MSTI.com’s 2008 In Review: Shortstop

Ahh, shortstop. Or as we like to think of it in 2008, “the Valley of the Damned.”

Angel Berroa (D+)
(.230/.304/.310 1hr 16rbi)

I have to say, I never expected to be reviewing Angel Berroa as the shortstop who got the most at-bats for the Dodgers this season. To be honest, I think this grade might be the one that differs the most from the mainstream perception. How many times did we have to read stories saying how great Berroa was in stepping in for Rafael Furcal? In particular, there was the heart attack I nearly had in August when Joe Torre started spouting insanity like “I tried to reason who was going to give me the better at-bat – Berroa or Loney.”

On the other hand, you’ve got me, who thought acquiring him was a terrible idea in the first place, laughed when he went his first 21 games without an RBI, and campaigned in August to give Chin-Lung Hu another shot.

Look, I’m not blind to the circumstances that caused Berroa to get such playing time in the first place, and sure, I enjoyed his decent hot streak where he hit .333 in 20 games between 8/24 and 9/17. I just don’t understand why so many people considered him to be, well, good. I mean, we’re talking about a guy who was so bad that even though the Royals signed him to a 4-year contract and had indisputably the worst shortstop in baseball (Tony Pena), they still wouldn’t let Berroa out of Triple-A. Despite that track record, he still underperformed in 2008 – his BA and SLG was far under his career averages, and while his OBP was almost identical to his career number, at .304 that’s hardly anything to be proud of. Putting up a 62 OPS+ when the career average that got you demoted was 77 is hardly a good thing, nor is the fact that of the 42 shortstops who had at least 200 plate appearances, Berroa’s VORP was 35th, at -3.7. That’s right, negative.

“But MSTI,” you might say. “Everyone knows he can’t hit. At least he was a good fielder, and that’s what was most important.” Which is all well and good, except that it’s not particularly true. Baseball Prospectus has his FRAA (Fielding Runs Above Average) at 0, which makes him exactly average. I suppose that’s a nice step up from his career -44 number in that regard, but it’s certainly not the sublime level with the glove that Chin-Lung Hu offers, which is basically what I was saying in August when I wanted to replace Berroa with Hu.

Really, there’s a reason that Berroa gets a D+ and not a straight F, and that’s because we all knew he was a terrible player as soon as he was acquired, so it’s hard to act surprised when he was terrible and somehow underperformed his already lousy career marks. If anything, it’s the media that deserves the F for trying to fool people into believing that Berroa was a useful player. His 2009 option was declined, but that doesn’t neccessarily mean the end of Berroa in LA – it just means that he’s clearly not worth $5.5 million. Let’s hope the front office realizes he’s not worth a roster spot, either.
Rafael Furcal (I take the 5th)
(.357/.439/.573 5hr 16rbi)
Well, I don’t even know where to start with this one. After the worst season of his career in 2007 (thanks, Jason Repko!), Furcal got off to an absolutely blazing hot start. Just how good was he over the first month? Remember, VORP is a counting stat, and despite playing in just 36 games, Furcal still was the 14th-best shortstop – beating out guys like Miguel Tejada and Orlando Cabrera, who played full seasons. I don’t need to tell you what happened after that, with his back injury keeping him out for nearly five solid months, and nearly taking the Dodger season along with it.

But you know what the worst part was? The uncertainty. It’s one thing when you see a guy blow out his knee or break his arm, because you know right then and there he’s out for quite a while. You mourn the loss, but you move on and start making plans to get by. However, with Furcal, at first he was just kept out as a “precaution”; then it was “he’ll be back this weekend”, and then “in a week”; and then the next thing you know we’ve been watching Berroa, Nomar, and Hu suck the life out of shortstop until practically October. It’s not too much of a stretch to say that of everything that didn’t go right for the 2008 Dodgers, this one stung the most – even more than Andruw Jones’ epic chokejob.

It really makes you wonder what a Dodger offense with a healthy Furcal and a happy Manny could have looked like, right? I’m still holding out hope that we’ll see that in 2009, but it sounds like we’ll at least get Furcal back, since interest in his return is mutual. Hey, maybe we’ll get one benefit out of Furcal’s injury and it’ll drive his price down a little.

Nomar Garciaparra (D)
(.264/.326/.466 8hr 28rbi)
Man, and I thought Jeff Kent’s 2008 was eventful. Remember, at the beginning of camp, the biggest question was, “who’s going to win the third base job – Nomar or Andy LaRoche?” Well, that lasted as long as March 7, when both Nomar and LaRoche got hurt in the same spring game, with Nomar suffering a microfracture of his right wrist.

So okay, Nomar’s season debut is delayed until April 16th (injury #1), at which time he reclaimed the starting 3B job from Blake DeWitt…
…which Nomar kept for all of 9 days before injuring himself again. But hey, at least during those 9 days he hit .226 and asked Chip Caray if he could shake left-handed because that’s how much his right hand hurt! On April 26th, Nomar popped his calf (injury #2) and missed over two months. Okay, so far: nothing crazy, because Nomar gets hurt all the time.

But this time, Nomar returns on July 4th….as the starting shortstop! Which is doubly hilarious when you remember that half the reason a red-hot James Loney couldn’t get out of AAA in 2007 is that first baseman Nomar was deemed too fragile to move across the diamond and replace Wilson Betemit at third base. This time Nomar lasts all of 18 games before injuring his knee on July 27th (injury #3). He returned on August 12th and regained his starting SS job for the next few weeks until August 29th (hitting .167 over that time) before being benched for Angel Berroa’s one sign of life. He miraculously made it all the way until September 27th before…

injuring his knee again (injury #4), though this one didn’t land him on the DL, thanks to expanded rosters. Finally, other than one start at 1B against Jamie Moyer in the NLCS, he was last seen riding the bench for all of the playoffs and striking out feebly to end games. In the rare moments Nomar was actually able to play this year, he wasn’t completely terrible: a 105 ERA+ is actually slightly above average, and his .466 SLG was higher than anyone except for Manny, Ethier and Furcal. He did also mash lefties (1.067 OPS), although I’m hesistant to call that a repeatable skill because in 2007, he was actually markedly worse against lefties than righties.

I don’t like to blame Nomar for all the injuries, but he gets the grade he does simply because he wasn’t there when we needed him to be. We needed him to hold down third base at the beginning of the year with LaRoche hurt, and his absence contributed to the Dodgers having to turn to Blake DeWitt (and remember, DeWitt’s success doesn’t make it right – there were plenty of us who thought he was going to put up Jonesian numbers). We needed him to take over from DeWitt when the league started to catch up, and Nomar couldn’t answer the call. We needed him to prevent having to play Berroa at shortstop every day, and he was unable.

As for the future? Well, Nomar hasn’t decided if he’s retiring or not. But if he chooses to return, I can’t imagine there’s a whole lot of other teams clamoring for his services; conversely, I would think he wouldn’t want to leave his young family and his hometown. If he’s willing to play on a one-year deal at a markedly reduced salary, with the understanding that he’s the backup at 1st and 3rd (i.e., the new Big Sexy), I would find that acceptable – if only so I can keep using that picture!
Chin-Lung Hu (F)
(.181/.252/.233 0hr 9rbi)

This, I must say, is one review I’ve really not been looking forward to, because I had such high hopes for Hu entering the season, and he couldn’t possibly have failed more miserably. Just to show I’m not above bashing myself, this is what I said in last year’s season reviews after Hu had a breakout 2007 in the minors, which won him the Dodgers Minor League Player of the Year award:

So now in the space of one season, Hu has gone from “great glove/might not hit enough to stick” to “great glove/may be one of the better hitting SS around”. So much so that I wouldn’t mind seeing Furcal get dealt for something good and letting Hu get a crack at SS.

Hold on a second, it’s hard to type with all that egg on my face. There we go. After starting the season as Jeff Kent’s caddy at second base, Hu got the first crack at the shortstop job when Rafael Furcal was lost in early May… and it’s hard to overstate just how badly he fared. At the time of his first start at SS on May 6th, Hu was hitting .229/.325/.229 in mostly part-time duty. 76 at-bats later, he’d nabbed just 10 hits and was at .159/.224/.206 when he was sent down on June 7th. Really, if Hu had been able to just be decent, we might have been able to avoid the Angel Berroa era entirely. On the plus side, his glove was as good as advertised – in 75 career games, he’s made just 2 errors.

Hu’s brutal 2008 clearly torpedoed any chance of him getting the starting gig in 2009, but I’m not ready to give up on him yet, and there’s two reasons why (besides for his fantastic defense):

1) Hu’s lousy hitting might be traced back to vision problems. In last season’s review, I noted that Hu had a terrible offensive 2006, was diagnosed with an eye issue, and had a monster 2007. In August of this year when I campaigned for his return, we’d heard that the exact same thing had happened this season:

Hu hit the minor league DL with vision problems soon after he got there, and since getting that taken care of has been killing the ball, putting up a .361/.400/.475 line. There’s precedent for this with him, too; after struggling through 2006 (.660 OPS) problems with his vision were first made public, and after getting his eyes healthy in the offseason, he busted out with an .871 OPS in 2007.

Now I know it’s a small sample size, but in eleven plate appearances after his recall to LA in September, he reached base six times. I don’t know what keeps going on with his eyes, and obviously if he can’t get this taken care of more permanently it’s going to seriously impact his career, but it really seems that there’s a clear cause-and-effect relationship here, now that it’s happened twice. If he can get this fixed, he might be able to return to his 2007 form. Besides, while no one expected him to OPS .871 in the majors this year, I have a hard time believing that the same guy who did that in the minors in 2007 could only put up a .485 mark in 2008 unless there’s some other issue involved.

2) He’s only had 145 career at-bats, and is still just 24. I hope that Hu’s absurdly poor showing at the plate hasn’t completely poisoned him to the average Dodger fan, but 145 at-bats is hardly enough time to give up on a player who could be a rare blend of excellent defense and productive offense. That said, his lousy 2008 has almost forced the Dodgers to try and retain Furcal, but it remains to be seen what that deal will be. If it’s only a one or two year deal, then maybe Hu gets a chance to regain his prospect standing in AAA or on the LA bench until Furcal is gone. But if it’s longer than that, Hu probably will have to get his shot elsewhere, and personally I don’t wish to see that – regardless of my including him in a trade in my offseason plan.

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

Eight Is Enough

There will be no more talk about “the playoffs” around here until the Dodgers actually, you know, win another game. Assuming that ever happens. Other than Manny Ramirez getting on base all 5 times he was up, you’ve just got another game in which there was nothing positive to take away. The offense, other than Manny, was stagnant as usual. The usually strong pitching gave up nine runs, led by Chan Ho Park immolating on the mound to the tune of 4 runs in 1/3 of an inning – although he was greatly helped by Nomar throwing away a double play ball into right field. Nomar’s now hitting .236 and made a second error last night as well. Someone explain to me again why he’s playing when he can’t hit or field, and why Chin-Lung Hu is still down in Las Vegas? He might not be a hitting improvement, but at least he can play shortstop.

At right: the Dodgers season.

Oh, and then there’s this:

Jeff Kent said he has played with pain in his left knee for the last month.

Friday, he said he couldn’t continue — not even with his team in the midst of a crisis that could push them out of contention.

Seven innings into a 9-3 loss to the NL West-leading Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field that extended the Dodgers’ season-long losing streak to eight games, the 40-year-old second baseman who has endured a wide range of physical problems this season had to be replaced by pinch-hitter Blake DeWitt.

The Dodgers are 4 1/2 games out of first place, they’re eight for 69 with runners in scoring position during their eight-game skid, but Kent said he probably wouldn’t play today. Kent, who will undergo an MRI exam, said he probably wouldn’t play Sunday, either.

Here’s the interesting thing, though. You would think that a knee injury so painful that he’s missing the biggest series of the year would explain why Kent’s having the worst season of his entire career, right? But Kent says that he’s been playing with pain for a month – a month in which he’s been excellent, hitting .357/.394/.439. Whether that’s Manny-aided or not, that’s impressive, but who gets hurt and then has their performance improve? It’s possible that Kent is just offhandedly saying “a month” when it’s in reality been more recent, and the numbers back that up since he’s got a .412 OPS over the last week. It’s hard to draw that conclusion when the entire team has been so bad at the plate over that time, though.

So I suppose we’re going to get to see what Blake DeWitt learned in Las Vegas about playing second base. With the season rapidly spiraling down the tubes, at least we’ll learn a bit more about what we have from DeWitt for next year.

One more thing… I’m still looking forward to tonight’s game. I know I’ve been a little negative around here lately; how could you not be? But playoffs or not, Chad Billingsley vs. Dan Haren is still a pretty marquee matchup, and if the Dodgers can touch Haren, who knows what could happen from there? That’s possible, right? Now if you’ll excuse me, Jessica Alba’s waiting outside for me in her Ferrari to drive me down to the lottery office to pick up my winnings.

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

MSTI’s First Half Review: Offense

Is it that time of the year already? Sure, it’s not really “halfway” through the year since the Blue have already played 95 games, but here we are at the All-Star break. This won’t be as extensive as last year’s season reviews, since there’s only three days to do it in, but it still will touch upon everyone who appeared in a game for the Dodgers this year. So today is offense, tomorrow pitching, and the next day will be front office/coaching staff/awards/overall grade. And on Thursday, a big MSTI announcement. How did we do this last year? That’s right:

First, some quick ground rules. Completely unscientific and arbitrary, this is how we’ve seen the results of the season. One important distinction, is that the letter grade is based upon what we reasonably could have expected of the player entering the year, not comparing him to other MLB players at his position. You’ll soon see why this is so important.

Less than 10 IP or 100 at-bats gets you an “incomplete”. Stats are presented (BA/OBP/SLG).

We’ll knock that down to 50 at-bats for the half-season review, but everything else remains the same.

Catcher
Russell Martin (.294/.394/.436 10hr 45rbi) (A+)
Without question, the best offensive player so far. There were actually some inane stories out there that I won’t even subject you to linking to saying that he’s been off his game this year, but that’s mostly thanks to his very slow start to the season, hitting .197 as late as April 20th. But you know what? Martin’s actually having the best offensive year of his career overall. His 118 OPS+ is up 5 from last year, and while his slugging % is down slightly (.029 less than last year), it’s more than made up by his exemplary .394 OBP, which is actually better than Alex Rodriguez, Josh Hamilton, and Hanley Ramirez. Plus, he plays third base! What can I say? This guy’s the heart and soul of the team. He’s the best player, and he never complains. Love this guy. Love him.

Gary Bennett (.190/.261/.381 1hr 4rbi) (incomplete)
What a weird, weird season for the initial 2008 recipient of the Mike Lieberthal Memorial “Guy Who Rots on the Bench Behind Russell Martin” Award. Bennett only really got notice in two of my posts all season, and they couldn’t be more divergent – first, he got some recognition for a good game in Milwaukee on May 15, and then just five days later we cheered his being placed on the DL, saying,

“Left foot plantar fasciitis.” Let me say, the quotes could not be thicker around that. We’ve had no word of any injury problems surrounding Bennett, but tons of stories about his throwing problems, and suddenly his foot hurts? Hey, call it a bad foot, the flu, or the heebie-jeebies; whatever it takes to get this guy’s head right and get those lollipop throws off the field. Seriously, he even made Rotoworld today, which is rare for a mediocre backup catcher, and at no point is the foot mentioned.

Thanks for showing up, Gary. Lousy hitter who can’t throw – fantastic. If you wanted to hit the slots in Vegas the rest of the summer, that’d be A-ok by me.

Danny Ardoin (.211/.250/.263 0hr 2rbi) (incomplete)
Another member of the Loyal Order of Backup Catchers, Ardoin’s been.. well, he’s an improvement on Bennett, anyway. He’s not much of a hitter either, but everything I’ve read about him says that the pitchers like throwing to him way better than Bennett. As far as I’m concerned, the team is screwed if Martin’s hurt anyway, so it doesn’t really matter all that much which one backs him up, but I’d really like it if it would be Ardoin rather than Bennett, whenever he’s healthy. Amazingly enough, Ardoin’s already doubled Mike Lieberthal’s RBI total from last season.

First Base
James Loney (.291/.351/.446 7hr 50rbi) (C+)
Loney gets a C+ not because he’s been that lousy, but simply because we had such high expectations for him. After last year’s offensive explosion in the second half, who among us wasn’t drooling at the prospect of him playing 1B for the entire season? But after the first two months, he was only hitting in the .270s with 5 homers. Of course, he dominated in June (.362/.425/.500), only to fall back in July, hitting just .224 so far. He’s been.. okay. Not bad, not great. I still think he’s got it in him to pick it up.

Second Base
Jeff Kent (.253/.304/.407 9hr 40rbi) (C-)
This, I must say, was a tough one. On one hand, he was really bad for a good portion of the season – I assume you haven’t forgotten the whole chase to be the worst cleanup hitter of the last 50 years, but on the other hand, Kent’s 40 years old, and how much can you ever depend on a guy that age, anyway? At least he’s been able to stay relatively healthy, and his bat has turned it around a bit lately.

On the plus side, no one’s accusing Kent of being involved in any clubhouse fiascos so far, so at least he’s got that going for him. 

Third Base
Blake DeWitt (.263/.330/.372 5hr 34rbi) (A)
Just like Kent, this is a tough grade to assign. I know it seems like a long time ago now, but do you remember how desperate this team was at the hot corner at the end of March? Nomar was hurt, LaRoche was hurt, Abreu was hurt, and the trade options were either unavailable or unappealing. So we turn over the job to the guy who was guaranteed to put up Hu-like offensive numbers. Except that.. he was good. Really good, slugging .517 in May. He was a lock for Rookie of the Year and surprise of the year. Go Blake!

Of course, great story aside, he’s cratered since then, with just 4 extra base hits in the last 6 weeks, which is Pierre-like levels of mediocrity. Ah hell, it doesn’t matter. He shouldn’t be starting every day anymore, but that’s a topic we’ve already covered. He gets an A simply because I shudder to think what would have happened if he hadn’t held things down for the first two months.

Andy LaRoche (.192/.294/.341 2hr 3rbi) (incomplete)
Seems like LaRoche is shaping up to be part of the next Dodgers holy war, following in the footsteps of Juan Pierre and Hee-Seop Choi. No, he hasn’t done much in the bigs. But the people who want to write him off are insane – he’s gotten just 44 at-bats this year. Look, he’s got nothing more to prove in the minors (career .895 OPS). The Dodgers need power. Blake DeWitt is slumping badly. So then why can’t LaRoche ever start more than two games in a row? Why has he been benched the day after hitting a home run both times? Some things, I’ll never understand.

Shortstop
Rafael Furcal (.366/.448/.597 5hr 16rbi) (R)
That’s right, I gave Furcal an “R”. Why? Because the best way I can sum up his 2008 is “ARRRRRRRGGGHH!!!!” From the best start of his career, to an injury that was to keep him out a few days, to surgery that will end with him missing 4 months. Despite everything that’s gone wrong with this season, it’s hard to point to anything that was more damaging than this. Furcal’s back woes not only cost the team its hottest hitter, but lead to the failings of Hu, the misery of Angel Berroa, and the so-far entertaining Nomar era. Think about it, the Dodgers are one game out. It’s not much of a stretch to say that if Furcal had stayed healthy, the Dodgers are in first place, is it?

Angel Berroa
(.192/.253/.219 0hr 0rbi) (F)
I have to say, of all the stats I looked up for this article, Berroa surprised me more than anybody. He really has zero RBI? Not even one? Despite starting 21 games? That would be incredible, if it weren’t so depressing. Look at it this way, Berroa’s had 72 at-bats without an RBI. That’s the most in MLB by a large margin, nearly double the 40 at-bats by Washington’s Roger Bernadina. Yikes! Actually, now that I think about it, maybe Berroa doesn’t deserve an F here. Maybe he should be getting a C. I mean, it’s not like we didn’t all know he was going to suck from day one. And to the surprise of no one except perhaps Ned Colletti, he has. He’s been exactly as bad as we thought, not that it was possible to be any worse, so in that sense he’s been the average Angel Berroa.

Nah, forget it. Big. Fat. F.

Chin-Lung Hu
(.159/.224/.206 0hr 7rbi) (D)
This really should be an F, because Hu’s utter failure to perform once Furcal went down has to rank as one of the bigger disappointments of the season. The only thing bumping him up to a D is the fact that his defense more than lived up to its sparking reputation. But I don’t think it was too much to expect that he had a shot to be a decent hitter, since after a breakthrough 2007 where he OPS’d .871 in the minors, he popped 2 dingers in 29 late-season at-bats in the bigs. And then.. fizzle. Now, he’s apparently had some vision issues since returning to AAA, so if that’s what caused this, I haven’t completely given up on him. It’s just that if he could have been even a mediocre hitter, we could have kept his slick glove in the lineup and avoided the entire Berroa fiasco.

Infield
Nomar Garciaparra (.250/.328/.400 2hr 12rbi) (!!!)
What a year for Nomahhh. Breaks his hand in spring training, comes back to play in all of 8 games (hitting .226) before hurting his calf and missing two more months.. only to return at shortstop. You can’t make this stuff up. In fact, I wish I had predicted this in the offseason, just so I could see what kind of responses I’d have gotten saying that I’d completely lost my mind. Remember last year when Nomar couldn’t be moved from 1B to 3B to make room for Loney because he was “too fragile”? Well, a year and several injuries later, now he’s playing shortstop. Unbelievable. He’s hit okay since coming back (.286/.333/.500 in 8 games), but there’s just no way this doesn’t end with him somehow spontaneously combusting turning a double play, right?

Luis Maza
(.228/.282/.278 1hr 4rbi) (C… ish)
Remember, we’re doing these grades based not on how they compare to the rest of the league, but based on how a player has performed based on reasonable expectations at the beginning of the season. This is why Hu gets a D, since he was below expectations, and why DeWitt gets an A, since he was so far above. The only time this method runs into a problem is in the case of Luis Maza, because for someone who runs a Dodgers blog and likes to think he knows entirely too much about the Dodger organization.. I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I had never even heard of this guy coming into the season. So it’s hard to say I had any expectations of him. That said, he’s been pretty much what you’d think he’d be – a quad-A player who’s a mediocre hitter and a decent fielder, albeit with a particularly lousy arm.

Mark Sweeney
(.094/.181/.125 0hr 3rbi) (?)
Sweeney gets a question mark for a grade. That’s partially because he doesn’t even deserve to attain a letter, but mostly to represent the question of, Why is Mark Sweeney on This Team? He serves no function. He’s a pinch-hitter who can’t hit. He can’t hit lefties. He can’t hit righties. He can’t hit at home. He can’t hit on the road. He can’t hit during the day. He can’t hit at night. We do not like him here or there, we do not like him anywhere.  His OPS is negative 18, which I believe means he’s lapsed into some sort of an unknown dimension. He’s 38 years old, and he’s got 6 hits in 72 at-bats! It’s the end of the line, and it’s just stubbornness on the part of the Dodgers front office that they allow him to keep making outs (he’s supposedly coming off the DL on Friday). I would love to know what kind of pictures Sweeney must have of Colletti with a lampshade on his head in order to keep his job.

Time to go, Mark. Time to go.

Terry Tiffee
(.250/.400/.250 0hr 0rbi) (incomplete)
Tiffee only went 1-4 in his short time up, but I’ve been backing him for over two months. Now back at Vegas, he’s kept up his amazing season, currently rocking a .396/.434/.598 line. Sure, say it’s a fluke, say whatever you like. Maybe you’re right. But there is simply no argument you can use to convince me that he shouldn’t be taking Mark Sweeney’s place. None. Tiffee is more useful than Sweeney in every conceivable way – hitting, fielding, versatility, you name it. (And I did, right here.) I suppose I’m venturing more into Colletti territory than Tiffee, but really, all Tiffee’s done is hit all year long. What else does he have to do?

Tony Abreu (n/a) (incomplete)
Knock, knock.”
“Hello?”
“Is this Mr. Abreu?”
“Yes, who are you?”
“I’m opportunity. And I’m knocking.”
“Hmm.. thanks, but no thanks. Bye!”

Outfield
Matt Kemp (.278/.331/.437 9hr 49rbi 20sb) (B)
We’ve exhausted a lot of pixels on Kemp around here lately, so I won’t revisit it all again. But suffice it to say, there’s been nothing boring about Kemp’s season. To wild trade rumors to arguments about what type of player he is and will be, Kemp’s been front and center. As you probably know, considering his age and inexperience, I’m pretty satisfied with what he’s done, especially his improvement in the outfield. The strikeouts have to be cut, of course, but remember that he’s only 23. Guys like Matt Holliday and Ryan Howard hadn’t even made their debuts by 23, instead being allowed to develop in the minors. Considering Kemp’s already been (roughly) an average MLBer at that age, let’s cut the kid a little slack, okay?

Andre Ethier (.286/.350/.464 11hr 41rbi) (A-)
Don’t look now, but Ethier is leading the entire team in homers and slugging %. That’s pretty impressive for a guy who’s been continually jerked around in terms of playing time when both Jones and Pierre were available. He gets a bit of a demerit for that .195 June, but he’s come roaring back in July with a 1.061 OPS. So of course, we can look forward to him seeing some bench in two weeks when Pierre returns. Because that’s what a team who can’t hit should do – bench their biggest power hitter. Amazing.

Juan Pierre (.277/.327/.318 0hr 24rbi 35sb) (D)
This isn’t the place to rehash the whole Pierre argument yet again, but it’s pretty simple, as far as I’m concerned. He’s having the worst season of his career by every single offensive stat (save steals), which is saying a lot when it’s the fourth straight season he’s declined since his career year of 2004. Regardless of how you feel about him, he’s not even living up to his own mediocre standards. That’s not good, and I can’t imagine it’ll be any better if his knee is any less than 100% when he comes back. Yet Joe Torre is infatuated with him, but I guess that’s something more to discuss in Torre’s review. Of 19 MLB leftfielders with enough at-bats to qualify, Pierre is dead last in OPS, coming in nearly 340 points lower than leader Matt Holliday’s. That’s not just bad, that’s really bad.

By the way, in that “career year”, his OPS+ was 107 (it’s down to 69 this year). Andre Ethier’s this season is 110. Just sayin’.

Andruw Jones (.167/.261/.253 2hr 9rbi) (you don’t even deserve a letter, Andruw)
What. A. Disaster. Hey, we’re not always right at MSTI either, because we both supported this deal when it was signed. But geez. I can’t even get on Colletti for this one, because really, who the hell saw this happening? If you didn’t see this link the other day, ESPN.com’s Jayson Stark says Jones is on pace for the Worst Offensive Season in Baseball History.

You know what, I can’t even talk about him. You don’t need stats on this one. You have eyes. You’ve watched the Dodgers. He’s awful, and no one seems to know why. What a mess.

Delwyn Young (.255/.327/.343 1hr 5rbi) (C-)
Have to admit, I’m a little torn on Delwyn. We’ve been big fans of his for a while, because on a team that’s struggling so badly offensively, a guy who’s done nothing but kill the ball at every stop would seem like a useful player to have. I mean, it was just last season that he broke a 41-year-old PCL record for doubles. That said, he hasn’t really done all that much with the big club this season. Oddly enough, his stats are the exact opposite of what I had thought; I was all set to say “but he doesn’t get to play that much with the OF logjam, and its hard for a kid to be a pinch-hitter”. Except that as it turns out, he’s hitting .342 off the bench vs. only .203 as a starter.

Jason Repko (.000/.000/.000 0hr 0rbi) (incomplete)
Oh, Jason. Poor Jason. Just can’t catch a break. You come up and go 0-5 with 4 K’s in your first game, and then get all of two more at-bats before getting sent down, probably for good. Damn shame, really.

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

Too Many Problems, Whatcha Gonna Do

Full disclaimer: this isn’t going to be fun. Trust me when I say I do NOT enjoy writing such negativity about the team. I don’t. I’m a Dodgers fan first and foremost despite not even growing up in the Los Angeles area, and nothing would please me more than to see them realize their potential and win. It’s just that I have to call them as I see them, and in the last few hours, I’ve come across so many different things that are just blowing my mind – and that’s without even getting into the possible elbow injury Takashi Saito sustained last night. This might get all over the place, so strap yourself in for an unfortunate article of inane Joe Torre quotes, fun with on-base percentage, the possible return of the worst player in baseball, and incredibly depressing news about the other worst player in baseball.

Let’s start at the start, where Nomar Garciaparra batted leadoff last night for the first time in just about six years. He’s clearly nowhere near your prototypical leadoff hitter, but I didn’t even mind the decision by Torre. Clearly, the offense is sputtering, to put it nicely, so if you want to engage in a little “throw things at the wall and see what sticks”, that’s fine by me. That was your reasoning, right Joe? (All of these Torre quotes are via Diamond Leung unless otherwise noted).

On Nomar Garciaparra and not Matt Kemp leading off: “We’ll sacrifice the speed for someone that will give us a quality at-bat.”

First of all, way to take a nice backhanded swipe at Kemp, there. Look, I realize that my last few articles have sort of made this blog Matt Kemp’s tragic illness, but I can’t read something like this and let it pass. So tell me. Tell me, please, in what way at all does Nomar give you a more “quality at-bat” than Matt Kemp? Is it because Nomar’s got a better chance of doing something productive? No, it can’t be that – Kemp is better than Nomar across the board this year, .278/.331/.437 vs. .228/.313/.368. Okay, so it must be that Kemp is a bit of a free swinger and you want the leadoff guy to work a good at-bat and see some pitches, right? That’s a fair argument. Wait, no, can’t be that either- Kemp has shown more patience at the plate as well, averaging 3.72 pitches per plate appearance while Nomar only sees 3.30.

So, let me rewrite that quote the way it should have read:

On Nomar Garciaparra and not Matt Kemp leading off: “We’ll sacrifice the speed, average, on-base percentage, power, and plate patience for someone who will be inferior in every single one of these areas except for Highly-Concentrated Veteran Goodness.”

Well, when you see it that way, it makes total sense. Joe, why else do you like Nomar batting leadoff, according to Doug Padilla of the LA Daily News?

“He’s aggressive and he’s not your prototypical leadoff hitter because he doesn’t go up there thinking about walking, that’s for sure,” Torre said. “He does put that little extra pressure on the pitcher knowing that if he goes ahead and throws a strike he can hit it out of the ballpark.”

The first part doesn’t even make sense. First of all, for a leadoff hitter especially, getting on base is getting on base. The idea is to be on base to be driven in by the guys hitting behind you. A walk is as good as a hit to accomplish that. I mean, wouldn’t it be great if your leadoff hitter walked every single time up? How awesome would that be? But does that mean Torre thinks that Matt Kemp goes up there “looking to walk”? Even here, where we’re very pro-Kemp, we’ve gotten on him for the egregious amount of whiffs. I’m pretty sure he didn’t accomplish that by not being aggressive enough at the plate.

As for the second half of that, he likes that Nomar puts pressure on the pitcher because he knows that if he grooves one, Nomar can hit it out of the park. I’m not even sure where to start with that one. Is it the simple fact that Nomar really can’t hit it out of the park? He’s got all of nine homers over the last two years, which is hardly what I call a power hitter anymore. Or is it the fact that if you want a guy who can park one, Matt Kemp is undeniably a better choice? Kemp has nine homers in the first half of this season, in about 150 at-bats fewer than Nomar has gotten over the last two years – and Nomar’s on the decline, while Kemp is certainly still on the rise. Speaking of Kemp, Joe?

On Kemp: “He goes up there and sometimes has quality at-bats. Other times, he gets impatient.”

Which is true, because he’s young and inexperienced, but it just serves to confuse the issue further. In one breath, Torre is praising Nomar for being “aggressive”, and then he turns around and chastises Kemp for being “impatient”. Nomar is a notorious first-pitch swinger, has been his whole career. No, I can’t find the stat to back that up, but I’m pretty sure that’s such common knowledge that I don’t even need to. How is that in any way the example of patience?

I also couldn’t help but chuckle at this line from Padilla, discussing Kemp’s on-base percentage:

Kemp had been in the leadoff spot for the past 11 days, batting .255 there with a pedestrian .340 on-base percentage.

.340 is a “pedestrian” on-base percentage. Those are Doug Padilla’s words, not mine. So maybe, just maybe, this will help explain why we all hate Juan Pierre batting leadoff so much – because Pierre’s OBP batting leadoff is an abysmal .294, 46 points lower than the “pedestrian” Matt Kemp. I just don’t understand why Kemp is criticized while Pierre is praised so heartily for this, yet it’s clear in every way that the on-field performance just doesn’t support that.

Back to Joe Torre, I implore you to read this carefully, because it just might be the greatest thing ever uttered:

On Jeff Kent: “He’s the perfect example of a player. He’s struggling, but we know we’re going to get a professional at-bat every time he gets in the box.”

“He’s the perfect example of a player.” I love this sentence. I want to get it tattooed on my back. I want to take it out behind the middle school and get it pregnant. I want it to be prominently displayed on all forms of United States currency from now until the end of time. “He’s the perfect example of a player.” As opposed to, say, Russell Martin, who is the perfect example of a 1920s vaudeville singer, and Brad Penny, who is the perfect example of a hamster. And here we are again with these old-school statements that in reality, mean absolutely nothing: “we know we’re going to get a professional at-bat every time he gets in the box.” It’s not even that I want to get on Jeff Kent here, who’s been pretty decent over the last month (.289/.375/.434, though he is riding a brutal 1-16 stretch right now). It’s just, what do things like that even mean? A “professional at-bat”? Because amateurs like Andre Ethier will wander up with a hockey stick, or James Loney will interupt the at-bat to stroll back to the dugout to refill his Big League Chew? Look, I respect Joe Torre for all he’s done in this game, but when he consistently comes up with meaningless lines and logic that just don’t make any sense, well, let’s just say it’s not filling me with confidence that this team can get turned around. The Dodgers have enough problems right now without creating their own.

Speaking of creating their own problems, back to Padilla, whose article is just a goldmine today:

Pinch-hit specialist Mark Sweeney, on the DL since July 4 with a strained right hamstring, will have one more minor-league rehab game and is expected to return to the roster Friday for the start of the second half.

Oh, good! I don’t know what we’d do without that pinch-hitter who’s hitting .094 with 6 hits on the season, but that’ll definitely turn the team around. Here’s the question, though: if he really comes back, who’s going to be cut to make room for him? I assume it’s Luis Maza or Angel Berroa, who are somewhat redundant with Nomar playing short. But if it’s Andy LaRoche… well, I don’t know what I’ll do here, but trust me: it will not be pretty.

Finally, Andruw Jones and his quest for becoming the most hated man in LA. Before I saw what Torre had said, I was surfing Google Image Search for pictures of sombreros to Photoshop onto Jones after his unbelievable 5 strikeout performance last night. I was really holding out hope that the knee was really the cause of his problems, but since his return he’s been just as lousy as ever, hitting .172/.200/.172 with 13 strikeouts in 29 at-bats. You might think things couldn’t possibly get worse for him, but that would mean you haven’t read what Jayson Stark of ESPN.com had to say (bold is mine):

NL LVP of the half year: Andruw Jones, Dodgers
 
Sheez, what happened to this man? If Andruw Jones‘s second half resembles his first half, he’s potentially heading for (ready for this?) the Worst Offensive Season in Baseball History. At this rate, he’d finish with a .172 average, .261 slugging percentage, five homers, 21 RBIs, 125 strikeouts and only 64 hits. And you shouldn’t be flabbergasted to learn that the all-time list of players who have had numbers that gruesome consists of, well, nobody. Heck, only three other players in history have even had twice as many strikeouts as hits (in a season of 100 or more whiffs): Rob Deer (175-80 in 1991), Dave Nicholson (126-60 in 1964) and Mark McGwire (118-56 in 2001). But at least those fellows made a few home run trots, or finished over the Mendoza Line.

Great! So we’ve already seen Jeff Kent try to be the worst cleanup hitter of the last 50 years, now we’ve got a contender for Worst Offensive Season in Baseball History. Two terms you definitely want associated with two of your supposed power bats, right?

Things are looking pretty great right now. All-Star Break can’t come quickly enough.

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

I Know it’s the 4th of July…

…you’ll be busy. You’ll have a family barbeque to get to, a local fireworks celebration – whatever it is you do to enjoy a national holiday. Really, if you’re actually reading this post right now, I’m a little disappointed in you. But I implore you, make some time in your day to catch the Dodger game (1pm PST). Because as you should already know, both Nomar Garciaparra and Andruw Jones have sped up their rehab in order to be available today. Tell me you’re not interested in seeing Nomar playing shortstop for the first time since 2005! Especially now that it’s been another year and nine more injuries since “he’s too fragile to play third base” was offered as a reason that he couldn’t be shifted across the infield from first base to make room for James Loney. And you know you want to see if Jones is going to offer any glimpse of the player he once was, especially since his rehab was originally supposed to end a full two weeks from now on July 18th. I know it’s only 3 minor league games, but he did go 4-8 with a homer and a stolen base in Vegas – and zero strikeouts. Is it possible that the knee really was the source of his problems? I guess we’ll have to see. But if he can come back and be even half of his former self, that would still help this power-starved team and be a massive improvement on the guy who was approximately 1/100000th of his old self earlier this year.

Of course, bringing both of these guys back will require some roster moves, especially for Nomar because, having been placed on the 60 day DL, he’s no longer on the 40-man roster. Ken Gurnick of Dodgers.com says:

The Dodgers will need to make two roster moves to make room for the veterans. Newly arrived outfielder Jason Repko is one likely candidate. The other could come from a group of bench players, including Angel Berroa, Andy LaRoche and Mark Sweeney.

Repko, fine. Yeah, it’s only been seven at-bats, but the four K’s and zero hits haven’t exactly made much of an impression. Get an OF back in Jones, send one down in Repko. But here’s the thing, Ken. There’s a bunch of guys that could get the axe for Nomar. Angel Berroa’s got an OPS+ of 27, to the surprise of absolutely no one except Ned Colletti. With Nomar around, Berroa and Luis Maza seem a little redundant – and Maza’s OPS+ is 44, which is still bad, but at least he can play second as well. Mark Sweeney may be the most useless player the Dodgers have ever had, and yes, I do remember Jason Grabowski. He’s hitting .094, for chrissakes. There’s even a case to be made for sending down Blake DeWitt, now that he’s down to hitting .169 over the last month. The point is, there’s a lot of filler on the roster right now. However, in no way should Andy LaRoche be considered among them. I know, he’s not really lit the league on fire yet. But unlike Berroa, Maza, and Sweeney, he’s actually got a future. 30 big league at-bats is hardly enough to decide what it is. If Andy LaRoche is the one sent down for Nomar… well, that might be the end of this blog entirely, because I don’t know if I could ever rationally write about this team again.

On to trade rumor news, because that’s always a topic I find endlessly fascinating. First, the shortstop problem. We’ve discussed the possibility of David Eckstein before, and although I wasn’t really for it, I understood why he might be in the conversation. Well, hopefully this juxtaposition from the Toronto Sun can put an end to that right here and now:

It’s no surprise that the Blue Jays are shopping right-hander A.J. Burnett.

But what they’re looking for in return certainly is.

The Jays are looking to obtain a shortstop in talks with other teams.

Wait, the Jays have two shortstops, Eckstein and John McDonald. Why would they want another?

“They’re offering Burnett to any team that needs pitching,” said an American League general manager. “They’ve told us they’re not happy with either David Eckstein or John McDonald.”

McDonald signed a two-year contract for $3.8 million last fall and before spring training the Jays signed Eckstein to a one-year deal worth $4.5 million. Eckstein has had problems in the field while McDonald is hitting .163 in 29 games.

Manager Cito Gaston has given as much playing time at short to Marco Scutaro, who was signed as an utility infielder.

Fantastic. The Jays are in last place and even they can’t stomach Eckstein. I especially like the “has had problems in the field” part of this. I know the Dodgers are desperate at SS… but not that desperate, right?

Finally, C.C. Sabathia, also known as “an expensive starting pitcher the Dodgers simply do not need, yet the media seems to insist that they do”. I can’t find the video, unfortunately, but my eyes nearly fell out of my head watching Tim Kurkjian on ESPN last night saying that the Dodgers “desperately need a starting pitcher”. Yes, the fact that the Dodgers have the #1 pitching staff in the NL (by ERA), a bonafide young ace in Chad Billingsley, and a lousy offense shouts “more pitching!” Well, Ken Rosenthal is reporting the Brewers are jumping into this with both feet, saying:

The Brewers’ offer for Sabathia includes Class AA left fielder Matt LaPorta, according to sources with two other clubs that are interested in acquiring the pitcher.

Class AA shortstop Alcides Escobar also may be in the Brewers’ proposed deal, one of the sources says.

To put this into Dodgers terms, consider sending Matt Kemp and Chin-Lung Hu – plus likely more since LaPorta is considered an even better hitting prospect than Kemp. How many times can I say “pass”?

Have a happy holiday, folks.

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