MSTI.com’s 2008 in Review: Second Base

On to our second base review, and no, I didn’t forget Blake DeWitt – he’ll be included under third base, since that’s where he played most of the season.

Jeff Kent ()
(.280/.327/.418 12hr 59rbi)
What a wild year for Mr. Friendly, right? When summing up a season, I always like to look back and see what we thought about him at various points in time. But few players have had all of these things written about them in the course of the same season:

May 21: “Just in Case Jeff Kent Needs Some Motivation…

Think about that. If Jeff Kent keeps up his current pace and Joe Torre continues to bat him cleanup, he’s going to be the second worst cleanup hitter of the last fifty years – and as the THT article explains, Aramis Ramirez was only so bad in 2002 because he played all year on a destroyed ankle.

July 13: “Too Many Problems, Whatcha Gonna Do

Back to Joe Torre, I implore you to read this carefully, because it just might be the greatest thing ever uttered:

On Jeff Kent: “He’s the perfect example of a player. He’s struggling, but we know we’re going to get a professional at-bat every time he gets in the box.”

“He’s the perfect example of a player.” I love this sentence. I want to get it tattooed on my back. I want to take it out behind the middle school and get it pregnant. I want it to be prominently displayed on all forms of United States currency from now until the end of time. “He’s the perfect example of a player.” As opposed to, say, Russell Martin, who is the perfect example of a 1920s vaudeville singer, and Brad Penny, who is the perfect example of a hamster.

Aug. 30: “Eight is Enough

You would think that a knee injury so painful that he’s missing the biggest series of the year would explain why Kent’s having the worst season of his entire career, right? But Kent says that he’s been playing with pain for a month – a month in which he’s been excellent, hitting .357/.394/.439. Whether that’s Manny-aided or not, that’s impressive, but who gets hurt and then has their performance improve?

Aug. 31: “Jeff Kent’s Dodger Legacy” (Dodger Thoughts)

Jeff Kent, whose Dodger career began at age 37, is the greatest-hitting second baseman in Los Angeles Dodger history.

Sept. 2: “Are the Dodgers Better Off Without Jeff Kent?

This is hardly a solid cause-and-effect, but with Kent, the Dodgers had lost 10 of their last 11 games. As soon as he was out of town (and not just out of the lineup. The whole point here is the idea that just his presence may have been detrimental), they’ve ripped off four wins in a row, starting with Saturday’s game, since as the article notes, he left before it.

Sept. 21: “Sunday, Bloody Sunday

Say friends, did you also know that, yesterday, the Dodgers activated Jeff Kent?  You know, the one who just had knee surgery TWO weeks ago.

And so forth. I could go on, but I think you get the idea – Jeff Kent’s (likely) swan song was a wild ride of ups, downs, injuries, downs, postseason benchings, and downs. For the record, his 77 OPS+ out of the cleanup spot merely ties him for the third worst cleanup season of all time, and he’s still a lousy defensive second baseman (last of 16 qualified MLB 2B in range factor, 14th in fielding %, 12th in zone rating), although it’s not like anyone thought he’d be anything otherwise.

That said, 2008 wasn’t a complete debacle for Kent. Any discussion of his statistics has to of course begin with the standard age-related disclaimer: the man is 40 years old. In that light, putting up a seasonal 95 OPS+ isn’t that bad. Only five 40 year olds have managed to play most of a full season at second base since 1961, and the most productive of that group was Tony Phillips for the 1999 A’s, who put up a 108 OPS+, so Kent’s not that far off. Simply put, it’s pretty rare for anyone his age to still be a starting second baseman, and the fact that he very nearly was a league-average hitter is pretty impressive. Among all 2008 second basemen, his .745 OPS ranks him 16th, which is just about the middle of the pack, but still above names like Rickie Weeks, Robinson Cano, and Akinori Iwamura. And just like any old man, Kent was wildly unpredictable. Sometimes he’s fondly remembering his date with that cute nurse right after V-E Day (OPS of .750 or better in April, June, and August), and sometimes he’s wildly cursing at John F. Kennedy and the damn Demmycrats ruining the country (.551 OPS in May).

Almost as importantly, Kent seems to have not ignited any clubhouse fires this season, although I’ve always felt that most of the “young immature guys” vs. “get off my lawn!” battles were hugely media-driven because they make for good copy. Hell, Matt Kemp even said that he and Kent listened to Lil’ Wayne before games to get pumped up, and while I’m not sold that that’s 100% true, Kemp probably wouldn’t have even joked about if it he was afraid Professor Kent was going to sit him down, rap his knuckles with a ruler, and educate him about the days when men were men and all we needed to toughen up the god damn hippies was to send them to ‘Nam.

You know, the more I write these things, the more I realize that I think of Jeff Kent as Red Forman from That 70′s Show.

Anyway, Kent doesn’t get a letter grade. You can’t give him an A or a B because he simply wasn’t all that great, but I can’t see giving him a C or a D because he’s doing things at his age and position that almost no one has done before. So Jeff, take your gold watch and ride off into the sunset of Texas on your motorcycle. We’ll miss you (his 2005 was excellent, he now holds the Dodger record for homers at ages 37, 38, 39, and 40, and as DodgerThoughts said, he might be the best LA 2B ever), but I can’t imagine that anyone is really pining for you to return next year - and we will respectfully stay far, far away from your lawn.

Luis Maza (inc.)
(.228/.282/.278 1hr 4rbi)
Ah, Luis Maza, the 2008 winner of the “Token Minor League Lifer Who Gets Called Up That Even MSTI Has Never Heard of Before”. Previous winners include Wilson Valdez, 2007, and Brian Myrow, 2005. Maza was only up for about two months from mid-May to mid-July, and to no one’s surprise, he didn’t really do much at the plate, which is basically what you expect from a middle infielder who’s making his major league debut at age 28. To his credit, Maza destroyed the PCL (.378/.450/.492) in 2008, but here’s the really odd thing about him: when you have a middle infielder who can’t hit big-league pitching, you really expect that he’s a plus glove. There’s been about a billion of these guys over the years, to the point that they really ought to start their own union like the backup catchers club. But Luis Maza may have had the worst throwing arm of any middle infielder I’ve seen in my entire life. This is what I said after his first game, a start at shortstop on May 16:

If you saw his start against Milwaukee yesterday, you’ll know that it won’t matter if he’s hitting .402 or .902 – we need him to never be at shortstop ever again. I’ve never seen a shortstop with such a weak arm, to the point that the Milwaukee broadcasters were trying to figure out what he was even doing in the majors.

Oh yeah. It’s always good when the opposing team’s announcers are making fun of your shortstop’s lollypop throws. I suppose the defining statement on the Dodger career of Luis Maza is that he was DFA’d not to make room for a returning injured player like Rafael Furcal or Nomar Garciaparra… but to get replaced by the equally dreadful Pablo Ozuna. Yikes. If that’s not a sign that it’s time to start working towards that carpentry degree, I don’t know what is.

Pablo Ozuna (inc.)
(.219/.242/.375 1hr 3rbi)
I’ll say this for Pablo Ozuna – I’ve never heard of a player making the playoff roster a month after getting DFA’d. And it wasn’t just a standard DFA, it was a “yeah, we could wait four more days until rosters expand and recall Blake DeWitt without losing you, but we’d rather just be rid of you right now.” I don’t want to be too harsh on Ozuna here, but let’s not mince words: he has no business being on the major league roster of a contending team. His career OPS+ is 76 (largely aided by his incredibly fluky 105 in 2006, since he never even hit 90 in any other season) and at 34, it’s not like there’s a lot of time for him to improve. Oh sure, he can play a lot of positions. Big deal, it’s not that hard to find a utility guy, and you could throw darts into the stands and hit at least twenty people who are better hitters.

At least we were consistent with him, though. I said his “continued presence blows my mind” on August 11th, called him “a stiff” and asked “what value he brings” on August 13th, “endlessly mediocre” on August 17th, and “completely useless” on August 27th.

Damn, I had no idea I laid so much hate on Pablo Ozuna in August. Nothing personal, Pablo. It’s just that I find you useless as a baseball player, and you’re the early lead for my “least favorite Dodger of 2008 (human division)”, and while I know what you’re thinking, what Andruw Jones accomplished this season was so monumentally awful that I don’t think any human could have done that if they tried.

- Mike Scioscia’s tragic illnessmsti-face.jpg

I Know, It’s Only Three Games… But I Like It, Like It, Yes I Do…

So, what happened to those Dodgers that I once knew?  The one’s who would lay down, not score, and just downright break our hearts?

Well, they got kidnapped!  We seemed to have gotten this new team, and they even have some fight in them.  This new team has also been pretty fun to watch, coming out of the gates and taking 2 out of 3 from their divisional rivals.  Really, this is just what the doctor ordered.  We all know the Dodgers badly needed to take at least two out of three from Arizona, instead of risking falling even further, and they came pretty damn close to doing the latter.  Yet this team showed for the first time this year some fight in them.  Anyone who’s watched the Dodgers this year knows that once they get down by a couple of runs, it’s over.

But on Friday, they came back to erase a 6-3 deficit and win 8-7 after a James Loney HR in the 11th inning, and almost came back on Saturday, turning a 3-0 game into a 3-2 game in the 9th.  While they lost, it was encouraging to watch them put up some kind of rally.  Then, of course, there is today.  After getting utterly dominated by Brandon Webb for 8 innings, the Dodgers went into the 9th trailing 4-1.  Up until the time Matt Kemp came up again with 2 outs, the game seemed like a carbon copy of the previous game.

However, this time, instead of flying out on the first pitch, Kemp put up easily his best at-bat this season.  Hell, maybe the best at-bat of his career.  Instead of going up there, aggressive, trying to hit the ball out of the park, he just went up there and showed great patience and wasn’t trying to do much.  It paid off, with a shot to the gap to tie the game.  Then, of course, the monstrous triple by Ethier to put the Dodgers on top.  Best inning by far this season and primarily done by the kids.  In Kemp’s case, I really hope that at-bat can be a turning point with him and that is also plays a hand in his development.  Perhaps we’re already seeing The Mattingly Effect, but, in any event, well done, Mattie.  And by the way, the person he drove in on that double?  Why, newest Dodger, Pablo Ozuna! In order to get him, the Dodgers had to DFA Luis Maza.  Not much to say on that, except, why does Ned continue to sign the same no-hit infielders thinking that something will eventually stick?  On a team that needs offense?

But back to the game.  The kids played a huge role in the 9th, but despite our kiddie love here at MSTI (in the non-Michael Jackson way, of course), there was some contributions from a certain veteran.

How about Nomar?  After being MIA (Hamm?) for the past two years, he is hitting the ball better than he has in two years.  Of course we know what he did on Friday with the 2 HR game, but he has been on an utter terror.  Since being back, Nomar is hitting .316/.366/.632 with a .998 OPS and 3 HR’s.  What I particularly like is the .632 SLG%.  Even during the rare moments he did hit last year, he was nothing more than a singles hitter, however, his stroke seems to be returning.  He’s hitting doubles and showing a power stroke that, again, we haven’t seen in two years.  All botched rundowns aside, I no longer want to jam icepicks in my ears whenever he comes up to the plate.  So, welcome back, Nomar!

And even better…  We can listen to “Low Rider” again… and LIKE IT!!

Another good moment today was watching Andy LaRoche get a pinch hit single in the 9th to keep the inning going and make the game 4-3.  And speaking of LaRoche, Joe Torre spoke about the whole DeWitt/LaRoche thing, this morning.

Courtesy Diamond Leung:

“It’s not affecting his defense. And he’s going to give you an honest at-bat.”

An “honest” at-bat?  What the hell does that mean?  What’s a dishonest at-bat?  And, O.K., maybe it’s not affecting his defense, but the team’s greatest need is offense.  We need that; he hasn’t provided that in two months.

Torre said he was going by “feel” in choosing DeWitt to play the majority of the time.

Hear that, folks?  That guy that the Dodgers pay $4 million dollars a year to make wise baseball decisions?  He makes them based on feel and other subjective measures.  This is how our manager makes roster decisions.  Our starting third baseman is starting because Joe Torre has a feeling, a feeling deep inside, oh yeah, while praising Mark Sweeney and his sub-.100 average because of “swing paths” and “body language.”

Really, I’m waiting for the next article to come out something like this:

Torre said he was going by his magic 8 ball in choosing DeWitt to play the majority of the time, while telephone calls to Miss Cleo suggested that he should always start Andruw Jones.

Back to real quotes:

“It probably worked against LaRoche that I’ve seen so much of DeWitt,” Torre said. “It’s not anything against LaRoche. Blake is filling the bill, so to speak.”

Let me get this straight…  a guy with a 79 OPS+ is “filling the bill” because he’s able to do only half of his job well?  By the logic, Andruw Jones hasn’t been terrible at center field, this year.  Yet does anyone think he’s earned his playing time?  Nooooo.  I’d be most curious how DeWitt’s atrocious offense over the past two months has been filling the bill on a team that, oh, I don’t know… desperately NEEDS offense?!

Utter stupid and he gets more Grady by the minute.  I’m sure Torre has plenty of baseball wisdom, but the game is passing him by.  And, again, when we covered the entire DeWitt/LaRoche thing last week, we do like DeWitt.  We’re fans.  But you’d swear the media thinks he’s 40 with some of the undeserved praise he’s been getting, lately.  Well deserved in April and May… not so much in June and July.

Now on to Andruw Jones.  Here was some information regarding why he was pulled out in the 5th inning of Friday’s game and why he didn’t play Saturday.  Despite my initial hopes of him finally getting benched (I was going to throw a party!), turns out, it was just “flu-like” symptoms.  Despite me thinking he was getting benched, Andruw was still gracious to talk to the media about his crapulence:

Andruw Jones was out of the lineup because of stomach problems that forced him out of Friday night’s game in the fifth inning. “I’ve had to go to the bathroom quite a few times,” Jones said.

Thank you, Andruw, for confirming our thoughts: you truly are stinking up the joint.

So, now it’s on to Colorado while the Diamondbacks go to Chicago.  Hopefully we can get out of it alive and also bury the Rockies, who seem to be playing a little better lately.  So, how about we finally take sole possession of 1st place?  Sound good?  Perhaps third time’s a charm?

- Vin vinscully-face.jpg

MSTI’s First Half Review: Offense

Is it that time of the year already? Sure, it’s not really “halfway” through the year since the Blue have already played 95 games, but here we are at the All-Star break. This won’t be as extensive as last year’s season reviews, since there’s only three days to do it in, but it still will touch upon everyone who appeared in a game for the Dodgers this year. So today is offense, tomorrow pitching, and the next day will be front office/coaching staff/awards/overall grade. And on Thursday, a big MSTI announcement. How did we do this last year? That’s right:

First, some quick ground rules. Completely unscientific and arbitrary, this is how we’ve seen the results of the season. One important distinction, is that the letter grade is based upon what we reasonably could have expected of the player entering the year, not comparing him to other MLB players at his position. You’ll soon see why this is so important.

Less than 10 IP or 100 at-bats gets you an “incomplete”. Stats are presented (BA/OBP/SLG).

We’ll knock that down to 50 at-bats for the half-season review, but everything else remains the same.

Catcher
Russell Martin (.294/.394/.436 10hr 45rbi) (A+)
Without question, the best offensive player so far. There were actually some inane stories out there that I won’t even subject you to linking to saying that he’s been off his game this year, but that’s mostly thanks to his very slow start to the season, hitting .197 as late as April 20th. But you know what? Martin’s actually having the best offensive year of his career overall. His 118 OPS+ is up 5 from last year, and while his slugging % is down slightly (.029 less than last year), it’s more than made up by his exemplary .394 OBP, which is actually better than Alex Rodriguez, Josh Hamilton, and Hanley Ramirez. Plus, he plays third base! What can I say? This guy’s the heart and soul of the team. He’s the best player, and he never complains. Love this guy. Love him.

Gary Bennett (.190/.261/.381 1hr 4rbi) (incomplete)
What a weird, weird season for the initial 2008 recipient of the Mike Lieberthal Memorial “Guy Who Rots on the Bench Behind Russell Martin” Award. Bennett only really got notice in two of my posts all season, and they couldn’t be more divergent – first, he got some recognition for a good game in Milwaukee on May 15, and then just five days later we cheered his being placed on the DL, saying,

“Left foot plantar fasciitis.” Let me say, the quotes could not be thicker around that. We’ve had no word of any injury problems surrounding Bennett, but tons of stories about his throwing problems, and suddenly his foot hurts? Hey, call it a bad foot, the flu, or the heebie-jeebies; whatever it takes to get this guy’s head right and get those lollipop throws off the field. Seriously, he even made Rotoworld today, which is rare for a mediocre backup catcher, and at no point is the foot mentioned.

Thanks for showing up, Gary. Lousy hitter who can’t throw – fantastic. If you wanted to hit the slots in Vegas the rest of the summer, that’d be A-ok by me.

Danny Ardoin (.211/.250/.263 0hr 2rbi) (incomplete)
Another member of the Loyal Order of Backup Catchers, Ardoin’s been.. well, he’s an improvement on Bennett, anyway. He’s not much of a hitter either, but everything I’ve read about him says that the pitchers like throwing to him way better than Bennett. As far as I’m concerned, the team is screwed if Martin’s hurt anyway, so it doesn’t really matter all that much which one backs him up, but I’d really like it if it would be Ardoin rather than Bennett, whenever he’s healthy. Amazingly enough, Ardoin’s already doubled Mike Lieberthal’s RBI total from last season.

First Base
James Loney (.291/.351/.446 7hr 50rbi) (C+)
Loney gets a C+ not because he’s been that lousy, but simply because we had such high expectations for him. After last year’s offensive explosion in the second half, who among us wasn’t drooling at the prospect of him playing 1B for the entire season? But after the first two months, he was only hitting in the .270s with 5 homers. Of course, he dominated in June (.362/.425/.500), only to fall back in July, hitting just .224 so far. He’s been.. okay. Not bad, not great. I still think he’s got it in him to pick it up.

Second Base
Jeff Kent (.253/.304/.407 9hr 40rbi) (C-)
This, I must say, was a tough one. On one hand, he was really bad for a good portion of the season – I assume you haven’t forgotten the whole chase to be the worst cleanup hitter of the last 50 years, but on the other hand, Kent’s 40 years old, and how much can you ever depend on a guy that age, anyway? At least he’s been able to stay relatively healthy, and his bat has turned it around a bit lately.

On the plus side, no one’s accusing Kent of being involved in any clubhouse fiascos so far, so at least he’s got that going for him. 

Third Base
Blake DeWitt (.263/.330/.372 5hr 34rbi) (A)
Just like Kent, this is a tough grade to assign. I know it seems like a long time ago now, but do you remember how desperate this team was at the hot corner at the end of March? Nomar was hurt, LaRoche was hurt, Abreu was hurt, and the trade options were either unavailable or unappealing. So we turn over the job to the guy who was guaranteed to put up Hu-like offensive numbers. Except that.. he was good. Really good, slugging .517 in May. He was a lock for Rookie of the Year and surprise of the year. Go Blake!

Of course, great story aside, he’s cratered since then, with just 4 extra base hits in the last 6 weeks, which is Pierre-like levels of mediocrity. Ah hell, it doesn’t matter. He shouldn’t be starting every day anymore, but that’s a topic we’ve already covered. He gets an A simply because I shudder to think what would have happened if he hadn’t held things down for the first two months.

Andy LaRoche (.192/.294/.341 2hr 3rbi) (incomplete)
Seems like LaRoche is shaping up to be part of the next Dodgers holy war, following in the footsteps of Juan Pierre and Hee-Seop Choi. No, he hasn’t done much in the bigs. But the people who want to write him off are insane – he’s gotten just 44 at-bats this year. Look, he’s got nothing more to prove in the minors (career .895 OPS). The Dodgers need power. Blake DeWitt is slumping badly. So then why can’t LaRoche ever start more than two games in a row? Why has he been benched the day after hitting a home run both times? Some things, I’ll never understand.

Shortstop
Rafael Furcal (.366/.448/.597 5hr 16rbi) (R)
That’s right, I gave Furcal an “R”. Why? Because the best way I can sum up his 2008 is “ARRRRRRRGGGHH!!!!” From the best start of his career, to an injury that was to keep him out a few days, to surgery that will end with him missing 4 months. Despite everything that’s gone wrong with this season, it’s hard to point to anything that was more damaging than this. Furcal’s back woes not only cost the team its hottest hitter, but lead to the failings of Hu, the misery of Angel Berroa, and the so-far entertaining Nomar era. Think about it, the Dodgers are one game out. It’s not much of a stretch to say that if Furcal had stayed healthy, the Dodgers are in first place, is it?

Angel Berroa
(.192/.253/.219 0hr 0rbi) (F)
I have to say, of all the stats I looked up for this article, Berroa surprised me more than anybody. He really has zero RBI? Not even one? Despite starting 21 games? That would be incredible, if it weren’t so depressing. Look at it this way, Berroa’s had 72 at-bats without an RBI. That’s the most in MLB by a large margin, nearly double the 40 at-bats by Washington’s Roger Bernadina. Yikes! Actually, now that I think about it, maybe Berroa doesn’t deserve an F here. Maybe he should be getting a C. I mean, it’s not like we didn’t all know he was going to suck from day one. And to the surprise of no one except perhaps Ned Colletti, he has. He’s been exactly as bad as we thought, not that it was possible to be any worse, so in that sense he’s been the average Angel Berroa.

Nah, forget it. Big. Fat. F.

Chin-Lung Hu
(.159/.224/.206 0hr 7rbi) (D)
This really should be an F, because Hu’s utter failure to perform once Furcal went down has to rank as one of the bigger disappointments of the season. The only thing bumping him up to a D is the fact that his defense more than lived up to its sparking reputation. But I don’t think it was too much to expect that he had a shot to be a decent hitter, since after a breakthrough 2007 where he OPS’d .871 in the minors, he popped 2 dingers in 29 late-season at-bats in the bigs. And then.. fizzle. Now, he’s apparently had some vision issues since returning to AAA, so if that’s what caused this, I haven’t completely given up on him. It’s just that if he could have been even a mediocre hitter, we could have kept his slick glove in the lineup and avoided the entire Berroa fiasco.

Infield
Nomar Garciaparra (.250/.328/.400 2hr 12rbi) (!!!)
What a year for Nomahhh. Breaks his hand in spring training, comes back to play in all of 8 games (hitting .226) before hurting his calf and missing two more months.. only to return at shortstop. You can’t make this stuff up. In fact, I wish I had predicted this in the offseason, just so I could see what kind of responses I’d have gotten saying that I’d completely lost my mind. Remember last year when Nomar couldn’t be moved from 1B to 3B to make room for Loney because he was “too fragile”? Well, a year and several injuries later, now he’s playing shortstop. Unbelievable. He’s hit okay since coming back (.286/.333/.500 in 8 games), but there’s just no way this doesn’t end with him somehow spontaneously combusting turning a double play, right?

Luis Maza
(.228/.282/.278 1hr 4rbi) (C… ish)
Remember, we’re doing these grades based not on how they compare to the rest of the league, but based on how a player has performed based on reasonable expectations at the beginning of the season. This is why Hu gets a D, since he was below expectations, and why DeWitt gets an A, since he was so far above. The only time this method runs into a problem is in the case of Luis Maza, because for someone who runs a Dodgers blog and likes to think he knows entirely too much about the Dodger organization.. I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I had never even heard of this guy coming into the season. So it’s hard to say I had any expectations of him. That said, he’s been pretty much what you’d think he’d be – a quad-A player who’s a mediocre hitter and a decent fielder, albeit with a particularly lousy arm.

Mark Sweeney
(.094/.181/.125 0hr 3rbi) (?)
Sweeney gets a question mark for a grade. That’s partially because he doesn’t even deserve to attain a letter, but mostly to represent the question of, Why is Mark Sweeney on This Team? He serves no function. He’s a pinch-hitter who can’t hit. He can’t hit lefties. He can’t hit righties. He can’t hit at home. He can’t hit on the road. He can’t hit during the day. He can’t hit at night. We do not like him here or there, we do not like him anywhere.  His OPS is negative 18, which I believe means he’s lapsed into some sort of an unknown dimension. He’s 38 years old, and he’s got 6 hits in 72 at-bats! It’s the end of the line, and it’s just stubbornness on the part of the Dodgers front office that they allow him to keep making outs (he’s supposedly coming off the DL on Friday). I would love to know what kind of pictures Sweeney must have of Colletti with a lampshade on his head in order to keep his job.

Time to go, Mark. Time to go.

Terry Tiffee
(.250/.400/.250 0hr 0rbi) (incomplete)
Tiffee only went 1-4 in his short time up, but I’ve been backing him for over two months. Now back at Vegas, he’s kept up his amazing season, currently rocking a .396/.434/.598 line. Sure, say it’s a fluke, say whatever you like. Maybe you’re right. But there is simply no argument you can use to convince me that he shouldn’t be taking Mark Sweeney’s place. None. Tiffee is more useful than Sweeney in every conceivable way – hitting, fielding, versatility, you name it. (And I did, right here.) I suppose I’m venturing more into Colletti territory than Tiffee, but really, all Tiffee’s done is hit all year long. What else does he have to do?

Tony Abreu (n/a) (incomplete)
Knock, knock.”
“Hello?”
“Is this Mr. Abreu?”
“Yes, who are you?”
“I’m opportunity. And I’m knocking.”
“Hmm.. thanks, but no thanks. Bye!”

Outfield
Matt Kemp (.278/.331/.437 9hr 49rbi 20sb) (B)
We’ve exhausted a lot of pixels on Kemp around here lately, so I won’t revisit it all again. But suffice it to say, there’s been nothing boring about Kemp’s season. To wild trade rumors to arguments about what type of player he is and will be, Kemp’s been front and center. As you probably know, considering his age and inexperience, I’m pretty satisfied with what he’s done, especially his improvement in the outfield. The strikeouts have to be cut, of course, but remember that he’s only 23. Guys like Matt Holliday and Ryan Howard hadn’t even made their debuts by 23, instead being allowed to develop in the minors. Considering Kemp’s already been (roughly) an average MLBer at that age, let’s cut the kid a little slack, okay?

Andre Ethier (.286/.350/.464 11hr 41rbi) (A-)
Don’t look now, but Ethier is leading the entire team in homers and slugging %. That’s pretty impressive for a guy who’s been continually jerked around in terms of playing time when both Jones and Pierre were available. He gets a bit of a demerit for that .195 June, but he’s come roaring back in July with a 1.061 OPS. So of course, we can look forward to him seeing some bench in two weeks when Pierre returns. Because that’s what a team who can’t hit should do – bench their biggest power hitter. Amazing.

Juan Pierre (.277/.327/.318 0hr 24rbi 35sb) (D)
This isn’t the place to rehash the whole Pierre argument yet again, but it’s pretty simple, as far as I’m concerned. He’s having the worst season of his career by every single offensive stat (save steals), which is saying a lot when it’s the fourth straight season he’s declined since his career year of 2004. Regardless of how you feel about him, he’s not even living up to his own mediocre standards. That’s not good, and I can’t imagine it’ll be any better if his knee is any less than 100% when he comes back. Yet Joe Torre is infatuated with him, but I guess that’s something more to discuss in Torre’s review. Of 19 MLB leftfielders with enough at-bats to qualify, Pierre is dead last in OPS, coming in nearly 340 points lower than leader Matt Holliday’s. That’s not just bad, that’s really bad.

By the way, in that “career year”, his OPS+ was 107 (it’s down to 69 this year). Andre Ethier’s this season is 110. Just sayin’.

Andruw Jones (.167/.261/.253 2hr 9rbi) (you don’t even deserve a letter, Andruw)
What. A. Disaster. Hey, we’re not always right at MSTI either, because we both supported this deal when it was signed. But geez. I can’t even get on Colletti for this one, because really, who the hell saw this happening? If you didn’t see this link the other day, ESPN.com’s Jayson Stark says Jones is on pace for the Worst Offensive Season in Baseball History.

You know what, I can’t even talk about him. You don’t need stats on this one. You have eyes. You’ve watched the Dodgers. He’s awful, and no one seems to know why. What a mess.

Delwyn Young (.255/.327/.343 1hr 5rbi) (C-)
Have to admit, I’m a little torn on Delwyn. We’ve been big fans of his for a while, because on a team that’s struggling so badly offensively, a guy who’s done nothing but kill the ball at every stop would seem like a useful player to have. I mean, it was just last season that he broke a 41-year-old PCL record for doubles. That said, he hasn’t really done all that much with the big club this season. Oddly enough, his stats are the exact opposite of what I had thought; I was all set to say “but he doesn’t get to play that much with the OF logjam, and its hard for a kid to be a pinch-hitter”. Except that as it turns out, he’s hitting .342 off the bench vs. only .203 as a starter.

Jason Repko (.000/.000/.000 0hr 0rbi) (incomplete)
Oh, Jason. Poor Jason. Just can’t catch a break. You come up and go 0-5 with 4 K’s in your first game, and then get all of two more at-bats before getting sent down, probably for good. Damn shame, really.

- Mike Scioscia’s tragic illness msti-face.jpg

I Know it’s the 4th of July…

…you’ll be busy. You’ll have a family barbeque to get to, a local fireworks celebration – whatever it is you do to enjoy a national holiday. Really, if you’re actually reading this post right now, I’m a little disappointed in you. But I implore you, make some time in your day to catch the Dodger game (1pm PST). Because as you should already know, both Nomar Garciaparra and Andruw Jones have sped up their rehab in order to be available today. Tell me you’re not interested in seeing Nomar playing shortstop for the first time since 2005! Especially now that it’s been another year and nine more injuries since “he’s too fragile to play third base” was offered as a reason that he couldn’t be shifted across the infield from first base to make room for James Loney. And you know you want to see if Jones is going to offer any glimpse of the player he once was, especially since his rehab was originally supposed to end a full two weeks from now on July 18th. I know it’s only 3 minor league games, but he did go 4-8 with a homer and a stolen base in Vegas – and zero strikeouts. Is it possible that the knee really was the source of his problems? I guess we’ll have to see. But if he can come back and be even half of his former self, that would still help this power-starved team and be a massive improvement on the guy who was approximately 1/100000th of his old self earlier this year.

Of course, bringing both of these guys back will require some roster moves, especially for Nomar because, having been placed on the 60 day DL, he’s no longer on the 40-man roster. Ken Gurnick of Dodgers.com says:

The Dodgers will need to make two roster moves to make room for the veterans. Newly arrived outfielder Jason Repko is one likely candidate. The other could come from a group of bench players, including Angel Berroa, Andy LaRoche and Mark Sweeney.

Repko, fine. Yeah, it’s only been seven at-bats, but the four K’s and zero hits haven’t exactly made much of an impression. Get an OF back in Jones, send one down in Repko. But here’s the thing, Ken. There’s a bunch of guys that could get the axe for Nomar. Angel Berroa’s got an OPS+ of 27, to the surprise of absolutely no one except Ned Colletti. With Nomar around, Berroa and Luis Maza seem a little redundant – and Maza’s OPS+ is 44, which is still bad, but at least he can play second as well. Mark Sweeney may be the most useless player the Dodgers have ever had, and yes, I do remember Jason Grabowski. He’s hitting .094, for chrissakes. There’s even a case to be made for sending down Blake DeWitt, now that he’s down to hitting .169 over the last month. The point is, there’s a lot of filler on the roster right now. However, in no way should Andy LaRoche be considered among them. I know, he’s not really lit the league on fire yet. But unlike Berroa, Maza, and Sweeney, he’s actually got a future. 30 big league at-bats is hardly enough to decide what it is. If Andy LaRoche is the one sent down for Nomar… well, that might be the end of this blog entirely, because I don’t know if I could ever rationally write about this team again.

On to trade rumor news, because that’s always a topic I find endlessly fascinating. First, the shortstop problem. We’ve discussed the possibility of David Eckstein before, and although I wasn’t really for it, I understood why he might be in the conversation. Well, hopefully this juxtaposition from the Toronto Sun can put an end to that right here and now:

It’s no surprise that the Blue Jays are shopping right-hander A.J. Burnett.

But what they’re looking for in return certainly is.

The Jays are looking to obtain a shortstop in talks with other teams.

Wait, the Jays have two shortstops, Eckstein and John McDonald. Why would they want another?

“They’re offering Burnett to any team that needs pitching,” said an American League general manager. “They’ve told us they’re not happy with either David Eckstein or John McDonald.”

McDonald signed a two-year contract for $3.8 million last fall and before spring training the Jays signed Eckstein to a one-year deal worth $4.5 million. Eckstein has had problems in the field while McDonald is hitting .163 in 29 games.

Manager Cito Gaston has given as much playing time at short to Marco Scutaro, who was signed as an utility infielder.

Fantastic. The Jays are in last place and even they can’t stomach Eckstein. I especially like the “has had problems in the field” part of this. I know the Dodgers are desperate at SS… but not that desperate, right?

Finally, C.C. Sabathia, also known as “an expensive starting pitcher the Dodgers simply do not need, yet the media seems to insist that they do”. I can’t find the video, unfortunately, but my eyes nearly fell out of my head watching Tim Kurkjian on ESPN last night saying that the Dodgers “desperately need a starting pitcher”. Yes, the fact that the Dodgers have the #1 pitching staff in the NL (by ERA), a bonafide young ace in Chad Billingsley, and a lousy offense shouts “more pitching!” Well, Ken Rosenthal is reporting the Brewers are jumping into this with both feet, saying:

The Brewers’ offer for Sabathia includes Class AA left fielder Matt LaPorta, according to sources with two other clubs that are interested in acquiring the pitcher.

Class AA shortstop Alcides Escobar also may be in the Brewers’ proposed deal, one of the sources says.

To put this into Dodgers terms, consider sending Matt Kemp and Chin-Lung Hu – plus likely more since LaPorta is considered an even better hitting prospect than Kemp. How many times can I say “pass”?

Have a happy holiday, folks.

- Mike Scioscia’s tragic illness msti-face.jpg

And That’s Dodger Baseball!

Take that, Rory Markas!  Seeing eye grounders might be Angels baseball, but winning while getting no-hit is Dodger Baseball, sucka!

O.K., now that I’ve finished doing cartwheels around the house (check!) and have laid off tormenting my trash talking, Angel loving cousin (check! and P.S.: incase you haven’t noticed, I REALLY love beating the Angels)… for now, let us examine this game a bit further. 

The biggest thing that everyone is going to notice and remember years down the road is the fact that the Dodgers got no-hit and still won the game.  And, for the record, whether or not it’s official is irrelevant (it’s not, by the way, because the Dodgers only came up to bat for 8 innings, instead of the official 9).  The Dodgers played an entire game without getting a hit; therefore, they were no-hit.  Perhaps it won’t be recognized by MLB, but they still went an entire game without getting a hit. However, while all of this will be talked about, let’s not forget the man who is mostly responsible for transforming this game into a strange celebration, instead of it easily becoming a potential horrific, and monumental embarrassment.

That is, of course, none other than Thunder Thighs, a.k.a. Chad Billingsley.

Thunder Thighs, in 111 pitches, threw 7 brilliant scoreless innings, while giving up 3 hits, walking 3, and striking out 7.  That’s pretty good and it was probably his best start of the year.  Total domination.

I think that with kids like Martin, Loney, Kemp usually being the focus of attention, and with the hype surrounding Clayton Kershaw, it seems as if Billingsley is slightly forgotten.  That’s not to say that people won’t recognize his talent, but I think we can sometimes forget just how good he’s been or at least how he continues to get better and better.  The kid is only 23 and he’s no longer just putting up good numbers for a 23 year old, he’s putting up great numbers, period.  He got off to a bit of an erratic start, which began by Joe Torre dictating his first start by Yahoo! Weather or something, but, even despite that, look at his numbers:

ERA: 3.29 (1st on Dodgers, T-13th in NL)

K: 102 (1st on Dodgers, 5th in NL)

K/9: 9.56 (1st on Dodgers, 2nd in NL)

WPA: 1.22 (1st on Dodgers, 12th in NL)

pLI: 1.05 (5th on Dodgers, 9th in NL)

This isn’t to make Thunder Thighs out to be perfect.  He still has some areas to improve on.  He still needs to be more efficient with his pitch count, needs to harness his control a bit better, but a lot of this is expected from a young kid.  He is just doing really well and he continues to get better and that’s while already currently being our ace.  He’s my favorite starter to watch pitch and he’s only going to get better.

Another person who deserves some credit is Matt Kemp.  My God, I have never seen a ground ball with that much english in my life.  The ball just completely turned the opposite direction to throw off Weaver.  He was able to steal second and get home.  Way to manufacture a run and not get thrown into a rundown in the process.

Also, credit to Andre Ethier, who gunned down Erick Aybar on a double in the 6th inning.  Considering a walk and a horrific fielding error by Jeff Kent followed that, you also saved our ass.

I suppose that’s not bad for a few of the kids who don’t really “get it” and don’t give constant fellatio to old, crusty veterans.

Finally, for as much flack as our offense gets, and rightfully so, while our offense might be sucking, our pitching sure hasn’t.  In the past week:

6-28-08: W: 1-0

6-27-08: W: 6-0

6-26-08: L: 2-0

6-25-08: W: 5-0

Dodgers’ pitching overall this season ranks 2nd in the NL in ERA (3.77) while ranking in the top 5 in K’s, WHIP, and in the fewest amount of walks.  Not bad, considering the fact that our “ace” is on the DL and, before that, he and our #2 had sucked for the first two months.

So, let’s see: a team with great pitching, but horrific hitting.  Can you say 2003?

Finally, here are words that I never thought I’d ever utter and probably won’t again: but props to Luis Maza.  He made an absolutely insane play in the ninth inning to rob Casey Kotchman of what looked like a sure hit.  While it didn’t seem all that important at first, and just merely the second out, that play saved the game.  With the eventual double by Kendrick and walk to Napoli, if Maza doesn’t make that play, they at least tie it.  So… right on, Luis!

Overall, this game pretty much sums up in a strange way why I love baseball.  Yes, while we still need to remember that our struggling offense got no-hit, which is not good no matter how you slice it, the fact that we won reminds me that whether you’ve been watching for years and post constantly on your blog or even if you’ve been calling games for 60 years, you might run into something that you’ve never seen before, as the real Vin said, tonight.  And leave it to the Dodgers to pull this off: the masters of the utterly insane, wacky and zany.  I mean, really, think about the twisted irony of this whole situation: for a team that has had mostly a non-existent offense the entire year, an offense with no power that constantly loses games for its pitchers and gives them no support, they might have completely turned their season around and have gotten the sparkplug they needed…

By getting no-hit.

Absolutely crazy.

Savor it, folks.  Chances are, you’ll never see it again.

- Vin vinscully-face.jpg