Drew Butera & Scott Elbert: Tendered

butera_2013-09-14It’s “agree to avoid arbitration with fringe players Friday,” apparently. After agreeing to terms with Mike Baxter, the Dodgers also came to terms with reliever Scott Elbert ($575k) & catcher Drew Butera ($700k), reports Dylan Hernandez.

Elbert didn’t pitch in 2013 after undergoing Tommy John surgery in June, so don’t expect to see him before the second of of 2014 at the earliest; Butera arrived on July 31 and we discussed all the ways in which he absolutely cannot hit in his season in review a few weeks ago.

The contracts are all non-guaranteed, reports Hernandez, and the money is negligible, but it’s worth noting that Butera is out of options. Tim Federowicz is not, so the possibility remains that Butera beats Federowicz out for a job in camp. There hopefully also remains the possibility that the Dodgers realize that it probably isn’t all that hard to upgrade on either.

A.J. Ellis, Clayton Kershaw, Kenley Jansen, and Ronald Belisario are the remaining arbitration cases. Kershaw is certain to be tendered on Monday as the sides continue to work on a long term deal; Ellis & Jansen will either be tendered or agree to a contract instead. Belisario will probably be tendered, but I can’t say it’s a complete given.

By my count, the Dodgers currently have $191.97m in contracts committed. They also have just under $10m in buyouts and deferrals and approximately $28m as a best guess for the four arbitration cases (mostly to Kershaw), though $3.9m is coming back their way from the Red Sox as part of the big 2012 trade.

Scott Elbert Goes Back Under the Knife

92topps_scottelbertElbow surgery on a pitcher is rarely a good sign. Having it done again, four months after it was done the first time, is generally not a better sign. Unfortunately, that’s what Scott Elbert is dealing with now, given the surprising news that he underwent an arthroscopy today on the same left elbow that originally went under the knife in September, though the team says it’s “a new area of cartilage damage”.

According to the Dodgers, Elbert will be able to begin a throwing program in six weeks, which would put him on the sidelines until the first week of March. That doesn’t absolutely mean he won’t be healthy for Opening Day, especially given that he’s a short reliever and not a starter, but it’s also going to put him well behind the curve.

The presence of fellow lefties J.P. Howell & Paco Rodriguez — and perhaps Ted Lilly, depending on how the rotation excess shakes out — also means the team has less cause to rush him back.

2012 Dodgers in Review #43: RP Scott Elbert

2.20 ERA 3.80 FIP 32.2 IP 7.99 K/9 3.58 BB/9 0.1 fWAR B+

2012 in brief: Was quietly a reliable bullpen lefty for the first half before missing most of the second half with left elbow soreness and undergoing surgery in September.

2013 status: Enters final year before being arbitration-eligible and should return as steady member of the bullpen.

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Quick: what’s your favorite memory of Scott Elbert this year?

You don’t have one, do you? Well, if you can’t remember much about what a non-closing reliever who got into 43 games did, that probably means he did a solid job. It’s when you start hearing about these guys that you’ve got a problem, and so Elbert’s general lack of publicity is a good sign.

It wasn’t always that way for Elbert, of course, who rebounded from a troubled 2010 marked by his mysterious departure from the organization to mark his first full season in the bigs in 2011. It’s actually kind of interesting to note that despite the fact that Elbert’s been around seemingly forever — 2012 was the fifth year in which he suited up for the Dodgers — and has been a primary lefty for two seasons now, he’s pitched just 92.1 innings in the majors. He’s actually been around for so long that when he debuted with the team on August 29, 2008, not only was Russell Martin leading off, but Jeff Kent & Nomar Garciaparra comprised the middle infield. Of the 15 Dodgers who played that day aside from Elbert, only Matt Kemp & Andre Ethier remain with the team, and otherwise only Martin, Hiroki Kuroda, James Loney, & Juan Pierre seem assured of big league jobs in 2013. Yet still, over four years later, Elbert’s not even reached one hundred innings yet.

That’s the life of the non-elite situational reliever, I suppose, though it’s more than fine for a minimum-salary type. It’s also the kind of guy you usually want to move on from as he reaches arbitration years, but his lack of wins and saves will hurt him with the arbitration board, and the Dodgers are far from a usual team anyway.

OPS
Home
Away
vRH
vLH
2011
.623
.600
.726
.517
2012
.431
.838
.515
.727

It’s that lack of meaningful sample sizes which has led to some wild splits over his two full seasons. As you can see in the chart at right, in 2011, Elbert was slightly better on the road — though not by much — while doing better against lefties, as you’d expect. In 2012, neither of those held true, and in fact they swung wildly in the other other direction. Considering we’re talking about just 30+ innings per year, I’m not sure we can really put a lot of stock into those trends either way, at least not without another year or two of data.

The biggest problem for Elbert last year was that after a good first half, he pitched only 7.2 innings after June thanks to two stints on the disabled list with left shoulder soreness, the second of which ended his season with cleanup surgery in September. He’s expected to be ready for camp, and he should have a spot waiting for him. At the moment, he’s the only lefty in the pen, unless Paco Rodriguez makes the cut or a long-expected trade for a veteran lefty gets made.

******

Next up! Todd Coffey is a socialism!

Dodger Bullpen on a Budget Among the Best in Baseball

Despite Kenley Jansen‘s homer trouble this week, the Dodger bullpen has been very good this year, depending on how you gauge such things. (Total sidebar for a moment – remember when Jansen blew his first save chance in April and every fool with an internet connection exploded in a fury of “herr durr derp he doesn’t have the heart to pitch the ninth inning?” Now we’re seeing articles about whether he can handle non-save situations because he’s been so good in the ninth. I hate this planet sometimes.)

Back to the bullpen as a whole, there’s more than a few ways to look at their success. They have the third-most shutdowns; they’re tied for the sixth-fewest meltdowns. By straight ERA, they’re 10th; by FIP, they’re tied for 12th, though it should be noted that the difference between the Giants in fifth at 3.45 and the Rays in 14th at 3.67 is so miniscule as to be barely noteworthy. They’re eighth in OPS against at .657; they have the third-highest strikeout rate, thanks in large part to Jansen. Really, the only area where they’re not doing all that well is in walk rate, where they have the sixth-highest mark in the game, though that’s a group-wide affliction, since only Josh Lindblom can say he has a walk rate lower than three per nine.

No matter how you choose to value a bullpen, the Dodger relief corps ranks between solid and excellent. Here’s my favorite part, though: the seven members of the bullpen who have pitched seven innings or more this year are doing so for a combined salary of less than Juan Uribe is receiving to be injured and awful in 2012. Only Todd Coffey (who has been very effective since his return from injury, even if his season stats don’t reflect it) makes even a million; only he and Jamey Wright make more than $500,000. Jansen, Lindblom, Scott Elbert, Javy Guerra, & Ronald Belisario each make between $480k and $492k. (Before anyone complains that arguably the two least valuable members of the bullpen make the most money and that this makes Ned Colletti an idiot, please go check out the veteran pay scale in this sport.)

For the grand total of something like $4.4m, the Dodgers have put together a very effective bullpen, and assuming Shawn Tolleson sticks around long enough in Guerra’s absence to make a contribution, we’ll be able to say this is an eight-man group making less than $5m. That’s about $1.5m less than James Loney is making this year. It’s slightly more than Juan Rivera alone is getting. It’s roughly one-third the dead money owed to Manny Ramirez, Andruw Jones, & Juan Pierre in deferred payouts just for this season. It’s not a whole hell of a lot of money, is the point, just in case you hadn’t quite had that drilled into your skull yet.

If you’re dying to point out that I’ve neglected to include Matt Guerrier, making $4.75m this year as part of a 3/$12m contract, well, that’s sort of the point. Guerrier was adequate at best last year before missing most of this year with arm woes, but the lack of return we’re seeing on that contract is just further illustrating the point that big multi-year deals for non-elite relievers are almost never ever a good idea – a point that was made many times, here and elsewhere, before Guerrier ever threw his first pitch.

But don’t take my word for it; we have data to rely on. Over the last two offseasons, (2010-11 & 2011-12), 18 relievers have signed free agent deals that total at least $5m or more. The results haven’t been pretty. Six of them – Guerrier, Mariano Rivera, Jose Contreras, Rafael Soriano, Ryan Madson, & Bobby Jenks – have suffered major injuries which have cost them most or all of a season. Three more – Kevin Gregg, Brian Fuentes, & Heath Bell – have to be considered busts, at least so far; while Grant Balfour may not fall into the “bust” category, he’s already lost his closer’s job this year, and in New York, Frank Francisco is carrying a 5.57 ERA, though it’s not totally deserved. (The table I linked is slightly misleading for the five guys who signed before 2012, since it includes their generally good work in 2011 as well, so Bell doesn’t look as bad as he really has been as a Marlin.) Some of the others have been inoffensive if not game-changing, but the only guys on that list who can really say they’re really making a difference for their new teams are J.J. Putz, Joe Nathan, Jesse Crain, Joaquin Benoit, & Jonathan Papelbon, and even in Papelbon’s case, you can easily question whether an aging team with huge problems on offense and a manager who doesn’t know how to run a bullpen should really have spent $50m on a closer. This proves either that you should only import free agent relievers with names that start with “J”, or that the rate of success on big-money bullpen arms is dreadfully inefficient.

Now, that’s not to say that you should only ever rely on cheap homegrown relievers, because I’ll be the first to admit that building a bullpen around a converted catcher, a flaky drug user on his third organization after multiple suspensions, a guy who walked 7.3/9 at age 24 in Double-A, and two veteran afterthoughts isn’t exactly a repeatable business model. But after all we’ve learned over the years, we should know that relievers are infamous for their volatility, and it’s more than possible to build an effective, efficient bullpen around young arms supplemented with a few low-cost (i.e., one year for less than $5m, many of whom are succeeding this year) veterans, with a lucky NRI invite here and there – an area which Colletti has shown to be surprisingly effective in.

Better yet for the Dodgers, there’s more where that came from. As we’ve talked about several times, they have a multitude of young power starters in the minors. Some – perhaps Ethan Martin, or Chris Withrow – aren’t going to pan out as starters, just like Lindblom & Elbert didn’t, and that opens up a path to potentially being successful out of the bullpen. So far, the Dodger relievers have been very good for a very reasonable price. Let’s hope that any thoughts of big spending to supplement them in the future keeps the past in mind.

MSTI’s 2011 in Review: Relievers, Part 1

Today we move on to relievers, and like the rotation, these are not necessarily ordered by importance, lest I end up with a day that is only about Lance Cormier and Mike MacDougal. Today, we start with an unexpected closer, a resurgent lefty, and a crazy old man.

Javy Guerra (A+)
2.31 ERA, 3.30 FIP, 7.3 K/9, 3.5 BB/9

To say that Javy Guerra was an afterthought headed into the season is actually somewhat of an insult to afterthoughts. The only real mention Guerra got around here before the year started was when I looked at the 40-man roster crunch the Dodgers might be looking at, since they were breaking camp with so many non-roster invites, and figured that he along with John Lindsey might actually be a prime candidate for being DFA’d:

Lindsey’s the obvious choice, but if more than one spot is needed, you might also look at 25-year-old Javy Guerra, a veteran of seven minor league seasons with the Dodgers. His 2.33 ERA in 28 AA games last year may look shiny, but the 7.3 BB/9 (and 5.3 career) don’t really back it up, nor does the 1.603 career WHIP. He suffered shoulder soreness last year and then had to deal with an infection caused by a cut while washing dishes this winter. Guerra reportedly has a plus fastball, and I’m sure the Dodgers would prefer to hold onto him, but at 25, he’s no longer a kid, and his struggles at AA could make him vulnerable if a spot is needed.

That doesn’t look great for me in retrospect, though it’s hard to act as though anyone at all saw Guerra as much of an option this year. With the bullpen destroyed by injury, he got the call on May 15 as Blake Hawksworth hit the disabled list, and picked up his first big-league save just over a week later with Kenley Jansen unavailable and on his way to own disabled list trip.

Though it probably seems now that he came up and immediately took over the 9th inning, it didn’t really work out that way; he had one save in May and one in June, partially because the Dodger offense was at their low point at the time and rarely were there late leads to protect. He really took over the job in July, collecting six saves without blowing any (despite doing his best a few times), but as you can see from our midseason review, I wasn’t exactly sold on him yet:

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.

And had he kept up his rate of production at that point, I do believe it would have fallen apart for him. But Guerra found a way to improve. After striking out 6.1/9 before the break, he improved to 8.2/9 afterwards, lowering his OPS against from .704 to .533. In August, I had to acknowledge his success:

I also want to take the time to praise Javy Guerra, who struck out three in 1.1 scoreless innings to get his 10th save, coming in with two outs in the eighth after Mike MacDougal walked two and made a throwing error. I’ve been lukewarm on Guerra for some time, feeling that simply getting “saves” doesn’t make a pitcher any good, especially since his peripherals were iffy and his minor-league track record showed little indication of success. At the end of play of July 6, Guerra had struck out just 10 in 17.1 innings, while allowing 19 hits and five walks, good for a line of .284/.342/.343 against. In the month since, he’s appeared in 10 games with a 12/2 K/BB, allowing just five hits without an earned run. I’m still not sure that Guerra can keep this up over the long-term, but for the moment, he’s outdoing all our expectations.

Guerra, to his credit, was able to keep it up for the rest of the season, saving 21 games while blowing just two. (One of which was the ugly walkoff grand slam in Arizona in the final days of the season, after Hawksworth couldn’t hold on to a large lead or remember to cover first base.) Considering how little we thought of him entering the year, Guerra’s debut was a massive debut, one that likely cements him as the 2012 closer. Of course, since we know that saves are generally a useless stat, that does probably mean he’s a little overrated, since he’s in no way as dominant as Kenley Jansen, and he’s someone who’s near the top of my list of “possible regression dangers”. Still, as Jon Weisman rightly notes, it’s probably more effective to reserve Guerra for the 9th and have Jansen available to crush batters as needed. For Guerra, on absolutely no one’s prospect radar entering the season, it’s a role he’s earned. A+, Javy.

Scott Elbert (A+)
2.73 ERA, 2.43 FIP, 9.2 K/9, 3.8 BB/9

Believe it or not, this was Elbert’s fourth (partial) season as a Dodger, though he pitched just 26.1 innings over his first three; his debut in 2008 came just weeks after Manny Ramirez and Casey Blake joined the club.

Of course, at this time last year, we weren’t sure if we’d ever see Elbert in the big leagues again. After getting into just one game in 2010, Elbert walked away from the organization and baseball entirely, returning home for personal reasons which still haven’t been completely made public. He didn’t appear in a game after June, though he did rejoin the Dodgers and his new manager Don Mattingly in the Arizona Fall League, where he officially transitioned from starting to relieving.

Despite a nice AFL performance, we still weren’t sure what to make of him, and his initial wildness in camp seemed to indicate that he could use more seasoning, particularly after missing half of 2010:

You’ll probably hear people say that Scott Elbert punched his ticket back to the minors this afternoon in Arizona, as he walked four of the six batters he faced and managed to get just six of his 21 pitches across for strikes. That comes after a spring debut in which he walked two in one inning, meaning that he’s walked six of the ten spring batters he’s seen.

Now maybe his slow start to the spring is what’s going to get him knocked down to AAA, and maybe it’s not, but my feeling has always been that it shouldn’t matter. Unless he was able to come to camp and dominate, that always should have been the plan. And why not? He’s always had control issues, walking 5.0/9 in the minors, and last year that went up to an untenable 7.1/9. That’s of course before his well-publicized but little-understood leave of absence that meant he didn’t pitch after June.

Elbert did indeed start the year in the minors, getting recalled in mid-May when Hong-Chih Kuo went on the disabled list with anxiety issues; in his season debut, he struck out all three Diamondbacks he faced in the 8th inning on May 15. He stayed on the team for the rest of the season, though it’s hard to say he’d made much of an impression on us over the first two months, considering what I wrote in the first half review on July 12.

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 partially 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.

In the second half, Elbert took an even bigger step forward, contributing a 21/8 K/BB in 21.2 innings, allowing just two earned runs and a .593 OPS against. On the season, he struck out more than a man per inning while keeping his walks to an acceptable rate, important considering his history of wildness, and allowing just a single homer. The L/R split alluded to above was almost certainly the result of small sample size weirdness, since by the end of the year he’d held lefties to just an .191/.267/.250 line.

Still just 26 and despite the limited service time, Elbert is out of options, so he’s all but guaranteed a job in 2012, and could be the team’s only bullpen lefty if Kuo doesn’t return. Considering that no one was even sure if he’d have a career a year ago, that’s a fantastic turnaround.

Vicente Padilla (inc.)
4.15 ERA, 2.67 FIP, 9.3 K/9, 5.2 BB/9,

Padilla faced all of 36 batters over 8.2 innings this year, or what Clayton Kershaw does in just over one start, yet I feel like we talked about him far more than was necessary for that amount of playing time. After starting one of the weirder Dodger careers ever by going from “scrapheap pickup in August 2009″ to “Opening Day starter in 2010″ to “accidentally shooting himself”, Padilla signed a seemingly bizarre one-year deal last winter to serve as some sort of hybrid 5th starter/long man role.

Of course, he didn’t even make it out of camp before going under the knife for arm surgery; when he came back at the end of April, not only was he not a starter, he was suddenly the closer, since Jonathan Broxton was injured and no one knew who Guerra was yet.

That lasted for all of about three weeks before heading back to the disabled list with more arm discomfort. Here’s where it gets really weird, though; in early June, he had rejoined the team in Cincinnati and was expected to be activated that night. He wasn’t, and ten days later we found out that he would miss the rest of the season thanks to neck surgery, of all things. We’ve heard very little about his recovery and if he intends to resume his baseball career; Padilla has been reasonably successful in parts of three seasons as a Dodger, and I’d certainly toss him a non-roster invite for 2012. Besides, doesn’t every team need a little bit of crazy?

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Next! Matt Guerrier is still overpaid! Jonathan Broxton‘s sad farewell! And Blake Hawksworth still isn’t Ryan Theriot! It’s relievers, part 2!