MSTI.com’s 2007 In Review: Third Base

Third base? Hoo boy, did I draw the short straw.

Oh, and just so we’re clear what we’re dealing with at this position, here:

Dodger Third Basemen, 2005-07 (3 seasons since Beltre left):hotcorner.jpg
1. Mike Edwards
2. Oscar Robles
3. Antonio Perez
4. Olmedo Saenz
5. Nori Nakamura
6. Jose Valentin
7. Willy Aybar
8. Cesar Izturis
9. Wilson Betemit
10. Bill Mueller
11. Julio Lugo
12. Ramon Martinez
13. Joel Guzman
14. Wilson Valdez
15. Tony Abreu
16. Shea Hillenbrand
17. Nomar Garciaparra
18. Andy LaRoche

These are not the All-Stars you are looking for.

Lightning round!

Nomar Garciaparra (C)
(in 159 AB as 3B: .302/.349/.447 6hr 21rbi)

2007 Recap: Vin did a really good job explaining just how bad Nomar was on the whole this year, so I won’t reiterate all of what he said. Rather, I’ll just focus on his time at 3B.. and I’m shocked to report that he wasn’t completely awful. Part of it was he was simply benefiting the club by not nomar_iymgkjnc_1.jpgblocking His Holyness Pope Loney IV anymore, but the numbers above? Not completely bad. Unfortunately for him, it was completely overshadowed by his mind-blowingly bad numbers at 1B. (I hear he was outslugged for most of the year by Juan Pierre? Vin? What?)

2008 Outlook: Gracefully walks away from the game to devote more time to his family, after fulfilling his dream of playing for his childhood team. Oh, we gave him a two year deal? Scratch that.

2008 Outlook: Opens the season as the starting 3B, hits .280/.280/.280 for 3 solid months, while Griddle keeps Andy LaRoche nailed to the bench. Misses 5 weeks with a hangnail and a yeast infection, while LaRoche crushes ball after ball. Returns to claim starting 3B job anyway. Which will at least have the silver lining of allowing me to constantly use this picture, which I love more than life itself.

Wilson Betemit (C-)
(.231/.359/.474 10hr 26rbi w/Dodgers)

2007 Recap: Oh, Meat. Things just didn’t turn out for us like we’d hoped. You are an enigma, covered in a question, wrapped in a burrito, smothered in secret sauce. Remember back in July, when we said you should be the starting 3B? (Side note: love that this blog has now been going long enough that I can reference my own posts from the past). Why did you toy with us so? First it was the 6 hits and .125 average as the starting 3B in April. Then it was the .725 SLG in May, by meat.jpgwhich point you’d lost your job to Andy LaRoche. Then there was the sudden spurt of being the world’s greatest pinch hitter (3 HR and a 1.102 OPS). All the while, you tantalized us with your quality OBP (.359), impressive power (.454 SLG), and surprisingly solid defense, while simultaneously frustrating us and infurating the common fan with your inability to keep your batting average over .230. And then you were gone; traded away for Scott Proctor, just in time to have the rest of the 3B corps get hurt and force us into watching Shea Hillenbrand for a month.

Oh, Meat. What could have been, if only you could have just gotten a few extra singles each month to appease the masses’ thirst for batting average.

2008 Outlook: Pfft, who cares. He’s a Yankee. He’s dead to us now.

Tony Abreu (B+)
(.279/.301/.404 2hr 17rbi)

2007 Recap: That’s right, Abreu actually started twice as many games at 3B as he did at 2B, thanks to the revolving door of tears at the hot corner. Remember what your thoughts were on Abreu before 2007? No, you don’t. Because you didn’t have any, until he completely dominated Spring Training. Then again, so did Larry Bigbie, and who remembers him at all? Abreu crushedph_473234.jpg the Grapefruit league with a .566 SLG (!), forcing his way into the infield picture, and might have actually made the opening day roster if not for a shoulder injury at the end of camp. You know what? He made up in May, and was actually pretty damned good, especially for a 22-year-old who wasn’t considered in our top tier of prospects and was continually jerked around in the bigs in terms of playing time and being out of position.

Sure, he was at times brutal at third base. A .947 fielding % sure isn’t good. However, I can’t even kill him too much for that, because I can’t find any record of him ever having played 3B in a professional game before 2007, just 2B and SS. At his natural position of 2B, he was excellent defensively, not making a single miscue all year – which makes him defensively somewhere in the neighborhood of 100,000 suns hotter than Jeff Kent.

2008 Outlook: Well, this is going to depend almost entirely on what Porn Stache decides. If he retires, I don’t neccessarily have a problem with letting Abreu and Chin-Lung Hu fight it out for 2B, knowing that either way we’ll have a fantastic young defender with a bit of offensive juice. If Kent comes back, as I assume is likely, then we’ve got ourselves a pretty damned good middle infield backup/defensive substitute.

Andy LaRoche (inc.)
(.226/.365/.312 1hr 10rbi)

2007 Recap: Only got 93 at-bats, so he just sneaks in under the “incomplete” banner here, plus he retains his rookie eligibility for next year. Sort of hard to judge Andy, I think. He was practically the starting 3B for most of May and didn’t really hit much (6 singles and 2 doubles in 38 at-bats), but he showed a remarkable patience at the plate (15 walks, getting him a ph_451188.jpgphenomenal .436 OBP). Most rookies come up eager to impress and hack away. But LaRoche’s advanced mastery of the strike zone earned him… a trip right back to Vegas until September. Where, by the way, his .988 OPS said, “what’s up.” He didn’t really hit all that much when he came back, either – as late as Sept. 19, he was hitting .193. But when the wheels finally came off the season, he actually got a real chance to play. From Sept. 20, he started all but one game the rest of the season, and you know what? Signs of improvement. 10 hits in 36 at-bats, 1st major league home run – though the strikeouts were a little worrisome. Also, “a bad back” isn’t exactly a great diagnosis for someone his age, so it’s certainly something to keep an eye out for.

I think a lot of it is Dodger fans have been unbelievably spoiled by the almost immediate success of Martin, Loney, Broxton, etc etc. So when LaRoche “struggled”, by comparison, he looked bad. 93 at-bats is really enough to judge one of our highest-rated prospects? Uh, I think not.

2008 Recap: Either A) traded as part of a deal for a real 3B; B) sitting behind Nomar or stuck back in Vegas; or C) playing every day for the Dodgers. I’ll rank my choices as C, A, me struck by lightning, me in a three-way with Mike Tyson and Secretariat, B.

Shea Hillenbrand (inc.)
(.243/.257/.343 1hr 9rbi w/Dodgers)

2007 Recap: Well, here’s an interesting one. Hillenbrand was given way too much money to sign with the Angels, and delivered so well on his contract that they flat-out cut him in June, thanks to a phenomenal 61 OPS+. He catches on with San Diego’s AAA affiliate, and was so good that they.. flat-out cut him in August. You’d think that’s the death knell for an over-30 player’s career,shea.jpg right? Not when the 2007 Dodgers are involved! Thanks to Nomar, Abreu, and LaRoche all going on the DL and Betemit getting traded to the Bronx, Hillenbrand was miraculously made the starting third baseman of a team in the middle of a pennant push. And to the surprise of no one, he was terrible! The stats quoted above are Dodgers-only, and they add up to an OPS+ of.. 52! Which can also be read as “even worse than the stats that caused the Angels to eat his contract and cut him” or “52% as good as the rest of the National League.” Seriously. He was half as good as average. Half. He played nearly every day from Aug. 13 to Sept. 1… and amusingly, got the grand total of one at-bat from Sept. 9 on.

On the other hand, if you’d told me near the end of August that the Dodgers clubhouse would devolve into selfish infighting and absurd controversy and that Shea Hillenbrand wasn’t prominently involved? Well, let’s just say I’d owe you a Coke.

2008 Outlook: 2008? I could care less if Shea Hillenbrand is running a child porn cocaine arson dogfighting ring or sailing the high seas as a pirate, as long as he’s nowhere near being employed by the Dodgers.

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

MSTI.com's 2007 In Review: First Base

As we advance on to day 2 of MSTI.com’s 2007 In Review, let us review first base… because, oh, I don’t know, it’s the next position on the diamond. Remember that the letter grades are based on what we expected out of the player during the season, rather than comparing him to his actual peers.

Nomar Garciaparra = F Fucking Plus!

(.283/.328/.371, 7 HR’s, 59 RBI’s)

2007 Recap: I really didn’t want to give Nomar an F… maybe a D, sure, but not an F… so I settled for an F fucking +. Not a F+, an F fucking +. With authority! But it was well earned, nonetheless. There was just NO redeeming qualities to Nomar’s 2007 season that could justify anything higher. I mean, the 2 year/$18 million contract he signed (probably also re-signed for P.R. purposes and due to panic after the Drew fiasco) seemed fair enough, given the condition of thnomar_iymgkjnc_1.jpge market and his resurgence in 2006 (.306/.367/.505, 20 HR’s, 93 RBI’s, plus NL Comeback Player Of The Year honors). Also, despite the fact that his numbers dropped significantly in the second half that year (.229/.286/.408), it was still reasonable to expect another solid season from Nomar. Sure, maybe not AS good, but still good enough and with good defense at first base to go with it. I mean, he was STILL Nomar, even if not the one from the late 1990′s.

So then April came… just a slow start, he’ll be fine. Then May… oh, you silly goose, it’s still early, he’s just a slow starter. Then June… O.K., so maybe something isn’t right here. July… HOLY SHIT, GET THIS MOTHERFUCKER OFF THE FIELD, HE SUCKS!!

It is still such a shock how Nomar completely fell off the table and collapsed all Mets style. The balls that would once explode off of his bat for extra base hits were now very weak ground balls, as evidenced by the fact that 43% of the balls that he hit this year were ground balls, while 19% were line drives, both his lowest totals since at least 2002 (as far as the data goes back). Also, while you see the .283 average, it becomes completely worthless by his pathetically low .328 OBP, .371 SLG, 0.8 VORP, .243 EQA, and 1.1 WARP3. Since Nomar surprisingly didn’t have enough at-bats to qualify for the batting title, let’s set a minimum of 400 at-bats to go by, to see how he ranked on his own team (which counts out Kemp and Loney). Nomar’s ranking on the Dodgers: third to last in OPS+ and HR’s, second to last in SLG and dead last in OBP.

And if you rank like that in the 2007 Dodgers offense, then that, my friends, means: you’re pretty fucking bad.

What really exasperated these issues was, once again, his lack of plate discipline. He’s always been a notorious first ball hitter, and that’s fine, as long as you can hit the crap out of the ball in the process like, say, Vladimir Guerrero, or even how Nomar would in his prime. On the other hand, if you can’t do that anymore, yet still going up to the plate and swinging like you want the at-bat to end as fast as possible so you can go take a shit, it’s really going to… like, hurt you (his 3.34 pitches per plate appearance ranks him 209 out of 216 with players that have at least 400 AB’s). His inability to change his game and, oh, I don’t know, TAKE A PITCH!!, will only further accelerate his decline. Another thing to note is that even his defense seemed to tail off from the excellence he had at 1B last year. His .996 fielding percentage from 2006 went down slightly to .993 this year, his range factor dropped from 9.91 to 9.19 and his zone rating dropped .869 to .815 (not counting any 3B fielding stats, here). But none of these stats are the big one to show his ineptitude. No, no… I’ve saved the best for last.

Finally, in probably my favorite stat of the year, until he had a couple of home runs one weekend around August or so, and showed a brief pulse, he was outslugged for most of the year by Juan Fucking Pierre. Yes… JUAN PIERRE!! The Juan Pierre who hit NO home runs this year! The Juan Pierre who has 12 career HR’s!

However, we won’t focus on ALL the bad.

Highlights:

- Had twin baby girls.

- Saved money on his car insurance by switching to Geico.

- Uh…

(crickets chirping)

JUAN FUCKING PIERRE!!

2008 Outlook: There’s a part of me who wants to think there’s a chance he could be traded this offseason, but, at this point, I don’t see him bringing back much value after having the worst year of his career, not to mention his fragile body and no trade clause. However, after watching Loneygate this past season, I don’t see the Dodgers handing third base to Andy LaRoche either, so I expect Nomar to go into Spring Training with third base his job to lose. And with him in a full-fledged decline, I could see him getting Wally Pipp’d again by LaRoche around mid-season, if LaRoche starts to put it together. Until then, expect the descent of a once truly great hitter continue…

James Loney = A Fucking Plus, Baby!

(.335/.385/.544, 15 HR’s, 67 RBI’s)

2007 Recap: After enduring the utter hell that was watching Nomar Garciaparra at first base for the first two and a half months of the year, God decided to spare Dodgers fans and send us a guardian angel by the name of James Loney.

Unfortunately, those angel haters (no, not that kind), Ned Colletti and Grady Little, said: “No, you loneydinger.jpgbastard, I don’t care if you were the best minor league hitter in 2006, or outhit everyone in Spring Training, we’re sticking with veterany Nomar, and we’ll make sure you NEVER see the big leagues!”

But, after attempts to suffocate him in Triple-A, and attempts to put him in the outfield after he was called up on June 10th – where he almost blew out his knee – The Power Of The Loney overcame it all and said: “I’m James Loney, bitch! That job’s mine!”

And, boy, was it. Loney came out gangbusters after being called up, going 22 for his first 50 and quickly established himself as arguably the best hitter on the team. Since he didn’t have enough at-bats to qualify for the batting title, let’s compare how he did to his fellow teammates who had at least 300 at-bats: ranked 1st in BA, OBP, SLG, OPS, EqA, WPA and OPS+. Compared to his peers, he ranked 6th amongst first baseman in EqA (5th in NL), had the highest BA out of all first baseman with at least 300 at-bats and finished 5th in VORP amongst all rookie position players. Sweet.

After Russell Martin started to fade just slightly in the second half, it was James Loney who took over and, sans a down month in August, mostly dominated. And all those rumors that he didn’t have power? Look at these numbers: .382/.429/.709, with 9 HR’s and 32 RBI’s in the month of September! That’s called total domination, my friends.  The 32 RBI’s were good enough to lead all of baseball that month and his overall September was good enough to win him NL Rookie Of The Month honors.  Simply put, this dude rocks. He managed to completely exceed all expectations. I mean, we all knew he was going to be good… but THIS good?! Absolutely amazing. His swing is so smooth and easy and has played stellar defense. He’s only 23 years old and already looks incredibly polished. He can hit, play great defense, he can run… err, oops, just the first two.

2008 Outlook: I don’t necessarily think that the James Loney that we saw this past September is the one we’ll see all year in 2008 (he did finish 2007 with a .352 BABIP), however, I don’t see James being all that far off, either. Simply put, he is such an awesome hitter. The ball just explodes off his bat and even his outs seem to be hit hard. I fully expect 2008 to be the first of many years that he will compete for batting titles along with Gold Gloves. He’s THAT good, folks, and with the power he has began to show, we are going to be watching a very special player that will continue to establish himself as one of the best first baseman for many years to come.

- Vin vinscully-face.jpg