2011 Midseason Grades: Pitching and Management

Thanks for all the feedback on yesterday’s hitting grades, and today we move on to pitching and management. Remember, the letter grades are just for fun, without a whole lot of thought or science behind them.

Starting Pitchers

Clayton Kershaw (A+) (9-4, 3.03 ERA, 2.45 FIP)
Is A+ even high enough? I’m not sure it is, though we certainly expected great things from him. Think about this: his HR/9 rate and H/9 rate are unchanged from last year, but he’s managed to do that while lowering his walk rate (again!) and increasing his strikeout rate. He’s leading the league in whiffs, and he has two shutouts among his three complete games. He’s 23. He’s lefty. He’s an All-Star.

Don’t let anyone tell you that he’s progressing towards being an ace, or one day he could be one of the best. Clayton Kershaw is, right now, one of the 10 best pitchers in baseball. The scary part? He could still get better.

Chad Billingsley (B) (8-7, 3.87 ERA, 3.41 FIP)
Over at Baseball Prospectus this morning, Geoff Young of DuckSnorts offers the opinion that Billingsley “should be a star, but isn’t”. And that’s true. 26-year-old Billingsley is walking more and striking out less than 23-year-old Billingsley did in 2008. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, because he’s still a very valuable asset and the extension he signed over the winter was welcomed, but he’s also not going to be a Kershaw-level star like we’d once hoped he would be. Again, that’s not to get on Billingsley, it’s just seemingly who he’s going to be – a durable #2 or 3 type who will be consistently inconsistent (3 starts this year of at least 8 IP and 1 ER or less, 3 starts allowing 5 ER or more). That’s not a star, but it is a quality pitcher we should be happy to have.

Hiroki Kuroda (B) (6-10, 3.06 ERA, 3.73 FIP)
Only five pitchers have received less run support than Kuroda (shockingly, no other Dodger appears on the top 40 of that list), so let’s not pretend the poor win/loss record means absolutely anything at all. Conversely, the ERA is a little misleading as well, since he’s striking out fewer and walking more than he did in either 2009 or 2010, facts which are reflected in the higher FIP. Still, he’s been a solid member of this rotation… and probably the only Dodger with any real trade value at the deadline. I’ll be sorry to see him go, if he does.

Ted Lilly (D) (6-9, 4.79 ERA, 4.59 FIP)
Lilly hasn’t been awful (back, back, it’s gone!), but nor has he been (throw to second, and the runner is in!) in any way worthy of the $33m deal he received in the offseason. He’s (that ball is far, it is out of here!) striking out fewer than ever, and more (he’s going, and he swipes second without a throw) batted balls in front of a defense that isn’t great at converting them into outs isn’t (that ball is crushed into the second tier!) a good mix. Oh, and he’s 35 and has complained (Navarro’s throw to second, not in time, another steal!) of arm soreness already. Loving that three-year deal more than ever.

Rubby De La Rosa (A) (3-4, 3.74 ERA, 3.40 FIP)
Probably the most impressive of any of the rookies pushed ahead of their schedule this year, de la Rosa has shown immense talent while being forced to learn on-the-job. While his first few starts were dicey – good lord, the walks, and that one game that he nearly got bounced in the first inning was a heart-stopper – RDLR has shown marked improvement, even flirting with no-hitters in each of his last two outings. The talent is unquestioned, but the real concern now is limited his innings, since he’s quickly coming up on matching his previous high with more than two months remaining in the season. But if he’s limited and if someone like Kuroda is dealt… how do you finish out the season? John Ely? Dana Eveland? Yikes.

Jon Garland (D-) (1-5, 4.33 ERA, 4.59 FIP)
Hey, remember when Garland was signed largely because he’d never been on the disabled list before? If you do, then you probably also remember him saying he couldn’t get multi-year deals because other teams didn’t like the looks of his medical reports. Garland gets a lousy grade not because of his performance (ignore the 1-5, a 4.59 FIP is in line with his usual season), but because he sells his durability as a skill. Clearly, that’s one item he forgot to pack for his second (and likely final) tour with the Dodgers. At least that large 2012 option won’t kick in.

John Ely (inc.) (0-1, 6.23 ERA, 5.61 FIP)
Remember Ely-mania last year? Seems so far away, doesn’t it?

Relief pitchers

Jonathan Broxton (MRI) (1-2, 7 saves, 5.68 ERA, 5.56 FIP)
I have absolutely no idea how to grade Jonathan Broxton. Was he good this year? No, of course he wasn’t, and for many people that justifies their opinion that at around midseason 2010, he somehow lost his heart / mind / balls / toes / earlobes / whatever. The fact that he somehow managed to even close out seven games earlier this year is somewhat misleading, because he rarely did so smoothly; conversely, it’s difficult to blame him entirely for the big blown save in Florida because the Dodgers would have won if Jamey Carroll had merely fielded a simple ground ball.

I’d say the answer lies in the fact that he’s been on the disabled list for over two months due to a right elbow injury, with no estimated return date. We never saw the healthy Broxton this year, just as I felt we never saw a healthy Broxton in the second half of last year. The lesson, as always? Joe Torre cannot be trusted with relievers. You hate to say it about a guy who is only 27, but Torre may just have ruined Broxton’s career. Thanks for stopping by, Joe!

Hong-Chih Kuo (-) (0-0, 8.71 ERA, 4.12 FIP)
Take everything I said about Broxton above and multiply it by 100 for Kuo, because the anxiety issue he’s been fighting for years makes it impossible to really judge his on-field performance. Since returning, he’s at least managed to limit the walks (6/2 K/BB in 5.2 IP), though the results (five runs, four earned) haven’t all been there yet. The fact that he even returned as quickly as he did should count as a win.

Kenley Jansen (B+) (1-1, 4.40 ERA, 3.15 FIP)
I bet a lot of people will be surprised by this grade for Jansen. “But his ERA is 4.40, rabble rabble rabble!”, they’ll yell. That’s true, it is. That number is also heavily inflated by two poor outings – allowing 5 earned runs to Atlanta on April 19 in a game that the Dodgers were already losing in, and allowing 3 earned runs on May 23 in Houston, a game which preceded his stint on the DL with right shoulder inflammation by less than a week. Since returning from injury on June 18, he’s been nearly untouchable, striking out 13 while allowing just two singles in 9.2 innings. While the walks remain a problem, he’s actually striking out more per nine than he did in 2010, and you might remember that even last year’s rate was on the verge of being historic. The question for me is, why is he stuck in middle relief and garbage time rather than in higher leverage situations?

Matt Guerrier (C-) (3-3, 3.10 ERA, 4.44 FIP)
Boy, who would have thought that handing out an expensive multi-year deal to a non-elite middle reliever wouldn’t have worked out well? Besides everyone, that is. Guerrier actually hasn’t been that bad, but that’s sort of the point: players who get $12m over three years should be able to do better than “hasn’t been that bad”. Though he’s striking out slightly more than he did as a Twin, he’s allowing both more walks and hits than he did in either of the last two years, despite moving to the easier league. He’ll be 33 in less than a month. It’s not a good trend.

Mike MacDougal (C+) (0-1, 1.67 ERA, 3.74 FIP)
2003 All-Star MacDougal has done an excellent job of reviving his career after several years bouncing between the bigs and AAA. MacDougal, who made the 2003 All-Star team as a member of the Royals, has just a 1.74 ERA, emerging as a leader of the injury-plagued Dodger bullpen. The former All-Star has allowed only six earned runs to score, putting him in contention for 9th inning responsibilities. All-Star.

(I can’t do it. MacDougal has allowed approximately 982 of the 48 inherited runners he’s received* to score. For nearly the entire season, he’d walked as many as he’d struck out, before finally giving himself some distance in recent days. He’s not a good pitcher, but like Aaron Miles, we expected nothing, so the small contributions he’s made get him some minor credit. *note: numbers may be fabricated.)

Number of Ortizii: 0 (A++++)
Say what you will about this club, at least they’re not employing anyone named Ortiz who was last useful 6-8 years ago, much less multiple players like that.

Javy Guerra (B+) (1-0, 4 saves, 2.33 ERA, 4.01 FIP)
Guerra, like MacDougal all those years ago, is a perfect example of why we shouldn’t overrate saves. For a guy who walked 6.8/9 in the minors last year and was forced to the bigs simply because of injuries, he’s been fine. He’s keeping the ball in the yard, he’s cut down on the control issues, and he’s even managed to steal a few saves while serving as the last-ditch closer. As far as debuts go, his has been a successful one. Let’s just not go overboard in anointing him as the man in the 9th inning, because he hasn’t been that good – 13 K in 19.1 IP doesn’t thrill me – and in each of his last two saves, he loaded the bases before getting out of the jam. That’s not the kind of tightrope you can walk for very long.

Blake Hawksworth (B) (2-2, 3.00 WHIP, 4.12 FIP)
“Isn’t Ryan Theriot“, and that alone gets him a boost. Actually, I joke, but it’s sort of true: when healthy, Hawksworth has been a perfectly acceptable and average reliever, doing a decent job of keeping runners off the bases (WHIP of 1.000), and striking out more than double as he’s walked. Considering that Theriot is doing his usual “I’m not a very good baseball player, but I am short and white, and that counts for something, right?” routine in St. Louis, even just getting that moderate level of contribution in exchange is a big win.

Scott Elbert (B-) (0-1, 5.25 ERA, 2.54 FIP)
I know there’s been a lot of turnover in the bullpen this year, but Elbert is one of those guys where I constantly have to check if he’s still on the team or down in ABQ. I suppose that’s partically because he’s pitched just twice in the last two weeks, and partially because he’s rarely in for more than 2-3 batters at a time. As for his performance, he’s a bit of an oddity in that you’d expect a power lefty to be hell on lefty hitters, but he’s actually rocking a reverse split: lefties (.701 OPS) are actually doing more damage than righties (.561 OPS) against him. Overall, I guess you can say he’s been “acceptable”, in that he’s finally gained a foothold in the majors, but hasn’t exactly made us think he’s going to be a difference maker.

Then again, considering his mysterious disappearance at this time last year, even that is a massive step forward.

Ramon Troncoso (D) (0-0, 6.23 ERA, 4.92 FIP)
I know it’s popular to blame Torre for Troncoso’s downturn as well, and maybe that’s part of it, but I do remember writing a post last year that outlined how he had larger issues than overuse. Whatever it is, he’s barely a major league quality pitcher right now… which probably explains why he’s not in the major leagues. That’s what’ll happen when you aren’t striking anyone out and giving up an absurd amount of hits, though I’ll allow that since he was never a strikeout guy, pitching in front of a defense that does no favors probably doesn’t help.

Ronald Belisario (MIA)
Ha, no. There’s about as good of a chance that he pitches for the Dodgers again as there is that you’ll see Orel Hershiser or Don Drysdale out there.

Josh Lindblom (B+) (0-0, 1.69 ERA, 3.43 FIP)
Nearly two years after we first thought we might see him, Lindblom finally got the call this year, and so far, so good. It’s hard to make judgements based on just eight games, but he’s yet to allow more than one earned run in an appearance, and for now, that’s good enough.

Lance Cormier (dFa) (0-1, 9.88 ERA, 6.84 FIP)
I’m still convinced the only reason Cormier wasn’t DFA’d a week or two earlier than he eventually was (on May 24, when Rubby De La Rosa came up) is because he had a charity event for tornado victims set up at the stadium on May 15, and it would have been poor form to cut a guy just before or after that. I also like that we can say “nah, he wasn’t as bad as his ERA, look at his FIP” and while that’s true, even his FIP says he was awful.

Vicente Padilla (inc.) (0-0, 4.15 ERA, 2.61 FIP)
I sure do feel like we’ve talked about Padilla a lot this year for a guy who piched just 8.2 innings. First he was signed to a somewhat confusing 6th starter/longman/Broxton insurance role, in a move for depth I actually really liked. Then he required surgery for a forearm injury in the spring, preventing him from taking Garland’s rotation spot to start the year. He returned exceptionally quickly from that, taking over for the injured Broxton to nab three saves of varying quality in late April and early May, leading many to proclaim him the next big thing… until he returned to the DL with a recurrence of the arm injury. But the fun doesn’t stop there, because he was supposedly hours away from being activated in June before a neck injury flared up, leading to more surgery and probably the end of his season. Got all that? Phew.

Management

Don Mattingly (B+)
It may sound odd to praise a rookie manager when we weren’t fans of his hiring in the first place and when the club he’s leading is on pace for its worst finish in decades, but I don’t see how you pin much of this mess on Mattingly. He’s proven himself to be far more than a Joe Torre clone, in particular showing a nice willingness to be creative with his bullpen. It hasn’t been perfect, as some of his Navarro-related pinch-hitting escapades still burn, and he likes bunting more than I’d prefer, but he was handed a subpar roster that had its infield and bullpen totally destroyed by injuries, all as fans stayed away thanks to the off-field mess. It would be an impossible situation for any manager, and though the final record won’t be good, Mattingly has been a pleasant surprise, managing to keep the team playing hard through it all. Let’s just hope he doesn’t end up shouldering more of the blame than is needed when all is said and done.

Davey Mutha-F’ing-Lopes (A+^100)
I don’t usually grade the base coaches. Matt Kemp doesn’t usually lead the league in WAR. There you go.

Ned Colletti (F+)
Let’s quickly review all of the contracts handed out last winter by Colletti that were for at least $1m, shall we? Uribe, massive bust. Lilly, missing fewer bats than ever. Guerrier, adequate but overpaid and having one of the lesser years of his career. Garland and Padilla, both injured multiple times and likely out for the year. Barajas, crappier than usual and hurt. Thames, ineffective and injured. Navarro, hitting .183. To be fair, Kuroda has been very good, but it’s hard to say that without caveating that he clearly took a huge paycut to stay in LA.

There’s been a few positives – signing Billingsley was great, the no-risk NRI of Miles worked out, and trading Ryan Theriot for Hawksworth was a good move if you try to forget that it was necessitated by acquiring Theriot in the first place – and you want to be sensitive to the fact that the ownership mess has really put him in a bad position. But overall? Not good, Ned. Not good.

******

Tomorrow, the final review of the series: me.

Dee Gordon Is Never Boring

Dee Gordon may be a lot of things, but boring will never be one of them. When he was recalled last week, I noted that he’d electrify us all with his game-changing speed and highlight-reel plays in the field, but that he was extremely raw and with those assets would come miscues, particularly on defense. That’s exactly what happened last night; as Jon Weisman at DodgerThoughts and Tony Jackson at ESPNLA describe more fully, Gordon was speeding around the bases for a triple, beating a perfect throw home on a sacrifice fly, effortlessly making outstanding defensive plays… and booting a relatively simple grounder to start the 7th inning, an inning in which the Reds scored four to put the game away. That came after a play in the second inning in which Gordon mistimed his approach to the bag on a sure double play ball, and only got one out; with the runner safe on second, the Reds ended up getting their first run of the game later in the inning. This loss isn’t just on Gordon, as the bullpen faltered, Aaron Miles also made an error, and the collective offensive output of Gordon’s teammates was five singles. Still, if we’re going to appreciate his energy, we’re going to have to accept these mistakes as they come.

Getting back to the relief corps, as if the Dodgers needed more bullpen concerns (particularly with the news that Vicente Padilla requires neck surgery and is likely lost for the season), Matt Guerrier has been struggling terribly of late. It’s no secret that I disliked the three-year deal he was given (multiyear deals to non-elite middle relievers almost never work out), but I accepted that he’d be a decent addition to the pen, and over the first two months he was relatively reliable as the group around him changed almost daily. But over his last four games, Guerrier’s been quite ineffective each time out:

Rk Date Opp IP H R ER BB SO HR BF 3B
30 Jun 7 PHI 0.2 0 1 1 1 0 0 3 0
31 Jun 8 PHI 1.0 1 1 1 0 1 0 5 1
32 Jun 11 COL 1.0 3 2 2 0 1 0 6 0
33 Jun 13 CIN 0.2 1 2 2 2 0 1 5 0
33.0 32 17 16 15 24 1 144
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/14/2011.

Kenley Jansen is eligible to come off the disabled list and may or may not need one more rehab assignment, making him likely to return to the club this week. Guerrier could use the help, as he’s appeared in 33 games, 7th most in baseball, and the last few have been ugly. The bullpen has been held together with duct tape and string so far, and the club really can’t afford another issue right now.

The failure of the bullpen and the inability of the offense to overcome it really has to make you feel for Hiroki Kuroda, as Steve Dilbeck points out at the LA Times blog. Kuroda was once 5-3, but has now been hung with five consecutive losses to push him down to 5-8. On the surface, it sounds like he’s struggled, but we know better; the Dodgers have scored eight total runs for him in those five games. While he deserves his share of the blame for the first two, games in which he allowed four and five earned runs, he’s allowed a grand total of five earned over his last three starts. All of them go in the books as losses, despite his season xFIP of 3.50.

******

Over at the Dingers blog, Seth was lucky enough to sit down with Chad Billingsley for a great look at pitch sequencing. Billingsley was already one of our favorite pitchers, but it appears he has at least some familiarity with sabermetric principles. Well worth the click and the read.

Army of Oh-Fers & Curse of 9th Inning Doom Dodgers to Defeat

Rafael Furcal, 0-4 (with four left on base). Jamey Carroll, 0-4. James Loney, 0-3 with a walk. Jay Gibbons, 0-3 with a walk. Jerry Sands, 0-4 with three strikeouts. Other than Matt Kemp, who had a double and a homer among his three hits, the rest of the team went 3-29 (two of which came from Dioner Navarro) against something called an “Aneury Rodriguez” (a Rule 5 pick, like Carlos Monasterios was last year) and three Houston relievers. Once again, anemic Dodger offense wasted what was a generally solid pitching effort.

That it was even tied at one headed into the 9th was in large part due to Ted Lilly, who’s had his share of detractors around here. When the homer-prone Lilly allowed a leadoff dinger (on the first pitch, no less) to Michael Bourn, who has just two since the start of 2010 and 11 in parts of six MLB seasons, you’d have been well within your rights to cringe and wonder how bad this was going to get. (I know I did.) But to his credit, Lilly tossed six shutout innings afterwards, despite striking out only two, and Mike MacDougal & Javy Guerra each followed with scoreless frames.

Now I know Matt Guerrier picked up the loss here, as he gave up a double to Brett Wallace and a single to J.R. Towles to blow the game in the 9th. But for once, I don’t want to bag on Guerrier, who has really been the least of the concern in the beleaguered bullpen (ridiculous contract aside). It’s hardly his fault that the team couldn’t score more than one run, and that’s where the bulk of the blame lies here. Again.

However, the fact that yet another 9th-inning situation ended up sideways – even though this wasn’t a save situation – just goes to show how poorly the 9th has gone for the Dodgers this year. Check out their splits by innings, and keep in mind that this doesn’t even include today’s failure.

Split IP ERA PA R H 2B HR SO/BB BA OBP SLG OPS BAbip
1st inning 50.0 2.16 196 13 35 11 2 4.33 .194 .241 .300 .541 .232
2nd inning 50.0 4.86 210 28 51 14 7 3.00 .273 .320 .460 .780 .310
3rd inning 50.0 3.42 216 19 46 10 2 2.18 .254 .343 .354 .696 .328
4th inning 50.0 4.32 218 28 56 8 6 2.22 .289 .349 .423 .772 .333
5th inning 50.0 3.42 200 19 40 6 6 3.31 .217 .271 .359 .630 .250
6th inning 50.0 4.68 220 27 51 8 9 2.14 .263 .338 .454 .792 .300
7th inning 50.0 2.34 209 15 48 7 7 2.60 .249 .303 .404 .707 .279
8th inning 50.0 3.96 217 24 43 11 2 1.47 .239 .351 .344 .695 .306
9th inning 37.1 9.64 194 42 61 12 6 1.75 .359 .430 .547 .977 .423
Ext inning 7.0 1.29 27 1 5 0 0 2.50 .200 .259 .200 .459 .250
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/25/2011.

Does anything, which I may or may not have highlighted in bold red text, stand out to you there? Save situation or not, close game or a blowout, the Dodgers have seen the 9th inning become their teamwide house of horrors all season. Remember, that’s not including today, so the real number might be up around .990 or so. I don’t have the individual breakdowns handy so it’s hard to pinpoint the exact culprits, but let’s be honest about this: it’s been a team effort. I’m sure Jonathan Broxton leads that list, but he is by no means alone on it. Despite relatively good bullpen work over the last two weeks, this is a team that has just been unable to handle their 9th inning issues.

Combine that with a team that has sporadic – at best – offensive spurts, and that’s how you end up losing two of three to the worst team in the National League. With the day off tomorrow, I’m sure it’s going to be an uncomfortably long wait until they get a chance to try and set things right on Friday against the Marlins. The good news is, they might have Casey Blake back for that game. The bad news is, they’re seven games under .500 with the third worst run differential in baseball… and Casey Blake, of all people, could be seen as a monumental upgrade.

******

Via Baseball America‘s Matt Eddy, Ian Snell has ended his short retirement and has joined the Isotopes down in AAA. Snell struggled in the spring for St. Louis and walked away rather than report to the minors. Still just 29, Snell had his moments in Pittsburgh, making 95 starts between 2006-2008 with FIP scores between 4.01-4.58, peaking at 3.5 WAR in 2007. He got off to what looked like a terrible start in 2009 (2-8, 5.36), but was right in line with his previous work (4.61 FIP), before being sent to AAA Indianapolis to dominate (47/13 K/BB, 4 earned runs in 37.1 innings). He was then shipped off to Seattle as part of the Jack Wilson/Jeff Clement deal, where he was generally awful for parts of two seasons before being allowed to leave after 2010.

Still, this is the kind of zero-risk signing I like. Snell’s not 37 and15 years past a prime he never had (yes, I’m talking about, Juan Castro), he’s 29 and not that far away from having been a useful major league starter. For AAA depth, and to serve as something like the 8th starter for the Dodgers (still behind John Ely), that’s a move totally worth making.

Matt Guerrier Doesn’t Have the Heart to Pitch the 8th Inning


I’m joking, but not exactly in the way you might think. After Hiroki Kuroda went seven innings allowing just two runs (the 25th time in his 3+ years as a Dodger he’s done that), Matt Guerrier entered, and that’s where things started to go sideways.

Here’s the damage:


I make jokes about Guerrier because as painful as that list seems, it wasn’t really as bad as all that (and I’m someone who hated his signing in the first place). Both of his walks were intentional. The last run would have been saved had Dioner Navarro not dropped a perfect throw from Jerry Sands at the plate (hey, isn’t it great he’s up instead of A.J. Ellis?). And none of the hits were screaming line drives. The first, by Will Venable, was a bouncer between first and second that a better second baseman than Aaron Miles may have come up with. Jason Bartlett‘s single to left-center fell just out of the reach of Sands, and almost certainly could have been caught by Tony Gwynn or any number of outfielders more fleet of foot than Sands. The final one, by Cameron Maybin, was nothing more than a bouncing ground ball just out of the reach of Jamey Carroll at shortstop. Even on the wild pitch, you could make a good argument that it should have gone down as a passed ball by Navarro.

The point here isn’t to absolve Guerrier of blowing the game, because he did, and it looked bad. The point is that this is exactly the sort of bad luck / good hit placement / subpar defense that has often victimized Jonathan Broxton this season, yet the outcry over it won’t be 1/10000th as large. I know the reply to that will be “well, Broxton’s issues have come in the 9th inning while Guerrier was in the 8th”, but that’s silly: a game can be lost just as easily in the 8th inning as the 9th, as we saw tonight. All of Broxton’s issues aside – and there are issues, which I have never denied – baseball is still a game that largely relies on batted ball luck and the support of your defense, not ‘heart’. For a guy like Guerrier who’s never had strikeout stuff, being on a team that doesn’t always put out the best defensive squad behind him can lead to trouble. Tonight, we saw that combined with the whims of the BABIP gods, and the results weren’t pretty.

Oh well. At least Andre Ethier extended his hit streak.

Why Is Matt Guerrier Worth More Than Jon Rauch, Grant Balfour, Kyle Farnsworth & Brian Fuentes?

A few weeks ago, I wondered if the Dodgers should look for another lefty for the bullpen. In the initial version, I completely forgot to include Matt Guerrier. Yesterday, Jon Weisman at Dodger Thoughts put together his initial 25-man roster and did the exact same thing – he forgot about Guerrier.

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.

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.

The argument here isn’t that Guerrier is a lousy pitcher (he’s not, really) or even necessarily that the Dodgers should have signed one of these pitchers instead of Guerrier – I’ve long argued that a team with offensive problems as big as the Dodgers do probably have more important areas to spend their money than in the bullpen.

But 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”?

You’re going to have a hard time convincing me that Guerrier for 3/$12m is a better deal than Rauch for 1/$3.75m (with a club option!), much less better than all of these deals. It seemed obvious from the start of the offseason that relief pitching was going to be the position that was grossly overvalued this year, and it seems clear now that the Dodgers would have been far better off waiting to fill that need.