MSTI’s 2009 in Review: Second Base

85toppsorlandohudsonOrlando Hudson (B-)
(.283/.357/.417 9hr 62rbi)

It’s one thing to get off to a hot start, and it’s quite another to introduce yourself to your new team by hitting for the cycle in the home opener, isn’t it? Despite the fact that I was so fervently against giving Arizona a first round pick to sign him in the offseason, even I had to give him props when he hit .332/.407/.469 through the first two months of the season.

But there was a big problem with that outstanding start to his Dodger career, and it’s that his amazing first impression seemed to color everyone’s impression of him for the rest of the season. I started getting worried about him as far back as July, when I was doing our mid-season reviews and giving him credit for his nice first half. In the same review, I pointed out:

So why just the B grade? Because while Hudson may have made an enormous first impression (come on, a cycle in your first home game for your new team? Who does that?) I think it may have obscured just how horrible he’s been over the second half of the first half. (Shut up, that’s a thing.)

Apr. 6 – May 13: 35 games, .348/.429/.539
May 14 – Jul. 10: 49 games, .237/.300/.320

For some reason baseball-reference hasn’t updated to include yesterday’s games yet, so I am missing his 2-homer outburst in that latter section, but still: the difference is glaring. You’d like to think that was the start of something, because at some point he’s going to need to turn this around, or all of the good feelings of April are going to dissipate.

Hudson picked it up some from his horrible June stretch, but an OPS that had been over .900 in May still fell to as low as .768 in September. With Ronnie Belliard’s contributions upon arriving, it was absolutely the right decision to bench Hudson for him.  So what we ended up with was a year that was average overall (104 OPS+, exactly in line with his previous years), but was put up by two completely different players. But hey, at least he cost a first round pick! Let’s hope that can be recouped by offering him arbitration, especially since in regards to any possibility of a return next year, I’d say this quote from Baseball Prospectus about sums it up:

Second baseman Orlando Hudson, stung by being benched in favor of Ronnie Belliard in the playoffs, has no desire to re-sign with the Dodgers as a free agent.

Fine by me, because he was good, but not great. Thanks for the season, Orlando, especially for being a complete professional about being benched (Hudson has always had a fantastic reputation in that sense), and best of luck in your non-Dodger future. But mostly, best of luck to the Dodgers in terms of recouping the draft picks and getting more bang out of second base next year.

85toppsronniebelliardRonnie Belliard (A)
(.351/.398/.636 5hr 17rbi)

It’s tempting to compare Belliard to the last late-season veteran import from Washington, Marlon Anderson, but what Anderson did was so far out of whack that it’s hard to compare anything to that. Still, Belliard was fantastic upon his arrival in LA – especially compared to the less-than-enthusiastic welcome I gave him: 

Well… I guess? I suppose this is related to Ken Gurnick’s report that the Dodgers were looking for a run-producing bat off the bench, but I’m not exactly sure that this qualifies. 

Still, I am proud that I was able to point how hot he’d been in Washington out:

Though Belliard’s had a few roughly league-average seasons, he’s hitting a brutal .247/.297/.376 this season, almost exclusively as a second baseman and pinch-hitter. To be fair, since his OPS cratered at .459 (!!) on July 1, Belliard’s hit a nice .323/.380/.475 in 35 games (20 starts).

Which is basically the line that he was able to produce in LA, just with even more added power. Joe Torre got a lot of heat for starting Belliard over Hudson in the playoffs, but when one guy is so hot and the other is so cold – and there’s not a huge difference between them anyway – you can’t be faulted for that.

For next year, I’m not really dying to have Belliard back – his performance in LA is hardly sustainable – but it wouldn’t surprise me all that much if he won people over with his hot September.

85toppstonyabreuTony Abreu (so long!)
(.250/.455/.250 0hr 1rbi)

Ugh. This one is going to kill me. Well, gee, let’s see. You’ve got a giant hole at second base opening up after the season. You’ve got a talented young player who’s finally overcome injuries and is dominating at AAA, and even has already had a taste of the majors, to boot.

And… you trade that young player to a division rival just so you can get 6 decent starts that you probably didn’t really need, especially when Jon Garland didn’t even appear in the playoffs.

Look, Abreu may not be a superstar, though there’s something to be said about a middle infielder who has a .916 OPS in AAA in 2007, misses all of 2008, and then returns to be even better with a .999 AAA OPS. (Yes, I know Vegas and Albuquerque inflate offensive stats somewhat – still, those are good numbers.) For 6 relatively meaningless starts of Garland, you’ve just handed this player to the Diamondbacks.  I hated the trade from Day 1, saying:

Look, if it’s Abreu, I’m going to be really unhappy. He’s a 24-year-old with a .991 OPS in AAA this year, and looks to finally have put his career back on track after two years of injuries. With Orlando Hudson headed back into free agency this offseason, I was strongly in favor of letting him walk and giving Abreu a crack at the second base job. Now – again, if it’s him – the Dodgers have just handed a division rival an excellent prospect for 5 mediocre starts of Jon Garland?  

Survey says… We’ll of course have more to say on this once we know who the player is going back to Arizona. Right now, the feeling is more “worried” with a good chance of “horrified“. 

Yep. “Horrified” is about right. What an awful move. Then again, with all we’ve learned about the issues in the owners’ box, this might be another instance of Colletti’s hands being tied by cheap management. The D-Backs took on all of Garland’s remaining salary for the chance to get back a better prospect, just like how the Indians did for Casey Blake to get Carlos Santana. Please, why won’t they sell?

Next: Casey Blake’s beard! Mark Loretta’s corpse! Blake DeWitt’s frequent flyer miles! It’s third base!

NLDS Game 2: Electric Boogaloo

The official blog gives us the news that the lineup is going to be exactly the same today as it was yesterday.

I can already hear the complaining. “How can you keep Ronnie Belliard in over Orlando Hudson? Belliard botched the pop in the first inning, allowing a run to score! Belliard struck out twice against a mediocre version of Chris Carpenter! FREE ORLANDO HUDSON! BOOO! BOOO!”

broxtonshakesmartin.jpgTo which I say: shush. As I’ve been saying for a while, you have to start Belliard in this game. You can claim small sample size all you want, but there’s got to be something to Belliard having an 1.110 OPS in 11 at-bats against Adam Wainwright, while Orlando Hudson has just a .200 mark in 10 at-bats. In what’s become almost a second base time-share, Belliard always had to start this game.

Now, if you want to say that Hudson should have started Game 1 because neither could have been expected to do much against Carpenter and at least you’d get Hudson’s superior defense, I wouldn’t have argued that. I’d just ask you to remember that Belliard did get on base three times yesterday, and helped start a crucial double-play to short-circuit what could have been a big Cardinal rally in the first inning.

Besides, if this game comes down to the miniscule difference right now between Hudson and Belliard, we’re all in big trouble anyway. No, tonight is all about Clayton Kershaw on the main stage, blowing away Redbirds left and right. Hopefully, anyway.

Don’t forget to join us over at the MSTI Facebook page tonight!

What the What?

belliardhits.jpgLineups for Game 1 of the NLDS are in: (hat tip Dodger Thoughts)

Rafael Furcal, SS
Matt Kemp, CF
Andre Ethier, LF
Manny Ramirez, LF
James Loney, 1B
Casey Blake, 3B
Ronnie Belliard, 2B
Russell Martin, C
Randy Wolf, P

Wait, Belliard over Orlando Hudson? They had basically shared the job for the month of September, so on the surface that shouldn’t be all that surprising. But what is surprising is that you absolutely have to start Belliard in Game 2 against Adam Wainwright, just based on what I wrote in my “reasons to be happy to face the Cardinals” post a few days ago:

3) The Dodgers have a great history of hitting Adam Wainwright.

Six Dodgers have had eleven or more at-bats in their careers against Wainwright, and five have had great success – and the one who hasn’t is Brad Ausmus, who won’t be facing him anyway.

dodgersstatsvswainwright.jpgLook at those OPS numbers! What will be really interesting will be the second base decision in that game; as you can see, Ron Belliard has done very well against Wainwright, but Orlando Hudson, who would have been next on this list, has just one hit in ten at-bats against him. 

There’s no way you don’t start Belliard against Wainwright in Game 2; not only has he hit him in the (admittedly small sample size) past, but Hudson has had terrible luck against him. That being the case, are you really going to start Belliard the first two games and relegate Hudson to a full-fledged bench player? Neither one can hit Chris Carpenter a lick (combined 1 single in 14 tries), so there’s no sense in playing the numbers there.

I suppose this also means the Dodgers are confident in Belliard’s hamstring, despite his missing a week and getting just one at-bat in the season finale. Or maybe it was just the fact that Hudson ended the season on a 1-13 tear that caused them to make that call. So I’m okay with this, as long as Belliard starts in Game 2 as well.

In other news, a bit of a surprise comes with Vicente Padilla being named the Game 3 starter over Chad Billingsley, with Billingsley going in Game 4. You’d think I’d be mad about this - the veteran retread picked up for free getting the nod over the talented young star who I’ve advocated for.

But you know what? I’m not. Billingsley still gets a start – this isn’t Padilla and Jon Garland over Billingsley – and Padilla was so dominant against the Rockies on Sunday that it’s hard to not want to see that again. Besides, Padilla’s had great success against these Cardinals, allowing just one homer in 73 plate appearances (and that to Troy Glaus, who might not even play) and has been especially crushing to Mark DeRosa, who’s hitting just .182 in 24 shots against Padilla.

So I get it. And I don’t mind it that much. I just can’t wrap my head around the fact that Vicente Padilla is the Game 3 starter in the NLDS. Not Chad Billingsley. Not Hiroki Kuroda. Vicente Padilla. Face=melt.

God, I love the playoffs.

I Told You That Game Would Be Interesting!

Sure, they lost, in a particularly ugly fashion. But it really doesn’t matter. So much happened!

billingsleyvsnats.jpgWelcome back, Chad Billingsley

Yes, he hung a breaking ball to Ryan Zimmerman that ended up in the left field bullpen for a three run homer that tainted his night. Yes, there’s a bit of a worry that he imploded again in the 5th or 6th inning. But you know what? I’m taking this as a win, a big win. 4 walks is of course not a great thing, but taking a no-hitter (with 9 K’s!) into the 6th inning? Uh, yeah. I’ll take that just about any day, thanks.

Look, if Billingsley’s only an effective pitcher for 5 innings, that’s a problem going forth in his career. But for this season? With the Dodgers bullpen as effective as it is, that’s just fine for the playoffs. Let others cling to some antiquated notion that a starter must be some sort of horse who collects 26 of his 27 outs by himself; if Billingsley starts a Game 3 or 4 and leaves after 5 or 6 effective innings to turn the game over to the likes of Hong-Chih Kuo, Ronald Belisario, Ramon Troncoso, George Sherrill, and Jonathan Broxton, I am more than okay with that.

It’s unfortunate that Billingsley is probably going to look back on this night and think of the homer (to Ryan Zimmerman, of all people – that’s hardly something to be ashamed of, as it was his 31st of the year) but with how badly he’s struggled, this is definitely something to build on.

ERA can be as stupid as wins sometimes!

One earned run here or there doesn’t usually make for a big deal, but when you’re George Sherrill and you enter the game with a 0.40 ERA, it sure does. Sherrill’s ERA nearly doubled to 0.77 because of some awful Dodger defense – none of which went down as errors, so the run was earned.

With the scored tied in the 8th, Sherrill entered and gave up one hit, one easy flyout to left-center that Matt Kemp and Manny Ramirez let drop in between them, and then, with one out, a perfect double play ball up the middle… that Orlando Hudson threw wide of first, allowing the run to score.

In the books, that’s one run on two hits and a fielder’s choice. Funny how that doesn’t reflect two lousy defensive plays that victimized Sherrill.

When will Orlando Hudson get his wrist replaced with adamantium?

I watched this game in a bar in New York City’s Sullivan Square (yeah, you can imagine their reaction when I asked for the Dodgers/Nationals game), and when I saw Hudson crumple to the ground grabbing his twice-injured wrist, I couldn’t believe it. “Three years in a row!!”, I yelled incredulously. While the replay didn’t look that bad – by which I mean, in my completely non-medical opinion, I couldn’t see an obvious break or injury – the fact is, the man’s wrist is made of paper mache. We’ll have to wait to see how bad it is, but good lord. Speaking of which… 

Hey, anyone still think Ronnie Belliard’s hurting the team?

Two more hits and a walk? Check.

Much more neccessary now that Hudson may miss some time? Check.

Go ahead, FanGraphs. Bash him now.

First Impressions Are Far Too Important

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the baseball season is too long to look at season stats. Streaks happen, injuries happen, and just because a guy was good 6 months or 6 years ago doesn’t neccessarily mean he’s any good right now. Think about this – Chad Billingsley has a 4.05 ERA in 184.1 IP this season, and Cole Hamels has a 4.07 ERA in 177 IP. Identical, right? Well, who would you rather have out on the mound right now

hudsonruns.jpgIt’s with this in mind that we take a look at the suddenly simmering second base “controversy” between Ronnie Belliard and Orlando Hudson. Belliard’s been hot and has started in each of the last two games over Hudson, leading some to wonder who would be the starter when the playoffs start.

For his part, Hudson has been nothing but professional about the situation, and it’s worth pointing out:

After Sunday’s game, Hudson said he felt fine physically but conceded “I haven’t been doing the job.”

“My man Belliard came in, they made a great trade to get him in here and he’s doing a great job at second base,” Hudson said. “All I can do is cheer for him.”

Almost weird to see that, isn’t it? Guys whine all the time, but here we have Hudson taking responsibility for his own performance, or lack thereof. It’s great. Take a hint, 90% of professional athletes!

Anyway, there’s no question that Belliard’s been far outplaying Hudson lately. In addition to being absolutely on fire over the last week (2 homers and a 1.500 OPS), Belliard’s done nothing but hit since joining LA (.304/.339/.589 in 18 games) and had actually started hitting weeks before the trade – as I said at the time:

To be fair, since his OPS cratered at .459 (!!) on July 1, Belliard’s hit a nice .323/.380/.475 in 35 games (20 starts).

Meanwhile, Hudson’s been lousy, as even he’d admit. He has just one hit in the last week, and over the last month his line is an underwhelming .266/.329/.359. If he keeps this up, it will be his second month of 2009 with an OPS in the .600s (awful) and fourth with an OPS under .800 (mediocre for a middle infielder, unacceptable anywhere else). In fact, I was worried about him as far back as our midseason review series

So why just the B grade? Because while Hudson may have made an enormous first impression (come on, a cycle in your first home game for your new team? Who does that?) I think it may have obscured just how horrible he’s been over the second half of the first half. (Shut up, that’s a thing.)

Apr. 6 – May 13: 35 games, .348/.429/.539
May 14 – Jul. 10: 49 games, .237/.300/.320

For some reason baseball-reference hasn’t updated to include yesterday’s games yet, so I am missing his 2-homer outburst in that latter section, but still: the difference is glaring. You’d like to think that was the start of something, because at some point he’s going to need to turn this around, or all of the good feelings of April are going to dissipate.

And while his July and August weren’t as horrible as his June, nor were they all that great. This gets us back to my point; the perception of Hudson as a great player is largely due to his outstanding Dodger debut; his play over the last four months just hasn’t backed that up. (This is exactly the same phenomenon that we saw when Juan Pierre filled in for Manny during 99′s suspension – he was great for the first two weeks, horrible for the last three, yet far too many people recapped the entire stretch as great. What if he’d been horrible for the first three? He likely doesn’t get a chance to be horrible for two more.)

Now, this story has been picked up by FanGraphs, a site I greatly respect and link to often. This isn’t going to be Plaschke-esque, but let’s just say, I don’t agree.

If you haven’t been following the Dodgers of late, there’s an interesting development down in LA – Joe Torre has decided to give a significant chunk of the playing time at second base to Ronnie Belliard, sending Orlando Hudson to the bench in the process.

With most personnel decisions in baseball, there’s a gray area where a legitimate point could be argued for either side. This is not one of those scenarios. Belliard is half the player Hudson is, at best, and if Torre is actually contemplating swapping the two out as his team heads into the postseason, then the man should have his sanity questioned.

I don’t really expect a lot of people to jump on the “Belliard over Hudson” train – and to be fair, I’m not even saying it’s a must-do, because we’ll see if Belliard can keep up his streak until October – but just judging by their second-half OPS lines (.882 for Belliard, .758 for Hudson), it’s a little harsh to say there’s not even an argument for the guy who’s winning OPS by nearly 130 points.

Hudson is a known quantity, and a productive one at that. His .342 wOBA so far this season is basically a dead even match for his .339 career mark. He’s a good contact hitter with some gap power and draws a fair share of walks, making him an above average hitter overall. UZR thinks his defense has been in decline, but still thinks he’s around average with the glove.

The total package makes Hudson a slightly better than average player – he’s been worth +2.2 and +3.3 wins in each of the last five years. He’s consistently a quality asset, and certainly the kind of guy you can win a world title with as your second baseman.

belliardhits.jpgSee, this is what I mean about relying too heavily on seasonal stats. A .342 wOBA is all well and good, and if Hudson had put up that line consistently all year and was still that player now, then great! This isn’t even a question. But you can’t just put that stat out there and pretend that the guy who’s putting up a .643 OPS in September is the same guy who put up a .941 OPS in April. Sure, it all counts towards the season total, but what happened in April isn’t going to get us base hits now. If it did, then Chad Billingsley would still be an ace instead of a disaster.

Besides, Belliard’s career wOBA – from FanGraphs‘ own site – is .330. Not as good as Hudson… but not all that far off, either.

Oh, and this fun stat line based on that last statement:

World Series won by teams with Orlando Hudson playing 2B: 0
World Series won by teams with Ronnie Belliard playing 2B: 1 (2006 Cardinals)

It’s really neither here nor there – Albert Pujols and Chris Carpenter probably had a little to do with that title – but since they’re making that claim, I couldn’t help but bring it up.

Belliard simply is an inferior player to Hudson. His entire production bump since the trade to LA is a function of a 25% HR/FB rate that has allowed him to slug .589 in 18 games. If you think that’s sustainable, I’ve got a bridge to sell you. Belliard is a swing-at-anything hack without the contact or power to make that kind of approach work. In 204 plate appearances before the Nationals shipped him to LA, he posted a .297 wOBA.

Belliard is an inferior player… except for all of the varied statistics that show that right now, on September 21, 2009, he’s not. Hey, he could go 1 for his next 20 and it wouldn’t completely surprise me – he’s Ronnie Belliard, not Chase Utley – but the fact is, he’s now completing his second solid month of being excellent. Hey, he wouldn’t be the first guy to get the juices flowing after moving from the worst team in baseball to a pennant race, would he?  

He’s not a defensive wizard. He doesn’t run well. He’s not as good of a hitter. The only thing Belliard can outdo Hudson in would be some kind of eating competition.

There’s no question that Belliard’s not as good of a defender, and I wouldn’t dream of making that comparison. Let’s not overrate Hudson too far, though. As the article even states, UZR has Hudson as average at best, and considering that we spent four years watching Jeff Kent, that is like moving up from Keith Partridge to Audrina Patridge, but it’s still just average. It’s nice, but it’s not vintage-era Hudson.

When October rolls around, Torre better have Hudson installed back at second base and Belliard on the bench where he belongs. Any other alignment will be a blow to the Dodgers chance of winning a World Series.

And if Hudson finally remembers how to hit and Belliard’s streak ends, then I’m all for it. Until then? Look, I haven’t forgotten my own lesson – first impressions get far too much credibility, and we’re watching Ronnie Belliard make a fantastic first impression. I’m well aware that it can fall apart at any second. The point is, Hudson’s been struggling for some time and Belliard’s been killing the ball. Why not ride the hot hand, and if this extends into the playoffs, so be it. At the very least, it’s hard to kill Joe Torre for somehow making his team worse by starting who is – at the moment – the better player.