Dodgers Watch Brewers Walk Off For Second Night In a Row

Usually I have a good portion of a game recap written by the time the game ends, with just a few minutes of finishing touches needed. But tonight, I didn’t have a word written when the Dodgers lost on a close play in the tenth, because there really just wasn’t a whole lot worth recapping. I can’t tell if it was the deadly silent Miller Park, the joyless commentary of Steve Lyons & Eric Collins, or just a relatively uneventful game, but no one – either in the park or watching from home – seemed particularly into this one.

That’ll happen now and then over an 162 game season, I suppose, especially when not a single Dodger had more than one hit. Chris Capuano was effective enough over six innings, and watching Josh Lindblom & Kenley Jansen dominate for three more was fun. But let’s skip right ahead to the tenth inning, because that’s all anyone is going to want to talk about.

Matt Guerrier came in to pitch, and while I absolutely hate the idea of saving your closer on the road for a lead which may never come, Guerra’s been shaky enough the last two times out that I can’t really say it absolutely positively had to be him in that situation, so, fine. Unfortunately, Guerrier was shaky, walking leadoff hitter Jonathan Lucroy, a mistake which was multiplied by A.J. Ellis sailing a throw into center field when Nyjer Morgan (running for Lucroy) attempted to steal second. With one out (thanks to yet another late-inning bunt fail gift), Guerrier intentionally walked Rickie Weeks in an attempt to set up the double play.

That’s fine, except that then Weeks stole second with little resistance from the Dodgers, eliminating the double play possibility. Guerrier made things even worse by walking George Kottaras, because that brought Ryan Braun to the plate. Say what you will about whether Braun really deserved his 2011 awards, but hey, whenever you can walk a backup catcher to get to the NL MVP in a critical situation, why wouldn’t you?

Braun flew out to center, where Matt Kemp – positioned somewhat awkwardly in short left-center since the Dodgers had pulled Jerry Hairston in to be a fifth infielder – settled under the fly. But Kemp’s positioning wasn’t great, since he didn’t have a whole lot of forward momentum when he caught the ball, and so his throw to the plate to try to catch Morgan was hardly his best effort. (Morgan, it should be noted, ran through the stop sign of his third base coach.)

Morgan was called safe to end the game, though as you can see, there’s more than a little controversy in that…

So really, this is the flip side of the 9-1 start. This team can be successful when they get quality pitching, especially out of the bullpen, and solid defense. When either or both fail? That’s an enormous problem from a team which has two offensive superstars and not a whole hell of a lot else.

The Dodgers will attempt to avoid the sweep in tomorrow’s matinee, bright and early at 10:10am, up against old friend Randy Wolf.

MSTI’s 2011 in Review: Relievers, Part 2

Matt Guerrier (C)
4.07 ERA, 3.43 FIP, 6.8 K/9, 3.4 BB/9

Let’s get this out of the way right up front: despite all of the negative things we say about Matt Guerrier, he wasn’t bad. He pitched in 70 games, just like he always does. His xFIP was nearly exactly the same as it was in the previous few years, and his FIP was actually lower. While he walked more than he did as a Twin, he also struck out more, so on the whole you got a decent Guerrier year, and that’s not a terrible guy to have in the bullpen.

But that contract… good lord, that contract. As Eric Stephen wrote at TrueBlueLA, “among the 15 Dodgers to pitch in relief this season Guerrier ranked eighth in ERA (4.07), eighth in FIP (3.43), and 12th in xFIP (4.30).” For that, Guerrier was handsomely rewarded with a backloaded three-year, $12m contract, and, well, we went over all of this a few weeks ago:

As you can see, Guerrier ranks all over the place. He missed a surprising amount of bats for someone without that kind of reputation, which is nice, as was his decent placement in the advanced run metrics. Of course, being one of the worst at LOB% and the absolute worst at “meltdowns” (if you didn’t read the definition, it’s when a reliever makes his team at least 6% more likely to lose) isn’t exactly what you hoped for when spending the money.

And that’s really the entire point, isn’t it? Guerrier had his uses, and he’s deserving of a place in the Dodger bullpen – no one’s arguing that he needs to be dumped or shipped off immediately, that he was some sort of Juan Uribe in the relief corps. But as I continue to struggle with my 2012 plan (which I’m probably on iteration #76 of right now), the backloaded ~$4.7m for Guerrier sticks out, particularly when he’s likely no better than the 4th best reliever in the bullpen.

Considering how many relievers were as successful or moreso than Guerrier for less years, dollars, or both, it’s safe to say that this is one we should all wish we had back, perhaps even more so than we initally felt when he first signed it.

Still, it’s not Guerrier’s fault that he accepted the large contract that was offered to him, and he’s still got two more years left on it. If we can look past the dollar amount, he’s still useful, and for a bullpen that looks to be extremely young next year, it’s not the worst thing in the world to have a reliable, if not spectacular, veteran in the mix.

Blake Hawksworth (C+)
4.08 ERA, 3.84 FIP, 7.3 K/9, 2.9 BB/9

I will say this until it can’t be said any longer: Blake Hawksworth derives value from simply not being Ryan Theriot, whom he was traded straight-up for back in November. Or do you not remember the sheer joy of “Ryan Theriot Traded for Living, Breathing, Human Being“?

Beyond that, Hawksworth seemed like an intriguing arm and potential spot starter, and since he was out of options it was all but assured he’d make the club. For the first month or so, he was reasonably useful, at least from a back-of-the-bullpen arm acquired for literally nothing: through May 10, he’d allowed a .651 OPS and six earned runs in 17 2/3 innings. On a team that was employing both Lance Cormier and Mike MacDougal at the time, that was valuable enough – until he injured his hip and missed nearly a month.

Returning in June, he was once again solid, allowing a .542 OPS and a 19/5 K/BB in 19 1/3 innings. Nothing stellar, of course, but certainly useful; this earned him a B in the midseason reviews, where I referred to him as “perfectly acceptable.” But from there, it was all downhill for Hawksworth, as he allowed 16 runs (12 earned) in his final 16 2/3 innings of the season, making many wonder if he was injured again – and culminating in his failure to cover first base (or, you know, get outs) in the September 28 soulcrusher in Arizona.

Still, he did top previous career highs in K/9 rate and BB/9 rate, and despite being out of options he’s still a pre-arbitration player. At essentially zero cost to the Dodgers, he provides value, so it’s more than likely that he’s got a job in the 2012 bullpen.

Jonathan Broxton (F…’d by Torre)
5.68 ERA, 5.63 FIP, 7.11 K/9, 6.39 BB/9

I think I said all I needed to about Broxton back in September, when it was announced that he wouldn’t be making a return in 2011 and I bid a likely adieu to his Dodger career:

If this is the end for Broxton, he’s going to walk away as one of the most successful and dominating relievers in Dodger history. Among Dodgers with as many career innings as he has, his 11.55 K/9 mark is by far the best, more than a full strikeout ahead of Eric Gagne‘s chemically-aided 10.38. His K/BB of 3.09 is fifth best, ahead of Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, and Don Sutton, and he’s also on the top ten as far as the fewest hits per nine allowed.

From his debut on July 29, 2005 through June 26, 2010, Broxton was consistently excellent. In 349.2 innings over 341 games, he struck out a whopping 468 batters, allowing opponents to hit just .209/.285/.300 against him. For those afraid he’d wilt in the ninth inning, he actually got better once he was promoted to the closer’s job after Takashi Saito‘s injury in July of 2008; from then until June 26, 2010, he struck out 204 in 138 innings and held the opposition to a microscopic line of .185/.258/.242. For the better part of two years, Broxton was either the absolute best closer in baseball or something very close to it.

That was more about his Dodger career as a whole, so if we’re sticking to a 2011 recap… well what can you say. He was awful, clearly because he was pitching with a tattered elbow, which he finally underwent surgery on it in September. If anything, he helped prove once again that saves are a mockery by converting seven of eight, including five of the first eight games of the season, despite not being very good. Really, any sort of analysis of his performance this year is somewhat pointless. He was never healthy, and he was gone after the first month. Sad end for one of the better Dodger pitchers in recent years.

******

Next! Josh Lindblom finally makes his debut! Mike MacDougal, shiny happy veteran reliever! And Ramon Troncoso, punching bag! It’s relievers, part 3!

A Look Back At Matt Guerrier’s Contract


As I go through the pitching staff for the 2011 Review series, I’m usually writing a few days ahead of what’s being posted, just because it takes so much work to go back through the full season of posts for each player. Though you probably won’t be seeing Matt Guerrier‘s review (grouped with Jonathan Broxton and Blake Hawksworth) until next week, this morning I started writing it, and it’s filled with basically what you’d expect it would be – “not bad, generally decent, wildly overpaid, hate his contract.” No surprises there.

But what I’d forgotten about until I started doing the research was that not only did we dislike the Guerrier contract simply because of the time-tested rule of “multi-year deals to non-elite relievers never, ever work out well” – which remains true - but because other free agent relievers like Grant Balfour, Kyle Farnsworth, Brian Fuentes, and Jon Rauch ended up signing elsewhere for less years and money, and in most cases they were pitchers we considered better than Guerrier at the time:

All four signed deals that were less in total value than the Dodgers gave to Guerrier earlier this offseason. You can make the argument that all four are better pitchers, too.

No, really.

Guerrier’s the only one who hasn’t managed a FIP below 4 in either of the last two years, and he’s also got the highest tERA (which is similar to FIP, but includes weights based on batted ball types) as well. He’s next to last as far as K/BB ratio goes to Fuentes; however, Fuentes was superior in OPS allowed in 2010 (.607 to .625) and is also absolute murder on lefties, which is exactly the need I was contemplating in my post about lefty relievers.

If you have to sign a reliever, and you hand out the most years and dollars amongst a group of rough comparables, shouldn’t you be confident that you got the best of the group? And if not the “best”, at least not “possibly the worst”?

Now that we’ve got a year of data, we can check back and see how accurate that assumption was. But then, why stop at four names I somewhat randomly chose to compare Guerrier to before the offseason was even over when we can look back upon the entire collection?

In the winter of 2010-11, 32 relievers signed MLB deals that took them to a new team, with the average contract length being 1.6 years for $3.08m per year. (Once I remove Rafael Soriano from that, which I’m going to do because his insane 3/$35m contract is a massive outlier that completely skews the results, almost certainly came down from ownership and not Brian Cashman, and was hated by most smart Yankee fans at the time, those averages drop to 1.59 years and $2.8m per.) Of the remaining 31, only three other than Guerrier received three-year deals (Joaquin Benoit in Detroit, Scott Downs in Anaheim, Jesse Crain in Chicago), and only those three exceeded the $12m total that Guerrier recieved (though Bobby Jenks matched it on a two-year deal in Boston).

For Guerrier’s contract to have made any sort of sense, he’d need to have given a performance that ranked him among the top 10-15% of the 31 relievers from last year we’re looking at. (I will grant this is somewhat unfair because Guerrier still has two more years left to prove himself, but that’s sort of the point; if an equal or superior reliever could have been had on a one- or two-year deal, it makes his deal look even worse.)

So let’s peruse FanGraphs for Guerrier’s ranking among those peers in some of the stats more relevant to relievers, and no, there’s no mention of holds or saves here.

K/BB
Best: J.J. Putz, 5.08
Worst: Sean Green, 1.17
22nd of 31: Guerrier, 2.00

Swinging Strike %
Best: Benoit, 13.7%
Worst: Arthur Rhodes, 6.2%
4th of 31: Guerrier, 11.8%

LOB%
Best: Balfour, 89%
Worst: Green, 60%
30th of 31: Guerrier, 67.6%

FIP
Best: Putz, 2.54
Worst: Rhodes, 5.90
12th of 31: Guerrier, 3.43

tERA
Best: Putz, 2.40
Worst: Jeremy Accardo, 5.82
7th of 31: Guerrier, 3.28

WPA
Best: Putz, 3.51
Worst: D.J. Carrasco, -1.16
28th of 31: Guerrier, -0.96

Shutdowns (definition)
Best: Putz, 35
Worst: Green/J.C. Romero, 1
15th of 31: Guerrier, 17

Meltdowns (definition)
Best: Jose Contreras, 1
Worst: Guerrier, 18

As you can see, Guerrier ranks all over the place. He missed a surprising amount of bats for someone without that kind of reputation, which is nice, as was his decent placement in the advanced run metrics. Of course, being one of the worst at LOB% and the absolute worst at “meltdowns” (if you didn’t read the definition, it’s when a reliever makes his team at least 6% more likely to lose) isn’t exactly what you hoped for when spending the money.

And that’s really the entire point, isn’t it? Guerrier had his uses, and he’s deserving of a place in the Dodger bullpen – no one’s arguing that he needs to be dumped or shipped off immediately, that he was some sort of Juan Uribe in the relief corps. But as I continue to struggle with my 2012 plan (which I’m probably on iteration #76 of right now), the backloaded ~$4.7m for Guerrier sticks out, particularly when he’s likely no better than the 4th best reliever in the bullpen.

Considering how many relievers were as successful or moreso than Guerrier for less years, dollars, or both, it’s safe to say that this is one we should all wish we had back, perhaps even more so than we initally felt when he first signed it.  Now let’s just try to not repeat that mistake this year, could we?

Youth In the Bullpen Is Still the Way to Go


I hate to ever, ever use T.J. Simers as a source for anything – hell, in the same column we’re about to discuss, he says he’d choose Ian Kennedy over Clayton Kershaw for the Cy Young because “without Kennedy the Diamondbacks don’t win the division”, as though A) that makes sense or B) Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay don’t exist – but the LA Times‘ resident clownshoe did manage to elicit an interesting quote out of Ned Colletti yesterday:

He’s hoping Hiroki Kuroda returns and will look to add a veteran to the bullpen, “but not a closer,” he says. “I think we’ll go with a combination of Kenley Jensen [sic] and Javy Guerra.”

For such a short sentence, there’s a whole lot going on there, and I’m not talking about Kuroda. Let’s take the second part first, where he says they’ll stick with Guerra and Kenley Jansen (not that Simers knows who that is) in the back of the bullpen. This is unquestionably the correct decision, because Jansen has been one of the most dominating relievers we’ve seen in years – decades, perhaps – and Guerra, for all of our uncertainty about his underwhelming peripherals, has consistently gotten the job done as the closer. While Jansen fits the prototypical mold of the fireballing closer more than Guerra, I agree with Jon Weisman that using him as the fireman in the highest leverage situations is a much better use of his time than shoehorning him into the 9th inning because that’s simply what closers do, which is often not when the game is won or lost. Going out and spending big dollars on a closer just because he has “saves”, like Francisco Rodriguez, Matt Capps, or Heath Bell, is not the most efficient usage of money when you have Jansen and Guerra, and good on Colletti for recognizing that.

If that was the end of the story, we’d be sitting pretty, but unfortunately, Colletti had to add that he wants to add a veteran to the bullpen, and that’s where the problems begin. We’ve talked ad nauseum around here about the unfortunate Matt Guerrier contract and how handing out multi-year contracts to decent-ish middle relievers rarely works (particularly when, as shown in that last link, better veteran relievers were signed for less money last winter).

It’s not even that Guerrier has been bad this year, because he hasn’t, just that there’s almost no way he lives up to the money committed to him, as Chad Moriyama broke down a few weeks ago:

Guerrier was the big money free agent signing, and he was actually decently productive in 2011. Unfortunately, the only reason he clocks in at positive value is because of the deferred nature of his overall contract (4 Y/12 M), so he’ll have to get better in a hurry if he wants to continue breaking even. The more likely scenario is that it ends up being a neutral to poor overall transaction.

-

Over the course of the 2011 season, the Dodgers relief corps has proved that bullpen arms are indeed a fickle and fungible group, with production to be found from a multitude of sources, and that the most value out of the pen is commonly derived from those making the least. Sticking with cheap team controlled building blocks in the bullpen can be highly effective, and the money used to sign costly relievers can frequently be better used elsewhere.

This is especially true because relief pitching is one of the few areas that the Dodgers are relatively deep in as far as young arms on the way up. In addition to Jansen, Guerra, Guerrier, Scott Elbert, & Josh Lindblom, all proven at the big league level (we’ll have to get back to whether Hong-Chih Kuo gets tendered a contract another time), the organization is full of nearly-ready names like Shawn Tolleson, Steven Ames, & Cole St. Clair, moderately useful filler like Blake Hawksworth (if tendered) and Jon Link, plus who among us doesn’t believe that Mike MacDougal and his shiny ERA will be back? That’s a pretty full bullpen right there, and it’s not like this team doesn’t have a dozen other holes to fill in the upcoming offseason.

Now, if signing a veteran bullpen arm means another scrap-heap type like MacDougal, then fine, since for all his warts he made just $500,000 this year. Colletti does seem to be able to find at least one arm like that every year. If it means handing out another multi-year deal to one of the members of this year’s non-elite reliever free agent class – I’m looking at you, Jon Rauch, Mike Gonzalez, Jason Frasor and Chad Qualls – then we could be in trouble.

2011 Midseason Review: MSTI


We’re wrapping up this midseason review with a new focus: me. Regular readers of this blog know that nothing interests me more than big-picture roster mechanics, and so I’ve often put forth judgement on trades and signings, and occasionally offered suggestions of my own. It was pointed out to me on Twitter recently that if I was going to criticise the moves of others, it was only fair for me to turn the spotlight on myself. (It was also pointed out to me in the comments of a recent post that I get too much “told ya so!” sometimes, which, perhaps, but this post sure isn’t going to help change that perspective.)

Remember, this is just for fun on yet another off-day, because there’s no guarantee that a player who is doing well or poorly in one place would have had the same performance in another.

Matt Kemp

What I said at the time (03/24/11):

My positive feelings about him continued in his 2010 season in review piece later that month, where I noted that he had not only taken responsibility for his subpar year, he’d ended the season on a five-homers-in-five-games tear while ridding himself of the distractions that had derailed his season – Joe Torre, Larry Bowa, Bob Schaefer, and even Rhianna, if you believe in that sort of thing. (Rob Neyer had a great look at the shortcomings of the 2010 coaching staff, too.) Again, Kemp is not to be excused for being unable to work through all that, but nor should it be ignored that from all indications, he wasn’t getting a lot of support internally either.

I realize it’s spring, and that everyone has a nice, rosy outlook this time of the year. That’s fine, and it’ll take more than some spring dingers and saying the right things to prove Kemp right. But the signs are all there for a massive year – no one’s questioned his talent, but now he’s motivated to prove himself, with distractions gone and the right instruction in place.

Matt Kemp is still just 26. The two-year contract he signed after 2009 is up this year. He’s got a lot to prove – and mark my words, he’s going to do it.

How’d that work out?

Eh, he’s okay.

Juan Uribe

What I said at the time (11/29/10):

Now that we’ve got the positives out of the way… what in the hell is this team doing giving three years* and $22m to Juan Uribe?! (*standard caveat of “it’s just a report, and not an official deal yet” applies.) Uribe’s never had even a two-year deal in his life. He was quite good in 2005 with the White Sox (111 OPS+, 23 HR), but after four consecutive years of not having an OBP over .301, he was cut loose after 2008. The Giants got him for 1 year, $1m in 2009, and he was quite good again – 112 OPS+ – so they resigned him for 1 year, $3.2m in 2010. Other than increasing his HR, he completely regressed at he plate. His OPS fell from .824 to .749, and his wOBA fell from .351 to .322.

That doesn’t make him useless, but as I’ve said every other time I’ve talked about him, I like him for one year and I’d accept an option for a second. But now we’re giving a guy whose age 25-28 seasons were all basically a waste, had one good year at 29 and couldn’t quite keep it up at 30 three guaranteed years? Why? Because he was a Giant? Because he hit a homer in the World Series (despite doing little else in October)?

How’d that work out?

While everyone knew giving Uribe three years was a horrendous idea, it should be noted that I originally tossed out the idea of signing him weeks before it happened. I was only willing to give one guaranteed year with an option for a second, of course, but the point is that even Uribe’s most ardent detractors weren’t predicting as poor of a season as we’ve seen. But hey, two more years!

Ted Lilly

What I said at the time (10/19/10)

I guarantee that I’m going to be in the minority here, but I’m not thrilled with this. The casual fan is going to see this as some sort of sign that Frank McCourt is willing to spend, but there’s a big difference between spending and spending wisely, and spending big on a 35-year-old pitcher entering his decline years is not wise. Isn’t this how we ended up being stuck with Casey Blake next year?

So sure, I’m happy to see him back in 2011, but we can’t be short-sighted about this. Remember, Lilly just finished a 4-year, $40m contract, which is an average annual value of $10m/year. Somehow, despite being 4 years older, less than a year past shoulder surgery, and on the decline, the Dodgers saw fit to give him a deal which increases that value?

I’m not arguing that he wouldn’t have found a contract like that on the market, because he would have. I would have just preferred it be some other team to make a foolish investment. Spending money does not equal spending wisely, because while Lilly’s a good pitcher, he’s hardly a difference-maker, yet he’s being paid like one. Though I’m glad he’s back for 2011, I really think we’re going to regret this deal in 2012 and 2013 – which is basically exactly what I said about Blake’s deal after 2008.

How’d that work out?

If I was wrong here, it was in that I at least thought Lilly could be good this year before falling off the next two years. Instead, he’s been barely above replacement level this year, and that does not give me much hope for the next two years of the deal as he’s 36 and 37. The lesson, as always: big money deals to older pitchers, particularly one who had a completely unsustainable debut with your club, rarely work out.

Casey Blake

What I said at the time (9/21/10):

Unfortunately, history isn’t on Blake’s side either. There’s only been seventeen seasons since 1961 in which a third baseman 37 or older (since Blake will be 37 most of next year) has managed to even play enough to qualify for the batting title. Looking at that list, most of them are Hall of Famers (Mike Schmidt, Pete Rose, Brooks Robinson, Wade Boggs, Cal Ripken, Jr.), or about to be (Chipper Jones) – and even then there’s quite a few dreadful seasons on that list. Do we really expect that Casey Blake is the one who bucks that trend?

Thanks to the budget and his veteran status, I fully expect that Blake is going to be the regular third baseman in 2011, but it’s not what’s best for the team (and is exactly what I feared when they signed him back in 2008).

How’d that work out?

Blake hit just .243/.346/.386 around three disabled list stints and is on pace to play in fewer than 80 games. He gets a little bit older every day.

Rod Barajas

What I said at the time (12/03/10):

Barajas signed for $500k with the Mets last year, waiting until just before camp opened in February to even get that. He was then so bad that the woeful Mets, you know, let him go to the Dodgers on waivers for absolutely nothing. Granted, he had a great first week or so in Dodger blue – 4 homers, 1.458 OPS in his first 8 games. Yet in his remaining 17 games, he had just 1 homer and a .612 OPS, also known as “Rod Barajas being Rod Barajas“. On the season, he had a .284 OBP, which exactly matches his career mark, because he’s not very good.

Look at it this way – Barajas had never made more than $3.2m, which is what he got from Texas in 2006. He’s now five years older, coming off several lousy seasons bouncing from team to team – making less than $1m in two of them – yet somehow, coming off a year in which he was dumped on waivers and will be 35, he’s all of a sudden worth $3.8m. Seriously? In my 2011 plan, when I said he could come back I said that I thought he could be had for $800k. Is this all because of his one good week as a Dodger? I’ve had to deal with a lot of casual fans who got taken in by that, but I never expected the front office to do so.

How’d that work out?

As I noted, Barajas’ career marks aren’t great, and even still he’s been unable to match them. Since he does still have some pop (8 HR) this year, it’s not the fact that he was signed which bothered me, it’s just the sheer amount of money he received.

Dioner Navarro

What I said at the time (2/20/11):

So tell me, why is it that Navarro has a $1m contract for 2011, while Ellis has bus rides around the PCL to look forward to? Because of that one good year? That fluke year also isn’t fooling the latest iteration of Baseball Prospectus‘ PECOTA projections, pegging Navarro for .243/.304/.336  and Ellis at .256/.364/.321. The numbers just don’t support it, and that’s without even questioning the off-field issues brought up by Navarro refusing to remain with the Rays in the playoffs last year after not making the roster. It’s also without bringing defense into the equation, as that’s notoriously hard to evaluate for catchers, though it should be noted that Ellis has a very good repuation, and the DRaysBay quote above wasn’t exactly glowing towards Navarro. (Update: after this went up, BP colleague and DockOfTheRays blogger Jason Collette added, “enjoy that hot mess behind the plate.” So there’s that.)

Now as I said upfront, I get that Navarro has the prospect history and does have the one good year, and it’s worth it to see if he can recapture that magic and be useful going forward. I’m fine with that; in fact, I love the idea. I’d just have preferred to see it on a minor-league deal, and I don’t understand why he seemingly doesn’t have to fight for the job.

How’d that work out?

Ha. You’ve watched baseball, right?

Aaron Miles

What I said at the time (02/07/11):

I am constantly trying to reassure people that minor league contracts are never as big of a deal as they seem, and the inherent lack of risk makes them almost a no-lose proposition.

In this case, I’m not so sure, because Miles is atrociously bad. No, really; among players who have had as many plate appearances as Miles had since he debuted in 2003, only three players in baseball have been less valuable. It’s a special kind of “not valuable”, though. If you’re simply awful, you don’t get to stick around for that long. Miles has really hit the sweet spot of being bad enough to hurt his teams for years, yet not so bad that he gets outright drummed out of the game. It must be his A+ levels of “grit” and “scrap”.

How’d that work out?

I’ve offered a mea culpa on Miles more than a few times now. He’s been a very nice surprise this year.

Matt Guerrier

What I said at the time (01/19/11):

Why are we all having such a hard time remembering that Guerrier is a Dodger? Perhaps it’s because the signing, which most of us disapproved of at the time, isn’t looking any better as the winter goes along. In the last week, four free agent relievers signed multimillion dollar deals with teams that hope to contend in 2011. (I’m excluding Rafael Soriano from this conversation, as that deal wowed even Yankee fans used to excessive spending.) Jon Rauch left Minnesota to sign in Toronto, while the A’s snapped up both Grant Balfour and Rauch’s former teammate, Brian Fuentes. Earlier, the Rays signed Kyle Farnsworth, in part to replace both Balfour and Soriano.

All four signed deals that were less in total value than the Dodgers gave to Guerrier earlier this offseason. You can make the argument that all four are better pitchers, too.

How’d that work out?

Basically as I expected. Guerrier has been mediocre, despite being the highest-paid of the guys mentioned above. Love, love, love longterm deals for non-elite relievers.

Adam Dunn

What I said at the time (10/11/10):

I’ll admit that I’ve coveted Dunn for years, and my hypothetical Dodgers have enough money to make one big splash. You could argue that finding a pitcher is more important, but pitching is always overpriced on the free agent market, and if you don’t do something to add some power and OBP, then it’s not going to matter anyway. Dunn’s not without his warts, but he’s also among the most consistent power hitters of the last generation – you know you’re getting 35-40 homers and an above-average OBP, and as he’s just turning 31, you should get him before his decline sets in. Besides, you saw what kind of difference Manny made on Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier when he was in the lineup, right? Nothing torpedoed the 2010 club more than lousy offense, and getting one of the top 3 bats available would be a huge step in the right direction.

How’d that work out?

Woof. Huge whiff there, since Dunn is hitting just .160/.292/.305, though I’ll try to semi-defend myself by saying that plenty of analysts thought he was a great fit in Chicago, and that absolutely no one saw this coming. Still, yikes.

Russell Martin

What I said at the time (12/02/10:)

Where do you start? We’ve talked about this ad nauseum. He’s not nearly what he was, yet that’s still better than most catchers. He’s coming off a serious injury and stands to get about $6m in arbitration, yet the options to replace him are terrible. I don’t know if there’s a right answer here; I’d probably try to sign him to a two-year deal at less per year than he’d get in arbitration, but there’s probably not enough time left to do that today.

How’d that work out?

Martin got off to a ferocious start in New York, hitting 9 homers in the first month of the season. He’s been atrocious since then, battling a knee injury and hitting only .184/.296/.282 since April 25. I thought the Dodgers made the right move by letting him go; this is still a point of contention for many since the LA catchers have been so bad, but other than those first three weeks, I’m not seeing much that says they made a mistake here.

Michael Morse

What I said at the time (12/20/10):

Still, even if he’s not perfect, a righty-power bat is exactly what the Dodgers need, and shouldn’t they be in the business of taking a low-cost chance instead of the assured mediocrity of a Scott Podsednik or Jerry Hairston? Don’t take this as anything more than a fun comparison of stats, but Morse has an .810 OPS with a HR every 29.4 at-bats through his age-28 year. At the same age, Werth had a .793 OPS with the same HR rate. In parts of 5 AAA seasons, Morse’s line is .292/.354/.461; Werth, in parts of 4 AAA seasons, had .268/.355/.472. I’m not saying it’s definite or even moderately likely that Morse will become the next Werth (Werth is a far better fielder) but it seems like a chance worth taking, and at the least he could fit as the righty platoon bench bat the Dodgers don’t currently have.

How’d that work out?

Morse shook off a slow start to bash 15 homers and join Andre Ethier on the NL’s final man voting for the All-Star team with a line of .306/.351/.535 while playing 1B and LF. In retrospect, I probably undersold what it would have taken to get him, but, yeah – I liked him for a reason. Would have been nice to have him instead of, say, Marcus Thames.

Jeff Francoeur

What I said at the time (10/11/10):

Jeff Francoeur, for all his ridiculous portrayals in the media, has two strengths and one extremely large weakness. He’s a very strong defensive outfielder with a good arm, and he can hit lefty pitching (.823 OPS career). What Francoeur cannot do, under any circumstances, is hit righty pitching (.639 OPS this year, .699 career). However, it just so happens that the Dodgers have an outfielder in Andre Ethier who’s a mediocre defender and even worse against lefties (.625 OPS this year, .681 career) than Francoeur is against righties. Do I have to spell out the fit here? It’s basically the Reed Johnson role, except that Johnson is 7 years older, couldn’t stay healthy, and had less upside.

How’d that work out?

vs RHP this year: .248/.294/.385
vs LHP this year: .321/.352/.630

I would not be interested in “Jeff Francoeur, starting left fielder”, and as I mentioned later in the article the idea depended on having a manager who could manage a platoon properly, but would I take that as a platoon partner for Ethier and/or Tony Gwynn? You’re damned right I would.

Eric Chavez

What I said at the time (01/06/11):

So what makes him interesting? Chavez is the rare lefty-hitting third baseman, and he has a pronounced platoon split over his career – .873 against RHP, .697 against LHP. You’ve probably noticed that I’ve spent much of the offseason insisting that although Casey Blake mashes against LHP, he’s simply unplayable against RHP. Unfortunately, nothing’s changed there; while you could theoretically bench him against righties and push Juan Uribe to 3B while Jamey Carroll plays 2B, that’s not an option I really see Don Mattingly choosing a lot in his rookie season, so I’ve become resigned to watching Blake flail against righty pitching. If Chavez has anything left, that’s a perfect fit for this team.

How’d that work out?

Okay, you got me. Chavez was very good for the Yankees (127 OPS+ in 39 plate appearances) before once again injuring himself. There was pretty much no question that would happen at some point.

Chris Davis

What I said at the time (03/07/11):

This is a Dodger team that badly needs offense, has no future at 3B, and may or may not have a present at 1B. (In case you didn’t see, Don Mattingly claims that if Loney were to miss an extended period of time, his replacement would likely not be Blake or Jay Gibbons, but Russ Mitchell. Yikes.) Davis may not field well enough to handle 3B full-time, and he may not hit well enough to play 1B full-time. But if you think the 2011 Dodgers, as constructed, are good enough to contend but not good enough to win, as I do, then you need take a gamble now and then, and Davis offers hope and possible longer-term solution – if the trade price is right, that’s worth giving him a shot in my book.

How’d that work out?

Davis has an .814 OPS in 57 MLB plate appearances this year, and 20 homers to go with a 1.255 OPS in 167 AAA plate appearances. I’d still love to get him.

Wilson Betemit

What I said at the time (10/11/10):

We can do better, and Betemit had a pretty monstrous half-season for Kansas City this year: .297/.378/.511. Almost as important, he’s a switch-hitter who’s been more successful against RHP than LHB over his career, which fits into our scheme here (though this year he’s done very well against both).

Now, I can hear the objections to this already. “It was half a season. He spent much of the last two years in the minors. And haven’t we seen this movie before?” All fair points. But I’ll argue that Betemit’s been pretty underrated. In parts of 8 seasons, his career line is .267/.335/.449, which works out to a 103 OPS+, even though much of that came when he was far too young (he made his MLB debut at 19, and saw significant time at 22). Before being traded in 2007, he had a .359 OBP and .474 SLG in 84 games for the Dodgers. How was production like that a problem again? Oh, right, it’s because people put far too much stock in a low batting average.

How’d that work out?

Betemit got off to a solid start to the season, hitting .306/.370/.438 through the first two months as the everyday third baseman. His playing time took a dip when the Royals promoted rookie Mike Moustakas, and so did his numbers at that point, but he clearly would have been a big upgrade on the Dodger 3B situation. 

Michael Young

What I said at the time (02/07/11):

You’ve heard me talk about how I think Blake is at the end of the line in the past, but I’m having a hard time seeing how Young would be any sort of upgrade – and that’s without even considering that Young is due $16m in each of the next three seasons, while 2011 is likely Blake’s last season in blue, or that the Rangers would want some sort of talent in return. It just doesn’t make sense.

How’d that work out?

Well, Young is having a resurgent season with the Rangers, hitting .323/.358/.482, and clearly outperforming the broken down Blake. My bad on that one. However, he is once again a creation of Arlington, hitting 200 points of OPS better at home than on the road. With how lousy the 2011 Dodgers have hit everywhere, that would still be an upgrade, but not enough of one to make it worth it considering the talent and dollars it would have taken.

Russell Branyan

What I said at the time (05/23/11):

But I wouldn’t be bringing Branyan in as the everyday first baseman, or even to replace Loney on the active roster. Branyan is 35 and a poor defender, and only three times has he received 400 plate appearances in a season. He’d be here because he can murder a baseball, and on a team with the weakest bench in baseball – remember, this is the club that had to throw Castro up with the bases loaded last week – that’s an incredibly valuable skill. Branyan’s role would be as a bench power bat who gets a start at first base once a week or so.

How’d that work out?

Not too great. Branyan has hit just .210/.290/.339 in Anaheim, rarely playing as Mark Trumbo has taken hold of the first base job.

Felipe Paulino

What I said at the time (05/23/11):

His xFIP is actually just 3.36, as he got a little unlucky with homers in the early going. He’s still throwing 95 MPH heat, and his starting experience could make him an ideal longman out of the pen, a role this team desperately needs right now. Remember, the idea here isn’t “is this guy going to propel me to a championship?”, because Paulino certainly will not. It’s “is this guy better than the guy I currently have?” and a 27-year-old power arm with strikeout stuff who had trouble in Coors Field is absolutely a better bet than Lance Cormier, particularly when Paulino can go multiple innings if needed.

How’d that work out?

Paulino got scooped up by the Royals and has been excellent in 7 starts, putting up a 45/12 K/BB mark, with Rany Jazayerli going so far as to refer to him as the club’s “best starter”. That one would have been nice to have for sure.

******

All in all, not too bad. There were a few misses – Dunn chief among them – but I’m pretty sure we’d all be happier with a team that included Morse, Davis, Betemit, Francoeur, and Paulino, right?