In Defense of Blake DeWitt

I don’t really believe this is going to happen, but…

To create room on the roster for Furcal, an infielder will have to go.  The obvious move is to designate Nick Green for assignment, but Torre noted the club has two choices: Green, or optioning Blake DeWitt.  When asked if it would be tough to send down the club’s opening day second baseman, Torre said, “It’s always tough to be sent down,” but also said a decision has not yet been made. (via TBLA)

Again: I don’t really think they’d actually do something that stupid, so this is probably a bit premature. Still, you’d have to think the fact that Torre even acknowledged there’s a possibility it could be DeWitt got back to Blake eventually, which is exactly what he doesn’t need.

I’m not even going to bother explaining why Nick Green is useless. I’ve done so many, many times, and while I won’t pretend that nine plate appearances is a substantial sample size, it’s also not like he’s done anything to distinguish himself with the one single he’s accumulated. If this happens, the issue here wouldn’t even be “DeWitt or Green”, as they’re making it sound.

No, the issue would be “Blake DeWitt vs. overvaluing Jamey Carroll“. As you probably remember, I wasn’t a huge fan of the Carroll signing this offseason. Yet, even I’ll admit that Carroll’s been a nice surprise, playing nearly every single inning at shortstop since Furcal went down in the first place. As expected, he’s provided little range and zero power, but he’s been solid on the balls he can get to, and his .377 OBP overall is nice. Besides that, he’s really stepped it up since he took over the job, with a .396 OBP in the 25 games that Furcal has missed.

Coming from an emergency backup, Carroll’s been all you could expect, and considering what a disaster shortstop was in 2008 when Furcal was down, he’s really done nicely. I approve. Yet, let’s not confuse this with Carroll being a plus player, or someone who ought to be a starter, because he’s not. If DeWitt did go down, the team would essentially be saying that they prefer Carroll in the lineup everyday rather than DeWitt, since Carroll would presumably slide over to be the starting 2B.

DeWitt may still be waiting for his first home run, but that’s really the only blemish on his season so far. His 106 OPS+ means he’s been an above-average hitter this year, as compared to Carroll’s below-average 88 OPS+, and DeWitt has also really started to heat up. Since the calendar turned to May, he’s got a .288/.333/.492 line, with nine extra-base hits (as compared to Carroll’s three in the entire season). That’s an .825 OPS, which is fine by me.

On defense, he’s clearly been a work in progress, but he’s improving there too. Obviously, defensive stats are more prone to small sample size worries than anything else, but even all of the accepted metrics have him at near average or just slightly below it, which is also better than Carroll’s marks.

Again, I don’t think this will happen, and I’m fine with Carroll’s play thus far. But if the unthinkable occurs – if DeWitt is sent down just as he’s heating up, in order to play Carroll more and hold onto Green – it would be a massive mistake. Personally, I’m fine with just DFA’ing Green when Furcal returns, because I consider him to be of no value whatsoever, but knowing how the Dodgers roll, it’ll probably be a Haeger-esque phantom DL stint. As if anyone would really claim him on waivers, anyway.

******

In far sadder news, Jose Lima has apparently died of a heart attack today in Los Angeles. Lima was a Dodger for only one of his thirteen seasons, but that didn’t stop him from earning a place in team history. After a 13-5 2004 season which he described as “Lima Time” and had his wife become a minor internet celebrity thanks to her infamous picture while he sang the national anthem, he tossed a complete game shutout at the Cardinals in the NLDS – the first playoff game the Dodgers had won since 1988, and the only won they’d win until 2008. After his one season in LA, he had a horrible 2005 in Kansas City, a short stint with the Mets in 2006, and that was the end of his career. He played in Korea and independent ball in Canada and California trying to get back – that is, when he wasn’t popping up in bizarre Deadspin stories about his ex-wife trying to track him down.

An email from the Dodgers included the news that he’d actually been at the game on Friday night, and received a standing ovation from the crowd when introduced (the picture at right). RIP, Lima Time.

Enjoy Clayton Kershaw While You Can…

…because Joe Torre is trying to kill him. Okay, okay, we’ll get to that. First things first, Kershaw was absolutely incredible tonight against the Portland Beav- ah, I mean, San Diego Padres. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that this kid is just twenty years old, because there’s a case to be made that he is this team’s second best starting pitcher right now. The famous “public enemy #1″ curveball was in full effect, but even better, Kershaw seemed to have total control of his fastball, which touched 97. On top of that, it wasn’t just the minor leaguers and retreads the Padres threw out there tonight, because even first baseman Adrian Gonzalez – one of the better hitters in the league - looked completely lost and frustrated as Kershaw hit his spots and changed speeds.

#22 threw 6 shutout innings, allowing only 1 hit and needing just 74 pitches. James McDonald, making his major league debut in a pressure-free situation (thanks to the suddenly resurgent offense staking them to an 8-0 lead, led by homers from Manny Ramirez, Andre Ethier, and Blake DeWitt) pitched three effective innings to collect an unexpected save. The last three innings were caught by Danny Ardoin, giving Russell Martin a bit of a breather with this weekend’s huge series against Arizona looming.

Oh, right. That’s not what happened at all. Because that would have made all the sense in the world. Hey, the Dodgers won easily, and combined with Arizona’s loss it means they’re only 1.5 games out, so I don’t like to complain – I really enjoyed watching Kershaw dominate and Ethier nearly hit for the cycle. But have we not heard endless amounts of rhetoric this year about preserving Kershaw’s arm? Look, if it’s a big game at the end of the year or the playoffs and he still seems strong, I don’t mind taking a little bit of a risk with pushing him, but let’s make the bullets count, shall we? When you’re up 8-0 after 6 innings against the hopeless Padres, this is when you pat the kid on the back and say “great job”. This is not the time to keep him going – especially when you’ve acknowledged the game is in hand by replacing Manny and Casey Blake with Jason Repko and Chin-Lung Hu, and especially with expanded rosters meaning you’ve got more pitchers than you know what to do with. Instead, Torre puts Kershaw (and Martin) back out there for the 7th inning. Kershaw then gives up two hits, though allows only one run to score. Still, one run through seven innings is outstanding. With Kershaw up third in the bottom of the 7th, it’s the perfect opportunity to get Mark Sweeney or Delwyn Young or even Andruw Jones a token pinch-hitting appearance before turning the last two innings over to one of the non-essentials in your pen, like Jason Johnson, or Eric Stults, or especially McDonald.

Except in the bottom of the 7th, Blake DeWitt walked, followed by Angel Berroa popping out to first. And Clayton Kershaw… strode to the plate to hit for himself. Sure enough, he came out for the 8th inning, where he proceeded to walk the first two men that he faced and was finally pulled. Whether that’s a sign of fatigue or not is irrelevant; the fact is that Torre should have pulled him when the game was in hand – preferably after the 6th inning. Not letting him pitch the 7th, and especially not letting him pitch the 8th when he’d given up a run in the top of the 7th and had to hit for himself in the bottom of the 7th.

Also, and I don’t know why this even surprises me anymore… but Russell Martin caught all nine innings. Again. The day after pulling up running into third base grabbing his lower back. And people wonder why he’s not performing up to par.

Let’s not let this overwhelm the more important story, which is that Kershaw was excellent, the offense was deadly, and most of all, that the Dodgers are just 1.5 games back of Arizona. I just worry about what’s going to happen at the end of the season (and hopefully in October) when this team really needs guys like Kershaw and Martin, and we look back and think about 8-0 games with expanded rosters against lousy opponents where we still had them out there competing.

* I had vaguely heard Peter Gammons mention this on the Sunday night telecast in Arizona the other night, but I could never find it in print. Until now. Ladies and gentleman, a new contender for The Dumbest Thing I’ve Ever Heard, and a hat tip to MLBtraderumors for finding it:

Russell Martin may have slid backward, and had his attention to the defensive preparation called into question, but he remains a tremendous talent who wants to play every day, and his workload may have impacted his attention to game preparation. There has been some talk that the Dodgers may go after a Varitek or a pitcher-oriented catcher, which would free Martin from behind the plate and take his athleticism to third base, where the coaches feel he could also be an All-Star, a move Torre, Todd Zeile and Craig Biggio all made successfully.

Let’s put this out here plain and clear: Jason Varitek is cooked. Toast. Done. Finished. I don’t know how else to say it. He’s going to be 37 next April, and his age-36 year has hardly been something to write home about (completely ludicrous All-Star selection aside) with a line of .226/.316/.375, for an OPS+ of 79. Let me put it this way: His VORP of 2.0 ranks him 36th among all MLB catchers, and to put that in perspective for you, even I’ve never heard of two of the guys right ahead of him (Ryan Hanigan, CIN & Stephen Holm, SF). Do we really expect him to get better at his age? Not only that, the Red Sox have almost nothing at the position behind him, so if they’re still willing to let him go, that says a lot. NO, no, no.

Martin, on the other hand, is the 5th highest catcher in MLB in terms of VORP. Now, I don’t disagree that he’s taken a step backwards this season. It’s hard enough to quantify defensive stats in the first place, and doubly tough for catchers, so this one’s going to have to go under the category of “because I’ve watched enough Dodger games this year to know, damn it”. He hasn’t been the same behind the plate – though he’s hardly become a liability. He’s also not having as good of a year at the plate as last season. While his BA and OBP are nearly identical, his SLG and power numbers have taken a pretty big step back. All of this leads me to four pretty obvious thoughts:

1) He’s not been as good this year because he’s been overworked. We’ve been over this point ad nauseum around here lately, so I won’t go through it again. Basically, he can still be a good catcher. He just needs to have his workload decreased a little so that he can get the rest he obviously needs.

2) He’s not nearly as valuable as a third baseman. An enormous part of Martin’s value is the simple fact that he’s got a useful bat coming from a position where it’s incredibly difficult to find one. His bat simply does not play as well at third base as it does at catcher. So instead of having the 5th-best catcher in baseball, we’d have what, a middle of the pack offensive third baseman? You can’t use VORP to compare the two since that’s position-specific, so let’s use Marginal Lineup Value, which is not position-based and, as defined by Baseball Prospectus, is “an estimate of the additional number of runs a given player will contribute to a lineup that otherwise consists of average offensive performers.” Martin’s .079 is 7th among catchers with at least 200 at-bats, but is only 15th among similar third baseman. How’s that an upgrade?

3) It makes the Casey Blake deal even worse. Not that he would have been ready to jump to the bigs in 2009 anyway, but one of the only saving graces about the terrible Casey Blake deal is that it might have been okay to lose Carlos Santana since we were already going to have Martin at the position for years to come. All of a sudden the great depth you have at a thin position is down to… Lucas May, who’s hitting .230 with a .294 OBP in AA Jacksonville. Now what was once a strong position is totally barren, which leads us to the next point…

4) Who are you going to replace him with at catcher in 2009? The free-agent catching prospects are a barren wasteland of the elderly and infirm, registered members of the International Fraternity of Backup Catchers, and journeymen Quad-A types who never panned out. Seriously, who are we looking at here? 37-year-old Ivan Rodriguez, currently dying a slow death in the Bronx? Jason LaRue? Old friend Paul LoDuca?

No, friends, no. Martin is not without his flaws. But moving him to third base weakens the team greatly at two positions. So let’s just hope that this is nothing but the rantings of a reporter who so dearly misses Manny-time.

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

If the Dodgers Trade Matt Kemp for Jack Wilson…

…well, you won’t even get an analysis here. You’ll just get the .gif of the head-exploding guy from Scanners posted here about 40 times, and then no more MSTI posts ever since I’ll have broken my laptop by bashing my face into it. Be happy I just presented you with the still, because the motion one is way more gross, and that’s what you’re going to get if this deal goes down. Anyway, this story’s popped up everywhere, but I can’t help but comment on this one section of it. Let’s go with 6-4-2 for the link, originally from Ken Rosenthal:

To get Wilson, the Dodgers would need to trade the Pirates some of the same players that the Indians want for Sabathia, leaving Los Angeles with a choice of one deal or the other.

Please tell me that I didn’t just read that the asking price for a mediocre – at best – shortstop is going to have anything in common with the asking price for the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner. Jack Wilson is 30 and has a career OPS+ of 79. C.C. Sabathia is 27 and has never once in his career (and for all the hype over Clayton Kershaw, don’t forget that when C.C. was age 20, he was going 17-5 in 33 starts) had an ERA+ of below 100. So please, tell me, on what planet are we trading the same guys for these two players?

If we needed a pitcher – which we don’t – then yes, by all means, Sabathia is worth some top-shelf talent. Jack Wilson should be a player the Pirates are dying to give away. He’s not all that good, and he’s still got some sizable cash left on his deal ($7.25 million next year, plus a $0.6 million buyout of an $8.4 million team option for 2010). The Pirates should be begging the Dodgers to take him off their hands, no?

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

A Picture IS Worth a Thousand Words

larocheinjured.jpg

Not shown: Nomar dancing a jig, millions of Dodger fans cringing at the return of Brandon Inge rumors, and Satan laughing at the curse he put on Dodger third basemen in exchange for Adrian Beltre’s 2004.

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

Dodger Fans Need to Root for… Seattle?

space-needle.jpgThat’s right – on Friday night, if you care at all about the Dodgers, you need to pull for our friends from the north, those plucky Seattle Mariners, to have a big game. Bring me your Ben Broussards, your Yuniesky Betancourts, and yes, even Adrian Beltre too, and root for them to blast balls into the Puget Sound.

Why the sudden interest in the mighty Mariners? Well, it’s more than the ten-year anniversary of the only time I’ve watched baseball indoors (the Kingdome, friends, was like watching baseball in a tomb). It’s this, from the Chicago Sun-Times:

Jose Contreras, who hasn’t started since yielding seven runs and eight hits in 2 2/3 innings against the Yankees on July 31, will return to the rotation Friday, putting the squeeze on either Danks or Floyd.

”We promised Jose he’d start Friday,” Guillen said. ”I’m a man of my word, [and] he deserves it.”

Contreras, who is owed $20 million through the 2009 season, has passed through waivers and could be dealt this month. Several contenders, including the Dodgers, are expected to scout Contreras on Friday. He remains a trade target because of his 4-1 record and 3.77 ERA in 12 postseason outings.

Contreras hasn’t won a start since June 18, but the right-hander pitched five scoreless relief innings against the Mariners on Saturday.

Yikes. Leatherface has been awful this season. And it’s the special kind of awful – the kind of unholy funk that shines through in statistics both traditional and futuristic:

(I’d like to suggest that children under the age of 13 please leave the room now. The following information is rated R for Really Really bad pitching):

Jose Contreras, 2007contrerasap.jpg
W-L: 6-14
ERA: 6.24
ERA+: 73
WHIP: 1.621
VORP: -15.2
VORP rank: 629 of 635 MLB pitchers. (!)
Money owed through 2008: $20 million
Young Dodger fans crying at the thought: 1,000,000,000

Hey, I’m not against trying to get some rotation help. This isn’t like the outfield situation where there’s good young options on the bench who could help – we can’t even get enough warm bodies to get Lurch and Bombko out of the rotation. I wouldn’t even be all that upset if the Dodgers took a flyer on David Wells, because he’s only signed for the remainder of the year, and there’s nothing quite like an angry fat man bent on vengeance.

But don’t forget – not only is Contreras bad, expensive, and signed for next year; he’d require trading players to get him. Wow. Where do I sign up?

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