiple places that this was somehow Ned Colletti’s “response” to last night. Taschner was signed in the last few days… early enough to give up a homer in his Isotope debut last night. So, there’s that.

July 23:

I didn’t mention the other day that Jack Taschner had been recalled from ABQ, but if I had, I would have laughed at it. Taschner was so bad that he was DFA’d by the Pirates, of all teams, in June. The fun part is, not only was he not good this year, he’s never been any good (career 4.47 FIP and 4.82 BB/9), his velocity has dropped four years in a row (down to 88.8 MPH this year), and he wasn’t even any good in AAA after signing with the Dodgers (four home runs allowed in ten innings.) Yet he’s somehow a better choice than Kenley Jansen, or if you must have a lefty, Juan Perez (9.3 K/9, 3.19 ERA for the Isotopes)?

Anyway, his simple recall isn’t what set me off here, it’s this bit of news, also from  Hernandez:

Tashner taking over as lefty specialist

That’s without throwing a pitch for the club, by the way. But not only is a guy who cut dumped by Pittsburgh being given an important role, what’s even funnier is that he’s completely unqualified for it. Despite being a lefty, Taschner has no discernible platoon split. For his career, he’s been hit by righties at a .796 clip, and lefties at .778. That comes out to a .292/.361/.416 line, and that’s just not all that good.

July 24:

It’s no surprise to see the non-Broxton and Kuo contingent fail, though Weaver had been generally reliable, and in particular watching Taschner fail was basically the most predictable thing ever.

July 29:

Weaver allowed a single and a double while not getting an out, Travis Schlichting allowed four runners and two runs in his inning of work, and Jack Taschner… well, I still can’t figure out what the hell he’s here for. He entered the game having not retired any of his first three batters in two games as Dodger, and promptly walked his first two tonight. He finally got his first out on his sixth batter, but even that was on a well-hit ball that happened to be directly at Matt Kemp. You’re going to have to make at least one roster move in the next few days (when Scott Podsednik arrives) and probably a second as well (if John Ely comes up to start), and there’s just no way that Taschner should remain – getting rid of him is perhaps even more vital than getting rid of Garret Anderson.

July 29:

Jack Taschner faced six batters as a Dodger, and he retired just one. Shockingly, he’s unemployed, as he was DFA’d just now to make room for Scott Podsednik.

Boy, who could have ever predicted that a guy who got cut by the Pirates and couldn’t keep the ball in the park in AAA would have been a huge failure?

And thus ends the long and storied Dodger career of Jack Taschner.

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Next! Kenley Jansen bursts on the scene! James McDonald gets traded for magic beans! Jeff Weaver tries to stick around! It’s relievers, part 3!

 

Tough Night in the Desert


No way around it: Hiroki Kuroda‘s start last night was almost as ugly as those horrendous white hats that MLB is forcing upon every team in an attempt to ruin each holiday of the summer. He got just five outs, allowing six runs on eight hits and two walks (with two wild pitches thrown in for good measure) – really, just terrible no matter how you try to spin it. All you can do is realize that even a pitcher with Kuroda’s record of effectiveness is going to have a poor game every now and then (especially in a ballpark like Arizona’s, and who knows how much of an impact Thursday’s bloodbath had on a team desperate to not be further embarrassed had), and move on.

It wasn’t all bad, though. Rafael Furcal continued his hot streak with two more hits, and James Loney and Andre Ethier had three apiece. Even Blake DeWitt had 2 hits and 3 RBI, and for all the worry about his offensive production this season, it’s worth noting that if he had enough plate appearances to qualify, his OPS would be 11th in MLB among second basemen, far above noted contemporaries like Aaron Hill, Chone Figgins, and Howie Kendrick.

Really, if there’s anything to take away from this game, it’s that the bloom might be off the rose of Justin Miller. After starting his Dodger career with 6.1 scoreless innings over 4 games, Miller has now allowed runs in six of his last ten outings, letting opponents pile up a .995 OPS in that time. Since Miller was never all that good in the first place, this isn’t all that big of a surprise, but worth noting – and if it continues, it might not be a bad idea to start thinking about calling up a Travis Schlichting or Jon Link from ABQ to take his place.

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Kuroda’s lousy outing last night was somewhat obscured by the fact that – despite what we’d been told earlier – Manny Ramirez will indeed go on the DL to rest his hamstring. Xavier Paul is coming back up, and you would think that between Paul’s dominance in AAA and Torre’s previous statements about not wanting him to be somewhere he isn’t playing every day, that he’d be the starting left fielder, at least against righties, with Reed Johnson spotting against lefties. Right?

With Manny Ramirez unavailable Friday night and possibly headed to the disabled list with a bad right hamstring, manager Joe Torre indicated he would choose daily between Garret Anderson and Reed Johnson to replace him.

“It will be the type of pitchers or the match-up,” Torre said.

I don’t want to belabor the point here, because clearly there’s been absolutely no shortage of Anderson-bashing on this blog. But, seriously, what is it going to take to get Torre to come around on this? What pitchers are going to make a good matchup for Anderson right now, six-year-old girls with muscular dystrophy? He accounted for four outs in his first three at-bats yesterday before managing to drop a single into right field, and he’s hitting .183/.198/.296. This isn’t a situation where he needs time to acclimate to his new role. He’s DONE, and everyone seems to see that except for Joe Torre.

Meanwhile, Xavier Paul is hitting .348/.404/.635 for the Isotopes, and lest you think that’s a stat line which is entirely due to the ABQ atmosphere, note that he’s still got a pretty tasty line of .320/.381/.534 on the road. This is the fifth year in a row in which he’s increased his OPS in the minors, and he has a 103 OPS+ in his limited time in the majors. 90% of the rest of baseball would be falling over themselves to give a prospect like that a chance at a full-time job. Granted, most of those teams don’t have an outfield like Manny/Kemp/Ethier, but to say that you’re going to play a husk of a corpse of a cadaver like the 38-year-old Anderson, who has proven that his value is zero, is obscene. It’s hard to say that the Dodgers are doing everything they can to win when you see situations like these, isn’t it?

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A quick note about the story that Matt Kemp got into an argument with bench coach Bob Schaefer, and that’s why he was benched: ESPN’s Buster Olney has a pretty good dig at the situation:

Joe Torre wouldn’t talk about why he didn’t seek out a meeting with Matt Kemp, as Mr. Hernandez writes within this notebook. “It’s none of your business,” Torre told a reporter.

Not until the publicist calls as the next book is released, anyway. That’s when everything is fair game, apparently.

This Team Is Ortiz-Free

Dylan Hernandez with the news that’s made my day:

Justin Miller called up from triple-A Albuquerque; Ramon Ortiz DFA’d

Finally! That’s two lousy Ortizii gone in two months. Way to get the holiday weekend off on the right foot! Sure, Ortiz hadn’t pitched since last Wednesday anyway, so it makes me wonder why they let him eat up the roster spot for that long, but who cares: so long, Ramon. Don’t come back now, you hear?

As for Justin Miller, he’s a 32-year-old veteran of parts of six seasons with Toronto, Florida, and San Francisco, with 197 MLB games to his credit. Don’t let his shiny 3.18 ERA from last year with the Giants fool you too much, as his FIP was 4.91 thanks to a mediocre 36/27 K/BB rate and a surprisingly low .244 BABIP.

Still, if there’s one thing Miller’s got going for him, it’s that he’s not Ramon Ortiz, and he has been very productive in AAA in 2010. In 18 games for the Isotopes, he’s allowed just six earned runs with a nice 25/8 K/BB rate and a 1.027 WHIP. Miller is what he is, and that’s a mediocre, somewhat-usable veteran righty reliever, with a fastball that barely tops 90 and a heavy reliance on his slider. His career ERA of 4.84 fits nicely with his 4.90 FIP, which sounds exactly right. But again: he’s not Ramon Ortiz.

Now, not to let anything get in the way of this joyous occasion, but… wasn’t it just yesterday that Joe Torre said that Ortiz would be backing up Carlos Monasterios on Friday? And didn’t Tony Jackson say, also yesterday, that Jon Link was the front-runner for the promotion? Lesson learned: trust no one.

Looks like it’s time to update the Old Guy DFA-o-Meter to all Anderson, all the time. The bell tolls for thee, Garret…

Time to Love New Mexico, Justin Miller and Prentice Redman

If you haven’t heard, the Dodgers signed righty reliever Justin Miller to a minor-league contract today.  You’re probably thinking that I’ll be frustrated with this, as I have been with the rumors of the last few days. I mean, all of the signs are there, right? Signing an over-30 reliever with increasingly mediocre performances – and who is yet another ex-Giant, no less – is exactly the sort of thing I should hate.

But I don’t hate this. No, it’s not because Justin Miller is any good. If he’s good at anything, it’s being a poster child for how ERA (especially for relievers) can be unreliable. I guarantee that there’s Dodger fans out there who read about this signing, saw his 3.18 ERA, and think he’s a stud. Nothing could be further from the truth, of course. After spending 2006 in Japan, Miller’s pitched in at least 44 games in each of the last three seasons, the first two with Florida. How’d that work out? Well, there’s been a declining strikeout rate each year (10.8->8.3->5.7), an increasing walk rate (3.5->3.9->4.3), and an increasing homer rate (0.7->0.8->1.1). That nice ERA in 2009 was largely due to luck, since his BABIP was a far-below-average .227. Put that all together, and his FIP was 4.91, which sounds a whole lot more like it should be.

Still, as I said, I don’t hate this. Yeah, he’s not any good, but it’s encouraging to see that guys like this aren’t being evaluated strictly on misleading ERA’s anymore. And it’s a minor league deal, so how can I complain? With bullpen turnover so high from year to year, it’s smart to pile as many arms like this as you can in the minors. Besides, Vin Scully loves talking about Miller’s crazy tattoos whenever he’s faced the Dodgers in the past, so it’s hard to not want to root to hear that on a more regular basis.

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From that same article, the Dodgers also signed Prentice Redman. Now, you’re probably asking the same question I am, and that’s “who the hell is Prentice Redman?” My first thought was that maybe it was former Pirates OF Tike Redman, and it turns out I was close – they’re brothers.

Prentice is 30 and his major league career consists of 3 hits in 27 plate appearances with the 2003 Mets. He did manage to get on the board with a homer among those 3 hits, and who was it against? Jose Mesa. Of course it was.

Since then, he’s bounced around between AA and AAA in the Mets, Nationals, Cardinals, and Mariners organizations without getting a sniff of the bigs. The minor league stats are impressive, though. In 2008 he hit 25 homers with a .920 OPS split between Seattle’s AA and AAA clubs; in 2009 it was 21 homers with a .900 OPS in AAA. Is he worth giving playing time to ahead of Xavier Paul if you need another outfielder in the bigs? Probably not, but if he can put up numbers like that in Tacoma, you can expect him to put up huge numbers in Albuquerque. On a minor-league deal, another fine signing.

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Not to harp on something that probably wasn’t a big deal in the first place, but Vinny Rottino signed with the Marlins today. You may remember that he’s who Claudio Vargas was traded for in July, which I thought was stupid at the time. It didn’t get any smarter by the time of our off-season reviews:

Vargas went to Milwaukee and continued to excel (1.78 ERA, .530 OPS against), Rottino went to Chattanooga, never to be heard from, and I still can’t find a good reason for any of it.

In exchange for Vargas, the Dodgers got a total return of 89 AA plate appearances. Because somehow that’s a fair trade.