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.

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Tomorrow, the final review of the series: me.

Dodgers Win In Most Dodger Way Possible

Being no-hit for 8 2/3 innings, nearly wasting six one-hit innings from rookie standout Rubby De La Rosa, and then winning on two miraculous hits from Juan Uribe and Dioner Navarro, two of the worst hitters on the team?

Yeah, that sounds about right.

Rubby de la Rosa Gets Initiated Into the Rotation


The first batter Rubby De La Rosa faced in the bottom of the first inning of today’s matinee in Minnesota, Ben Revere, hit a triple to the right-center gap. The next batter, Tsuyoshi Nishioka, grounded out to score Revere and put the Twins up 1-0… and that was it. In what was unquestionably the most effective outing of his young career, de la Rosa pitched 6 2/3 shutout innings following Nishioka’s out (7 innings total), scattering just six hits over the day. Most impressively, de la Rosa issued just two free passes. It was both the first time in his career that he went more than six innings or walked less than three, and he did it against an American League lineup. (Yes, I know, the Twins are one of the worst offensive teams in the AL, but still.) Even better, he improved as the game went on. After escaping from danger in the second after allowing three men to reach, he set down 16 of the 20 remaining Twins he saw – one of which was an intentional walk to Revere.

Here’s the problem, though, and why I saw that de la Rosa has now been officially inducted into the Dodger starting rotation: he was completely let down by his offense, who couldn’t manage to score even a single run against Twins pitching. Scott Baker set the top in the top of the first by dispatching the Dodgers with deadly precision, requiring only fourteen pitches to strike out Tony Gwynn, Casey Blake, and Andre Ethier – who combined to go 0-10. Each of the other six starters (plus pinch-hitter Trent Oeltjen) picked up one hit apiece, and the only times the Dodgers even made it to third base were on stolen bases by Matt Kemp and Dee Gordon.

And who made the final out? Dioner Navarro, because of course he did. I’ve joked a lot lately that there’s some federal statute that requires him to hit in the 9th inning of every games… except it’s happened so often that it’s not really a joke any more. You could have put in A.J. Ellis to try to keep the inning going, or, and I can’t believe I’m really saying this, even Aaron Miles.

Still, I’ll take this as a win. The individual game was basically meaningless, right? The loss dropped the Dodgers to 11 games out and in sole possession of last place, pending the result of San Diego’s afternoon game with Kansas City, so does it really matter if they pulled this out or not? Of course it doesn’t. What matters here is that a big part of the Dodger future made a huge step forward in his progression. I’d much rather see that than for him to have been hit hard but for the game to have been pulled out in the end, even if it’s depressing to see him not get rewarded for a solid performance.

Welcome to the club, Rubby.

Rubby de la Rosa’s First Start One to Remember

Rubby De La Rosa probably didn’t need any more pressure coming into tonight, his first major league start. Sure, he claims that he doesn’t feel pressure playing baseball because he grew up on the streets, but this wasn’t any ordinary game, or even an ordinary first career start, if there are such things. This was on the road in Philadelphia, home of the best team in baseball, and on a sweltering night, to boot. His opponent was Roy Oswalt, a veteran building a borderline Hall of Fame case. His leadoff hitter and shortstop, Dee Gordon, was also making his first start, and is regarded by most to be here before his time. (Uh, more on that one in a second). And he was backed by a lineup that seemed disinterested in being completely shut down the night before.

Under the circumstances, de la Rosa needed to be all but perfect. He wasn’t, not by a longshot. In fact, his first two innings toed the line of ‘total disaster’. And it didn’t matter. Thanks to some timely hitting from the top of the lineup, a less-than-dominant Oswalt, some hilariously bad defense from the Phillies, de la Rosa’s ability to survive a tough start, and some good old fashioned excellent luck, Rubby’s walking away with his first win as a starter.

The worries started early with de la Rosa, who missed the strike zone with each of his first six pitches, allowing Shane Victorino to walk and steal before he managed to finally find the plate with a pitch. Juan Uribe took some of the pressure off with a nice play to nab Victorino at third on a Placido Polanco bouncer that went off de la Rosa’s glove, but Rubby threw four more balls to Chase Utley to put two on. Ryan Howard foolishly came up hacking at the first two pitches, fouling both off, before sending another grounder to Uribe, who forced Utley at second. Raul Ibanez grounded out to the pitcher, and de la Rosa had escaped despite throwing 11 of his 19 pitches for balls.

The second didn’t start off much better. Carlos Ruiz walked on five pitches. Domonic Brown followed with the same, and after starting off Wilson Valdez with three balls, de la Rosa allowed him to single to center, loading the bases with none out. If you weren’t worried before, now was the time. The Phillies were going to blow this open right then and there. De la Rosa wouldn’t make it out of the second inning, and he’d look back on his first start as a disaster.

Except… for once, the fates smiled upon the Dodgers. Oswalt struck out, and Shane Victorino grounded back to the mound, with de la Rosa making a nice play to force Ruiz at the plate. He walked Polanco to force in a run – can’t live on the edge forever, you know – but ended the threat by getting Chase Utley to fly out to center. Of the 30 pitches in the second, 15 missed the plate. He’d walked five of the first eleven over the first two innings.

De la Rosa had managed to get through the first two innings while allowing just one run, but it’d hardly been smooth. In the third, he didn’t walk anyone – this is progress – but did allow three singles, avoiding damage only when Andre Ethier nailed Ibanez at the plate to end the inning. (It was a nice throw by Ethier, but Steve Lyons’ continued insistence that Ethier is one of the best defensive right fielders in the league made my brain want to melt out of my ears.) But progress is progress, and de la Rosa kept it up through his remaining two innings, retiring all six with little trouble. It was a stunning turnaround after walking five in the first two innings; of the 96 pitches he threw, 50 missed the plate.

On the offensive side, we have to start with Dee Gordon, but there were a lot of heroes tonight. Gordon singled in each of his first three at-bats, becoming the first Dodger to do so in his first start since Mike Piazza in 1992, according to KCAL, and easily stole second base on his only chance. He fielded his position without issue, and had the highest WPA of any of tonight’s participants.

I don’t want to shortchange Gordon – he was great tonight – but we have a lot to get to. Matt Kemp doubled and homered again, putting him on pace for approximately 129 this year. Uribe doubled and made several excellent defensive plays, prompting me to point out on Twitter that he’s underrated with the glove and to ask if he and Gordon have the largest weight differential of any double-play combo in history. Casey Blake reached based twice, but got caught stealing and foolishly sacrifice bunted Gordon from scoring position (2nd) and no outs into scoring position (3rd) and one out.

And then there were the Phillies, who were a circus unto themselves in the first few innings. I wish that I’d had time to grab animated .gifs of all of these and set them to “Yakety Sax”, because their mistakes combined with de la Rosa’s wildness made for an entertaining sequence. In the 2nd, Kemp doubled but was doubled off on Uribe’s liner to Utley… or should I say, would have been doubled off had Utley not thrown the ball away. But we’re just getting started, because in the 3rd, Oswalt tried to pick Blake off first, missing the minor detail that Ryan Howard was not holding Blake on. Gordon scored from second, Blake went to third, and I could hear Phillies fan cringing from here. That was followed two batters later by Kemp grounding into a sure double play, if not for Utley throwing it wide again.

Blake Hawksworth, Matt Guerrier, Scott Elbert, and Javy Guerra followed by allowing one run over four innings. Despite what you heard repeatedly from Lyons, Guerra is not the closer based on his finishing off tonight’s game in a non-save situation. Until the Padillas, Broxtons, Jansens, and Kuos of the world return, this is strictly a bullpen-by-committee situation. (Good news on that front, however, as both Kuo and Jansen are to begin rehab assignments on Thursday, and Broxton is throwing bullpen sessions.)

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Hey, look – it’s Casey Blake in 2035.

Courtesy of twitter fan “Willers”, that’s former major leaguer Tom Gordon (Dee’s father, of course) sitting with Casey’s father. Eerie, isn’t it?

Rubby and Dee Hit the Big Time

Tonight in Philadelphia, Rubby De La Rosa will make his first MLB start. (As Joe Block notes, it’ll be just his 24th professional start since arriving in America.) Dee Gordon will likely make his first start at shortstop, though that’s not confirmed yet. (Update: now confirmed. He’s leading off, and Jerry Sands is in there too.)It’s a momentous day for both, and I’m trying to remember the last time we’ve looked forward to a Dodger game with such high anticipation. Ignoring Opening Day or other special events, when was the last otherwise nondescript regular season Dodger game that drew such interest? I suppose we have to mention Clayton Kershaw‘s debut in 2008 – “Like Christmas in May“, as I referred to it at the time. There’s also Manny Ramirez‘ Dodger debut later that year, or his return from suspension in May 2009. Other than that, though? Seeing Gordon and de la Rosa appear at the same time has to rank pretty high. This is all totally unscientific, of course, so tell me where this ranks for you.

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In Buster Olney’s ESPN column this morning, he noted that Jerry Sands had seen more pitches per plate appearance of anyone in Monday’s games, seeing 23 in 3 PA, an average of 7.7 per. Even when he’s not producing, it’s a clear sign that he’s also not helping the pitcher at all by getting himself out. For the season, he’s seeing 4.21 pitches per plate appearance. If he had enough PA to qualify, that would place him in a tie for 14th best in MLB. You might recognize some of the 13 names ahead of him, which include Jose Bautista, Adam Dunn, Jamey Carroll, Curtis Granderson, and Dustin Pedroia. Try not to look at the #1 name on that list, however. Trust me.

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The draft continues, as the Dodgers selected Florida high school third baseman Alex Santana (son of Rafael) in the second round, North Carolina State catcher Pratt Maynard in the third, and college RHPs Ryan O’Sullivan and Scott McGough in the fourth. (Jon Weisman also notes that the potential is there to see first round pick Chris Reed pitch for Stanford on Friday at 12pm on ESPN2.) The Santana pick is somewhat underwhelming – as Baseball America’s Jim Callis wrote, “Think Santana is the first guy who didn’t get full-writeup treatment in our state by state coverage” – but I’ve taken an unexpected shine to Maynard.

It helps that he’s a college catcher entering a system all but completely devoid of backstop talent, of course, and especially so because his speciality seems to be getting on base. But part of it is because his name sounds like a PCU fraternity brother of Carter Prescott III & Bantam Draper. Part of it is because moments after the selection, a woman claiming to be his aunt tweeted her excitement at me. Part of it is probably because I’ve always been infatuated with catchers who hit from the left side, and absolutely part of it is because when I did a Google image search for him, what you see at the right is what popped up.

I also came across a March post from Mariners blog MySeattleSports.com, outlining his virtues and hoping the Mariners would take him. It’s worth clicking through for the various reasons why.