Monday Roundup: The Law Firm of Miles, Wade, Loney & Gould

I was a little off the grid this weekend thanks to a wedding and other family commitments, and there’s so much going on right now that I could probably write six different posts about it. In the interest of expediency, let’s try to hit as much as of it as I can right here.

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ESPN’s Molly Knight brings us news that’s relevant to the only thing more important than winning baseball games: being rid of Frank McCourt. But this isn’t the usual business about Frank’s court fight with Jamie, or even about his fight with Bud Selig and MLB. This story has a quite unexpected hero: Manny Ramirez.

We’ve long known that the Dodgers owe Manny a nice chunk of deferred salary both this year and in years to come, but what’s noteworthy here is the amount and the timing: the Dodgers owe Manny a full payment of $8.33m by June 30.

Here’s how Knight lays out the June responsibilities:

$9ish million for June 15, $9ish for June 30, $8.33 for Manny.

Remember, every two weeks we’ve been wondering if McCourt would make payroll. He had to borrow from sponsors to meet the May 30 payroll, and while he’s reportedly ready to make the June 15 bill, that’s yet to be confirmed. Manny’s bill is essentially a third payroll responsibility for June, and it’s anyone’s guess where McCourt thinks he’s going to come up with that kind of money.

Imagine if, after all of the garbage spewed at Manny (much of it deserved, but certainly not all) by the media and some fans, that he was the one who finally sank Frank McCourt? I’d start measuring him for a statue, if that’s the case.

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The Rays have released ex-Dodger Cory Wade from their AAA affiliate in Durham, NC. (They also added ex-Dodger Lance Cormier to Durham, which, ha.) Wade was released not because of his performance, which has been excellent in Durham, but because of a logjam in the Tampa bullpen – and because Wade had a June 15th opt-out.

You probably remember that Wade was a surprisingly effective reliever for the 2008 Dodgers, before spending most of the next two years being injured and ineffective. (You can probably search the archives here and find reference to me pinning that blame on his overuse by Joe Torre in 2008.) After shoulder surgery last season, he was quietly signed to a minor-league deal by Tampa this winter… and he’s been very good. In 36.2 AAA innings, he’s allowed just five earned runs with a 34/6 K/BB, and Rays fans aren’t happy that he was let go.

Wade is a 28-year-old relief pitcher and while he’s no longer a “prospect”, he looked like a player that could help in the Rays’ bullpen this season. After having shoulder surgery last season, Wade was doing very well in Triple-A this year, striking out 8.4 batters per nine, while walking a miniscule 1.5 batters per nine. He’d allowed four homeruns over his 36 innings pitched, but still, he had a 1.23 ERA and 3.34 FIP — he was darn good. Not only that, but Wade had frequently worked two innings at a time, making him a prime candidate to serve as a long man for the Rays.

I’m beginning to wonder what sort of compromising pictures Andy Sonnanstine must have in his possession in order to stick on the roster instead of Wade. Sonnanstine is getting lit up every time he takes the mound, posting a 6.06 ERA and 7.52 FIP, and he simply doesn’t look like a major-league caliber pitcher anymore.

Why, Friedman, why? Do you enjoy subjecting your fans to the horrors of watching Sonny pitch? Are you afraid of those pictures from the playoff celebration last year getting out? Because man, I would have liked to see Cory Wade get a shot.

Other than Sonnanstine, the Rays bullpen has been effective, so the fact that he couldn’t get a shot isn’t a black mark against Wade. (As for Sonnanstine, Tampa has been overly devoted to him for some time, and Rays fans and bloggers have been bemoaning his roster spot for months.)

So getting to the obvious question – why shouldn’t the Dodgers go and try to give him a shot? I’m sure that he won’t be unemployed for long, so I’m sure he’ll end up in the big leagues soon for someone, and why not the Dodgers? It’s not like it’d be hard to make room in the bullpen. Matt Guerrier and Blake Hawksworth aren’t going anywhere, but Ramon Troncoso, Josh Lindblom, Scott Elbert and Javy Guerra all have minor-league options, and Elbert & Troncoso just got lit up in Colorado. There’s also Mike MacDougal, who would have to be DFA’d, but who has done nothing to live up to his shiny 2.01 ERA.

(Update: Wade signed with the Yankees. Of course he did. Oh well.)

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James Loney‘s grand slam over the weekend in Colorado was his second career salami, with the previous one… also coming in Colorado. This isn’t the first time I’ve noted his brutal home/road splits (or the second… or the third…), but the success he’s found in Denver is particularly noteworthy.

I Split PA R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
LAD-Dodger Stad 1316 119 313 55 6 20 171 112 167 .265 .327 .372 .699
COL-Coors Fld 178 26 53 12 1 8 49 14 18 .325 .376 .558 .935
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/13/2011.

I’ll be the first to tell you hitting is about more than just home runs, but of all the numbers there, that’s what stands out to me the most. Loney has more than seven times as many plate appearances in Dodger Stadium than he does in Coors Field… and just barely more than twice as many homers. Dating back to last season, three of Loney’s last five homers have come in Colorado, and even one of the others, against Jason Hammel on May 30, came against the Rockies, though at home. (The fifth came against Florida’s Javier Vazquez, possibly the worst starting pitcher in baseball right now.) When Loney gets non-tendered, as we all believe he will, just wait for the Rockies to snap him up. It’s not a perfect fit, since Todd Helton is also a lefty and having a great season, but Helton’s going to be 38 next year – and the Rockies have found a way to squeeze lefty first baseman Jason Giambi onto the roster this year anyway. I look forward to the day when Loney is both not a Dodger and tormenting us from afar.

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In the comments yesterday, I made an off-hand remark that Aaron Miles has the emptiest .300 average in team history, and it’s true. He never walks, and he hits for no power whatsoever. That’s why his OPS is a subpar .658. I didn’t say that meaning to bash Miles, but that upset a lot of people who felt I wasn’t giving Miles enough credit. So let me clear that up by saying Miles has been far more than I’d ever expected. His .300 may not be indicative of much by itself, but it’s about 150 points higher than I thought he’d give us. When I give out midseason grades next month, he’s almost certainly going to get a B+ or higher. As a multipositional, switch-hitting backup, he’s been something of a pleasant surprise. You’ll notice that I haven’t been making calls to have him DFA’d or replaced.

The problem here, which is not on Miles, is that he’s not serving as the 5th or 6th infielder. Due to the rash of injuries, he’s been an everyday starter. His 190 PA is fifth most on the team, behind Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Loney, and Jamey Carroll. An empty .300 from a bench player is great, but it’s a problem from a starter. Again, that’s not on Miles; he didn’t create the injury situation, and all he’s done is help fill the holes while playing better than expected. That also doesn’t mean he’s someone we should want to see every night.

Tony Jackson of ESPNLA looked at the infield situation recently, and his takeaway was while Don Mattingly seemingly prefers Juan Uribe and Casey Blake to play every day at 2B and 3B around Loney and Dee Gordon, that Carroll and Miles have outplayed the two enough that they should be playing everyday at 2B and 3B. Jackson’s argument is that Blake & Uribe get preferred treatment because of their salaries, and he’s probably not far off there.

I understand where he’s coming from – after all, I’ve been saying for two years that counting on Blake to be an everyday player this year was a mistake and that the Uribe contract was a terrible idea – but I can’t say I totally agree, and that’s partly because I’m more focused on the future than the present.

Here’s my optimal infield, with the pieces around right now. At first base, Loney and Blake split time. Blake sees all lefties and half of all home starts; Loney gets to bat in all nine positions the next time the Dodgers go to Colorado. At second base, Carroll needs to be the nearly full-time starter if only for his on-base skills, with Miles starting twice a week to get him time and keep Carroll fresh. Gordon is certainly going to play most days at short, though Uribe or Carroll can spot there now and then, and Uribe should play most days at third, with Blake or Miles getting a start or two a week there. I say this because even though I have little faith in Uribe being worth the value of his contract, the fact is that he’s here for 2.5 more years and it’s too soon to give up on that. Besides, he can’t always be this bad. Right?

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News on two Dodger prospects from Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus:

Garrett Gould, RHP, Dodgers (Low-A Great Lakes)
A second-round pick in 2009, Gould had a so-so 4.09 ERA in the Pioneer League last year. When scouts saw him, all they could really talk about was projection, as while the skinny 6-foot-4 righty oozed it, his right-now stuff left plenty to be desired. That projection is starting to come through; what was once an upper-80s fastball is now in the lower 90s, and he is maintaining his good control and a very good curveball. He’s looking like one of the best arms in the Midwest League after reeling off back-to-back starts without allowing an earned run. Consistency is a word rarely used in Low-A, but with a 1.55 ERA in 12 starts, in which he has never allowed more than two earned runs, Gould has been just that and maturing.

Trayvon Robinson, OF, Dodgers (Triple-A Albuquerque)
Over the past six weeks, we learned that hitting in Chavez Ravine is very different from hitting in Albuquerque. Just ask Jerry Sands. Still, is it time for Robinson to get the next chance? With a home run on Friday, a double and two walks on Saturday, and five hits on Sunday, he’s now batting .299/.357/.543 in 58 games, and while he might not have Sands’ pure bat, he his speed and ability to play all three outfield slots offers more lineup flexibility. Robinson still struggles against lefties (which is all Sands could hit), so there would be a different dynamic in play, but when Tony Gwynn Jr. is on pace for nearly 300 plate appearances, there has to be a better way.

Gould is someone we’ve never heard all that much about, obscured as he’s been by the Zach Lee / Chris Withrow / Allen Webster types, so it’s good to see some positive news there. We’ve heard plenty about Robinson and I’ve contemplated making a “when will he arrive?” post for a few weeks now. If the Dodgers have surprised at all this year, it’s in that they’ve promoted prospects like Jerry Sands, Rubby De La Rosa, and Dee Gordon far sooner than we’d expected. Robinson’s probably not completely ready yet – a 67/19 K/BB mark at AAA isn’t something I’m dying to add to the lineup – but as Goldstein notes, the production is there and Gwynn (and Trent Oeltjen, and Marcus Thames) are clearly not the answer in left. I’ll say Robinson doesn’t get the call in June, but I could see it any time after Independence Day.

Just Manny Being Retired


Very surprising news coming out of Tampa; after just five games and seventeen at-bats in a Tampa uniform, Manny Ramirez has decided to call it a career. He’d missed the last few games dealing with what was being called a “personal issue”; multiple sources are claiming that he was notified of a failed drug test and decided to retire rather than deal with the process.

Much, much, more on this to come, no doubt, including more self-important puff pieces from journalists condemning him than you can shake a stick at, if “shaking a stick” at something is a thing people still do. For my part, if he did get busted again, then he’ll get no defense from me, though I do think we should wait until the details emerge. Either way, he could be hopped up on a mix of barbiturates, steroids, and a stew made of newborn babies and it still wouldn’t change how I felt about watching him hit in Dodger blue.

MSTI’s 2010 in Review: Left Field

Would you believe that nine different players started a game in left field for the Dodgers in 2010? We’ve already discussed Jamey Carroll and Russ Mitchell in the infield, and you’ll see Trent Oeltjen in center field. Then, even though they had more starts in LF than anywhere else, I’m putting Reed Johnson and Xavier Paul with Andre Ethier in right field just to balance out these articles a bit. That still leaves four men here…

Manny Ramirez (C)
.311/.405/.510 .915 8hr 1.3 WAR

I feel like I wrote a pretty definitive review of Manny’s time in LA back in August, and as little as I want to write more about him, that’s about as much as you probably want to read more about him. So let’s just look at the 2010-only section of that piece:

Heading into 2010, expectations were high. The expected controversy over whether Manny would exercise his opt-out clause never came, as he quietly acknowledged he wouldn’t be passing up his guaranteed 2010 payday on November 6. With that out of the way, conditions were ripe for a comeback. Manny had had the entire winter to rest his hand, he was in a contract year, and if the thought of playing for his next payday didn’t motivate him, the embarrassment he’d suffered in 2009 certainly would.

Well, it didn’t work out exactly like that. Manny landed on the disabled list with leg issues three separate times, and played just 65 games with the Dodgers, the fewest in his career other than a cup of coffee as a 21-year-old with the 1993 Indians. Eight homers, 232 plate appearances, months on the disabled list, and far more Scott Podsednik and Garret Anderson in left field than we ever could have dreamed. That’s not exactly what we’d hoped for, I’ll grant you.

Classic Manny? Clearly not.

But again, nor was it the post-steroid disaster that the media liked to portray it as. Manny’s .915 OPS was 13th in MLB, among players with at least 225 PA. That’s higher than players like Adrian Gonzalez, Joe Mauer, Prince Fielder, Ryan Zimmerman, and Evan Longoria. Remember, PED suspension or not, we’re still talking about a guy who’s 38 years old. A .915 OPS is 91% of his career average 1.000 OPS; for a 38-year-old to get that close to matching his usual Hall-of-Fame level is impressive. In fact, it was the 21st highest OPS+ of any ballplayer 38 or older (220 PA or more) in history, and the list above is littered with names like Ted Williams, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, and Ty Cobb.

I’m not saying he was worth every penny this year; it’s hard to do so with how much time he missed. But to keep up the facade that he could no longer produce is just wrong. If the numbers above aren’t convincing proof of that, how about the fact that they’ve scored more than 5 runs per game with him in the lineup, and fewer than 4 without him? If he’s not classic, “in his Boston prime” Manny, or superpowered “just got to LA” Manny, he’s still an effective force in the lineup, one the Dodgers have proven they cannot win without.

Manny ended his Dodger career with a bizarre ejection after just one pitch while pinch-hitting with the bases loaded, which is oddly appropriate. He also ended his Dodger career atop the team’s all-time leaderboards in OBP, SLG, OPS, and OPS+ (minimum 500 at-bats), all in exchange for a failed third baseman, a mid-level pitching prospect, and a ton of heartburn. Now, he’s gone, dropped onto the White Sox for nothing but salary relief, and no matter how you feel about Manny’s time in LA, there’s not much argument we got exactly what we signed up for. Dominant offensive performance, more than a little controversy, and a less-than-glorious exit? Yeah, that sounds about right.

None of that’s really changed, with the exception of this week’s revelation that Manny had hernia surgery to fix a groin issue which had bothered him all season. To put up the line he did despite all of the leg issues he had is impressive, though of course all the time he missed due to them balances that out quite a bit.

Scott Podsednik (D)
.262/.313/.336 .648 1hr -0.2 WAR

When Podsednik came to town, I didn’t hate the deal as much as you might think, reasoning that he could be of value as depth in LF and CF and as speed off the bench. (Let me clarify that by saying that I didn’t hate his acquisition; the team overpaid to get him, but that’s not his fault.)

That’s not how it worked, however. Podsednik basically became the everyday LF until he was hurt, a role he was woefully unqualified for, especially since he’s about one-tenth the hitter that Manny was. This was clear less than a month after he arrived:

So here’s all I ask of the team: whichever path you choose, don’t half-ass it. If you think you really have a shot, then don’t trade Manny. There’s no question that his presence fundamentally changes the lineup, and you can’t really be saying you’re trying to win if you’re playing Scott Podsednik (one of the three worst .300 hitters this year, according to baseball-reference) in left field instead of Manny, because that’s a huge dropoff in production. There’s no way you can let Manny go, and act as though you’re still a contender.

But pretend they did, and Podsednik didn’t really do much to contribute before his season ended due to plantar fasciitis in early September:

If this is indeed it for Podsednik’s season, his Dodger tenure ends as a disappointing one. His line of .262/.313/.336, with 5 steals and 3 caught stealing, comes out to just a 79 OPS+ (and -0.2 WAR), well below his 107 OPS+ line for Kansas City. By comparison, Lucas May had an .878 OPS with 5 homers in 24 games for the KC AAA team. So there’s that.

Podsednik will be 35 in March and showed zero power, poor defense, and mediocre on-base skills with the Dodgers. There’s absolutely no way he should be back in 2011. So of course he’ll be back in 2011.

Garret Anderson (those damned kids are on my lawn again!)
.181/.204/.271 .475 2hr -1.1 WAR

Like with Manny, I’ve already spent far too much time this season discussing a late-30s outfielder who didn’t even last the season. So we’ll just point out that it was a bad idea when the rumors surfaced in January

Yes, I don’t like him because he’s old (38 in June). Yes, I don’t like him because he’s coming off the worst year of his career despite having just moved to the easier league (.705 OPS, the third year in a row that decreased). Yes, I don’t like him because he is by all accounts a horrible fielder (-16.5 UZR/150 last year). Hey, a senior citizen who can’t hit or field? Sign me up?!

But what I like even less than the fact that Garret Anderson is a terrible baseball player is the idea of Garret Anderson. Let’s say he was where he was three or four years ago, when he was past his peak but still an average-ish hitter. That’s still valuable, but you’re not playing that guy over Manny, Kemp or Ethier, right? Nor was his glove so good that he’s really a huge upgrade over Manny in the late innings, agreed? And since he’s not much of a LF, you’re sure not going to put him into center or right to rest those guys either.

It was a bad idea in March when he was signed…

Since then, the Dodgers have imported Reed Johnson to be the 4th outfielder, plus Giles and others to battle for the last bench spot.  What Garret Anderson adds to that mix is… well, not “quality” exactly… I don’t know. Formaldehyde?

It was a bad idea at the end of April when he had proven he had nothing left…

Speaking of Manny’s absence… Garret Anderson needs to be cut. Now. Not when Manny comes back. Today. After another 0-4 last night, in which he didn’t even get a ball out of the infield, he’s hitting an almost unbelievable .122. This experiment was a terrible idea from the beginning, and it’s a terrible idea now. The pinch-homer he hit on April 22 is the only hit he’s had in nearly three weeks. How much more do we need to see here? He’s had a nice career, but he’s cooked, and it’s time to acknowledge that. And for the love of GOD, Torre, if you must play him, can you please stop batting him second? The thought process here is almost unfathomable.

And how did it all end up? With arguably the worst season by a Dodger hitter in 100 years:

The list you’re looking at above is of the ten worst seasons by OPS+ in Dodger history, among hitters with as many plate appearances as Anderson’s 163. You’ll notice that of the six seasons worse than Anderson’s, not a single one came after World War I. Let me put that another way: none of those seasons were even recent enough to take place in Ebbets Field, which didn’t open until 1913. Jul Kustus played just that one season as a backup for the Dodgers, never returned to the big leagues, and was dead six years later. Bill Bergen was so historically bad that he still holds the record for the longest hitless streak by a non-pitcher (0 for 46 in 1909), though he was regarded as an outstanding defensive catcher. Not exactly the company you want to keep if you’re Anderson, especially when you’re not contributing at all on the bases or in the field.

The whole experiment was actually pretty painful to watch, just because of the respect Anderson had earned in his long career in Anaheim. He never should have been out there, and knowing that the Dodgers chose to not go with their best 25 men for two-thirds of the season was infuriating. I’ll be shocked if we see Anderson in the big leagues again.

Jay Gibbons (∞)
.280/.313/.507 .819 5hr 0.1 WAR

Here’s how little I thought of Gibbons being signed to a minor-league deal in the spring: if you search “Gibbons” on this blog, you’ll first see a mention from December of 2007, when he was mentioned in the Mitchell Report. Though he was doing well in the minors, he didn’t even warrant a second mention until July 8, 2010, when I noted that he would be taking part in the AAA Home Run Derby. (That’s how come he gets “infinity” as a grade. How can I say he bested a preseason expectation when I didn’t even spend one brain cell thinking about him? It’s like dividing by zero. It’s dangerous.)

Of course, then I mentioned him several times over the next month, pointing out that he kept raking as Garret Anderson kept failing, until he was finally recalled when Anderson was DFA’d on August 8. At the time, I tried to discuss what you could expect from him:

Still, simply besting Anderson isn’t a high bar to clear, and the fact that Gibbons can play 1B as well as LF or RF offers some much-needed bench flexibility. As with any Isotope, you have to look at the home/road splits to see how much the Albuquerque environment helped him. It certainly has – his OPS is nearly 200 points higher at home – but he’s also been effective on the road as well, hitting .306/.335/.503.

Hey, if he works out, great. If not, you bring back up Xavier Paul or try someone else. Either way, he’s far more deserving of the opportunity right now than Anderson is, and this is an experiment which should have been tried months ago.

Gibbons bashed a homer in his first start and stayed hot before tailing off at the end, and though he drew just four walks and did a hilarious impression of “defense” in left field, his bat made the decision to keep him on the farm in favor of Anderson look all the worse. Or as I said on September 6

If you look at #5 on my list of things I wanted to see over the rest of the season, you’ll see “finding out if Jay Gibbons is worth a roster spot for next season.” So what happened? Gibbons got the start on Saturday and collected his third homer of the season. Someone remind me again why it took so long to get rid of the corpse of Anderson and get Gibbons up here – not like many of us hadn’t been calling for just that for months – because I sure as hell can’t come up with a good reason.

Gibbons almost certainly earned himself a spot on the 2011 club, and with good reason; with six double-digit homer seasons under his belt, he’s got the track record, and the defensive versatility is great to have on the bench, though he’s hardly a plus at either. Just keep in mind that, like Rod Barajas, one hot month does not make an All-Star. Gibbons as a power bat off the bench? Love it. Gibbons as your full-time left fielder? Not good. That said, he’ll likely sign for the minimum or something close to it, and that’s great value to add to your reserve corps.

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Next! Matt Kemp disappoints everyone! And who the hell is Trent Oeltjen?! It’s center field!

Hiroki Kuroda Reminds Us of What’s Important

Today had the potential to be one of the darkest days in Dodger history, and in many ways, I suppose it was. As if shipping off the man who sits atop the club’s all-time leader boards in several important offensive categories for next to nothing wasn’t enough, we had to deal with the start of the embarrassing divorce case between two millionaires equally unworthy of owning the club. (Seriously, if you care about the case, you should be following Molly Knight and Josh “Dodger Divorce” Fisher, who have been killing it from within the courtroom).

With those kind of sideshows going on simultaneously, and with the tacit admission that the Manny trade meant that the 2010 season was all but over, you could be forgiven for forgetting that there was even a game tonight. Hiroki Kuroda didn’t forget, though, taking a no-hitter into the 8th – the 7th time in his short Dodger career that he’s gone at least five innings and allowed two hits or fewer.

Kuroda’s always seemed a bit underappreciated, largely because he quietly goes about his job and often comes up with little to show for it. Even in those six previous starts allowing two hits or less, he came away with the win only twice. As Dave of Big League Stew noted as the game headed into the late innings, Kuroda’s win/loss record is a complete joke:

Kuroda’s a fine example of a pitcher’s W-L record not meaning bupkus. 26-28 my tuchas.

After everything that happened today, would anyone have been surprised if Roy Halladay had come out and just destroyed this team? Of course not. Kuroda deserves our thanks, not just for tonight’s performance, but for reminding us that no matter how ridiculous things get outside the lines, it’s always worth watching what happens on the field.

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Hey, the night belonged to Kuroda, but seeing Rod Barajas, SoCal native and longtime Dodger fan, hit a homer in his first home game with the Blue was pretty nice too. I’m starting to get a little worried that his hot start is going to fool fans into thinking that he’s, you know, good at baseball, because 34-year-olds with career OBP’s of .283 who just got let go by the Mets don’t generally all of a sudden figure it out. There’s really no scenario in which I’m okay with him as the starter next year, but I’m warming to the idea of bringing him back on the cheap to share time with Russell Martin, assuming Martin returns.

Really, half the reason I brought up Barajas was to post this picture:

Barajas over Halladay? You’re goddamn right. And that’s even his ball in the top there!

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Oh look, the obligatory “Bill Plaschke bashes Manny” story. It’s so predictably wrong that I really could write an entire piece on it, but I can’t allow myself to devote another entire post to this “journalist”, so I’ll just hit the high points.

But, with the exception of an occasional lucky moment when a fat pitch hit his slow bat, he departed the Dodgers the moment he was busted for being a performance-enhancing drug cheat.

Imagine if he didn’t have a “slow bat”? I’m sure he’d have done much better than 13th in MLB in OPS, or the 21st best season of all time by a 38-year-old. Nah, I’m sure that was all “luck”.

Three years ago, he bailed on the Boston Red Sox in his final plate appearance there by refusing to lift the bat off his shoulder on a three-pitch strikeout. On Sunday, he topped that bit of despicable behavior by being ejected from his final Dodgers game for arguing the first pitch of a pinch-hit appearance. Really, Manny? The first pitch? Couldn’t you have given the Dodgers at least two more?

Except.. that the pitch was basically in the opposite batter’s box, and just about everyone agreed on that. Joe Torre, with absolutely zero reason to defend Manny and every reason to hang him out to dry, backed him up after the game and criticized the umpire. I mean, even LA Dodger Talk – who I usually wouldn’t agree with if they claimed the sky was blue and that Sandy Koufax was a Dodger – was on the same page on this one. Of course, Bill’s never been one to let “facts” get in the way of a good story.

For all the wigs and wackiness and Mannywood mania, you know what Ramirez actually gave the Dodgers?

Ten weeks. Ten good weeks.

Well, ten historically excellent weeks. And then about five more great ones before he was suspended. And two great ones after his return, before getting hit by a pitch. Some pretty good, if not great, weeks to end 2009, and a blazing start to 2010 before getting hurt again. So there’s that.

You say he led the Dodgers back to the NLCS the following year? I say, and the Dodgers agreed, that they would have reached it without him. Weren’t they in first place when he came back from his 50-game suspension?

Wait, so all the games that they won with him – you know, the ones that had them 6.5 games up when he was suspended – they don’t count anymore? Because, I feel like they did.

I would love to cheer Ramirez from life’s dugout as he fights off collapse in the final inning of his storied career. But I’m taking a shower.

Oh, ha, I see what he did there. He’s referencing a manufactured “controversy” that he started, that few people cared about at the time, and which no one remembers now. Well done, Bill.

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Now that I’ve wasted too much time on that has-been, be sure to check out someone who actually knows what they’re talking about, Chad from Memories of Kevin Malone. His piece today on what’s ailing Matt Kemp is a must-read, particularly for the breakdown (with video!) of his mechanics:

Striding forward on a consistent plane allows the hitter to keep his weight back, keep his hips closed, and keep his timing regular.  The actual end alignment of the feet doesn’t really matter that much, but the important thing to note is what happens when Kemp’s hips begin to drift away from the ball as he tries to start his swing.

When he prematurely releases his hips through his stride action, his bat dips further under the contact zone than intended, in order to compensate for left side pulling away, and the bat head will be slower to get to the launch position because the core is the primary mover in bat speed.  So by Kemp not having his stride in gear, instead of keeping his weight back, power stored, and remaining on time, he’s off-balance, drained of bat speed, and late on pitches.

If you haven’t already, be sure to check out the entire thing.

Saying Goodbye to Mannywood


Say this for the 2+ years Manny Ramirez spent in Dodger blue: it was never boring. He was, at various points, both the most beloved Dodger we’ve seen in years (late 2008, when everyone had Manny-branded blue dreadlocks) and the most reviled (mid-2009, when he was suspended for PEDs and every self-righteous twit with a media pass fell over themselves to vilify him). It’s hard, if not impossible, to recall another Dodger who ran the spectrum of emotions quite like he did.

When the trade was made, we were ecstatic. (Personally, I remember exactly the moment I heard: I was on tour with a band I was playing with, and we were eating at a floating restaurant in the middle of the river between Cincinnati and Kentucky. I received a text message saying the Dodgers had acquired Manny but the return was unsure, and I replied with “Great! Don’t be Kemp Don’t be Kemp Don’t be Kemp”.)

Bill Plaschke status: not a huge fan of the trade right when it was made.

It wasn’t Kemp, of course; it was Andy LaRoche and Bryan Morris. That seemed like a pretty good deal at the time, as LaRoche had yet to prove himself and Morris was injured. It seems like a steal now, since LaRoche has just a .641 OPS in parts of three seasons in Pittsburgh and Morris has only made it to AA for the first time this season. Meanwhile, Manny was a king; his ridiculous 1.232 OPS to finish 2008 with the Dodgers was only the 6th best season by OPS+ (minimum 225 plate appearances) in the history of the National League. In the playoffs, he hit over .500 with 4 homers as the Dodgers went to the NLCS.

As good as that was, it seemed even better to us coming as it did immediately after the crushing failures of Andruw Jones and Juan Pierre. Manny was a hero in Los Angeles that fall, and here’s how we felt about him at the time, in our 2008 season in review:

Manny was simply everything we could have hoped for and so much more.  He had the best offensive stretch in Dodger history and it’s kind of ironic and twisted that one of the other reasons we were able to land him was due to our center fielder having the worst stretch in Dodger history.  But even if Manny doesn’t come back and jettisons to another team, I will always be thankful to the man for what he brought to the team, to the city, and to all of us.  Unforgettable.

Manny was a free agent after 2008, and if that had been that, our lives might all have been different right now. But the thought of seeing him over a full season was too much; after what he’d done in a partial year in 2008, couldn’t he hit about 120 homers over a full year?

Bill Plaschke status, last week of the 2008 season: don’t resign Manny.

So the Dodgers, intoxicated by Manny’s production, couldn’t let him move on, and for all of his bluster, Scott Boras wasn’t going to take Manny away from a place where he’d rebuilt his image after his ugly exit from Boston. Anyone remember how painful that process was? Here’s what I said when he finally signed in March of 2009:

In November, the Dodgers offered 2/$45. He wanted 5 or 6 years at $100m+. Not only did Boras not even get them to meet in the middle, he ended up settling for… 2/$45m. While getting that much annual salary in this economy is still a feat, it’s still far less than he’d originally demanded.

Sure, it’s all worth adding a hitter like Manny to the lineup, and when he’s pummeling homers in May we won’t care. But there’s only one thing worse than watching millionaires argue with millionaires in the face of a terrible economy… and that’s watching them do it for four months only to end up with nearly the exact same terms that were on the table in November. This whole process was completely brutal for all of us.

Now, you might be thinking to yourself, “damn, I don’t miss that entire winter of watching Boras and the Dodgers go back and forth. But wasn’t there something else that made it especially painful?” Oh, that’s right. Jamie McCourt had to help matters and open her big mouth with gems like these:

“If you bring somebody in to play and pay them, pick a number, $30 million, does that seem a little weird to you?” Jamie McCourt asked in an interview at the Evergreen Recreation Center in East Los Angeles. “That’s what we’re trying to figure out. We’re really trying to see it through the eyes of our fans. We’re really trying to understand, would they rather have the 50 fields?”

Seriously, I read that post of mine for the first time since then, and it made my blood boil again. Remember, Dodger fans: Jamie McCourt says that if you want your team to sign free agents, you hate children.

Bill Plaschke status, during negotiations: don’t sign Manny, get an “ace” like Jake Peavy.

2009 finally began, and Manny got off to a roll. On May 6, he was hitting .348/.492/.641, better than his career averages. Then, on May 7… disaster struck, and I need not remind you why. I’m not going to waste time defending Manny here; he did what he did, he got found out, and he has no one to blame for that but himself. Just like Andy Pettitte, just like Guillermo Mota, just like countless other players. But other than Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, who were hammered for various other reasons as well, Manny was hit far more viciously than just about anyone else caught up in the steroid era.

No, I don’t think it’s going too far to say that many mainstream columnists had it out for Manny, and could barely contain their glee when he was suspended. Like, for example, here. And here. And here. Really, that’s what bothered me more than anything. You want to get on Manny for cheating and letting the team down? Sure, that’s fair. I did. But some of these jokers crossed that line by about a thousand miles, as though Manny had set fire to a school of orphans. Who were holding puppies. Adorable puppies.

Bill Plaschke status: practically having a seizure of self-righteousness.

It got worse, though, the longer Manny was out. Juan Pierre stepped in, and was admittedly great… for the first 40% of Manny’s suspension. Then he was worse than ever for the last 60%, but that didn’t seem to matter. Manny was a cheater. Juan played hard. Manny was lazy, and wouldn’t talk to the media. Juan got the most out of his god-given talent. Manny’s numbers couldn’t be trusted. Juan’s numbers didn’t matter, because he had “heart”.

God, I hate the media sometimes.

Bill Plaschke status: steadfastly claiming that he would never go see a Manny rehab game… and then immediately going to a Manny rehab game.

Then Manny returned, and he was a shell of himself from the moment he returned, clearly affected by not being on the juice. That is what happened, right? That’s how I remember the news being reported. What’s that, the facts don’t exactly match the narrative you’ve come up with? Screw it! We’ve got a story to stick to.

Bill Plaschke status: outright inventing stories about Manny disrespecting fans, despite pictures that clearly show the exact opposite.

Well, not quite. Despite the fact that I could link to a million stories claiming that Manny was useless after his return, that’s not exactly how it went down. In fact, I broke it down after the season:

1) Opening Day (4/6) -> Suspension (5/6): .348/.492/.641 1.133

Vintage Manny. Better than his career average, actually, so pretty damned good. I can already hear the squawking that “he was still on the juice!”, but don’t forget: he failed his test in Spring Training – and that for a masking agent, not the actual thing -  so while he may have still been on the ride at this point, he was hardly shooting up before games.

2) Suspension (5/7 -> 7/2)

Dick. No question about it. Dick. Not only for “letting us down”, if you feel personally offended, but by robbing the team of its best bat for six weeks – and by adding insult to injury by subjecting us to Juan Pierre during that time. Dick.

3) Return (7/3) -> HBP from Homer Bailey (7/21): .333/.429/.688 1.116

His slightly lower OBP was offset by a bump in SLG, equaling nearly the same OPS as he had before the suspension. I don’t remember anyone complaining that he was no good clean during these two weeks, right?

4) Playing with injured hand (7/22 -> 8/28): .264/.366/.400 .766

Despite constant refusals to admit that taking Bailey’s mid-90s heater off his hand was an issue, Manny was clearly not the same player here. Still, no player ever admits that they’re injured, and if this was related to the juice, he’d have been playing like this as soon as he returned, right? Besides, once he’d had a few weeks since the HBP, presumably healing his hand…

5) End of season stretch (8/29 -> 10/3): .241/.400/.517 .917

…his OBP and SLG perked right up. Granted, the batting average isn’t great. Fortunately, we all know better than to rely on batting average as any sort of indicator, and a .917 OPS is still top 20 if he’d put that up over the entire season.

As you can see, when he wasn’t thrilling the crowd with Bobbleslams, Manny was doing just fine until he got hit in the hand by Homer Bailey. The demonization of Manny for the rest of 2009 came from A) writers with personal vendettas against him, B) everyone who valued Juan Pierre the player far too much because they liked Juan Pierre the person, and C) everyone who doesn’t understand that a .241 batting average can still be pretty damned good if it gets you a .917 OPS.  It’s that kind of media fail which lead to posts like this, wondering why so many fans preferred Pierre to Manny despite overwhelming evidence that he’s a far lesser player.

Bill Plaschke status: manufacturing ridiculous outrage over Manny being in the shower after being removed from a playoff game.

Heading into 2010, expectations were high. The expected controversy over whether Manny would exercise his opt-out clause never came, as he quietly acknowledged he wouldn’t be passing up his guaranteed 2010 payday on November 6. With that out of the way, conditions were ripe for a comeback. Manny had had the entire winter to rest his hand, he was in a contract year, and if the thought of playing for his next payday didn’t motivate him, the embarrassment he’d suffered in 2009 certainly would.

Well, it didn’t work out exactly like that. Manny landed on the disabled list with leg issues three separate times, and played just 65 games with the Dodgers, the fewest in his career other than a cup of coffee as a 21-year-old with the 1993 Indians. Eight homers, 232 plate appearances, months on the disabled list, and far more Scott Podsednik and Garret Anderson in left field than we ever could have dreamed. That’s not exactly what we’d hoped for, I’ll grant you.

Classic Manny? Clearly not.

But again, nor was it the post-steroid disaster that the media liked to portray it as. Manny’s .915 OPS was 13th in MLB, among players with at least 225 PA. That’s higher than players like Adrian Gonzalez, Joe Mauer, Prince Fielder, Ryan Zimmerman, and Evan Longoria. Remember, PED suspension or not, we’re still talking about a guy who’s 38 years old. A .915 OPS is 91% of his career average 1.000 OPS; for a 38-year-old to get that close to matching his usual Hall-of-Fame level is impressive. In fact, it was the 21st highest OPS+ of any ballplayer 38 or older (220 PA or more) in history, and the list above is littered with names like Ted Williams, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, and Ty Cobb.

Bill Plaschke status: writing sob stories about the removal of Mannywood.

I’m not saying he was worth every penny this year; it’s hard to do so with how much time he missed. But to keep up the facade that he could no longer produce is just wrong. If the numbers above aren’t convincing proof of that, how about the fact that they’ve scored more than 5 runs per game with him in the lineup, and fewer than 4 without him? If he’s not classic, “in his Boston prime” Manny, or superpowered “just got to LA” Manny, he’s still an effective force in the lineup, one the Dodgers have proven they cannot win without.

Manny ended his Dodger career with a bizarre ejection after just one pitch while pinch-hitting with the bases loaded, which is oddly appropriate. He also ended his Dodger career atop the team’s all-time leaderboards in OBP, SLG, OPS, and OPS+ (minimum 500 at-bats), all in exchange for a failed third baseman, a mid-level pitching prospect, and a ton of heartburn. Now, he’s gone, dropped onto the White Sox for nothing but salary relief, and no matter how you feel about Manny’s time in LA, there’s not much argument we got exactly what we signed up for. Dominant offensive performance, more than a little controversy, and a less-than-glorious exit? Yeah, that sounds about right.

Well worth the trouble, I say. So long, Manny. You’re a petulant child, and I don’t mourn your loss. But few players who have ever put on the Dodger uniform have provided us with as much excitement and production.