Taking early stock of the Isotopes

While Mike is on vacation, he asked me to offer up some thoughts about the Albuquerque Isotopes and how what amounts to the Dodgers’ reserve team is shaping up as the season begins. The ‘Topes have only been home for a total of eight days so far this season — they begin their fourth road series of the year tonight at New Orleans (Marlins) — so this is all a very, very preliminary analysis of the 25 players I have observed.

Catchers Tim Federowicz and Josh Bard

FedEx is the man on the spot, the lone Isotope ranked by Baseball America in the Dodgers’ top 10 prospects. While plenty of fans are still smarting about last year’s trade that sent Trayvon Robinson packing and brought Fed and two pitchers to the organization, so far the young backstop is showing promise. “He’s been a lot better this year, he’s a lot more patient,” manager Lorenzo Bundy said of Fed’s hitting (.292/.365/.477). The swing-first, pull-everything mentality from last season is all but gone. Defensively he has looked sharp, making strong throws to second, blocking the plate well and doing a good job of working with the pitching staff. As for Bard, as the Isotopes’ oldest player (34, which makes him the only player on the team older than me … yikes), he has not played much, but he has played well, batting .385 (10-for-26). “Obviously, Josh with his experience … it’s like having an extra coach floating around here,” Bundy said. “He takes the leadership role. He knows his role on this club and he’s ready at any time.”

First baseman Jeff Baisley

Jeff Baisley has been a good presence in the lineup. (Photo courtesy of the Albuquerque Isotopes.)

The veteran slugger has played well so far, batting .313/.390/.531 with three homers and a team-leading 16 RBI. Though primarily a third baseman with Salt Lake (Angels) last season, he has handled first base well defensively and it clearly has not had an impact on his hitting. Personality-wise, he keeps it serious on the field and keeps it loose during batting practice and in the clubhouse. Though he is viewed as a leader, Baisley said he has not had to overly assert himself so far. He certainly continues the recent tradition of high-character veterans the Dodgers like to have in Albuquerque.

Second baseman Alex Castellanos

Though currently on the disabled list with a strained left hamstring (return date unknown), the converted outfielder has been solid so far at the plate (.366/.477/.746), while overcoming the defensive obstacles that come with returning to his old position. The big issue for Castellanos offensively lies with his ability to overcome his aggressive, swing-first mentality. In the field, throwing has been the biggest challenge, but after a week spent with Dodgers special instructors Juan Castro and Jody Reed (laugh about their hitting, but both were good in the field), Castellanos seems to be adapting quickly. Just calm down on the early promotion possibilities; Castellanos himself said he needs close to a full season playing every day at second base before he is ready for MLB.

Shortstop Luis Cruz

The wily veteran has been on “Cruz Control” since he arrived, smacking the ball around (.328/.343/.500) while making some sharp plays in the field. He is another veteran who keeps it loose; his imitation of teammate Trent Oeltjen‘s Australian accent is a sight to behold.

Third baseman Josh Fields

Nicknamed “QB” for obvious reasons, the former Oklahoma State football standout has gotten off to a quiet start (.289/.375/.526) when compared to his teammates. Nonetheless, he has been a solid contributor. This is no sign of the dreaded “jaded ex-big-leaguer stuck at Triple-A” disease that sometimes afflicts players. Much like Cruz, he seemed to be riding high off his strong spring that nearly saw him make the big-league roster. He has been a positive influence, playing good defense with (no surprise here) a very strong arm.

Utility man Elian Herrera

The versatile Elian Herrera has been a sparkplug atop the lineup. (Photo courtesy of the Albuquerque Isotopes)

Bundy said the Isotopes’ turnaround, from a 2-6 road trip to their current record of 11-9, has been thanks in part to the ultra-versatile Herrera. A pure contact hitter (.340/.357/.566), he is Albuquerque’s fastest player and has done well out of the leadoff spot. Defensively, he has looked especially sharp at second base and third base, while also seeing time at shortstop and the outfield. He would strictly be a bench player at the next level, but with Jerry Hairston and Adam Kennedy not getting any younger, the Dodgers could do worse.

Reserve infielders Joe Becker and Lance Zawadzki

Becker is a favorite of Bundy’s especially with his ability to deliver big hits in the clutch, often as a pinch hitter. He is also a capable defender at second, though he lacks the arm for third and has not played much shortstop. Zawadzki joined the team from extended spring on the last day of the homestand. While I have yet to see him play for the Isotopes, he was a solid defender and a streaky hitter last season with Omaha (Royals).

Outfielders Scott Van Slyke, Jerry Sands, Trent Oeltjen, Matt Angle

Van Slyke, the Dodgers’ No. 21 prospect, has been the hitting star out of this group (.364/.437/.610). He has fared well defensively in both outfield corners, with a strong arm and more mobility than you would expect from someone who is listed at 6-5, 250. He made one start at first base during the homestand, looking a little out of practice there, so hold off on the “he can replace Loney” talk. Oh, and I will sit him down to talk about his life growing up around baseball with his father. His stories are hilarious. Sands’ struggles at the plate (.192/.310/.315) have been well-documented so far. Oeltjen has played all three outfield spots, serving more as a fourth outfielder than anything else. As such, his hitting (.250/.328/.350) has yet to get into a groove with such sporadic playing time. Angle has been the lost one of the bunch, looking all out of sorts at the plate (.146/.255/.268) and now finding himself on the DL with a strained hamstring.

Starting pitchers Michael Antonini, John Ely, Stephen Fife, Fernando Nieve, Mike Parisi

John Ely has pitched well at home, not so well on the road. (Photo courtesy of the Albuquerque Isotopes)

Before his call-up to the big leagues, Antonini made one start in Albuquerque he would like to forget (3.1 IP, 7 H, 7 R, 6 ER, 2 BB, 3 HR allowed). Like many young pitchers, the 26-year-old lefty learned the hard way you have to keep the ball down in Albuquerque if you want to have a prayer of succeeding here. He certainly throws a lot of strikes, but he left too many up in that game. Despite being back for his third season with the Isotopes, Ely has remained upbeat and continues to work hard. He has been a completely different pitcher at home (13 IP, 4 ER) than on the road (7.1 IP, 11 ER). Fife has just plain struggled wherever he has pitched this year (1-2, 9.92 ERA). The big righty is a finesse pitcher and so far the PCL is chewing him up. Nieve went from horrible at Omaha (1.2 IP, 11 H, 9 ER) to solid at home (6 IP, 7 H, 3 ER) to then getting ejected in the third inning of his third start for hitting a batter. It has been a very bizarre season for the former Astro and Met, who throws hard but does not strike a lot of people out (8 total in 10.1 IP). Parisi has been the most consistent and effective starter to date. It should come as no surprise, since there always seems to be one veteran who puts together a solid campaign in ABQ (e.g. Dana Eveland last year).

Right-handed relievers Josh Wall, Ramon Troncoso, Will Savage, Francisco Felix

Wall has looked sharp while sharing closing duties. He throws in the mid-90s and looks like another potentially solid addition to LA’s young bullpen down the line. There is still some wildness (4 walks in 8.1 IP) that needs to be smoothed out. Troncoso has looked like a man determined to get back to the big leagues (1.08 ERA in 8.1 IP), while Savage has been lights out (4-0, 2.41) in the long relief/spot starter role, keeping the ball down and utilizing his cutter, fastball and curveball to their fullest extent. Felix, well, somebody has to take it on the chin, and so far he is doing just that (10.13 ERA in 13.1 IP). As the Dodger bullpen fluctuates, his head would seem to be the first on the chopping block down here.

Left-handed relievers Brent Leach, Wil Ledezma, Derrick Loop, Scott Rice, Cole St. Clair

Rice has been the star of the southpaw collective, sharing the team lead with four saves. He is at his most effective not when he is getting strikeouts, but rather when is able to get hitters to try and pounce on strikes, causing them to ground out and pop up early in the count. Leach (0-1, 6.57) has alternated between looking good and taking it on the chin; personality-wise he has not changed from his year in Japan, remaining the same funny, witty southerner who graced the clubhouse in 2009-10. St. Clair has been similar to Leach in terms of pitching, looking good one outing and struggling to throw strikes the next. Poor Ledezma was walloped in his first two home appearances (10 runs total), but has since settled down and regained his confidence. Loop has yet to appear in a game in Albuquerque.

Overall

This is a better team than it looked after losing six of eight on the opening road trip. The Isotopes pulled off their first four-game sweep since 2009 when they took Iowa apart. As long as the pitching stays at least somewhat consistent, the lineup is more than capable of scoring enough runs. What looked like a pack of spot starters, middle relievers and bench players actually has some players with enough talent (Van Slyke, Castellanos, Federowicz, in particular) to help the Dodgers out in the future. Rice and Wall can be both be part of a big-league bullpen, as well. This team may lack the star power when Gordon, Sands (the good version) and Robinson were here last year, but it is still a fun bunch to watch.

As always, you can find all the ‘Topes news and notes you can handle here and you can now follow me on Twitter as @TopesWriter for quick updates, anecdotes, breaking news and even some play-by-play during home games.

— Chris Jackson

Happy Trails, Ramon Troncoso

Has it really been a full month since there’s been a roster move of any importance? We finally have another one today, although it’s not entirely unexpected:

Transactions: #Dodgers designate RHP Ramon Troncoso for assignment and reinstate RHP Ronald Belisario from the Restricted List

Troncoso was out of options and was unlikely to make the team, even with Blake Hawksworth not being ready to start the season; allowing eight hits in five spring innings didn’t exactly do much to improve his case, anyway. Originally signed in 2002, Troncoso made his big-league debut in the second game of 2008, inducing an inning-ending double play after Derek Lowe and Joe Beimel had run into trouble against the Giants. The high point of his career came in 2009, when he got into 73 games with a 2.72 ERA, but then fell apart in 2010 after early overuse and was downright awful last year, allowing a whopping 38 hits in 22.2 MLB innings. Though it’s popular (and fun!) to blame Joe Torre for Troncoso’s collapse, it was pretty easy to make the argument that he was never as good as 2009 made him seem anyway.

Though Troncoso wasn’t going to make the team regardless, this does add just a bit more clarity into the battle for the final bullpen spot, where Jamey Wright & John Grabow have to be seen as frontrunners, with Josh Lindblom, Fernando Nieve, Scott Rice, and Angel Guzman all still holding out hope. If Troncoso makes it through waivers, we may yet see him remain with the organization in what should be a wide-open Triple-A bullpen.

As for Belisario, well, we all know he’s suspended for the first 25 games of the season, and that suspension can’t take place unless he’s added to the 40-man roster. As far as I know this move didn’t have to happen until the season starts, but there’s also no sense in holding Troncoso back from finding work elsewhere if you’re absolutely sure he’s not going to make the club. So long, Ramon. We’ll always have that time you drove in the only run of your career on a bases-loaded walk.

MSTI’s 2011 in Review: Relievers, Part 3

Mike MacDougal (B+)
2.05 ERA, 3.96 FIP, 6.5 K/9, 4.6 BB/9

Sentences I never thought I’d write: “Along with Matt Guerrier, Mike MacDougal was one of only two Dodger relievers to spend the entire 2011 season on the active roster.” Think about that for a second.

Like with Aaron Miles, when MacDougal was given a non-roster invite in January it hardly warranted much attention, since he hadn’t been a useful pitcher for years and he didn’t figure to make much of an impact with the big club. Yet thanks to a solid spring and a bullpen that was far more unsettled at the end of camp than the start of it, MacDougal broke camp with the club and stuck around all season. When it became clear that he might be coming north in March because people were putting far too much importance on five scoreless spring innings (to that point), I looked at what was realistic to expect from him:

Remember, this is a guy who over the last four seasons has pitched in 144 major league games, and has a K/BB rate of 99/95, while allowing more than a hit per inning, and his minor league numbers haven’t been much better. I’m not immune to the idea that guys can get healthy or fix a mechanical issue that brings improved results, but rarely does that happen at 34, and in this case, the nice ERA isn’t really justified.

“The nice ERA isn’t really justified” was a recurring theme throughout the season, as “MacDougal allows inherited runners to score without affecting his own ERA” became something of a running joke, as you can see by the large gap between his ERA and his FIP. Just as an example, here’s part of a recap of a randomly selected game from June, though know that this could (and did) apply to a whole lot of MacDougal appearances:

I’d like to take this opportunity to once again point out how silly ERA can be. Kershaw left the bases loaded, and while starting that mess is definitely on him, once he left the game he had absolutely no control over whether those runners score. If Elbert wiggles out of that mess, Kershaw allows three total earned runs, which doesn’t look so bad. Elbert (and MacDougal) couldn’t, and so Kershaw’s line looks like a disaster. MacDougal, by the way, faced three batters without retiring a single one. He wasn’t charged with any earned runs. Remember that when someone looks at MacDougal’s 2.14 ERA and tries to tell you he’s any good. Hooray, ERA!

Now again, like Miles, MacDougal gets a lot of credit for being a zero-risk scrap-heap pickup who made some contributions this year, even briefly being elevated to the role of main setup man in front of Javy Guerra when injuries took down Kenley Jansen and Blake Hawksworth. When a team brings in the usual collection of has-beens and never-weres over the winter, this is exactly the sort of “good enough, but not great” performance you’re hoping for. So good on MacDougal for that, because a 3.96 FIP for a minimum salary is eminently usable.

That doesn’t change the fact that he was clearly overrated by many because of that shiny, clearly faulty ERA, of course. He barely struck out more than he walked over the season, and he was constantly hurting other pitchers by letting their inherited runners to score. Never was this demonstrated more clearly than in one of Don Mattingly’s worst managerial decisions, bringing MacDougal into a 1-1 game in Milwaukee on August 16:

With the game tied at one in the bottom of the ninth, Hong-Chih Kuo started the frame off by walking Prince Fielder on six pitches. Kuo didn’t look good doing it, and with righties Casey McGehee and Yuniesky Betancourt following, Don Mattingly strode to the mound and called to the bullpen for his righty, which was absolutely the correct move.

Unfortunately, coming in wasn’t Javy Guerra, who hadn’t pitched since Friday and has allowed just one earned run in the last two months. It was Mike MacDougal, who threw 2/3 of an inning last night and is, you know, Mike MacDougal. I’ve defended Mattingly a lot this season, but much of this loss lies on him, as he fell victim to the same mistake that managers have been making for decades, which is saving their closer for a lead in a tie game on the road.

Or as I put it on Twitter at the time,

Whenever you can bring Mike MacDougal in to a tied game with a man on in the bottom of the 9th, you have to do it.

I bet I don’t have to tell you how that ended, right? MacDougal is a free agent, but I think we all believe the Dodgers will show interest in retaining him. Let’s hope that’s for less than $1m, or even better, another non-guaranteed deal.

Ramon Troncoso (D-)
6.75 ERA, 5.19 FIP, 5.6 K/9, 1.6 BB/9

Geez, does anyone still remember 2009, when Troncoso was one of the more reliable non-elite relievers in the NL? That seems so long ago now. It’s easy to look back at 2010, when he pitched in 16 of the first 24 games, and conclude that Joe Torre ruined him like he did so many others, but that was a theory we investigated and largely discarded last season.

2011, Troncoso’s fourth season with the Dodgers, saw him have three different tours of duty with the big club, though his season numbers were ruined when he allowed 12 hits to just 17 batters in his first two appearances in April. He wasn’t seen again for a month, in which he had eight relatively good outings in May and June sandwiched around two disasters, and then spent all of July and August in the minors before returning in September to contribute five good outings and one nightmare.

As you can tell, Troncoso in 2011 was either hit or big, big miss. He’s under team control in 2012, but is out of options, meaning that he must break camp with the team (or be on the DL) or otherwise exposed to waivers before being sent down. It’s not altogether unlikely that we’ve seen the last of him as a Dodger.

Josh Lindblom (A-)
2.73 ERA, 2.35 FIP, 8.5 K/9, 3.0 BB/9

Was it really over two years ago that Lindblom was a fast riser, nearly breaking camp with the club in 2009 after just nine MiLB games in 2008? Apparently it was. Lindblom went back to ABQ and was successful in a relief role, but then was sent back to AA Chattanooga in an attempt to convert him to starting. The results were mixed for the remainder of 2009, and then 2010 was an absolute disaster, putting up a 6.54 ERA and allowing 13.5 hits per nine, and granted that’s in ABQ, but still not good. The Dodgers finally gave up the ghost on “Josh Lindblom, Starter”, and allowed him to return to the bullpen in June, where he was solid to end 2010 back in AA and excellent in 34 games for the Lookouts to start this season – earning himself a recall on May 29 when Kenley Jansen made a trip to the disabled list with shoulder inflammation.

Overall, the results were good. Lindblom got into 27 games across multiple stints with the team (generally going up and down as Jansen was available and not), and allowed more than one earned run just one time, which is solid. I remember saying to myself, about halfway through his tenure, that I liked him but that he didn’t miss enough bats, because over his first 13 games, he’d struck out just 9 in 16 innings. Over his final 14 outings, he whiffed 19 in 13.2, puncuated by striking out five of the six Diamondbacks he faced after replacing Clayton Kershaw following the ace’s ejection on September 14.

Looking ahead to 2012, Lindblom probably doesn’t have a job completely sown up out of camp, but with his 2011 performance and minimum cost salary, there’s no reason to think we won’t be seeing quite a bit of him.

******

Next! Kenley Jansen is unhittable! Hong-Chih Kuo falls apart! And oh good lord, I have to write something about Lance Cormier? It’s the final installment of relievers – part 4!

2011 Midseason Grades: Pitching and Management

Thanks for all the feedback on yesterday’s hitting grades, and today we move on to pitching and management. Remember, the letter grades are just for fun, without a whole lot of thought or science behind them.

Starting Pitchers

Clayton Kershaw (A+) (9-4, 3.03 ERA, 2.45 FIP)
Is A+ even high enough? I’m not sure it is, though we certainly expected great things from him. Think about this: his HR/9 rate and H/9 rate are unchanged from last year, but he’s managed to do that while lowering his walk rate (again!) and increasing his strikeout rate. He’s leading the league in whiffs, and he has two shutouts among his three complete games. He’s 23. He’s lefty. He’s an All-Star.

Don’t let anyone tell you that he’s progressing towards being an ace, or one day he could be one of the best. Clayton Kershaw is, right now, one of the 10 best pitchers in baseball. The scary part? He could still get better.

Chad Billingsley (B) (8-7, 3.87 ERA, 3.41 FIP)
Over at Baseball Prospectus this morning, Geoff Young of DuckSnorts offers the opinion that Billingsley “should be a star, but isn’t”. And that’s true. 26-year-old Billingsley is walking more and striking out less than 23-year-old Billingsley did in 2008. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, because he’s still a very valuable asset and the extension he signed over the winter was welcomed, but he’s also not going to be a Kershaw-level star like we’d once hoped he would be. Again, that’s not to get on Billingsley, it’s just seemingly who he’s going to be – a durable #2 or 3 type who will be consistently inconsistent (3 starts this year of at least 8 IP and 1 ER or less, 3 starts allowing 5 ER or more). That’s not a star, but it is a quality pitcher we should be happy to have.

Hiroki Kuroda (B) (6-10, 3.06 ERA, 3.73 FIP)
Only five pitchers have received less run support than Kuroda (shockingly, no other Dodger appears on the top 40 of that list), so let’s not pretend the poor win/loss record means absolutely anything at all. Conversely, the ERA is a little misleading as well, since he’s striking out fewer and walking more than he did in either 2009 or 2010, facts which are reflected in the higher FIP. Still, he’s been a solid member of this rotation… and probably the only Dodger with any real trade value at the deadline. I’ll be sorry to see him go, if he does.

Ted Lilly (D) (6-9, 4.79 ERA, 4.59 FIP)
Lilly hasn’t been awful (back, back, it’s gone!), but nor has he been (throw to second, and the runner is in!) in any way worthy of the $33m deal he received in the offseason. He’s (that ball is far, it is out of here!) striking out fewer than ever, and more (he’s going, and he swipes second without a throw) batted balls in front of a defense that isn’t great at converting them into outs isn’t (that ball is crushed into the second tier!) a good mix. Oh, and he’s 35 and has complained (Navarro’s throw to second, not in time, another steal!) of arm soreness already. Loving that three-year deal more than ever.

Rubby De La Rosa (A) (3-4, 3.74 ERA, 3.40 FIP)
Probably the most impressive of any of the rookies pushed ahead of their schedule this year, de la Rosa has shown immense talent while being forced to learn on-the-job. While his first few starts were dicey – good lord, the walks, and that one game that he nearly got bounced in the first inning was a heart-stopper – RDLR has shown marked improvement, even flirting with no-hitters in each of his last two outings. The talent is unquestioned, but the real concern now is limited his innings, since he’s quickly coming up on matching his previous high with more than two months remaining in the season. But if he’s limited and if someone like Kuroda is dealt… how do you finish out the season? John Ely? Dana Eveland? Yikes.

Jon Garland (D-) (1-5, 4.33 ERA, 4.59 FIP)
Hey, remember when Garland was signed largely because he’d never been on the disabled list before? If you do, then you probably also remember him saying he couldn’t get multi-year deals because other teams didn’t like the looks of his medical reports. Garland gets a lousy grade not because of his performance (ignore the 1-5, a 4.59 FIP is in line with his usual season), but because he sells his durability as a skill. Clearly, that’s one item he forgot to pack for his second (and likely final) tour with the Dodgers. At least that large 2012 option won’t kick in.

John Ely (inc.) (0-1, 6.23 ERA, 5.61 FIP)
Remember Ely-mania last year? Seems so far away, doesn’t it?

Relief pitchers

Jonathan Broxton (MRI) (1-2, 7 saves, 5.68 ERA, 5.56 FIP)
I have absolutely no idea how to grade Jonathan Broxton. Was he good this year? No, of course he wasn’t, and for many people that justifies their opinion that at around midseason 2010, he somehow lost his heart / mind / balls / toes / earlobes / whatever. The fact that he somehow managed to even close out seven games earlier this year is somewhat misleading, because he rarely did so smoothly; conversely, it’s difficult to blame him entirely for the big blown save in Florida because the Dodgers would have won if Jamey Carroll had merely fielded a simple ground ball.

I’d say the answer lies in the fact that he’s been on the disabled list for over two months due to a right elbow injury, with no estimated return date. We never saw the healthy Broxton this year, just as I felt we never saw a healthy Broxton in the second half of last year. The lesson, as always? Joe Torre cannot be trusted with relievers. You hate to say it about a guy who is only 27, but Torre may just have ruined Broxton’s career. Thanks for stopping by, Joe!

Hong-Chih Kuo (-) (0-0, 8.71 ERA, 4.12 FIP)
Take everything I said about Broxton above and multiply it by 100 for Kuo, because the anxiety issue he’s been fighting for years makes it impossible to really judge his on-field performance. Since returning, he’s at least managed to limit the walks (6/2 K/BB in 5.2 IP), though the results (five runs, four earned) haven’t all been there yet. The fact that he even returned as quickly as he did should count as a win.

Kenley Jansen (B+) (1-1, 4.40 ERA, 3.15 FIP)
I bet a lot of people will be surprised by this grade for Jansen. “But his ERA is 4.40, rabble rabble rabble!”, they’ll yell. That’s true, it is. That number is also heavily inflated by two poor outings – allowing 5 earned runs to Atlanta on April 19 in a game that the Dodgers were already losing in, and allowing 3 earned runs on May 23 in Houston, a game which preceded his stint on the DL with right shoulder inflammation by less than a week. Since returning from injury on June 18, he’s been nearly untouchable, striking out 13 while allowing just two singles in 9.2 innings. While the walks remain a problem, he’s actually striking out more per nine than he did in 2010, and you might remember that even last year’s rate was on the verge of being historic. The question for me is, why is he stuck in middle relief and garbage time rather than in higher leverage situations?

Matt Guerrier (C-) (3-3, 3.10 ERA, 4.44 FIP)
Boy, who would have thought that handing out an expensive multi-year deal to a non-elite middle reliever wouldn’t have worked out well? Besides everyone, that is. Guerrier actually hasn’t been that bad, but that’s sort of the point: players who get $12m over three years should be able to do better than “hasn’t been that bad”. Though he’s striking out slightly more than he did as a Twin, he’s allowing both more walks and hits than he did in either of the last two years, despite moving to the easier league. He’ll be 33 in less than a month. It’s not a good trend.

Mike MacDougal (C+) (0-1, 1.67 ERA, 3.74 FIP)
2003 All-Star MacDougal has done an excellent job of reviving his career after several years bouncing between the bigs and AAA. MacDougal, who made the 2003 All-Star team as a member of the Royals, has just a 1.74 ERA, emerging as a leader of the injury-plagued Dodger bullpen. The former All-Star has allowed only six earned runs to score, putting him in contention for 9th inning responsibilities. All-Star.

(I can’t do it. MacDougal has allowed approximately 982 of the 48 inherited runners he’s received* to score. For nearly the entire season, he’d walked as many as he’d struck out, before finally giving himself some distance in recent days. He’s not a good pitcher, but like Aaron Miles, we expected nothing, so the small contributions he’s made get him some minor credit. *note: numbers may be fabricated.)

Number of Ortizii: 0 (A++++)
Say what you will about this club, at least they’re not employing anyone named Ortiz who was last useful 6-8 years ago, much less multiple players like that.

Javy Guerra (B+) (1-0, 4 saves, 2.33 ERA, 4.01 FIP)
Guerra, like MacDougal all those years ago, is a perfect example of why we shouldn’t overrate saves. For a guy who walked 6.8/9 in the minors last year and was forced to the bigs simply because of injuries, he’s been fine. He’s keeping the ball in the yard, he’s cut down on the control issues, and he’s even managed to steal a few saves while serving as the last-ditch closer. As far as debuts go, his has been a successful one. Let’s just not go overboard in anointing him as the man in the 9th inning, because he hasn’t been that good – 13 K in 19.1 IP doesn’t thrill me – and in each of his last two saves, he loaded the bases before getting out of the jam. That’s not the kind of tightrope you can walk for very long.

Blake Hawksworth (B) (2-2, 3.00 WHIP, 4.12 FIP)
“Isn’t Ryan Theriot“, and that alone gets him a boost. Actually, I joke, but it’s sort of true: when healthy, Hawksworth has been a perfectly acceptable and average reliever, doing a decent job of keeping runners off the bases (WHIP of 1.000), and striking out more than double as he’s walked. Considering that Theriot is doing his usual “I’m not a very good baseball player, but I am short and white, and that counts for something, right?” routine in St. Louis, even just getting that moderate level of contribution in exchange is a big win.

Scott Elbert (B-) (0-1, 5.25 ERA, 2.54 FIP)
I know there’s been a lot of turnover in the bullpen this year, but Elbert is one of those guys where I constantly have to check if he’s still on the team or down in ABQ. I suppose that’s partically because he’s pitched just twice in the last two weeks, and partially because he’s rarely in for more than 2-3 batters at a time. As for his performance, he’s a bit of an oddity in that you’d expect a power lefty to be hell on lefty hitters, but he’s actually rocking a reverse split: lefties (.701 OPS) are actually doing more damage than righties (.561 OPS) against him. Overall, I guess you can say he’s been “acceptable”, in that he’s finally gained a foothold in the majors, but hasn’t exactly made us think he’s going to be a difference maker.

Then again, considering his mysterious disappearance at this time last year, even that is a massive step forward.

Ramon Troncoso (D) (0-0, 6.23 ERA, 4.92 FIP)
I know it’s popular to blame Torre for Troncoso’s downturn as well, and maybe that’s part of it, but I do remember writing a post last year that outlined how he had larger issues than overuse. Whatever it is, he’s barely a major league quality pitcher right now… which probably explains why he’s not in the major leagues. That’s what’ll happen when you aren’t striking anyone out and giving up an absurd amount of hits, though I’ll allow that since he was never a strikeout guy, pitching in front of a defense that does no favors probably doesn’t help.

Ronald Belisario (MIA)
Ha, no. There’s about as good of a chance that he pitches for the Dodgers again as there is that you’ll see Orel Hershiser or Don Drysdale out there.

Josh Lindblom (B+) (0-0, 1.69 ERA, 3.43 FIP)
Nearly two years after we first thought we might see him, Lindblom finally got the call this year, and so far, so good. It’s hard to make judgements based on just eight games, but he’s yet to allow more than one earned run in an appearance, and for now, that’s good enough.

Lance Cormier (dFa) (0-1, 9.88 ERA, 6.84 FIP)
I’m still convinced the only reason Cormier wasn’t DFA’d a week or two earlier than he eventually was (on May 24, when Rubby De La Rosa came up) is because he had a charity event for tornado victims set up at the stadium on May 15, and it would have been poor form to cut a guy just before or after that. I also like that we can say “nah, he wasn’t as bad as his ERA, look at his FIP” and while that’s true, even his FIP says he was awful.

Vicente Padilla (inc.) (0-0, 4.15 ERA, 2.61 FIP)
I sure do feel like we’ve talked about Padilla a lot this year for a guy who piched just 8.2 innings. First he was signed to a somewhat confusing 6th starter/longman/Broxton insurance role, in a move for depth I actually really liked. Then he required surgery for a forearm injury in the spring, preventing him from taking Garland’s rotation spot to start the year. He returned exceptionally quickly from that, taking over for the injured Broxton to nab three saves of varying quality in late April and early May, leading many to proclaim him the next big thing… until he returned to the DL with a recurrence of the arm injury. But the fun doesn’t stop there, because he was supposedly hours away from being activated in June before a neck injury flared up, leading to more surgery and probably the end of his season. Got all that? Phew.

Management

Don Mattingly (B+)
It may sound odd to praise a rookie manager when we weren’t fans of his hiring in the first place and when the club he’s leading is on pace for its worst finish in decades, but I don’t see how you pin much of this mess on Mattingly. He’s proven himself to be far more than a Joe Torre clone, in particular showing a nice willingness to be creative with his bullpen. It hasn’t been perfect, as some of his Navarro-related pinch-hitting escapades still burn, and he likes bunting more than I’d prefer, but he was handed a subpar roster that had its infield and bullpen totally destroyed by injuries, all as fans stayed away thanks to the off-field mess. It would be an impossible situation for any manager, and though the final record won’t be good, Mattingly has been a pleasant surprise, managing to keep the team playing hard through it all. Let’s just hope he doesn’t end up shouldering more of the blame than is needed when all is said and done.

Davey Mutha-F’ing-Lopes (A+^100)
I don’t usually grade the base coaches. Matt Kemp doesn’t usually lead the league in WAR. There you go.

Ned Colletti (F+)
Let’s quickly review all of the contracts handed out last winter by Colletti that were for at least $1m, shall we? Uribe, massive bust. Lilly, missing fewer bats than ever. Guerrier, adequate but overpaid and having one of the lesser years of his career. Garland and Padilla, both injured multiple times and likely out for the year. Barajas, crappier than usual and hurt. Thames, ineffective and injured. Navarro, hitting .183. To be fair, Kuroda has been very good, but it’s hard to say that without caveating that he clearly took a huge paycut to stay in LA.

There’s been a few positives – signing Billingsley was great, the no-risk NRI of Miles worked out, and trading Ryan Theriot for Hawksworth was a good move if you try to forget that it was necessitated by acquiring Theriot in the first place – and you want to be sensitive to the fact that the ownership mess has really put him in a bad position. But overall? Not good, Ned. Not good.

******

Tomorrow, the final review of the series: me.

Today’s ABQ Call-up Isn’t Jerry Sands, But It Will Be Soon

Per Chris Jackson of the Albuquerque Examiner, Ramon Troncoso is on his way back from Albuquerque to join the big club. In 4.2 innings for ABQ so far, Troncoso has allowed three hits and a walk, striking out two. As Eric Stephen of TrueBlueLA has become fond of noting, that’s four days in a row that the Dodgers have recalled a player from AAA, following John Ely, Jamie Hoffmann, and Ivan DeJesus

The difference here is that while the first three recalls were more or less expected, the move to get Troncoso wasn’t, especially with another move needing to be made on Friday when Jon Garland is activated. Beyond that, we don’t yet know who is being sent down to make room for Troncoso. When I noted the move on Twitter, several people guessed Blake Hawksworth, in light of how he took the loss last night, but he’s out of options so that seems unlikely. With Hector Gimenez and Dioner Navarro still on the DL, our usual best guess of A.J. Ellis is safe, so unless there’s another new injury we don’t know about, my best guess is that this is going to be Hoffmann, headed back to ABQ a few days ahead of schedule.

Hoffmann’s received just one at-bat since his recall, and the Dodgers have no shortage of outfielders; it was always assumed that he’d be the one sent back down when Garland was ready. Recalling Troncoso would bump the roster back up to twelve pitchers, where the Dodgers tend to prefer it, though I will admit that it does seem odd that they wouldn’t have just called up a pitcher over Hoffmann in the first place. I suppose we’ll learn more today.

Speaking of Albquerque and guys who aren’t long for it, Jerry Sands has started off his AAA season by homering in each of his four games, and none of them have been cheap. In his first 16 PA, he has 7 hits (including the 4 homers) and not a single strikeout. Watch his homer from last night below (h/t to Twitter follower “OdinsBeard“), and try to keep strong with me in waiting until at least the end of April before we launch a full-fledged “Free Jerry Sands!” campaign. You’ll notice the center field fence there says “428″, making this shot at least 440 feet.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ctxUIyC5Ruo]