MSTI’s First Half In Review: Pitching

So, today is the second Tuesday of July and the day after the Home Run Derby.  That means it’s time for a historic tradition that we see every year…

MSTI’s First Half Pitching Review! 

Today, we’ll go through all of the pitching fun, so let’s get started… 

The Starters: 

Chad Billingsley = A   
billingsleyvsmets.jpg(9-4, 3.14 ERA, 1.23 WHIP) 

Chad Billingsley has been, simply, one of the best pitchers in baseball, this year.  As I wrote in May… 

Still, though,
Billingsley has been incredible this year and only continues to improve
and he’s still barely 24 years old.  It’s not enough to say anymore
that he’s going to be one of the best pitchers in baseball.  He already
IS and can stand toe to toe with almost anyone.  What’s also been
impressive is that even during the games that Billingsley hasn’t had
his best stuff he has managed to pull through.

That’s pretty much held up.  Granted, Billingsley has gradually slipped each month, going from a 3.76 ERA in June to a couple of poor starts so far this month, but his first half numbers have been awfully impressive, with his 3.14 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, and his 1.23 pLI actually leads all pitchers in MLB.  The control is still a bit murky, ranking 2nd in walks, behind teammate Clayton Kershaw.  Nonetheless, Chad made his first All-Star appearance this year and I’m sure it will be the first of many, as he continues to improve and solidify his place as one of the games best pitchers. 

Randy Wolf = A   
(4-3, 3.45, 1.17 WHIP)

I was a bit leary of signing Wolf the second time around.  While his first stint in L.A. tends to be thought of with good memories, he was still pretty much the definition of average, putting up a 97 ERA+, and a 4.73 ERA, and his year was cut short due to injuries.  After going to SD last year, he couldn’t really last well inside Petco Park, before finishing up the year in Houston where he turned it around.  Injuries have played a big part of Wolf’s career and one of the concerns was whether he’d remain healthy.  After all, outside of last year, he hasn’t put together a healthy season since 2003.  Well, so far he has been quite healthy (tied for first, along with Billingsley, in the NL in starts) and not only that, but he’s off to one of the best starts of his career.  Wolf so far is putting up a 3.45 ERA, with a good 1.16 WHIP, and a VORP of 23.5, third amongst Dodgers pitchers.  His peripherals aren’t too bad, either: his H/9 of 7.9, his BB/9 of 2.6 are the best for Wolf since 2003 and he also leads all Dodgers in the CTUNW stat (changing their uniform number weekly). 

Wolf has played a vital role this year for the Dodgers and has helped, at least thus far, in eliminating any concerns we had about starting pitching going into the year. 

Oh yeah, another thing: we beat the whole “wins for pitchers aren’t significant” for pitchers thing to death around here, so why not again?  Anyways, Wolf in 2007 only pitched until July for the Dodgers.  Again, he was essentially league average, but he had a 9-6 record.  So far this year?  4-3, despite a 122 ERA+. 

Clayton Kershaw = B+/A- 
Sandy Kershaw.jpg(7-5, 3.16 ERA, 1.27 WHIP)

So, I’m struggling to decide what to give him, and this grade is pretty much where I’m at.  Either way, what else can you say about the kid?  If he were putting up merely league average numbers at this stage, I think we’d be alright with it, but he’s not just doing that.  After struggling out of the gate, Kershaw has been simply great, going from a 7.29 ERA in April, down to a 2.57 ERA in May, 2.36 in June, and through the first three starts starts of July, 0.53.  While the 0.53 July ERA is definitely a small sample size, it has helped illustrate his continuous growth.  What’s also surprising is that he actually has the best VORP amongst Dodgers pitchers, edging out Chad Billingsley 26.7 to 26.1 and also puts him 12th amongst all NL pitchers.  Now Kershaw hasn’t necessarily perfect, either; while his 8.9 K/9 ratio is quite good, he does lead the league in walks and still carries some control issues which boosts his pitch count and therefore limits his innings.  However, at merely 21 years of age, he has shown to be not just someone who can just simply fit in the big leagues, but someone who can learn to adjust and also can carry a great deal of success (133 ERA+!), as well, and certainly someone who will play a huge role in the second half. 

Well done, Clayton! 

Hiroki Kuroda = C- 
(3-5, 4.67 ERA, 1.15 WHIP) 

In ways, it’s hard not to give the Hiroki Pokey Man an incomplete, given that he missed a lot of time.  But in his starts this year, he’s been going back and forth between solid starts to sometimes the downright awful which, in all honesty, isn’t too much different from 2008.  However, he hasn’t been back that long, so I will cut him a little slack. 

The Spot Starters: 

Eric Stults = C- 
(4-2, 4.80 ERA, 1.58 WHIP) 

Eric Stults for a few years now has been the perfect guy to give you the spot start that you need and he’ll usually be pretty effective, provided that you don’t use him for too long.  It’s pretty much been the same story, this year.  In his 9 starts (I’m actually surprised he’s started that many, when I think about it), he’s had about 6 good ones and 3 bad ones, which translates to a 4.80 ERA, or an 87 ERA+.  Not stellar numbers in the least, but about what you’d expect from Stults: an average pitcher at best who, in Stults case, throws in his obligatory complete game shutout each year.  Kinda funny, by the way… this year, Stults is the only Dodger pitcher with a complete game. 

Eric Milton = C 
(2-1, 3.80 ERA, 1.52 WHIP) 

Can’t say that the thought of Eric Milton starting games for the Dodgers is something that put a smile on my face, but in his 5 starts for the team, he did respectable enough, going 2-1 with a 3.80 ERA.  The WHIP wasn’t particularly good 1.52, but he didn’t necessarily embarrass himself this year, either.  Unfortunately for Milton, he was DL’d in late June and might have season ending back surgery.  But he had 5 games with the team and didn’t do terribly… can’t really ask for too much more than that.  

Jeff Weaver = A+ 
weaveraward.jpg(5-3, 3.48 ERA, 1.57 WHIP)   

The title of this year’s Chan Ho Park goes to Jeff Weaver.  When he signed a minor league deal going into Spring Training, I didn’t really think anything of it and, to be honest, I certainly didn’t see him making the team.  But not only did he manage to do that, but he also managed to become a key member.  He has done everything asked of him and has done it well, whether coming up with the key spot start or pitching valuable innings in the bullpen, or just going out there and beating his kid brother when he needed to.  Now has some of it been smoke and mirrors?  Sure, his WHIP of 1.57 isn’t particularly good at all, and his FIP is actually 4.13, but somehow he’s getting the job done, so I’ll take it, right now.  2009 has been good for Stoner and hopefully, unlike Chan Ho last year, he can finish 2009 just as strong. 

James McDonald = D-     
(2-1, 4.71 ERA, 1.50 WHIP) 

Yeah, remember him?  James McDonald came on to the scene last year for the Dodgers, pitching a mere 6 scoreless innings, which was nice, but where he really helped make an impression was during the NLCS, where he came in and put in some big innings for the Dodgers.  Eventually, he won out the 5th spot in the rotation this year and proceeded to promptly suck, getting 4 starts and putting up an 8.78 ERA and walking 14 to his 6 strikeouts.  That was enough for Joe Torre and after being demoted to the bullpen afterwards, he was shortly then sent back to Albuquerque where he was actually quite good, putting up a 3.26 ERA and 1.15 WHIP in 30.1 innings, while seemingly fixing some of
his previous control issues (14 BB and 40 K’s) and putting up a nice 11.9 K/9 ratio.  Since being recalled to the Dodgers on June 19th, he hasn’t appeared in too many games, but in the games he’s appeared in he hasn’t embarrassed himself either, giving up 1 ER in his 10 innings.  Small sample size, yes, but hopefully McDonald can continue to turn it around and show more of the form he did in 2008.  The talent is definitely there. 

The Bullpen:

Jonathan Broxton = A+ 
brox.jpg(6-0, 3.10 ERA, 0.93 WHIP) 

It’s been a good year for Jonathan
Broxton.  He stepped into the closers role and has transitioned
seamlessly, got elected to his first All-Star game, and after a 24 year
pregnancy, finally gave birth to his first child, a beautiful baby
boy. 

O.K., that was wrong.  But, still, Broxton has been
awfully good, this year, and one of the best in baseball.  His ERA is
3.14, though that’s taken a big hit these days, as 5 of his 14 ER’s total this year
have come from his past two appearances alone, which seem to have
stemmed from a toe injury that has kept him out since last week.  His
WHIP is 0.94 and his 2.63 WPA ranks him 4th amongst all active relief
pitchers, while his K/9 ratio has bumped from 11.5 in 2009 to 14.4 in
2009, thus far.  In addition, he has saved 20 of his 22 saves and, for
the most part, in convincing fashion.  Provided that his toe doesn’t
become something serious, once again, the Dodgers continue their string
of truly great closers.  

Ramon Troncoso = A+ 
(3-0, 1.75 ERA, 1.27 WHIP) 

Last year, the Big Tronny got a C grade.  From last year: 

Still, Troncoso was another rookie inserted into the bullpen in 2008,
although not quite the story Cory Wade was.  But, nonetheless, Troncoso
didn’t Falkenborg himself either, going from a less than stellar 4.91
ERA in the first half to a respectable 3.81 in the second half, sparked
by a good August where he sported a good 2.57 ERA.  His ERA+ was 100
even and that about sums it up; average and servicable for the role he
played throughout the season.  For a person in his rookie year, not
bad; here’s to an improvement in 2009

Well, he improved and improved greatly.  Trancoso has been incredible this year putting up a 1.75 ERA and a 1.27 WHIP and a mere 240 ERA+ in his appearances this year, including ranking 4th in VORP amongst all Dodgers pitchers and his 2.83 WPA ranks 1st amongst all active relievers in baseball.  Troncoso isn’t one who necessarily grabs the headlines, but he’s been incredibly important to the team this year and a key aspect of the success of the bullpen.  I definitely didn’t see his 2009 coming, but well done.  

Ronald Belisario = A+ 
Belisario.jpg(1-3, 2.42 ERA, 1.18 WHIP) 

Belisario is generally one of those guys
you see on the transaction list during Spring Training that you
generally overlook, given the amount of Spring Training invites that
tend to happen and usually don’t pan out.  But he did enough to get a
shot with the big club and not only did he do that, but he has become
one of the best arms out of the bullpen.  In his 48.1 innings, he has
put up a 2.42 ERA, with a nice 1.18 WHIP and 173 ERA+ and out of all
the pitchers on the team, he has the 5th best VORP at 14.5. 
Unfortunately, due to elbow stiffness, he has been placed on the DL,
although the reports about it show it isn’t something too serious and
hopefully he can come back and continue to be effective.  But a spring
training invite to one of the best relievers on the team?  Well… 

I’ll drink to that!  And so will Ronald!

Guillermo Mota = First Half Of First Half =

Second Half Of First Half = A+
(3-2, 3.51 ERA, 1.20 WHIP)      

Yeah, it was time to pull out the ol’ Andruw grade and it was certainly applicable to Mota for the first half of the first half (shut up, it exists!).  Mota has literally gone from one extreme to the
next, hence the two different grades, as it feels like I’m grading two different people.  I hated the signing when it happened and for quite a while he
gave me good reason to, putting up ERA’s of 7.71 and 6.65 in April and
May.  After Brad Ausmus apparently discovered a flaw in Mota’s
delivery, Mota found the fountain of youth, or at least another
syringe, and put up a 0.56 ERA in June and has only given up 1 ER in
his last 22 appearances, which goes back to his implosion in Florida in
May.  He’s gone from arguably one of the worst relief pitchers in
baseball to one of the best and he has to be commended on that. 
Hopefully he can keep it up and continue to give the Dodgers a much
needed boost in the bullpen.

Brent Leach = B 
(2-0, 4.26 ERA, 1.05 WHIP)  

Leach has pretty much become the LOOGY of the
team and he’s done relatively decent.  His 98 ERA+ puts him essentially
average, though his 1.05 WHIP has been pretty nice, but he’s been for
the most part dependable more times than not.    

Cory Wade = F
(2-3, 5.53 ERA, 1.37 WHIP)   

So, what the hell happened to Cory Wade, this year?  In 2008, he was the most dependable reliever we had and was definitely one of the great stories of 2008 for the Dodgers.  Last year I wrote this: 


In 55 appearances this year, which translates into 71.3 innings, Wade
put up a good 2.27 ERA with an even better WHIP of 0.92.  The great
thing about Wade this season is that, as the season went on, he got
better.  Throughout the first half, his ERA was 2.56, and topped that
with a 1.93 ERA in the second half, spurred by great months in August
(2.16 ERA) and September (1.08 ERA).  In fact, that’s what was so
impressive about him, this year.  I don’t remember a period where he
ever really truly sucked and went all Proctor on us.  The worst month
he had in 2008 was July, where he had a 3.52 ERA and gave up 6 ER in 15
IP.  Not great, but not horrific.  He was also arguably our best
reliever in 2008 ranking second in VORP only to Hong Chih Kuo with
22.9.

This year?  Not so good, putting up a 5.27 ERA in his 27 appearances and has made a visit to the DL with some arm troubles.  Hopefully his usage in 2008 hasn’t had an effect on him in 2009.  His star has definitely fallen, but hopefully he can come back and rebound. 

Will Ohman = D-
(1-0, 5.84 ERA, 1.62 WHIP)   

Signed at the tail end of Spring Training to
be Troy from West Virginia’s new BFF, or just Joe Beimel’s replacement,
Ohman has failed to impress to the point where, when you heard the name “Ohman!” you shouted back “Ohcrap!”  In his 21 appearances, he put up a 5.84
ERA, with a 1.62 WHIP.  Having a BB/9 ratio of 5.8 didn’t help either.  To
be fair to Ohman, though, he didn’t really get much of a Spring
Training as he didn’t have a job until the end of the Spring Training,
and he hasn’t pitched in a while (late May), being on the DL with
apparently a sore shoulder.  Still, though, he had enough appearances,
and appearances of sucktitude at that, to warrant the D-.  Though bonus
points for doing a killer Harry Caray impression and being an all
around funny guy. 

The Incompletes: 

Hong-Chih Kuo = Inc. 
Thumbnail image for kuofrombullpen.jpg(1-0, 6.75 ERA, 1.69 WHIP) 

While Hong-Chih Kuo is just unbelievable when he’s on, in fact, he won MLB’s Set Up Man Of The Year Award last year, there’s always the potential for his arm to fall off at any point.  He’s had two Tommy John surgeries (and four arm surgeries total) and he’s had some arm troubles this year already which put him on the DL at the end of April.  He’s yet to return, but in the 5.1 innings he threw, it wasn’t particularly something to write home about.  Something was definitely wrong, originally with reports coming out that perhaps Kuo was suffering from a lack of confidence and now the arm troubles.  The talent is certainly there for Kuo to continue to be effective.  The health, though, might be another story.  We shall see…  

Travis Schlichting, Claudio Vargas, and Scott Elbert = Inc.
(0-0, 3.38 ERA, 2.25 WHIP), (0-0, 0.00 ERA, 1.00 WHIP), (1-0, 5.00 ERA, 1.33 WHIP)  

So, I’m going to combine these two and give them the same grade, which is an incomplete.  For Schlichting, he got a brief cup of coffee early in the year and only threw a whopping 2.2 innings.  Granted, he gave up a HR and 5 BB’s to go with 2 K’s, but, again, not much at all you can derive from 2.2 innings.  Vargas barely came into action this month after being out due to injury and, while I wasn’t a fan of the signing when it happened, perhaps he can serve as the mop up man.  In regards to Elbert, it’s also awfully hard to gauge anything meaningful.  Only four appearances this year, with three of them coming in April and the next one just coming in July. 

That about does it for the pitching.  Tune in tomorrow when MSTI finishes our first half reviews by going through the coaching staff and the overall review! 

- Vin vinscully-face.jpg

Randy Wolf’s Math Lesson

Introductory press conference, December 2006:

wolf41.jpg2007 season:

wolf52.jpg

2009, April – July:

wolf21.jpg2009, July:

wolf43.jpgWhat’s the deal, exactly?

Randy Wolf has switched his uniform number to #43 as he seeks to improve his record to 4-3. Wolf wore #43 while with the Phillies before being issued #41 at his introductory news conference when he signed with the Dodgers. By Spring Training, he was #52 for his first season with Los Angeles. Last season, he wore #25 with the Padres and #39 with the Astros before starting this year as #21.

So, he’s now #43 so he can get up to 4-3. As I write this, the Dodgers are up 6-1 in the 3rd, so it’s looking pretty likely. Does that mean next week we can look forward to #53? If at some point he’s, say, 10-5, can we look forward to him wearing #115? Because, I’m not going to lie – that’d be pretty awesome.  

More importantly, how does Will Ohman feel about all this?

ohmangrumpy.jpg
Poor Will. He looks sad.

Vin Scully Just Threw Down the Jinx

Top of the second, bases loaded with two outs for Justin Upton against Randy Wolf.

Vin: “Young Justin has no grand slams yet, but oh, he’ll get one.”

Not five seconds later, on the very next pitch… bang. Slambino.

The Awesomeness Of Thunder Thighs And A Wolf

So one of the more common phrases that has been said this year amongst
Dodger fans has been: “Oh, wow.  That Billingsley was awesome,
tonight!” 

But just how awesome has he been, so far?  Let’s take a look… 

This
year, his record is 6-1, with those six wins leading the NL, through 9
starts and most of us know that already.  Of course, for anyone who has
watched most of his starts this year, we also know that his record
could arguably be 8-1, but nonetheless, this gives us a chance to
reinforce the classic MSTI mantra: wins don’t matter for pitchers, at
least pertinent to their performance.  In fact, when we say mantra, we
mean it in the purest sense and, since we here at MSTI like to promote
health, we’d like to enforce this mantra into your meditation.  Look
how happy this guy is… 

Maharishi Wins.jpgLet’s look a bit deeper, though.  Billingsley’s ERA so far is 2.51, which ranks 6th in the NL and 8th in billingsleyvsmets.jpgMLB,
while his ERA+ is 175, also good enough for 6th in the NL, with a 2.97
FIP and a WHIP of 1.15, which is way down from his WHIP of 1.34 in
2008.  We’ve also seen a rise in his K/9 ratio, going from 9.01 in 2008
to 9.30 so far this season, which ranks 9th in the NL (Kershaw is 6th,
by the way), and ranks 5th in K’s at 63. 

His VORP of 21.3 is
also 6th in all of baseball amongst pitchers (and leads all Dodger
pitchers), while his nine quality starts means that, not only has every
start of his this year been a quality start, but he also leads all of
baseball in quality starts.  What’s also pretty cool is that he’s only
given up a whopping… 1 HR all year, which ranks 2nd in the NL, only
behind (everyone knows it’s) Wandy Rodriguez. 

The downsides
with Billingsley are that, while he’s been great, he still continues to
have a bit of control issues.  When MSTI reviewed him in our 2008 Year
In Review, last year
, Billingsley’s BB/9 ratio was the 4th highest
amongst top 30 VORP pitchers.  So far in 2009, his BB/9 is 4.28, which
is second highest amongst top 30 VORPers, only behind Matt Cain’s BB/9
of 4.41.  We’ve also noted that while he was a bit unlucky with a BABIP
of .320 last year, it is so far .268, so perhaps we could see a slight
rise in some of the numbers down the road. 

Still, though,
Billingsley has been incredible this year and only continues to improve
and he’s still barely 24 years old.  It’s not enough to say anymore
that he’s going to be one of the best pitchers in baseball.  He already
IS and can stand toe to toe with almost anyone.  What’s also been
impressive is that even during the games that Billingsley hasn’t had
his best stuff he has managed to pull through.  Last night was a great
example.  While he was throwing a ton of pitches and had trouble
locating his pitches, he still kept his team in the game and went a
very solid 7 IP.  The fact is, the Dodgers have their ace and he’s
cheap!  At least… for now.  Well done, Thunder Thighs! 

But
it’s not just Billingsley that’s putting together a stellar season so
far.  While he rightfully gets the most attention for it, it’s
interesting to note how Randy Wolf hasn’t been that far behind and let’s briefly take a look at that… 

Originally signed to fill out the bottom of our rotation, so far the early returns have been better Wolf Man Mets  .jpgthan
expected, good enough to where Wolf has been our #2 starter.  Thus far,
Wolf has put together a 2.72 ERA, enough to put him 9th in the NL and
13th in all of MLB with a 161 ERA+ and is VORPing at 16.3, which places
him 16th in MLB (CC is 15th, by the way), and so far is putting up a
career low WHIP at 1.07, while also not royally sucking as much in the
1st inning as in years past. 

Although Wolf has been
incredibly screwed if we’re talking about his record.  In his 9 starts
this year, his record is only 2-1!  Either way, for a guy who I wasn’t
thrilled about signing this offseason and was only happy to sign him
because he was the lesser of the evils, he has surpassed expectations
by quite a bit.  Of course, do I expect Wolf to continue to put up
these great numbers?  No, because he’s never been this good over the
course of a full season throughout his career and, of course, the
downsides of his season so far are that his FIP is 3.73 and his BABIP
is pretty low (.242), and he’s always a short trip away from the DL,
but, either way, even if we got a Randy Wolf at a high 3/low 4 ERA, who
wouldn’t take that from him? 

So, in the end, all these
numbers are very nice and all, but, of course, it’s definitely still
early and the final tally could end up being very different and, again,
certainly there are always health concerns with Randy Wolf.  However,
if the first month and a half are a good indicator of things, then our
pitching has, for the most part, held its own and Billingsley and Wolf
have managed to form quite a formidable tandem, while the rotation
should only further solidify itself once Kuroda returns (yeah, remember
him?).  So I’m not too worried about the starting rotation, or at least
my fears have tempered somewhat as the season has gone on.  Now the
bullpen and seeing Guillermo Mota in there, on the other hand… 

- Vin vinscully-face.jpg

Wolfenstein 2D

You’d think signing a new starting pitcher would be a cause of excitement, but “Dodgers sign Randy Wolf” was something we’d all seen coming weeks ago. We’ve discussed the merits of signing Wolf around here on more than one occasion, so there’s no need to rehash it again. He’s incredibly average, he’s not going to kill you, but he’s not always healthy enough to take the mound. He hasn’t had a season in which he was able to make 200 innings and be at league-average or above since 2002. Since then, he’s either been hurt, below-average, or both.

Yet, while this signing doesn’t thrill me, I can’t really say I’m against it. With the recent revelations about Ben Sheets’ impending surgery, Wolf was the best remaining starter on the market – and the Dodgers clearly needed to get someone. Besides, you can’t really argue about the price, right? $5 guaranteed for a guy who was offered $28 million over three years earlier this offseason seems like a steal. I know, I know – that offer was pulled by Houston due to the declining economy, but they had still put that number out there. Whether that says more about the value of Wolf or the gross incompetence of the Houston front office, I’m not sure.

As for what we can expect from Wolf, assuming his health, in 2009… well, his 2008 was one of the oddest years you’ve ever seen. Who puts up a lousy year in a great pitcher’s park (4.74 ERA in San Diego) only to go to a terrible pitcher’s park and wildly improve (3.57 ERA in Houston)? Well, I’ll tell you who: someone who didn’t really change anything at all except for the end result.

2008 first half: .264/.342/.414  .314 BABIP
2008 second half: .261/.330/.402  .307 BABIP

Not much change there, right? So don’t let the huge improvement in his stats to end the year in Houston fool you; I’d be floored if Wolf actually puts up a 119 ERA+ over a full year in Los Angeles – if he even makes it through a whole year this time. But, the Dodgers needed a starter, and Randy Wolf certainly fills the job description of “starter”. For the price, you could do a lot worse.

So welcome back, Randy. I look forward to yet another endless spring of “hometown boy returns” stories.

(Why did I choose this picture? Because using an action shot is cliche, and I found this out on the series of tubes. How could I not go with it?)

wolf3.jpg