2013 Dodgers in Review #11: SS Justin Sellers

90topps_justinsellers.188/.263/.246 163pa 1hr .237 wOBA 0.3 fWAR D

2013 in brief: Saw considerable playing time in April, but was predictably awful and spent most of the year in Triple-A.

2014 status: Remains on the 40-man roster for now, but if you see him in Los Angeles, it means something has gone terribly wrong.

Previous: 2011 | 2012

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You know what’s going to be just a great trivia question someday? “Who was the starting shortstop on Opening Day of the fantastic 2013 season?” It wasn’t Hanley Ramirez, or Nick Punto, or even Dee Gordon: it was the eminently forgettable Justin Sellers, believe it or not.

Remember, his 2013 began with that bizarre motorcyle arrest in January by Sacramento police, then actually saw him optioned to minor league camp less than two weeks before the season began. When Ramirez hurt his thumb in the final game of the WBC, we briefly thought Luis Cruz would move to shortstop, but it ended up being Sellers who got the job — a situation that was hard to believe even in March — because Don Mattingly preferred his defense.

That being the case, it was pretty hard to swallow when Sellers went out and did this in the second game of the season:

You know, one game is one game, and it’s not like anyone questioned Justin Sellers‘ defensive pedigree heading into the night. Don Mattingly said he liked Sellers because he was a quality defensive shortstop, and none of us disagreed with that. It’s an important fact to remember.

Still, when you’re not likely to offer much of anything with the bat, and you exist almost entirely for your glove… well, you better be pretty damned close to picture perfect out there. I think we can all agree that it’s safe to say that Sellers was far from that, because the seventh inning was his worst nightmare. With the Dodgers down 1-0 after six, he allowed Joaquin Arias to reach on a throwing error to begin the seventh. A single and an out later, it was first and third, and San Francisco pitcher Madison Bumgarner bounced up the middle. Sellers threw wide of the plate attempting to get Arias for his second error of the inning — and generously not his third of the night, because a botched play earlier in the game was scored a hit — allowing two runs to score. It was all the Giants would need.

Still, the alternatives were Cruz and Gordon, so Sellers kept playing, starting 20 of the team’s April games at shortstop, but hitting just .203/.282/.266 for the month. It’s hard to say that was below expectations, because we never really expected him to hit, and with the rest of the team (other than Carl Crawford & Adrian Gonzalez) struggling badly on offense in the pre-Puig era, it hardly seemed worth harping on him over it — especially not when the focus was on how awfully Cruz was playing.

Sellers was buried after his final start on April 29, though he didn’t go down immediately when Ramirez returned the next day, sticking around to make appearances as a replacement in five early May games. The tide was clear when Ramirez injured his hamstring on May 4 and it was Gordon who got the call, even though Sellers was already there, and he was sent back to Albuquerque on May 8 to make room for Tim Federowicz. (Running through these posts reminds me of the argument of the time, which was, “Sellers is so bad, Gordon can’t possibly be worse!” Nope.)

Gordon eventually rejoined Sellers in Albuquerque, because by then they were both so awful that Punto was the choice when Ramirez couldn’t play. Sellers was the choice for a brief appearance in June — a choice that Don Mattingly apparently had no input in — striking out as a pinch-hitter against Arizona on June 10, and that was the last we saw of him this season.

Back in the minors, Sellers mostly played short in his fourth partial season at Albuquerque, while also seeing time at second and third. He hit just .270/.326/.429, a .755 OPS that was considerably worse than the .937 he’d put up the last time he had a decent amount of playing time there in 2011. 28 in February, Sellers somehow still is the owner of a 40-man roster spot, but it’s worth noting he’s one of the very, very few such players who didn’t get a September recall. That’s usually not a good sign, nor is a .199/.278/.301 career line.

Once again, he seems like a prime candidate for a DFA should a spot be needed. But I feel like I’ve been saying that for years.

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Next! Everyone’s favorite Uribear, Juan Uribe!

Dee Gordon Still Isn’t Ready For the Big Leagues

"Look, someone who can hit better than me!"

“Look, someone who can hit better than me!”

The Seattle Mariners DFA’d shortstop Robert Andino a few days ago, and if you’re wondering why you should care about that in the least… oh.

gordon_sellers_woba

Whether it’s been Dee Gordon or Justin Sellers, shortstop has been an absolute disaster for the Dodgers this year. It’s been so bad that they’re the two worst hitters at the position in baseball who haven’t been cut loose, now that the Mariners have moved to sever ties with Andino.

That was never the plan, of course, but it’s interesting to look at the decision process that’s gone into using either at various times and the perception fans have of them.

Headed into the season, the Dodgers had a pretty clear-cut plan on the left side of the infield. Hanley Ramirez would play shortstop, Luis Cruz would play third, and Gordon would return to the minors after a 2012 split between being awful and being injured. There were a whole lot of reasons to think that neither Ramirez or Cruz were likely to succeed at those spots, but there was little reason to think that Gordon belonged anywhere but in Albuquerque.

92topps_justinsellersWhen Ramirez injured himself on March 19 in the final game of the World Baseball Classic, the Dodgers didn’t deviate from that plan. Despite some initial thought that Cruz might move to shortstop and allow third to be manned by a combination of Jerry Hairston, Nick Punto, & Juan Uribe, they quickly decided to keep Cruz at third and hand shortstop to the defensively capable Sellers, rather than give Gordon another chance.

We expected little offense from Sellers and that’s exactly what we received, as you can see in the line above. He had one really awful inning in the field, though he was generally adequate otherwise. That said, the lousy offensive production on a team full of the same meant that I was constantly having to explain why replacing him with Gordon was a silly idea. “Sellers is atrocious, so it couldn’t be worse!” went the argument. Well, sure it could; Gordon was no guarantee to be any better on offense and was very likely to be worse on defense. We’ll get back to that in a second.

Ramirez returned ahead of schedule on April 29, and Sellers was immediately nailed to the bench. That gave us time to argue about the wisdom of an untrue report that Gordon might be moving to second base, but it all ended up being for nothing as Ramirez injured himself again on May 3, after playing just four games.

But this time, the team went in a different direction. Instead of simply moving Sellers back to the starting role, the team instead recalled Gordon, apparently intrigued by a solid .314/.397/.431 line in Triple-A. (Sellers was optioned back to the minors days later.) It was a more defensible move at the time, since Gordon had at least had a full month of decent play behind him in the minors this time around, and with the team struggling on all fronts, more of Sellers was an option few found appealing.

At first, it seemed like a great idea. Gordon got on base five times in his first two games while stealing three bases, though the Dodgers lost both games and in fact dropped each of his first six starts. But while many liked to point to a batting average of .429 after two games as an indication Gordon should have been up all along, it quickly became clear that little had changed. And now, as Gordon has had just about as many plate appearances as Sellers had, the question of “could it be worse?” is… well, yes.

Think about it this way: on offense, the contributions have been nearly equally poor, as the close-to-identical wOBA marks show. Yes, Gordon’s speed on the bases is obviously superior, but he’s given some of that value back with poor decisions, and his net stolen base total is merely three.

But on defense, even though Sellers hasn’t really been wonderful (0 Defensive Runs Saved, -5.1 UZR/150), Gordon has been worse (-2 DRS, -9.3 UZR/150). I’m aware of the risks of using defensive stats over a month of play, and so that’s why these are not to be taken as gospel, but as a data point that backs up what we’ve seen with our own eyes. Yes, Gordon’s gotten to some balls that Sellers never would have; he’s also botched more than a few that haven’t been marked down as errors. Neither has added much on offense, especially as Gordon just went more than a week without a hit, and Gordon has given back more on defense.

There are some arguments to be made in Gordon’s favor, of course. Obviously, his upside is far higher than that of Sellers’, which makes you want to invest more into his future, and he does have a poor .219 BABIP, which indicates some amount of bad luck. But in this case, his batted ball profile makes his BABIP seem like less of a quirk and more of a choice:

gordon_gb_lb_fb

Gordon’s groundball rate has plummeted as he’s hit more balls in the air and as line drives. Liners are good, but a player like Gordon simply shouldn’t be hitting the ball in the air like this; he’s not strong enough to muscle the ball out of the park, and he’s not hitting the ball on the ground enough to take advantage of his breathtaking speed.

gordon_ifh_buhThat’s shown again in his declining rates of infield hits and bunt hits, as shown at right. Again, small samples are at play here, but if Gordon is going to be successful it’s going to have to come with his legs, and so far he’s not doing that.

Gordon has now played 162 major league games with 636 plate appearances, or essentially one full season. In that time he’s hit .250/.296/.312, enough for a .270 wOBA and -1.1 WAR, and he’s provided poor defense to go with it. Despite how exciting he can be at times, he’s not ready, he wasn’t ready before, and while I’m not close to being ready to “give up on him,” in my opinion he’s further away than ever from being a reliable major league shortstop.

So what’s to be done? Don Mattingly has already begun to play Gordon less, sitting him in favor of Punto three times in the last seven games, but Punto isn’t really the solution there either. There’s a small possibility that Gordon gets optioned when Hairston is activated later today, but it seems far more likely that a move is made with Cruz, whether that’s a DFA or a disabled list trip.

Assuming that’s the case, then Gordon remains, and we may be a week to ten days away from seeing Ramirez return. (Or more than that. His return date remains unclear.) There’s a case to be made to give Sellers that time, if only for the defense, but I honestly can’t say I feel all that strongly about doing so. If anything, the recent trend of giving Punto time at short might be the best solution — especially as he’s needed less at second and third with Mark Ellis & Hairston back — until Ramirez is ready.

I can’t believe I’m even saying that, because Nick Punto. But while the season isn’t quite hopeless yet, I’ll admit it’s getting close to getting there, and the less time they can give to shortstops who aren’t major-league caliber right now, the better.

Come back soon, Hanley. We miss you, even with all your warts.

Giants 3, Dodgers 0: Why Is Justin Sellers?

sellers_opening_day_2013You know, one game is one game, and it’s not like anyone questioned Justin Sellers‘ defensive pedigree heading into the night. Don Mattingly said he liked Sellers because he was a quality defensive shortstop, and none of us disagreed with that. It’s an important fact to remember.

Still, when you’re not likely to offer much of anything with the bat, and you exist almost entirely for your glove… well, you better be pretty damned close to picture perfect out there. I think we can all agree that it’s safe to say that Sellers was far from that, because the seventh inning was his worst nightmare. With the Dodgers down 1-0 after six, he allowed Joaquin Arias to reach on a throwing error to begin the seventh. A single and an out later, it was first and third, and San Francisco pitcher Madison Bumgarner bounced up the middle. Sellers threw wide of the plate attempting to get Arias for his second error of the inning — and generously not his third of the night, because a botched play earlier in the game was scored a hit — allowing two runs to score. It was all the Giants would need.

Now, it’s easy to blame Sellers — fun, too — but it’s probably not entirely fair to put this on him, because a pretty key component in losing 3-0 is scoring zero runs. And even then, to say “scoring zero runs” is overselling it, because Bumgarner was absolutely dominant. No, Sellers didn’t redeem himself with a hit, but neither did Matt Kemp or Jerry Hairston or Adrian Gonzalez or Luis Cruz or really anyone except for Andre Ethier, who doubled in the second, and A.J. Ellis, who did the same in the eighth.

All of this offensive ineptitude overshadowed a less-than-pretty-but-ultimately-effective debut by Hyun-Jin Ryu, who allowed just a single run over 6.1 innings. That sounds great, as does the fact that he didn’t give up a single walk, but the 10 hits he gave up over that span should cool your enthusiasm somewhat. It helps, I suppose, that all were singles and several weren’t hit particularly hard, and for the first outing, I’ll take it.

Over 17 innings in the first two games of the season, the Dodgers have nine hits and four runs, one of each coming off the bat of Clayton Kershaw. That’s… not exactly what we were hoping for.

Justin Sellers, Really?

justin_sellers_on_baseAs we wait for confirmation of Clayton Kershaw‘s reported deal — TrueBlueLA has a good roundup of the other reports who have heard similar to what I have — there’s other business to attend to as the Dodgers head into their final game of the spring tonight.

When Hanley Ramirez was injured and Dee Gordon shipped out, it quickly seemed clear that Luis Cruz would move to shortstop and that some combination of Jerry Hairston, Nick Punto, and Juan Uribe would handle third. Yet over the last few days, we’ve been quietly hearing various reports that Justin Sellers is actually still in the mix to take shortstop, despite the fact that he was optioned to the minors on March 19. That’s becoming more prominent now that Sellers has been in the starting lineup at short in each of the first two games of the Freeway Series — though it’s fair to note that Cruz was playing in the Rancho Cucamonga game on Thursday night.

The reasoning behind this, apparently, is that Don Mattingly is impressed by Sellers’ defensive skill and considers Sellers/Cruz a stronger defensive left side than Cruz/busted trio. I agree with that, I suppose, but it seems to be by a very slim margin; for all the complaints we have about Punto & Uribe, their defensive skills aren’t really in question. It’s not a case of sacrificing offense for defense, either, because nobody has any confidence in any of the guys named here to contribute with the bat.

Going the Sellers route does open up some other questions, as well. First and foremost on that list would have to be, “how does he get on the roster?” He somewhat surprisingly survived the winter without being DFA’d, so he has a 40-man spot, but if he makes the active roster it means Alex Castellanos definitely doesn’t and that the bench would continue to be brutal. In this scenario, the main backups would be Hairston, Punto, Uribe, and Skip Schumaker (along with backup catcher Tim Federowicz), and that’s just bad.

In addition, keeping Cruz at third does cost us one of the perceived silver linings of the Ramirez injury, and that’s the opportunity for Cruz to prove himself as a regular shortstop, thus hopefully making it easier to slot Ramirez back in at third base when he’s healthy. If Cruz has spent that time at the hot corner, Ramirez is almost inevitably the shortstop when he returns. Maybe that’s going to happen no matter what, but I like the idea of there being an alternative, no matter how slim the odds.

If this does happen, I can’t say it’ll be a huge problem, because Sellers/Cruz would make for a nice defensive left side. I guess I’m just not sure the benefit of that is worth what it’d take to get him there. After all it’s only Justin Sellers, who heads into his age-27 season with as many arrests in the last year as big league home runs.

As always, the end result is this: come back soon, Hanley.

Projecting the Dodgers’ Minor-League Rosters: Double-A & Triple-A

Editor’s note: Chris Jackson rounds off the minor league roster projections with Chattanooga & Albuquerque. Also, don’t forget to enter the Opening Day roster contest — open through 9pm PT tonight!

Van Slyke is one of nine outfielders who will vie for an Isotopes roster spot this spring. (Photo courtesy of the Isotopes)

Scott Van Slyke is one of nine outfielders who will vie for an Isotopes roster spot this spring. (Photo courtesy of the Isotopes)

Chattanooga Lookouts (Double-A Southern League)

Starting rotation: Onelki Garcia, Zach Lee, Aaron Miller, Rob Rasmussen, Chris Reed

All prospects, all the time, in east Tennessee this year! Garcia has the most pure stuff, but the least experience. Lee and Reed will hope their potential matches the results this season. Miller will have to fight to keep his starting spot after a middling season. Rasmussen will get some attention as the new guy in the organization.

Bulllpen: Geison Aguasviva, Steve Ames, Kelvin De La Cruz, Eric Eadington, Jordan Roberts, Andres Santiago, Chris Withrow

That is a lot of lefties, but it is hard to figure out where else to put them. De la Cruz is not a LOOGY and will give them a second long reliever to go with Santiago, who could start if Miller struggles. Aguasviva could fight his way to Albuquerque. Roberts is 27, so if he can’t stick here, his time with the Dodgers may be done. Ames and Eadington figure to share the closing job, though Withrow could see saves, too, now that the Dodgers have committed to him as a reliever. Just missed: Javier Solano

Catchers: Gorman Erickson, Christopher O’Brien

Erickson will be looking for some redemption after a lousy 2012. O’Brien was decent enough at Rancho to merit the promotion.

Infielders: 1B–J.T. Wise, 2B–Rafael Ynoa, SS–Alexis Aguilar, 3B–C.J. Retherford, UTIL–Joe Becker, Omar Luna

Wise and Ynoa have played well enough to earn promotions, but they are blocked at Albuquerque barring some trades. Aguilar is the pick I am least confident in; it could be a half-dozen other guys. In other words, please, Dodgers, sign some random Cuban defector shortstop to spare the poor fans in Chattanooga watching a guy with a career .662 OPS. Retherford had a big year at Rancho, but struggled with the Lookouts, so he will return here. Luna and Becker didn’t play a lot of shortstop last year, but they sure could this year. Just missed: Chris Jacobs 1B, Elevys Gonzalez 3B/2B, Miguel Rojas 2B/SS

Outfielders: LF–Yasiel Puig, CF–Joc Pederson, RF–Blake Smith, OF–Nick Buss, Bobby Coyle

Puig and Pederson are premium prospects. They both figure to play all three outfield spots here. Smith deserves to move up, and he certainly could, but for now I have him starting with the Lookouts. Buss and the talented but oft-injured Coyle return. Just missed: Kyle Russell

Final analysis: If some of the pitchers can translate their potential into results, then this team could be the favorite to win the Southern League. The rotation is six-deep and strong, while the bullpen is strong from both sides of the mound. The outfield should carry the offense, with shortstop being the only real concern on the infield. The Lookouts should be fun to watch this season.

Albuquerque Isotopes (Triple-A Pacific Coast League)

Starting rotation: Fabio Castro, Stephen Fife, Matt Magill, Matt Palmer, Mario Santiago

Magill is the legit prospect here. Fife returns and will be the first called up in the event of an injury to a starter in L.A. Palmer can chew up innings, but that is it. Castro was terrible last year with the A’s organization and might not last long in Albuquerque. Santiago is a gamble, with the Dodgers/Isotopes hoping he can carry over the success he found in Korea last year with the SK Wyverns.

Bullpen: Michael Antonini, Blake Johnson, Hector Nelo, Red Patterson, Paco Rodriguez, Cole St. Clair, Shawn Tolleson, Josh Wall

Antonini’s health is in question, so he might not crack this group. Rodriguez and Tolleson both deserve to pitch in the Majors, but I have Javy Guerra and Ted Lilly taking the last two spots. Johnson and St. Clair return in the long relief roles. Wall should close again. Patterson moves up, but it could easily be Ames instead. Nelo, a minor-league Rule 5 pick, gets the nod over the plethora of Triple-A vets signed this off-season. I am also betting that the veteran trio of Kevin Gregg, Mark Lowe, and Peter Moylan will opt out at the end of the spring. Just missed: Juan Abreu, Victor Garate, Gregory Infante, Wilmin Rodriguez, Luis Vasquez

Catchers: Jesus Flores, Matt Wallach

Flores could easily be subbed out for Federowicz if the Dodgers opt to have the prospect play every day and the veteran back up A.J. Ellis. Consider them interchangeable. Wallach has never hit, but he plays good defense and seems like a safe bet to the backup. Just missed: Eliezer Alfonzo, Wilkin Castillo, Ramon Castro

Infielders: 1B–Nick Evans, 2B–Elian Herrera, SS–Dee Gordon, 3B–Dallas McPherson, UTIL–Rusty Ryal, Justin Sellers

Evans always earned rave reviews for his defense, which could be a big help for Gordon’s wild throws (remember how Mark Teixeira made Derek Jeter look better back in 2009?). While it can be speculated that Gordon could or should be in the Majors, until he proves otherwise, I have him here. Sellers is another guy most people are counting out, but the Dodgers have not dumped him yet, even after his arrest in Sacramento. Herrera can, and likely will, play everywhere, but he should play almost every day. McPherson will DH against AL teams, since his back is unlikely to hold up for 144 games. Ryal gets the nod because the Isotopes need the left-handed bat. Just missed: Alfredo Amezaga UTIL, Brian Barden 3B, Ozzie Martinez SS

Outfielders: LF–Scott Van Slyke, CF–Tony Gwynn Jr., RF–Alex Castellanos, OF–Jeremy Moore

Unless Castellanos returns to the infield, this outfield is tough to figure out. Both he, Moore and Van Slyke are all right-handed hitters, so it would make a lot of sense for someone like Smith (who hits left-handed) to move up from Chattanooga. Unless the Isotopes only carry seven relievers (which, fat chance), it won’t happen unless the Dodgers move Van Slyke in a trade. Moore gets that backup spot because he can play all three positions and because the Dodgers obviously think very highly of him as he was the only free agent to participate in their prospect minicamp last month. Just missed: Matt Angle, Brian Cavazos-Galvez

Final analysis: This team does not look as talented as last year’s playoff squad, at least on paper. The rotation looks awfully suspect behind Fife and Magill. The bullpen could be good, at least. The lineup lacks left-handed bats, but should be able to score enough runs to keep games interesting. If the Dodgers can’t find any additional starting pitchers, however, it could be a long summer of 12-10 scores in Albuquerque, which this reporter is not very interested in watching anymore.