MSTI.com’s 2008 in Review: Second Base

On to our second base review, and no, I didn’t forget Blake DeWitt – he’ll be included under third base, since that’s where he played most of the season.

Jeff Kent ()
(.280/.327/.418 12hr 59rbi)
What a wild year for Mr. Friendly, right? When summing up a season, I always like to look back and see what we thought about him at various points in time. But few players have had all of these things written about them in the course of the same season:

May 21: “Just in Case Jeff Kent Needs Some Motivation…

Think about that. If Jeff Kent keeps up his current pace and Joe Torre continues to bat him cleanup, he’s going to be the second worst cleanup hitter of the last fifty years – and as the THT article explains, Aramis Ramirez was only so bad in 2002 because he played all year on a destroyed ankle.

July 13: “Too Many Problems, Whatcha Gonna Do

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.

Aug. 30: “Eight is Enough

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?

Aug. 31: “Jeff Kent’s Dodger Legacy” (Dodger Thoughts)

Jeff Kent, whose Dodger career began at age 37, is the greatest-hitting second baseman in Los Angeles Dodger history.

Sept. 2: “Are the Dodgers Better Off Without Jeff Kent?

This is hardly a solid cause-and-effect, but with Kent, the Dodgers had lost 10 of their last 11 games. As soon as he was out of town (and not just out of the lineup. The whole point here is the idea that just his presence may have been detrimental), they’ve ripped off four wins in a row, starting with Saturday’s game, since as the article notes, he left before it.

Sept. 21: “Sunday, Bloody Sunday

Say friends, did you also know that, yesterday, the Dodgers activated Jeff Kent?  You know, the one who just had knee surgery TWO weeks ago.

And so forth. I could go on, but I think you get the idea – Jeff Kent’s (likely) swan song was a wild ride of ups, downs, injuries, downs, postseason benchings, and downs. For the record, his 77 OPS+ out of the cleanup spot merely ties him for the third worst cleanup season of all time, and he’s still a lousy defensive second baseman (last of 16 qualified MLB 2B in range factor, 14th in fielding %, 12th in zone rating), although it’s not like anyone thought he’d be anything otherwise.

That said, 2008 wasn’t a complete debacle for Kent. Any discussion of his statistics has to of course begin with the standard age-related disclaimer: the man is 40 years old. In that light, putting up a seasonal 95 OPS+ isn’t that bad. Only five 40 year olds have managed to play most of a full season at second base since 1961, and the most productive of that group was Tony Phillips for the 1999 A’s, who put up a 108 OPS+, so Kent’s not that far off. Simply put, it’s pretty rare for anyone his age to still be a starting second baseman, and the fact that he very nearly was a league-average hitter is pretty impressive. Among all 2008 second basemen, his .745 OPS ranks him 16th, which is just about the middle of the pack, but still above names like Rickie Weeks, Robinson Cano, and Akinori Iwamura. And just like any old man, Kent was wildly unpredictable. Sometimes he’s fondly remembering his date with that cute nurse right after V-E Day (OPS of .750 or better in April, June, and August), and sometimes he’s wildly cursing at John F. Kennedy and the damn Demmycrats ruining the country (.551 OPS in May).

Almost as importantly, Kent seems to have not ignited any clubhouse fires this season, although I’ve always felt that most of the “young immature guys” vs. “get off my lawn!” battles were hugely media-driven because they make for good copy. Hell, Matt Kemp even said that he and Kent listened to Lil’ Wayne before games to get pumped up, and while I’m not sold that that’s 100% true, Kemp probably wouldn’t have even joked about if it he was afraid Professor Kent was going to sit him down, rap his knuckles with a ruler, and educate him about the days when men were men and all we needed to toughen up the god damn hippies was to send them to ‘Nam.

You know, the more I write these things, the more I realize that I think of Jeff Kent as Red Forman from That 70′s Show.

Anyway, Kent doesn’t get a letter grade. You can’t give him an A or a B because he simply wasn’t all that great, but I can’t see giving him a C or a D because he’s doing things at his age and position that almost no one has done before. So Jeff, take your gold watch and ride off into the sunset of Texas on your motorcycle. We’ll miss you (his 2005 was excellent, he now holds the Dodger record for homers at ages 37, 38, 39, and 40, and as DodgerThoughts said, he might be the best LA 2B ever), but I can’t imagine that anyone is really pining for you to return next year - and we will respectfully stay far, far away from your lawn.

Luis Maza (inc.)
(.228/.282/.278 1hr 4rbi)
Ah, Luis Maza, the 2008 winner of the “Token Minor League Lifer Who Gets Called Up That Even MSTI Has Never Heard of Before”. Previous winners include Wilson Valdez, 2007, and Brian Myrow, 2005. Maza was only up for about two months from mid-May to mid-July, and to no one’s surprise, he didn’t really do much at the plate, which is basically what you expect from a middle infielder who’s making his major league debut at age 28. To his credit, Maza destroyed the PCL (.378/.450/.492) in 2008, but here’s the really odd thing about him: when you have a middle infielder who can’t hit big-league pitching, you really expect that he’s a plus glove. There’s been about a billion of these guys over the years, to the point that they really ought to start their own union like the backup catchers club. But Luis Maza may have had the worst throwing arm of any middle infielder I’ve seen in my entire life. This is what I said after his first game, a start at shortstop on May 16:

If you saw his start against Milwaukee yesterday, you’ll know that it won’t matter if he’s hitting .402 or .902 – we need him to never be at shortstop ever again. I’ve never seen a shortstop with such a weak arm, to the point that the Milwaukee broadcasters were trying to figure out what he was even doing in the majors.

Oh yeah. It’s always good when the opposing team’s announcers are making fun of your shortstop’s lollypop throws. I suppose the defining statement on the Dodger career of Luis Maza is that he was DFA’d not to make room for a returning injured player like Rafael Furcal or Nomar Garciaparra… but to get replaced by the equally dreadful Pablo Ozuna. Yikes. If that’s not a sign that it’s time to start working towards that carpentry degree, I don’t know what is.

Pablo Ozuna (inc.)
(.219/.242/.375 1hr 3rbi)
I’ll say this for Pablo Ozuna – I’ve never heard of a player making the playoff roster a month after getting DFA’d. And it wasn’t just a standard DFA, it was a “yeah, we could wait four more days until rosters expand and recall Blake DeWitt without losing you, but we’d rather just be rid of you right now.” I don’t want to be too harsh on Ozuna here, but let’s not mince words: he has no business being on the major league roster of a contending team. His career OPS+ is 76 (largely aided by his incredibly fluky 105 in 2006, since he never even hit 90 in any other season) and at 34, it’s not like there’s a lot of time for him to improve. Oh sure, he can play a lot of positions. Big deal, it’s not that hard to find a utility guy, and you could throw darts into the stands and hit at least twenty people who are better hitters.

At least we were consistent with him, though. I said his “continued presence blows my mind” on August 11th, called him “a stiff” and asked “what value he brings” on August 13th, “endlessly mediocre” on August 17th, and “completely useless” on August 27th.

Damn, I had no idea I laid so much hate on Pablo Ozuna in August. Nothing personal, Pablo. It’s just that I find you useless as a baseball player, and you’re the early lead for my “least favorite Dodger of 2008 (human division)”, and while I know what you’re thinking, what Andruw Jones accomplished this season was so monumentally awful that I don’t think any human could have done that if they tried.

- Mike Scioscia’s tragic illnessmsti-face.jpg

Welcome to the Playoff Roster, Jeff

Just in case there was any question left about whether Jeff Kent (or, as Vin likes to call him, “Anakent Baseclearer”, and since Vin made this excellent Photoshop, he can call him whatever he likes) was going to make the playoff roster, I’d say that’s about answered. Let’s do some math.

Kent playing the field on back to back nights + Kent crushing a ball into the left field seats + Torre being unlikely to let a veteran star go out on the sidelines = this man’s going to be a part of the final 25.

Speaking of the playoff roster, I’m going to make my final prediction from the original one I had made weeks ago. I’m making three changes – Brad Penny’s obviously not going to be there, I no longer have faith in Hong-Chih Kuo being there, and with both Kent and Nomar likely coming off the bench, that hopefully alleviates the “need” for Mark Sweeney.

Replacing Penny is going to be Greg Maddux. He was the hardest to leave off my list originally anyway, and that was before Torre said he’d “probably” use four starters if it went that far. Replacing Kuo? Believe it or not… Scott Proctor has probably forced his way onto the roster, because he’s been excellent since his return from the DL. I know – I was surprised too. But he was unscored upon in his first 7 outings (striking out 10 in 6.1 IP) until giving up one of the most bizarre home runs you’ll ever see tonight in San Francisco, and we all know he’s a Torre favorite. So he’s in too. As for the last spot… well, it’s anyone’s guess. Chin-Lung Hu or Pablo Ozuna for further infield depth? Delwyn Young for a switch-hitting bat off the bench? Sweeney for “veteranness”? I tend to think in such a short series, a 6th middle infielder isn’t really that important, and Sweeney just simply cannot hit. So it’s Young, right?

Well, not so fast, says Diamond Leung, and avert your eyes, because this is going to be horrifying:

Ozuna is now schedule to play in the outfield tomorrow, as he’s under consideration for the playoff roster due to his versatility.

You know, I was all ready to go into an epic rant about how bad Ozuna is and how much I’d rather see Young on the roster… but I just can’t. Contrary to what I had thought, Ozuna’s not just an infielder who’d made an emergency appearance in the outfield – he’s made 63 career appearances out there. And while I do think Ozuna is a big zero at the plate (career OPS+ of 76, and only 66 for LA), Young hasn’t been much better this year, with only a 71 OPS+. Now don’t get me wrong, because we’re still huge fans of Young’s around here (check out his crazy minor league stats in a post we made on him in June) and I think a huge reason for his lack of productivity is his sporadic at best playing time. But the playoffs are no time to work out the hitting kinks, and clearly he’s not a plus with the glove.

On the other hand, the fact that we’re even contemplating Ozuna for the postseason roster is completely mind-blowing considering that they thought so highly of him, they DFA’d him less than a month ago rather than waiting 4 more days for the rosters to expand. So who knows.

Which would make the roster like so:
C: Martin, Ardoin
IF: Loney, DeWitt, Furcal, Blake, Nomar, Kent, Berroa, Ozuna
OF: Manny, Kemp, Ethier, Pierre
P: Lowe, Billingsley, Kuroda, Kershaw, Maddux, Park, Beimel, Proctor, Wade, Broxton, Saito

As for where that team might be going… it’s really starting to look like Chicago, thanks to the Mets reprising their 2007 death spiral. The Phillies’ magic number is now down to 1, and the Brewers have won 5 straight to grab a 1 game lead in the Wild Card. So instead of getting to face a tired Mets or Phillies team, it looks like the Blue are going to have to face the well-rested best team in the League. Thanks, Mets!

I’d also like to ask a question: which scenario do you find more surprising? Blake DeWitt being the 2008 Opening Day third baseman… or Blake DeWitt (likely) being the starting second baseman in Game 1 of the NLDS?

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

Let’s Make Today Kershaw’s Last Start

Coming into today, Clayton Kershaw’s up to 151.1 innings pitched (90 MLB + 61.1 MiLB) on the season. Last year, entirely in the minors, Kershaw accumulated 122 innings, so he’s almost exactly 30 innings ahead of that pace. As we discussed briefly last week, it’s generally accepted that when young pitchers add more than 30 innings or so to their innings total from the year before, they’re entering the danger zone in which arm injuries become even more likely – and some take the view that he should be shut down for the season right now to protect that arm. Now, the Dodgers have said all year that 170 would be his limit, so he’s got about 19 innings left before we really start to get into trouble with him. He’s averaging 5 innings per start, so let’s assume that after today he’ll be up to 157 or so – although in his only other start at Coors, he only managed to make it through 3 innings, giving up 10 hits and 5 runs.
So why not take him out of the rotation after today? No, I’m not going to be so naive as to assume the division title is already sown up, though with each passing day it does look more likely. But if Kershaw’s only got 13 innings left on his arm this year, wouldn’t you rather use them in more important situations? Like out of the bullpen in October, or possibly starting a Game 4 in the NLDS? The Dodgers have a decent enough cushion to work with where they can reasonably take their 4th best starter out of the rotation in order to protect his arm. It’s not like there’s not a plethora of other starting options (Brad Penny, Eric Stults, Jason Johnson, Chan Ho Park, etc.) who could step in for a start or two.
Again, I won’t go so far as to call these games “meaningless” because we’ve all seen how quickly the tide can turn with this team. I’d just rather have the dual benefits of protecting the most valuable young arm in the organization and further strengthening what is already one of the best bullpens in baseball.
Speaking of improving the bullpen, welcome back Takashi Saito! After two months on the DL, he’s expected to be activated today. Of course, someone’s got to be dropped off of the 40-man roster to make room for him, and since the only man left on the 15-day DL (Jeff Kent) isn’t going to be moved onto the 60-day DL, it means that someone is going to have be DFA’d. To which I say, it has to be Pablo Ozuna, right? He’s only had 18 at-bats since coming to LA nearly two months ago, and since neither Nomar nor Chin-Lung Hu can buy their way into a game up the middle, it’s not like there’s not enough depth there to withstand his “loss” – especially with Rafael Furcal expected to be activated soon, and Kent perhaps soon after that.

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

Let’s Make Today Kershaw’s Last Start

Coming into today, Clayton Kershaw’s up to 151.1 innings pitched (90 MLB + 61.1 MiLB) on the season. Last year, entirely in the minors, Kershaw accumulated 122 innings, so he’s almost exactly 30 innings ahead of that pace. As we discussed briefly last week, it’s generally accepted that when young pitchers add more than 30 innings or so to their innings total from the year before, they’re entering the danger zone in which arm injuries become even more likely – and some take the view that he should be shut down for the season right now to protect that arm. Now, the Dodgers have said all year that 170 would be his limit, so he’s got about 19 innings left before we really start to get into trouble with him. He’s averaging 5 innings per start, so let’s assume that after today he’ll be up to 157 or so – although in his only other start at Coors, he only managed to make it through 3 innings, giving up 10 hits and 5 runs.

So why not take him out of the rotation after today? No, I’m not going to be so naive as to assume the division title is already sown up, though with each passing day it does look more likely. But if Kershaw’s only got 13 innings left on his arm this year, wouldn’t you rather use them in more important situations? Like out of the bullpen in October, or possibly starting a Game 4 in the NLDS? The Dodgers have a decent enough cushion to work with where they can reasonably take their 4th best starter out of the rotation in order to protect his arm. It’s not like there’s not a plethora of other starting options (Brad Penny, Eric Stults, Jason Johnson, Chan Ho Park, etc.) who could step in for a start or two.

Again, I won’t go so far as to call these games “meaningless” because we’ve all seen how quickly the tide can turn with this team. I’d just rather have the dual benefits of protecting the most valuable young arm in the organization and further strengthening what is already one of the best bullpens in baseball.

Speaking of improving the bullpen, welcome back Takashi Saito! After two months on the DL, he’s expected to be activated today. Of course, someone’s got to be dropped off of the 40-man roster to make room for him, and since the only man left on the 15-day DL (Jeff Kent) isn’t going to be moved onto the 60-day DL, it means that someone is going to have be DFA’d. To which I say, it has to be Pablo Ozuna, right? He’s only had 18 at-bats since coming to LA nearly two months ago, and since neither Nomar nor Chin-Lung Hu can buy their way into a game up the middle, it’s not like there’s not enough depth there to withstand his “loss” – especially with Rafael Furcal expected to be activated soon, and Kent perhaps soon after that.

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

I Can’t Wait Until Vin Confuses the Blake Third Basemen

Tony Jackson with the scoop:

Blake DeWitt recalled, Pablo Ozuna DFA’d

Didn’t see this one coming. Guess is has something to do with the team’s sagging offense. DeWitt was batting .500 (11 for 22) over a four-game stretch that ended on Saturday, but according to his day-by-day stats on milb.com, he hasn’t played since. Not sure why, but I’ll try to find out. … Ozuna had become nothing more than a late-inning defensive replacement and pinch runner, but I would imagine if he clears waivers, he’ll be back next week. … A few minutes ago, the club also announced that Cory Wade was coming off the DL and that Tanyon Sturtze had been DFA’d, but they quickly retracted that. Not sure why, unless they decided to wait a couple of days because Cory is still sore.

The first move is a win all around, even though I had wanted DeWitt replaced for quite some time before he actually was. Forget DeWitt’s recent hot streak in the minors, because Pablo Ozuna is completely useless, and even a slumping DeWitt has more value than Ozuna does. Also, DeWitt is a superior fielder to Casey Blake, which has the dual value of A) improving the Dodger defense in the late innings and especially B) giving Joe Torre a viable alternative other than Russell Martin at third base. Plus, DeWitt’s been playing a lot of second in the minors, so perhaps we’ll get a chance to see if he can handle the spot and toss his hat into consideration for replacing Jeff Kent next year.

As for the almost move? Well, I have to say I’m impressed that it actually was going to be Sturtze rather than Ramon Troncoso or Jason Johnson. But the fact that they changed their minds worries me. Is Wade still hurt? Everything we had heard pointed to his stay on the DL being the absolute minimum. And if so, why was it announced and then retracted? There’s obviously a lot more to this story, so we’ll have to see.

Bottom line, Blake DeWitt > Pablo Ozuna, and I can’t imagine any argument to the contrary. Good to see the kid back.

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