I Don’t Know Why These Things Surprise Me

I don’t want to ignore last night’s win, which for all the doom-and-gloom around here, was actually the 5th win in the last 7 games – despite a less than stellar outing from Hiroki Kuroda. Andre Ethier continues to be a destroyer of worlds, and Jonathan Broxton showed once again that he’ll do just fine if you actually let him pitch more than once a week. All well and good. It’s just that with Jeff Weaver (last night’s winner, despite throwing just 6 pitches) and Manny Ramirez coming off the disabled list, two players had to be removed to make room for them. And even though we all knew exactly what was going to happen – that it would be John Ely and Xavier Paul – the fact that it actually did go down this way is no less disappointing. To recap, this is what I said yesterday, in advance of either Weaver or Manny being activated:

Could it be that this is finally the end of Ramon Ortiz? A man can dream. Plus, Xavier Paul got on base three times last night and stole a base, while Garret Anderson flew out as a pinch-hitter. With Manny coming back this weekend as well… well, I won’t get my hopes up. Let’s just say, if I could get rid of both members of the “old guy DFA tracker” at the same time, life would be good.

Now let me be completely clear; I never in a million years thought that the right moves here (dumping Ramon Ortiz and Garret Anderson) would both happen. That’s just not the m.o. of this team. But after Ely’s 7K/0BB outing while taking a shutout into the 7th, and Paul’s outstanding productivity, it wasn’t too much to think that just one of these things could happen, right?

Let’s start with the more egregious offense, keeping Anderson over Paul. Garret Anderson, as you’ve read here so many times, is done. Cooked. Unplayable. I mean, I know it’s a small sample size, but his OPS+ is 4. Four. He’s got two hits in the last three weeks. In his last 30 plate appearances, he’s got 2 hits and 1 walk against 9 strikeouts. He offers zero value in the field, and he’s actually making me yearn for Mark Sweeney at the plate. Paul, on the other hand, has been outstanding. Since an 0-5 in his first game, he’s been killing it: .333/.385/.583, with 3 stolen bases and a strong arm in the outfield.

So what’s the rationale here? Sure, some would say that Paul needs to play every day in the minors, but I disagree. This isn’t a raw prospect like Dee Gordon or Trayvon Robinson here. Paul’s 25 years old, and no one expects him to take over a starting job next year. His ceiling with the Dodgers is likely as a 4th outfielder anyway, so why not let him do it right now? No, the reason is something much more ridiculous: Joe Torre liked Anderson’s RBI single the other night.

“Hopefully that gets him started,” said Manager Joe Torre. “That was a nice situation for him. That’s the experience he showed you there. Not trying to do too much, just serving the ball the other way.”

That single, by the way, was a softly hit ball up the middle that scored a run in a game the Dodgers would lose 11-3. It’s not that I didn’t see this coming; immediately after I wrote on Twitter:

I’m happy that Garret Anderson just put an RBI on the board for the Dodgers, but less so that the hit probably bought him another month.

And… that’s exactly what’s happened. With the start the Dodgers are off to, every game counts even more. And the Dodgers chose to keep the far, far inferior player just because he’s got creamy veteran goodness. Or pictures of Joe Torre abusing a horse, I don’t know.

On the pitching side, choosing Ortiz over Ely isn’t quite as bad, but it’s still pretty terrible. You could make the case that since Ely had just started, you’d prefer to have an extra arm in the pen for the next few days. Which is fine, but what it now means is that (since Ely can’t be recalled for 10 days unless another pitcher goes on the DL), Ely’s Tuesday start will have to be taken by Carlos Monasterios (with Ortiz probably backing him up)… thus depleting your bullpen anyway. I’m not saying Ely’s the next big thing – he’s hardly a top prospect – but of his 13 innings this year, 10 have been scoreless. His last start was arguably the best one the Dodgers have seen in two weeks, and this is a team desperate for pitching.

So you send Ely down in order to hang onto Ramon Ortiz… who’s got a 5.71 ERA. And a 1.327 WHIP. And a 4.2 BB/9 and 6.2 K/9, neither of which are great . He’s allowed a run in 7 of his 12 appearances this year, including a homer in his last outing. He’s not getting better. He’s a failed experiment, just like Anderson. Yet, he remains while a superior younger player goes down.

There’s no shortage of blame for the Dodgers terrible season so far this year, as we’ve seen, and a fair share of it goes to underperforming players. Let’s just not forget these indefensible roster decisions, because the Dodgers are choosing to not go with the best 25-man-roster they have available, for reasons known only to them.

Update: Josh S., in the comments, points out Paul’s reaction to being sent down:

“I don’t fit here right now, that’s it,” Paul said after being consoled by teammates Casey Blake and Matt Kemp. “Right now, I just don’t cut it here.”

Paul said he was told by general manager Ned Colletti to work on his mental approach to the game “and being a big leaguer.”

So as if being sent down for a player who’s clearly worse than he is wasn’t bad enough, that’s the feedback he gets from the team after doing basically everything right. Disgusting.

That’s How Many Homers It Takes To Overcome An Ortiz

There was pretty much no chance in hell that this year’s home opener was going to top last year’s

Wow. Just, wow. Where do you even start? I’m not kidding when I say the fact that Chad Billingsley’s fantastic eleven strikeout performance (including six of his last seven betters) may only be about the fifth best thing that happened today. Seriously, things just do not come together better than this. How about the fact that any Opening Day under blue skies at Dodger Stadium is pretty much the best day of anyone’s life? The record-setting 57,000+ crowd? Vin Scully’s moving first pitch and commentary? The offensive explosion against the hated Giants, including Orlando Hudson’s cycle - a Dodger Stadium first?  And Andre Ethier’s two homers?

…but this came pretty close. Okay, no one hit for the cycle, but the four-homer outburst (as Vin noted, the Dodgers hit three homers on the six-game road trip and four in the first six innings today) against another division rival sure got the crowd going. And if you had to ask the crowd, “which Dodgers would you want to see hit homers?”, wouldn’t Manny, Kemp, and Ethier almost certainly be the top 3? Talk about crowd pleasing – no offense to Casey Blake, of course.

Can we also mention Blake DeWitt for a second? If you’ve been reading this blog at all, you’ve heard me rail on how pointless wins are time and time again. Well, batting average isn’t quite as bad as wins, but it’s up there… and DeWitt is proving why. Thanks to three walks today, DeWitt had a tidy 0-0 afternoon. He may only be hitting .267, but his OBP is up to .522. Dig that again: .522.

Unfortunately, it’s not all good news, because something simply must be done about the bullpen. Clayton Kershaw was effective if not efficient in allowing 2 ER over 5.1 innings, and Jeff Weaver finished up the 6th for him. When Ethier homered in the bottom of the 6th, we were looking at a 9-2 laugher. Yet Ramon Ortiz came in and was predictably horrible, allowing three runs on three hits (including a Mark Reynolds blast) and a walk. As you can see, this has spawned the birth of the “Ortiz DFA-O-Meter” to the top right, as they battle to see which one gets dumped first. So what was once a blowout became a situation in which the top two relievers (Ramon Troncoso and Jonathan Broxton) had to contribute 2.1 innings.

That may not seem like a big deal today, but we saw this exact thing happen last week. Just wait until one of the next two games when it’s a tight situation, and now one might not be available, simply because Ramon Ortiz can’t hold a 7-run lead. So then you’re left with counting on George Sherrill again, and we’ve seen how that turns out. I know Ronald Belisario and Hong-Chih Kuo are due back any day now but… we just can’t put up with these two much longer.

Besides, as Chad from MOKM rightfully asked, where was Carlos Monasterios? He hasn’t pitched in nearly a week – since April 8. I can’t think of any better situation for a Rule 5 pick than with a 7-run lead, and it’s not like the Ortizes are doing any better.

Finally, behold the magic of Twitter. Eagle-eyed fan ED_in_DE pointed out to me that during Ethier’s 6th inning home run… he was using Matt Kemp’s bat. I went back and looked at the tape, and I’ll be damned: he’s absolutely right.

What gives with that? I wonder if it’s the same bat that Kemp used to hit his own homer earlier in the game.

Mid-March Oddsmaking: #5 Starter

It’s amazing how tidy the batting side of the 2010 roster has turned out to be, isn’t it? What was expected to be a three-way battle for 2B looks to be Blake DeWitt’s job to lose, and the job of lefty bat off the bench is a nice clean (if not sexy, or interesting, or correct) choice between Garret Anderson and Doug Mientkiewicz. Yet with a flurry of moves and interesting performances in the last few days, the fight for the last few pitching spots has really started to heat up.

As you can see from the NRI list at the right, we’ve lost a few hopefuls over the last few days, including NRI’s Eric Gagne, Scott Dohmann, & Francisco Felix – plus minor-league guys like Scott Elbert & Kenley Jansen and Rule 5er Armando Zerpa. Plus, Ronald Belisario almost certainly won’t be on the Opening Day roster at this point, opening up another hole.

So, let’s take advantage of today’s offday and put some odds to our contestants for the #5 starting gig. We’ll do the back of the bullpen separately. Also, just so I don’t have to repeat it 10 times – yes, I 100% totally agree that it’s insane to place too much importance on spring stats against varying competition when a guy has a much longer track record to review. Of course. Let’s just not forget that A) even though spring stats shouldn’t matter, we all know that they do when it comes time to make the decision, and B) meaningless or not, there’s a pretty big divide between a 20.25 ERA and a 0.00 ERA.

5th starter

Eric Stults. As the only Dodger with a shutout in each of the last two years, he’s at least been able to show Joe Torre he has the skills. The question is whether he can use them consistently. Stults is out of options and would almost certainly get picked up by other teams if he was set free. On the other hand, while he hasn’t allowed a run in camp, he’s also pitched just 2 innings, which makes you wonder how interested the staff is in seeing him. Still, his past success plus option status has to make him the leader unless he implodes. Odds: 60%.

Carlos Monasterios. As a Rule 5 pickup who none of us had heard of when he was drafted, one might think that his odds would be pretty low. Yet for a guy with only 7 innings above A ball, he’s been impressive in his admittedly small sample size, tossing 5 scoreless innings. He’s young, but he’s not that young, as he turns 24 later this week. Obviously the Dodgers selected him for a reason, and if he doesn’t make the club he’d have to be offered back to the Phillies, so that alone gives him a little boost. I don’t think he’s got a great chance, but it’s still a chance. Odds: 15%.

James McDonald. Just like last year, I think we’d all come into camp hoping that McDonald would come away with the job. Who wouldn’t want to see the two-time team Minor League Pitcher of the Year in the rotation rather than the usual crew of retreads and has-beens? Despite McDonald’s failure in the role last year, he did turn his season around with an impressive run out of the pen, leading many (okay, me) to hope that he’d found his groove. Yet he’s been awful so far this spring (6 runs and 8 hits in 4 innings, with just 1 K and 3 walks), and with the extra room in the bullpen thanks to Belisario’s disappearance, he may be needed there. Odds: 10%

Charlie Haeger. Everyone’s favorite knuckleballer probably needed a nice camp showing to grab the job, and so far it hasn’t gone all that well. First, he was dropped from the Taiwan trip thanks to a leg injury, costing him valuable mound time in front of Joe Torre. When he has been able to pitch, he hasn’t been overly impressive, putting 8 men on in 4 innings. That said, even if he doesn’t get the starting gig, he could still be a part of the team, according to Torre:

Torre on C.Haeger: “He will have the opportunity to be a reliever because he can pitch everyday.” Also said he’s an option for 5th starter.

Like Stults, Haeger is out of options and would likely get picked up by another club. So while I don’t think he’s winning the #5 job, I do think he makes the team. Odds: 10%.

Ramon Ortiz. Ramon’s been the darling of camp for the last few days thanks to his 9 scoreless innings and 11/2 K/BB ratio. DodgerThoughts and Memories of Kevin Malone wisely caution against falling in love with a guy with such a lousy track record who hasn’t even pitched in the bigs since 2007, and they’re right to do so. Still, Ortiz is saying all the right things about how the tight Japanese strike zone taught him how to be more of a pitcher than a thrower, and at some point all those spring zeroes start to add up. I don’t believe it’s going to be enough to win him the job, but it might get him a shot as the last arm out of the bullpen. Odds: 5%.

Russ Ortiz. I know that he’s not allowed a walk or a run in 5 innings, and I do not care. I refuse to live in a world where Russ Ortiz – Russ Ortiz! – can win a rotation spot on a team with playoff dreams. Since his last decent season in 2004, his MLB line is 10-28 with a 6.56 ERA. He is, quite possibly, the worst pitcher in baseball, and he’s about to be 36. No amount of spring training niceties should be able to undo that. Odds: 0.0000001%

If you’re wondering why I’m giving slightly more hope to one busted R.Ortiz over another, it’s because Ramon has thrown nearly twice the innings Russ has in camp – and because I’ll be the first to admit I have an irrational hatred of Russ Ortiz. The Giants and D-Backs connections, the huge contract, the total flameout, the age – I don’t want any part of it.

Weighty News & Notes

There’s a lot of small pitching items going on in the worldwide camp that is Dodgers spring training right now, so to recap quickly…

  • Hong-Chih Kuo was scratched from his Taiwain appearance with a sore left elbow (uh-oh).
  • Rule 5 pick Carlos Monasterios is impressing, having thrown 5 shutout innings… despite not knowing what the Rule 5 draft is.
  • James McDonald is getting beat up, having allowed 6 runs in 8 hits over just 4 innings. More disturbingly, he’s walked 3 while striking out just 1. I’m fine with all the standard “spring training stats don’t count, and either way it’s still early” disclaimers… except that it’s one thing to give up a spring training homer, and it’s another to allow a dinger to Scott Podsednik. McDonald may be pitching himself right out of the 5th starter job, though he’d almost certainly end up in the ‘pen.
  • Both of the undead Ortiz’ (Russ and Ramon) are making cases for jobs, as they’ve put up identical lines of allowing 3 hits over 5 scoreless innings.

Yet despite all that pitching staff minutiae, one story that seems to be a little forgotten is Ronnie Belliard’s battle with weight. As you might remember, his contract only becomes guaranteed if he gets down to 209 pounds at some point during the spring. Since he claimed he was at 210 when he reported, it seemed to be a foregone conclusion, but according to Dylan Hernandez on Twitter, it still hasn’t happened yet:

Still hasn’t made weight, from what I understand. @MikeSciosciasTI Any news on Ronnie Belliard’s weigh-in/guaranteed contract?

Part of me wonders: do we even want him to? Blake DeWitt seems all but certain to win the second base job. Belliard’s presence (combined with Jamey Carroll) was mostly to have two options in case DeWitt flopped – but if he doesn’t, Belliard could be a little redundant, as I said when he was signed:

Except… isn’t this exactly what Jamey Carroll was for? You know, a mediocre veteran who can play some 2nd and 3rd as needed? Because Belliard can’t play shortstop any more than Carroll can, and it was that “lack of a shortstop” issue that led to Nick Green getting a spring training invite.

So if this isn’t to fill that backup shortstop hole (since Belliard can’t do it) and it isn’t to be the 2B/3B backup bat off  the bench (since that’s ostensibly what Carroll’s here for), what the hell is Belliard’s role?

With the roster crunch the Dodgers are facing in terms of difficulties with having a lefty bat and a backup shortstop, having two guys who do basically the same thing seems like it may be a luxury they can’t afford.

Jeff Weaver Returns, But Where Does He Fit?

Jeff Weaver returns to the Dodgers on a minor-league deal, which in a vacuum, great! Weaver was a complete surprise and an invaluable piece of the bullpen last year, which is why he earned his well-deserved “A++” in our yearly review. I’m actually somewhat surprised that he couldn’t get even a sniff of a major-league deal after how useful he was last season, but good for us.

That said, I’m interested to see how the back end of the bullpen shakes out. If you bring in guys like Justin Miller, Francisco Felix, and Ramon Ortiz (who was also signed yesterday - he’s 37, hasn’t pitched in the bigs since 2007, and has a career ERA of nearly 5. Hooray?) and they don’t make the squad, big deal. You send them to the minors or you dump them, and no one gives it a second thought.

But in Weaver’s case I would think he wouldn’t be too eager to return on a non-guaranteed deal if he didn’t think he’d have a really good chance at making the team, after his nice 2009.  Not that I’m suggesting there’s any handshake agreements, but you’d have to think he’s higher on the NRI pole than the cast of thousands the team has brought in so far. The thing is, the Dodger bullpen seems pretty set. Most expect the team to carry seven relievers, and barring injury, the top five spots are almost certainly guaranteed to Jonathan Broxton, George Sherrill, Hong-Chih Kuo, Ronald Belisario, and Ramon Troncoso.

That leaves two spots, and I expect one to be filled by the loser of the fifth starter derby, particularly James McDonald. While Eric Stults is unlikely to work out of the pen and you could make a case for sending Charlie Haeger and Scott Elbert back to the minors, McDonald proved himself as a quality reliever in the second half last year – he makes the team regardless.

So that leaves one spot, and it’d be hard enough if it was just Weaver vs. the other 5th starters vs. two hundred has-beens and never wases. But don’t forget that there’s an added level of difficulty here, and that’s that the Dodgers took not one but two Rule 5 picks, Carlos Monasterios and Armando Zerpa. If they don’t make the MLB team (or end up on the DL), they have to be offered back to their original club. The Dodgers don’t have room for both of them, but they also wouldn’t have bothered to make the claim if they didn’t plan on giving them every chance to make the club.

So it’s not going to be a simple path for Weaver. Still, if the Dodgers pitching staff is in such good shape that they can’t bother to carry a guy who was productive for them last year, all the better for us. And hey, at least they’re following the advice I gave out at the end of his 2009 review:

For next year, I won’t mind at all if he moves on. If he’s so intent on being a Dodger that he’ll come back for a non-guaranteed invite, then by all means, but he’s not worth giving any real money to.