MSTI’s 2010 in Review: Second Base

Blake DeWitt (C)
.270/.352/.371 .723 1hr 1.1 WAR

I know a lot of people focused on the fact that DeWitt hit just one homer as a Dodger, and I won’t act as though that’s acceptable. But note that his OPS was .723, and then realize that James Loney and Casey Blake, playing the more traditional power positions of 1B and 3B, ended up at .723 and .727, respectively. If DeWitt wasn’t the answer, nor was he high on the list of problems.

After winning the second base job with a strong camp, DeWitt had just two extra-base hits (both doubles) in April, though he made up for it with an excellent .382 OBP. Despite ridiculous rumors that he’d be sent down in May, he managed to increase his OPS each month of the season he was with LA, from .681 in April to .745 in July.

In June, I noted that I was impressed with his gradual progression:

Just as I was about to write a post saying that while I’m pleased with Blake DeWitt‘s play this year, sooner or later he’s going to have to show some power, he crushes a three-run shot deep into the night, setting in motion a much-needed offensive showing by the Dodgers in a 12-4 win.  DeWitt’s got an .801 OPS since May 1, along with an improving glove, but he hadn’t been able to leave the yard until last night.

Though the various fielding metrics ranked him from average to slightly below, it was clear that all the hard work he’d put into the position switch was paying off, because the DeWitt we saw in July was far ahead of the DeWitt we saw in April.

Now, let’s be clear. He’s likely never going to be an All-Star, and I think his ceiling is as a solid everyday player with a good OBP and a bit of pop. Still, there’s value in that, especially considering he was just 24, and so you can imagine why I was so disappointed when he was dealt to Chicago in the Ted Lilly deal for the useless Ryan Theriot, who you’ll be reading more about in a second:

I can’t express my disappointment in this enough, and I don’t even like DeWitt all that much. I think he’s done a decent job, but with absolutely zero power and defense that’s average at best, he’s not really proving himself to be a piece you build around. I just want to repeat that; the Dodgers are giving up someone I’m not an enormous fan of, and this is still a big mistake.

I suppose that’s a topic we’ll get into more in the Ned Colletti review, though. As for DeWitt, between his miraculous initial success as the emergency Opening Day 3B in 2008, resurrection as the playoff second baseman later that year, driver of the LA-to-ABQ express in 2009, and fulltime second baseman in 2010, DeWitt built quite the career into his relatively short time in LA. He will be missed.

Ryan Theriot (F)
.242/.323/.283 .606 1hr -0.1 WAR

In what you’ll soon see is a recurring theme in these reviews, I’m trying not to blame the player for the misguided decisions of others. It’s not Ryan Theriot‘s fault that he was part of the regrettable Blake DeWitt/Ted Lilly deal, and it’s not his fault that Joe Torre insisted on hitting him 2nd all the time. And I’ll even admit that (probably in large part due to low expectations) I was pleasantly surprised with his defense at second base.

But it is Theriot’s fault that he made a lousy impression by getting on base just three times in his first eighteen plate appearances as a Dodger, and it’s definitely his fault that he started September on a 2-29 skid on his way to hitting .159/.260/.159 for the month. It is fault that his Dodger OPS was about 120 points less than even DeWitt’s modest mark, and it certainly doesn’t help that his last extra base hit of the season was a double on August 26th.

Really, I already went into detail about how awful Theriot is when I noted him in our arbitration decisions series, so let’s revisit that quickly:

Where should I start? Oh, I don’t know. How about with the fact that there’s 157 players who have accumulated at least 475 plate appearances in 2010, and Ryan Theriot is the 3rd-worst in baseball in OPS+? Beating out Alcides Escobar and Cesar Izturis is hardly an achievement:

Rk Player OPS+ PA Year Tm R H 2B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1 Miguel Cabrera 180 648 2010 DET 111 180 45 38 126 89 95 .328 .420 .622 1.042
153 Jason Kendall 70 490 2010 KCR 39 111 18 0 37 37 45 .256 .318 .297 .615
154 Jose Lopez 69 618 2010 SEA 48 141 28 10 58 22 65 .239 .269 .337 .606
155 Ryan Theriot 69 618 2010 TOT 68 153 15 2 29 38 73 .270 .319 .314 .633
156 Alcides Escobar 66 530 2010 MIL 56 115 14 4 40 33 66 .236 .287 .326 .612
157 Cesar Izturis 53 500 2010 BAL 42 109 13 1 28 24 53 .236 .282 .275 .557
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 9/28/2010.

“But,” you say, “OPS doesn’t measure defense, or position, or baserunning. That’s an unfair comparison.” Okay, then. Let’s go with WAR, and compare against only fellow second basemen. How does that turn out for Mr. TOOTBLAN? Well, he’s only the worst second baseman in baseball in 2010 (min. 300 PA):

Rk Player WAR/pos PA Tm R H 2B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1 Robinson Cano 5.5 672 NYY 100 193 39 28 105 55 76 .318 .378 .530 .908
25 Skip Schumaker 0.2 513 STL 64 122 18 5 41 43 63 .265 .331 .341 .671
Rk Player WAR/pos PA Tm R H 2B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
26 Cristian Guzman 0.0 396 TOT 48 97 12 2 26 20 63 .266 .311 .337 .648
27 Gordon Beckham -0.3 498 CHW 58 112 25 9 49 37 92 .252 .317 .378 .695
28 Ryan Theriot -0.9 618 TOT 68 153 15 2 29 38 73 .270 .319 .314 .633
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 9/28/2010.

Man. I’m starting to wonder if the F grade was a bit generous. Now as I said, his defense was surprisingly nice, as should probably be expected from a former shortstop. But he’s going to be make something like $3.5m in arbitration this winter, perhaps more. He’s an offensive black hole. You can’t find good defense and comparable offense for about $3m less than that? Of course you can.

But make no mistake, he’ll be back. Of that, I have no doubt. And he’ll be hitting 2nd, because that’s what gritty 2nd basemen do.

Ronnie Belliard (Putting the F in DFA)
.216/.295/.327 .622 2hr -0.4 WAR

I suppose it was overshadowed by Garret Anderson‘s assault on the record books in all the wrong ways and the overall ineptitude of the offense, but I always thought that Belliard’s horrendous year flew under the radar a bit more than it should have. Sure, I suppose he earned some small benefit of the doubt with his performance in 2009 after coming over from Washington, but when he’s not hitting, he’s not valuable, since he’s a lousy fielder.

To be honest, I wasn’t really sure why he was re-signed in the first place, and yes, I’m regretting bagging on Jamey Carroll‘s shortstop skills right now:

Except… isn’t this exactly what Jamey Carroll was for? You know, a mediocre veteran who can play some 2nd and 3rd as needed? Because Belliard can’t play shortstop any more than Carroll can, and it was that “lack of a shortstop” issue that led to Nick Green getting a spring training invite.

So if this isn’t to fill that backup shortstop hole (since Belliard can’t do it) and it isn’t to be the 2B/3B backup bat off  the bench (since that’s ostensibly what Carroll’s here for), what the hell is Belliard’s role? Please don’t tell me he’s the Opening Day 2B, not until Blake DeWitt is given a chance to fail, and not with guys like Felipe Lopez and Orlando Cabrera still out there with rapidly falling contract demands.

Throughout the spring, the main intrigue with Belliard was whether he’d manage to make it under the magic number of 209 pounds, which he was contractually obligated to in order to see his contract become guaranteed:

Part of me wonders: do we even want him to? Blake DeWitt seems all but certain to win the second base job. Belliard’s presence (combined with Jamey Carroll) was mostly to have two options in case DeWitt flopped – but if he doesn’t, Belliard could be a little redundant.

To his credit, Belliard got off to a nice start, with an .849 OPS at the end of April. But it was all downhill from there, hitting just .194/.279/.274 until he was cut in August. When he was finally let go, I wondered why we’d never focused on it as much as we should have, and then tried to slip in a bit of a conspiracy theory:

Belliard’s incompetence is something I touched upon a few times this year, but probably never as much as it really deserved. I mean, since the beginning of July he was hitting just .175/.232/.222, with three extra base hits, and offering a lot of negative value on defense. His spot could have been put to better use months ago, and it wasn’t.

The timing of it makes me wonder. Just how much of Belliard’s continued employment was an attempt to make Manny Ramirez happy, since it’s well known that the two were good buddies? Manny’s been gone for barely a week, and now Belliard is out the door, despite no desperate roster need to do so, and no new on-field evidence to demand it (by that I mean, he doesn’t suck any more now than he already has all season).

I always figured that Belliard’s friendship with Manny was just a nice additional perk from a mostly useless backup infielder. Perhaps it was his only use to the club at all.

Ah, well. So long, Ronnie. We’ll always have the awkward way in which Orlando Hudson was minimized though, won’t we? Good times.

Nick Green (inc.)
.125/.222/.125 .347 0hr 0.0 WAR

I wanted to make a joke saying “Nick Green was a member of the 2010 Los Angeles Dodgers” and nothing more, because he got just nine unimportant plate appearances and I’d sort of forgotten he ever existed. But, this is probably a good time to look at how badly the team wanted to both acquire and keep him for some reason which I never did understand.

Remember, this is how I spoke of him when we first heard rumors:

If you don’t know much about Green, that’s because you shouldn’t. This is a guy who is 31 and has played for five teams in parts of five seasons, almost entirely as a backup. In 2009, he was pressed into service as Boston’s starting shortstop for nearly half the season thanks to a multitude of injuries, and responded with a pretty bad .236/.303/.366 line. That’s not even a case of a guy being exposed due to too much playing time; that mirrors exactly his career line of .239/.307/.352. Even in over 3000 PA appearances in the minors, his OBP is just .324. “Getting on base” is clearly not Nick Green’s strength, no matter where he plays.

“But hey,” you might say. “He’s a shortstop, so if he really can’t hit, he must be a whiz with the glove, right?” You’d say that, and you’d be wrong. For his entire career, he’s a whopping 0.6 fielding runs above average. That’s not horrible, but nor is it an asset.

So please, enlighten me. When you’re trying to come up with backup infielders, paying Nick Green more than you’d have to pay Chin-lung Hu to be 5 years older, a far inferior fielder, and a likely inferior batter (Hu at least has a .342 OBP in the minors, and at his age still has time to improve) makes sense in what way exactly?

Of course, when he signed the next month, I had this to add:

But you know what makes it even better? That’s three paragraphs about how Nick Green is a lousy ballplayer and a bad idea, and that was before I heard that he had back surgery this offseason. Back surgery, which he is behind schedule in recovering from.

Green didn’t make the roster, but he did report to ABQ until being called up when Rafael Furcal was injured, which I was thrilled about:

So what’s changed since then? The correct answer is “well, it’s only a month into the season, so unless Green’s already put up 20 homers while Hu broke his leg, that’s not nearly enough time to be more important than the last several years of established history”. But we all know it doesn’t work like that, because if it did we wouldn’t have seen any Ortizii on this squad.

In spring training – and yes, I know that these stats don’t mean much, but don’t pretend they don’t often decide jobs – Hu had a line of .281/.324/.281. Obviously there’s no power there, so it’s not stellar… but it’s also streets ahead of Green’s .139/.324/.167. After camp broke, neither one has been hitting very well in the first month at ABQ - Hu at .227/.261/.242, and Green at .219/.242/.438.

Of course Green got just one hit, and was eventually DFA’d when Scott Elbert came up. Let’s be honest; he was totally irrelevant, and I probably spent more time digging up those quotes than he did on the active roster. Don’t you love these infuriatingly bad veteran signings?

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Next! Rafael Furcal just can’t stay healthy! Jamey Carroll was actually pretty rad! Chin-lung Hu makes his yearly cameo! And wait, that’s Juan Castro? It’s shortstop!

Claudio Vargas, Really?

I’m not entirely sure I remember writing this on Twitter late last night, but apparently I did:

I could have sworn I just saw dodgers.com say Claudio Vargas may be the 5th starter soon. Clearly, I have alcohol poisoning.

Well, at least it was legible and without typos. And apparently it’s true:

Vargas could take over fifth-starter role

BOSTON — The Dodgers’ fifth-starter shell game has a new/old name in play: Claudio Vargas.

In his first start for Triple-A Albuquerque on Thursday night, the right-hander allowed one run on a solo home run in three innings, with four strikeouts and no walks.

Vargas was signed earlier in the week, two weeks after being cut loose by Milwaukee, where he had a 7.32 ERA in 17 relief appearances. The three innings was his longest outing of the year, an indication the Dodgers will try to stretch him out and make him a starter again.

I think the only indication here is that the rotation is in serious trouble, hurt by the injury to Chad Billingsley and the poor outings of John Ely and Carlos Monasterios – and that’s without having any idea how Vicente Padilla will do in his return today. I guess I don’t really understand why people are all that surprised Monasterios struggled last night; he’s a Rule 5 pick who’s striking out just 4.1/9. The fact that he’s been able to stick in the big leagues without completely embarrassing himself, and with some small successes, is remarkable in itself. It says far more about the Dodgers that he’s been asked to start so much than it does about him.

As for Vargas, well, why not? I actually was sad to see him go last season, mostly because the trade made no sense at all. It’s not like he’d come up until he shows he can get hitters out at AAA, so that’s at least a few more turns of the rotation.

Really, I think people are looking at the problem here in the wrong way. The issue isn’t really whether guys like Ely, Vargas, or Monasterios can pitch like All-Stars. They’re your #5 starter, and there’s plenty of teams in the bigs who have even larger issues at the back of the rotation. No, the problem is having more than one of them in the rotation at the same time. Now, part of that will be helped when Billingsley returns, hopefully as soon as his 15 days are up. But if and until Padilla proves himself… well, everyone seems to want the Dodgers to get a Cliff Lee or a Roy Oswalt. I’m not going to go through the reasons again why they’re so unlikely; we’ve been through that. But even if the Dodgers were able to get one of those guys, it likely wouldn’t be for another month. Maybe what they ought to be doing is getting a lesser veteran who wouldn’t cost as much – sort of like Jon Garland last year – right now, just to solidify things.

And no, I’m not talking about Pedro Martinez. I want someone who’s actually pitched this year. I’m talking more along the lines of (and I’m just tossing names out without really looking into salary concerns or doing a ton of research) Kevin Millwood or Jake Westbrook. They’re certainly not the piece that’ll push you to a championship, but they may be the stabilizing force in the middle of the rotation that will keep things from imploding until Billinglsey is healthy and you can work on getting a top starter.

(Although if you really want a good laugh, go read some of the jokers on the Dodger Facebook page, replying to the Vargas story. I’m not sure how some of these people managed to even turn their computer on; I particularly like the suggestion that the Dodgers should trade Vargas to Florida for Josh Johnson.)

Of course, Tony Jackson has the perfect last word on the situation:

Even when he is ready to go, well, he is still going to be Claudio Vargas.

Yep. He sure is.

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Ramon Troncoso got rocked, again. Travis Schlichting was effective, again. Whether you think Troncoso’s problems are that Torre ran him into the ground, that he was never that good in the first place, or both, there’s a roster move to be made today to activate Padilla, and it makes no sense to keep Troncoso over Schlichting. I’m not saying you demote Troncoso, but at least come up with an injury to get him some time off and away from the mound.

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I’m sure some people will read this as arrogance, but these anecdotes from Jackson’s story on Manny make me think that Matt Kemp is just hilarious:

Before any of the real reporters could approach him, a phony one did. Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp, holding his blue batting-practice bat like a microphone, immediately stuck it into Ramirez’s face and said, “How does it feel to be back in Boston?”

Ramirez gave Kemp about as much time as he was going to give anyone. After Kemp returned to the other side of the clubhouse, which was about seven feet away, he yelled at the assembled media, “Manny smells good today. If y’all get close enough, you can smell him.”

and…

When Ramirez stepped out of the cage after taking his first allotment of hacks, he received another loud cheer. Kemp, who had followed Ramirez into the cage, who had his right back pocket hanging out of his uniform pants and who, like Ramirez, was helmetless, stopped after one swing and turned to wave an acknowledgement to the crowd, feigning as if he thought the ovation was for him.

No complaints about immaturity, old people. That’s good clean fun.

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Yes, I saw that Garret Anderson hit a homer last night, and yes, it is making me reconsider the DFA-o-meter on the right sidebar, though not for the reasons you’d think. I still think he’s awful and want him to get cut, but since I don’t think the team will ever actually do it, I’m not sure I feel like updating it for the entire season.

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Hey, Nick Green signed with Toronto. Hooray! Gone for good.

Rafael Furcal Heads to the Bereavement List

Per Dodger Thoughts, Rafael Furcal has been placed on the bereavement list to tend to an ill family member in the Dominican Republic. Obviously, some things are more important than baseball, so Furcal has to do what he has to do. But man, is the timing brutal, because Furcal has been on fire – hitting .309/.356./545 with 2 homers in June, plus several sparkling plays in the field. It’s not exactly what you need when you’re headed into Boston with a patchwork rotation lined up, and it also means Blake DeWitt is leading off today. Still, it’s only for a few days, so hopefully all works out as well as possible for Furcal and his family.

That’s not really what interests me here, though: it’s that Chin-Lung Hu was recalled rather than Nick Green, who’d made it through waivers (shocker!) when he was DFA’d and has since returned to Albuquerque. Obviously, this is a good thing, because Hu’s a solid fielder, and Green’s all but worthless.

However, we’ve been here before, when Furcal went on the DL with his strained hamstring, and remember that was wasn’t supposed to be out nearly as long as he was, and it was Green who came up. This was Torre’s rationale at the time…

“He just brings more experience,” Manager Joe Torre said. “Probably a little more of a utility guy right now.

“My plan is still Carroll at shortstop. We’re freer to play Greenie at third and second, as opposed to Hu, who really would be in the middle only. Plus the fact that Hu should probably play every day.”

It’s not like Furcal’s replacement figures to see much playing time.

If Furcal was expected to be down longer, the Dodgers might have called Hu up. Torre said they never seriously considered Gordon, who is at double-A Chattanooga and is now considered a brighter prospect than Hu.

“And we’re talking probably about a week, so it’s probably in the best interest of the young kid not to disrupt him,” Torre said.

So what’s different now? Now it’s okay to disrupt Hu? It can’t just be that Green had an opt-out clause previously, because it’s already been proven that no one wants him. Clearly, I’m not complaining – Hu is better – it’s just an interesting piece of decision-making, is all.

Update: Okay, I guess it’s because Green opted out of his contract and is a free agent. I’d seen that he went 0-4 on Monday, so this must have just happened in the last day or two. What an amazingly poor choice on his part. Hooray!!

Nick Green Heads to the Great Beyond

Per everyone, Scott Elbert was recalled and Nick Green was DFA’d. With James McDonald tweaking a hammy in ABQ, Elbert was the obvious choice. His control has been iffy at best, but he’s done a good job at keeping runners off the board.

With Ramon Ortiz getting shipped off yesterday, that’s 66% of the deadwood getting chopped off the roster in just over 24 days, so no complaints here.

It’s a great start to the holiday weekend, anyway. And as I’m writing this on my phone in a bar, I’m going to get back to celebrating – and I’ll be sure to tip an extra one back in honor of Green’s departure. Discuss.

Dodgers DFA Useless Veteran (Update: Or Not)

Whether that’s Nick Green or Ramon Ortiz, I do not know. But take a look at tonight’s starting lineup from the official Dodger Twitter

#Dodgers lineup: Furcal 6 Martin 2 Kemp 8 Ramirez 7 Loney 3 Blake 5 Paul 9 DeWitt 4 Kershaw 1

…and you’ll see Rafael Furcal is back, and Blake DeWitt is starting. So our fears that DeWitt may be getting shipped out from earlier this week can be relieved.

My guess?

Green phantom injury: 3-1
Green DFA: 4-1
Ortiz DFA: 10-1

I suppose we’ll find out soon.

Update: I couldn’t have held onto the publish button for 30 more seconds, could I? Jon Weisman with the answer:

George Sherrill to the DL with “mid-back tightness”

Well, I did say that “phantom injury” was the most likely option, so I’ll still take it as a win.