Mid-March Oddsmaking: #5 Starter

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

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

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

5th starter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weighty News & Notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just One More Month Until Pitchers & Catchers Report

Yesterday, I wrote the following regarding the Dodgers signing a free-agent pitcher:

In fact – and there’s going to be a full post on this in the next day or two – I strongly prefer Jon Garland to Pineiro anyway.

The idea behind this was going to be basically that even though Pineiro had a fantastic 2009, he’s also coming off three horrible years in the four previous seasons and is going to be far more expensive. Can he survive away from Dave Duncan? Was his 2009 simply a contract push? Who knows? Garland’s never going to be as good as Pineiro was last year, but he was better in most of the years before that, he’s cheaper, and he’s nothing if not consistent – he gives you the same 200 league-average innings every year. Since neither is going to be an ace and the season is largely going to hinge on the progress made by Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley, why not just save some money and sign the more reliable guy to give you some stability as a 4th starter?

Yep, that’s the post I was going to write, much more than a paragraph’s worth. And then Eric Seidman of Baseball Prospectus had to go and completely steal my thunder this morning by saying basically the exact same thing, just better than I would have, so if you’re a subscriber, check it out.

**********

Get ready to start hearing stories like this non-stop if Kershaw takes off like we expect him to:

Clayton Kershaw is coming off a strong season for the Los Angeles Dodgers, his second in the big leagues. He posted a 2.79 ERA and fanned 185 batters in just 171 innings of work. If the lefty takes another step forward in 2010, GM Ned Colletti may soon find himself in a similar situation that Seattle was with Felix Hernandez this winter, before signing the right-hander to a five-year contract.

Kershaw will not be eligible for arbitration until after next season, but that may be when the club starts to think about locking him up for more than one year to achieve some cost certainty and avoid a situation much like the one San Francisco is in with Tim Lincecum.

Hernandez got his deal after four years of service, so in that light the Dodgers have two seasons to go, but it might be smart accounting to do what the Red Sox did with Jon Lester — 5 years, $30 million after his second year of service, which is where Kershaw will stand a year from now.

You can see how Boston is saving money by doing so, too. For Lester’s contract to be worth more than Hernandez’s, he’d have to have an average annual salary of more $20 million in 2014 and 2015. In other words, it’s costing Boston about $48 million less for Lester over the same period of time.

Moral of the story: The Dodgers might be wisest not to wait.

As always, the divorce case looms over everything. But if Kershaw does take that next step in 2010, I think Dodger fans would do somersaults if he’d be willing to settle for $30m over 5 years. Remember, that’s not anywhere near what he would get on the open market, but this would of course be buying out his slave and arbitration years.

**********

Oh, look. A seemingly harmless story on Fox Sports. Let’s click it, shall we?

Kennedy down to three teams — 12:04 p.m.

The representative for free agent Adam Kennedy said he remains in talks with three teams about the infielder.

Two clubs are interested in Kennedy as their everyday second baseman, Paul Cohen said. Another has interest in Kennedy as a super-utility player.

“We have narrowed it down to three teams,” Cohen said.

Cohen wouldn’t address specific clubs, but the Cubs and Nationals are known to be looking for a second baseman.

Whenever a free agent second baseman is mentioned, you immediately think of the Dodgers (ESPN’s already tossed LA into this mix). But what’s important here is how the agent described the interest – two teams interested in Kennedy “as their everyday second baseman.” I’m not sold on Blake DeWitt yet, but we have to be hoping that the Dodgers aren’t one of those teams, right?

Actually, Kennedy’s not as bad as all that. Or at least he wasn’t in 2009, because after two horrific seasons in St. Louis (.572 and .692 OPS’s) that nearly ended his career, he parlayed a NRI from Tampa Bay into a .289/.348/.410 line with 11 homers playing 2B and 3B in Oakland. As a lefty batter, he’s almost useless against fellow lefties, but then again Blake DeWitt – also a lefty – has a reverse split, so you could theoretically see a platoon happening here.

On the other hand, the problem with Jamey Carroll is that he can’t play shortstop, and neither can Kennedy. So that probably rules that out. Still, it didn’t stop me from getting a chill down my spine when I saw that two unnamed teams are pursuing him to be a starter.

**********

Finally, via Diamond Leung, Troy from West Virginia has some strong thoughts on the Russ Ortiz signing (along with a wicked beard). Hey, I can’t say I disagree with him; Ortiz is abysmal and has been completely cooked for years. Troy is probably on his way to jail, and if the things in that article are true, then his future is well deserved. Still, when a man has that much facing him and he’s still bothered by a minor-league invite to Russ Ortiz… well, it probably means you shouldn’t have signed Russ Ortiz.

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