MSTI’s 2010 in Review: Right Field

Andre Ethier (B+)
.292/.364/.493 .857 23hr 1.9 WAR

Looking back, one thing strikes me about Ethier’s season, and that’s that I barely talked about him at all in the second half. I pointed out that he got on base six times in an August game, but otherwise, the focus was always in other areas. That’s partly because the team’s overall collapse and the series of terrible trades overwhelmed our attention, but also because Ethier could never re-capture the magic of his amazing start after returning from injury. That’s probably unfair to him, because he was fine over the last two months. But look at what we had been saying about him in the first week of May

Ethier’s line is an unreal .371/.440/.722. A .722 slugging percentage! Not that I expect him to keep that up all year, but if he did, that would tie him for the 23rd highest mark in major league history. (And that moves up to 15th highest, if you don’t respect the work of Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, and Mark McGwire.)

Seriously, look at the NL leaderboard right now for the Triple Crown categories, and remember that this is a league with guys like Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, and Hanley Ramirez:

And that really could be his face on all three of those, because he’s tied with Kelly Johnson for the home run lead, and “Arizona” just comes before “Los Angeles” in alphabetical order.

And just a few days later

I’m running out of adjectives to describe Andre Ethier. After three more hits and two RBI, he’s now up to .393/.452/.732. He’s leading all of baseball in batting average, slugging percentage, and OPS, and by quite a bit. We’re getting far enough into the season to almost consider this less of a “hot streak” and more of a “damned good player having a career year.” Of course, every hit increases the chance that the Dodgers won’t be able to afford him when he hits free agency after next year 2012. Hooray? Still, that’s a worry for another time, because what Ethier’s doing right now is historic, at least in Dodger terms.

That was after the game of May 10. The Dodgers won the next three games, with Ethier getting on base nine times, including three doubles and a homer, putting his line up to an absurd .392/.457/.744.  But while taking BP before May 15th’s game, he fractured the pinky in his right hand, which ended up sending him to the disabled list.

Ethier rushed back to return on May 31, missing only the minimum 15 days, but he’d clearly come back too soon. He was horrendous in June (.229/.280/.333), and from May 31 to the All-Star break in mid-July, he hit just .267/.313/.393, a far cry from his earlier line.

Now, it wasn’t all that bad. After his awful June and mediocre July, he was much better in August (.872) and good in September (.812, but with a .388 OBP). So it’s true that I didn’t pay all that much attention to Ethier as the year went on, and that’s unfair. While he was nowhere as good as he was early in the season, it’s unreasonable to think that he would have been able to keep that pace up all season long. Really, the only thing that Ethier did wrong this year was to get injured and come back far too soon, and even then it’s hard to blame a guy for wanting to get back on the field to help his team as soon as possible.

Despite the injury, Ethier had his third straight excellent season (OPS+ of 132, 131, 134 in 2008-10), making his first All-Star team and proving himself to be one of the top hitters in the game, despite seeing his defensive marks decline once again. However, he still has much to prove in 2011, because he was unable to make any progress towards his greatest weakness this year, and that’s hitting left-handed pitching. I mentioned this problem in 2009′s season in review:

This year, Ethier destroyed right-handed pitching to the tune of a .960 OPS and 25 of his homers. Against lefties, he had just a .194 BA and a .629 OPS and only 6 homers. It’s actually been a pretty clear downward trend for him as far as a lefty/righty split goes:

2006: .842 vs RH, .846 vs LH
2007: .830 vs RH, .816 vs LH
2008: .953 vs RH, .692 vs LH
2009: .960 vs RH, .629 vs LH

As he continues to improve against righties, he’s quickly becoming unplayable against lefties, and the four years of stats clearly show there’s not any improvement happening here.

In 2010, he had a .960 OPS vs RHP, and a .625 mark against lefties. He’s not getting better at hitting southpaws; he’s in fact getting worse. Since he’s turning 29 in the spring, he’s in his prime and there’s not a whole lot of hope to think he’s going to improve this flaw. Can you consider a guy a superstar when he’s not a great outfielder and you absolutely can not (or at least, should not) play him against lefties? That’s why I was hoping the Dodgers would sign a Jeff Francoeur type (good fielder, hits lefties) and that’s a question the Dodgers are going to have to answer as he moves towards free agency after 2012.

Reed Johnson (C-)
.262/.291/.366 .657 2hr 0.2 WAR

This was far more the fault of Larry Bowa than it was of Johnson, but I absolutely have to start with this, from mid-August:

Finally, we have the game-ending play where Reed Johnson tried to score from first on a bloop single. Yes, read that again, because it actually happened. What in the world Larry Bowa was thinking was beyond me, but for someone who’s not shy about talking about Kemp in the paper, we need to realize that he played a pretty large role in this loss as well. I can’t even accurately express to you in words how much Johnson was out by, so I’ll let Chad from MOKM‘s animated .gif do it for me:

I mean, that’s not even close to being close. I realize with a punchless offense you try to take chances where you can, but good lord, give the runner a chance there, Larry.

God, that kills me every single time. Back to Johnson, I was a bit surprised when he was signed, because every indication at the time was that the Dodgers were looking for a left-handed backup outfielder. Still, for what he was, I was okay with it:

I’m somewhat unimpressed with Johnson on the whole, especially coming off a broken foot which ruined his 2009. That said, the Dodger outfield has two big needs. First, they need someone who can be a plus defender in left to spot for Manny, which Johnson clearly can. Second, though few people want to admit it, they need someone who can replace Andre Ethier against lefties, because Ethier is useless against fellow southpaws. Johnson fits that role perfectly – for this career, he’s lousy against righties (.707 OPS), but is just fine against lefties (.841 OPS). That split was even more pronounced in 2009. If you’ve got lefty-killers Manny and Kemp, and replace Ethier with Johnson, that’s an outfield lefties should be terrified of.

So assuming that the money isn’t big and the term is just one year, I’m okay with this idea.

That’s more or less what happened, though Johnson was slightly less than advertised. Sure, he was good against LHP (.301/.324/.466 .790), but a sub-.800 OPS isn’t quite good enough to make up for an absurdly bad .520 mark against RHP. Then there was the lack of hustle that helped to blow a game against the Angels…

Reed Johnson ran for Belliard, and was pushed to second when Martin walked. Now Jamey Carroll comes up to hit for Blake DeWitt against the lefty, and it’s all on the line: two on, two out, Carroll vs. Fuentes. Carroll – who I hate to admit, has grown on me like a weed – gets the job done by blooping a single to left, scoring Johnson to tie the game.

…except, no. Now bear with me because there’s so much stupid going on in this one play that it burns the soul (and I hope you still have “Yakety Sax” running). Johnson, instead of running home like his house was on fire, jogs home. Jogs. With the tying run with two outs in the 9th, on a ball that was in no way a home run. That’s stupid #1. Stupid #2 is Martin, running from first, overruning second base (assuming that Juan Rivera would be throwing home, I suppose) and gets caught before he can get back to the bag… before Johnson, slacking it down the line, crosses home. I mean, this play was so loaded with stupid that FanGraphs did a breakdown on just this sequence alone.

…plus the fact that he’ll be 34 next year and missed a month this year with a back injury means I’m not all that invested in seeing him return. Which, of course, means that he’ll absolutely be back.

Xavier Paul (D)
.231/.277/.314 .591 0hr -0.6 WAR

I’ve been on the Xavier Paul train for years, arguing that a strong-armed outfielder who’s managed to raise his yearly OPS every year from 2005-10 and who has crushed AAA pitching (.320/.380/.502 in parts of three seasons) deserves a shot to make his mark in the majors. I still believe that, but at some point he’s going to have to make it happen, and the .591 OPS in three 2010 stints plus the inability to stay healthy is seriously imperiling that.

Paul originally made it up in 2009 when Many got suspended, but barely played before getting a staph infection while scraping his knee in Florida and then breaking his ankle in the minors. Still, I thought he’d be a great fit as the lefty-swinging 5th outfielder after the Dodgers signed Johnson. Unfortunately, the Dodgers signed Garret Anderson for that role, a decision which bothered me in the spring

Of course, the correct option is right under our noses. Wouldn’t it be great if there was a lefty bat who’s likely to be as productive as any of these three, and not only won’t kill you in the outfield but has a strong arm and would be a great defensive caddy for Manny? Sounds like Xavier Paul to me, and as Jon astutely notes, the Dodgers have not had a good history with 35+ reserves. Let’s hope we don’t have to add another name to that list.

and in June

By the way, Garret Anderson went 0-3 today and is down to an almost unfathomable .146/.170/.225. Meanwhile, AAA outfielders Xavier Paul (2) and Jamie Hoffmann (1) combined for three home runs today. Just sayin’.  Hey, George Sherrill‘s coming off the DL on Tuesday, with no obvious candidate to go down. How bout a nice DFA’ing for our friend Garret?

and later in June

Finally, Anderson went hitless in five at-bats today, striking out four times and popping out to first. I’m just completely out of things to add to this situation. I hate to bag on a guy on his birthday (he’s 38 now), but to say that he’s a waste of a roster spot is about the kindest way I can think of to describe it. He’s now hitting .180/.197/.287. What do we have to do to finally end this already?

Xavier Paul’s hitting .345/.402/.633 with 12 HR in AAA, by the way, and three of those homers have come in his last ten games. But no, I’m sure he’s not a better fit for this defensively-challenged, injury-prone outfield, right?

and again in July.

Meanwhile, Xavier Paul is hitting .348/.404/.635 for the Isotopes, and lest you think that’s a stat line which is entirely due to the ABQ atmosphere, note that he’s still got a pretty tasty line of .320/.381/.534 on the road. This is the fifth year in a row in which he’s increased his OPS in the minors, and he has a 103 OPS+ in his limited time in the majors. 90% of the rest of baseball would be falling over themselves to give a prospect like that a chance at a full-time job. Granted, most of those teams don’t have an outfield like Manny/Kemp/Ethier, but to say that you’re going to play a husk of a corpse of a cadaver like the 38-year-old Anderson, who has proven that his value is zero, is obscene. It’s hard to say that the Dodgers are doing everything they can to win when you see situations like these, isn’t it?

As for what happened when Paul actually was up, we saw him three separate times. He came up in late April when Manny made his first DL trip, getting on base ten times in six starts until being sent back down in early May while being told by Ned Colletti to “work on being a big leaguer”. He returned for the last two weeks of May when Ethier was on the DL, getting on base ten more times in eight starts, returning again in early July when Manny went back on the DL. At the time, I wasn’t the only one ringing the “Paul over Anderson” bell, as Jon Weisman devoted an entire post to it at over at Dodger Thoughts.

Unfortunately for Paul, he struggled greatly in his third and final trip to the bigs, hitting just .188/.232/.234 in 24 games (15 starts) in July and early August. He would have been all but assured of another call-up in September, but was instead shut down with what sounded like a relatively minor neck injury.

So it was clearly a disappointing season for Paul, one that puts his Dodger future in doubt. He’s now out of options, meaning he can’t be sent to the minors without first being placed on waivers. It’s hard to say that he forced his way into a roster spot with his play this year, but his performance in the minors has been so good that you can’t just let him be lost for nothing, either. He’ll be 26 in the spring – he’s only five months younger than Matt Kemp – and he’s already proven himself in AAA, so all he needs now is to stay healthy and get a chance in the bigs. Maybe that’s with the Dodgers, and maybe it’s not, but he’s at least earned the opportunity to not be passed over for another washed-up veteran again.

******

Next! Clayton Kershaw is awesome! Chad Billingsley proves his doubters wrong! Hiroki Kuroda will be missed! It’s starting pitchers, part 1!

Martin & Paul Exit, Ellis & Johnson Return

Giving credit on this to Seth of dingersblog.com:

Russell Martin underwent MRI today, right hip labral tear, he’ll be re-evaluated tomorrow. Sounds like he’s out a while

Tear? That doesn’t sound good. Dylan Hernandez followed up with:

Russell Martin to the 15-day DL with right hip labral tear; Reed Johnson activated.

This comes after Xavier Paul was optioned back to AAA in order to bring up A.J. Ellis, though you could really read it as “Martin for Ellis, Paul for Johnson.”

Yet Garret Anderson survives. And Scott Podsednik & Ryan Theriot are hitting 1-2 again. Actually, it’s worse than that. You know I don’t post nightly lineups here, but good LORD:

Podsednik LF
Theriot 2B
Ethier RF
Kemp CF
Blake 3B
Belliard 1B
Carroll SS
Ausmus C
Padilla P

All that’s missing is Anderson in RF and you’ve got the worst-case scenario, though this is pretty close. Meanwhile, Jay Gibbons homered again for ABQ tonight. We’re supposed to have confidence because… why, exactly?

Finding New Ways to Lose

Before we discuss last night’s debacle, I strongly recommend you press “play” on this video. It’s the only way it’s going to make this okay.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MK6TXMsvgQg]

Much better. So after John Ely redeems himself by allowing just two runs (one earned) in seven innings – and the importance of that can’t be understated – the Dodgers are down 2-1 in the 9th inning. Matt Kemp reaches via a Brandon Wood error, and moves to second on a Ronnie Belliard single. After Casey Blake whiffs, you’re looking at two on, one out, and Russell Martin at the plate…

… and Matt Kemp gets picked off of second.

Now, whether or not you think it’s a balk is kind of irrelevant. I certainly do, and NBC Hardball Talk‘s Craig Calcaterra sure does, and MOKM has a great animated .gif showing the exact move that Brian Fuentes pulled. But it doesn’t matter. In that situation, it’s not worth the risk. Kemp should have been all but glued to that bag until the ball was on the way to the plate. For years, we’ve been hearing people complain about the occasional bone-headed Kemp mistake, and for the most part I’ve defended him from those detractors. Unfortunately, it’s things like this which make that all but impossible.

But wait! There’s more! Reed Johnson ran for Belliard, and was pushed to second when Martin walked. Now Jamey Carroll comes up to hit for Blake DeWitt against the lefty, and it’s all on the line: two on, two out, Carroll vs. Fuentes. Carroll – who I hate to admit, has grown on me like a weed – gets the job done by blooping a single to left, scoring Johnson to tie the game.

…except, no. Now bear with me because there’s so much stupid going on in this one play that it burns the soul (and I hope you still have “Yakety Sax” running). Johnson, instead of running home like his house was on fire, jogs home. Jogs. With the tying run with two outs in the 9th, on a ball that was in no way a home run. That’s stupid #1. Stupid #2 is Martin, running from first, overruns second base (assuming that Juan Rivera would be throwing home, I suppose) and gets caught before he can get back to the bag… before Johnson, slacking it down the line, crosses home. I mean, this play was so loaded with stupid that FanGraphs did a breakdown on just this sequence alone.

And just like that, the losing streak is up to 6, with only Charlie Haeger‘s last stand today in the way of bringing a 7-game streak home to face the Yankees. It’s one thing when the team can’t pitch, and another when they can’t hit… but to lose self-inflicted stupidity, that hurts more than anything.

And yes, Rafael Furcal made two errors on top of an 0-4, one of which directly led to the eventual winning run. It was also his first game back since watching his dad die on Father’s Day, so… yeah, he gets a pass.

******

The Dodgers signed veteran righty Jesus Colome to a minor-league deal and assigned him to ABQ (hat tip to Dodger Thoughts). Colome, 32 and with parts of 10 MLB seasons to his name, was DFA’d by Seattle on May 31 after putting up a 5.23 ERA in 12 games – though to be fair, he’d been striking out more and allowing fewer hits than he had in years. He’d also been issuing far more free passes, though. Either way, he’s likely just a depth option for AAA, behind guys like Jon Link, Travis Schlichting, and probably even Josh Lindblom on the reliever depth chart.

Time to Give Matt Kemp a Break

Looking around the internet, you can tell that some people are getting worried about John Ely, who turned in his second mediocre start in a row in which he allowed four earned over five innings last night against the Angels. Not me, though. For as much fun as #ElyMania was, from the very beginning we knew that he wouldn’t keep up quite such an exciting pace. Besides, four earned in five innings is hardly a disaster from the guy who was essentially your tenth starter when the season started, and especially so when they’ve come against the red-hot Braves and a perennially contending American League team. As Joe Torre said, we haven’t seen how Ely responds to struggles yet, and it’s worth giving him every chance to see what happens.

What we should be worried about, however, is Matt Kemp, and specifically Torre’s usage of him. (Credit due here to “EephusBlue”, who asked me this on Twitter). After his third straight 0-4 last night, Kemp is hitless in his last seventeen plate appearances (with two walks). He hasn’t had an extra-base hit since slamming a walk-off homer on June 1, and overall he’s hitting just .195/.277/.317 this month. In fact, since his red-hot start to the season, Kemp’s OPS has dropped each month (.880 to .837 to .544).

Coming as it does in the midst of such a bad streak, it’s fair to wonder if he’s tired, right? Kemp’s played 558 innings in the outfield this year, more than any other outfielder in baseball. Not only has he started all of the Dodgers’ 62 games, the only innings he’s even been able to take a breather for were the 2.2 innings (extra innings, at that) Reed Johnson filled in for as part of a double-switch on April 24th in Washington. That means Kemp has played 99.6% of available innings in 2010, and hasn’t missed a single one in nearly two months.

Kemp isn’t Manny Ramirez, of course. He doesn’t require a day or two off each week, or to worry too much about day games after night games. But is it too much to make sure he gets at least a day off every other month? No need to run what may be your most talented player directly into the ground. (See: Russell Martin).

I’m hardly the world’s biggest Reed Johnson fan, but he’s performed adequately in his few opportunities. Since Manny’s days off are planned so specifically, why not make sure that on a day you know Manny (and Ethier) will be playing, Kemp gets a breather? It’s not like he’s helping you as it is.

Update: Per Eric Stephen of TrueBlueLA, who’s at the park today, I rule:

Dodgers lineup (rest for Kemp): Furcal SS Martin C Ethier RF Manny LF Loney 1B Belliard 3B Johnson CF DeWitt 2B Monasterios P

Going forward, I’ll try to use my powers for good rather than evil. But, no promises.

Bring On the Replacements

Who needs Manny, or Blake, or Martin? Or DeWitt, or Ethier? The Dodger bats exploded for 16 hits, and when I say “bats”, I mean “a lineup I was terrified of before the game.” Not to take anything away from the 7 hits that lineup regulars Rafael Furcal, James Loney and Matt Kemp contributed, but look at what the bench did:

Ronnie Belliard: 3-5, 4 RBI, HR
Reed Johnson: 3-4, 2 R
Garret Anderson: 1-3, 2 RBI, BB

Plus Jamey Carroll and Brad Ausmus chipped in with a hit each as well. Though at first I was a little surprised that the entire bench played, it started to make more sense once we found out that Ethier was held out with a mildly sprained ankle. It’s no surprise at all to see Manny and Blake held out on a day game after a night game, and even if he hadn’t missed all of camp Martin likely wouldn’t have played either. I would have liked to have seen DeWitt thrown right back in there after last night’s error, but with a lefty on the mound I can see the reasoning behind it.

I do wonder, though, why Johnson was playing in LF with Anderson in RF. It was, as best as I can tell, Anderson’s first game in right field since the final game of the 2000 season, which was long enough ago that he was sharing a lineup with Mo Vaughn and playing against Mariners Alex Rodriguez and Rickey Henderson. Anderson’s played 1360 games in LF in his career, while today was just the 155th in RF. This makes sense, since you always put your worst outfielder in left (see: Manny), so I’m not exactly sure how he ended up over there while the superior Johnson (when he wasn’t trying to kill Matt Kemp, that is) ended up in LF. (Sam points out to me in the comments that it’s because PNC Park has a much bigger LF than RF. Fair enough.)

We’d also be remiss if we didn’t recognize Chad Billingsley, who left the game in the 6th with zeroes on the board (though Jeff Weaver did allow an inherited runner to score), having struck out 7. It wasn’t all roses for Billingsley, who did walk 4, and required 107 pitches to not make it through 6th. That said, he did work his way out of a tough bases-loaded, one-out jam in the 4th by getting Andy LaRoche and Paul Maholm to strike out looking. Considering Billingsley’s poor finish to 2009 and the rotation’s poor start to 2010, this was a desperately-needed performance.

On to Miami.